This was, from start to finish, one of the most engaging audio books I've listened to. Mayer covers the Bush administration from the eve of 9/11 until the end of its tenure with a focus on its manipulation of the law for political ends, especially as it related to executive power and the right to redefine how captured enemy combatants are treated. Far from being a critique of President Bush himself, she underlines his willingness to acquiesce to Cheney and his legal counsel, David Addington, in all matters regarding the treatment of prisoners and the methods by which intelligence was being extracted from them. It is a damning indictment of the unelected bureaucrats who cared more for their own peculiar and idiosyncratic dogmas than for the constitution of the United States, the separation of powers, or the will of the American people.
My only caution is - don't listen to it while you're trying to fall asleep; it will make you so angry, you won't get any.
Someone, I don't know who it was, said that the difference between a piece of genre fiction and a literary novel is that, in literary novels, the author gives you far more detail than you need as a reader. What you make of that excess of detail then determines whether you are a literary reader or not.
There are truly great things about this book. Although the meta-narrative voice stays true, its five parts each offer a very different narrative style. I'm not going to bother with a synopsis, because other reviewers have done this, but it moves from quirky, cosy satire to grim documentary realism to modern historical fiction.
For me, it was mostly a story about death and the humorous, tragic, poignant or obsessive strategies we use to put it off. We're all treading water. Whether one distracts oneself focused on the ludicrously esoteric (the part about the critics), or by living through one's child (The Part about Amalfitano), or by allowing oneself to be carried up on the chaos of events (The Part about Fate), or by hovering close to the edge of death itself and living within its shadow (The Part about the Crimes), or by ccupying oneself with the act of narration (The Part about Archimboldi), I think Bolaño wrote a book about the ways people put off death. Which makes sense, since he was dying while he wrote it. "Thanatos," says Bolaño in the last part of the book, "is the greatest tourist on earth."
There are a lot of sparkling moments of truth in this novel. The one I feel I will carry away with me most durably is that, in our relationship with our societies, there is a strange tipping point - a moment triggered by a collision of dire circumstances - at which, individually, alterity stops being a delight, an adventure, a richness of life's tapestry, and seems to become a mortal threat to the existence of the self. Whether it is the other as Foreigner, or as a member of another class, or race, or gender, the human psyche can flip from appreciation to blind terror in a very short space of time. And beyond that point, we are a murderous, inhuman bunch.
Perhaps one of the greatest disappointments in the novel comes about because, by the end of his life, it is clear that Bolaño acquired a hell of a lot of wisdom, and yet he leaves no real place for love. I think he had taken the measure of most things, but not that. Perhaps because, despite his honest and insightful grasp of many things, he chose, like so many modern literary writers, to let that subject embarrass him into silence. In this way, it has the same, familiar asymmetry, you see in a lot of contemporary literature. Bolaño went to his grave successfully innocent of sentimentality, which, in my view, makes the novel a little less courageous than it could have been.
I'm not a literary reader. And the single star I did not give this book probably reflects my insufficiency as reader more than it does Bolaño's ability as a writer. I found his meta narrative style of over-elaboration grating and unfruitful. And I found his rejection of sentimentality predictably post-modern.
That being said, I don't regret the time I spent reading this book at all. It is a rich, harrowing journey, well worth the effort.
Regarding the narration, it was very good overall. However, I found the choice of Scott Brick as narrator for "The part about the Crimes" was a poor one. This part focuses on the hundreds of murders of young women in Santa Teresa (a thinly veiled docu-drama narrative of the serial killings in Ciudad Juarez). He really loads emotion into his voice, and I felt this was particularly antithetical to the purpose of the almost list-like account of the murders. I'm pretty convinced the dryness of the style of this portion of the novel was meant to explore the phenomenon of the 'normalization' of violence. I found Brick's reading really betrayed the author's efforts to do this.
I feel I have to title my review this way because although I'm very glad this event happened, and I have boundless admiration for the people who participated in the raid, including the author, I can't honestly say it was a great book.
To be fair to 'Mark Owen', his ghostwriter, Kevin Maurer, does bear some responsibility for taking a tired, pseudo military thriller approach to the story. The first half of the book is a very mediocre, dramatized 'montage' approach to what it takes to be a Navy Seal and rise up through the ranks to do the type of special operations detailed in the book. As heart-pounding action-thrillers go, it's lacking in the kind of tangible, humanizing elements that elevate good stories of this kind out of the G.I. Joe stereotype.
The second half of the book deals with the raid itself in a very dry, accurate and factual way. It paints a clear picture of the anti-climactic demise of Osama Bin Laden. It probably would have taken a ghost writer with superior skills to Maurer's to forge the rising anticipation, the fear, the frustrations into a more gripping read/listen.
I need to make it clear that I'm not dissing the Navy Seal. I'm just saying a better ghost writer might have done more to bring his story to life.
Many critics have questioned this author's motives for writing the book, and I think the end of the story really exposes them. He's clearly not in it for the money - since most of the profits from this book are going to veteran's charities. I think he's a man who is bitter about the 'spin' the media and the administration gave the killing of Bin Laden, because having been an eye-witness to it, he feels the factual truth was good enough and didn't require embellishment.
But he's also a man, like many in front line positions, who holds tremendous animosity towards anyone with a say in military policy and decision-making who isn't sitting beside him in combat gear, holding a firearm. I think most people who experience war on the front lines feel this way. But it sours the end of the book rather badly. Because the author is clearly not a fan of Obama, and says so often and, at times, in disparaging ways.
This book is a) a first hand account of the raid, b) a portrait of what these admirable and brave people go through to serve their country and c) a concerted effort on the part of the author to deny the present administration any share in the glory of Bin Laden's final demise.
