Book Review: Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy

Title: Fruit of the Lemon
Author: Andrea Levy
Publisher: Picador
Paperback: 339 pages
Source: Own
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From Andrea Levy, author of Small Island and winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Best of the Best Orange Prize, comes a story of one woman and two islands.
Faith Jackson knows little about her parents’ lives before they moved to England. Happy to be starting her first job in the costume department at BBC television, and to be sharing a house with friends, Faith is full of hope and expectation. But when her parents announce that they are moving “home” to Jamaica, Faith’s fragile sense of her identity is threatened. Angry and perplexed as to why her parents would move to a country they so rarely mention, Faith becomes increasingly aware of the covert and public racism of her daily life, at home and at work.

At her parents’ suggestion, in the hope it will help her to understand where she comes from, Faith goes to Jamaica for the first time. There she meets her Aunt Coral, whose storytelling provides Faith with ancestors, whose lives reach from Cuba and Panama to Harlem and Scotland. Branch by branch, story by story, Faith scales the family tree, and discovers her own vibrant heritage, which is far richer and wilder than she could have imagined.

Fruit of the Lemon spans countries and centuries, exploring questions of race and identity with humor and a freshness, and confirms Andrea Levy as one of our most exciting contemporary novelists.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Andrew recommended this to me a while ago and I finally had the chance to read it! I was worried at first, because his last two have been, while very good, incredibly depressing, but this was a whole lot happier and more hopeful than White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, so I can keep on with his recommendations! It’s interesting because Fruit of the Lemon does deal with the same sort of issues as those other two books — namely, what it means to be not-white in a society that favors being white, but it also marries this idea with a young woman’s coming of age. Faith has just graduated college and is trying to figure out who she is and what her place is in the world, which is made even more complicated by the fact that it’s harder for her to get the jobs that she wants because of racism and it’s harder for her to embrace her culture when she doesn’t have any friends that come from the same background as her.

I appreciated Levy’s ability to take serious concepts while also bringing humor and levity into it. Faith is living in a house with two guys and another girl, and the description of the house is hilarious, grotesque, and all too real of just-graduated-from-college young adults. The hygiene, decorating skills, and overall responsibility skills just aren’t quite there yet, but they’re trying to figure it out; Faith’s dad coming by the house because he was “in the area” is a hilarious moment because of this.

The racism in Faith’s workplace was well done — she wanted to be a dresser instead of working in the costume department of a TV station, cataloging costumes. Someone told her they never have “colored” people working those jobs, and when the hiring committee started being unfair to her, she mentioned that and eventually got the job she wanted, but they don’t actually really let her do the job, saying that no shows needed anyone to help dress the actors at the moment. This was much more interesting than Faith not getting the job outright, because it was harder for her to find something to be upset about — she got the job she wanted, they just didn’t need her to do those responsibilities right now. And then, when they do let her work, it’s to dress up dolls for a kid’s show and not actual actors.

However, this novel shines when Faith goes to Jamaica and learns about her family. More than anything, this book is about how people become who they are, how they relate to their families, and how family can tie everything together. I loved seeing Faith trace her family tree as each new story about a new relative is told to her, and even though the reader doesn’t get to see much of Faith’s transformation, I felt her becoming more comfortable with herself and who she is with each branch she adds to the tree. Fruit of the Lemon is a beautiful story about family, identity, and culture, and it’s able to tell an important story while still including humorous and touching moments. Along with my husband, I highly recommend reading this book.

Podcast Review: The Worst Idea of All Time

Podcast: The Worst Idea of All Time
Hosts: Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt
Summary: (taken from Worst Idea of All Time)

The Worst Idea of All Time is a podcast hosted by Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt, two New Zealand comedians who watched Grown Ups 2 once a week, every week for a year. The duo then watched Sex and the City 2 52 times. They are currently watching We Are Your Friends. 52 times.

What started as a simply stupid idea, quickly turned into a public mental unraveling of two grown men, week by week. The podcast has been downloaded over 5 million times since it began in Feb 2014. They hope you enjoy the show and recommend you join their Facebook page.

 

4.5 out of 5 stars

I have a confession.  I really wanted to give this podcast 5 stars but just couldn’t do it.  The only reason it does not get 5 stars is that the backlog is impressively long (and I will get into below I think necessary to knock out).  I almost created two separate categories (Quality and Ability to Jump In) but that seemed overly complex so here we are.  Sorry.

