Monday, May 9, 2016

Mini-Reviews: All Things Audio

Audiobooks have been the only thing keeping my reading afloat these days, and it's a way to 1) keep me entertained on my long commute and 2) mix-up my normal reading groove beyond the usual 95% romance, 5% mystery/suspense.  Here are some quick thoughts on my most recent listens.
But Enough About Me: A Memoir by Burt Reynolds - OK, so I kind of have a thing for Burt Reynolds.  I'll admit it - I'm not completely immune to the whole "good ol' boy" Southern vibe.  This book is written vignette style, with Reynolds not focusing on a linear timeline of his life, but rather talking about people, places etc. that have meant something to him over the years.  The downside to listening to this on audio is that Reynolds narrates and his voice has not aged well.  Reynolds is in his 80s now, and his voice sounds like it.  Sometimes it was strong, and sometimes I could barely make out what he was saying.  But on the plus side?  Reynolds would get emotional at times and it helps to reinforce that he's a real person underneath the persona.  I got choked up hearing Reynolds get choked up talking about Dom DeLuise.  Final Grade = C+
Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic and Searching for Who's Next by L.A. Reid - Dating myself, but I graduated high school in the early 1990s, so my curiosity about this book stems entirely with Reid's partnership with Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds in LaFace records - which gave us superstars like TLC and Toni Braxton.  The duo also worked with a number of other notable artists that were part of the whole "New Jack Swing" scene at the time (like Bobby Brown and Boyz II Men).  My favorite parts of this were learning more about Reid's life as a performer/musician and the LaFace "stuff."  My interest waned a bit the closer we got to present day (I could care less about OutKast, Kayne, Bieber or Reid's stint on The X Factor) when it kind of descends into more blatant name-dropping.  Still, it serves as a reminder of how awesome R&B was in the early 1990s and I wanted to download ALL. THE. MUSIC after I finished.  Final Grade = B
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye - If other reviews are an indication, I'm the only person who has read this book in Romancelandia who didn't love it to bits.  Part of this is because compared to the author's Supreme-O Awesome-Sauce Timothy Wilde trilogy (which made my Best Of Lists for 2014 and 2015), this is a pale shadow.  The characters aren't as well drawn, their relationships nowhere near as complex and there's a Victorian Drama-Llama Melodramatic Romance in the second half that I was bored with before it even got off the ground.  What I did like?  The "stuff" between Jane and Rebecca Clarke - her bestest friend while they are both at an odious boarding school.  There's lots of "Jane Eyre" stuff here and Jane Steele tends to murder people who deserve it - but meh.  It's entirely possible that my extreme love of the previous trilogy factored into my dissatisfaction more than a little but...I'm sorry folks, I didn't love this.  Come back and talk to me after you've read the Timothy Wilde books.  Final Grade = D+
The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James - St. James is an author I've been meaning to try forever and a recent foray into Barbara Michaels on audio had me on a Gothic kick.  Set after World War I, our office temp heroine takes a job as an assistant to a ghost hunter to investigate a haunting of a barn by a local servant girl who committed suicide.  This is a Gothic very heavy on the woo-woo, it's got great atmosphere, and very good characterization.  I was a little less enamored with the ghost hunting party's lack of urgency in solving the mystery behind Maddy Clare, the girl haunting the barn.  They seem more bent on protecting people that, quite frankly, deserve everything that Maddy's ghost wants to dish out to them.  Maddy wants her revenge for very, very compelling reasons (consider that your trigger warning).  Swoon, I love Gothics! I plan to download more St. James on audio as soon as the holds lists at work allow. Final Grade = B-
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin - Tells the story of Truman Capote, the upper-crust New York society women whom he called "The Swans," and his friendship with Babe Paley (wife of William S. Paley - the founder of CBS). The story covers the timeline of Breakfast at Tiffany's, In Cold Blood, The Black and White Ball, Capote running off the rails and his ultimate break from "The Swans" with the publication of the story La Cote Basque 1965 in Esquire magazine, in which he aired everybody's dirty laundry.

This would have been a DNF had I tried to read it because it's very, very tell-y.  Long stretches with little dialogue and a lot of internal musing so the author can dump back-story on the reader.  Also, these are shallow, sad people and the the job of historical fiction is for the author to "breathe life" into these characters.  That doesn't happen here until the very bitter end, when the fallout of La Cote Basque 1965 comes into play.  Shopping, clothes, affairs everybody was having (sometimes with each other...) and by the end of it I was so bloody sick of hearing about Babe Paley's cheekbones I could just scream.  The ending is interesting because that's when all the glitz and shallow dazzle goes to hell.  Capote fully hits the skids and Babe finally (finally!) gets angry.

As a historical fiction novel it just didn't work for me because the writing didn't work for me.  I felt I would have been better served to just read non-fiction accounts of the era and I would have gotten the exact same story.  Also, I listened to this on audio which means both narrators (yes, there were two) affected Capote's voice.  I did like the glimpse into the bygone, opulent era of society prior to the Atomic Hippie Bomb of the 1960s going off, but that was about it.  Final Grade = C-


azteclady said...

I've been dying to read The Haunting of Maddy Clare for ages--but a) those suckers are pricey! and b) I've promised myself that I would read at least ten or so books from the TBR Mountain Range of Doom, before shelling out money on new books.

(Mind you, if this one went on sale for two bucks or so, I'd snap it up, regardless!)

nath said...

Ohhh wow, Burt Reynolds! Didn't think he was in his 80s! Then again, didn't think he was still alive... ^_^;

It does seem to be a nice way to get out of your comfort zone :) The Haunting of Maddy Clare sounds like the one I'd be most likely to pick up... Wait, Simone St. James, that sounds familiar! I think I've actually read her last year!

PK the Bookeemonster said...

I've read all of Simone St James books and really, really like them. Heads up though: they are all similar thematically much like Susanna Kearsley and her tropes. St James's "shtick": Post WWI setting, element of paranormal, touch of romance, a light mystery to solve. But they are gothic in nature which I also love.

Wendy said...

AL: There's a lot of glowing reviews out there for it, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit - my review isn't glowing :) Still, I totally think it's worth reading, especially if you dig Gothics. St. James does a really good job on the "Gothic stuff."

Nath: He's JUST 80, but yes - 80. The Haunting of Maddy Clare was St. James' first book and she's published several more since then - so yeah, check your reading log; you may have read her before :)

PK: Oh, thanks for the warning - now I'm prepared that I'm going to get more paranormal. I love Gothics with no woo-woo, but they're a rarer breed of the already rare Gothic breed. Work has her entire backlist on audio, so I've wishlist'ed the lot of them :)

Anonymous said...

I read The Swans book a couple of weeks ago and agree with your review here. There was an article in Vanity Fair a couple of years ago that I think this book is based on. The article of course was a much better read!!

Wendy said...

WWSRN: I read that Vanity Fair article and it was really good!