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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-16-17

Tremendously Enjoyable!

Trevor Noah sharing insightful stories of growing up in South Africa under the Apartheid regime as a mixed race child grabbed me from the very beginning. His fierce love for his amazingly strong black mother and her determination to raise him in a country where she could be arrested for having a relationship with his white Swiss father is inspiring. Incredible struggles that would turn many into an eternal victim were faced with dignity and determination. This story could have turned into a bitter indictment of racism, poverty and crooked politics but it wasn’t at all. Racism, poverty and crooked politics were simply the background and setting for a laugh-out-loud at times, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable memoir. Some of the stories were shocking in their cruelty and skewed prejudice but Noah’s mother’s refusal to feel sorry for their situation and his ability to laugh at absurdity, refuse to play the victim and move on are lessons from which we could all learn.

Noah’s narration of his own story was perfect. He’s had practice as a DJ, a radio personality and most recently a television persona making him the perfect narrator for his own story. He doesn’t sound like a book narrator because his speaking, along with the writing style, is very relaxed which makes listening to the audio feel more like a casual sit-down chat.

I had never heard of Trevor Noah before finding this memoir. Reading a synopsis grabbed my attention then a special deal from Audible sealed it. Very enjoyable, enlightening and highly recommended!

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-09-17

Amazing example of delights of Historical Fiction!

I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging novel which takes place in 16th century Rajasthan, a culture in a time period with which I have no familiarity so the author’s ability to comfortably set me in the middle of a desert village in the mid 1554 was commendable. The audio version, expertly narrated by Meetu Chilana, added to my enjoyment of the story. Hearing a native speaker 1) pronounce the foreign names and places and 2) create a non-english Indian language rhythm with an english narration was very engaging.

Through the story we follow the life of Adhira as her very birth, taking place during a rain in the middle of a drought, becomes a sign of blessing. Through her eyes as the beloved youngest child, we experience her world beginning near the fortress city of Jaisalmer during the time of the Moghal Emperor Akbar whose armies are sweeping through India. Here again we have the clash of religion and cultures; Islam vs. Hindu without the gory details.

Much of young Adhira’s family life centers on the Hindu temple as we learn about the duties, life and expectations of devadasis, temple dancers. It becomes apparent that, even as a very young child, she has a natural gift of rhythm and dance. As the temple dance master, her father’s regular presence at the temple allows Adhira to learn the storied dances of Krishna at an early age. She feels called to temple life, not knowing the “dark” side of the devadasi duties and too young to understand the sacrifices the life requires and the conflicting family opinions of temple life during wartime bring conflict and unrest.

As a life-long dancer, learning about this dance form was fascinating for me and has prompted additional research and study. As a reader, I was carried along with the tales and could hear the clinking of the bells and musical descriptions that could have, in the hands of a less skilled author, become too involved for westerners like me, who are unfamiliar with these stories. However, the author adeptly relayed the nature of the dance and storyline without making it tedious.

This is an excellent example of why I enjoy historical fiction. Learning about a foreign culture and time period, not through lectures, but through well-researched story telling that makes the reader emotionally involved in the lives of the characters is intensely rewarding. Duva does an expert job of drawing the reader/listener into the world of the devadasis, the Hindu temple dancers. Everything from their colorful costumes, jewelry and dance rhythms to their required commitment to “patrons” for financial support comes to light.

I found the story engaging, the characters well developed and the setting, which was so foreign to what I know, well played. I cared about what happened to these characters and enjoyed the interactions between them. Even now, several weeks after finishing the book, as I read the names of the various characters, I smile with remembrance, as if they are old friends. This was a truly engaging reading experience, highly recommended for anyone interested in historical or literary fiction.

I look forward to her next work.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-01-16

The Prize for Worst Narration EVER Goes to...

I love the idea of this storyline and I'm a long-time historical fiction fan, but I simply cannot bear another moment listening to this narrator. While I was initially interested to see where the story might go, I could not continue to listen to this wholly inadequate narration. I've had to get used to narrators before and usually, after time, a good narrator (or even a mediocre one!) disappears as the story takes center stage and the narrator enhances (or at least doesn't detract from) the experience. Listening to this was like being forced to sit through a dreaded junior high production that you are required to attend because you know/love someone in it. You grin & bear it, knowing it will be over in a couple of hours. Well I gave this narrator almost an hour and a half and it just kept getting worse (the HORRIBLE, inconsistent accents, the lack of ability to distinguish between voices, poor pacing, etc.) and since I have no moral obligation to force myself to stick with this one, I am returning it with the dubious honor of "Worst Narration Ever" out of the hundreds of audio books I've listened to over the past 20 years.

