Tag Archives: audiobooks

Life in the Fast Lane

Indiscretion: A Novel by Charles Dubow (William Morrow, $24.99, 400 pages)

Indescretion 3D

First-time author Charles Dubow has captured the sophisticated conversation style often heard in wealthy and privileged social circles such as the one in East Hampton, New York during the summer season. Dubow is careful in avoiding parody, smoothing the exchanges to eliminate the stilted manner so often used in books featuring this sort of crowd — think The Great Gatsby.

Although the setting is East Hampton and the time is present day; the story could easily be set in the 1940s. This reviewer experienced feelings reminiscent of the those felt while watching my all-time favorite movie, Laura; however, Indiscretion is not a mystery. Moreover, as the story unfolds it takes a back seat to the interactions of the characters and the locale. Perhaps it is a morality play.

Not everyone will pick up on the specificity that Dubow uses to pinpoint the sort of people his characters are. The main characters are fraternity brothers having joined Delta Kappa Epsilon, Deke for short. This reviewer sought out a picture of the author and it came as no surprise that he bears a strong resemblance to the Dekes I knew at Cal. He may even wear penny loafters without sox as was the Deke-preferred style back in the late 1960s.

The main narrator of this book, Walter Gervais, is an independently-wealthy attorney who owns a summer cottage next door to a National Book Award winner and his wife. The author, Harry Winslow, and his wife, Madeline, are the perfect couple married for many years. They have one son, Johnny, who completes their family. Walter, Harry and Madeline are in their 40s. Walter has always loved Maddy (short for Madeline) and he contents himself with being an honorary member of their family.

As the title suggest, there is an indiscretion that pulls apart the perfect couple. A mysterious, self-possessed and beautiful young 26-year-old woman named Claire insinuates herself into their world. Claire is the current interest of a shallow and overbearing man. As fate would have it, Claire joins Clive for a weekend in the Hamptons where they are guests at a dinner hosted by Harry and Maddy. Claire soaks in the cozy and charming atmosphere in their home. It is a stark contrast to Clive’s hard-edged modern house.

The narrator shifts among Walter, Maddy and Claire are well executed and add depth to the telling. As each addresses the reader, the tale takes on complexity. Dubow is an excellent writer and, hopefully, this first novel will be followed by others.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Indiscretion… marks the debut of a remarkably gifted writer and story teller whose unique voice bears all the hallmarks of an exciting, new literary talent.” Amazon

Indiscretion was released on July 9, 2013.

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Poor, Poor Pitiful Me

The Next Best Thing: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner (Atria Books, $26.99, 400 pages; AudioWorks Audio, Unabridged on 11 CDs, $39,99)

Songs Without Words: A Novel by Ann Packer (Vintage, $14.95, 384 pages; Random House Audio, Unabridged on 11 CDs, $34.95)

This review is a duet of sorts.   Both books were read in the audio format.   They explore what can happen when a young girl loses a parent or multiple parents.   Ironically, each begins on a separate coast of the U.S.; however, all the main characters end up in California, albeit Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, respectively.   As we’re often told in self-help books and philosophical literature, it’s not the incident that shapes us, but rather, the way we react to it.   Each of these tales packs a wallop of an incident.

In The Next Best Thing, we learn that young Ruthie Saunders endured the horror of an automobile crash that killed both her parents and maimed her for life.   Ruthie’s face is mangled on one side, as is her body.   She has the good fortune to be the granddaughter of a truly kind and loving woman who steps in and gives her a life filled with hope and understanding.

Although Ruthie braved numerous painful surgeries over the years and the unsympathetic stares of her classmates, she persevered.   Her scars and physical limitations are vivid and readily noticeable but her spirit is strong.   Together with her beloved grandma, Trudy, Ruthie travels from the East Coast to take on the daunting challenge of breaking into the Hollywood television writing scene.   She becomes a promising comedy writer in Hollywood and even has a boyfriend.   The story takes on a sense of urgency when Ruthie’s autobiographical sitcom script is given the green light and is produced as a television show.

For sixteen-year-old Sarabeth life had always been difficult.   Her mom had overwhelming difficulties with depression that overshadowed the family.   Luckily for Sarabeth, her best friend Liz – who lived across the street in upscale Palo Alto, California – had a loving and good-natured family that helped to balance her life.   This difficult yet somewhat stable life was destroyed when Sarabeth’s mom committed suicide.   In this case, Liz’ family took her in and provided a home when Sarabeth’s father fled to the East Coast.

