The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

Why I Read It: I liked the cover and because it was written about a culture I not very familiar with.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Those who enjoy coming of age and connecting with the past stories.

Narrator: Laural Merlington

Publisher: Tantor Media (2007)

Length: 12 hours 39 minutes

This is a modern day fiction set mostly in Istanbul. The story starts off following Zeliha, 19, and her trip to the abortion clinic. Then we jump to Arizona where we follow a recently divorced Kentucky transplant women, Rose, and her year old baby girl, Armanoush. Jump ahead roughly 20 years, and Zeliha’s daughter Asya is a strong willed women that has been raised by a gaggle of aunties and no men. Her father is never mentioned and the only male relative, uncle Mustafa, lives in America married to a plump blonde wife. Armanoush, an Armenian-American, divides her time between her mother’s place in Arizona and her Armenian family in San Fransisco. The bulk of this book is about these two young ladies; one seeks answers about her past and the other treats her past as dead and buried.

Elif Shafak built these characters with distinct voices and it was so very easy for me to picture Asya stuck at the dinner table with her well-meaning nagging aunties asking about her ballet class. Armanoush flew to Istanbul on a whim and it was nice to see that she had certain assumptions (incorrect though they turned out) about Turkish culture. I could see myself making the same mistakes. This book was by turns serious and funny, touching and exasperating, and has been the spark for me to explore Turkish and Armenian cuisine.

Laural Merlington did an absolutely fantastic job – with humor and sadness, male and female voices, and most of all accents – from Turkish and Armenian words/names to a Kentucky accent. I would not hesitate to listen to another book narrated by her.

What I Liked: The entire atmosphere captured in this book; nearly all female cast of characters without being feminazi-ish; Auntie Banu and her captured djin; Johny Cash got lots of play time in Istanbul; the ending was a bit tough but gave closure.

What I Didn’t Like: Some of the minor characters had long-winded designators instead of names and at times it became tedious to hear them repeated multiple times in one passage.

Bound for Eternity by Sarah Wisseman

Why I Read It: I love mysteries with a archaeological/ museum bent.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy the mysteries of Elizabeth Peters, who’ll probably enjoy this modern-day sleuth.

Narrator: Priscilla Holbrook

Publisher: Iambik Audio (2012)

Length: 6 hours and 29 minutes

Series: Book 2 in The Lisa Donahue Mysteries

An ancient mummified mystery gets wrapped up in a modern day tangle of death in this Boston crime fiction. I enjoyed this book from the beginning. Lisa Donahue is a widowed mother and is currently on as a probationary hire competing for a permanent position as curator with the Boston University Museum of Archaeology and History.

See, that right there was enough to have me wanting to read this book. Call it a mystery fetish: I like things going down in museums. And Sarah Wisseman must have known this and hence set out to entertain me by creating this series of books (I believe there are currently 4 in print). Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it read just fine as a stand-alone mystery.

Lisa, the narrator of the story, and sleuth of ancient and just-yesterday mysteries is so real because she worries about her job, her kid, her friends, and her love life. She makes mistakes and tries to fix the ones that matter. In this mystery, we have one dead child mummy, and we start off pretty quickly with a dead museum worker. The cop keeps things close to his chest (like he should, as a professional) and Lisa blunders around a bit putting several clues together before she hands them over to the police. I liked this aspect because that is how it is in the real world – you pull the string tracking something down and eventually realize that it could be tied to a major crime and smack yourself in the head for not turning the whole headache over the authorities sooner. The mystery itself had me bouncing between 2 suspects until near the end. Once it became apparent to me as the reader who was the evil-doer, said person behaved within character in attempting yet another murder.

As a sideline to the main conundrum, Lisa also has her romance life to figure out. James the Doctor enters the scene and he is everything a woman could want – successful, sensitive, a widower father, good with kids, and available. If this story has a main character flaw, it is that James was without flaw, and hence, without character depth. But I was able to overlook this as I wanted some tranquility for Lisa, who is stuck in a difficult job situation as a single parent and with the added pressure of having her coworkers knocked-off on a regular basis. Overall, this was an entertaining read.

Priscilla Holbrook gave us accents from the East coast and did a believable job on male voices. I found it easy to listen to her narrate this book primarily in Lisa’s voice. If the audio had a flaw, it was with the variation in audio level; it was never enough so that I had to adjust my settings, but it occurred throughout the book.

What I Liked: Mummy murder mystery; main character has flaws; good people don’t have to have the same morals as you (such as dating the boss); museums are the place to be.

