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The Coast of Rhode Island | Member Since 2003

  • 306 reviews
  • 479 ratings
  • 1885 titles in library
  • 16 purchased in 2014

  • La's Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Alexander McCall Smith
    • Narrated By Emily Gray
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    In 1939, Lavender flees London to escape the German bombs and her shattered marriage. Settling in a small town, she pulls together a makeshift orchestra to help cope with the times.

    glamazon says: "McCall Smith Does It Again!"
    "McCall Smith Does It Again!"

    My only complaint with McCall Smith's books is that they are too short! But I guess that's also one of his books' assets - the writing always conveys the breadth of complex ideas and issues that we all face as we traverse the planet, with such economy of expression and lightness of touch, that it seems there is not one extra word or sentence.

    And now, with "La's Orchestra" he brings to life the civilian world of WW II with such clarity and resonance it feels as though he could be talking about things that happened yesterday.

    When I am in the middle of an Alexander McCall Smith listen, I always feel as though I am with a friend. I think that Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Isabel Dalhousie of the eponymous series, and now La, are all soul mates, rendered in perfect nuance and salient, luxuriant, radiant detail by Alexander McCall Smith. It's always a bit of a downer when and one of these books ends, and sometimes I feel I need a support group for McCall Smith addicts! Fortunately for like-minded readers, McCall Smith is prolific, and one does not have to wait very long for Mme. Ramotswe or Isabel Dalhousie to reappear. Let's hope we see more of La, as well.

    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • Shotgun Lovesongs: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 58 mins)
    • By Nickolas Butler
    • Narrated By Scott Shepherd, Ari Fliakos, Maggie Hoffman, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friends—all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town—it is home. And now they are men, coming into their own, or struggling to do so. One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.

    Janice says: "Thirty-Something angst"
    "Not bad, not great, either..."

    This one begins like they tell you how to run a marathon: start slow and get slower. And it's a hard call to rate a book that has so few parts for women. Mostly this book is about men and all their stuff - golf, drinking, farming, music gigs, coupling and uncoupling with various women who are only interesting as sexual partners.

    Aren't there any female (or male, for that matter) editors who could have steered this book towards a more balanced perspective?

    There were some good prose snippets, with good flow and musicality, but mostly this was a flat narrative. Not much happens, and character development? Not so much, I'm afraid.

    It's all about men and how they go about populating their lives with accessories: farm equipment, kids, drinking, people, music.

    I am not so much a fan of "plot" for its own sake, and I can just as easily enjoy a book that meanders through decent and layered psychobabble. However, without any interior landscape nor circumstantial forces that drive the characters, "Shotgun Lovesongs" doesn't have much to grab on to. Excellent title, though.

    A smaller group of characters and their stories would have served to provide some fresh depth, and to give spark and nuance to the monochromatic scenes, and a few piercing insights here and there wouldn't have hurt, either.

    We are well into the 2000's, and fiction still is all about who is hooking up with whom. Isn't there anything else to think about? To write about?

    This was/is a strictly "read while you're doing something else" kind of book.

    5 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • We Are Water: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (23 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Wally Lamb
    • Narrated By Wally Lamb, George Guidall, Maggi-Meg Reed, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    After 27 years of marriage and three children, Anna Oh - wife, mother, outsider artist - has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her success. They plan to wed in the Oh family’s hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut. But the wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora’s Box of toxic secrets - dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.

    Suzn F says: "Lamb writes Fine Literature/What a Book!"
    "Where's Wally?"

    Having read, devoured and otherwise cerebrally ingested Wally Lamb's other books many times over, I was looking forward to "we are water".

    I must first point out the book's central oxymoron. Two female protagonists are getting married. How hip with the times. One partner was raised with abuse and with no material nor cultural advantage, and I mean…zip, nada, zilch. She meets her partner by chance at a gallery and then becomes a kept woman. Well, she does supply the art for which her partner becomes wealthy, but how is this any different, except for the fact that the principals are the same gender - than the 1950's version of this same rescue story of a "woman in distress"?

    Wally usually takes on highly ambiguous situations with a keen understanding and writes with skillful interpretation, with lots of elegant emotional and geographical description thrown in. However, I cannot say that "we are water" is up to Wally Lamb's standards - at least not as I have come to understand them. The obstacles to my enjoyment of this book are easy to enumerate as follows.

