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27 May 2015

Review: Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

A book that became a movie

My review last week was of Rebcca by Daphne du Maurier, an audiobook of a famous story that’s had several outings on the small screen. This week I’m reviewing another audiobook, one that is perhaps even more famous for its big-screen portrayal than as a book (well, a novella).

Yes, elfin Audrey Hepburn in the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’ve never seen the movie, but surely everyone has seen photograph of Hepburn as Holly Golightly, the girl about town who window-shops at Tiffany’s of New York to chase away the “angry reds”. When “Fred” described Holly, he could have been describing Audrey Hepburn.

There were a lot of similarities between Rebecca and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Both are told in the first person by an unnamed narrator relating events which happened years earlier (while Holly calls the narrator Fred, after her brother, we never find out his real name). Both audiobooks have excellent narrators who breathe life into the characters, and are excellent at portraying the different accents. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, these included the somewhat reserved narrator, Holly’s breathy voice, and Sal’s earthy Jersey accent.

But there were differences. I knew where the story was taking place, and had a good idea of when. The characters were excellent, especially Holly. I never warmed to the narrator of Rebecca, but I warmed to Holly Golightly immediately—perhaps because her story was being told by someone who loved her, even if he hadn’t seen her in years and never really knew her. Holly fascinated "Fred", which meant she fascinated me as I listened.

Her character is complex. She’s young, but has a maturity beyond her years (towards the end of the story, we find out parts of her history which actually made me feel sorry for her). She is naïve in some areas, yet sophisticated in others, and it all builds up into a character we want to know more about, everything about, but never can. Because “Fred” doesn't know, because the story ends before he can find out.

Yes, I can see why Breakfast at Tiffany’s is considered a classic.

This book (audiobook) counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as A Book That Became a Movie.

26 May 2015

Blog Tour: Walking a Haunted Sandbar by Rorry Nighttrain East

Book Description

A lyrical yarn about an overly-curious newspaper man transplanted from England to the eastern coast of the USA, who stumbles onto the fact that a one-hundred-year-old cult of drowned sailors has complete control of his quaint, seaside town. A legend about a hand-held golden mirror (with a portable vortex inside its case); as it is randomly passed between owners in separate vignettes to change their lives beyond human comprehension. The ennui and general apathy of living in a sleepless big city that doesn’t seem to care—as expressed in skeleton symbols. A humble man with great calculating abilities uses his natural mind to auto-suggest (the future of law and order) hundreds of years from now.

Click here to find Walking by a Haunted Sandbar at Amazon.

About the Author

Rorry Nighttrain East (a.k.a., R.L. Farr) is truly a literary anomaly. At least, he’s really not some kind of author to typecast, nor even place into any single mode or genre. For he seems to run all gamuts of poetry & prose, humor, short stories, screenplays, teleplays, and even novels. What’s next from this versatile new talent? He says he writes because he’s handicapped; and we believe him: Laugh, cry . . . and then wipe the tears away. You’ve found yourself the pen pal of a lifetime. (With two artificial legs thrown in, to boot.)

A repentant, imperfect Christian still under construction. Born on July 18, 1952 in Fresno, California, he is an alumnus of De Anza College Cupertino, California and was formerly a journeyman automobile mechanic for a Lincoln Mercury dealership in San Jose, California. He has since moved from the “Golden State” and now lives upon a sprawling ranch where he writes just outside the beautiful, mile-high mountains of Silver City, New Mexico.

You can found out more about Rorry at his website:

25 May 2015

Review: A Heart's Danger by Colleen Coble

Sarah risks everything to expose the betrayal threatening the man she loves—but will the risk be worth it? Find out in book three, A Heart's Danger, of Colleen Coble's A Journey of the Heart series. Rand’s new fiancée wants to keep him from returning to Sarah Montgomery . . . for whom his heart clearly still yearns. Sarah just wants to move on with her life at Fort Laramie, but doing so under the watchful eyes of both Campbell—the man whose love she craves—and Croftner—the man whose lies have cost her everything.

Enter to win the perfect pairing giveaway: three books (books one–three in Colleen's A Journey of the Heart series) and coffee to pair with your new book!


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of A Heart's Danger
  • A pound of Colleen's favorite coffee, Captain Davy's Coffee Roaster Costa Rican
  • A copy of A Heart's Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart's Obsession
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 31st. Winner will be announced June 1st on Colleen's website.


My Review

Book Description

On the brink of war with the Sioux, Sarah risks everything to expose the betrayal threatening the man she loves.

Christmas is coming, and the air at Fort Laramie has turned cold . . . but relations with the Sioux have turned colder. As tensions between soldiers and natives approach a tipping point, a trap has been set for Rand Campbell.
Rand’s new fiancée wants to keep him from returning to Sarah Montgomery . . . for whom his heart clearly still yearns.

Sarah just wants to move on with her life at Fort Laramie, but doing so under the watchful eyes of both Campbell—the man whose love she craves—and Croftner—the man whose lies have cost her everything.

Will Rand fall victim to the conspiracy and go through with his wedding? Or will he declare his love for Sarah and make good on the promises that brought her into the rugged western territories?

My Review

The book description sounds good, but the actual book was less good. This was mostly because of the characters. Ben Croftner is basically the archetypical bad guy: evil but with no real motive. Sure, we understand he wants to marry Sarah, but why? What is it about her that he followed her halfway across the country?

Jessica DuBois is no better. Yes, we get that she’s jealous of Sarah, but Rand has promised to marry Jessica, and he’s a man of honour. He’s not going to go back on his word, even if he does still love Sarah. Of course, by choosing to align herself with Ben Croftner, Jessica shows herself to be a poor judge of character, so perhaps she really doesn’t understand she has nothing to fear from Sarah’s presence. Anyway, we get that Jessica has this deep-seated hatred and jealousy towards Sarah, but her actions still don’t make any sense. After all, all she had to do was marry Rand and the Sarah problem would go away.