What I Disliked: James The Boyfriend was pretty one dimensional.

Not only was this book read for it’s mummy-ness, I also read it as part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event (fulfilling the category of Mystery). It’s not too late for you to play along, so check out Stainless Steel Droppings for details.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why I Read It: I was looking for something outside my normal genres.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: This was a tough story. If you’re looking for a well-written tough story, then this might be the one for you.

Narrator: Lisette Lecat

Publisher: Recorded Books (2004)

Length: 10 CDs

I haven’t decided yet whether or not I liked Purple Hibiscus, but it made me think; and I truly enjoy thinking. Every once in while I stick with a book not because I particularly like the subject, enjoy the prose, or find the text entertaining; I stay with it because it is stretching the few brain cells that call my head home. You know what I mean?

C. N. Adichie‘s writing kept me engaged for 10 discs (appr. 11 hours). The setting is Nigeria near present day. Kambili (15), her brother Jaja (17), and her mother all live under the tyrannical roof of her well-respected father. A main theme throughout the story is domestic abuse and how these 3 survive, told through the eyes of Kambili. Her family is rich and privileged; Kambili and Jaja go to private school, the family has at least 2 vehicles and a driver, they have wait-staff, etc.

As the story unfolds, Kambili and Jaja get to go to their aunt’s house for a short visit, their first unsupervised visit away from home. Of course their father sends them with modified schedules; yes, he has day-to-day schedules for everyone in his household. For the first time the kids are free to laugh, watch TV, and listen to music throughout the day. There is even singing, something their father sees as unchristian and therefore not allowed in his house. The kids start to bloom into real people in the few short visits they have at their aunt’s.

Kambili and Jaja of course have to adjust to a less privileged household – like no indoor running water, no guaranteed 24-7 electricity, no guaranteed petrol for the car, no daily meat for supper. But they gladly trade all their privileges for bunking with their cousins, the lack of indoor ventilation, no daily sodas, and the enjoyment and freedom of their aunt’s house. While much of the book was a bit tough to listen to, the book is hopeful and left me with a believe that life would turn out OK for Kambili.

Lisette Lecat was the audioartist for this book and she did an outstanding job. There are sounds in the Nigerian tongue that just don’t exist in the American span of dialect. She pulled off both female and male voices and brought forth the emotional sides to the characters.

What I Liked: Being saturated in a foreign culture; the blooming of the main characters (the children); the book ends with hope; the author took on a tough subject.

What I Disliked: Familial physical abuse can be tough to listen to.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 08/04/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

Zero History by William Gibson

Why I Read It: Really enjoyed the first 2 in this series.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Those who enjoy modern fiction/mystery with a fashionable twist.

Narrator: Robertson Dean

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2010)

Length: 11 CDs

Series: Bigend (or Blue Ant) Book 3

William Gibson continues the odd, twisty, fashion-saturated world of Hubertes Bigend in this third book of the Bigend series. Henry Hollis finds herself in need of employment, and Bigend has a proposition for her. He is in search of a specific and elusive fashion designer, the maker of Gabriel Hounds garments. They are rare, extremely well-made, and very expensive. In this endeavor, Bigend puts Hollis together with Milgrim, who is now clean, having spent some very lengthy, intense time in an institute that specializes in getting patients off drugs.

I do believe this was my favorite book of the trilogy. Milgrim’s new body and clear mind allows his character to grow and respond in new ways to the various situations he finds himself in. Put him together with Hollis and her band member/friend Heidi and we have a very interesting trio. Heidi’s chaotic militant character got a lot more page time in this installment, and I truly enjoyed her straight forward approach to life and the sparring mat.

As with the rest of the series, this mystery centers around fashion. Not only is Bigend trying to track the Gabriel Hounds designer, Milgrim brings to him the concern that Hollis and himself are being followed by at least one party. If you haven’t read this series, I don’t want to give away too much; yet I will say that Book 1 (Pattern Recognition) did not have the same characters as Book 2 (Spook Country). Book 3 has several of the same characters from Book 2 and the ending pulls the trilogy together quite well.

Robertson Dean gave a wonderfully clipped, English, at times quasi-European performance. Hi voices from Book 2 remain true in Book 3, yet allowing for growth in character (i. e. Milgrim). I truly loved his loud, direct voice for Heidi.

What I Liked: Heidi’s various uses for the word ‘fuck’; Israeli army bra; Fiona’s courier body armor; the Blue Ant; Hollis’s boyfriend; the espionage aspects; penguin and manta ray.

What I Disliked: This book started off a little slow, but I knew it would be good, so I stuck with it.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Why I Read It: My better half has been recommending it for years.

Where I Got It: Library download.

Who I Recommend This To: Those interested in the drug culture.

Narrator: Ron McLarty

Publisher: Recorded Books (2005)

Length: ~6 hours

Most people probably know this book better from the related film of the same name starring Johnny Depp. I guess it would be sufficient to say that this book is a fictionalized autobiographical account of a drug binge in Las Vegas in 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson and his friend/lawyer. Thompson’s character has several aliases throughout the book, which serve his sometimes-correct paranoid need to avoid some kind of law enforcement or others seeking accountability from him. He’s a journalist, initially sent out there to cover a big car race and later requested to stay to cover a drug law enforcement conference.

The book started off interesting, with a catalog of drugs in a car with two guys heading from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Thompson is hallucinating about bats, very large bats. Then they pick up a hitchhiker and freak him out with their paranoid talk – or were they talking out loud? Once at Las Vegas they go from hotel to hotel abusing people, staff, customers, inanimate objects, themselves. It goes on in this vein the entire book.

In honesty, I never got into the drug scene, though I did more than my fair share of alcohol in college. Some of the things in this book, I understood (such as the lack of interest in things and people going on around you except in relation to your addiction of choice) while other things I just did not get (like the range and depth of mental alteration brought on by the drugs). With that said, I did not particularly enjoy this book though I do believe it captured the essence of drug addiction taken to the edge. In particular, there is reference to the lawyer picking up a young woman, taking her back to his room, inviting her to enjoy a mix of drugs and alcohol, and then using her for sex. While the scene itself is never covered in depth, the reaction by the lawyer and Thompson – dodging any kind of responsibility for harming another being, on purpose, for pleasure alone – pretty much got the point across. The only thing you care about are the drugs/personal pleasure – and it is the same for anyone else hanging out with you. Not only are you bad company, you are hanging out with bad company who do not care about you. Given the opportunity, your friends would sell your belongs, hair, blood, body for their drugs.

Our narrator Ron McLarty had a variety of annoying voices for the characters (they felt a bit exaggerated). I had a hard time imagining these Los Angeles residents talking with the accents they were granted by the narrator; again, in honesty, I never heard Thompson talk so these voices may be spot on. However, with that said, McLarty kept the characters separate and true through out the book, with a variety of female and male voices for the minor characters.

What I Liked: Fast-paced; captured how the 2 main characters think they are being clever; captured the obliviousness to personal hygiene by the drug-addled.

What I Disliked: I’m not sure what the point was to this book and I fear it was the glamorization of the drug culture – kind of a Free Spirit idea gone sickly green with pustules.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Why I Read It: Read Along (hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings)

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Those into urban fantasy, coming into your own power stories.

Publisher: William Morrow & Company (1997)

Length: 336 pages.

I have read Neverwhere a few times over the past dozen years and each time I wish Neil Gaiman would write a sequel, or prequel, or additional book set in this world. This book still has so many mysteries to explore. Neverwhere, my first Gaiman book, showed me a different kind of fantasy, one without princess-gobbling dragons, puns, elderly wizards, or lengthy sword fights. It is urban fantasy, but more than that, it is about Richard finding his place in the world. He hungers for a top job at the office, to impress his girlfriend Jess, and be a very popular guy. But none of that is happening. In fact, one might look at Richard’s life and think it is a bit of a joke. He’s a paper-pusher, his friend makes snide jokes at his expense, and his girlfriend has his life planned out to meet her exacting standards. Poor dude.

But then one evening a bloody girl ends up on the sidewalk in front of him, begging for help. Lady Door is in desperate need of assistance. Her family has been massacred by unknown assailants for mysterious reasons. Against Jess’s wishes, Richard helps Lady Door, which leads to him loosing his London life. No one recognizes him at the office, his girlfriend breaks off the engagement, and his apartment is being rented out from under his butt, literally. He must seek out Lady Door in London Below, a twisted alternate to the London he knows. This is where Richard starts learning some hard lessons and developing some survival skills. Lady Door does her best to keep him alive. Together with the Marquis de Carabas and Hunter they make a journey to find the answers to why Door’s family was killed and who ordered it. Of course they are plagued by the nefarious duo Vandemar and Croup, villains who seem to be impervious to pain and injury.

