Monthly Archives: December 2012

Classics Challenge – Anthem – Ayn Rand

Author: Ayn Rand

In Anthem, Rand examines a frightening future in which individuals have no name, no independence, and no values. Equality 7-2521 lives in the dark ages of the future where all decisions are made by committee, all people live in collectives, and all traces of individualism have been wiped out. Despite such a restrictive environment, the spark of individual thought and freedom still burns in him–a passion which he has been taught to call sinful. In a purely egalitarian world, Equality 7-2521 dares to stand apart from the herd–to think and choose for himself, to discover electricity, and to love the woman of his choice. Now he has been marked for death for committing the ultimate sin. In a world where the great “we” reign supreme, he has rediscovered the lost and holy word–“I.”

Why I choose this “classic”:
When I was putting together my list of books for this challenge, I knew that I wanted to include some Ayn Rand because her name had been mentioned so often in the 2012 election season. However, the sheer size of Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead scared me. But Anthem coming in at only a couple of hundred pages seemed do-able (and to test my mettle, I added fountainhead in one of my other categories). Anthem fit well into my dystopia theme – although the year is unmentioned.

This was a hard review to write – I actually finished the book back in the first week of December, but I knew that I wanted to mull over it a bit before posting my review – like I tend to do with many classics. The first thing that caught my eye/ear when I was listening (yes, this is an audiobook review) was the introduction that was written for the 50th anniversary edition by Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff is a philosopher and founder of the Ayn Rand Institute – he had some interesting things to say, not only about Rand’s philosophical leanings, but her experiences in general in the writing of the book – the fact that she completely re-wrote it prior to its release in the US in the 1940’s as she improved on her writing style. This introduction for me helped set the book and gave some foundation to it, which I think added to my thoughts on it. The most intriguing part of the intro was where Peikoff highlighted the fact that Anthem wasn’t the original name of the book, its working title (and the title I think more appropriate) was EGO…

When I heard that, my ears pricked up, because I realized while there was the ego that we refer to as he’s so egotistical, I thought about the ego theory developed by Freud. I’m not sure which one specifically she had in mind as she was writing the book because I think both could work – so that was an intriguing thought. For a book that was written back in the 1930’s/40’s – I appreciate that she didn’t write a specific year for the setting, just used an undisclosed future – because I’ve found if they set a year, and then you read that book after the setting and stuff hasn’t occurred it takes away from the intended affect.

Some of the themes in this reminded me of ones that have appeared in more recent dystopian fiction – for example, the assigning of jobs has shown up in The Giver (Lois Lowry) and the Matched Trilogy (Ally Condie) – and yet, it had its own uniqueness still. I had to chuckle at the part where he (Equality 7-2521) discovered electricity and when presented with the information, the world council was afraid that with that, the candle-makers would be put out of work…kind of reminded me of working in the federal government where at times there are remarkable amounts of redundancies and you question the need for them, but people continue to argue that they are needed…

I have a hard time figuring out who exactly I would recommend this to, because it wouldn’t be to most of my reading buddies. Maybe anyone interested in philosophy; people who are looking for thought-provoking reads…I shall have to ponder that some more. Would I read this again – I don’t think so, but it was intriguing and now I am kind of curious to see what Rand wrote in the Fountainhead…but i’m not quite ready to read it yet – maybe in the next year or so. Even with my abundance of reading, I need to review my critical thinking skills before tackling it.


Posted by on December 29, 2012 in classics challenge


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Review – Sky Burial – Xinran

sky burialSky Burial
Author: Xinran
Translator: Julia Lovell and Esther Tyldesley

It was 1994 when Xinran, a journalist and the author of The Good Women of China, received a telephone call asking her to travel four hours to meet an oddly dressed woman who had just crossed the border from Tibet into China. Xinran made the trip and met the woman, called Shu Wen, who recounted the story of her thirty-year odyssey in the vast landscape of Tibet.

