The Invention of Wings is a powerful, sweeping novel set in the American Deep South during the nineteenth century inspired by real events. It evokes a world of shocking contrasts, of beauty and ugliness, of righteous people living daily with cruelty they fail to recognize; and celebrates the power of friendship and sisterhood against all the odds.
Sarah Grimke is the middle daughter - the one her mother calls difficult and her father calls remarkable. On Sarah's eleventh birthday, Hetty 'Handful' Grimke is taken from the slave quarters she shares with her mother, wrapped in lavender ribbons, and presented as a gift. Sarah knows what she does next will unleash a world of trouble…putting into motion the kind of change that never comes easy.
I was hesitant to keep this book as my personal pick for January after I heard it became the next selection for Oprah’s Bookclub 2.0. After all, what more could a book ask for? But as I dug deeper and read more and more of this novel I could not let it go. It is truly one of those rare books that, in my opinion, hit all the marks of great writing: Lush language full of imagery set within as story profoundly grounded in the real world where the characters become a part of you. I look forward to re-living the book in audio with the perfectly casted narrators Jenna Lamia (The Secret Lives of Bees, The Help) and actress Adepero Oduye (12 Years a Slave) taking on the roles of Sarah and Hetty.
Mary Roach is willing to "go there" in the name of Science. She has tackled sexual physiology in Bonk, the life of cadavers in Stiff, and now takes on the (not-so-hot) topic of the digestive system in Gulp. This journey begins at the top and ends at the bottom of the legendary alimentary canal, but Roach does not take us there in a straight line. There are side excursions to visit experts in the field of morning breathe and pet-food engineers. We explore the power of salvia and the origin of mythical fire-breathing serpents. By asking seemingly ridiculous questions like, "Does noxious flatus do more than clear a room?" Roach manages to dismiss those common misconceptions we all seem to have but never question out loud. In Gulp she serves-up Science just the way I like it: Well-researched, relevant, offbeat, and hilarious.
Was Mary Mallon just a scapegoat? A victim of a paranoid society willing to vilify and discard a poor, Irish immigrant and domestic worker based solely on shoddy science and sensationalism? Fever tells the story as "Typhoid Mary" may have told it herself. Through her eyes we get an insider's view of early 20th Century New York City and of the perfect storm she was swept up in. Not a meek, unsophisticated victim at all, Mary is a woman ahead of her time in many ways: unmarried by choice, a bread winner, a skilled cook, and a fighter. She does not simply accept her diagnosis, and by questioning the science behind the accusations she adds pressure on the doctors to better understand the spread of disease, and on the legal system to address issues of public health and civil liberties. This is historical fiction at its best.
Brianstown, formally Broken Harbor resort, is a modern housing development on the outskirts of Dublin that should have been the ideal location for up-and-coming young professionals to set roots in. However, shoddy construction and the collapse of the economic boom left it, and the people living there, exposed, isolated and vulnerable. The loss of security and fall from assumed safety culminates in an unimaginable murder. “Who-done-it?” almost becomes a secondary concern to “Why?” and “How?” The evil seems mysteriously connected to this place itself.
One thing I appreciate about Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad is that each title can be considered a stand-alone yet there are also enough common threads to draw me back to the series again-and-again. She certainly creates memorable characters, but it is French’s brilliant ability to develop a distinct mood and atmosphere that makes her stories unforgettable and each book a fresh listening experience.
Long after turning off the audiobook, Broken Harbor stays with me: I can smell the sea air, see the overgrown yards, and image the empty houses continue to be taken back by nature to eventually disappear completely.
The mental health of the city of Philadelphia, along with most of South Jersey, is inextricably tied to the Eagle's wins and losses. Having lived in Philadelphia for a number of years, I know what the fans are like and Matthew Quick has captured that unique fanaticism perfectly. However, this is not a book about football. Football serves as the back-drop for a story that explores mental illness from the inside. Pat Peoples may be the one who spent time in a neural-health facility and who copes with his demons in peculiar ways but is he so different from everyone else? As far as coping mechanisms go: Weight lifting, running and avoiding Kenny G. are all quite reasonable things to do in my opinion. Without making light of the pain and suffering involved, Silver Linings Playbook, succeeds in giving the listener a lighter and perhaps a more realistic view of what it is like to live with mental illness.