The Worst Idea of All Time is hosted by Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery, two New Zealand based comedians.  About three years ago now they conceived this terrible idea to watch the movie Grown Ups 2 once a week every week for a year and record a podcast “reviewing” the film immediately after.  This led to one of the funniest, weirdest, most wonderful experiments in podcasting.  Both Tim and Guy are hilarious and start off having some fun with the idea.  They have some interesting theories in the first few weeks such as the film being sort of money making scheme like in The Producers.  This quickly devolves into more and more ludicrous theories and approaches being needed to be taken in order for them to just get through the movie each week.  Listening to them simultaneously devolve into madness and become closer friends in the process is just amazing.  Episode to episode the experience is both wildly different yet incredibly familiar.  Sometimes both are just in a  goofy mood and sometimes one or both of them is just angry that they are being “forced” to watch the film again.  It occasionally feels like they are having existential breakdowns, but the whole time they are both incredibly endearing and humorous.

They finished their first year and for some reason decided to repeat this experiment twice more with two other movies (which I will not spoil if you are interested in checking out the podcast).  And this is where the only criticism I have with the podcast comes in for new listeners.  So much of the podcast is built on the inside jokes that develop through the course of these repeated viewings and even from year to year with new movies.  It really feels like you are along for the journey with Tim and Guy so even when there is the occasional episode that seems like utter nonsense (“Prawn Salad” from season one I believe still has the distinction of being the best example of this) you at least are able to enjoy it and be there for the journey.  If you were to start in the middle of a season or I would even argue with the beginning of one for the second or third movie the full enjoyment of the podcast would be very much mitigated.  This is even more of a bummer since season 1 is now only available through HOWL.fm.  The length of these episodes are every inconsistent, most being between twenty minutes and about an hour, however, there is one glaring outlier in an episode that is almost five hours long.  This is all very much in the free form style the podcast creates for itself.  Overall, I would absolutely say if you have the time this is an incredibly charming podcast that is well worth the investment.

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

absolutely-true-diaryTitle: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Ellen Forney
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 230 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This is one book that I feel like I missed out on reading during my high school years, and I’ve always been sad about it; I’ve even owned a copy for at least 3 years, and I still wasn’t able to read it until recently, so finishing this was somewhat of a personal accomplishment for me. Not because it’s such a hard book or anything, but because this is a recent classic that I’ve been wanting to read for so long. It feels especially close to me, because while I am very much not related to any Native Americans, my grandfather lived in Spokane, WA for almost all his life, and he even lived on the Spokane reservation with his girlfriend for a large part of his later life, so it’s interesting to get a sense of the place my grandfather called home.

First, I have to say that this book is lovely. It’s about a boy named Junior who lives on the Indian reservation in Spokane, and he decides to go to the “white” high school to try to build a future for himself. I was able to read through it quickly because it’s a pretty easy read and it is so, so entertaining and hits on some very real, true-life events that were inspired by Alexie’s own life. It’s wonderful that this book is out there for teens to read when they’re feeling like an outsider, because the main character is pretty much the ultimate outsider in a lot of ways and reading about his feelings about that and how he deals with it is somehow comforting.

What makes this Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a success is the fact that it covers everything. It’s funny and yet incredibly heartbreaking, reflecting real life in a way that most stories don’t even come close to, which I think is a reflection of its large autobiographical influence. It comes across as honest and genuine, which is something that is lacking in fiction sometimes, and which YA fiction especially needs. The illustrations are an added bonus and give further insight into Junior’s character and his overall mood at the time he’s “writing” his diary entries. They’re incorporated well and I loved reading Forney’s explanations for why each illustration was done the way it was.

There’s a reason why this is such a classic, and I don’t know what I can say that others haven’t, except that I personally liked this a lot and think it belongs on the must-read lists of everyone, because it is such a powerful, wonderful story.

Book Review: Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamahs Blessing.jpgTitle: Naamah’s Blessing
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Moirin Trilogy, Book 3; Kushiel’s Universe, Book 9
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover: 610 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Returning to Terre d’Ange, Moirin finds the royal family broken. Wracked by unrelenting grief at the loss of his wife, Queen Jehanne, King Daniel is unable to rule. Prince Thierry, leading an expedition to explore the deadly jungles of Terra Nova, is halfway across the world. And three year old Desirée is a vision of her mother: tempestuous, intelligent, and fiery, but desperately lonely, and a vulnerable pawn in a game of shifting political allegiances.