As for Sarah, she's mostly decorative, a personality-less person who exists to serve as the inexplicable object of Rand's love, Ben's obsession, and Jessica's jealousy. She never does much except react to the events around her.

This is the third novella in the A Journey of the Heart series, following A Heart’s Disguise and A Heart’s Obsession. It’s better than the previous two, in that at least the plot arc comes to a satisfactory conclusion. However, it does raise the question of what (or who) the final three novellas are going to be about. Hopefully it will include characters who are a little more rounded.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

22 May 2015

Review: A Stranger's Secret by Laurie Alice Eakes

Slow and Unengaging

Widowed Lady Morwenna Trelawny Penvanan wants nothing more than to be left in her rundown mansion, but her grandparents want her to move back to their estate … or marry one of her pursuers. Plans change when she finds a shipwreck survivor on her private beach, a strange man with the Trelawny family crest on his pendant.

David Chastain is a shipbuilder who has travelled to Cornwell to try and solve the mystery of his father’s death, and the disappearance of their family’s money. But now he’s injured and in the care of an angel …

A Stranger's Secret never engaged me. I didn’t understand why Morwenna chose to live in the rundown Penvanan when her grandparents lived in luxury only a short distance away, and where where her parents? These questions were answered, but not until too late for my liking (and I had read the first book in the series, A Lady’s Honor, so that wasn’t the reason).

I found the first three-quarters of the novel very slow, which wasn’t helped by Morwenna’s overlong interior monologue (which still didn’t give any information about how she got into her situation, or why she wouldn’t accept help). David wasn’t any better: late in the book, we found out he knew more than he’d let on, which was a problem I had with the first book in the series as well. In contrast, the ending was fast—too fast. I never felt as though I got to know either character.

The historical research and sense of time and place was excellent, as were the Christian themes. However, I found some of the writing to be overly complex, almost archaic, even for a novel set during the Regency. There were several times when I found myself reading and rereading sentences in order to understand what was being said. I never had that problem reading Jane Austen.

Overall, I found A Stranger’s Secret a struggle to finish, because it took so long to get interesting and I felt no connection with any of the characters.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Laurie Alice Eakes at her website.

20 May 2015

Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

2015 Reading Challenge – My (Grand) Mother’s Favourite Book

This review is a slight cheat in two respects: it was my grandmother’s favourite book when the challenge called for my mother’s, and it was an audiobook—a twelve-CD version that belonged to my grandmother (that’s over fourteen hours of playing time, which took me about three weeks to get through, in a series of three-hour car journeys).

The quality of the audiobook was excellent. The narrator, Anna Massey, made each character come alive: from the naïve nameless narrator, Maxim and his boisterous sister, the shy maids and the distant Mrs Danvers, to the local characters including the intellectually challenged Ben. Each character had their own distinct voice, and it all sounded effortless and not at all contrived (unlike some narrators).

But I didn’t especially enjoy the book, despite its enduring popularity and famous first (and last) lines.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again …”. 
It took me a good while to work out Manderley was a house in southern England—Devon or Cornwall, perhaps—not somewhere in India. I also couldn’t work out when the book was set (and still haven’t). I assume it was a contemporary novel when it was published (although Daphne du Maurier wrote contemporary and historical fiction, so that’s not clear). It’s obvious some years have passed since the events Mrs de Winter is telling us about, but I never knew how many years had passed, or what year—what decade, even—she was writing about. Perhaps Grandma could have told me.

Rebecca is told entirely in the first person, from the viewpoint of the unnamed second Mrs de Winter, and I found the fact she went nameless throughout the entire novel to be an unnecessary affectation. I found it odd that despite being the narrator, she told us little about herself prior to meeting the famed widower, Max de Winter of Manderley. Perhaps the author felt it wasn’t necessary to show us what happened to make Mrs de Winter the shy orphan she was, but I would have liked to have known, partly because I never understood what Maxim saw in her, except that she was nothing like Rebecca.

I found her unbearably naïve, although that’s perhaps a function of her young age (about twenty), and the fact Rebecca is set in a time before television, let alone the internet. Mrs de Winter simply hadn’t had much exposure to life. I found that annoying, but not as much as her habit of imagining future conversations or events, as I was never sure whether the past Mrs de Winter was indulging in teenage flights of fancy, or if the future Mrs de Winter was telling us what had really happened. Yes, it was an interesting literary device and I can see why people rave about du Maurier's writing, but it was a device which annoyed me.

I did get annoyed by the constant “he said/she said/I said” dialogue tags. In fairness, these might not have worried me as much if I had read the book rather than listened to it—Anna Massey did such a good job of using different voices for the different characters that she made the dialogue tags quite redundant.

But the main thing which annoyed me was how slow the book was (and, yes, it was probably made even slower by listening to it, because I couldn’t skip ahead through the endless introspection to the next part where something was actually happening in real time). There was a big “oh, no” moment just after halfway, but that had been telegraphed in flashing lights which rather destroyed the impact (while I have read the book before, decades ago, I’d forgotten that particular plot point). I had vaguely remembered the other major plot point and the final climax, but they still managed to surprise me. The book really didn’t get to the point and pick up pace until around the three-quarter mark.

If I had been reading it, I probably wouldn’t have got past the first chapter. There’s a lesson there: while we can appreciate (or not) the famed writers of past generations, it won’t do to attempt to imitate their style or structure. What was original and compelling when Rebecca was written is no longer new, and may no longer be compelling.