    1) "we are water" is all about highly-educated, wealthy elitist characters with "first world" problems. There is a less-advantaged hispanic family thrown in for "diversity" I guess; someone's "help" brought along to assist with the logistics of a wedding, and wordsmith Wally deftly adds their little backstory as just more cumin in the curry.

    2) The artist character gets her start by making little Joseph Cornell shadow boxes. I can say that nearly every book I've read where a female artist becomes successful she starts with little Joseph Cornell shadow boxes. Do writers just not know how to describe the visual arts and are incapable of giving the artists in their stories anything to create besides these (becoming trite) mini-scenes?

    3) The female protagonists all talk with what I call Piping Rock Lockjaw. Those who've been raised in private schools and country clubs know what I mean. For simplicity's sake - let's just say they talk in that 1950's Hollywood-speak, sounding like Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, but with drawn-out syllables to the "drama". I actually thought the first sentences read by the Anna character - pronounced "Ah-nah" - were part of a parody of snobspeak. Her first scenes were meandering thoughts on "Viveca"'s wedding dress. Just sounded like something out of "The Onion", or "Hyperbole and a Half".

    4) I can't stand listening to George Guidall, who always brings to my mind a matronly picture of Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie", wearing a wallpaper-like flowered dress, white gloves, and boxy, capacious purse carried on his/her forearm, sort of like Queen Elizabeth. Add to that the fact that Guidall can't seem to read more than three words without taking a breath and you get a barely endurable Guidall endurance-fest. Not my most pleasant listening experience.

    5) The names of the characters are pretentious, snobbish, elitist and non-relateable. "Viveca"?? Really?. "Orion", with his constellation-of-stars reference? The pompous one-letter surname "O"??

    I am being harsh, because the shallowness of all these factors derailed for me the devastating emotional issues with which this extended family grappled. And grappled successfully, I thought. The pay dirt is there and is pure Wally Lamb. But this book makes you dig your way through a lot of shallow sandboxes to get there.

    8 of 14 people found this review helpful
  • Talk Before Sleep: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 22 mins)
    • By Elizabeth Berg
    • Narrated By Elizabeth Berg

    What do you say when you know you don’t have forever? Ruth has been Ann’s closest friend for years - her confidante, her solace, her comic relief, her tutor in life’s mysterious ways. So when Ruth becomes ill, Ann is there for her without question. After all, it is Ruth who encouraged Ann to become who she is, Ruth whose rebellious, eccentric spirit provided the perfect counterpoint to Ann’s conventional, safe outlook. And so the friends go on as they always have…gossiping, consoling, and sharing intimate secrets.

    glamazon says: "Elizabeth Berg: Always a Surprise"
    "Elizabeth Berg: Always a Surprise"

    Elizabeth Berg is one of those writers who explores just about all aspects of the human condition - and "condition" is the operative word, as in we are al here "conditionally" and must navigate our lives with attention and mindfulness.

    Having said that, what happens is that you never quite know what you're getting when you sign on to a literary trip with Berg. I always think I know her, but am always jolted from my complacency.

    After very recently finishing "The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted" and being satiated with comic as well as tragic (or at least challenging) moments in life, any life, I have expanded my reading repertoire into the short story genre and was pleasantly surprised. Berg has a few substantial funny (if not downright slapstick) bones in her vision and deploys them well in this story collection.

    But now, to my point - "Talk Before Sleep" could have been an inspiring exploration into the experience of the end of life; after all, loss is universal to us all, part of the admission price we pay to enter the planet and does not have to be a monochromatic plunge into sadness and despair. But instead I found the world portrayed in here in "Talk Before Sleep" to be narrow and sad.

    But I will continue to seek out work by Elizabeth Berg, one of my favorite authors, and one of the few whose work I download without even having to listen to a sample.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Enon: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Paul Harding
    • Narrated By Paul Harding

    Hailed as "a masterpiece" (NPR), Tinkers, Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning debut, is a modern classic. The Dallas Morning News observed that "like Faulkner, Harding never shies away from describing what seems impossible to put into words". Here, in Enon, Harding follows a year in the life of Charlie Crosby as he tries to come to terms with a shattering personal tragedy. Grandson of George Crosby (the protagonist of Tinkers), Charlie inhabits the same dynamic landscape of New England, its seasons mirroring his turbulent emotional odyssey.

    glamazon says: "Perfect Meditation on Loss"
    "Perfect Meditation on Loss"

    As the other reviewers have shared, this book is more of a contemplative exploration on grief and loss, than a story in the conventional sense. Harding's writing is elegant and throughly crafted with layers of detail, as he gradually progresses deeper and deeper into his own dark places, which match the dark woods near Enon, his home.

