Monthly Archives: April 2016

Boundaries – audiobook review

Boundaries Jane Retzig audiobook cover

Earlier this month, Audible released a production of Jane Retzig’s 1994 novel Boundaries. It features compelling storytelling and strong narration that will stay with you long after you finish listening.

The story unfolds in Northern England in the late 1970s and spans several years in the lives of two women, Elizabeth and Jan. Told in alternating, first person narratives, the listener is privy to how the women develop over time. At times, the listener is perhaps more aware of what is going on inside the protagonists than they themselves are. Elizabeth, a social worker in her mid-30s, takes on a younger boarder named Jan, at the behest of a colleague.  Jan is on the cusp of her 18th birthday when her parents learn of a cache of love letters between their daughter and a family friend and kick her out. She makes do with a part-time job, school (she’s a stellar student), and pints of lager at local pubs. 

Jan falls hard and fast for Elizabeth, but the older woman resists the mutual attraction. She immerses herself in university life, but continues to carry a torch for Elizabeth. Desire is always present, just beneath the surface, at times breaking to the forefront dramatically, before plunging back into the depths. They struggle with this gray territory and it has intense consequences for both women. “Ask me to stay and I will,” Jan pleads with Elizabeth towards the end, as her girlfriend waits outside to whisk her away.  It’s a heart wrenching scene, one that is far from the first shared between the two women. They won’t see each other again for many years. Can they overcome the boundaries that divide them or will they remain emotionally adrift?   

Jane Retzig crafts complex characters that I believe will resonate with listeners. Layers of uncertainty, fear, and longing are woven into social interactions and private introspection. The story gives me “took the long way home” feels; very much so for Elizabeth on her personal journey, but also for Elizabeth and Jan as a couple. Their complicated friendship points to many possible outcomes.  It provides a strong case for it never being too late to take a chance or change direction in life.   

Narrator
Jan Kramer delivers nuanced, engaging performances as Elizabeth and Jan.  I found myself entranced by her performance.  She breathes life into the women, drawing them up off the page as she gives voice to their joys and pains. When she slips back and forth between Elizabeth’s and Jan’s first person chapters, there is no confusion as to who is speaking, through whose eyes we are viewing the world. Jan Kramer’s choice of inflection, tone, and pitch suit the characters perfectly. The rest of the characters who people this world are also clearly defined.  Jan’s father leaps off the page; his anger loud and visceral as lashes out at his daughter. Elizabeth’s sister’s unhappiness haunts the pages, haunting the choices that Elizabeth makes (or doesn’t make); her voice nags and nit picks and whines. As the she takes us through the events, the changes that occur are keenly heard and profoundly felt. 

If you’re looking for an audiobook that strongly evokes a time, place, and people, consider Boundaries as a staycation travel guide. 

Boundaries
Author: Jane Retzig
Narrator: Jan Kramer – (also at)

Produced by Audible
Length: 5 hours, 59 minutes

Audiobook production date: 2016
ASIN: B01DTF2PBY

Available as an audiobook from Audible.

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Love by the Numbers – audiobook review

Love by the Numbers

 

Have you ever wished that you plug your love life into a formula and receive a print-out of your most compatible partners?  Despite protestations to readers that her recent publication, Love by the Numbers, isn’t a love manual, Dr. Nicole Hathaway is swept to the top of the bestsellers by hopeful lovelorns.  Every major book group (and yes, even the coveted Oprah endorsement) touts her title.  During the day, she leads the life of Dr. Nicole Hathaway, a woman focused on a career and conclusions drawn from facts, not opinion.  By night, she dons a black leather jack and slips into her private persona, Cole.  Cole occasionally beds women she meets at bars and other low-key social scenes.  Places where no one connects her to the university behavioral scientist she is to the rest of the world.  No one knows she has a personal life, much less that she is a lesbian.  Not even her mother, Indira, or her younger sister, Kate, both of whom live with Nicole at their shared family home.  Kallmaker highlights the various opposites that inhabit this story: from Nicole’s close family to Lily’s lack of family; worldly and people savvy to antisocial and academic; and Nicole in the closet hiding to Lily hiding from the media; to name a few examples.