As tensions mount, King Daniel asks that Moirin become Desirée’s oath-sworn protector. Navigating the intricate political landscape of the Court proves a difficult challenge, and when dire news arrives from overseas, the spirit of Queen Jehanne visits Moirin in a dream and bids her undertake an impossible quest.

Another specter from the past also haunts Moirin. Travelling with Thierry in the New World is Raphael de Mereliot, her manipulative former lover. Years ago, Raphael forced her to help him summon fallen angels in the hopes of acquiring mystical gifts and knowledge. It was a disastrous effort that nearly killed them, and Moirin must finally bear the costs of those bitter mistakes.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I can’t begin to express how much I adore these books. I started with Kushiel’s Dart in about 2007 and have read about one a year until I’ve now finally finished the overall series. These books are so immersive that I like taking my time through them and just enjoying the experience of reading about Phedre, or Imriel, or Moirin. It’s been a long journey with this series and I’m sad to see it end, but this series has been wonderful.

This book is the third of Moirin’s trilogy and the 9th of the Kushiel’s universe. Overall, Moirin’s series is a much different flavor from that of Phedre’s or Imriel’s, but this book is the closest to having the fully developed political scheming and intrigues as the first two trilogies. I greatly enjoyed the first two trilogies for including such in-depth political scheming and reading about how religion and relationships all played into how a country is run and how decisions are made.

It’s hard to go into depth without revealing spoilers, but this book is generally about tying up loose ends, since it is, after all, the last Terre d’Ange book. Basically, Moirin goes on a jungle adventure to save Jehanne’s daughter from being taken advantage of by people trying to raise their status in the realm, and to save the Courcel family in general. She has to finally face up to her past mistakes and make them right, which allows her to show how much she has grown and learned from her past adventures.

One thing that has always impressed me about these books, and continued to impress me in Naamah’s Blessing is just how difficult Carey makes it for her characters — they are not given easy choices to make and are put in just awful situations. The one that hurt me the most, at least, was when Moirin has to choose between remaining faithful to her husband or staying a night with a powerful man in order to move her expedition forward and basically save her country. With the previous books and with the Kushiel series in general, it’s obvious what choice she ends up making, but it’s a rough one and being married to someone I love wholeheartedly, I can’t imagine being in the same situation. (Luckily, we don’t live in a fantasy novel, so I doubt we’ll ever have to worry about that.)

I think that this was a fitting end to a wonderful series — loose ends are tied up and everyone seems to be fairly happy for the most part. I like that we’re able to return to Alba with Moirin so we can see her mother again. It really felt like everything came full circle, and while this wasn’t my favorite of the Kushiel trilogies, it was so, so nice to be back in Terre d’Ange one last time. If you like fully developed fantasies, you should try starting with Kushiel’s Dart. These books are long and the first 6 books of the series have a lot more to do with sex and romance, but they are intelligently written and have such wonderful characters to fall in love with.

Book Review: Elite by Mercedes Lackey

Elite by Mercedes Lackey.jpg
Buy it from the Book Depository!

Title: Elite
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Series: Hunter, Book 2
Hardcover: 368 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Joy wants nothing more than to live and Hunt in Apex City without a target on her back. But a dangerous new mission assigned by her uncle, the city’s Prefect, may make that impossible.

In addition to her new duties as one of the Elite, Joy is covertly running patrols in the abandoned tunnels and storm sewers under Apex Central. With her large pack of magical hounds, she can fight the monsters breaking through the barriers with the strength of three hunters. Her new assignment takes a dark turn when she finds a body in the sewers: a Psimon with no apparent injury or cause of death.

Reporting the incident makes Joy the uncomfortable object of PsiCorp’s scrutiny—the organization appears more interested in keeping her quiet than investigating. With her old enemy Ace still active in Hunts and the appearance of a Folk Mage who seems to have a particular interest in her, Joy realizes that the Apex conspiracy she uncovered before her Elite trials is anything but gone.