    I would compare this to Joyce Carol Oates' treatment of grief in her book "A Widow's Story", which focuses more on the details and nuances of her daily life as does Harding, but her focus is more at a distance, as though she is an outsider, observing her own recovery, and recording her days as she experiences them. She certainly has plenty of "stuff" to fill her life - friends, family, a job at the top of her field, but even with all this, she is reduced to the same questions - now that the loved one is gone, what is life's meaning and how do we interpret its lessons?

    Enon shows us how a a seemingly well-constructed life can implode by a single devastating loss, and how precarious are our attachments. One day it's all hanging together for Charlie, the next day his daughter is dead and his wife is gone. There certainly is no "resolution" in the conventional sense, not for this reader, anyway. I read the book twice and was twice led to the conclusion that Charlie had reached a conditional accommodation to his condition, was taking some steps to rebuild, but was certainly not yet emotionally solvent. Letting go of his dependency on prescription drugs was a start.

    I applaud Harding for not turning Charlie's story into an archetypal "hero's quest" for redemption. Instead it's a realistic account of what's left to work with, and using that to restart, after all our life-sustaining resources seem to be gone.

    7 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Kate Christensen
    • Narrated By Tavia Gilbert
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    This memoir derives from Kate's popular foodcentric blog, in which she shares scenes from an unusual upbringing and an unusually happy present-day life, providing an audience for this book that is already primed. That it is written by Kate Christensen means it will be a delicious reading experience in every sense - a compulsively listenable account of a knockabout life, full of sorrows and pleasures, many of the latter of the sensual, appetitive variety.

    glamazon says: "Disappointing and Shallow"
    "Disappointing and Shallow"

    I grabbed this book as soon as I heard an interview with the author on NPR. Based on that, I wanted to read anything by Kate Christenson and thus I was expecting a much more introspective exploration of her life. What I got instead was an extended list of unexamined life experiences, rendered factually and sounding totally banal by the narrator's sing-song-y voice. Every event, situation, item in the physical environment was made to seem oh-so "precious", with unnecessary detail which after a few chapters became just tiresome. Perhaps in the hands of a less chirpy narrator, this book would have more heft and substance. But performed as is, "Blue Plate Special" is the new "Eat Pray Love", with the same shallow, self-referential descriptions that make it a picaresque pseudo-adventure for the privileged.

    Actually, the "I", Kate, the narrator of this memoir is not nearly as interesting as her mother, with her multiple marriages, breakdowns, struggles and angst, and the listener only gets a random flash of her as background noise. Sometimes I kept reading just for the purpose of finding out more of what was going on with the mom in the story.

    I can't say that this book is ruined by the narrator (although for me it was), or simply that IMO Tavia Gilbert's birdsong reading gives a shallow rendering to what might be an interesting life. Might read better in print.

    I'll give it a "3", though, because it satisfies one of my basic standards of read-worthiness: it's entertaining.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • Big Brother: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Lionel Shriver
    • Narrated By Alice Rosengard
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn't recognize him. In the four years since the siblings last saw each other, he has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? Imposing himself on Pandora's world, Edison breaks her husband Fletcher's handcrafted furniture, and entices her stepson to drop out of high school. After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It's him or me.

    Jacqueline says: "Well worth the credit--"
    "Shriver's Super-sized Best!"

    Once again Shriver treads the tough path through the weeds and delivers a novel that is so overstuffed and super-sized with conflict that every sentence is a gift that leaves us waiting eagerly for the next one. WIthin the novel she deftly embeds the issues of fame & notoriety, the role of food in our lives, the relative importance of family and loyalty, the role of addiction and the "addictive personality" - she gives us all of it!

    Shriver's protagonist, Pandora Hafdinarsen, the almost-accidental but successful entrepreneur is jolted out of her comfort zone when her brother, a jazz pianist who is having a "rough patch", arrives in their home weighing 240 pounds more than he did the last time she saw him. This causes all manner of mayhem, particularly offending the aesthetic sensibilities of her husband, Fletcher, who is a designer and builder of art furniture in the basement of the home he shares with Pandora and his two pre-adolescent children. He is additionally an exercise maniac, riding his bicycle 50 miles per day, and a "nutritional nazi", shunning all white flour, white sugar and anything that's wrapped, packaged or processed, his primary meal consisting of brown rice and broccoli. His body is lean and spare, the perfect contrast to the excessively over-nourished-by-junk-food Edison, Pandora's brother, for whom all sorts of spatial and emotional accommodations must be made as they all attempt to deal with his extreme girth.

