Phoenix, AZ, United States | Member Since 2010
I repeatedly disregarded this selection, worried it would be a trite romance story that would have little to engage me. I was wrong.
The year is 1982, and three young people are graduating from Brown University. They have qualities that are often found in young graduates; very sure of their own opinions, very proud of their own intellect, and perhaps a bit unaware of their own self-indulgence. Most of us have been there; it's easy for the world to appear "black and white" when you're young.
For me, this book was a beautiful, smart, and effective novel of how people transition from those qualities, to adults that better understand the difficult, complicated realities of the "real world". The story is everything the characters are not; it's self aware, humble, and honest. It took situations that are often glossed over or romanticized, and instead presented them in realistic terms; addressing mental illness, poverty, and the unexpected consequences that so often follow rash decisions. It was refreshing to see these presented as they really are.
This could sound like a depressing topic; but the book was far from it. It was funny, sensitive, and insightful. The story begins at Brown, but travels to France, Monaco, Greece, and India. The unique way the narrative moves backwards and forwards in time highlighted how often we work off of partial information; having you form one opinion of an event, only to go back later and provide more information that may make you re-think your opinion.
I loved this book. For me, it's one of those novels that makes it hard to pick the next book, because you don't want another one - you want more of this story, of these people. I'm so glad I finally gave it a chance.
The title of this novel, "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" was borrowed from a Russian Medical Dictionary; it was the definition listed under the entry for the word "Life". The definition strikes me as inexplicably lyrical and poetic; making it a fitting title to this impressive work.
Marra's book is all about life; not just the lives of the main characters we follow throughout the book, but also of a full constellation of lives that orbit them. The lives of an embittered nurse, once jilted by an oncologist. A six year old in Manchester, England, who desperately wanted to avoid another hand-me-down. A neighbor; an elderly woman who believes she gets daily visitations from "ghosts, angels, prophets and monsters". A swarthy, opportunist smuggler who does good deeds for the doctor who saved her brother's life - explaining that even though the brother in question was most definitely his least favorite of six brothers, had remembered to feed his pet turtle once as a child; so a favor was still owed for his life. From these characters and countless more, the constellation is formed.
The last word of the title, phenomena, is defined as "a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen". And with that, the story takes form; as we learn how the full constellation of characters came to either be where they are, or end up where they will, based on the vital facts and situations of their lives.
Other reviewers have discussed that the story was depressing, the torture brutal, the characters sad. They definitely have very valid points; but I somehow didn't find the book too depressing. I was struck by the flashes of normalcy despite the terrible circumstances, the unexpected humor, and the strong underlying current of innate goodness and dignity that ran through the main characters we followed.
In an interview, the author Anthony Marra shared, "I knew early on that though the novel was set against a backdrop of war, it would be a book about recovery rather than destruction, about surgeons rather than soldiers." That is the feeling the story left me with.
Having loved Rachel Joyce's original novel "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry", I dove into "Perfect" as soon as it was released. After a decent amount of time listening to the story, I had to admit to myself that I wasn't following the narrative at all - so I started over, right back at the beginning. After several more false starts, I decided to go online and find some reviews; was it just me that was confused? Luckily, there was a review on Amazon from a reader with an early release copy of the book, who mentioned that the chapters of the book alternate between the story of the two boys in 1972 (beginning with both the book's preface "The Addition of Time" and the first chapter "Something Terrible") and the story that takes place in our current year - a story of a man nearing 60,(beginning with Chapter Two, entitled "Jim"). From that point on, the chapters switch regularly, with each narrative getting every other chapter.
With that piece of crucial information, I began the book once again; and from that point on, I was entranced. Much like the author's first book, the story is both beautiful and sad; focusing on the cause and effect that relationships, actions, and experiences in our past have on our future lives.
I found this story very touching and honest. Sharing any more about the plot would be a disservice, so I'll leave it at that.
If you enjoyed "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry", I believe you'll enjoy this new tale; a very different story, but treated with the same respect and compassion by it's author.
I picked up this book as soon as it came to my attention because there was a time in my life when traveling was my favorite thing, and how I spent every spare penny I could squirrel away. India was always on the wish list, but never came to pass. On average, I tend to enjoy most travel memoirs or stories written by people who have really had the experience of traveling.