(Note to future administrations: If you say you're going to have a beer with the guys your pinning medals on, you'd better keep your promise. Otherwise they end up bitter and write books like this one.)
And although I thoroughly commiserate with the author's 'walk a mile in my shoes' feelings, I also think it does damage to the nobility of an account of what was a brave, courageous and well-implemented military action. I wouldn't want to walk in Owen's shoes, nor would I want to be responsible for making decisions about the fate of a whole country, its security, its economy and its place as superpower.
I think it may be a central flaw in attempting to write a first person account of this sort of experience too close to the actual event, without the distance of some time and consideration to put the events in proportion. There have been some outstanding first-person accounts of war, but rarely are they written so soon after the event.
The narration by Holter Graham was perfect for the material.
I want to be fair about this review, because I only managed to get through the first hour or two. Then I had to stop.
I found the narrator unbearable. But to be fair, she's reading a first person POV narrative of an equally unbearable character. Perhaps I found it harder because I'm not American, and I'm not used to certain very strong southern accents. Maybe it was just because I found the protagonist completely alienating: she's a very stupid, self-obsessed and shallow young girl.
The meat of the horror might have been great, but I couldn't make it that far. It's rare that I give up on an audiobook.
My strong recommendation is that you have a listen to the sample before you purchase this, and if the narrator doesn't bother you, you might give it a try.
This was a lovely, fast-paced technothriller in the tradition of Michael Crichton. The science was really fascinating and it had all the twists, turns and deceptions you'd expect from a thriller of this sort.
The only reason I didn't give it a full five stars is because I found the main female character a little unevenly written. She seems to swing a lot between cowardly scientist and super-heroine, depending on what the plot demands at the moment.
Nonetheless, it was a good engaging read. Had me hooked and listening pretty obsessively all the way through.
The narration was pretty good. Not perfect, but definitely listenable and did not take away from my enjoyment.
I found The Last Policeman a very engaging listen. It's not your everyday story of the approaching apocalypse, but it is a gripping and realistic one told through a single and rather poignant voice.
Detective Hank Palace leads us through a seemingly pointless murder investigation. After all, who cares how someone died when the world is about to end? But in the process of discovering the truth behind the sad end of mathematically gifted insurance adjuster, we are faced with the question of who we are, and what our life is worth when there is no legacy to leave behind and no one to leave it behind to.
I wish I could have given this a 4.5, because it really is a wonderful novel. But there were some places where the story lagged a little. Nonetheless, don't let it put you off. Great tale.
I felt like this was two novels rather messily stitched together. It opens with an interesting thriller scenario at sea, with Jane Harper undercover on an anti-whaling ship. The cast of activist characters were craftily drawn and quite intriguing.
After a shipwreck, the survivors are faced with zombie vikings. From this point on, the plotting, the characterization and the writing in general takes a dramatic dive.
Some readers may find Jane Harper endearing. I can't say I every really warmed to her or found her credible. Between her inability to decide whether she wants to get laid, and her constant fat jokes, the only thing I really found admirable about her was her throwing arm.
It's a fast, light read and the mythology of the horror is quite compelling and fresh. I think I would have really enjoyed a setting that could have explored that more fully and meaningfully. As it is, it felt formulaic.
If you are interested in a really chilling piece of horror in the arctic circle, I would highly recommend Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver http://www.audible.com/pd?asin=B00480EF4U . Not as much of a light horror romp, but much meatier.
I must say I loved the first 3 hours of this novel. I thought the threat of an oxygenless world was fresh and the whole earlier part of the story was tense, fast-paced and wickedly good.
I didn't, however, feel that the later half of the story held up so well. I really couldn't suspend my disbelief when it came to the 'nazi' ideology and how wide it had spread, or the fact that the POTUS decides to depend on four people to save the world.
From that point on, I still found it an enjoyable thriller, but I can't say I was genuinely engaged in the story anymore.
Of all the S.J. Bolton books I've read/listened to, this is by far my favourite. It's a departure from her earlier novels, set in rural parts of the UK. This one is set in gritty London and the main character is commensurately gritty herself.
The pacing is almost perfect. Like all of Bolton's other novels, the construction of the central mystery is masterful. It sucks you in and keeps you on your toes all the way through. It has a magnificent twist in the tale that will leave you reeling, and absolutely satisfied.
Detective Constable Lacey Flint is one of those rare characters you can really get your teeth into. She's flawed as hell and that only makes her more appealing to the reader. The supporting characters are also equally complex and compelling.
My one warning in this book is that it is by no means a cosy murder mystery. Some of the violence is very graphic, and certain readers might find this disturbing. That being said, I didn't find the violence to be gratuitous at all. In fact, it faithfully serves the plot.
The narration is perfect - just perfect for this story.
I've been on a bit of an SJ Bolton binge.
Like all her other novels, this one is very well plotted. No matter how you feel about her main characters, it's almost impossible to fault Bolton for her mystery construction. This is by far her greatest strength and Sacrifice is no exception.
Bolton is also a creator of very interesting and rather complex heroines. You either love them or hate them, but you can't fault her for making them superficial. To one extent or another, I find they all end up doing some pretty stupid, unaccountable things in service of the plot, which tends to erode the believability of them as characters.
This also happens in Sacrifice to a greater extent than it does in some of her other novels. And if you are one of those people who doesn't like 'horsey' women, then this novel might drive you crazy.
That being said, it was a compelling listen and the central mystery is fresh and very creepy. So, despite a few flaws, it was very satisfying.
I really do like sci-fi, and I was intrigued by the premise of the novel, but it read more like a non-sci-fi military action thriller to me.
I found the long and very detailed passages of space combat were far more 'Top Gun' than I'm interested in.
For people who like novels with a lot of military space action, I think this book may really hit the spot.
It just wasn't for me. That being said, the narration is very good and engaging.
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