Shu Wen and her husband had been married for only a few months in the 1950s when he joined the Chinese army and was sent to Tibet for the purpose of unification of the two countries. Shortly after he left she was notified that he had been killed, although no details were given. Determined to find the truth, Shu Wen joined a militia unit going to the Tibetan north, where she soon was separated from the regiment. Without supplies and knowledge of the language, she wandered, trying to find her way until, on the brink of death, she was rescued by a family of nomads under whose protection she moved from place to place with the seasons and eventually came to discover the details of her husband’s death.

The sub-title of Sky Burial is An Epic Love Story from Tibet and epic is surely the word the describe it. The book itself was tiny – only about 3.5 inches wide by 6 inches tall (so smaller than a normal MMPB), but it encompassed over thirty years in that few amount of pages. Which makes me wonder how an author who doesn’t write in English can convey in 200 pages what it takes some writers 600 pages to do…but that is a thought for another day…

This was the story of a true, unending love – not the type of love that you see in a standard romance (as much as I love them), but the type of love that many of us could probably only dream of. I don’t know about anyone else, but spending 30 years in the isolation of Tibet, trying to find out what happened to my husband of only a few months isn’t necessarily something that I had considered. The flow of the story was beautiful – I started reading it while I was stuck riding in a van to a work location (about an hours drive) and by the time we turned around to head home two hours later, I was 70% of the way done with it (and finished it on the second half of that commute).

I had to admit that the romantic in me hoped for a different outcome than what occurred – but at the same time, there was closure to the story. It was hard to tell while reading whether this was fiction or not – from the description of the book, it could have been biographical, but at the same time, there were elements that I think the author took creative license with. Either way, I highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about the nomadic people in Tibet, or about Tibetan history (around the time that China invaded it). I look forward to hearing peoples thoughts if they decide to read it. 4 stars overall.

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Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Book Review


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Audiobook Review – Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear

maisie dobbsMaisie Dobbs
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Series: #1 in the Maisie Dobbs series

Narrator: Rita Barrington
Run Time: 10 hrs
Producer: AudioGO

Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence–and the patronage of her benevolent employers–she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

I had heard about this series through several of my online reading buddies who loved it – so when it was selected as a group read, I figured that it must have been a sign (since I didn’t really have any interest in either of the other books selected). I was looking forward to a lite mystery after reading a lot of dark, completely jacked up Nordic Noir mysteries and this was a great palate cleanser.

I loved the character of Maisie – she just seemed so unique in the current fiction world as it stands right now. And the time period is one of interest to me since there aren’t a lot of books written in the time period between WW1 and WW2 (that I have found). The mystery wasn’t so much of a mystery as a plot leading to a realization – or at least, that is how i saw it – while I didn’t know all the details that were revealed at the end, I had a 95% idea of what the result was going to be. But I honestly didn’t mind – for me, the best part of the book was seeing how Maisie Dobbs became Maisie Dobbs. The biggest surprise for me in the story was what happened to the love of her life during the war (but don’t worry, I try to keep my reviews spoiler free – so as not to ruin the book). It wasn’t what I was expecting and totally made me tear up.

However, one of my complaints was that while I liked that flashbacks were used – they were a bit chunky – I think the first flashback actually lasted a significant portion of the book – so when it jumped back to the present day I was a bit surprised/confused. I think it either would have been better to have broken the flash-backs up into some smaller portions – almost like an appetizer, rather than a whole entree – or write the first part of the book as her history up until when the mystery began. I think the former probably would have worked the best.

Unfortunately, my experience with the audiobook didn’t live up to the book itself and if I had had time, I might have stopped listening and read instead. I know that I nearly considered doing that with the rest of the series – because someone told me that the other books are narrated by someone else. I just did not enjoy the narrators voice. While I found that her female voices were passable – her male ones were like torture – I think I would have preferred a recitation rather than hearing her try to do male voices. It just didn’t work for me – which is unfortunately, because I think if done properly, this could have been a great audiobook (and the second one – review to follow in the future), was much improved. This is the first time that I have listened to anything by this narrator and it likely will be the last. I don’t think that I can fairly judge her on any other narrations after my feelings towards this one.

