May 24, 2013

Audio Review: The Expats by Chris Pavone

I'd been curious about Chris Pavone's THE EXPACTS since it came out and decided on the audio version because I enjoy listening to spy/crime novels that have many different characters.   Plus, I'd also read many tweets on Twitter that the audio of this book was very well done.

About the Book:
(From the author's website)

Kate Moore is a typical expat mom, newly transplanted from Washington DC to the quiet cobblestoned streets of Luxembourg. Her days are filled with coffee mornings and play-dates, her weekends with trips to Paris and Amsterdam. Kate is also guarding a tremendous, life-defining secret, one that’s becoming unbearable, indefensible. It’s also clear that another expat American couple are not really who they’re claiming to be; plus Kate’s husband is acting suspiciously. While she travels around Europe, looking for answers, she’s increasingly worried that her past is finally catching up with her. As Kate digs, and uncovers the secrets of the people who surround her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage, and her life.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about this novel. As I mentioned, I'd had my eye on this book for quite some time and was ready to sink my teeth into a good spy/crime thriller. The first thought that came into my head once I started listening was how glad I was to have chosen the audio version because there is no way I could have pronounced all those French words as beautifully and correctly as Mozhan Marno, the narrator. And speaking of Ms. Marno, I felt she did a really great job with her performance.

That said, I have to say that it took me awhile to get into the groove of this story. One reason is that I couldn't get the timeline set in my mind because it jumps back and forth from the present to past so ubruptly that I found myself lost and confused. It took some time to figure out the pattern of this and to keep up with what was happening, what had already happened and try to remember if I was in the present or the past. In a nutshell, I found it very confusing.

The plotline was interesting but there were so many lies being told that after awhile I felt like I was being jerked around and couldn't take anything for face value. Don't get me wrong, I like books that keep me guessing but I felt like nothing was what it seemed, so how could I put any stock in it. After awhile, I grew tired and just wanted to get through it. Twists and turns are good but too much of it can wear the reader out. That's how this reader is anyway. You may feel differently.

The bottom line is I'm glad I read it because it was such a hot topic and at least now I can join in the conversation. Also, I'm very glad I chose the audio version because it enable me to listen while I did chores around the house and allowed me to 'read' without taking away from my other books in the printed format. In my opinion, this is a book that did not live up to all the hype. Chris Pavone was even featured on Face the Nation a few months ago on their annual literary episode and that is what sealed it for me to read this book. If you've read it, please leave a comment and tell me if you felt differently. I'd be very interested to know.

THE EXPATS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Chris Pavone
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: March 2013
Length: 12 Hrs 27 Min
Recommend:? Hesitantly, to a certain type of reader.

May 21, 2013

Review: Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke

After reading the premise of this debut novel, I knew I had to read it and was thrilled when I got the opportunity for a review copy. Lucy Clarke's SWIMMING AT NIGHT struck a chord with me mainly because it is a story of two sisters who are not particularly close, are complete opposites and who have some unresolved issues between them. Personally, I can relate to that.  I have a tumultuous relationship with my own sister so this book really appealed to me on that level.

About the Book:
(No Spoilers)

Katie and Mia have recently lost their mother to cancer and have subsequently moved into a flat together in London. Katie, the oldest sister thought this would be a great idea and a way for them to have a closer relationship. Mia, the free spirit, wasn't so sure, but she reluctantly agreed to the arrangement. When Mia suddenly announces that she is going on an extended around the world trip with her best friend, Finn, Katie is taken aback and she becomes very worried by Mia's strange behavior. Its as if she can't get away from Katie fast enough. Even more troubling is that she rarely hears from Mia while she's gone. Katie's world is rocked when she receives news that her sister has died in Bali. What makes this tragedy even more alarming is that the authorities in Bali believe it was a suicide. But most troubling to Katie is that Mia didn't have Bali on her itinerary. She was supposed to be in Australia.  Katie can't rest until she finds answers to some very big questions so she sets out with Mia's travel journal and re-traces her sister's steps hoping some light will be shed on her sister's mysterious final journey.

