The Language of Flowers

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, read by Tara Sands, 2011, Random House Audio

Not much to say about this book other than it was okay to listen to.  The plot was somewhat improbable and drawn out, the characters tolerable but not particularly interesting, and the theme of the book, flowers that have a language, was not credible.  I listened to this book on a trip from Naples to Narragansett over three days.  It got a bit tiresome, but I made it to the end.  I don’t think this book won’t find a place for itself in the annals of great world literature.2 stars

Turning Angel: A Novel

by Greg Isles, 2006, Pocket Books

This suspense novel takes place in Natchez, Mississippi, and paints a dark picture of that community with gangs, drugs, political corruption, etc., running rampant.  The books itself was a pretty good page-turner, but the incident that the book revolves around was a little hard to believe.  It seems that three different persons happened on the crime scene by chance within a very few minutes – very strange.3 stars

The Ferguson Affair

by Ross Macdonald, 1960, republished in 2010 by Vintage Books, a division of Random House

I chose this book for my Kindle as I was going on a month vacation and needed a book that would be light reading.  Another reason I chose it was that Ross Macdonald (aka, Kenneth Millar) was an officer on the same aircraft carrier my father was on in WWII, the U.S.S. Shipley Bay.  Macdonald is undergoing a posthumous resurgence in popularity as a writer of mystery stories.  My father didn’t know him very well as he kept to himself in his stateroom where he apparently spent his time writing but I was curious to read one his books.

The time Macdonald spent writing while floating around in the Pacific seems to have been well spent.  I enjoyed this book quite a bit, although the plot was a little convoluted.  It moved right along and I liked the main character who is a lawyer who gets caught up in a murder investigation.  It was a perfect book to read on a cruise.  I suspect I will read some more of his books in the future.3 1/2 stars

Whiteout

by Ken Follett, 2004, Signet Publishing

This is a typical Ken Follett suspense novel: exciting and suspenseful with good characterizations.  It has, however, not much in the way of lasting impressions or value.  Also, there are times when I, as a reader, had to really try hard to suspend belief when some of the plot unfolded.  I guess that’s what makes it fiction.

I started this novel before our vacation to Australia and New Zealand and finished it on the plane en route to New Zealand.  One of the Air New Zealand flight attendants expressed an interest in what I was reading so he was the lucky recipient of the book when I finished it.  With no disposal issues, that made it almost as good as an electronic version.  How we have changed our attitudes towards printed books over time! 2 1/2 stars

Caleb’s Crossing

by Geraldine Brooks, 2011, Audible Audio Edition, narrated by Jennifer Ehle

This audiobook is written well and is interesting as it depicts the life of early settlers on what is now called Martha’s Vineyard.  It also depicts some of the early times of Harvard University.  I felt, however, that the author was a bit harsh in her assessment of the virtues of some of the English settlers versus those of the natives.

The main character, Bethia, who tells the tale of her long life and her relationship with the Indians, maintains her strong Christian faith while, at the same time, experiencing its destructive impact on the native culture and religion.  She also glosses over the brutality that the Indians inflicted on the white settlers during the King Phillips War.  Her totally worthless brother at the early stages of the book becomes a very worthy individual by the end of the book.  Indian boys become top scholars at Harvard and individuals, both white and native, pick up not only each other’s languages with ease, but also Latin and Greek.

I have no doubt that many individuals who lived in this era were extraordinary persons but I feel challenged to believe that the deeds and events that the author depicts could be close to reality.  Perhaps she took some of the characters from historical records but because of their extraordinary feats, I tend to think that they are either imaginary or embellished to a great degree.

The narrator, Jennifer Ehle, uses a stilted style to emulate a New England woman settler in the early 1600′s.  The style incorporates a succinct and slow enunciation of each syllable of each word.  The style is in keeping with the story and probably adds to the overall listening experience, but it tends to wear a bit over the length of ten CD’s.

Overall, the book is certainly better than average and enjoyable, but it did, at times, stretch my belief. 3 1/2 stars

 

11/22/63

by Stephen King, 2011, Scribner, New York

My first comment on this book is that it is long … very long.  While the book was interesting and the concept is thought-provoking, it did bog down a bit at times.

Stephen King is a very talented writer.  This is a book, he says, he started to write a few years after the Kennedy assassination but decided to put it down.  He picked up the project again and published this 850-page novel in 2011.

I think that King went off the deep end a bit when depicting the what the world would have looked like had Kennedy survived the assassination attempt.  No doubt there would have been unforeseen consequences, but I had a hard time with the scenario that King cooks up.