As the body count rises, she has no choice but to seek answers. Joy dives into the mysterious bowels of the city, uncovering secrets with far-reaching consequences for PsiCorp… and all of Apex City.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I don’t know if I’ve been meta-analyzing books for too long, but I found myself willfully resisting the urge to do so with this book.  What I mean is that when I started reading it (more or less directly after finishing the first book in the series, Hunter), I found myself spending a lot of time trying to decide if I liked the way Lackey was trying to give enough background information for people jumping in cold vs. hampering the plot developing.  From there ,I found myself trying to decide if the pacing of the overarching story was well done.  While I have answers to both of these things now (if you are curious, I think she kept it about as short as she could and I actually loved the pacing since it didn’t seemed rushed, respectively) I found I had a lot more fun reading this book when I just took it for the story it is without trying to over think it.  And I have to say the result was one of the more immersive experiences I’ve had with a book in a while.

I get scared with sequels, particularly of YA, when I like the first book in a series.  A lot of times, authors seem to use the first story to build a great world in the opener and then just hit the turbo button to too-fast-developing-not-super-thought-out plot in book two.  This book absolutely did not do that.  At one point I found myself thinking that this book can feel at times feel like it is just an extension of adventures from part one, which some may see as a negative but I really enjoyed.  This is not to say that the larger plot does not advance.  There are a lot of pretty important developments and the conflicts between the different government programs that are theoretically all supposed to be working together is particularly interesting, however, this information is spread out throughout the book with fun “hunts” and social activity thrown in so it feels like a much more natural progression of story than other books I have read.

The conceit that was hinted at in the previous book that all of the Othersiders are represented in some way in human folklore or mythology is expanded upon in this book in an incredibly interesting way which opens up for even more questions about the worlds relationship with the Otherside.  I also found the consistency of magic in this universe to be very satisfying.  There is something almost scientific about the way magic usage is explained in this world and it leads to new discoveries in magic to be satisfying as a reader rather than random and like a crutch of some type to advance the plot.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this book even more than the first one.  All the things I said in my previous review remain true, especially that the characters seem to act the way people really would which is something I love particularly in YA.  Now I just hope that the series does not suffer from my other largest concern which is not knowing how to end which retroactively makes me not enjoy the previous books as much, but for now I can confidently say that I cannot recommend this series enough if you are at all interested in YA fantasy!

Book Review: Digital SLR Video & Filmmaking for Dummies by John Carucci

Title: Digital SLR Video & Filmmaking for Dummies
Author: John Carucci
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Paperback: 416 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Step-by-step guide for using your digital SLR to make quality videoWith digital SLR cameras becoming more and more popular as replacements for standalone video cameras, this book helps photographers become better videographers and shows videographers how to incorporate DSLRs into their work. The book includes an overview of the DSLR video tools and process and shows how to establish camera settings for effective capture, light a scene, get sound, and achieve the film look. The book also offers the basics on editing footage into a final product using common video editing tools. Offers everything needed to shoot, produce, and edit a professional looking videos using DSLR video equipment. Written for both professional photographers and videographers and those just starting out. Includes the steps for applying information to a film project, including developing a screenplay, approaching shooting like a cinematographer, and directing. Contains a walkthrough of common video projects including making a music video, and a wedding video.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

I begged my parents for DSLR specifically because of its capabilities to capture high-quality still images and high-quality video. So, when I saw this at BookExpo America last year, I made a point to pick it up. DSLR  Video & Filmmaking for Dummies is a user-friendly reference book brimming with helpful information to make any video a success. As an amateur who wants to try her hand at making videos with her new fancy camera, I found this book to be incredibly helpful.

Carucci gives a comprehensive overview of just what’s involved with using a DSLR camera to make a video. For the most part, I read the book straight through and found it easy to follow along. The information is presented in a logical format, with straight-forward chapter titles and headings, so it’s easy to guess which information is covered where. And he covers pretty much anything you need to know, from the basics on how to use the correct shutter speed to how to edit the video using Adobe Premiere Elements. I especially found the audio and lighting section helpful, since I don’t really know what I need, or how to find the best equipment for my limited budget.

What impressed me the most was the fact that this book doesn’t even just cover the technical aspects of shooting a movie on a particular type of camera — there are also sections about how to plan a movie, which I found to be a huge bonus. Carucci goes over the basics of writing a script, making a shooting log, and putting together a schedule. I really think that there’s something for everyone in here, and for amateurs, it contains pretty much all the basics that you’ll need to know.

