Audiobook review: Stardust Summer by Lauren Clark

  • stardust summer (audio - jukeboxaudio)Title:  Stardust Summer
  • Author:  Lauren Clark
  • Narrator:  Erin Mallon
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  2013 – Camellia Press
  • Source:  Publisher/Audio Jukebox

Synopsis:  Single mom Grace Mason doesn’t believe in miracles, magic, or love at first sight. She likes the quiet life, complete with her eight-year-old son, their tiny house, and her teaching job. For Grace, happiness means that nothing much ever changes in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 

Then, one thousand miles away, tragedy strikes. A massive heart attack leaves Grace’s estranged father comatose in an Upstate New York hospital. While a team of doctors fight to keep Henry Mason alive, Grace and Evan rush to his bedside to say their final goodbyes. 

Henry’s passing brings little closure for Grace, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to her new surroundings. What begins as a short trip results in an entire summer spent with Henry’s second wife, Kathleen, and her next-door neighbor, Ryan Gordon, the town doctor. When a series of unlikely events lead to Evan’s disappearance, Grace must face her worst fears to find her son and bring him back home. 

Stardust Summer explores the complexities of forgiveness, what it means to be a family, and the fabulous possibility of falling in love again.  (publisher)

My take:  Grace has no intention of going to see her father and step-mother when she receives a formal invitation to a library function at the college where her father works. They’ve been estranged for a long time and she’s just fine with her quiet life in Mississippi. Her plans change when her father has a heart attack. She and her son Evan hurry to New York hoping to arrive before it’s too late. Their plan is to stay for a week or so but their visit becomes much longer for various reasons. In that time Grace will discover information about her past that could change the way she views her future. Will she be able to change her feelings with the new information? And is she willing to make a fresh start?

Dr. Ryan Gordon, Grace’s stepmother’s neighbor and friend, is at a place in his life where he finally understands the need for a life outside his practice. He shares Grace’s grief and would like to be more than a friend to her. He knows what it’s like to lose someone important so he understands, on some level, what Grace is going through. He also appreciates what is really important in life – family and good friends. Will Grace let him in and take a chance on love?

I liked this book but had to wonder about how Kathleen navigated her grief. I paused at some of the things she did in the week following her husband’s funeral. That could be just me, though. At any rate, I found Grace and Ryan’s story interesting. Lauren Clark’s novel is one I’d recommend to fans of contemporary fiction. I loved the setting – and the cover.

Narrator: I enjoyed Erin Mallon’s narration. From older Kathleen to younger Grace and Ryan to eight-year-old Evan, I thought she voiced the characters perfectly and would definitely listen to more of her performances.

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Love Anthony by Lisa Genova (audiobook)

Title:  Love Anthony

Author:  Lisa Genova

Narrator:  Debra Messing

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Published:  September 2012 – Simon & Schuster Audio

8 cds – approximately 9 hours

Synopsis:  Olivia Donatelli’s dream of a “normal” life shattered when her son, anthony, was diagnosed with autism at age three. Understanding the world from his perspective felt bewildering, nearly impossible. He didn’t speak. He hated to be touched. He almost never made eye contact. And just as Olivia was starting to realize that happiness and autism could coexist, Anthony died.

Now she’s alone in a cottage on Nantucket, separated from her husband, desperate to understand the meaning of her son’s short life, when a chance encounter with another woman facing her own loss brings Anthony alive again for Olivia in a most unexpected way.

Beth Ellis’s entire life changed with a simple note: “I’m sleeping with Jimmy.” Fourteen years of marriage. Three beautiful daughters. She had never felt so alone. Heartbroken, she finds the pieces of the vivacious, creative person she used to be packed away in a box in her attic. For the first time in years, she uncaps her pen, takes a deep breath, and begins to write. The young but exuberant voice that emerges onto the page is a balm to the turmoil within her, a new beginning, and an astonishing bridge back to herself.

In a piercing story about motherhood, autism, and love, New York Times bestselling author Lisa Genova offers us two unforgettable women on the verge of change and the irrepressible young boy whose unique wisdom helps them both find the courage to move on.

My take:  My first experience with Lisa Genova’s books was Still Alice. Genova took the reader into the life of a woman diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In Love Anthony the main character is Olivia whose son (on the autism spectrum) has passed away. She feels incredible guilt for various reasons – not the least of which is how her son died.

Love Anthony is also about another woman – Beth. Her life has done a 180 and she’s working through how to go forward. Genova connects the two woman in an intriguing way. They help each other discover that unconditional love is not a one way street and forgiveness may be part of healing.

I liked how Genova’s story wrapped up – maybe not with a beautiful bow but tied up nicely just the same. I appreciated the author’s comments about autism at the end of the book. Recommended.

Debra Messing’s performance was good. Her voice was easy to listen to and I thought she voiced the characters adequately.

Disclosure:  I received a review copy of the audiobook from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox. I was not compensated for my review.

Island Apart by Steven Raichlen

Title:  Island Apart

Author:  Steven Raichlen

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – Forge Books

Audiobook: narrated by Susan Boyce – AudioGO

6 CDs – 6hrs 38min

Synopsis:  Claire Doheney, recovering from a serious illness, agrees to house-sit in an oceanfront mansion on Chappaquiddick island in Martha’s Vineyard. The New York book editor hopes to find solace, strength, and sufficient calm to finish her biography of the iconoclastic psychotherapist, Wilhelm Reich.

