02 December 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 5 Current Book Reviews

Book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsHello, December! Where the heck did this year go? We may be a few weeks away from winter, but the weather here has definitely taken a downward turn. It's been windy, a little icy, and cold.

We haven't had any major snow yet, so that's something to be grateful for. I'm also glad we took the time to get the deck ready for winter. We didn't finish with the yard work -- but there's always next year, right?

Another thing I'm happy about is that it seems as if my workload is finally under control. It's crazy how busy I was. My reading suffered horribly, but I plan to make up for lost time in December.

I'm not going to review everything I read or listened to over the last month (or however long it's been since I did a Monday post). Instead I picked five books to talk about.

review of Erin Morgenstern's The Starless SeaI assume everyone has read Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea (Doubleday, Nov. 5). The premise of this book hit a ton of my buttons: a fantasy set in modern times involving stories and books and an alternative world with portals to our own. Unfortunately, Starless Sea didn't totally work for me. Here's the good: I loved the stories within stories, the blending (in the book's reality) of truth and fiction, and the nonchronological plot threads. I also liked the alternative world, with its caves and library and kitchen and, yes, starless sea. However, despite so many positive elements, I was left, at the end, with a vague feeling of being unsatisfied and maybe even thinking (just a little), "So what?" On the other hand, the audiobook (Random House Audio; 18 hr, 37 min) is absolutely beautifully narrated by a full cast, and it was the fabulous performances of Dominic Hoffman, Dion Graham, Bahni Turpin, Fiona Hardingham, Allan Corduner, and Jorjeana Marie that kept me going. Bravo to the narrators; I hope they win some awards. (digital and audio copies provided by the publisher)

review of Heddi Goodrich's Lost in the Spanish QuarterHere's a novel you may have missed. Heddi Goodrich's Lost in the Spanish Quarter (Harper Via; Sept. 10), takes place mostly in Naples near the end of the twentieth century and is told in retrospect after our protagonist hears from her college lover after a long silence. The book is billed as fiction, though much of the main character's life mirrors the author's including her name. Heddi moves from America to Italy on a high-school exchange program and ends up staying in the country all the way through college. When living in the Spanish Quarter of Napels, finishing university, she meets Pietro, and the two fall for each other hard. The novel is a love story to the ancient city, Mount Vesuvius, and all things Italian as well as the story of a group of young people facing their futures, full of hope and opportunity, yet still very much influenced by their families and their past. Heddi and Peitro's relationship and the pain and trials of their transitioning to full adulthood are universal enough to draw you in and unique enough to keep you interested. Goodrich wrote Lost in the Spanish Quarter in Italian and translated the book to English herself. Recommended to those who like character-driven novels. Warning: you'll be planning a trip to Naples even before you finish the book. (audio copy provided for a freelance assignment)

Review of Modern Love, Revised and Updated, edited (with others) by Daniel JonesDo you read the New York Times column "Modern Love"? If you don't, you've been missing out. Fortunately, you can read about 30 of the essays in the collection Modern Love, Revised and Updated, edited (with others) by Daniel Jones (Broadway, Oct. 1). Each of the essays reprinted here really shine. I can honestly say there were no misses for me. The stories cover all kinds of love from romantic relationships to parent-child relationships. Some are funny (as in dating mishaps), some are sad (those that ended in death), and others are almost unbearably moving. One of my favorites involved an Evangelical woman who loved her church and her god but was later surprised to realize that she loved a woman from her Bible study class even more. Another one is about a man who meets some of his many children for the first time: he was sperm donor when he was in college and one of his sons finds him through a DNA/genetics site. There are also stories of adoption, dating when you're disabled, and much more. If you're an audiobook lover (Random House Audio; 8 hr, 9 min), you don't want to miss this all-star cast performance. Each narrator did a credible job, bringing out the many emotions without going over the top. (audio copy provided for a freelance assignment)

review of Wild Life by Keena RobertsA few weeks ago, I included Wild Life by Keena Roberts (Grand Central, Nov. 12) in a nonfiction round-up. I really enjoyed this memoir of a girl growing up divided between a remote research camp in Botswana and a Philadelphia Main Line private school. Keena's parents are well-known field primatologists who studied baboon communication and social behavior in a colony of monkeys who lived on a string of islands a long way from any kind of town. Keena's story is a fascinating look at life in one corner of Africa, with its incredible beauty, haunting sounds, and many dangers. She was curious, level-headed, smart, and self-sufficient at an incredibly young age. Despite her impressive Africa skills, Keena found it difficult and sometimes frustrating when she had to adapt to America. Even sitting in a classroom all day was hard for her. Add on the fact that she had missed out on television and other pop culture, and you can see why it wasn't always easy for her to fit in. Still, because she returned to the same school each trip home, Keena was able to make some lasting friends who helped her survive the mean girls. The audiobook (Hachette Audio; 9 hr, 42 min) is read by Chloe Cannon, who picks up on Keena's personality and her obvious love of the wild places of her childhood. (audio copy provided by the publisher)

