Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Narrator: Andre Holland

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 11 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 1 Darktown

Author’s Page

Set in post-WWII 1940s Atlanta, the police department has hired it’s first Black police officers. Tensions are high within the Atlanta PD but also across political lines throughout the city. A young Black woman is found dead and few seem willing to follow up on it.

This was an excellent read, drawing together a murder mystery, racial intolerance, the progressive movement to integrate the police department, and the upcoming generation. The author did a great job of portraying the politics of the day while also giving us a gripping mystery. The main characters, Black officer Lucius Boggs and young Denny Rakestraw, show us the various view points about integration throughout the story.

I most fascinated by the Black officers. They have limited authority within the police department. They aren’t allowed to drive the squad cars and the can’t enter the front door of the police station. Yet they have one of the toughest beats as well. There’s an unwritten division with the police department where the Black officers are expected to police Darktown (the area of Atlanta that is primarily populated by Blacks) and the White officers will police the rest of the city. This sets up a dynamic that is rich for missteps, over-reaching, and bigotry.

Meanwhile, Boggs and his partner Tommy Smith fly under the radar (mostly) to investigate the death of the young Black woman Lily Ellsworth. Since she was last seen in a car in the company of a White man, they have to be very careful about how they investigate.

Young Rakestraw is partnered with an older cop, Lionel Dunlow. Now Dunlow is an open and active racist and many of his usual ways of doing business strike Rakestraw as unfair at the best of times and downright criminal at the worst of times. I wanted to root for Rakestraw, hoping he would find a way to push back on Dunlow’s brutal ways. However, pushing back on Dunlow means pushing back on a good chunk of the PD. So Rakestraw has to pick his battles.

The mystery itself was excellent. There’s a twist near the end that neatly tied everything together and once revealed so many little hints clicked into place. I was engrossed in this book and thoroughly pleased with the ending. I greatly hope for more stories about Boggs and Rakestraw. My one quibble is that I would like to see more female characters and not just as murder victims or romantic interests.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Andre Holland did a fantastic job. He was just excellent at the nuanced local accents. He was also great with all the emotions the various characters go through in this book.

What I Liked: The setting; how the racial tensions are handled; learning about the Atlanta PD in the late 1940s; the murder mystery itself; the main characters Boggs and Rakestraw; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Could have used a few more female characters.

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Audiobook Giveaway & Review: Looking for Betty MacDonald by Paula Becker

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Narrator: Paula Becker

Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press Inc. (2016)

Length: 8 hours 10 minutes

Author’s Page

This biography of one of America’s iconic women captures Betty MacDonald from top to bottom, from her grandparents to the relatives that survived her death. Her books shined a humorous, if sometimes critical, eye on certain aspects of living in the Pacific Northwest as one the last frontier lands in the country from the 1920s-1940s. Now Paula Becker draws the curtain back and shows us some of the things that Betty herself was reluctant to put in her semi-autobiographical novels.

After having listened to Betty MacDonald’s four novels, and having read her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books as a kid, I felt like I knew her somewhat. This biography filled in some of the blanks and had a few surprises for me as well. Getting to know more about Betty’s ancestors and her first husband was an interesting place to start. I loved that her mom was a no-nonsense kind of person and happily traveled with her husband (who worked for a mining company – if I recall correctly). This job took the family to some of the most rugged areas of the US.

Later, when Betty starts publishing novels, Becker gives a somewhat detailed account of what each one is about. While these books aren’t described one after another all in a row (but are sprinkled in among the biography along the timeline of when they were published), I did find the descriptions a little tedious. However, I have recently finished listening to them and they are still fresh in my mind. I think that if you haven’t read the books in some time (or perhaps you haven’t read all 4 of them) then this would be a good refresher for you.

For me, the most interesting parts were in the last quarter of the book – all that stuff that happens after Betty’s fourth novel, Onions in the Stew, was published. While Betty’s second marriage was evidently much happier than her first, it wasn’t untroubled. There were money problems which surprised me. Betty’s books were very well received in their day, complete with radio and TV series along with a movie. Yet success doesn’t always prepare one to manage money well, especially if one turns that responsibility over to a spouse. Betty was in the unusual position of being the breadwinner for the family and yet also feeling socially obligated to play the merry housemaker. Becker gives us details on this without falling into gossip. I really appreciate that she stuck with known facts and extracts from MacDonald letters to paint this picture of Betty’s and Don’s marriage.