Overall, I’d give the book a solid 4 stars, but the narration only 1.5 – however, I do think that the book overall balanced out the mess of the narration – so 3.5 overall.

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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Audiobook Review


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Review – Naughty and Nice: Three Holiday Treats

naughty and niceI would be remiss if I didn’t actually review a Christmas book on Christmas – so even though it is still a couple of hours away, voila! Now time to go back to NORAD and tracking Santa 😉

Naughty and Nice: Three Holiday Treats
Authors: Ruthie Knox, Molly O’Keefe, Stefanie Sloane

ROOM AT THE INN by Ruthie Knox
Carson Vance couldn’t wait to get out of Potter Falls, but now that he’s back to spend Christmas with his ailing father, he must face all the people he left behind . . . like Julie Long, whose heart he broke once upon a time. Now the proprietor of the local inn, Julie is a successful, seductive, independent woman—everything that Carson’s looking for. But despite several steamy encounters under the mistletoe, Julie refuses to believe in happily ever after. Now Carson must prove to Julie that he’s back for good—and that he wants her in his life for all the holidays to come.

Maddy Baumgarten and Billy Wilkins are spontaneous, in love, and prepared to elope the day after Christmas—that is, if Maddy’s family doesn’t throw a wrench in their plans. After all, Maddy’s barely out of high school and Billy’s a notorious bad boy. Maddy doesn’t care about Billy’s rough past—all she cares about is living in the here and now. But after Maddy’s mother stops speaking to her in protest, and a Christmas Eve heart-to-heart with her father leaves her with butterflies, Maddy starts to get cold feet. She loves Billy, but is she taking this big step too soon?

After being jilted by her fiancé, Jane Merriweather turns to her dear childhood friend, the Honorable Lucas Cavanaugh, for support—and unlocks the smoldering desire simmering in the man’s troubled heart. Frightened by his newfound feelings, Lucas flees to Scotland. But when the Christmas season brings them together again, one glance is all that’s needed to reignite his yearning. If Lucas can convince Jane that his intentions are as pure as the falling snow, they’ll turn a dreary December into a joyous Yuletide affair.

I always have a hard time writing reviews when it comes to anthologies, but an even harder job rating the book – do I rate it overall or do each story separately; should I average out the reviews for an overall (and yes, I know that I am probably overthinking this!) Anyways, I think for this instance, I am going to break them down into individual ratings and then average the ratings out.

The star of the anthology was definitely Ruthie Knox’s book – i have to say that she has become one of my favorite new authors that I discovered in 2012. Her romance set while biking across the US is a top 20 book for me. I loved the tension between Julie and Carson until they finally caved and gave into their feelings that had never really gone away. Carson’s relationship with his father was entertaining – you could see a hint of a matchmaker in him – a bit of deviousness. I have to admit when I saw the title of this story that I was expecting a trite play on the birth of Christ that seems to always happen in books set around Christmas – so I was pleasantly surprised to not have to deal with that. I’d give this story a solid 4 stars.

My least favorite of the three was Molly O’Keefe’s. I think mostly because it was the shortest and I just didn’t feel like I got a chance to know any of the characters. Maddy drove me nuts with her naivity and it was like I could easily see what was going to happen in the future (which was confirmed with the glimpse into the next book in the series that I saw). I honestly don’t know if I will be picking up any books by her in the future – probably only borrow from the library, or with a very strong recommendation from a friend. Overall, I’d only give this story 2 stars

The last book in the anthology fell right in the middle for me. I didn’t like it as much as Ruthie’s, but I am intrigued enough, that I added one of the authors other books to my ever expanding TBR list to read in the future. I liked that it was the only historical in the bunch – it was something different that was needed. The secondary characters/animals kind of made the story for me – especially the donkey – I just laughed as his antics. There were a few moments of stupidity between the main couple (and I wanted to Gibbs slap them for sure) – but they did kind of grow on me. I hope that they appear in other books by her in the future, because I want to know more.

