Category Archives: audiobooks

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (& Audio Giveaway)

10th July 2012

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

*Warning: If you haven’t read A Discovery of Witches, you may not want to read further.

“Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown.”

A Discovery of Witches left off with Matthew and Diana traveling to 16th-century Britain, hoping to discover more about Diana’s powers and the now-infamous Ashmole 782, a document that could explain the origins of witches, vampires, and daemons. However, studying the past and timewalking into it are two different things, and Diana quickly learns that every aspect of her – from her voice and accent to her height and features – makes her stand out. As a witch mated to a vampire, Diana and Matthew certainly don’t need any additional attention. Witches are being hunted, and Diana’s powers are not strong enough to protect her. Plus, the Matthew of 1590 has obligations other than educating Diana. He must juggle family, espionage, and his place in the mysterious School of Night, as well as the friends who are curious about his new wife. Neither has an easy task, and life in Elizabethan London as newlyweds, as creatures, and as timewalkers challenges Diana and Matthew in ways they never anticipated.

In the opening pages of A Discovery of Witches, Harkness introduces Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Thomas Harriot, all friends of Matthew’s and all members of the School of Night. Matthew…such a namedropper. Want to make an academic – a historian, no less – squeal with excitement? Put her in the same room as these historical figures. Diana is overwhelmed. She’s thrilled to discover these living, breathing legends, but she’s also tense. A. She’s a witch. B. She’s from several hundred years into the future. and C. People have been hunting her. No big thang. Oh, and there’s a D. Chris Marlowe hates her. He’s a daemon, and he’s in love with Matthew. Two strikes against Diana.

Then, just as Diana grows comfortable with this rag tag group at Matthew’s table, the couple is off to meet Philippe, Matthew’s father. This section is totally Beauty and the Beast. Beast: Don’t look at me. I’m hideous. Belle: Let me love you, dammit.

Matthew is home, not only in place but in time. His father is alive. His home looks and smells and feels right. For this man who has lived centuries, coming home is fraught with emotion. In A Discovery of Witches, the relationship just sort of happens. Tingle, tingle, you’re meant for me. Shadow of Night is the courtship. It’s the makeout session and the listening to your favorite love song on the radio, but it’s also the chance for Matthew to face who he is and to ask Diana to accept it. It’s Diana’s awakening to her powers, her heritage, and her desires. It’s the part that made my heart go pitter patter because it’s so realistic. Ok, maybe you and your significant other don’t have to talk about how many people you’ve killed and drained of blood, but relationships aren’t all simple.

That said, everything changes in London. People are losing heads and being tortured as witches. It’s some treacherous territory. Matthew is in a precarious position as spy, vampire, and secret society member. Diana must find a witch willing to help her without placing her trust in the wrong person. Both must be cautious of their modern way of speech and manner and steer clear of the vampire priest godfather dude who isn’t happy that Matthew is back or that Diana is his wife. And this is where the book became tedious for me.

Understandably, Matthew is concerned for Diana. His protectiveness has increased to the nth degree in this book because torture! Vampire godfather! Witches should burn! But the issues I had with A Discovery of Witches were amplified in this book because of those restrictions. Diana is no bored, boring high schooler waiting to be whisked away. Yet no balance is struck between the two in Shadow of Night. Matthew is overprotective. Diana gets upset. Diana apologizes. I wanted to stamp my foot because each time it almost seemed like Matthew would pet her on the head and have ALL THE SEX and voila! No more pesky independent woman.

Again, these are dangerous times, but I repeat my comparison from my previous review: the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Jamie and Clare deal with very similar circumstances, yet Clare’s spirited nature and fight to be heard and seen as Jamie’s equal are the strongest parts of those books. There are sexytimes, but in the beginning the sex was often more adversarial as Clare fought for an equal partner. In Shadow of Night, Diana plays the role of victim and damsel too many times for my liking.