As she prepares for a European promotional tour for her book, she is saddled with another unwanted assistant by her publisher.  Lillian “Lily” Linden-Smith has little left to lose as she pulls into the driveway of the author her uncle has arranged for her to accompany.  Her parents financial misdealing and the ensuing circus of a trial left her with nothing that couldn’t be packed into a car.  Despite being cleared of all culpability, one cable news host refuses to leave Lily alone.  She hopes that the more time she spends under the radar, with a new look, will increase the chances that she will be able to finally move on.

Their first meeting follows the usual song and dance.  Nicole is stiff and (for me, at least) frustratingly removed from emotion by her constant application of Spock-like logic.  This behavior on her part is understandable; she hasn’t yet accepted all of herself.  It’s easier to keep emotion at arm’s length than to acknowledge it exists.  It bothers her that Lily immediately develops an easy rapport with her mother and sister.  No matter how Nicole acts, Lily resolves to keep the job.  She needs it, for more reason than one.  I enjoyed how they challenge each other.  If Lily hadn’t such strong motivation to keep her job as Nicole’s assistant, would she have stayed on?  It’s hard to say.  Though, with a boss that constantly asks you to provide proof for every statement you make and feels as likeable as devil’s club, you would think that Lily would tell her boss to take that job and shove it.  The changes that happen between them are incremental.  There were times when they kept missing each other’s cues,

that I felt like:

However, Nicole doesn’t want to compromise their professional relationship by making a pass that she is sure would be unwelcome.  She sees Lily’s feminine dress as a hetero statement.  Such is the invisibility that femme lesbians struggle with…

 

Over the course of their weeks abroad, Lily displays her skill with languages and comfort with different cultures, as well as managing a tough itinerary.  The two women are attracted to each other, but resist acting on it.  Neither are the wiser to their shared dilemma.  However,  events conspire to bring the women close, both emotionally and intellectually.  Nicole faces the choice of casting off Cole and embracing herself completely.  Lily takes her past head on, with Nicole at her side.  It’s a satisfying journey that emerges on the other side with both women ready for whatever comes.      

The story is skillfully handled by Kathleen Roche-Zujko. crafting a distinct cast of characters.  This production provides quality, enjoyable narration through great pacing, tone, and characterization.  Roche-Zujko enriches the text by vocalizing the layers of change in identity that the characters experience.  She embodies Nicole, raising her pitch, and then lowering it slightly for when she goes out as Cole.  Indira, Nicole’s mother, immigrated to the United States from India before her daughters were born.  Her voice is accented with the countries she has lived in and with motherly interest.  Roche-Zujko does a fine job with the Indian and European accents.  Of all the characters, I found Kate, Nicole’s younger sister, annoying.  It was a combination of the woman’s whiny personality and the narrator’s talent at embodying her through nasally delivery and tone that carried it off so well.   

Love by the Numbers
Author: Karin Kallmaker
Narrator: Kathleen Roche-Zujko
Produced by Open Book Audio
Length: 10 hours, 26 minutes
Audiobook production date: July 2013 

Available as an audiobook from Audible, Audiobooks, and iTunes.  Also available as an e-audiobook at US public libraries via Overdrive.

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Julie Thompson reviews Confucius Jane by Kate Lynch

Check out my review of “Confucius Jane” by Kate Lynch on The Lesbrary!

The Lesbrary

confucius jane katie lynch cover
Warning: This novel may induce drooling! Produces a Pavlovian response to descriptions of Chinese cuisine. A platter of deliciousness is advised to have on hand while reading.

Confucius Jane is a wonderful treat. After the emotionally heavy and drama-rama of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, it was nice to slip into a world that’s comfy and welcoming, but also dotted with imperfections.

We meet our protagonists, Jane and Sutton, at a crossroads in their lives. New York City’s Chinatown and Upper East Side provide colorful and staid backdrops to the tale. There is also plenty of awkward Will-I-Won’t-I romance dancing between the two women. It’s a great mix of drama, humor, and food for thought.