The anthology in general was well-written, and aside from the one disappointing story, it was well worth the read. And even then it wasn’t like the disappointing story was badly written, it was (for me) just too short and lacking omph. Overall, averaging out the ratings, I would give it 3 stars, but making it 3.5 to weigh in the fact that the story I liked the most, was a chunk of the book (I think that is good justification!).

Merry Christmas Everyone! Hope to see you all in the New Year!

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Posted by on December 25, 2012 in Book Review


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Audiobook Review – The Ruby Ring – Diane Haegar

the ruby ringThe Ruby Ring
Author: Diane Haegar

Narrator: Elizabeth Wiley
Run Time: 13 hours and 23 minutes
Publisher: Audible, Inc.

Review copy provided by via Audiobook Jukebox

Rome, 1520. The Eternal City is in mourning. Raphael Sanzio, beloved painter and national hero, has died suddenly at the height of his fame. His body lies in state at the splendid marble Pantheon. At the nearby convent of Sant’Apollonia, a young woman comes to the Mother Superior, seeking refuge. She is Margherita Luti, a baker’s daughter from a humble neighborhood on the Tiber, now an outcast from Roman society, persecuted by powerful enemies within the Vatican. Margherita was Raphael’s beloved and appeared as the Madonna in many of his paintings. Theirs was a love for the ages. But now that Raphael is gone, the convent is her only hope of finding an honest and peaceful life.

The Mother Superior agrees to admit Margherita to their order. But first, she must give up the ruby ring she wears on her left hand, the ring she had worn in Raphael’s scandalous nude “engagement portrait.” The ring has a storied past, and it must be returned to the Church or Margherita will be cast out into the streets. Behind the quiet walls of the convent, Margherita makes her decision . . . and remembers her life with Raphael—and the love and torment—embodied in that one precious jewel.

So prior to listening to the Ruby Ring, i knew very little about Raphael – as a man and as an artist – in fact, most of my knowledge steams from what I looked up when the original Teenage Mutant ninja turtles were on when I was a kid – because the 4 of them were all famous painters. But other than that, I was never really interested in artists or reading about them. But there was something about the description of The Ruby Ring that caught my eye. Possibly the idea that he had that forbidden but ultimately love – or that he went against what society believes to have this woman in his life.

I loved the story that developed between Margherita and Raphael – there were something pure about it. Especially the fact that she didn’t just fall into his arms – she had some mettle in her, and wasn’t going to be tricked into just sleeping with him and being ruined. A lot of the themes in this, reminded me of the similar story told in Course of Honour (Lindsey Davis) which followed the love story of Emperor Vespasian and the former slave, Caenis. I laughed with the characters in parts, and there definately wasn’t a dry eye in my car as I was driving around totally at random, trying to listen to the last 10 minutes of the book because I had to know what happened. My only disappointment was that we knew what happened to Raphael, but Margherita’s story just ends without a resolution – how long did she live? did she live out her days in the convent?

I have to admit that while listening to this, I have to wonder how the Catholic Church has remained the fixture that it has over the years. Pope Leo X (Pope from 1513 to 1521) seemed pretty much a corrupt individual, second only to Cardinal Bibbizena who was integral to the suffering between Raphael and Margherita. The book also made me think about how many celebrities etc are treated not as people, but as the stuff that they produce and that as a society we often forget that. Until something happens (they do something, something is done to them) and then that perspective completely changes, for a brief period of time. Then everything is back to normal.

Whether this story is the true story of Raphael’s love for a woman, or a fictional account we will never know – there is a lot of debate over who Margherita Luti was, and what brought about Raphael’s death. The romantic in me, wants to believe this story – that he went to his grave with the passion of love for her driving him on. And I can only hope, also as a romantic, that they were together again in death when she died.

I’m conflicted on the narration – while I think that the narrator did a good job of Margherita and Raphael’s voices, many of the other ones (Pope Leo for example) left a lot to be desired. It seemed as though she was really straining to accentuate some of them, and making them sound not suited in general. I think this book would have been a good one where a female narrator would have worked predominantly, but using a male for some key parts (similar to other duel narrations like Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series).