It’s hard to say much more other than: This book covers all the basic information you need to make any type of video you ever want with your DSLR. Want to make that home video using your new fancy camera? Read this book. Want to take your book blogging to the next level by becoming a BookTuber, but you can only afford a DSLR for shooting your videos? Read this book. Want to make a short film on your DSLR? Read this book. There’s a lot of good information in these pages, and I feel more confident in my abilities to make a video knowing that I’ll have this on-hand to reference.

 

Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King

Title: The Stand (Uncut edition)
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Signet
Paperback: 1141 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides—or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail—and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.

In 1978 Stephen King published The Stand, the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. But as it was first published,The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript.

Now Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety. The Stand: The Complete And Uncut Edition includes more than five hundred pages of material previously deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral complexity of a true epic.

For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King’s gift. And those who are reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

As with most crazy-long books, The Stand was a bit slow to start off. A lot of establishing characters and backgrounds, but once it got going, it never stopped. King is obviously an awesome writer, and this is my favorite book that I’ve read by him so far. He’s not afraid to sacrifice lovable characters (yes, you will probably cry while reading this), and he’s not afraid to let things get completely hopeless. These things make for one awesome read. Add all the weird paranormal stuff to it, and you have probably one of the best books ever written.

I usually don’t like to read descriptions of books before I read them — a vague idea of what’s going to happen is fine with me. And I don’t know how I managed to live 23 years without hearing the plot line, but I did it, so I had absolutely no idea what this book was about nor why it was so good. I was shocked (in a good way) to learn that not only is this about a plague that kills 99% of the population, but there’s a paranormal element to it and a sort of devil-dude is trying to gain followers to wipe out the decent people that are left. (Side note: Can King think of an awesome plot, or what?!)

The page length will probably scare some people off, but I actually enjoy longer books. You get to know the characters so much better, and that is definitely true of this book. I felt like I was with these characters; their problems were my problems, and I found myself worrying about the same things as them and rooting for them all the way. There is also a lot of room for growth and change, which definitely happens. My advice: don’t let the length scare you. It’ll take you some time to read, but it’s worth it.

I did think that the good guys should have recognized some of the practically-converted-devil-followers fairly quickly. Yes, they’re busy trying to put the world back together and survive and stuff, but with all this weird telepathic/psychic stuff going on, you think at least one of them would have picked up on it, and, being in survival mode, done something to prevent these people from wreaking havoc. Yes, it’s a novel and crazy stuff happens, but I thought it could have been more intelligently done. While I liked the good guys, I didn’t find them particularly smart, which bothered me a little.

Overall, I think this is a brilliant book. Strip away the world and most of society, and you can get a good look at true human nature. King gives an insightful view into what an apocalyptic world would look like: the chaos, the re-establishing of order, and how people come together (or tear each other to pieces). Some people can’t make it, and the people who are the most successful often aren’t the ones that would be successful in the society we live in today. It’s about family, friends, survival, and of course, the destructive force we humans have on ourselves and on our world. I never recommend a book for everyone, because we all have different tastes and there will never be one book that’s a perfect fit for every single person, but this is one that everyone should at least try hard to read. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Title: Lost in a Good Book
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Penguin
Series: Thursday Next, Book 2
Paperback: 399 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with Jasper Fforde’s magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction, the police force inside books. She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe’s “The Raven.” What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications. Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Is it just me, or did this series take a bit of a dark turn? Not that I’m complaining. I love dark stories, I’m just surprised at the change. This isn’t to say that the first book of the series, The Eyre Affair, didn’t have some dark elements — Acheron Hades is one of the most terrifying villains ever. However, Lost in a Good Book makes the problems a lot more personal for Thursday. I like that a lot. The stakes are raised, and this series is rapidly becoming more complicated, terrifying, and way more addicting.

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Audiobook Review: Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

Title: Hocus Pocus
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Narrator: George Ralph
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 6 hours, 52 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Hocus Pocus is the fictional autobiography of a West Point graduate who was in charge of the humiliating evacuation of U.S. personnel from the Saigon rooftops at the close of the Vietnam War. Returning home from the war, he unknowingly fathered an illegitimate son. In 2001, the son begins a search for his father and catches up with him just in time to see him arrested for masterminding the prison break of 10,000 convicts.