Did I mention the book was a bit long?  I’m not sure I would recommend tackling this one as I am on the fence as to whether or not it was worth it.  It certainly has its merits, though. 3 stars

World Without End

by Ken Follett, 2008, New American Library, Penguin Books Ltd., London

I am a bit conflicted on this book.  Follett is a very good writer who can keep the pace going in his novels, at least to some extent.  This particular book, however, I would call “Novel Without End” as it is over 1,000 pages and keeps going on and on.  The setting is interesting as are the characters, but the theme is very repetitive.  The bad characters and the good characters clash, the bad ones seem to be the victors, some time elapses and the good characters figure out a way to overcome the bad ones.  The good characters live for a while reaping the benefits of their new situation and then the bad characters try a new scheme and the plot repeats itself.

Follett employs sixth grade prose to keep the book moving forward.  This technique seems to be a bit more appropriate for the suspense novels he has written versus a supposedly serious novel depicting the life and times of medieval England.

All in all, the novel seems to be a bit of a downgrade from Pillars of the Earth, the prequel of this novel.  While it was interesting, it didn’t seem to be as enjoyable as the first one.3 stars 

A Secret Kept

by Tatiana de Rosnay, Read by Simon Vance, 2010, Macmillan Audio

I was really looking forward to this novel as I really enjoyed Sarah’s Key. Also, I have really liked everything that Simon Vance has done previously. Oh, how I was disappointed!

Both Sarah’s Key and A Secret Kept have themes associated with a family secret that younger generations have been sheltered from. But, Sarah’s Key had an overarching theme which was the horror and guilt associated with a act that was taken to protect a sibling from being taken to a concentration camp. This is pretty heavy stuff. A Secret Kept, however, deals with a family secret associated with a parent having a same-sex affair that had been hidden and the shock and bewilderment that her children experience on discovering the details some thirty years after her death. The latter circumstances seem very pale and shallow compared to the implications of the former. The novel suffers a lot from a “who cares?” feeling, at least on my part.

The second issue is for me, unfortunately, the narrator. Simon Vance does a very good job narrating this story, but I am accustomed to having him bite his teeth into much meatier fare. The first-person character he portrays in this novel is a middle-aged man immersed in his family situation: divorce, messed-up kids, ex-wife’s infidelity, mother’s death, father unapproachable, difficult relationship with step-mother, father ill with cancer, mother’s affair with another woman, circumstances of his mother’s death, his sister’s accident, death of his daughter’s best friend, boredom with his job, incompetence of his secretary, unlikeable clients, torrid affair with attractive young woman, etc., etc. Good Grief! I am used to Simon portraying an individual in such novels as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where he is involved in murder and suspense or portraying interesting characters in the classics of Dickens or Anthony Trollope. Because his voice is so familiar to me, I kept imagining his character as Mikael Blomkvist in the Girl with Dragon Tattoo. While his voice is compelling, the circumstances he deals with in this novel are pathetic.

de Rosnay’s first novel, Sarah’s Key, had the effect of propelling her to the front line of new authors. This one sends her to the back of the class.1 1/2 stars

Heart of Darkness,

by Joseph Conrad, originally published in 1903, 2005, Blackstone Audio, read by Frederick Davidson

This is an incredibly good book given that it doesn’t have much of a plot and it was written by a Polish person whose English was a third language for him.  The beauty of this book is definitely in the use of the English language.  His sentences are terse, the words are sparing, but each additional word he uses is perfect in its cont

As I mentioned, the plot isn’t great.  It’s about a sailor, Marlow, who is hired by a company to go into the Congo and find out what’s going on with its agent, Kurtz.  Marlow accepts the job, goes in and gets Kurtz, listens to him tell his life story on the way out before he dies, and then returns home.  That’s basically it.

The beauty in the story is that Marlow is spinning his yarn to his fellow shipmates as the ship sits on the Thames.  The storytelling is absolutely spellbinding.  The reader in this production. Frederick Davidson, also does an outstanding job of portraying the storyteller.  I felt as if I were sitting there myself listening to Marlow telling his tale and that he was looking right at me while he was talking.

I attended a book lecture this winter in Naples by Elaine Newton where she compared Anne Pachette’s book, State of Wonder to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, implying that some of the same themes were employed in both books.  That may be true, but what she missed, I’m afraid, is that Heart of Darkness is a true work of art;  State of Wonder is only a pale imitation. four stars

 

Wishin’ and Hopin’

by Wally Lamb, 2009, performed by the author, HarperAudio

This is a refreshing Christmas story about a ten-year-old kid in a parochial school in 1964.  The author does a great job in reading, particularly the accent of the Russian girl and her parents. There are some hilarious moments as they perform the Christmas program and the rest of the book is fairly humorous.  All the characters were good and the story was enjoyable to listen to. 3 1/2 Stars