Hello, all. I have returned. Somewhat.
The last several months have been insane, and I’m just now getting back to a place where I feel settled enough to return to this blog. I want to start out easy, which is why I’m going to start with some shorter audiobook reviews. I’ve really enjoyed listening lately–on my commute, driving to visit friends, while making dinner, cleaning house, etc. It’s been an stress-free way to get my listening goals in, and has forced me to slow down a bit when getting through a book, as I read much faster than a narrator generally can speak.
Title: Ghost (Track #1)
Author: Jason Reynolds
Middle Grades Fiction ♦ 190 pages ♦ Published 30 August 2016
A short, powerful listen. The book is about 200 pages long, and the audiobook was less than 4 hours in length. It pulled me in so quickly that I finished listening over the course of a workday. My mind kept going back to it.
Ghost is the story of 7th grader Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw. Ghost has some real demons in his past, and a present that leaves much to be desired. Ghost is constantly in trouble at school for fighting, receives poor marks, and has no actual friends. He lives in a bad part of town and is taunted by a school bully about his ill-fitting clothes, residence, and mama’s job as a hospital cafeteria worker. His father is in jail for attempted murder of him and his mother several years back, something that continues to haunt Ghost.
But in other ways Ghost is your typical 12-year-old boy. He’s sassy and brash, thinks he’s invincible, but is so much a child still. One day he’s down at the park and sees a track practice happening. He decides to watch. He decides he doesn’t like the attitude of one of the runners. He decides to challenge that runner to a foot race. He wins.
The rest of the book is a testament to the power of connection. As Ghost learns to trust what it means to rely on others and works through his own issues and take responsibility for what he can control in his life, this young man finds something he can cling to and be proud of, something to drive him toward finding his voice and letting go of what has held him down.
Rating: 5 stars.
Author: Isabel Allende
Crime Fiction ♦ 512 pages ♦ Published 28 January 2014
Listening to this book was a wildly different experience from listening to Ghost, other than how captivated I was with it. Ripper is a highly detailed murder mystery that goes heavy on the exposition. It took me a week to listen to it as it was over 14 hours long. And this was my first Allende novel, to my dismay, but what a good time it was.
Ripper is set in San Francisco, 2011, and focuses mainly on the Jackson-Martín family. Amanda Martín is 17 years old, precocious, and obsessed with the dark side of life. She attends a Catholic boarding school paid for by her paternal grandmother, and on the weekends resides with her maternal grandfather, Blake Jackson. Her mother, Indiana Jackson, lives in an apartment above Blake’s house. Her father is Bob Martín, Deputy Chief of Homicide in San Francisco.
Amanda is the games master for Ripper, an online community that tries to solve murders set in 19th century London. But when her godmother Celeste, a well-known psychic in the Bay Area, forecasts a “bloodbath,” the Ripper players decide to investigate real-life murders happening throughout San Francisco. At their disposal is Amanda’s father’s knowledge of crime details, and Blake’s ability as a retired police officer to get information for the Ripper players that Bob would be unwilling to share with his daughter.
Indiana Jackson, Amanda’s mother, is a blonde bombshell of a woman who has no idea the effect she has on men. She is blissfully the opposite of self-aware, though her knack for intuiting the pain and remedies for others is uncanny. Indiana is generous, compassionate, kind, and nonchalant. Most of her friends are men, and she relies on their friendship in various ways. She is a massage therapist and Reiki practitioner at an Alternative Healing Center.
Vying for Indiana’s attention are Ryan Miller, a former Navy Seal, and Alan Keller, Indiana’s lover of four years. Ryan is her best friend, and the only man in Indiana’s life trusted by Amanda. Alan is a well-to-do socialite whose jealousy of Ryan prompts him to hire a private investigator to follow Indiana around, as he can’t believe that she isn’t cheating on him every second she’s away.
As more murders keep happening around the Bay, the Ripper players can’t help but think there must be some connection. Though Amanda tries her best to convince her father that this is the work of a highly calculating serial killer, he doesn’t believe her–until Indiana goes missing.
I loved this book so much that I immediately ordered two copies, one for myself and one for a friend who will enjoy it very much. I’d read a lot of negative reviews on Goodreads that this book is too dense, overly detailed, not believable, etc.–but I couldn’t disagree more. What others tended to despise about it, I adored. This might be due to the fact I’ve not read Allende’s other books that are heavy on the magical realism. But my mom’s family is from the SF Bay Area, and Ripper paints a realistic and moving portrait of the residents and landscape thereabouts. The writing is deep and layered, multiple story and character lines developing at once, and pulled together seamlessly at the end.
The cast of characters is diverse and complex: a drag queen who runs a restaurant; a realtor with cluster headaches who is a chess genius; a professor of artificial intelligence at Stanford; a farmer whose crops are always sold out early each weekend at the Farmer’s Market. The Ripper players, too, are in themselves a cast worth exploring: the anorexic girl playing from her treatment center; an agoraphobic New Zealander; a kid from Jersey who is in a wheelchair. Each character is detailed down to minutiae, their backgrounds and impulses explored fully, and not all at once, but throughout the book.
What I most appreciated about this book has to do with its treatment of child and adolescent development. Amanda and her friends from Ripper are highly intelligent and very much alone in their respective worlds. When the police and FBI are fumbling at every turn, it’s the Ripper kids who, despite or maybe because of their issues, take the time to fully analyze the details of each case and are the ones to finally crack the code of clues. Working with teens everyday, I can attest to the idea that our kids are brilliant in ways that adults are threatened by, and while teens do need to be guided and watched so as to protect them, their creative minds are too often dismissed.
Rating: 5 Stars
I’m looking forward to listening to more audiobooks this year. And it’s good to be back on WordPress. I look forward to catching up with everyone soon!