My Thoughts:

Lucy Clarke wasted no time getting into this story of family, loyalty and secrets. It starts right away with Kate getting the news of her younger sister's death and the momentum keeps going strong. I felt an instant connection with these sisters and was drawn in immediately. Having a difficult sister relationship of my own made it even more real to me. I liked the way the story was told: alternating between Katie's 'here and now' and then to Mia's own voice as she wrote in her travel journal daily, sharing her innermost thoughts and worries. It was a clever way of bringing the two stories together.

The locales of this book were terrific as well. The book starts out in London, then goes to San Francisco, then on to Hawaii, Australia and finally Bali. The settings were so vividly described and added something extra to the book. I felt like I was right there with them with the sea air blowing around me. I was completely caught up in the story.

What I really liked about this book is that it was much more than a family drama. It was also a mystery on a couple different levels. Mainly, Kate needed to find out how her sister died, and the more she discovered, the more questions were raised. Kate went through a big transition herself as she made her way through this troubling adventure. She also learned a lot about herself and those around her. I enjoyed the journey very much and thought the plotline was original and genuine, like the characters.

I'm very glad I chose to read this novel and equally happy to have been introduced to Lucy Clarke's work. I will be looking out for her books in the future. I'd like to thank Jessica Roth from Simon & Schuster for providing me with my copy of this amazing debut.

Author: Lucy Clarke
Publisher: Touchstone Publishing, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster
Published: March 2013
Length: 386 pp
Source: Publisher
Recommend? Absolutely!

Teaser Tuesday: Dead Ever After

Teaser Tuesday is one of my favorite memes and a fun way to get a peek inside the books that are being read by others. Today I'm taking my teasers from the final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, which has been getting a lot of buzz since it came out a few weeks ago. Here are my teasers from DEAD EVER AFTER . . .

That was fairies for you.  Always some blowback. ~Location 2806 Kindle Edition

Well, there you go, short and sweet. There's been a lo of talk about the substance of this final installment and some readers have been very vocal about their disappointment in it, but so far, I am enjoying it very much. My only feeling right now is a sense of sadness that there will be no more Sookie. But I'll get into more of the controversy when I post my review.

Ber sure to stop by Should Be Reading for more teasers! Thanks for stopping by!

May 17, 2013

Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (She Reads Book Club Selection)

I was very pleased when my book club, She Reads, announced that our May selection was the new release from Christina Baker Kline. ORPHAN TRAIN had already caught my attention mainly because of the historical element and, of course, the characters.

ORPHAN TRAIN tells the stories of two seemingly very different people from two separate times. First there is Molly Ayer, a Penobscot Indian teenage girl living in Maine with a foster family. One of many in her young life. Though things with her current foster family aren't great, Molly tries to make the best of it and tries to get along until she she's eighteen, which is only months away. She is a good student, has a boyfriend, Jack, and is a vegetarian, which only adds to the strain between Molly and her foster mother.  Molly ends up on probation and has to perform 50 hours of community service for stealing a book from the local library - a move Molly admits was pretty dumb. With Jack's help, Molly is able to work off her hours helping ninety-one year old Vivian Daly clean out the attic of the old mansion she lives in. Molly figures it will be easy work that will go by quickly so she can mark off her hours and be done with the community service.

Vivian Daly is a frail woman with no family but an attic full of memories from the Depression Era of which she grew up in. Right away, Molly can see that each box holds deep memories for Vivian and she is having trouble letting go and in fact, may not want to get rid of after all.

When Molly gets an interesting assignment for one of her classes to interview someone who has had to move through life taking only the belongings that they could carry and the most important items to them, she decides to interview Vivian.  As Vivian tells her fascinating story of being an immigrant from Ireland in the late 20's, to becoming an orphan soon after and being put on a train to Minnesota by the Childrens Aid Society to find a home, Molly realizes they have more in common than she could possibly have thought. As the days go by, a bond develops between these two women and both their lives are changed forever.

