Sunday, April 26, 2015


Us by David Nichols
(Harper / HarperAudio, 2014)
Format: audio via library (narrated by David Haig)

From Goodreads:"Douglas Petersen understands his wife's need to 'rediscover herself' now that their son is leaving home.

He just thought they'd be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

What could possibly go wrong?"

This is my second Nicholslike 'everyone' I read One Day back in the day. I wasn't sure for the first third or so why I especially cared about Douglas and Connie and their bratty son and their failing marriage. Sure, Douglas was a little, um, dull, but even his selfish family ought to have been able to tell that he cared, even while he was being wrong-footed about showing it. 

But the drag of the introductory period finally let up and Douglas's voice began to shine through. He's  a little hopeless and a lot likable and his journey across Europe with his family isn't a thing like the one he meticulously planned, but it's the one he needs, nevertheless.

David Haig is a new-to-me narrator, and he was good at inhabiting Douglas's sometimes fretful but always measured voice. I don't think he could have done a thing more to make this a higher-rated listen for me, given the fine but not overwhelmingly compelling source material. 

I don't mind having listened, but in a category as strong as this year's contenders for the Fiction Audies, this one is easy to put at the bottom of the pile. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fives and Twenty-Fives

Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre
(Bloomsbury / Brilliance Audio, 2014)
Format: audiobook via Audible (narrated by Kevin T. Collins, Nick Sullivan, Jay Snyder, and Fajer Al-Kaisi)

From Goodreads: "It’s the rule - always watch your fives and twenty-fives. When a convoy halts to investigate a possible roadside bomb, stay in the vehicle and scan five meters in every direction. A bomb inside five meters cuts through the armor, killing everyone in the truck. Once clear, get out and sweep 25 meters. A bomb inside 25 meters kills the dismounted scouts investigating the road ahead.

Fives and Twenty-Fives marks the measure of a marine’s life in the road-repair platoon. Dispatched to fill potholes on the highways of Iraq, the platoon works to assure safe passage for citizens and military personnel. Their mission lacks the glory of the infantry, but in a war where every pothole contains a hidden bomb, road repair brings its own danger.

Lieutenant Donavan leads the platoon, painfully aware of his shortcomings and isolated by his rank. Doc Pleasant, the medic, joined for opportunity, but finds his pride undone as he watches friends die. And there’s Kateb, known to the Americans as Dodge, an Iraqi interpreter whose love of American culture - from hip-hop to the dog-eared copy of Huck Finn he carries - is matched only by his disdain for what Americans are doing to his country. Returning home, they exchange one set of decisions and repercussions for another, struggling to find a place in a world that no longer knows them."

This novel wasn't on my radar until the 2015 Audies nominees came out, and I wasn't sure how I'd like it, when I started this year's Armchair Audies project (judging the fiction nominees). I liked it!

Most of the action of the novel happens after Lt. Donovan's platoon is back home in America, and his interpreter, Dodge, has gotten out of Iraq but is free-floating through an unstable Mideast. There are flashbacks to their service, and to the events that brought each of them, particularly Dodge (who is such a compelling, complex, tragicomic guy), together. There's a pivotal incident that each grapples with as they struggle to find out who they are, now that they are no longer serving.

Michael Pitre focuses tightly on the disconnect between life in the Marines and life afterwards. Even when characters appear to be picking up where they left off, they are permanently changed by their years of service, in ways that family and friends don't know how to process. These aren't gruff vets incapable of processing what happened overseas; rather, they are all very aware of changes in the world and in themselves. They saw a war that took place in people's homes and shopping centers, where determining friendly from combatant isn't always easy, and where a few from all sides are conspicuously gathering as much war-related wealth as possible.

The distinctive voices of the marines were smoothly handled by Nick Sullivan, Kevin T. Collins, and Jay Snyder, but the standout for me was Fajer Al-Kaisi as the Iraqi interpreter Dodge. Al-Kaisi's gusto as he takes on Dodge's vibrant, sometimes angry, always analytical personality made a lively character come even more strongly to life. I've read several fictions set in and around the post 9-11 war zones, and am impressed with the way Pitre used Dodge to bring to life the realities of living in Iraq as a citizen; most American novelists I've seen writing about Iraq and Afghanistan are a lot more stand-offish when it comes to the locals whose lives are being blasted apart. But like Dodge's beloved Huck Finn, he is the kind of character it would be fun to drop in to any number of novel situations (ha) just to watch how he navigates it. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Armchair Audies Time!

As in the past couple of years, I am participating this spring in the Armchair Audies project. (The first 7 words in that sentence link to the 7 categories I judged for 2014 & 2013. Have I mentioned I love audiobooks?)

What's the Armchair Audies? It's a delightful gig where a group of bloggers pick categories from the year's Audies nominees and listen to each title in their category, review it, and pick who they think should win.

I am listening to the 2015 Fiction nominees, and having a blast. Although I'll be going a tad far out of my comfort zone when I get to the Stephen King title - I am not much for horror! But every other title has had rewards either large or small, so I'll be taking a deep breath and plunging in.

Meanwhile, look for some reviews of great titles from me, because this is a fine crop of audio nominees. Happy listening!