Saturday, December 10, 2011

Giant Audiobook Review

Hello my lovely readers!

In a time span of 12 weeks, I managed to travel 9,902 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. It was a fun, beautiful traveling season for me. The roads were great and the people I met were wonderful. However, I spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a car, which can get boring. How to I entertain myself? Well, for starters, I like to rock out to my iPod and sing a little too loud, and probably off-key too. But with how many hours I'm behind a wheel, I'd have no voice if that's all I did. Additionally, I listen to audiobooks.

Last year for the traveling season, I got a subscription to Audible. Audiobooks are pricey, but I found that Audible is pretty reasonable at $14.95 per month, which gets you one audiobook. Not bad. Anyway, I listened to A LOT of hours of audiobooks, and thought you all might be interested. I'll do mini-reviews of all 7 audiobooks listened to in my 12-week span.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This has been a bestseller and even made Oprah's Book Club. The unabridged audiobook is over 24 hours long, so there were times I had to interrupt it with some upbeat music. Here's a summary of Freedom, courtesy of Goodreads:

From the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, a darkly comedic novel about family. Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul-the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter-environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man-she was doing her small part to build a better world. But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz-outrĂ© rocker and Walter's college best friend and rival-still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes?  In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom's intensely realized characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.

The status of this book intrigued me more than the description, to be honest. While listening, I found that I really didn't like any of the characters. Yes, they were all flawed in their own way, but I don't believe that deep down, any of them was a genuinely good person. There were many twists and turns in the plot, but I believe ultimately everyone got what they deserved. The novel dragged (as a book it runs over 500 pages) and told a contemporary tale I did not find to be revolutionary, by any means.

My rating for this was a 2/5. If I had been reading the 500+ pages, it would have taken me months to get through because it was so slow-moving. Franzen, no promises I'll be reading any of your other "indelible and deeply moving" contemporary works of art.

A Darkness More than Night  by Michael Connelly

I've never read Michael Connelly before, but have had his works suggested to me numerous times. This 12+ hour audiobook was on sale, so I thought this would be the perfect time to see if Connelly is as good as everyone says he is.

Here's the Goodreads description:

Independent elements from several earlier books come seamlessly together in Michael Connelly's ingenious, compelling novel, A Darkness More than Night. This one features both Terry McCaleb, last seen in the Edgar-nominated Blood Work, and Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch, the haunted hero of several of Connelly's finest novels. The lives of these two damaged, all-too-human figures intersect in a typically extravagant story that is at once a murder mystery, a legal thriller, and a psychological drama of considerable subtlety and power.
The novel begins when McCaleb, an FBI profiler forced into retirement following a successful heart transplant, agrees to lend his expertise to a particularly baffling murder investigation. The victim is Edward Gunn, an alcoholic lowlife with a violent past. He was once arrested -- by Harry Bosch -- for the murder of a Los Angeles prostitute but managed, despite Harry's best efforts, to avoid prosecution. McCaleb's analysis of the crime scene reveals a number of anomalies: an unexplained head wound, a phrase ("Beware, beware, God sees") written in medieval Latin, the replica of an owl placed in the vicinity of the corpse. Following his instincts, McCaleb locates mirror images of these arcane clues in a number of paintings by Harry's namesake, the 15th-century Dutch master, Hieronymous Bosch.
Harry, meanwhile, is serving as chief investigator and star witness in the sensational murder trial of a world-famous Hollywood director and has no idea that he's just become the primary suspect in an unrelated investigation. As the trial progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Harry's testimony is critically important and that any attempt to destroy his credibility will undermine the case against a vicious, well-connected killer.
Eventually, Harry learns about McCaleb's suspicions and forces a confrontation. McCaleb takes a second look at the accumulated evidence and begins to discern the outlines of a very different scenario. As new revelations come gradually into view, the disparate elements of the novel coalesce, and the narrative moves with increasing urgency toward a violent, thoroughly satisfying conclusion. 

As aforementioned, I haven't read a Connelly novel, so maybe this wasn't a good one to start with. It references previous situations the main characters have been in, and is the 7th book in a series starring Harry Bosch. But overall? It was a snooze. I often found myself dreading pressing "play" on my iPod because I was worried I'd fall asleep at the wheel. Connelly is not for me, that's for sure. I gave the book a 2/5, but am impressed I even made it through.