While I had read on Wikipedia about Betty’s legal troubles (several people were not happy with how they were supposedly portrayed in her books), Becker gives us many details. Plenty of those complaining received a bit of fame. Some of them really seemed to enjoy it so it was hard to say that the portrayals in Betty’s books did them any harm.

I was saddened to learn of Betty’s death and this probably sounds quite odd as I’ve known since I picked up The Egg and I so many months ago that she was deceased. However, I’ve really come to enjoy her company through these books. As Becker’s biography walks us through her last months, I really felt for Betty. She died young by today’s standards but I doubt there was much more medicine could have done then. After reading her book about her lengthy stay in a tuberculosis sanatorium (The Plague and I), I can guess that she faced her final illness with the same pointed wit.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Paula Becker narrated her own book and since this is nonfiction, it worked pretty well. She tried her hand at doing a few voices when necessary and those performances were passable. For the bulk of the book, she does a great job of maintaining an even speed and giving slight inflections here and there, letting us know that she’s just as engaged in the book as us listeners are.

What I Liked: Lots of good info on a deceased author I’ve come to enjoy; most of those claiming defamation by Betty’s books didn’t seem to be suffering from said defamation; some details about Betty’s and Don’s marriage and their financial difficulties; Becker sticks to the facts and doesn’t fall back on gossip.

What I Disliked: This isn’t much of a dislike, but I don’t think the image of Betty used for this cover really suits her. She kind of looks like an evil stepsister witch.

Check out more reviews, interviews, spotlights, and more on the blog tour.

About Author & Narrator Paula Becker:

Paula Becker is a writer and historian living in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of the book Looking For Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I (University of Washington Press), and co-author (with Alan J. Stein) of the books The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair And Its Legacy (Seattle Center Foundation, 2011) and Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Washington’s First World’s Fair (History Ink/HistoryLink in association with University of Washington Press, 2009). More than 300 of Paula’s essays documenting all aspects of Washington’s history appear on HistoryLink.org, the online encyclopedia of Washington state history, where she is a staff historian.

Connect with Paula: Website

Synopsis of Looking for Betty MacDonald:

Betty Bard MacDonald (1907 – 1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and The Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald’s vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald’s Ma and Pa Kettle characters.

MacDonald followed up the success of The Egg and I with the creation of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a magical woman who cures children of their bad habits, and with three additional memoirs: The Plague and I (chronicling her time in a tuberculosis sanitarium just outside Seattle), Anybody Can Do Anything (recounting her madcap attempts to find work during the Great Depression), and Onions in the Stew (about her life raising two teenage daughters on Vashon Island).

Author Paula Becker was granted full access to Betty MacDonald’s archives, including materials never before seen by any researcher. Looking for Betty MacDonald, the first biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.

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About Betty MacDonald:

AuthorBettyMacDonaldBetty Bard MacDonald (1907–1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, andThe Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald’s vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald’s Ma and Pa Kettle characters. 

MacDonald followed up the success of The Egg and I with the creation of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a magical woman who cures children of their bad habits, and with three additional memoirs: The Plague and I (chronicling her time in a tuberculosis sanitarium just outside Seattle), Anybody Can Do Anything (recounting her madcap attempts to find work during the Great Depression), and Onions in the Stew (about her life raising two teenage daughters on Vashon Island). 

Author Paula Becker was granted full access to Betty MacDonald’s archives, including materials never before seen by any researcher. Looking for Betty MacDonald, the first official biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.

Find out more on Wikipedia

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GIVEAWAY!!!

Post Hypnotic Press is doing yet another one of their awesome giveaways! Enter one or all of the giveaways below. Each ends April 30, 2017.

$100 Credit to Post Hypnotic Press

Looking For Betty MacDonald Giveaway #1

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$20 Amazon Gift Card

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The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Claudie having a good scritch
Claudie having a good scritch

Narrators: Full Cast directed by Michael Page: Dan Price, Lorna Johnson, Don Stroup, Terry Bozeman, Richard Lavin, Amy Sunshine, Larry Brandenburg, Rose Nadolsky, Peter Syvertsen, Jane Brody, Bob O’Donnell, Joe Van Slyke, Marie Chambers, Si Osborne, Chuck Winter, Charles Fuller, and Malcolm Rothman.