But even though I wish Harkness had written Diana differently, I can’t help but enjoy these books. I gripe, yes, but I gripe because I’m picky. The history, even though a bit lengthy, is incredibly fun, and the idea of these two strong intellectuals falling in love (a romance for academia!) is irresistible to me.

Verdict: Fun and a definite read for fans of A Discovery of Witches. But if you enjoy this series, I highly recommend Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Just ask Andi. 🙂

And you can win an audio copy of Shadow of Night, courtesy of Penguin Audio. Just leave me a comment (by midnight CST Friday, July 13, 2012) telling me why you absolutely must read/listen to this book.

Don’t want to wait? Buy your copy now for your Nook.

Don’t take my word for it: Jen at Devourer of Books loved this one. Iris, however, felt more like I did.

UPDATE: Congrats, Heather Lindskold! You won the audiobook version of Shadow of Night.

Audiobook Review: Asylum by Patrick McGrath

3rd April 2012

*I bought this audiobook from Audible. Buy yours here.

“Stella Raphael’s story is one of the saddest I know,” intones Dr. Peter Cleave, the senior psychiatrist in the mental hospital central to Asylum by Patrick McGrath. Asylum is a story of obsession.

Stella and her husband Max have moved outside London for Max’s job. Hoping to eventually become superintendent of the facility, Max is quite involved in the asylum’s day-to-day activities, and the couple’s home is on the property. Max has big plans, including renovating the conservatory and gardens of the home. Some of the better-behaved patients are allowed on work teams, and Edgar Stark, a former sculptor, is given the task of carpentry work in the conservatory. Charlie, Stella and Max’s son, is fascinated with the work and the gardens and the pond, spending many of his days outside. When Stella encounters Edgar while outside with Charlie, she is drawn to him. Edgar doesn’t look insane. He is polite and talented. The two become friendly, and Stella, lacking passion in her own marriage, falls in love with Edgar.

Edgar Stark is Cleave’s patient, and Edgar’s intelligence fascinates the doctor. Edgar murdered his wife and brutalized her body after suspecting her of multiple infidelities for many years. Edgar feels completely justified in his actions, and Cleave counts Edgar one of his more interesting patients because of this. It is only when Cleave observes subtle changes in Stella that he suspects the impossible. When Edgar escapes from the facility, Max and Stella both come under scrutiny, leading to a chain of events that is both disturbing and engrossing.

McGrath’s Asylum is an elegant novel. Gothic and dark, it explores the nature of love and obsession as well as mental illness. The novel is, in many ways, timeless, and particularly, it was some time before I could have stated with any assurance the time period in which Asylum is set. Late 1950s, to be exact.

Cleave is narrating the novel, yes, but he is doing so after discussions with Stella, after something has apparently gone badly wrong, and the impending sense of doom only adds to the novel’s complexity. Not that Asylum is a mystery. It isn’t. Edgar murdered his wife. He escapes from the asylum. Stella goes to him. Nothing surprising here. When Edgar begins exhibiting erratic behavior, though, she runs. However, the story doesn’t take the reader into the places you’d think it would. Stella is not repentant. Instead, she feels torn from her lover and sorrowful that she ever suspected his behavior. Willing, even after knowing the full extent of his crime, to go to him and be with him, and Cleave notes this:

At root, I suppose, in spite of everything she loved him, or told herself she did, and women are stubborn in this regard. She had made her choice, she had gone to him willingly, and it was unthinkable to run home because he was ill and his illness robbed him of responsibility. What did surprise me was that she could ignore the proliferating signals that an act of violence was imminent.

Just as Edgar seems to relish the idea of bedding a psychiatrist’s wife, so too does Stella enjoy her role as caretaker. Edgar is ill; therefore, Stella must take care of him, even if it means abandoning her husband and her child. The child she increasingly grows to resent because he is part of his father and therefore part of the imagined trap she feels exists around her.