The author, William Sutcliffe, did in fact spend about 3 months traveling in India during his gap year, just as the protagonist in this story does. I have no idea if any of the events experienced by the character were shared by the author, but the general spirit of an adventure to a culture really different to your own was certainly very authentic, and told with the humor and affection that I think most people that travel for pleasure look back on their trips with.
Fair warning: there is some discussion/scenes of adult content. None of them are over the top, but it is an aspect of the story. While making the decision on if this selection is a good choice for you, include that in your decision making.
Overall however, I really enjoyed hitching a ride through India with our flawed hero. The level of humor, honesty and accuracy were spot on, and the description of how you look back on the trip after you're back at home could not have rung more true.
It's a quick read (or listen) that left me smiling and remembering my own adventures. The narrator, Tom Lawrence, could not have done a better job and certainly played a huge part in how much I enjoyed this experience.
Night Film was easily one of the best books I've read; not just for 2013, but ever. It has easily made it's way into my top 10 list of all time great books.
While I read Night Film at the end of August, I find it still haunting me as I write this review. This, for me, is one of the true tests of a great book. I can't quite get it out of my head.
Night Film is narrated by the gifted Jake Weber; currently best know for his role on "The Medium", but also credited with countless other movie and television performances. Mr. Weber plays the role of Scott McGrath flawlessly; and as the story is told in first person narrative, it takes on an especially personal tone as he tells the story. He allows the tale to shine through as it slowly, hauntingly, and sometimes terrifyingly weaves it's way through the mystery that is the apparent suicide of Ashley Cordova (the daughter of the legendary, reclusive, cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova) and the rebirth of McGrath's investigation into the director himself; an investigation that years prior ruined both his career and reputation.
Nothing is as it seems - or is everything exactly the way it seems? Does the truth, perhaps, lie somewhere in the middle? Your view may shift, as mine did, back and forth as I repeatedly had to question every assumption and belief I had formed, over and over again, as new information - sometimes truth, sometimes a lie - is layered into the disturbing file of interviews, experiences, and information we gather with McGrath.
The story makes you feel part of this haunting decent into uncertainty you spiral through. By the end, I was uncomfortable, disturbed, fascinated... and satisfied.
The book comes with countless old photographs, magazine articles, and other clippings from the past that make both the investigation and our belief in the mythology of the background all the more real. If you choose to experience the book via the audio version, please note that when you download the book from your library on Audible.com there is also a supplemental PDF Download link offered directly under the title of the book. This will be especially important for your enjoyment of the first small section of the story as it steps you through a New York Times article regarding Ashley's death, and a Time Magazine Photo Spread of historical photos of the Cordova family.
I hope that if you choose to read this book in any form, you enjoy it even a fraction as much as I did. I can tell you that I gave 4 copies as gifts, and all 4 people loved the book as much as I did. Again, I encourage you to experience the story as only Jake Weber can tell it - but no matter what format you choose, prepare to have the experience stay with you for the foreseeable future.
There were aspects to this novel I liked very much, and one I did not like as much. It was a very good thriller/mystery, and provided the reader with many different characters to follow, while always making it easy to keep track of them. The plot moved at a good pace, and always kept my interest.
What I did not expect (as it's not part of the book's synopsis) is that the book is primarily focused on Nazis and the holocaust, with some pretty dark topics and scenes. Some of the things described (types of torture done to the Jews in the concentration camps) are very graphic and dark. Some of it was too much for me, and I wish it hadn't gotten as graphic as it did.
Overall, a good mystery/thriller, as long as you can stomach the topics regarding the holocaust.
I am not a huge Sci-Fi fan. While I have (thanks to some recommendations from my brothers) read a few Sci-Fi stories in the past, it's never been an area I was that comfortable in or drawn to.
When I received notification that my pre-order for Atopia was in my library and ready for download, I was a little stumped; when had I ordered this? Why would I have? I read the synopsis and could see why I may have been drawn to it; dystopian undercurrents, with multiple narrators and points of view... The current senile me thanked the previous, unremembered me for having pre-ordered the story, and I began the book immediately.