Despite years of loving friendship from Liz, Sarabeth nearly wallows in self-pity and neediness despite her outward good looks.   Her choices in men run to ones who are married with children.   Her career is limited to small artsy projects and a meek existence in a somewhat-dilapidated cottage behind another house in Berkeley.   The real challenge comes when Liz’ daughter acts on her own suicidal impulses.   Liz is unable to grasp how her robotic take on life has failed her daughter.   The supportive friendship between Sarabeth and Liz falls apart.

Given the remarkable parallels, these two tales could not be more dissimilar.   Both of these authors are well-known and very successful; however, Jennifer Weiner demonstrates her ability to craft engaging, sympathetic, and dare I say,  spunky characters.   This reviewer’s attention was fully focused on Ruthie and her life while Sarabeth provoked a slight revulsion due to her clueless self-pity and lack of empathy.   Ann Packer chose to portray a pair of lifeless and clueless women whose plights evoked barely a stirring of compassion.   In fact, a song title for a review of this book could easily have been, Get Over It.

As always, the narrators contributed significantly by literally setting the tone for the listener.   Olivia Thirlby gave Ruthie in The Next Best Thing a youthful, optimistic and somewhat naive voice.   She drew this listener in and brought out feelings of caring and hope for Ruthie and Grandma Trudy.

Conversely, Cassandra Campbell’s pervasive monotone was heavy and lacked the necessary inflections that produce engagement in the listener.   To her credit, Campbell had a difficult assignment as she portrayed Sarabeth, Liz and her daughter.

The Next Best Thing is Highly Recommended, while Songs Without Words has a limited audience – folks who don’t mind devoting the time and money this difficult story requires.

Ruta Arellano

These audiobooks were purchased by the reviewer’s husband.

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Shake, Rattle and Roll

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future by Robert B. Reich (Knopf, $14.95, 192 pages)

Robert Reich’s Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future is sectioned into three parts.   In the first two sections, Reich offers arguments for why America’s growing inequality is bad.   The third offers ideas for fixing it.

Part One argues that growing inequality makes it impossible for America’s middle class to consume as much as they produce without going into debt.   The reason for the 2008 meltdown, he argues, was not that Americans had merely spent beyond their means or that Wall Street speculators had trashed the economy, though these he argues were true.   Rather, “their (middle class Americans) means had not kept up with what the larger economy could and should have been able to provide them.”   This is the reason behind the economic collapse.

Part one is the best section of the book.   Reich’s analysis is concise, though well supported.   The argumentation is spot on.   He makes strong points, develops them and supports them without wandering too far from his central theme.   He doesn’t simplify things, but manages to explain them well.

Part two argues that growing inequality will have dangerous social implications if nothing is done to change the direction.   This section begins with a thought experiment involving a fictional future party of populist radicals.   The argument Reich makes here is that capitalism has to be saved from itself.   If the middle class can’t achieve the things they used to, radicals will harness their populist anger and the end result will be the destruction of the economy and capitalism.

The specifics of the thought experiment are a little silly, though not entirely implausible.   It’s also a drawback that he lumps all of the populist anger together into one category.   That’s a bit insulting to middle class intellligence, but maybe Reich is right.   In any case, his main point – that capitalism needs to be saved from itself – is poignant.

Part three cobbles together a  lot of small possible situations, notably changes to tax codes, getting money out of politics, and a complete expansion of Medicare.

The drawback to section three is that there aren’t a lot of connections among the small solutions he cobbles together.   None of them are politically viable.   Reich ends by suggesting that the only real way forward is if financial corporations and the financial elite heed his warning and save capitalism from itself.

The Good:  Reich’s analysis of the structural problem under-girding the American economy appears to be accurate.   His argument is well supported by short at only 147 pages.

The Bad:  Sections two and three of the book simply aren’t as good as the first section.   Section two is purely speculative.   The argument is valid, but the specifics are impractical.   Section three disappoints in its presentation of solutions, which are not politically feasible.

The Bottom Line:  Aftershock is required reading for any progressive wanting to understand the structural economic problem behind the economic meltdown and the barriers to fixing it.   Well recommended.

Trevor Kidd

You can read more from Trevor Kidd at http://trevorkidd.com/ .