Using his famous brand of satire and wit, Vonnegut captures twenty-first century America as only he could foresee it. In Hocus Pocus, listeners will find a fresh novel, as fascinating and brilliantly offbeat as anything he’s written.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

I will preface my review by saying that Kurt Vonnegut is not for everyone. Personally, I love the subject matter he writes about and his style. However, I know quite a few people that wouldn’t be able to get through two chapters of this.

Hocus Pocus doesn’t have much of a traditional plot; if anything, it’s more of a character study of Hartke, the main character in the novel. Like the summary says, it’s a fictional autobiography. For some readers, it may be slow going because of this, but there’s plenty of action and drama to keep interest.

It’s hard to give a review of Hocus Pocus, because it’s so different from most novels. I will say that I loved it and found it highly entertaining. Vonnegut tackles a lot of issues in this novel — environmental concerns that are eerily accurate for a book written in 1990, the effects that war has on a person and a nation, bureaucratic power games, etc. I liked the numerology aspects that are included, though the ending gave me a bit of a headache trying to figure out; I’m sure it’s much easier when you’re actually reading the book rather than listening to it being read. Even though it’s definitely depressing (which is to be expected from Vonnegut), I found myself chuckling at many of Hartke’s observations and at the weird things that have happened in his life.

There was one thing and one thing only that bothered me about Hocus Pocus. There were quite a few references to Slaughter-House Five. Hartke mentions “some author” who wrote about Trafalmadorians and goes on to mention them multiple times throughout the second half of the novel. I didn’t think these references added anything to the story — in fact, they took me out of the story because I kept wondering why Vonnegut couldn’t think of anything else to reference besides his own novel.

George Ralph’s performance is astounding. His tone is perfect for this book. For the humorous, satirical parts, he speaks as if he’s serious, but somehow still makes it known that the words aren’t meant to be taken literally. Hartke came alive for me because of Ralph’s narration, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed Hocus Pocus as much had I not listened to this audiobook.

Audiobook Review: Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

Title: Hunting Ground
Author: Patricia Briggs
Narrator: Holter Graham
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Duration: 8 hours, 25 minutes
Series Order: Alpha & Omega, Book 2
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Anna Latham didn’t know how complicated life could be until she became a werewolf. And until she was mated to Charles Cornick, the son- and enforcer- of Bran, the leader of the North American werewolves, she didn’t know how dangerous it could be either…

Anna and Charles have just been enlisted to attend a summit to present Bran’s controversial proposition: that the wolves should finally reveal themselves to humans. But the most feared Alpha in Europe is dead set against the plan — and it seems like someone else might be too. When Anna is attacked by vampires using pack magic, the kind of power only werewolves should be able to draw on, Charles and Anna must combine their talents to hunt down whoever is behind it all — or risk losing everything…

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Charles and Anna are definitely one of my favorite paranormal romance couples. They have a lot to work through relationship-wise, but they’re both dedicated to each other, which makes for a lot of tension followed by incredibly sweet moments. This book is more about their relationship rather than about what’s going on between the wolves, which I didn’t mind at all. Like I said, these two characters have a lot to work through and watching them grow stronger as a couple is very satisfying.

Also, Anna has a lot to deal with by herself, and she is doing it wonderfully. She’s quickly becoming one of my favorite understated bad-ass heroines. Go Anna!

I did think the mythology included in this one was a bit strange. Patricia Briggs is always sure to include some sort of mythology, which I love, but this was a little over-the-top for me. As is usual with this series and her Mercy Thompson series, a crazed werewolf is involved. I know that the werewolf is supposed to be crazy, but it was just a little strange. That’s all I can say without giving anything away. 🙂

Mythology aside, Holter Graham is the perfect narrator for this audiobook. His voice for Charles was spot-on. I really felt as if I were listening to Charles tell the story. Also, he does a good job with Anna’s narration. I am often annoyed when male narrators take on a female character. Their voices are generally too high and whiny to fit the characters. For Anna, however, this was not the case. While Graham obviously doesn’t sound exactly like I imagine she would, he still does a good job in portraying her personality. His voice can exude intensity, which was perfect for a novel like this. I definitely recommend listening to this in audiobook format, if you can.