As mentioned above, the story is told by multiple points of view with jumping and/or overlapping timelines. You may at times find yourself in the same conversation you've read before, but now from the other character's point of view. Each new section begins with a clear announcement of which character you are about to hear from. In the firsts half of the book, these sections are larger chunks and it takes a while to catch on to the intricate cobweb of shared history that connects all of these people (or perhaps I should instead say sentient beings) together. Then, as you become more comfortable with the format and players, these sections become shorter and faster as the narrative speeds up to it's final conclusion; or at the very least, the conclusion for now.
One of my favorite authors, Michael J. Sullivan, was discussing recently that one of the accepted, identifying qualities of the Science Fiction genre is that it provides us with a forum in which to look at, consider, and discuss moral and ethical ramifications of different choices and ideologies as they are extended into the future. I'd never considered that before, but between his recent Sci-Fi book (Hollow World) and this novel Atopia, I really see what he's talking about. This book gave us a great deal to consider regarding what we call "progress" and "technology" today, asking how far these ideas can be taken before they become something that controls us, rather than something we control.
I believe that for the great majority of people, this is a book that will greatly benefit a second reading; and I am greatly looking forward to mine. Now that I'm more comfortable with the players and the landscape, I believe I'll pick up on a lot of great stuff in the second read that I missed in the first one.
I recommend this book, regardless of what "genres" you typically listen to.
Reconstructing Amelia was an enjoyable book with some a very interesting premise. The chapters go back and forth between the mother's point of view, and the daughter's narration from before her death. We as the readers do finally know the whole truth, but true to life, the mother can only hope to put together enough information to get the basic outline of what happened to her daughter.
I did read a review that compared this book to "Gone Girl", acting like this was the next big thing. While I did find it interesting and enjoyable, I personally would not compare it to Gone Girl. The stories are required to have very different tones since this is a mother/daughter that were close, and it lacks the dark wit and hard edges that made Gone Girl such a great summer read.
There are some issues with the recording towards the beginning; nothing that hinders your ability to hear any words spoken, just a jump in sound quality a few times from an almost echo-y sound to a more dull and muted tone; it made me wonder if anyone listened to the recording before releasing it. It was like bad splicing. Still, this was only a few times towards the beginning; and while it caused some irritation and concern, it did not continue through the book, so don't worry if you notice it towards the beginning.
Speaking as someone who gobbles up a book about every other day, I enjoyed reading this and it was a good selection for me. If that is you also, and you need to find a high volume of selections, I do recommend this. I liked it. If, however, you have less time for your audiobooks and can therefore be super selective in your purchases, then perhaps there are enough books that are even better than this one to read.
Overall, I liked the story. It got a bit far fetched towards the end, but I still enjoyed it overall.
"Life After Life" is both the examination of one woman's life, experiences, and destiny, and also a larger vision of how our lives can take substantial turns based on very small decisions or actions. It's beautifully written, and the narration is excellent.
I had a surprisingly easy time following the time jumps and re-sets; if you note in the beginning that Ursula is born in 1910, it's a nice even number to judge the years and her age by, as the story goes along. Every time jump/reset is prefaced by a a clarification of exactly when and where you are.
Along with everything else the book has to offer, it's set in a fascinating time that covers both the first and second world war, and the story highlights what a woman's life was like during that time in England. Ursula's character was extremely well defined and presents you with an authentic, genuine person with a full family life, history, and personality. I enjoyed spending time with her.
There's one sub-plot that the book starts out with and picks up again towards the end that could be considered a bit of an overreach, and in my opinion the book would have stood up will without it. I found it's sensationalism at odds with what was otherwise an intimate and believable portrayal of a woman that could be any one of us, dealing with the extraordinary situation of repeated lives. If I had a vote, I would have left it out; but it did not ultimately hinder my deep enjoyment of the story and the people found within it.
As has been noted by another reviewer, this is not the story of a grand adventure; it instead takes your hand and allows you to step in and view the story of a family, and one member in particular; Ursula. I loved the relationships they all had with each other; they were true to life; an authentic family.
I recommend this book.
There are very few books that I've waited as long for, or in as much anticipation of. I was a big fan of "The Passage" when it came out, and made a point of reading it again just before the release date of "The Twelve". This turned out to be a much smarter thing to do than I had anticipated, and I encourage anyone that's considering doing so to do it. "The Twelve" takes the surface story we got in "The Passage", and adds depth, breadth, and context to it. One of the main ways Cronin does this is by fleshing out the background and history of the characters; some of which were not major players in the first book.