Neverwhere isn’t my favorite Gaiman book and I would even say it is not his best work. But it has a warm place in my heart and it is worth a reread every few years. The character development only goes so far and then plot drives the rest of the book. The story, while wrapped up for the immediate needs, leaves several questions churning in the reader’s head; hence, my desire to see another book set in this world.

What I Liked: Hunter is a magnificent warrior with some of the best lines in the book; the golden toad; the underlying premise that all you wish for might not be what you really want.

What I Disliked: So many left over questions; there is a scene where a main character takes out a wild animal too easily.

Resonance by A. J. Scudiere

Why I Read It: Stefan Rudnicki, one of my favorite narrators.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Folks who enjoy modern-day action stories with a twist.

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, Carrington MacDuffie, Paul Boehmer, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney, Rosalyn Landor, Arte Johnson

Publisher: Skyboat Productions (2008)

Length: 16 hours 25 minutes

Resonance is a modern-day science fiction story set in the United States. The main characters are one flavor of scientist or another; Becky is our biologist with a special interest in amphibians, David is our rock licker (geologist), and Jillian and  Jordan are the CDC medical doctors. A. J. Scudiere did a great job of making all the educated folk real people with flaws, accents, hopes, and the occasional slang. The story starts out with a few oddities – a few folks sick and slipping into comas, a few dozen mutated frogs, some odd magnetic readings on some rocks. These things are being noted by different individuals throughout the nation and eventually they end up in a small community at the same time and start connecting the dots. The magnetic poles are reversing.

The last shift was roughly 65 million years ago, the same time we noticed large numbers of species dying out. Now, humans around the world are dropping into comas and passing away in small pockets which turn out to be magnetic hotspots – where the compass readings are reversed. At first, no one understands why and the CDC docs keep looking for some communicable disease or exposure to explain it. The best the scientists can do is to move people out of the ever increasing and growing hotspots. Each of our main characters have friends and family being affected by this pole reversal. Despite this, they continue to work on to figure a way to save as many humans and possible.

I enjoyed how the author built each character up individually before throwing them all together. Jordan and Jillian entered the story at about the same time because they were both new hires for the CDC. We learn later that Jordan came from an impoverished family and was the first and only to go to college. Jillian has a brain the size of the Earth’s lodestone and her brainy antics are not understood by her family. Becky has a much younger sister and a wonderful family that she treasures. David is a bit of a slut but also a brilliant geologist, who trudges around in the shadow of his world-renowned geologist father.

Roughly two-thirds of the way through the book, the author throws in a twist and I did not see it coming. I love it when that happens! Jillian has to put her brain in overdrive to figure out what is going on and then try to use her impaired social skills to convince Jordan. David has experienced the same phenomenom and needs no convincing. But will Becky ever believe them, even though she wants to badly?

The narrators (a full cast) made this story extra enjoyable. Stefan Rudnicki is a favorite of mine and it was his voice that drew me to this book. He didn’t fail to entertain and give Jordan depth in his expressions. The narrator for Becky was perfect at capturing her small-town girl upbringing and her educated love of frog catching.

What I Liked: Variety of sciences colliding together; the side romance; Becky gets to go around armed part of the time; surprise twist with satisfying resolution.

What I Disliked: David gets off easy; one of the good guys dies in a very disappointing way.

Spook Country by William Gibson

Tanuki with Spook Country

Why I Read It: Pattern Recognition (Book 1 in The Blue Ant Trilogy) was highly entertaining.

Where I Got It: Paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Folks who enjoy modern-day cutting edge technology mixed with an intricate plot and detailed, quirky characters.

Narrator: Robertson Dean

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2007)

Length: 9 CDs

I didn’t realize this going into the series, but The Blue Ant Trilogy is a composite trilogy – meaning that each of the books takes place in the same world, with some of the same characters, but is not directly associated with the lead character in the other books in the series. Other examples of composite trilogies that I greatly enjoyed are the Warchild series by Karin Lowachee, The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, and Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler.

I think most folks come to know William Gibson’s works through his cyberpunk books like Neuromancer. The Blue Ant Trilogy is some of his latest work and this is my second Gibson book. I have been mightily impressed and entertained by his writing so far that I have added all his works to my TBR mountain range. I keep it in the backyard, on the horizon, where the neighbors won’t complain too much.