The quality of the audiobook was good for the most part. There were a few places where it got very quiet, so I had to turn up the volume, and then it would jump back to normal – but it wasn’t enough to be distracting. More of a minor irritation. I know that I will be looking for more books produced by Audible in the future – but whether I listen to anymore by the narrator is uncertain. 3.5 stars for the book, but only 2.5 for the narration – giving it 3 stars overall.

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Posted by on December 23, 2012 in Audiobook Review


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Review – Escape to New Zealand series #1-3 – Rosalind James (@RosalindJames5)

Just This Once (#1); Just Good Friends (#2); Just For Now (#3)
Author: Rosalind James
Publisher: Self-published

So originally, I had planned on writing a separate review for each of the books in the series – but then I figured that since I managed to read all 3 of them (the 4th wasn’t available at the time), in the space of about 5 days, that maybe reviewing them together would work.

I discovered Rosalind James when her name popped up as an opportunity to host a promo blitz for the release of the 4th book in the series (Just for Fun) – but I decided that I wanted to read the other three so that I could read the 4th one (since I don’t like promo’ing books that I haven’t read/don’t plan to read).

Just This Once
Everyone needs to be rescued sometimes.

Everyone but Hannah Montgomery, that is. She just needs a vacation. Three weeks in New Zealand to sort out her life, figure out what she wants, seems just right. Oh, and to relax. She should definitely put that on the agenda. She certainly isn’t looking for a fling with a professional rugby player, no matter how attractive he is. Hannah doesn’t do casual. But maybe just this once. . .

As much as he’s shared with Hannah, Drew Callahan has kept one very big secret. And learning the truth, now that she’s back home again, has made Hannah warier than ever. Drew knows that she’s right for him. But how can he convince her to let down her guard enough to explore what they could have together?

This first book in the series started off with a kick – I have to admit that I am a sucker for the knight rescuing the damsel in distress theme – in this case, Drew was most definately a life-saving knight (even in all-black – no laughing at my bad puns please), and Hannah needed his help. I thought that Rosalind was able to do a good job with the short-fused tension between the two of them – and loved that there was a quick resolution and that the story continued to grow. The long-distance part of the story was hard for me to accept – not because it was badly written but because I couldn’t see myself in a situation like that – even though I have lots of friends who have done it (heck, my parents did it in the time before emails – egads…yes, there was such a time). I learnt quite a bit about the All Blacks while reading this – having grown up in a country that played the All Blacks on a regular basis, I loved watching them do the Haka before the games.

Just Good Friends
just good friends
Some bets were made to be lost.

Kate Lamonica isn’t Koti James’s type. Too small. Too dark. And heaps too much work. So it’s an easy bet that he can be her friend for six weeks without making a move on her, no matter what his mates would have said.

Kate can’t believe she’s made the bet at all. New Zealand had seemed like the perfect escape from the stalker who’d threatened first her peace of mind, and then her life. She certainly doesn’t need any more trouble. Why on earth has she agreed to spend time with a Maori rugby player who’s far too handsome and charming for his own good–and knows it?

But there’s more than one game Koti’s good at playing…

Ahhh, the playboy who falls for a woman that sees past the brash bravado. I think of the 3 books that I read in the series, Kate is my favorite female lead. There is just something ballsy about her (but don’t worry, I won’t say what). She reminds me the most of me, if I was going to try and see aspects of myself in characters (which I did in weird ways sometimes). Unfortunately, I haven’t found my Koti yet (or my Drew or Finn, for a matter of fact). But at the same time, I can’t say that Koti was my favorite guy out of the three – I think that award might have to go to Finn in #3 (see below). I just had a hard time connecting with him as a character – of all the characters in the series so far, I think he was one of the weakest ones developed. Their love story was cute however.

Just For Now
just for nowDescription:
There’s no place like home . . .

For teacher Jenna McKnight, nothing spells “heartbreak” like finding her husband with somebody else–in her bed. It’s clearly time to reinvent herself. A new body, a new city, and a new job later, she’s done just that. The beautiful Auckland villa isn’t really her home, though. Finn Douglas and his kids aren’t really her family, however much she wishes they were. And playing house can be a dangerous game.

