Oh, and let me explain this month's excitement: I discovered audiobooks for free from my library that I can download straight to my phone! Since it is summer, I have been running outside. And I was sad because I was losing all my good reading time. So I discovered how to do the audiobooks and have been listening to those while I run. It's delightful. I'll make a note in the review if something was an audiobook for me, because I think it's nice to review that experience as well.
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup
This is Solomon Northrup's account of his own life. He was born a free black man in New York, then after growing up, getting married, and having three children, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. After being sold, he was taken to Louisiana and spent twelve years on a couple different plantations there.
This is a powerful story. Northrup is very thorough as a narrator so he provides a lot of details. But he's also a detached narrator. He makes it very clear that he is recounting his experiences after the fact, that it is over, and that he has been returned to freedom and his family. Because of this the horrible scenes of slavery that he describes are not completely overwhelming for the reader.
One aspect that I thought was interesting was the details that he provides about the running of the plantation and the procedures and expectations of being a slave. He explains, for example, how the crops are planted, and also how the slaves get things like spoons and bowls. He creates a really good picture of what life was like for the slaves. Although he does point out that this is based entirely on his experience and certainly isn't the same for everyone.
This is very worth reading. I recommend it for that. Also, if you've never read them, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs are well worth reading along with this.
How to Love by Katie Cotugno
Young Adult audiobook.
This is the story of Reena and is told now "After" and two years in the past "Before." In the "Before," Reena is a 16 year old girl who falls for the local bad boy and gets pregnant. In the present, he comes back to town, unaware that he has a baby. A baby who is now a year and a half old. And of course drama ensues.
Cue the teen angst.
And I'm running along thinking, why can't anyone talk to anyone? Why doesn't anyone tell anyone the important things? Or even the trivial things? And the teenagers weren't the only ones caught up in this.
There were a few interesting things about the story, and I wanted to know how it would end, so I kept listening. But the end was a cop-out, casting the blame on religion and leading to an abrupt epiphany that makes everything ok.
I don't recommend this, but if teen angst is your thing, you might really like this.
The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Format: YA Audiobook
A small family, mother, daughter, and son, move to a small village in France. The mother's new job is for an eccentric toymaker and seems like a dream come true and the perfect place to recuperate after the death of the father. But suddenly strange things happen and the family discovers a secret.
My immediate gut response is to say this was too much for me, but I am still trying to piece together why. It was a mystery, and becomes a murder mystery. That probably would have been enough for the characters to cope with, but then a fantastical element is added with the toymaker who makes automatons that are too realistic. And then we, the reader, are present for the first murder committed by a shadow. So suddenly the battle is against a shadow, the toymaker has a crazy backstory and a thing for the mother, and another mystery with his wife.
And I'm still thinking, it was too much.
I don't recommend it.
The Secret Rooms: A true story of a haunted castle, a plotting duchess, and a family secret by Catherine Bailey
This is non-fiction. Catherine Bailey, a historian and researcher, wants to write a book about the Leichestershires, men from the estate of Duke of Rutland who fought during World War I. She is interested in their story, but also how World War I impacted the aristocracy and the Duke of Rutland's family. She gains entrance to the Muniment Rooms in Belvoire Castle where Duke John has extensively and obsessively catalogued the family's papers. But there she discovers a number of mysteries and the book becomes a first person account of her attempts to solve these mysteries.
This was fascinating!
It begins with the story of John's final days and death, in 1940 at the beginning of World War II. At the time, Belvoire Castle (his home) was being used to store England's documents. I thought this was really interesting after having read The Monuments Men. Then Bailey interrupts with her story in the present and begins to describe her initial entrance into Belvoire and her encounters with the staff, who are all very suspicious and wary of both Bailey and the Muniments Rooms where she is working. Then she flashes back to World War I and it all becomes very Downton Abbey.
I liked the recreation of life at that time. I also really liked following Bailey's research process. It's not too technical and she creates a really engaging narrative about how she learns these things, and fills in the holes in the information she finds in the Muniment Rooms. But, even though I liked the story, I found the resolution of the mysteries to be pretty tragic. And the family was seriously screwed up. One of my book club friends said, "More money, more problems. More titles, more drama!" We all agreed the Duchess (John's mother) was cray-cray (which means double crazy, right?)
I highly recommend this.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The format: Audiobook. Read by the author.
A memoir. After a bitter divorce, Elizabeth Gilbert takes herself on a year long journey to Italy, India, and Indonesia.
Ok, first some background. I picked this up after a discussion at book club. Diane said she loves Elizabeth Gilbert, and the rest of us said we had never read Eat, Pray, Love because the movie was so awful. She said no, you have to give it a try. The next month Michelle came and said she had read it and loved it and that we had to try it because it is nothing like the movie. And I agree.
I really liked this. I love the idea of traveling and really learning what a culture does well and how to incorporate that into your life. So the idea gets me from the beginning.
Gilbert is a great storyteller. She has a marvelous way of creating the characters around her and sharing these episodes from her journey that are funny and poignant. She also does a great job of incorporating background and history and information so that it is easy to understand. Particularly as she gets into some of the more esoteric beliefs of the Indian yogis and the Balinese medicine man, her approach to the explanations is really important and handled really well.
As someone who is fairly new to meditation (everyone seems surprised by this. I've done yoga for years, but I'm just in the last six months or so trying to just sit and meditate), it is great to read her struggles, because sometimes you feel like you're the only one this doesn't work for. Gilbert makes it really clear that you are not the only one. And that it is worth it to keep trying.
Bonus: The audiobook read by Gilbert is awesome! She reads so smoothly it is like you are just sitting at her kitchen table and she is telling you her stories. She also imitates her friends, including the drawl of Richard from Texas, and my absolute favorite -- the old man yelling in Italian at the soccer game in Rome. "Die! Die! Nella porta! Madonna!"
I highly recommend it.