The last thing she expects to find is love.  

Then she meets a mysterious man the locals call the Hermit. No one knows his real name or where he lives. To their mutual surprise, Claire and the stranger discover that they share a passion for cooking that soon sparks something more.

But Claire’s new friend has a terrible secret that threatens to drive them apart forever. The clock is ticking. Can Claire let love into her life once more before it’s too late?

My take:  Island Apart is what I like to call an addictive read (or in my case, listen). I listened to the audiobook in one day.  It’s the story of two lost souls. One, the hermit, has isolated himself after going through a horrific personal event. The other, Claire, is going through cancer treatment and a divorce from the man who left the day she told him of her diagnosis. She’s staying at the home of dear friends on Chappaquiddick. When their paths cross the hermit and Claire begin an unlikely friendship. Very quickly they find a shared love of food and cooking. They leave gifts of food for each other before they start to see each other in person. A bond of mutual respect is formed and soon grows to acceptance and love even after an obstacle or two appear.

This novel had an almost fairytale-like quality. The theme that no man is an island runs throughout. It’s filled with minor characters and story lines that I’m not certain were absolutely necessary but I also don’t feel they took away from the main story.

All-in-all, I enjoyed spending a day listening to Island Apart. Warning: There are a lot of food descriptions so don’t be surprised if you feel hungry while reading.

Susan Boyce’s narration is straight-forward – meaning, in my opinion, she read the book as opposed to performed it. In this case that approach worked for me. I didn’t need the various characters distinctly voiced. I just wanted to see where the story was going – and she made that happen.

Goodreads rating

Disclosure:  I received an audiobook review copy from AudioGO via Audiobook Jukebox. I was not compensated for my review.

Secrets of the Lost Summer by Carla Neggers (audio)

Title:  Secrets of the Lost Summer

Author:  Carla Neggers

Narrator:  Susan Boyce

Genre:  Romance

Published:  2012 – AudioGO

(9 cds – 10 hrs. 13 min.)

Synopsis: A wave of hope carries Olivia Frost back to her small New England hometown nestled in the beautiful Swift River Valley. She’s transforming a historic home into an idyllic getaway. Picturesque and perfect, if only the absentee owner will fix up the eyesore next door. . .

Dylan McCaffrey’s ramshackle house is an inheritance he never counted on. It also holds the key to a generations-old lost treasure he can’t resist. . .any more than he can resist his new neighbor. Against this breathtaking landscape, Dylan and Olivia pursue long-buried secrets and discover a mystery wrapped in a love story. . . past and present.

My take:  Secrets of the Lost Summer is the first book by Carla Neggers that I’ve read and I won’t hesitate to pick up another. I like her style. She fleshed out her characters in a rather minimalist way that worked for me. I understood them without having to learn every little detail. I like that.

I also liked the mystery and love story that connects the past to the present. It made me smile while listening. Speaking of listening, Susan Boyce’s narration is rather even (some might say flat) – to the point that in the beginning my mind wandered a bit. Once I was used to listening to her voice, that issue cleared up. I enjoyed her the most when she voiced the older women characters. But overall she did a fine job.

The theme that stood out most for me is one of people finding the courage to reach for their dreams – no matter how small or large the dream might be. Sometimes it’s just finding the courage to do what’s right when the possibility of pursuing a dream is impossible.

Recommended to fans of the author and readers who enjoy a quiet mystery/love story.

Source: AudioGO; Audiobook Jukebox

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski

Title:  Objects of My Affection

Author:  Jill Smolinski

Narrator:  Xe Sands

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  2012 – Blackstone Audio (9cds – 10.5 hours)

My take:  Organizer Lucy Bloom had to sell her house and most of her possessions in order to pay for her son’s stay at a drug rehab facility. She also broke up with her boyfriend over her son’s behavior. So she’s without a home, son and a relationship – pretty much everything is gone. Her new job is a challenge. She is to organize and clean out a famous artist’s (Marva Meier Rios) home which is filled to the brim with stuff.

Lucy and Marva begin to see segments of their lives in a different way as they help each other figure out how to let go. I was surprised by how much I liked this novel. At times it was deceptively light – I laughed several times – but if you ever saw one of Oprah’s hoarders shows you know there are some deep issues there. Sure the lessons seem obvious but it’s much more than that. These characters are complex and maybe a bit like people we all know. I also enjoyed the supporting characters – Marva’s son Will and Lucy’s ex-boyfriend Daniel to name two.

There are small twists and turns that had me listening way past the point where I’d planned to stop. I kept walking, cleaning, driving… you get the picture. I was pulling for Lucy and Marva right through to the end. I love it when that happens.

There are those things you keep, things you let go of, and it’s often not easy to know the difference.

from Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski

Xe Sands did a fine job voicing Jill Smolinski’s characters – both male and female. It was so easy to listen to her – again with the walking, cleaning, driving 🙂 She conveyed the emotions of the characters perfectly. This is the first time I’ve listened to Sands read a book and in the future there’ll be no hesitation to grab audiobooks with her name listed as narrator.

I recommend this audiobook to fans of Fiction – women’s or otherwise, Jill Smolinski, and Xe Sands.

Source:  Blackstone Audio; Audio Jukebox

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.