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2008)

Length: 14 hours 39 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Godfather

Author’s Page

Set in the 1940s and 1950s in mostly New York, the Corleone family is at the heart of a well organized crime ring. Vito Corleone, the Don of the family, keeps his fingers in all the local businesses, legal or otherwise. He’s always a gentleman, holding manners and respect in high regard. However, not everyone else holds to his old Sicilian ways. When war breaks out between the Corleone family and another crime lord, known as the Turk, manners are left in dirt.

Even though I haven heard quite a bit about The Godfather (book and movie) over the years, I had never experienced either. It was a bit of a whim that I picked this book up and I’m glad I did! This story was so much richer than I expected. I’d heard people talk about all the violence in the movies (and indeed there is violence a plenty in this book), but I had not come across anyone who talked about the depth of this novel. I really enjoyed how much Puzo put into the main characters. Vito Corleone, who plays such a vital role in this book, is a vibrant man who comes from a culture of strict rules concerning respect. His children, Sonny, Fredo, Mike, and Connie, are all Americanized and don’t share all of their father’s cultural norms. Of course this clash of cultures becomes a key piece of drama for the book.

I was quite taken with Tom Hagen, the family’s in-house lawyer. He was informally adopted as a kid when he followed one of the Corleone kids home. He didn’t have a real place to stay, so Vito’s wife made him feel right at home. Tom is always so patient and elegant. He knows that he’s not of the family, not being Sicilian or even Italian, and yet he knows the Don best. He was often the glue that kept the family together. His informal adoption into the family is just one example of how giving the Don can be.

While the women of the story are wives, sisters, mothers, and sex objects, Puzo does give them a little more depth than I expected. I found myself taken with Lucy Mancini, though not at first. Initially, she really is a sex object, however, in the later half of the book she meets up with Dr. Jules Sagal in Nevada. Now I was quite surprised that the book went into so much detail about Lucy’s unusually large vagina, what causes that, and how to fix it but I also applaud the author for doing so. This is something that is interesting but may also serve to enlighten people about a little talked about medical issue.

There is plenty of violence throughout the story, but not nearly as much as in today’s action flicks. Also, I felt that the author did a good job of portraying realistic outcomes of each violent episode. I did feel a bit for the horse but I also understood that the Don was making a statement without the loss of human life. Then later on, the wife of one of the sons is accidentally murdered and that was a little bit of a tear jerker. Each violent episode brought some emotion out of me.

Finally, let’s talk a little about Johnny Fontane, the Hollywood star and godson to Vito Corleone. He has this life that’s been strongly influenced by the Don and yet he lives this very different and separate life out in California. I found his life a bit sad and a little dramatic. He’s surrounded by other stars who all have egos as big as his. Yet he finds his most satisfaction in visiting his ex-wife and their two children. They have an unusual and yet very practical arrangement. As side characters, I found them pretty interesting.

All in all, this novel (which was first published in 1969) was more than I expected. I’m sure several bits of this book were considered taboos in 1969 (Lucy’s large vagina, Johnny’s irregular relationship with his ex-wife, etc.) and perhaps are still considered a bit rude to talk about in public these days. The character depth for the main male characters was unexpected but definitely appreciated. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Vito’s back story. Puzo definitely caught my eye with this classic novel and I will be reading more of his works soon.

The Narration:  As you can see, there’s a huge list of narrators; full Cast directed by Michael Page: Dan Price, Lorna Johnson, Don Stroup, Terry Bozeman, Richard Lavin, Amy Sunshine, Larry Brandenburg, Rose Nadolsky, Peter Syvertsen, Jane Brody, Bob O’Donnell, Joe Van Slyke, Marie Chambers, Si Osborne, Chuck Winter, Charles Fuller, and Malcolm Rothman. Sometimes I liked that there were so many voices since this book has a sizable list of characters. However, sometimes it was clear that some parts conversations were recorded with the narrators at different times. I sometimes found that while one character was dramatically narrated, the other character in the same conversation would sound much more down to Earth. So the performance as a whole teeters on that edge between radio drama and a decently narrated novel. Quite frankly, I think I would have preferred a version narrated by 1 or perhaps 2 people. 