review of Gareth Russell's The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian EraAnother book I featured in my nonfiction round-up was Gareth Russell's The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era (Atria, Nov. 19). I'm one of those people who have been fascinated with the Titanic story since I was a child. I don't really know why, but I've never gotten tired of learning more about the tragedy. Russell's take is a little different from others. Although he does give details about the actual night of the sinking, the loading of the lifeboats, and the sights and sounds of that horrible night, he places the passengers and the whole phenomenon of the luxury liner in the contemporary global context. He talks about immigration, old versus new money, various prejudices (ethnic and religion), political issues, social conventions, and other concerns of the fading Edwardian Era. He focuses on a handful of passengers to make his points of how various people were treated and/or expected to be treated in the years leading up to World War I. He also paints a much more realistic picture of the evacuation of the Titanic than sensational movie scenes have led us to believe (for example, third-class passengers were not locked below decks). This is as much a history of the mid-1910s as it is a story of the Titanic and its passengers. I tried the audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 12 hr, 35 min), but I didn't click with narrator Jenny Funnell. Her performance was fine, but a few mispronunciations and odd pauses sent me to the book. Your mileage may vary. (audio and digital copies provided by the publisher)


bermudaonion 12/2/19, 8:15 AM  

I figured The Starless Sea wasn't for me and decided to skip it. I think I made the right decision with that one. I think Wild Life is right up my alley, though.

Amanda 12/2/19, 8:39 AM  

The Starless Sea is FINALLY on its way to me from the library. It sounds like the sort of dreamy book I tend to read in December, so I suppose it's good that I waited.

rhapsodyinbooks 12/2/19, 8:59 AM  

I share your enduring fascination with the Titanic story. Alas, I also share your misgivings over mispronunciations!

Susie | Novel Visits 12/2/19, 9:33 AM  

I watched the Modern Love series on Prime and really enjoyed it, so reading more of the essays definitely appeals to me. Maybe I should have listened to The Starless Sea because after reading 75 pages, I just couldn't do any more. It felt like the story was going nowhere. A big disappointment for me because I loved The Night Circus.

Kathy Martin 12/2/19, 10:35 AM  

Interesting assortment of books. I'm glad your workload is no longer overloading you. Want some snow? We got over 21 inches Saturday and Sunday. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

sherry fundin 12/2/19, 2:49 PM  

quite a variety of books. wildlife looks really goo
sherry @ fundinmental

Yvonne 12/2/19, 5:24 PM  

I haven't read any of those books. They look good. Have a great week!

Greg 12/2/19, 6:49 PM  

I totally hear you on the weather. It's gotten quite cold here too, and we had a beautiful (light) snowfall the other morning- I woke up and it was just all soft flurries coming down. but thankfully we didn't get too much!

I've been really curious about The Starless Sea so that's good to know. It's sort of on my kinda want to read list but it's not knocking down my door exactly? lol.

shelleyrae @ book'd out 12/2/19, 9:37 PM  

Such thoughtful comments on all these. Thanks for sharing Beth

Tina 12/3/19, 10:38 AM  

Lots of people raving about The Starless Sea but the description didn't grab me. I thought it would, but after reading some I didn't' want it.
Modern Love and Wild Life sound interesting to me.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 12/3/19, 2:23 PM  

I think Wild Life sounds like a good one; on my list it goes.

Les in Oregon 12/3/19, 6:32 PM  

I'm sorry The Starless Sea was a disappointment, but I'm glad the audio version was worth listening to. I plan to do just that, since I love audios with a large cast of readers.

I've only heard of Modern Love, but haven't read (or watched) the essays. I have added the audio to my Audible list.

Thanks so much for these recommendations!

Laurel-Rain Snow 12/4/19, 11:34 PM  

I enjoyed the Modern Love series on Prime...thanks for sharing, and enjoy your upcoming week.

Jackie McGuinness 12/7/19, 3:34 PM  

Don't think I'd like Starless Sea, but yes to the Titanic book.

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