San Francisco, CA | Member Since 2011
"Team of Rivals" surprised me in so many ways. I was surprised by how much I didn't know about Abraham Lincoln. I was surprised by how beautifully told this story is. And I was surprised by how moved I was by a story that I, essentially, already knew.
Strange to say, but by the time Abraham Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford's Theater, I had almost willed myself into thinking Lincoln was a character who could figure out the trap, and avoid it somehow. I really didn't want him to die.
Narrator Suzanne Toren breathes life into the story, and even into the nearly all-male cast of characters. I could listen to her talk all day, and she made some of the dull spots easier to get through.
Readers/Listeners will be surprised at how well they'll come to know Lincoln's cabinet and family, and how heartbreaking it is to consider the untimely deaths of three of his four children, not to mention the tragic histories that haunted both Salmon P. Chase and Edwin M. Stanton.
I listened to this shortly after listening to "1861: The Civil War Awakening" (Adam Goodheart) which makes a fascinating companion piece to "Rivals" for its more colorful descriptions of the times, and its different perspective on figures such as Gustavus Fox.
"Rivals" is destined to go down as one of the definitive accounts of Lincoln's life, and any reader with even the most fleeting interesting in the 16th president would do well to delve into it.
Patton Oswalt has been one of my favorite comedians for a long time, and I'm probably exactly the target audience he had in mind while writing this book (nerdy, literate, and into R.E.M.), so yeah it won me over. But clocking in 3 hrs, 31 min, this felt more like an extended comedy album than a book, especially since Patton narrates it.
Patton is really on top of his game when he's on the biographical stuff. All the material about growing up in his hometown is brilliant. He knows what matters, and why it's poignant, and he brings it home in a way that's just enormously disarming and even touching. He lost me a little bit on some of the comedy bits he throws between the chapters, but I sort of count those as bonus material anyway, so it didn't bother me much. Speaking of bonus material, getting Michael Stipe to read his own lyrics was a nice little touch for the audio book.
The book is a series of essays that sort of kind of all connect together, and I wish there was more to it. By the time it ends it feels like it was just getting started, so it would be great if there was about twice as much material.
I bought this, as I'm sure many will, just to listen to Tim Robbins read it. As a longtime fan of "The Great Gatsby," I'm very familiar with the book, and thought this would make for a fun way to revisit the material.
Robbins is wholly at home in the role of Nick Carraway, and he's wonderful when he's reading for Tom Buchanan, but I had a hard time with his characterizations of any of the women, and, most importantly, with Gatsby himself. Robbins slips into a lazy sort of disconnected voice for Gatsby, as if he's constantly existing on another plane, never fully present. While that's arguably true to the character's mindset, it comes off as distracting and contrived. His Daisy and Jordan are worse, every word bent into an equally lazy lilt that made me want to fast forward every time I heard it.
The saving grace is the story itself of course. And Robbins' narration does help bring to life some of the descriptions of Gatsby's parties, and Nick's outsider perception of the entire ordeal. I would never warn anyone away from this book, but you might go with a different narrator.
Before I listened to "Gone Girl," I read several reviews that carefully tiptoed around any potential spoilers, and I also read several user reviews complaining they "figured out" the book within the first couple of chapters. (I kind of chalk this latter up to the backlash that inevitably accompanies such a massively hyped book.)
Well even if you weren't as fortunate as me and the book has been partially spoiled for you, or even if you find you've got a good feel for what's going to happen shortly after starting "Gone Girl," you're still in for a very fun ride. The story is so tightly constructed, and the characters so fully realized that only the most jaded reader/listener would dismiss Gillian Flynn's latest as nothing but hype.
The book is about the disappearance of a woman, and on one hand it's a book about her relationship with her husband, and on the other it's sort of a mystery that hits all those police procedural beats we know so well from "Law & Order." It's told from the perspective of the husband starting the day of her disappearance, and from the wife (through her diary) starting seven years ago, when they first met. These interlocking narratives are so incredibly well-constructed it's a master class in (if nothing else) continuity.
The voice acting fully matches the tone of the book, but as I've seen noted elsewhere, Julia Whelan (as Amy) is excellent where Kirby Heyborne (as Nick) is just really good.
This is a long one, but stick with it. It's worth it.
I adore Sarah Vowell, but this audiobook could have used less A-list talent, and more details. While it sounds awesome to have Fred Armisen, Edward Norton, and Catherine Keener all voicing characters in an audiobook, it's actually jarring.
Vowell tends to favor brief quotes and orphan quotes in her work (that's when part of the sentence is prose, and another part is a quote). That means you often find four or five word quotes in her work that in an audiobook are spoken by a different voice actor. So you go Vowell for half the sentence, John Slattery for five words, then Vowell again. It takes me out of the experience.
"Unfamiliar Fishes" is an awesome starting point for Hawaiian history, but Vowell is arguably too judicious here with the economy of her words and story. We learn about King Kamehameha and his children, but I found myself reading their Wikipedia entries just so I could fully follow along.
Where "Assassination Vacation" felt like it had just the right mix of quick pace, personal detail, and actual history, "Fishes" moves so fast I had a hard time keeping track of the characters, each of which pops up as a brand new voice from Vowell's cadre of famous fans.
Before reading this book I had no inkling Theodore Roosevelt's pre-presidential life would be so interesting or so entertaining!
From tracking down criminals in the old west to rooting out corruption in the NYPD to leading the charge at the Battle of San Juan Hill, Roosevelt's life was literally full of adventure. Yes, this romantic view of the 26th president arguably threatens to gloss over his bullying and what some might even call warmongering, but Edmund Morris applies an even hand to the material that allows the reader to draw his/her own conclusions about Roosevelt the man. (This evenhandedness becomes more evident and more important in the second of his three Roosevelt biographies, "Theodore Rex.")
I've listened to all the "Game of Thrones" books, and if you enjoyed the pace and intrigue of those thick tomes, then you'll probably also be able to lose yourself in this brilliantly crafted biography. This is top-shelf, A-list stuff, and Morris' place as one of our greatest historical writers has rightly been cemented since he published "Rise" in 1979.
The vocal performance in this book is equally engaging. I would place Mark Deakins' work here on the same level as Roy Dotrice's narrative mastery in the "Game of Thrones" series. Deakins' ability to slip into Roosevelt's clipped cadence adds a whole other level to the book.
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