Jane is the kind of woman who never needs a coat, plucks poetry from the air, and seems to have hidden wells of confidence in reserve. Under the surface, however, lies a…

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National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month (NPM)!  I found some great books last week on the free books cart outside of the Gay City library.  One of them is a collection of poems, Unstrung Heart by Robbi Sommers.  Fitting that on the first day of NPM I stumbled upon a volume of poetry.  I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the poems yet.  It’s exciting whenever I discover an author new to me!

unstrung heart poetry cover

From the back cover of Unstrung Heart:

With her brilliant palette of poetry and prose, Robbi captures the delicate play of colors and light that illuminate our deepest hopes and fears.  In intimate brushstrokes, she highlights and shades the real-life experiences that tear us apart…and make us whole.

Poem in Your Pocket Day is on Thursday, April 21!  Check out Poets.org for tons of good stuff!

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2016

Empty tissue boxes make great containers for folded poems ^^

Other ways you can spiffy up your life with poetry:

  • Write a poem on a slip of paper & make a poet-tree (I put one up at work with a bowl of paper birds & leaves, plus twine, for people to write poems on.)
  • Sprinkle it into cards you give family, friends, coworkers, etc.
  • Get cozy with a volume from your local library or bookstore.

There’s also a lot of fantastic poetry online.  A simple search, using the phrase “lgbt poetry”, yields a wealth of links.  Here is a short list to get your started:

 

 

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The Teahouse Fire – Audiobook review

the teahouse fire

 

 In 1865, nine-year-old Aurelia Caillard sails across the ocean, leaving behind her dying mother and the familiar terrain of New York City for the unknown world of Japan, in the charge of her uncle Charles, a Catholic priest on assignment to Japan.  Not long after arriving, a series of events send Aurelia fleeing into the dark night of Kyoto and into service of a renowned tea master family.  Now an elderly woman, Aurelia revisits her youth, leading the reader/listener through a time in which Japan experienced tumultuous change.  A gifted student of languages, Aurelia quickly absorbs what she hears, though she is considered simple because she is not fluent in Japanese when she joins the tea master’s household.  Tensions between cultural expectations and the changing times mount as the story reaches its climax.  Despite Aurelia’s many years in Japan, she is never truly considered much more than a foreigner, even to Yukako, the woman she serves and adores.  Another jarring event will force Aurelia to make a difficult decision about her place in the world.

The Teahouse Fire is full of linguistic flavors and communication challenges, making it a perfect audio-tale.  It’s in great hands  with narrator Barbara Caruso.  She guides listeners on a wonderful journey, back in time to the changing landscape of late 19th/early 20th century Japan and New York.  She provides Aurelia’s mother with French-accented English that avoids sounding exaggerated.  When Barbara speaks as Aurelia, I’m reminded of Audrey Hepburn’s accent and diction.  Language-wise, a really fascinating part of Aurelia’s journey involves veering away from the language she was born with to the point she finds it a stranger in her middle age.  As Aurelia disembarks from the crowded cityscape of New York, Barbara skillfully alternates between clear characterizations of the men and women who people the periphery and inner sanctum of the tea world.  The range of tone, inflection, pitch, and pace are reflected in the voices of the people as they navigate complex social interactions.  The overall effect is engaging, making it difficult to press the pause button.

Aural enrichment of the novel: Traditional Japanese music plays during pivotal scenes. The instruments don’t barge into a moment, disrupting scenes and moods; rather, they mark key moments and guide listeners through transitions.  It’s a wonderful supplement to the listening experience.

I highly recommend this listening experience, especially for listeners who enjoy transport to other shores and other times; revel in historical fiction; possess a keen interest in exploring culture and language; and savor tales that unfold over decades.

The Teahouse Fire
Author: Ellis Avery Narrator: Barbara Caruso
Produced by HighBridge Company, a division of Recorded Books
Length: 17 hours, 36 minutes

Audiobook production date: 2007

Available as an audiobook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other vendors.  Be sure to check your local library for copies, too.  I listened to it as a library eAudiobook via OverDrive.

ISBN-13: 9781598870787

Categories: audiobooks, fiction, historical fiction, lgbt | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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