Monday, May 25, 2015

Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon
(Bantam / Recorded Books, 2014)
Format: Audible download (narrated by Davina Porter)

From Goodreads: "WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD is the eighth novel in the world-famous OUTLANDER series. In June of 1778, the world turns upside-down. The British army withdraws from Philadelphia, George Washington prepares to move from Valley Forge in pursuit, and Jamie Fraser comes back from the dead to discover that his best friend has married Jamie’s wife. The ninth Earl of Ellesmere discovers to his horror that he is in fact the illegitimate son of the newly-resurrected Jamie Fraser (a rebel _and_ a Scottish criminal!) and Jamie’s nephew Ian Murray discovers that his new-found cousin has an eye for Ian’s Quaker betrothed.

Meanwhile, Claire Fraser deals with an asthmatic duke, Benedict Arnold, and the fear that one of her husbands may have murdered the other. And in the 20th century, Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna is thinking that things are probably easier in the 18th century: her son has been kidnapped, her husband has disappeared into the past, and she’s facing a vicious criminal with nothing but a stapler in her hand. Fortunately, her daughter has a miniature cricket bat and her mother’s pragmatism."

The American Revolution and Jaimie and Claire and John and William and Young Ian and Rollo - oh, Rollo! 

What can I say? I listened to the audio - I always choose audio for Diana Gabaldon books because of Davina Porter's amazing narration - and looking at a 45 hour audio can seem daunting, unless you know it's going to be as absorbing as an Outlander book. I found myself feeling grumpy when I saw there were "only" 9 hours left (for those who aren't audio readers - 9 hours is an entire novel in a lot of cases). And then as I tearfully listened to the final moments that I thought weren't quite final moments, and was dropped unceremoniously into a 15 minute author's note on research, I was so upset to be deprived of the moments I'd thought I had.

This is the 8th very long book in the series (if you don't know it in text form, perhaps you've seen the beautiful Starz adaptation? As if I weren't already a bit Jamie-mad.) It's full of characters I've come to love over the course of their lives (okay, maybe they're not alive-alive, but to me they are), and it was a real pleasure to hang out with them again. 

I'm confident it's not a tome a newbie could pick up, although it has so many fun elements of adventure and heartbreak and laughter and kick-ass strong women striding across the centuries. You'd want to meet young Ian in his toddler days, the better to feel for his journey as a young man. But if you like the series, you'll like this volume. The Jamie-Claire-Lord John stuff is a lot of fun, I can't get past my delight in Roger Mac, and did I mention Rollo? Rollo!

Porter keeps me on the edge of my emotional seat from the opening paragraphs - I think she, too, loves these characters, after so long reading them. If she doesn't, she never lets on. I think she's one of the best audio narrators out there. 

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
(Viking / Penguin Audio, 2014)
Format: audio via library (narrated by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye)

From Goodreads: "Hetty "Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements."

I'm always surprised by what Sue Monk Kidd comes up with next. It all fits into the puzzle of her authorial voice, but it's not a picture I would predict based on any one title. Her newest is the story of a Charleston slave and the girl who was her owner (Sarah Grimke was a real abolitionist; this telling of her life is, like wings, invented.) As they move from girlhood to adulthood, their influence on each other is constant if never easy. (Well, duh. Handful's a slave. Sarah's opposition to the institution doesn't make a lot of practical difference for most of Handful's life. Other than when she's punished for things Sarah does, such as teach her to read.) 

Charleston and its inhabitants are full of life, especially the various Grimke family members and slaves. Kidd embroiders together several threads of influence and counter-influence - political, religious, familial, economic - as she completes the picture of their world. 

I find Jenna Lamia's voice syrupy, especially when she's narrating younger characters, and I find some
of her secondary characters grating. As Sarah matures, Lamia's tones mellow and I was able to enjoy her reading. This is the first time I've heard Adepero Odyue's narration, and I loved how well her interpretation of Handful conveyed weariness, elation, fear, and hope in turn. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mr. Mercedes

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
(Scribner / Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014)
Format: audio download from library (narrated by Will Patton)

From Goodreads: "In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the "perk" and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.

Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands."

As a teen, I tore through my parents' collection of Stephen King books. Even though they scared me, I was always sucked in to King's deftly constructed, uncomfortable worlds. Some time in the decades since, I lost the King habit. Then Audies season rolled around, and Mr. Mercedes was on the fiction nominee list. 

I thought I'd dislike the creeping sense of horror. I thought I'd be antsy to finish and move on to a title with far less suspense. I was so wrong. The things I was right about: I knew Will Patton would do a great job, and I knew Stephen King would force me to care about characters he would proceed to endanger. 

Retired investigator Bill Hodges and his misfit companions are complex, complete characters. Hodges' inability to let the Mercedes Killer go, and his sharp insights into the mind of the man taunting him with his crimes, drew me fully into the plot. And it's no surprise that King is a master plotter.

Patton is consistently strong, and I learned long ago that I could trust his instincts when he is narrating a story. His pacing is excellent, which is so important during suspenseful moments, and he always seem to relish language and word play while narrating. I appreciate that he doesn't go overboard with dramatics - voices are distinct but mild, and even the crazy people sections remain understated, leaving room for the listener to process the narrative.

Fingers crossed that Patton narrates the next books in this trilogy, because now that I've reacquired the King habit, I want Patton to be my dealer.