My Thoughts:

I won't beat around the bush - I absolutely loved this novel. Vivian's story, though heartbreaking, was riveting and was so well told. It was actually Vivian's perspective as well, so it was first hand knowledge of all the tragic circumstances ten-year old Vivian went through. Alternating between Vivian telling her story and then back to 2011 with Molly's story being told as it was happening by a third party was the perfect way to tell both of these women's stories. But I must say, Vivian is who completely sucked me in. I'm a sucker for good historical fiction and the era in which her story took place was fascinating to me. First was The Depression, then World War II. Vivian's life was affected deeply by both of these events.

What I liked about his book is that these two people, over seventy years apart were living similar lives as orphans and foster children. Sadly, their experiences were similar, yet they found a connection to each other and were able to make each other's lives better and give them hope. Their bond was touching and genuine. It goes to show that just by meeting one person that you think you have nothing in common with, it can change your life. This was a terrific selection by our book club and I thank them for the opportunity to read it.

Author: Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Published:: April 2, 2013
Length: 304 pages
Recommend: YES!

May 2, 2013

Review: SIX YEARS by Harlan Coben (Unabridged Audio Version)

I know it might be hard to imagine, but this is the first Harlan Coben novel I've ever read. When I learned this was a stand alone novel, I felt it would be the perfect segway into his work. Then after listening to a podcast from the NYT and discovering that he writes a lot about disappearances, that got me very curious. They even mentioned that this book was Gone Girl-esque, so of course, I had to give it a try.

About The Book:
(No spoilers included!)

Professor Jake Fisher has lived a quiet, uneventful life on the college campus where he teaches and lives, trying to move past losing the love of his life.  Though he has dated other women, he just can't get Natalie out of his mind or his heart, even though he attended her unexpected wedding to another man six years ago.

Then one day, he spots an obituary notice for the man he watched marry Natalie.  But none of the details match up. He can't stave off his curiosity so he boards a flight to the small South Carolina town and attends the funeral, fully expecting to see Natalie mourning her husband's death. But when he arrives at the church, Natalie is not the woman wearing black and accepting condolences of friends and neighbors. Going to the funeral only adds to the questions Jake has and the more he finds out about the dead man, the more he is convinced something is seriously wrong. He begins to doubt that Natalie was married to this man at all.
The more Jake digs, the more his life is put in danger and the people he questions from his and Natalie's past swear they've never met him before but he will not give up on finding the truth or Natalie.

My Thoughts:

Considering Harlan Coben's success and notoriety, I had pretty high expectations for this book. I liked the angle of a mysterious disappearance.  Jake Fisher seemed liked a pretty decent guy - just your average single college professor. I liked the way the mystery of the deceased husband started immediately so there wasn't a lot of build-up to get to the meat of the story. And the plotline was good, albeit a little convoluted and full of twists and turns. The story is told from Jake's point of view, which makes it seem like the reader is going on the ride with him.  Overall, I liked the story and the pace was good as well. There weren't a lot of characters but they each had a purpose and added to the dynamic of the plot. I can't say the build-up to the  ending was a big surprise but I was satisfied with the outcome.

If I were to rate the story alone, I would probably give it 4 out of 5 stars, however, I chose to listen to the audio version, so I must add that into my review. Honestly, I was disappointed in the performance by Scott Brick. I'd never listened to any of his audios before, though he has been the speaker for many very successful novels, including THE FIRM by Grisham. I even listened to a bit of that to see if it was different and it was. In SIX YEARS, his voice was very low and drawn out and I felt he was over-doing it a bit. Maybe he was trying to add drama to the mystery, but personally, I didn't care for it. So based on that experience it took away from the listening pleasure a little for me. That is why on Goodreads, I gave this novel 3 stars instead of 4. If I had read the printed version, I think I would've liked it better. But at least now I can say that I've finally read a Harlan Coben novel. I would be open to reading another stand alone from him but probably won't get into his series.

Are you a Harlan Coben fan? And if so, have you ever listened to one of his audios? I'd be interested to know your thoughts.

SIX YEARS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Harlan Coben
Audible Pub Date:March 19, 2013
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Lenth: 10 hrs 37 minutes
Source: Purchased with a credit