I can't tell you if the overall story is as juvenile as the narrator (who sounds as if she may have a tiny, sad, supporting role in this weekend's junior high production in Podunk, Arkansas) or if the narrator made the writing sound juvenile. Since I did stick with it for over an hour in order to see where the story might lead, I can only guess that it is a possibility. IF I can find a copy in print at the library and I don't have anything else on my radar that week, I might consider checking out a print version but that will have to wait a while in order to let me get this dreadful narration out of my head.

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2 of 4 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-18-15

True Heroism in a Gentle Man

I am a Neville Shute fan and I do believe this is probably my favorite of his so far. Perfectly narrated. Well worth a credit.

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-06-12

Sweet fun with bitter undertones

I have to start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed most of this book. This was like a romp down memory lane as the author reminisced about Pop Rocks, Lick-a-Sticks and discovering the joys of Goo-Goo Clusters, a southern specialty that my Mississippi-born mother-in-law used to purchase by the case. It was rather difficult to believe that a book about candy could keep me entertained for hours since, even though I do enjoy my sweets, I would definitely not classify myself anywhere in the realm of Steve Almond, Candy freak, but this one did - for the MOST part.

When he was listing the favorite candies and trinkets of his childhood, I was right there. When he was describing the black market that developed as the demand for pop rocks exploded beyond the suppliers' ability to supply them, I was engaged. When he sought out various local "boutique" candy makers and visited their production lines to see, smell and taste first-hand their creations, I wanted to call him up and BEG him to take me along on a return visit. I may not be a complete "candy freak" but I do enjoy good food and his descriptions of stepping out of the car and smelling chocolate and imagining that there could be little else better than arriving at work every day to a place that smelled like heaven had me saying, "Amen!"

Then, he stopped short and stopped me with him when interviewing one of the owners of one of the small boutique companies, an entrepreneur, and speculated with dismay that this guy probably voted for George W. Bush, horror of horrors! In other words, up to that point, he had really liked this guy (the entrepreneur) and had become appreciative of the hard work and business sense that it took to get the independent candy maker to this point but if this entrepreneurial schlub had actually been stupid enough to vote for W, he couldn't be a human being worth much more consideration. This little rabbit trail rant unsettled and distracted me for about 15 minutes, but hey, there aren't many authors/screenwriters/reporters/newscasters these days who don't feel it their moral duty to constantly put in a jibe wherever they can no matter how inappropriate or irrelevant the comment or setting may be that basically categorizes all such creatures somewhere on the level of one-celled amoebas - and THEY call US judgmental and intolerant!

Anyway, his initial political digression made me realize that, much as I had wanted to come along with him to chocolate heaven, he had just made it very clear that if I voted for Bush, my ranking as a sentient human being had just dropped significantly, so much in fact, that he would have no desire to have me along for the ride. That is a rather unfortunate position to take when you are an author of a non-fiction FOOD book and are asking your readers to come along - UNLESS you don't happen to agree with him politically. So, because I was listening while gardening and didn't have the clean hands to stop the audiobook in progress, I continued on when, about three quarters of the way through, he did it again. That's the kind of commentary we need & want in a candy documentary, right?!!

In truth, his diatribes against the "rich" as well as anyone stupid enough to have any leanings towards conservative ideals probably lasted only a few minutes total. I don't expect authors to hide their political ideologies and I am willing to forgive a lot. I am very capable of enjoying a book or film by people I know are politically on the opposite side of the spectrum from me. However when they assume (and we all know what happens when we ass-u-me, right?) that anyone holding differing political opinions is not only less humane or intelligent, but someone not worthy of further consideration, I do tend to become personally offended at that. A book like this is an intimate adventure between the reader and the author and this author, spoke directly into my ear exactly what he thinks about people like me and, honestly it left a pretty bad taste in my mouth for what was otherwise a very sweet read.

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8 of 9 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-06-12

Interesting historical read

I don't normally pick up books that are directed at "young adults" but because I was looking for suggestions for students I was taking to Paris and having the recommendation from another book group on this one, I went for it.

This one was difficult for me to review because there were some things that I loved so much about it and some things I didn't. This is a dual story told from the first person during two different time periods. You can read more about the plot from numerous others so I won't belabor that point. I loved the entire portion of the story that takes place during the French Revolution. I thought it was well told, well researched (I've done quite a bit of study on the French Revolution and I learned some things I didn't previously know) and was relayed in a manner that made the reader care about the events and characters from the Revolution. I was completely fascinated by this line of the story and kept wanting to return to the 1770's every time the story switched back to modern time. For the story that takes place during the French Revolution, I would give this 4 to 5 stars; for the modern storyline, 2.5 to 3 stars.

I was proofing this as a possible recommendation for some of my teenage students. When I am proofing a book for teenage readers, I tend to be doubly cautious and ultra critical, looking for any possible language or issues that may be inappropriate subject material for younger readers. While there was little or no foul language and no sex though the modern-day character was a troubled young lady. In reading about the troubled young lady, we also are introduced to a number of her troubled young friends and some of their troubling activities that tend to be very common these days though not admirable - drinking, drugs, bad attitudes, etc., while certainly not foreign to modern teens but subjects that as a parent recommending a book, I want to make sure are presented appropriately.