Rugby star Finn Douglas is just looking for a temporary nanny and housekeeper. Not a girlfriend, and definitely not a wife. He can’t resist Jenna’s cooking, it’s true. Who knew he’d have so much trouble resisting her? He wants to do what’s right for his kids. But waiting is so hard . . .

Ok, I am going to be extremely biased and say that Finn is probably my favorite male character so far in the series. There was just something strong about him, yet sweet at the same time. He kind of reminds me of the guy that The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) plays in the Game Plan. Large gruff exterior, but a heart of gold on the inside. I especially loved his interaction with his kids.

One thing that I didn’t touch on in the previous reviews was the reoccurring characters – I liked how Kate and Hannah both made continued appearances in the books. But even better was the one All Black (although I am completely blanking on his name ahhh!!!!) and his wife who appeared in all 3 of the books, and were like the stability couple (for lack of a better word).

But enough of my ramblings – in case you can’t tell, I enjoyed all three of books, and would rate them as 3.5-4 overall, but going to round up to 4. I can’t wait to read the 4th book now that it has been released. Oh and one more thing – I have to go squee over the covers – they are brilliant – some of the best covers I have seen on self-pub’d work – these covers are part of the reason why I made the decision to read the books – because I could tell from looking at them, that there was a level of professionalism that I don’t always see.

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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Book Review


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Audiobook Review – Hostage – Elie Wiesel

Author: Elie Wiesel
Translator: Catherine Temerson

Narrator: Mark Bramhall
Run Time: 6 hrs 51 minutes
Publisher: Random House Audio

It’s 1975, and Shaltiel Feigenberg—professional storyteller, writer and beloved husband—has been taken hostage: abducted from his home in Brooklyn, blindfolded and tied to a chair in a dark basement. His captors, an Arab and an Italian, don’t explain why the innocent Shaltiel has been chosen, just that his life will be bartered for the freedom of three Palestinian prisoners. As his days of waiting commence, Shaltiel resorts to what he does best, telling stories—to himself and to the men who hold his fate in their hands.

It has been years since I’d read/listened to anything by Elie Wiesel – I remember reading Night in school – but didn’t realize that it was the first book in a trilogy. I also knew that he had written other stuff, but for some reason never actually read any of it – I’m not sure why. So when a reading challenge task arose to read a book about a renaissance author (in this instance, defined as one who is know for their writing as well as something else), I decided to finally read something else by him. Hostage is his newest book and I found that I really enjoyed it.

It had the same writing style that I vaguely remember from Night, that just sucks you in. Since I was listening, I couldn’t see for sure, but the appearance was that there were no chapters to disrupt the flow of the story. Although, this lack of chapters occasionally made it hard for me to figure out where I could safely stop when I finished my commute (I even sat in the car for a few minutes waiting one day), but at the same time, it was also easy to pick the narration back up at the end of the day/the next morning.

When I read the description and saw stories – I was expecting made up stories with morals, kind of what you would expect from a storyteller – but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the “stories” were actually reflections on his life. I also thought that Elie did a good job of walking the line between preaching about the establishment of Israel as a recognized country and the plight of the Palestinians – he was even able to work real-life events into the book (the killing of the Israeli athletes at the Olympics etc).

Mark Bramhall is another new to me narrator (I seem to have been doing a good job on exploring the wonderful world of them this year) and i think that he was perfect for the voice. It was how I would imagine a guy being held hostage, in fear for his life would talk – not too powerful, but at the same time, not too timid. Since the only other 2 people to really talk in the book were the hostage takers (aka, the Italian and the Palestinian), he didn’t have to exhibit a wide range of voices. But I would definitely be interested in checking out some more of his narrations in the future.

This was a hard book for me to rate, because it was so thought-provoking about the role of nations and nation-building; but at the same time, the struggles of the individuals who aren’t always considered or remembered. But I’d give it 4 stars overall.

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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Audiobook Review


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