If you are selecting your first Jane Austen novel, I suggest you leave this one till later. It does not have the level of humour, interesting characters and romance of her greater novels.
But for all that, Northanger Abbey is still rewarding. Beautifully narrated, as always, by the superb Juliet Stevenson, it describes an eighteenth century mating game with all the silliness and self absorption that might well resemble contemporary social media exchanges. Extraordinary that one could offer that comparison but there is something timeless about Austen's dry wit and insights as to how people present themselves and perceive each other.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable novel. It was human, gentle, very intriguing -- and altogether rewarding.
The plot was beautifully crafted: stories of different individuals in different times and places, skilfully melded together against the background of the science, emotions and creativity involved in creating perfumes.
I persevered with this novel because I had enjoyed Mitzner's first, A Conflict of Interest. But perseverance was required. It was too long, some of the key characters were uninteresting. Althought it was written in the first person by a man who was in pretty straightened circumstances, and the narrator needed to reflect a wide range of deeply felt emotions, it was read with urgency and desperation without any let up.
But, continuing to the end was indeed rewarded with an interesting conclusion.
I look forward to Mitzner's next novel. He is well informed and interesting where legal issues are concerned and an engaging author with creative plots. But in this novel, I just felt that he was just trying too hard and overwriting.
This was a particularly rewarding book. The gently firm, calm voice of the reader, Anne Wittman, reflects the courage, proficiency and complete modesty of the midwife, Patience Murphy. There are images of babies being born with pain, with joy and with the mortal dangers attached to birth in a remote town in the Appalachians in the the depression years of the 1930s. And there are the fears and responsibilities of the untrained midwife. Strong images take us right to the mother, the baby, the family. These are informed images, presented with authority by the author, Patricia Harman, herself a midwife.
There is also the midwife's story. This is a strong narrative thread. Why would such a woman find herself here, in Hope River (what an ironic name), dealing with a tough environment and poverty, and managing her lifesaving role without vehicle and even a phone. The answers lie in a past rich with examples of injustice and social inequality and profound personal regrets. Furthermore, she finds herself with an assistant which takes her into the horrifying world of racial violence and discrimination which is then underlined by the few medical resources available to the 'negro' community.
We feel her pain, her dilemmas, and admire the clear thinking she brings to the many challenges that face her.
Satisfying parallel: the work of the vet in the community.
Have I made this sound gloomy? No, it is far from that. Life embracing and hopeful, in fact.
Maeve Binchy was a much loved Irish writer and A Week in Winter is her last novel. I really enjoyed it. I felt it was a testament to a life well lived because she created a warm, loving, positive book.
It's about people experiencing positive changes in their lives -- either through their own decisions, or just through a chain of events. What these people have in common is that they end up at a guest house in a peaceful, beautiful part of rural Ireland -- the establishment of the house itself being a creative optimistic series of decisions
It's about caring, loving, dealing with life events that hold us back.
Am I making it sound like a personal development book! It's far from that. But it does leave the reader with a sense of hope and valuing life options.
I get the feeling that Binchy delighted in creating this little world, so far away from the cares of urban living, and drawing people into it and allowing most of them to leave more content and in touch with themselves.
It was sympathetically read by Caroline Lennon.
I looked forward to listening to David Colacci's performance (always very well done) of John Lescoart's latest work The Ophelia Cut, and revisiting the many characters he has established so very well.
This book is not a stand alone work -- it is number 14 in the Dismas Hardy series (all books are available in Audible, thanks!) and the plot is linked to number 9, The First Law (which is difficult to listen to due to the reader and it would be good if it was re-recorded by Colacci).
I felt that The Ophelia Cut lacked some of the discipline and care of his previous books. So, what was happening to the author?
Tired? (I hope not -- I'm looking forward to his next novel!) My feeling is that he opted for easy answers to the plot lines that he initially established in his usual intriguing way, and as a result the resolution to the problems were not satisfying. Or was he being overly ambitious? Anyway, disappointly, the overlay of credibility was missing. And, apart from Hardy himself, he did not manage to create that deeply personal involvement with the protagonists that Lescroart normally develops so skilfully.
But this is, none the less, an entertaining listen.
Again Lescroart has produced a legal thriller (written in 1994) that works on many levels.
For one thing, it's a well crafted book whose title enhances and cements the plot. And the narrator, David Colacci: what a reader! Those voices, that well timed drawl, the enjoyment of the humour. I hope that the Lesocraut-Colacci collaborations keep coming.