Bigend, found of Blue Ant corporation, has another interesting pet project that calls for people with special talents. This book jumps right into the middle of things; the characters and situations have backgrounds that we are not immediately privy to. So you have to pay attention to the first bits in order to enjoy the rest of the book, which is well worth the initial concentration outlay. Hollis Henry once was in a rock band, so folks recognize her face here and there. She is a journalist now, that having been a long-time interest. Bigend hires her to track down some unusual info; in fact, at first, we and Hollis are not sure what info we are hunting.

The second strand of this braid is The Old Man and Tito. I could not get a read on The Old Man until the end of the book; is he a good guy, bad guy, indifferent and chaotic? I loved how he was a mystery until the finale. Tito is a young man of Cuban-Chinese decent. He worships some ancient gods, speaks at least 3 languages including Russian, and has been thoroughly trained in systema, the KGB modern-day martial art that is highly effective in urban settings against people with guns, knives, and body armor.

Milgrim and Brown make up the third strand. Milgrim is a Russian translator and a drug addict. Brown is…..well, you’ll have to read the book to find out who he works for. Brown has kidnapped and held Milgrim captive because he needs a Russian translator. For about half the book, we have guesses about who Brown is following and once it becomes clear, I wasn’t sure who to root for. Milgrim added some much needed comedy with his drug-addled take on life and his out-of-place comments.

All these characters are interested in Bobby Chombo, a paranoid technical whiz with a new form or art. Place this bulky helmet on your head and look at a certain sidewalk or coffee shop and see a reenactment of some famous event, like River Phoenix collapsing from a drug overdose. I was captivated by this idea and Gibson does a good job of showing the possibilities of this tech through Hollis’s eyes. Bobby is not only an artist, he is also capable of tracking a moving shipping container, which contains a mystery.

Robertson Dean did a great job with the dry wit that threads it’s way throughout this entire book. I loved his baffled, slightly distracted, voice for Milgrim and his soft voice for The Old Man was absolutely chilling at times.

What I Liked: Never heard of the KGB systema before this book and I find it fascinating; every character has their quirks which makes them all real people; the fast pace of the book kept me thinking about the plot even when I wasn’t reading it.

What I Disliked: If you are distracted during that first audio CD, you are probably going to have to relisten to it since this book plops you right down into the middle of it.

The Hammer of Eden by Ken Follett

Why I read It: Ken Follet always entertains

Where I Got It: Library

Who I Recommend This To: Folks who like modern-day good-cop, bad-terrorist action flicks.

Narrator: Alexander Adams

Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc. (2000)

Length: 11 CDs

Ken Follett gave Judy Maddox, FBI Agent, the best lines in this novel. Half Vietnamese, half Irish, only child of a cop father and dead mother, she is one tough woman. In her 30s, having dedicated her life to the FBI and putting bad guys behind bars, she suddenly finds her life a mess. Her boss took ill, and now her newly-assigned supervisor wants her fired and he is doing everything he can to make her look incompetent. He assigns her a crap job of checking into the terrorist group The Hammer Of Eden who are threatening to create earthquakes if nuclear plant building in CA is not halted.

Priest and Star have put nearly 3 decades into their valley, which is leased from the government. They founded, molded, and nursed this commune into a thriving community, without electricity, or running water, or paying taxes, or violence. Now, a damn is to be built – one that will be used for power plants and will also flood their valley. A recent addition to their group, Melanie (mother of Dusty) is a seismologist. Together with Priest and Star, they hatch a plan to steal and use a seismic vibrator to set off earthquakes at locations of their choosing.

Not only did this book have a lot of action, there was also the romance side that was more witty than mushy (the way I like it). As expected with a Ken Follett book, the characters where mufti-dimensional. Priest was a joy to hate because I could understand where he was coming from without condoning his choices. Judy Maddox was awesome to watch walk into a room of men and take charge with hard work and logic. She also shoot with either hand, a skill I recommend gun-users obtaining.

Alexander Adams had the perfect voice for Priest. I can always tell when a narrator has hit it straight on; I can easily picture myself re-reading this novel in 5-10 years and hearing Adams’s rendition of Priest’s voice. He also did a fair job for Judy, with all her gutsiness.

What I Liked: Judy Maddox’s line to cheating ex-boyfriend when he proclaims he is ready to have kids (paraphrased, “What do you want me to do? Shout hooray and spread my legs?”); the whole concept of the seismic vibrator; sexy Star; the helicopter flights.

What I Disliked: Star is described with having a very sexy voice, and Adams just didn’t pull off a middle-aged super sexy woman (tho I expect this would be difficult for most men and some women); why hasn’t this been made into a movie yet?