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs

I'm hooked on the tv show Bones. It's got the perfect mixture of science, attractive actors, sexual tension, and comedy to be a great show. So when I found out the show was based on a book, I knew I had to get my hands on Kathy Reichs' novels. Yes, I recognize there are differences between the book and the novel, but I'm interested in understanding the basis of everything I love in the show. This book is #10 in the Temperance Brennan series. Here's the summary from Goodreads:

Temperance Brennan, like her creator Kathy Reichs, is a brilliant, sexy forensic anthropologist, called on to solve the toughest cases. But for Tempe, the discovery of a young girl's skeleton in Acadia, Canada, is more than just another assignment. Evangeline, Tempe's childhood best friend, was also from Acadia. Named for the character in the Longfellow poem, Evangeline was the most exotic person in Tempe's eight-year old world. When Evangeline disappeared, Tempe was warned not to search for her, that the girl was "dangerous."
Thirty years later, flooded with memories, Tempe cannot help wondering if this skeleton could be the friend she lost so many years ago. Meanwhile, Tempe's beau, Ryan, investigates a series of cold cases. Two girls dead. Three missing. Could the New Brunswick skeleton be part of the pattern? As Tempe draws on the latest advances in forensic anthropology to penetrate the past, Ryan hunts down a serial predator.

Although this audiobook is ten and a half hours long, time flew by when I was listening to it. Temperance Brennan is as likeable of a character on paper as she is made to be in the tv show. The mystery and excitement throughout the novel kept me wanting more. I'll definitely be picking up another Kathy Reichs novel--hopefully soon! I rated this book 4/5.

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

I'd seen reviews for Domestic Violets all over the place, and instantly knew from reading the description that I needed to get my hands on a copy. Immediately.

Here's a summary, courtesy of Goodreads:

Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day.
The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.
Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way. 

What. A. Masterpiece!  This is Matthew Norman's first novel and I was so impressed with it! The 11-hour audiobook had me lingering in my car, desperate to know what was next. It was the perfect blend of comedy, tragedy, and reality. This is one of the best contemporary fiction novels I've read all year. If you're looking for an engaging read with realistic characters, pick this up now! I'll definitely continue to read Norman's novels, should he continue writing them. I rated this book 5/5.

 Deadly Defiance by William Manchee

Unlike the rest of these audiobooks, I received a copy of Deadly Defiance free through the Goodreads First Reads program, in exchange for an honest review. I'd never heard of William Manchee before, nor his main character Stan Turner. This is the tenth book in a series of Stan Turner mysteries.

Here's a summary of the novel, courtesy of Goodreads:

A young mother complains to Stan that she’s been abandoned by her husband, left penniless, and deeply in debt. Maureen Thompson is livid with her husband and suggest she’d be better off if he were dead, so she could collect on his sizeable life insurance policy. Stan cautions her not to think in those terms and, before she leaves, promises to develop a strategy for effectively dealing with her seemingly unsurmountable problems. Several weeks later Maureen calls Stan from the City Jail where she’s been arrested for the alleged murder of her husband. Since Paula is between murder cases, Stan assigns the case to her. She is elated with the assignment until she finds out Rodney Thompson isn’t her first husband to fall victim to a seven-inch ice pick.

While Paula is busy trying to prove Maureen Thompson isn’t the Ice Pick Killer, Stan and Jodie try to help an illegal Hispanic woman obtain redress for the murder of her husband at the hands of a sweatshop owner with ties to a Mexican drug cartel. It’s a dangerous case so Stan and Jodie team up with the Dallas Police and the FBI to attempt to bring the abusive employer to justice. But just when they think they have Icaro Melendez on the ropes he strikes back with a vengeance making Stan and Jodie wish they’d never taken on the case. But there is no going back now, so they press on, praying they’ll survive a final confrontation with the ruthless cartel.

I was impressed with this 10+ hour audiobook by a lesser-known author. The novel was intriguing, fast-paced, and left the reader excited to continue. There's a nice combination of the legal side of the story and the detective side. If you're a fan of John Grisham, but looking for something a little more exciting and quick to read, I definitely recommend Manchee's novel. I'll be picking up another one of his novels in the near future, that's for sure! I rated this book 4/5.

Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

I was introduced to Jodi Picoult in 2005, when her novel My Sister's Keeper was flying off the shelves at the Target where I worked. I had to know what all the fuss was about. In 2006 I picked up The Pact. I then understood why Picoult was so famous. She's definitely got talent. Since then, I've made it a personal mission to get through all of her books to date. I've read most of her books, but this is one I hadn't even heard of. First published in 1993 (yes, when I was only 5 years old), this has been one of Picoult's lesser-known novels.

Here's the Goodreads summary:
Jodi Picoult earned rave notices for her debut novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale. Now this gifted young writer turns her considerable literary talents to the story of a young woman overcome by the demands of having a family. Written with astonishing clarity and evocative detail, convincing in its depiction of emotional pain, love, and vulnerability, Harvesting the Heart recalls the writing of Alice Hoffman and Sue Miller. Paige has only a few vivid memories of her mother, who left when she was five. Now, having left her father behind in Chicago for dreams of art school and marriage to an ambitious young doctor, she finds herself with a child of her own. But her mother's absence, and shameful memories of her past, make her doubt both her maternal ability and her sense of self worth. Out of Paige's struggle to find wholeness, Jodi Picoult crafts an absorbing novel peopled by richly drawn characters and explores issues and emotions readers can relate to.

In spite of this being one of Picoult's first novels, this is a contender with the modern-day excellence Picoult is cranking out. I think what makes this novel, as with most of Picoult's novels, is the relate-ability of the main character. Admittedly, I do not have a lot in common with her on the surface: my mother never abandoned me, and we have a very close relationship. I have not run thousands of miles away from my problems, in search for a new life. I do not have a child or any of the emotional concerns that come with motherhood. Yet, somehow, I felt a connection to Paige. I understand why she felt the need to run, her guilt, and her concerns about motherhood. This is yet another one of Picoult's books I recommend to everyone. I gave this 18-hour audiobook a 4/5.

Match Me if you Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

To be honest, I have no idea how this audiobook got on my iPod. It's not on my Purchased list on Audible; it isn't in my Goodreads FirstReads "won" list; and I certainly didn't buy it! I don't recall borrowing it from the library, either. In spite of this, I listed to the 11-hour audiobook by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, of whom I've never heard before.

Here's the description from Goodreads:

You met star quarterback Kevin Tucker in This Heart of Mine. Now get ready to meet his shark of an agent, Heath Champion, and Annabelle Granger, the girl least likely to succeed.
Annabelle's endured dead-end jobs, a broken engagement ... even her hair's a mess! But that's going to change now that she's taken over her late grandmother's matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is land the Windy City's hottest bachelor as her client, and she'll be the most sought-after matchmaker in town.
Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? True, she's entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success—the perfect wife. And to make an extraordinary match, he needs an extraordinary matchmaker, right?
Soon everyone in Chicago has a stake in the outcome, and a very big question: When the determined matchmaker promised she'd do anything to keep her star client happy...did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn't careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.

I found this quirky novel to be extremely cliche, yet cute. There's really no surprises in the novel if you've read any chick-lit at all. The main character is a cliche, right down to her messy, unmanageable red hair. Her client, who she falls in love with, is her exact opposite: a put-together, serious workaholic. There wasn't a twist I hadn't predicted. And yet? I enjoyed this novel. If you like cliche chick-lit novels, this is a good one. I rated this 3/5.

Whew. Are you glad this humongous review is over with?!?! Although these 100+ hours of audiobooks definitely kept me entertained throughout my fall travels, I'm excited to be back home and able to curl up with real paperback books.

I hope you're all curled up on the couch with your favorite paperback and coffee. Have a great Saturday, everyone! :)

1 comment:

  1. Have you ever used or Both have free, legal audiobook downloads for books that are in the public domain. This means that most of the books are older, but I've listened to a lot of classics that way. You definitely have to listen to the samples before downloading though, because the readers are volunteers. Some, like the reader for The Scarlet Pimpernel, are fantastic, while others, like the reader for Sherlock Holmes, are AWFUL.


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