The characters. Lawyer, Dismas Hardy: as always, endearing in his humanity, his single mindedness, his capacity for friendship and creative, lateral thinking. Franny: his wife -- Franny, I thought you were a bit rough on Dismas this time, sending confused messages about his family obligations and at the same time, huge concern for his client. There's Freeman: reassuringly his own man, and a brilliant lawyer. And the judge: that was a strong portrayal.
And finally, the plot: satisfying, clever, smooth, twists and turns that weren't gratuitous but interesting side travels. A mix of arresting dialogue, dramatic high moments and, as always, the background of San Francisco's beauty and lifestyle (I enjoy Lew the Greeks!) As a person who is part of a society with gun control and where capital punishment has been abolished since 1967, I was riveted by the way the issues of capital punishment and gun ownership were presented.
I'm not a fan of authors reading their material, but in this case it works. Well, Alison Larkin is a performer in her own right and she certainly works the lighter side of this book very well (and sings in tune!)
The English American is is about identity and families and parents accepting their children and projecting onto their children. And emotional entrapment and blackmail -- and out of all this, working out individual meaning. On the edge of these personal circumstances is Bureacracy pretending to do the 'right thing' (for whom?)
Yes, quite an agenda but presented as a sequence of events so the listener can readily along for the ride.
One does get quite caught up in rescue-mode when the adopted Pippa Dunn is being lured into the identity of others but nevertheless I have given this otherwise entertaining book 3 stars because my interest flagged in several places. I do think a bit of editing would have been useful though I appreciate that each step of the journey would have had intrinsic value to the writer.
I also found Larkin's rather simplistic comparisons between the American and English cultures at times annoying. Though, having said that, I have to admit that at times it was interesting to apply her observations to my Australian culture because we are arguably somewhat half-way between the two. But I found this theme (accentuated by the title) to be something of a red herring and a distraction from what was a valuable journey in terms of working out who we are in relation to our families (whatever the biological relationship).
I'm a fan of this series, but I suggest it isn't judged by this particular book. It's just that this particular novel just didn't work for me. I think it was because it was quite fragmented, lots of extraneous conversations and explanations -- too much information about people who weren't particularly interesting. But, as is always the case, Travis McGee is deeply compassionate (fight it though he might he is a bit of a Robin Hood and a soft touch for a tragic lady) and resourceful and has the freedom and danger of working parallel to the law.
Ah well, perhaps there wasn't enough about his houseboat home -- I really enjoy that setting!
As always, Petkoff reads with commitment and understanding.
Oh where is the 6 star option when you need it!
Because I certainly need for any of the Number One Lady's Detective Agency series -- and this, the thirteenth, is no exception.
This book is beautiful. Reading it is to be engaged in a flow of generous humanity -- people with love in their hearts, gracious routines mapping their day and gratitude for what is wonderful in people and the environment. These are people with idiosyncrasies which amuse or irritate, and past lives which offer explanation and depth to their present, and whose personalities are revealed by dealing with day to day challenges.
But these people are not naive. They are fully aware of the physical dangers of the world, and the usually greater dangers of the mean-spirited -- if not down right evil -- humans. The lady detectives address these dangers with a delicious mixture of compassion, shrewd identification of what is right and wrong, of course, a cup of bush tea.
And always in the background McCall Smith evokes an Africa that is both gloriously vibrant and much troubled, and within it, the stable country of Botswana.
All this is superbly reflected in the narration by Adjoa Andoh who richly captures the music of McCall's language and characters.
The Hon. Phryne Fisher is a charismatic sleuth who takes on the criminal elements of early twentieth century Melbourne, Australia. She has her adoring 'minions' to support her, inherited wealth to ameliorate wrongs, and a uses her knowledge of the under and upper classes to fight exploitation and cruelty.
This book is not merely one of a series of highly entertaining, well written detective novels. Greenwood also uses the wonderful Miss Fisher to demonstrate, to expose, and fiercely and passionately condemn, past inustices. Unnatural Habits (delightful play on words there) reveals the existence of church organisations that have been tremendously cruel to women. This is topical as a royal commission into the closely related issue of child abuse in such institutions has just commenced in Australia (April 13).
Narrator, Stephanie Daniels, brings the many delightful characters to life and without doubt, reflects the very spirit of the author's goals.
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