    This is the main plot setup, but woven through the story are musings about food (she's also a former caterer) and its importance (and lack thereof), addiction, fame, loyalty, and what it means to be "successful". Pandora feels divided between her husband and her brother and this forms the fulcrum on which the novel balances perfectly, delicately, and with the precision we've come to love and admire in Shriver's writing.

    I have read some reviews on other sites and there seems to be some discussion about the ending. As a reader I favor neither a 'perfect' resolution nor an open-ended plot line - what makes a novel work for me is the writer's attention to detail, characterization, layers of emotion and sense of place. It's more about the story itself, the process, rather than any particular event that signals "the end", and with "Big Brother", IMO ending is organic to the story.

    Five stars all around!

    20 of 24 people found this review helpful
  • The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 52 mins)
    • By Thomas Lynch
    • Narrated By Kevin T. Collins
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Ostensibly about death and its attendant rituals, The Undertaking is in the end about life. In each case, he writes, it is the one that gives meaning to the other. A funeral director in Milford, Michigan, Lynch is that strangest of hyphenates, a poet-undertaker, but according to Lynch, all poets share his occupation, "looking for meaning and voices in life and love and death." Looking for meaning takes him to all sorts of unexpected places, both real and imagined. He embalms the body of his own father, celebrates the rebuilt bridge to his town's old cemetery, and more.

    glamazon says: "Thoroughly Original, Inspiring and Mesmerizing!"
    "Thoroughly Original, Inspiring and Mesmerizing!"

    I wanted to read this as soon as the book appeared in the inventory. "The Undertaking" attracted my attention as the subject is neither common nor comfortable for many. So I couldn't wait to jump right in.

    Thomas Lynch is both a published poet and the director of a funeral home; perhaps an odd pairing of professions, but each job informs the other and stories of the living (as he cares for and buries the dead) flow poetically through this novel as the Huron River flows through his home town in Michigan. As Lynch anecdotally brings life to those his clients have left behind, the poetry within the prose is musical, nuanced, and sustaining.

    Kevin T. Collins' performance makes a substantial contribution and I am not certain this book will impact readers in quite the same way as hearing it read with such sensitivity, emotion, and grace, and at times I could not tell if I was reading prose or poetry.

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • Broken Harbor: Dublin Murder Squad, Book 4

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By Tana French
    • Narrated By Stephen Hogan

    In Broken Harbor, all but one member of the Spain family lies dead, and it’s up to Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy to find out why. Mick must piece together why their house is full of cameras pointed at holes in the walls and how a nighttime intruder bypassed all the locks. Meanwhile, the town of Broken Harbor holds something else for Mick: disturbing memories of a childhood summer gone terribly wrong.

    Amazon Customer says: "Best in the Series"
    "Terrifying Awesome Beauty"

    I have never read a novel of this genre, nor of this magnitude that is this nuanced, layered, and so real it gets under your skin, even though the work of P.D. James comes close. In fact I spent an entire day in Paris in my hotel room reading most of it, aided by the grey, wintery, snowy weather that boosted the eerie tone of the book, and kept me inside.

    There are not many books in this, what, all-encompassing genre that we call "mystery", the books that include police procedurals, psychological thrillers, courtroom dramas, lawyer capers, that have this level of depth, and add an additional character: the geographical setting, a setting in this case intended as a joyful, benign refuge, a harbor to all who lived there, but was "broken" on so many levels, to its very core.

    Tana French has a background in theater, and that came through loud and clear. There are are some of the best interrogation scenes I have ever read. I truly felt these people, I felt the strategies, the emotions, the investigational blind alleys of the two cops and the suspect, and I felt the narrator's subtleties as strongly as if I had seen this on the big screen. Stephen Hogan was truly channeling Tana French and her star gumshoe, Mike "Scorcher" Kennedy.

    The set design was masterful, as was the quality of description. This reader/listener feels the presence of a harbor that is truly "broken" on all levels.

    Not to detract from Hogan's performance, I did find myself hearing the voices of both Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne. Perhaps either one of those actors would be a good choice for another book in the Dublin Murder Squad series.