What I Liked: Character depth for the main characters; several taboos of the time included in this story; Vito’s back story; the culture clash; the violence is used to spur on the plot; the various settings.

What I Disliked: The female characters are secondary and mostly forgettable; I think I would have enjoyed 1-2 narrators instead of this large cast.

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All Clear by Connie Willis

WillisAllClearWhy I Read It: I loved the first book in this duology, Blackout.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: WWII historical fiction fans who don’t mind a bit of time travel.

Narrator: Katherine Kellgren

Publisher: Audible Frontiers (2010)

Length: 23 hours 46 minutes

Series: Book 2 All Clear

Author’s Page

If you haven’t read Blackout, you need to do so before reading this book because the All Clear definitely needs it in order to understand the characters and setting.

This was an amazing conclusion to the party started by my favorite characters in Blackout. Eileen, Polly, and Mike are still trapped in WWII England during the Blitz with none of their drops opening. They come up with several creative ways to let Oxford of 2060 know where and when they are all the while trying to affect the timeline of WWII as little as possible. But despite their best of intentions, they are each thrown into situations where they simply can’t stand back and do nothing. Which of course causes them to doubt that age old rule about time travel: Historians can’t affect the timeline. Polly and Mike, our experienced travelers, try to keep their concerns about having affected the timeline from Eileen (because it is her first assignment). Lots of action in this meticulously researched book.

I am going to go all gushy on this book and try very very hard not to spoil any plot points. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and had a hard time putting it down. If I ever have to do high school History Class again, please let them assign any of Connie Willis’s time travel novels! If I had had this book in high school, I might have gone on to major in History instead of Environmental Science. WWII had so much happening in it that I was totally oblivious to. For England, everyone was affected by the War, and nearly everyone had a role to play in it – young, old, woman, man, chorus girls, rectors, fire fighters, puzzle solvers, shop girls, and nurses. That is something that I really didn’t understand until I read this duology. All the wars I have been alive for have been fought on foreign soil and my daily life has not been affected by them. I feel a little uncomfortable saying that, now that I know how much WWII affected the world.

The characters were so much fun. Of course we have our main characters (Eileen, Polly, and Mike) but even the side characters all have these little ticks and notches that make them very real and personable. I especially loved the Hodbin children (Vinny and Alf) in book 1 and they have an appearance in book 2. Mr. Humphreys and Sir Godfrey, the chorus girls, and the ambulance drivers, even the characters from 2060 – they all make an excellent backdrop for our main characters. At first, I was a little frustrated that Mike and Polly wanted to keep so much from Eileen (to keep her from worrying) even though they are all stuck in the same barrel of sharks. But by the end, Eileen proves to be very resilient. So my initial frustration turned into deep satisfaction when Eileen is proven to be made of stern stuff.

This book has more than one plot line. We have Mike, Polly, and Eileen in the Blitz and then skip forward a few more years and we have Ernest towards the end of the war working with the puzzle solvers and Intelligence team that gave out false info in order to fool the Germans. We also have Mary, an ambulance driver, during the V1 and V2 rocket bombardment. Then we also have little snippets of 2060 Oxford. Towards the end of the book, we get one or two more short timelines. Despite all that, I felt it wasn’t too hard to follow. Perhaps this is because each chapter starts with a time and location.

The ending wrapped up questions about time travel, and required sacrifice. It was a beautiful ending that really spoke to the underlying theme of the ‘unsung hero’, those who served the country simply by holding it together. If you are one of those folks who have found WWII to be a dull topic, I ask you to give these books a chance – they could very well change your mind.

The Narration: Katherin Kellgren did a great job with this large cast of characters, nearly all of them with English accents. I loved how patient Eileen sounded, how the Hodbins could put curiosity and fake innocence into such simple sentences, and Mike’s American accent. The audio version of this book has a short forward by the author in which she explains some of her inspiration for a few of the characters in the books.

What I Liked: Time travel is used as a tool and it doesn’t go all mystical trying to explain the physics of how it works; I learned a lot about WWII from this duology; there’s a bit of Shakespeare; the Hodbins and Alf’s pet snake; how everyone was affected by the war and had to chip in and help out; very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: If you aren’t paying attention, you may get a little muddled on the timelines (but you can always flip to the chapter heading to figure out when you are).

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