There are some books that you can go back to multiple times, and continue to get something new out of with each read, or listen. The Handmaid's Tale certainly falls into this category. The impact of the story changes in contrast to the current cultural and political climate but it remains current. The fact that the world Atwood creates is far closer to “reality” makes this story that much more disturbing than the many popular and more fantastical dystopias currently targeted to the Young Adult audience.
For me, it’s been years since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale and listening to Claire Danes narrate was the perfect way to re-visit the story. She captures the almost somber mood perfectly. Clearly, she has a love of the book along with the talent to provide a killer performance. If you are looking to experience, or re-experience, a classic modern day “dystopia” as envisioned by a truly unique author, listening to this new rendition is your perfect opportunity.
“On March 4th, 1861, Abraham Lincoln- exceptional boy of Sinking Springs Farm, apple of his departed mother’s eye, survivor of the trials of Job and one of the nation’s most accomplished vampire hunters- was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States.”
It does not matter that the life of Abraham Lincoln, the horrors of slavery and the brutality of the Civil War offer more drama than any book could ever need, adding vampires always makes things that much more interesting. History lovers who have may have avoided the vampire craze up until now will find this to be an entertaining introduction to the genre. An added benefit of this not so slight modification of history is that it just may get vampire fans to learn some history.
I love how real events are brought to life right along with the tales of vampire slayings. I found myself doing some fact checking, and most of the footnotes referenced throughout the story prove to be accurate. I do not believe in vampires. I only wish that the real atrocities- the personal losses suffered by Lincoln, the bloody Civil War and the very existence of slavery- were the parts that were made up.
This is the kind of book you read or listen to when you need a good laugh. In true Hiaasen fashion, the listener is introduced to a far out and crazy cast of characters who are put into truly absurd situations from beginning to end. Where else will you find a senior citizen group called the Mothers of Wilderness holding meetings at assisted living facilities to plot a scheme to steal the beloved Blue Tongued Mango Voles in an attempt to shut down the evil Amazing Kingdom?
Despite how improbable things get, try to be willing to take the ride all the way to the end. While laughing out loud you will get a lesson on environmentalism and come to love this crazy bunch of outcasts. To truly enjoy this, and any Hiaasen book, you have to just go with it. It’s a kind of a literary guilty pleasure, but it’s still more smart than trashy.
How could a book narrated by Sidney Poitier not be good? His voice is perfection and he’s a brilliant actor to boot. Going by the title, I worried that he might put himself on some kind of spiritual high horse and then tell us how to get there too, but this is not the case at all. Mr. Poitier does not preach about his own spiritual awakenings but he does laugh at his own jokes, which I love.
From a tiny village on Cat Island in the Bahamas, to Miami, then New York City, and on to Hollywood…the author shares stories that draw a picture of his life’s path and his reflections on these experiences reveal what he’s learned. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is an easy listen because it’s like a conversation but you are still left with something to think about.
The author puts together a complex and touching story. By focusing on two distinct periods of Jacob’s life, the listener is given an intensely rich picture of him as person and of the world he lives in. At first glance it would be easy to dismiss Jacob as being just another bitter and disgruntled old guy. By learning the back story of the pivotal part of his life spent with the circus, the listener comes to a deeper understanding of him as a man.
As a historic novel, this book also provides a richly descriptive portrayal of life in the circus in the 1930’s; a time and place that will never be repeated. We all have ideas of what the circus is like, and what the Depression might have been like, but putting the two together is something completely unique.
Overall, both narrators are excellent. Older Jacob is brilliant. The narration perfectly portrays his gruff exterior and thoughtfully conflicted interior. He comes across as being completely authentic. Young Jacob is also quite good. My only criticism is with how he does the female voices. They’re just a little off the mark, and this is sometimes distracting.
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