Readers of "The Passage" know that part-way through, there was a very... unexpected (and for many readers, myself included) unwelcomed turn of events that meant we were not going to continue with many of the characters and plot lines we'd come to care about. I know from other people's reviews that some readers even stopped reading at that point. I made the choice to continue, and was incredibly glad that I did - but it was still a hard pill to swallow at the time.
Now I realize that I should have given more credit to Justin Cronin's grand plan for his trilogy.
The first thing that really struck me as I began was that the quality is just as good as the first novel; the tone, the pacing, and the mood were all consistent and it was great to have Scott Brick back as the narrator. Once the story begins, we are promptly taken BACK to Year Zero. We see what happened to other characters we knew, and get a view of how the country handled the beginning of the crisis. More importantly, we slowly start to understand how these people end up affecting the world of 97 AV. I really enjoyed being able to fill in these holes, and the connections that are artfully woven between the characters in both times.
Time moves fluidly in this novel; transporting us not just to Year Zero and 97 AV, but also too a "mid-way point" of 79 AV, which allows for more background and history of the world and people in 97 AV.
This novel crystallizes what a huge, clear vision the author has for this trilogy. While I hate that it's over, and waiting until 2014 for the final chapter, I thought this book was fantastic and took the level of story-making to the next level, compared to the first book.
Finally, I just want to note that although we visit a few different times to allow for more plot development, I never felt I was being kept from the characters I wanted to spend time with. The book was done so incredibly well, it leaves me at a loss - so all I'll say is 5 stars, and enjoy the adventure.
(The kindle version of this book provides a list of all characters, organized by what year and place they were in, at the very end of the novel. After not having much luck online finding a list to help clarify a few things for myself, I got the Kindle version and just opened up the cloud reader option to open the book. If you choose "Table of Contents" from the books menu, right near the end you'll find an option in bold caps: "Dramatis Personae". If you click on that, it pulls up the characters. For me, this ended up being worthwhile. I have a feeling there are even more character connections than I picked up on yet; and I'm sure more are coming with book 3.)
I was so impressed with this story. The writer, Graham Joyce, brings his characters to life in such a realistic, believable way; the interactions between the family members, the tone and text of the dialogue... as I listened I was really taken with how true and life-like these people were.
The novel weaves several different narratives together beautifully, and we circle through them smoothly throughout the book. We alternate between the present, as Tara returns after her 20 year absence and tries to join the world again. In this thread, we look at how her disappearance and homecoming affect her brother, ex-boyfriend, her parents, and Tara herself as she works to rebuild both her life and her relationships. At her brother's urging, she agrees to see a psychiatrist, and the scenes and conversations between Tara and this doctor are facinating.
Another thread takes us back to the time when Tara first went missing. We see how this impacted her boyfriend (who was also her brother's best friend) as he is suspected of having murdered her. We see the loss he feels as the people he considered to be his second family (Tara's family) pull away from him, as their faith in his innocence slowly crumbles.
The third thread addresses Tara's time away from her point of view; the incidents surrounding her initial disappearance, and what her experiences were during this time away.
Finally, peppered within the other rotating threads, there are short moments where we are read excerpts of a trial transcript from a court case in the 1800's, regarding a woman's death at the hands of her husband and family, who believed her to be a fairy posing as the real woman.
This is a fantastic work of literary fiction. While there are aspects that deal with the possible existence of a parallel, mystical world, that is not what this story is about. It's about loss, regret, love, and sacrifice. At it's core, it's a story about family.
Be aware that there is some language and a few very brief references of having witnessed some sexual situations.
*Technical Issue: As of 7/11/2012: There are a few brief glitches in the recording near the beginning of the second file. They do not result in the loss of text, with the exception of about one word. They are minor and did not affect my experience in any significant way. I did report the bug to audible, and have received a confirmation that they anticipate having a corrected file in about the next 2 weeks. At that time, you can choose to re-download the second file (without these glitches) from your library, if you like. Personally, I did not find the issue to be anything that would cause me to postpone getting this book. Download away!
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