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Coming Attractions

This is a quick look at recently released books, and soon-to-be-released books that I’m looking forward to reading.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon and Schuster; 10/24/11)

This is already the best-selling book in the country, based on pre-release orders at Amazon.   Isaacson earlier wrote the mega-selling Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and the recent, tragic death of Steve Jobs will only heighten the interest in this almost 700 page biography.   This is an authorized bio, as (according to Reuters) Jobs knew that his death was imminent and wanted his kids to know him through this expected-to-be definitive work.   Jobs had made clear to his friends and co-workers that nothing in his personal or professional life was off-limits.

Steve Jobs will also be available as an audiobook; unfortunately, an abridged one.

Freedom: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (Picador; 09/27/11)

If you’re like me, one of the two dozen or so individuals who did not read this book when it was originally released, you now have a chance to pick it up as a Picador trade paperback for just $16.00.   USA Today called Franzen’s novel about a troubled marriage, “Smart, witty and ultimately moving.”

Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Fiction by Elissa Schappell (Simon and Schuster; 09/06/11)

This is a hybrid between a short story collection and a novel, as Schappell has penned eight interlinked tales (“Spanning the late 1970s to the current day…”) about the experiences that turn girls into women.   Tom Perrota, author of The Leftovers and Little Children, says of Blueprints for Building Better Girls:  “Elizabeth Schappell’s characters live in that zone where toughness and vulnerability overlap.   In this remarkable, deeply engaging collection of stories, Schappell introduces us to a wide variety of female characters, from reckless teenagers to rueful middle-aged moms, and asks us to ponder how those girls became these women.”

The Marriage Plot: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 10/11/11)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides returns with a story about a not-so-calm year in the lives of three college seniors (one female and two males) attending Brown University in the early 1980s.   It’s about love lost and found, and the mental preparations that young people must make before entering the stolid world of adults.

The Drop: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company; 11/28/11)

From the author of The Lincoln Lawyer and The Reversal, comes the latest thriller involving LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.   A bored Bosch is getting ready for retirement when two huge criminal cases with political and other implications land on his desk.   Both cases need to be solved immediately and, as usual, Bosch must break some major investigative rules in order to do so.

“Connelly may be our most versatile crime writer.”   Booklist

Joseph Arellano

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My Book Review Rules

I first posted my Lucky 13 book review rules and policies on July 31, 2009.   I am now reposting them with a few revisions and applicable updates.

The Lucky 13 Rules

1.   I am interested in receiving review copies on most subjects but especially biographies and memoirs; music; poetry; sports; science fiction; business books; nonfiction survery books; inspirational books (but not directly tied to religion); popular fiction; crime dramas; mysteries and suspense thrillers; family novels; Young Adult (YA) novels; children’s books and stories involving animals.

2.   I am not interested in vampire or zombie books; conspiracy theory books; political tracts; books promoting racism or hatred; books laden with philosophy or religion (been there, done that); overly simplistic self-help books (of which there are many); or books in which the author says the same thing on every page!

3.   If the reference to popular fiction was too vague, let me be clear:  yes, I will and have read “chick lit” (distinct from bodice rippers or old-fashioned romance) books.

4.   Whenever possible, I like to receive early stage review copies – paper bound galleys or ARCs, even if they are subject to final review, editing and corrections.   No one wants to write the last review of a new book.

5.   Yes, I do want to review books that are being re-released in paperback – especially in trade paperback form.   In this economy, paperbacks are often the only books on the radar screen of economy-minded readers.

6.   I finish around 80 percent of the books I start, but if I can’t finish it – meaning that attempting to do so is  more painful than dental work, I’m not writing the review.

7.   I’m a speed reader but it nevertheless takes me forever to read pages that have not been editing by someone in the world!

8.   Send an e-mail to me at Josephsreviews@gmail.com if you want to know if I’d like a copy of your book.   My receipt of your book does not equate with an automatic positive review (I simply try to be honest) nor a guarantee that I can or will finish it.   Again, I cannot guarantee that I will post a review of your book because you have sent it to me.   Also, please do not send me follow-up e-mails asking when I will be reading/reviewing your book.

9.   Some authors want me to not only review their book but to include a link to their website, or their Twitter account or other online address.   Sorry, I don’t do that.   Readers who have seen my review(s) and are interested in more information on an author can do a Google search.

10.  I do not read/review digital or e-books or pdf files.   (I have nothing against technology, it’s simply a matter of eye strain.)