    "Broken Harbor" is intimidating, frightening, and strikes a deep chord of vulnerability. But there is no question that within all the frailties and failings of the characters and their crumbling senses of safety and life-altering violation of their comfort zones, this is a novel of overpowering beauty.

    75 of 84 people found this review helpful
  • Truth in Advertising: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By John Kenney
    • Narrated By Robert Petkoff
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Finbar Dolan is lost and lonely. Except he doesn’t know it. Despite escaping his blue-collar Boston upbringing to carve out a mildly successful career at a Madison Avenue ad agency, he’s a bit of a mess and closing in on 40. He’s recently called off a wedding. Now, a few days before Christmas, he’s forced to cancel a long-postponed vacation in order to write, produce, and edit a Superbowl commercial for his diaper account in record time. Fortunately, it gets worse....

    phil b says: "Great Stuff"
    "A Riotous, Rollicking Rollercoaster!"

    This is "dysfunction noir", in the tradition of Tropper and Franzen, but with many more hilarious and comedic moments. Having spent many years in a profession similar to that of Finbar Dolan, the protagonist, I could completely relate to the characters in the ad agency and to their conflicts that come from the nature of the parts they must play. Basically this particular plot arc centers on the now-trite adage that the client is always right, and it doesn't matter how creatively you solve an issue, and how many branded celebrities you bring in to a campaign if the client does not relate. Fin both dislikes his job, or at least he doesn't love it, and does not feel "fulfilled" by it, but this is post-2008 financial crisis and he realizes it's a job he's been lucky enough to keep; the concept of fulfillment has been banished to job-market purgatory.

    Fin's abusive childhood and his view of the familial nightmare that growing up in the Dolan family play into the present story to a large extent, without any need to hit the reader upside the head with the horrendous deviations from happy family life. There are glimpses into his past, and with those come a few of the reasons why the four siblings have become so estranged. However, the story, like life, is not without the occasional redemptive moment.

    The cynical view of being creative on demand is fertile ground for humor, irony, and just plain laugh-out-loud episodes. How many times have I, or anyone else in that judgy, gossipy, whispery, micro-managed, performance-focused environment known as the office wanted to say to some co-worker or underling, or even over-ling, "I don't like your name, so from now on I'm calling you Barbara"?

    Which all adds up to an unputdownable story with hilarious in-the-moment scenes from a life, traumatized from birth, channeled into some degree of success, both commercial and personal, seen through the cynical lens of Finbar Dolan.

    The narration is perfect, as is the jacket cover - an "homage" to the proprietary Coca Cola font.

    5 stars all on all counts.

    41 of 46 people found this review helpful
  • How Lucky You Are

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Kristyn Kusek Lewis
    • Narrated By Coleen Marlo
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    In the tradition of Emily Giffin and Marisa de los Santos, How Lucky You Are is an engaging and moving novel about three women struggling to keep their long-standing friendship alive. Waverly, who's always been the group's anchor, runs a cozy bakery but worries each month about her mounting debt. Kate is married to a man who's on track to be the next governor of Virginia, but the larger questions brewing in their future are unsettling her.

    glamazon says: "This Story Never Gets Old"
    "This Story Never Gets Old"

    This is a variation on the themes of "get me out of here" and facing personal demons with the inward-facing honesty required to effect any change and become a more balanced human being with a life that's on balance as well.

    The story centers on the lives of three friends - all quite successful on the outside, but all immersed to varying degrees in the interior crisis mode that comes from asking yourself "what am I doing here?". They are people who are carrying on day-to-day lives that fit them, but only incompletely.

    The book is well within the chick-lit genre, but has some life lessons that bear repeating, and like the title of this review, the novel's main story is about how each person tackles the life issues that frustrate, irritate, frighten, and intimidate. I'll only go for a book like this if its primary concern is not romance and relationships, and this novel deals with the larger questions.

    I would have preferred a different narrator - Coleen Marlo reads way too fast and does not let the words sink in. I like her voice - it's different from who is usually on board with books like this, but she just races through the story without giving the reader time to digest each sentence. I am aware that there are speed settings for listening, but the results are not optimal and the readings always end up sounding muddy, not crisp. Perhaps the "happy medium" is what's needed here.

    Still, the book is a good one, and for me, satisfied many of the reasons that I read.

    37 of 42 people found this review helpful

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