I think if I had not been proofing this book for younger readers, I may have been able to relax and enjoy the modern storyline more. However, as I have recommended this book to other teens or parents because of the historical subject matter, I always preface my recommendation with a, "but be aware that there are some inappropriate situations and reactions going on." There is nothing happening here that our teenagers aren't already well aware of, and even though Andi, the troubled young lady who is the main character, is a sympathetic character and not acting out for sheer rebellion's sake, she is acting out all the same and I hesitate to put forth sympathetic characters who are making poor choices to impressionable young people. I don't want to give them any more reasons for rationalizing poor choices.

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1 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-06-12

Magical Escape

I have to say that a book that has this much buzz makes me automatically suspicious. I usually prefer to wait it out a couple of years and if trusted friends still think it's wonderful then I might be willing to give it my time. That aside, the buzz about this is rightly deserved.

It is a remarkable, visceral book that is very difficult to categorize. It is not a vampire paranormal cliche yet it is magical. It is not a character/plot driven novel yet it has a story that drew me in. It is a unique book full of fantasy and imagination and whimsy evoking a strong sense of place yet it is a place you've never been before. Erin Morgenstern does a wonderful job of enveloping the reader in her setting drawing us in with the luscious smells she so beautifully articulates to the sumptuous feasts she dangles before our longing eyes. This is a very difficult book to describe and others will do a much better job than I at sharing plot details, but if you're looking for a magical escape to a rather mystical world this just might be your ticket.

Jim Dale does a simply amazing job of narrating this story. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this one in paper form or listen but I must say that Dale's narration made this experience even more magical.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-06-12

Fascinating, informative...where are my glasses?

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It is not a genre that normally attracts me, but after several recommendations from another book group, I gave it a go. I found it simply fascinating! I found the first part of this book, especially, compelling and informative, filled with information and details about how the brain works, stores and retrieves information. Much of the information I have seen alluded to and referred to in headlines or self-help books, but this went further citing the studies and giving just enough background and detailed information so that a non-techie like me can still follow the information without getting overloaded by geek speak. We then follow the author of the book for a year, from his first observation of the American Memory Championships observing what appears to be absolutely astounding feats of memory to his participation in the same competition a year later.

Throughout this process, we learn that the world memory champions don't tend to have any special IQ gifts but have simply trained themselves and learned various memory tricks that work in different areas of memory. For example, memorizing a poem is an entirely different type of memory skill than memorizing a random set of numbers or a random list of items. I must say that I did one of the exercises along with the book as directed and now, about a month later, I can still recall the randomized list of 15 items without much effort which is simply amazing to me. However, I'm still having trouble remembering where I left my phone and my glasses which is where I REALLY need help!

I found the first half of the book absolutely fascinating because it was all about the way the brain works filled with interesting facts about education over the centuries and how the availability of information has changed our learning/educational process. The second half of the book tended to focus more on the author's training for the memory championships. While I found some of this interesting I did not find that part of the book nearly as compelling as the onslaught that delighted me at the beginning of the book.

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-06-12

Mesmerizing

I was absolutely consumed by Ann Patchett's newest offering which takes us to the depths of the Amazon for drug company research. I knew very little about the book when I began other than it was written by the author of Bel Canto which was a huge recommendation and that it took place in the Amazon, another positive. The two books by Patchett couldn't be more different. I pretty much tuned out the rest of the world for hours at a time while I looked for excuses to listen to just a few more minutes. I found the pace of this much quicker than that of Bel Canto which I read in paper not audio format. I won't re-hash the plot because you can read that elsewhere and I don't want to give too much away but I found the entire premise of the book compelling and was completely mesmerized by the storyline. Two such varied titles as Bel Canto and State of Wonder make me marvel at the abilities of this author.

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21 of 26 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-01-11

Fabulously Wonderful Read!

If you've never listened to a narration by Jenna Lamia, you're in for a treat. She gave the perfect voice to this wonderful, touching story that I won't soon forget. In becoming acquainted with CeeCee, it was similar, as many have already mentioned, to falling in love with Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird or Lily from Secret Life of Bees. The South is not only the setting here, but provides a very visceral ambience to this wonderful gem of a book. The quirky characters, the southern ladies, all of whom will ring true to anyone who has any recollection of the South during the 1950's or 60's is brought to life in all of its sleepy, dark, eccentric glory focusing on the redeeming ability of love to heal and bind us together. It's already been several months since I read it, but as the cicadas are calling and its too hot to do anything else, I find myself tempted to allow myself to go back and wallow in CeeCee's story all over again.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful