Audiobook: Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince

woodenprinceby John Claude Bemis
Read by Ralph Lister
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Content: There are some scary parts, but not many. I don’t know how it is as a book, but the story is good for 3rd grade and up.

In this magical steampunk retelling of Pinocchio set in a Renaissance-like Vienna, Pinochhio is an automaton, Geppetto is a alchemist, and there are chimera and a magical kingdom ruled by an immortal ruler. All the elements of the story (or at least the Disney movie; I’ve never actually read the story) are there — the blue fairy, the carnival master, the whale (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie) — but in an entirely new, and fantastical form.

I think this is one I would have liked better reading than listening to. The narrator was fantastic; it often sounded like an ensemble rather than just one person. But, there were sound effects added in, and they drove. me. nuts. They were super distracting and sometimes gross (really, do we need a sound effect for throwing up?), and sometimes made it hard for me to understand the dialogue.

And, to be fair, I kept fading in and out of the story, so I missed a bunch of the story line. Though, it didn’t really seem to matter. I was a bit disappointed it was a first, as well. I wanted it to be a wholly contained story, but it seems a stand-alone speculative fiction isn’t something that is often written anymore.

It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t the best experience, either.

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With Malice

withmaliceby Eileen Cook
First sentence: “I’m not a morning person.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a handful (less than six) of f-bombs, some reference to teen drinking and sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Jill wakes up in a hospital, with no memory of anything in the past two months. She’s told two things: she was in a car accident on her school trip in Italy and her best friend, Simone, is dead. Oh: and she’s being investigated with murder.

It’s a simple plot, as we go through Jill’s recovery and her attempts to reclaim her memory. We read through police interviews with people who were close to both Jill and Simone and with those who were on the Italy trip with them. We go through blog posts for people who believe that Jill is guilty, and see the spin that the expensive lawyer Jill’s dad hires puts on everything. What we don’t have is Jill’s experience in Italy.

Which means, while this book doesn’t have much going for it with plot, it’s still incredibly gripping. Even though it’s a first person narrative, because of the accident, you don’t know what’s truly a “memory” for Jill, and what she’s just recreated from what other people have told her. It really is left up to the reader to decide guilt or innocence, and it’s a fascinating experience.

I couldn’t put it down.

Love & Gelato

lovegelatoby Jenna Evans Welch
First sentence: “You’ve had bad days before, right?”
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Release date: April 12, 2016
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There’s some drinking (the drinking age in Italy is 16) and a couple of lecherous men that the main character encounters. It’ll be in the YA section of the bookstore.

Lina’s mom has died somewhat suddenly, and several months later Lina has found herself in Florence, meeting the father  — Howard — she never knew because her mother never told her about him. It’s not exactly her idea of a good time. What she really wants is to just go home and live with her best friend.

Then she receives her mother’s journal from her time in Florence, and all of a sudden, things become more interesting. She not only learns about her mother’s secrets, but sees Florence through her mother’s eyes. It also helps that she meets a cute Italian (well, half-American) boy, Ren, to share things with.

This was was just about perfect as a summer romance. Sure, it starts with a dead parent, but after that it’s utterly charming. I loved the mystery of Lina’s father: who was he, what was he like? I loved her getting to know Howard, and I adored Ren as a character. Sure, it was a little predictable (I figured out the twist pages before Lina did), but in a comforting way. Besides, I was reading it as an escape to and a romance in Italy, not for some great literary writing. And Welch served it up (pun intended) delightfully.

 

Audiobook: Beautiful Ruins

beautiful ruinsby Jess Walter
Read by: Edoardo Ballerini
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Content: There is a bit of sex, and a lot of swearing, including a bunch of f-bombs. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

It’s April 1962, and Pasquale has just returned home to his small seaside village of Porto Vergogna to run his deceased father’s hotel, Hotel Adequate View. It’s a nothing of a hotel in a nothing of a village, and he pretty much feels like he’s at a dead end. Then the beautiful American actress Dee Moray shows up on Pasquale’s doorstep.

Thinking she has cancer, Dee’s on leave from the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor production from Cleopatra. She takes refuge at Pasquale’s hotel while he tries to figure out who sent her and why she was there.

Flash forward fifty years, when Pasquale shows up in Hollywood at the famous producer Michael Dean’s office, looking for Dee. And in and around those two events there is a story. Between flashbacks and flash forwards and a few side trips, Walter spills out Dee and Pasquale’s story, from his affair with an older woman (that resulted in a child) to her affair with Richard Burton (that resulted in a child) and the consequences of their decisions.

It was a bit more meandering than I like my books to be. There were several sections that if I had read this in print, I would have skipped. And so, listening to it on audio, I kind of got impatient. However, the narrator was brilliant. Didn’t matter the accent, he was there and so, so good. In fact, it’s what kept me listening throughout the book. Eventually, I did bail, during the epilogue-like part because I just lost interest.

There were parts that I did enjoy, threads of the larger story that I did connect with. But mostly, other than the narrator, I wasn’t that thrilled with the book. It’s just wasn’t my sort of story.

Room With a View

by E. M. Forester
First sentence: “‘The Signora had no business to do it,’ said Miss Barttlet, ‘no business at all.'”
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Content:  There’s some mild swearing, but not much at all. It’s dated, and English, but not too difficult to understand. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I don’t know when I first read this one; probably sometime soon after the Merchant Ivory movie (which I own still on videotape!) came out in the 1980. I don’t know when I got the copy I own, either. (A duo with Howard’s End). I do know that it’s loved enough that it’s falling apart.

And it’s well worth it.

I love Lucy’s innocence and Charlotte’s fussbudget-ness and George’s impulsiveness and Mr. Emerson’s progressiveness and Cecil’s snobbishness. I love Forester’s commentary on the Victorian English upperclass. I love it all. (And yes, I do firmly have the movie in mind when I read.)

I don’t have much more to say; this has been one of my comfort reads in the past, and it was absolutely delightful revisiting it again after being away for so long.

Audiobook: My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante
Translated by: Ann Goldstein
Read by: Hillary Huber
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Content: There’s a few mild swear words and some frank talk about not-quite sex. It’s incredibly slow with a lot of narration rather than dialogue, but I’d give it to a high schooler who was interested in historical fiction. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up because I’ve heard good things about Ferrante from our translation book club (they only read works in translation), and because I needed a book in translation for my bingo card.  (Which I’m going to end up being three squares short from getting a blackout. I read a lot.) I didn’t know much about it, going in, so I didn’t think I had any expectations. (I did however, expect to really enjoy the narrator, which I did.)

What it turned out to be was a very slow, intricate, detailed portrait of a girl, Elena, in a neighborhood in Naples, Italy, and her (somewhat obsessive) relationship with her best friend, Lila. This first book is a lot of set up: their lives — Lila is the daughter of a shoe repairman; Elena the daughter of a porter, whose mother has a wandering eye and limp and is cruel — and their relationship — mostly competitive, mostly on the side of Elena — to each other. They meet in elementary school, where Lina is the smartest and the best. But because she is poorer than Elena and because her parents won’t be bullied by the teacher (there was a lot of bullying by people in this), Lina drops out of school while Elena continues.

And yet, everything Elena does is because she wants to seem important to Lina. She wants Lina to look at her and feel like she Needs Elena in her life. And yet, for the most part, she doesn’t.

I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, I adored Huber’s narration, the way she embodied the characters (and how effortlessly the Italian names and places came off her tongue). She really is a talented reader, and I love listening to her. But, I’m not sure I figured out what was so great about the novel. I was interested enough to keep reading; the character’s lives were intriguing and, yeah, I guess I did want to hear what Elena and Lina would do next. But, in the end, I don’t know if I cared. I finished the book and kind of went, “Huh.” Maybe it’s because I don’t read a lot of books like this (both translated as well as adult fiction), but it just kind of washed over me.

Not that it was bad. It just wasn’t something I was terribly enthusiastic about.