No one can say that J.K. Rowling cannot conjure up a good story, and the Casual Vacancy is most certainly a good story. The plot is every bit as intricate and twisted as any of the Harry Potter books, the characters are fully drawn and believable, and the action keeps you in suspense, waiting for the multiple threads of narrative that Rowling lays out to align and spontaneously combust. You can feel that explosion coming early in the book, as layer after layer of the peaceful veneer of small-town life in the English countryside is peeled away to reveal the simmering cauldron of anxieties, neuroses, overblown egos, class and racial tensions, and suppressed rage that lies beneath.
This is most definitely a novel for adults, with sex, drug abuse, profanity, rape, suicide, and difficult adult situations replacing the wands, brooms, creatures, and spells of the Potter series, but I suspect that there is much here for the 18 to 20-somethings who grew up on Potter to dig into. Much of the action revolves around and is driven by several teenagers coming to terms with adult feelings and adult responsibilities while struggling to deal with adults in their lives who are at their mildest somewhat whacky and at their worst very dangerous. Guess who turns out to be the heroes?
This was an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable listen, made all the more so by the skillful and sensitive narration of Tom Hollander.
I respect Ian McEwan tremendously, and Atonement and Saturday are among my favorite books of all time. Amsterdam, while providing an engaging story and finely-drawn characters, left me a little cold. While I empathized with Clive's struggles to find meaning in his work and to resolve his conflict between self-absorption and separation, and found Molly to be the kind of flame that could draw moths from every corner, the plot seemed to be stretched a bit thin at times.
That said, I think that most of the action is interior, and McEwan delivers enough psychological insight to make this a compelling, if less than memorable, listen.
A fun romp through a not-so-distant future in which a thinly-disguised Google goes off the Ruby-On-Rails. Can we code "Do No Evil" into our software? Will artificial intelligence save us or imprison us?
Which human impulse is stronger - hope or fear?
Perhaps this book resonates a little more deeply with those of us in the generation that learned to duck and cover in school, but I found this book to be tremendously satisfying. If the bombs had dropped, this is how I would have wanted it to be. Death and destruction are inevitable, but deliverance is won inch by inch through human endeavor, courage, ingenuity, and compassion.
Too bad. Maybe because I had never before read the Graham Greene classic, maybe because a high-profile narrator creates a high level of expectation, I felt somewhat let down. It's hard to sympathize with a protagonist as self-absorbed as Bendricks, even when the character is delivered by such a skilled interpreter.
Nobody wins in this book. Maybe that's the real world to many readers, but not me.
Graham Greene = depressing.
Big fan of Simon Vance, and enjoyed earlier Gabriel Allon stories, so I had to give this one a listen. While it's somewhat formulaic in its plot, the characters in this story are well-drawn, the politics are sufficiently nuanced, and the geographic detail realistic enough to allow even a cynic like me to suspend belief and just get caught up in the adventure and intrigue.
Hard to imagine this book in print after experiencing the finely tuned and intuitive narration of Edoardo Ballerini. This is a beautiful story made even more beautiful as an audiobook.
Michael Chabon is an author whose reputation certainly precedes him, and I don't know how I've managed to go this long without digging in to his work. Certainly, there is a nagging concern that what you've heard or read is hype, and that the actual experience is going to be a letdown.
This is not the case here. Telegraph Avenue is everything I want in a novel and more. It's a deep and thoughful reflection on the relationships between blacks and whites, the intermeshing of cultures, of gentrification and urban renewal. It's a detailed and insightful memoir of a time and a place, populated with a rich tapestry of characters who are fully drawn and completely believable. There's a compelling story that spins an intricate web around you and makes you care about what happens; that involves you in a complex set of relationships between people and their community and the conflicts between their personal histories, their aspirations, their families, and their limitations. Local politics, social responsibility, Black Panthers, kung fu, environmentalism, aging blaxploitation stars, midwifery, the impossibility of being 14 years old -- it's all there.
And music. Telegraph Avenue pulses with music, both in the many references that become a soundtrack running in your head and in the detailed, lively descriptions of the incredible conflagration of funk, soul, R&B, rock and roll and jazz that bubbled up out of the American cultural melting pot beginning in the Sixties and continuing to this day. If you don't know what a CTI release was, go do some listening. It will add a layer of depth to the experience of this book that is priceless.
Chabon delivers extremely realistic dialog that includes plenty of street slang and Clarke Peters handles the narration of the audiobook with superb attention to the personalities and characterizations. He gives a believable and authentic voice to a wide cast of characters that includes everything from a 14 year old gay white kid to a nonagenarian Chinese woman, and delivers the narrative in a style that is deeply sensitive to cultural and political connotations. His wonderful voice becomes the music of this experience.
I cannot believe I was such a snob about Stephen King for so many years. If he's that popular, how can he be any good?
What do I know?
Now, I devour his books. Even the monstrously long and mixed-review variety, like 11-22-63. This is a master storyteller, who can weave a yarn out of any material. Medieval? No problem. Wild West? Been there, done that. Historical fiction? Why not.
Literate, funny, gross, profound, quirky, insightful, profane, spiritual. All in service of the story. Isn't that why we read? For a good story?
King has delivered yet another fantastic story in the Eye of the Dragon. This tale of two brothers, regicide, and possible patricide in a vaguely Anglo kingdom in some indefinite past century is full of humor, pathos, moral struggle, and the ultimate triumph of the good. Complete with evil wizard/sorcerer/magician.
Well worth your time, and Bronson Pinchot delivers sparkling narration - the kind that makes the reader disappear, and the story emerge with crystal clarity.
This sprawling epic follows a group of fictional characters - a family - through a painstakingly researched recreation of the events leading up to the Second World War, in Winds of War, the first volume, and up through the end of the war in the second volume, War and Remembrance. The historical sequence, the actions of world leaders, and the events of the war are detailed and factual, but the main characters and their places in those events are fictional. It's a brilliant device to bring the history we think we know to life, and grounds momentous events in the humanity of individuals trying to cope with the total upheaval of a worldwide conflict and the unimaginable horror of events like the rise of Hitler, the Pearl Harbor attack, the Atomic Bomb, and the Holocaust.
The Audible production is truly a masterful interpretation of a masterwork, primarily due to the monumental work of Kevin Pariseau. He handles a huge cast of characters, with a m??lange of accents - Russian, British, German, Yiddish, Italian, French, several American dialects, and more - with convincing ease, but it was the singing as multiple characters that put the icing on it for me. When Udom sang to the crowd at Theresienstadt before being sent off on the train to Auschwitz, it tore my heart out.
I read these books to gain a deeper grasp of my father's generation, of the sacrifices they made, and of the events that shaped their world view. I came away with so much more than that. My faith in humanity was restored.
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