11.  I love audiobooks on CDs, so if your book is available in this format and you or your publisher can supply me with an audiobook copy, it’s a big plus.

12.  Publishers, if you send me a book, please do include a P. R. sheet with some background information on the book and the contact information for the assigned in-house publicist or contact P. R. staff person.   If I post a review, I will be sure to let the contact know when it is posted.

13.  New authors – especially of nonfiction or self-published books, please have an experienced editor vet your work before submitting it for review.

That’s it.   Good reading to all!

Joseph Arellano

Note:   Some self-published books are reviewed on this site, although they remain the exception to the rule.

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A Memorial Day Giveaway

Thanks to Hachette Audio, we have three (3) audiobook copies of War by Sebastian Junger to give away.   Junger is the author of The Perfect Storm and this book, War, is a 4.5 star book at Amazon.   The unabridged audiobook is read by the author on 7 CDs and has a list price value of $29.98.

Here is a synopsis of War and a comment by an early reviewer.

From the author of The Perfect Storm, War is a gripping book about Sebastian Junger’s almost-fatal year with the 2nd battalion of the American Army.   They were known as “The Rock.”   For one year, in 2007-2008, Junger accompanied a single platoon of thirty men from the 2nd battalion as they fought their way through a remote valley in Eastern Afghanistan.   Over the course of five trips, men that Junger knew were killed or wounded, and he himself was almost killed.  

War is a narrative about combat: the fear of dying, the trauma of killing and the love between platoon-mates who would rather die than let each other down.   Gripping, honest, intense, War explores the incredible bonds that form between these small groups of men.   War goes to the heart of what it means not just to be a soldier, but to be human.

“There aren’t many books that really tell the reader what it means to be in battle.   Sebastian Junger is a writer of rare skill who can paint a frighteningly real picture of places few of us would ever think of going.”   Michael J. Edelman, Amazon

In order to enter the contest to win an audiobook copy of War, simply post a comment here or send an e-mail with the heading “War” to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, explain what Memorial Day means to you or your family.  

In order to enter this giveaway, you must have a residential mailing address in the U.S. or Canada (audiobooks will not be mailed to P.O. boxes).   You have until midnight PST on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 to submit your entry/entries.  

Good luck and good listening/reading!

 

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A Golf Giveaway

Thanks to Hachette Audio, we’re pleased to announce that he have three (3) audiobook copies of John Feinstein’s latest sports-related book to give away!   Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf is told on 11 CDs and has a list price value of $34.98.   Here is a synopsis of the book and a few comments:

After winning 6 of the 12 Majors from 2000 to 2002, Tiger Woods struggled in 2003.   Four unknown players would seize the day, rising to become champions in his wake.   Mike Weir – considered a good golfer but not a great one – triumphed in The Masters, becoming the first Canadian to win a Major.   Jim Furyk emerged victorious in the U.S. Open.   In the British Open, Ben Curtis became the only player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to come from nowhere to prevail at the PGA Championship.   How does one moment of glory affect the unsung underdog for years to follow?

Feinstein chronicles the champions’ ups and downs, giving readers an inside look into how victory (and defeat) can change players’ lives.

“(Feinstein is) One of the best sportswriters alive.”   Larry King, USA Today

“Feinstein is the most successful sportswriter in America.  …He has the gift of re-creating events known to us all while infusing them with excitement, even suspense.”   Jay Nordlinger, The Wall Street Journal

“John Feinstein…  has done perhaps as much for golf writing as Arnold Palmer has for golf.”   Ron Rappaport, Washington Monthly

Keep in mind that John Feinstein is the author of the previous mega-selling nonfiction book about golf, A Good Walk Spoiled.   And here he writes about the fall of Tiger Woods before The Fall.   If you would like to try to win a copy of this unabridged audiobook, simply post a comment here or send as e-mail message to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first, initial, entry.   To enter a second time, just explain why you are or are not a fan of the sport of golf.

Yes, these are the simple rules.   In order to be eligible to enter this contest, you must live in either the United States or Canada and have a residential mailing address (audiobooks will not be shipped to post office boxes).   You have until midnight PST on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 to post your entry/entries.

The 3 winners will be contacted by e-mail and asked to supply their mailing/shipping address within 72 hours.   If any winner fails to respond within this timeframe, his/her audiobook will be given to the 4th name drawn by Munchy the cat, our contest administrator.

Good luck and good reading/listening/golfing!

 

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