If you have not yet picked up on it, this is an unreliable narrator speaking to another unreliable narrator. Both Stella and Cleave are obsessed with Stark, Cleave referring to Stark as “my Edgar” many times, a point of pride that Edgar is his patient. So we know what the characters intend to tell us, emphasizing that we never truly know the nature of anyone, much less someone with a mental illness.

The nature of these obsessions is, of course, destructive, and everyone involved hurtles toward that destruction in ways both expected and unexpected. I listened to this on audiobook, and I usually stick to my time on the elliptical only to listen to audiobooks. This was one, however, that after a certain point in Asylum, I had to put my headphones on for the rest of the day, no matter what else I was doing to absorb it all. Unlike Cleave, I don’t think Stella’s is the saddest story I know, and I had very little sympathy for her outside her feeling of entrapment, but I was still completely captivated by her ability to dismiss all rational thought in the face of the man she loves.

The narration by Ian McKellen is absolutely first rate, and Asylum is a story that will sink in slowly, insidiously, forcing you to think about the characters and their decisions long after the end.

Buy this from Audible, Indiebound, or for your Nook.

P.S. Thanks to The Literate Housewife for her recommendation of this book.

Other reviews:

A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook

Coffee and a Book Chick

Audiobook Review: Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

27th February 2012

*I bought this book from Audible.

Sex, violence, and new, brilliant heights of using the “f” word, Beat the Reaper is the avant-garde dark and darker comedy thriller (is that such a thing?) about Pietra Brnwa/Dr. Peter Brown/Bearclaw, a doctor who, as a member of the Witness Protection Program, has a past, a past he tells about between popping pills, checking on patients, and trying to figure out the guy with stomach cancer who has just blown his cover. As a teen, Brnwa’s grandparents are brutally murdered, and he figures out they were a hit for new mafia members being “made.” He trains in martial arts, befriends the son of a well-known mafia member, and ingratiates himself to the family. And by family, yes, I mean the family. Brnwa is selective, though, only taking hits he feels are justified: no women, no children, and he kills only after verifying the guy is scum. But the mob has ways of turning the tables and when Pietra wants out, the mob isn’t ready to let go. When they try to catch up to him, Brnwa realizes he isn’t ready to sacrifice his current life to run from the problems he created.

Bazell’s novel is alternately shocking, gag-inducing, hilarious, and intensely suspenseful. Brnwa narrates his story, talking directly to the reader, like he’s chatting in a bar. No holds barred. You can’t help but like him even though he is everything you should hate: a drugged-out, sexist, violent, killer asshole. But he’s funny…in a sick and twisted sort of way:

The fifth or sixth room I enter is that of Duke Mosby, easily the patient I currently hate least. He’s a ninety-year-old black male in for diabetes complications that now include gangrene of both feet. He was one of ten black Americans who served in Special Forces in World War II, and in 1944 he escaped from Colditz. Two weeks ago he escaped from this very room at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. In his underpants. In January. Hence the gangrene.

Plus, he’s so damn truthful. I’d be tempted to say he’s an unreliable narrator because he swallows so many drugs during his shift I lost count, but there are also these moments where he’s so lucid and spot on, like when he compares humans to animals:

It’s a weird curse, when you think about it. We’re built for thought, and civilization, more than any other creature we’ve found. And all we really want to be is killers.

Brnwa isn’t what you expect him to be. At all. Neither is this book, and I swear to you, I’m not joking when I say it’s one of the most graphic, most obscene (in language) books I’ve read, but I absolutely loved it. Robert Petkoff narrates, and between the writing and his voice, I thought it was one of the more perfect audiobooks I’ve bought. Petkoff matches Brnwa’s sardonic cynicism perfectly, and I couldn’t ask for a better audio experience.

Has anyone other than Elyse of Pop Culture Nerd read this? If so, what did you think? Have you ever read a book that is totally out of your comfort zone but that you loved?

Audiobook Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

23rd January 2012

*I bought and listened to the audiobook through Audible.

Watson begins The House of Silk by explaining why this story is just now coming to light, 100 years after being written: the mystery and the case were much too shocking for late 19th century London. When Edmund Carstairs initially seeks out Sherlock’s help because an Irish gang member, a man in a flat cap is following him, neither Sherlock nor Watson have any idea how deep and ghastly the case will become. Neither man expects one of the Baker Street Irregulars to be brutally killed. Nor do they expect for Sherlock himself to be placed under suspicion for a murder. However, both must use the height of their skills to solve the crime and help clean up the dark alleys of the great city.

I listened to the magnificent Derek Jacobi narrate this book, and he was absolutely perfect. He achieved Watson’s wistfulness for the old days as well as his unwillingness to relate the sordidness of the story he has to relate, even telling the reader right off that he is entrusting the manuscript to be published 100 years after his death.

As the only Holmes authorized by the Doyle estate, Horowitz had big shoes to fill, and, as a Holmes’ fan, I must say he did an impeccable job. The cast of characters – including Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and Mycroft – were all on target, and the mystery itself was complex and enthralling.

However, my absolute favorite parts were the beginning and the ending where Watson reminisces about his days with Holmes. His words were so endearing, and the relationship between this unlikely duo is partly what makes these mysteries so successful. Horowitz understands this in a way I’m not sure many of the other spinoff authors do, and that absolutely made this book for me.

Also, if you haven’t picked up any of Holmes and Watson’s adventures in the past, don’t worry: The House of Silk is a great read for longtime fans or those new to Sherlock.

The game is indeed afoot my friends. Who of you has accepted the challenge?

Other reviews:

Pop Culture Nerd

Linus’s Blanket

Devourer of Books

Book Addict Katie

While I’m Still Myself by Jeremy Mark Lane

19th January 2012

*The author sent me a pdf of his book in exchange for an honest review.

In my book, there are many different types of short stories. You have the Raymond Carver/Flannery O’Connor sort, which are usually fairly long. On the other end of the spectrum are collections like Ben Loory’s that I reviewed several months ago, where one story might be a single sentence. Jeremy Mark Lane’s While I’m Still Myself is somewhere in between, and at 127 pages, it’s accessible for those who love short stories or those who are interested in trying a collection for the first time.

Each story feels like a Polaroid picture: a brief instant caught on film that extends beyond the realm of the photo, and that, I think, is the collection’s triumph. Don’t expect a full telling of that instant, though, as Lane takes the reader to the brink of the photo’s edges but leaves off before anything more can taint that first look. This makes for beautiful little stories but also made me wish Lane had pushed a little harder and given me more than just a beautiful instant.

In my favorite story, “The Guest,” picture a sleep-deprived new father standing at the entrance of an elderly woman’s room in a hospital. She thinks she’s at an inn and asks him to add water to a vase of tulips because, as she says, “I always leave them for the next guests. Somethin’ I’ve done all my life and plan to keep doin’ while I’m still myself.” When he returns to his wife and new daughter, they change rooms and a vase of tulips is sitting in the corner. It’s a lovely moment amid several in this collection: a young girl escaping a mentally ill mother to see the world “while [she’s] still [her]self.” A young father visiting his ill mother and seeing a part of her he’s never known. A young man captivated by a girl in a diner and driving through the country to be with her.

What marks this collection as unique, though, is its question of the self. Two characters use the same exact words and echo the title, “while I’m still myself,” and it is that notion that the self is so changeable that we may not recognize ourselves on down the line that is both exciting (in the case of the young fathers looking at their children) and frightening (the old woman fearing senility and the young girl fearing mental illness). The jacket copy says that the book is full of brief encounters that change the lives of the characters, but I disagree. I think, instead, that Lane uses those encounters to discover the changes already taking places in these characters. The people they meet along the way are just the consequence of the changing course of their lives.

Buy your copy from Indiebound.