Londonderry, NH, United States | Member Since 2007
My first Furst was a success overall, however I don’t know how many more of them I will read. What? How can that be if I say it was a success? Well, it was more the feeling of the inevitable and the futility of it all that I had while reading. 70 years after World War II it’s tough to really suspend one’s disbelief during a spy story and pretend we don’t know how things turned out. Even though Szara was thoroughly engaging and human, fought on the ‘right’ side of things and went about his task with a grim instinct for his role, I still felt pangs of ‘what is it all for?’.
As a protagonist, Szara was great. His little side jobs for the NKVD became much more than he bargained for, but he handled it with expertise he didn’t know he had. He’s vaguely romantic in the sense that he has fought in wars and is a widower due to those same wars (the fact that his wife was a nurse makes it even more romantic). He’s got a good head on his shoulders and keeps his cool under fire. He’s not idealistic; he’s trying to do the best he can in a situation he can’t control. He’s shrewd but not cruelly manipulative. A good guy in a bad circumstance is the overall impression and I was glad how things ended for him even if it was so different from how most other espionage novels end.
I also liked how the overall plot wasn’t some gigantic, war-changing operation that was so vitally important as to make all other considerations meaningless. Instead it was a very localized operation moved along by relatively junior personnel. Maybe that’s what lent the feeling of futility to the story. This minor sideline wasn’t going to change anything and so the sense of time wasted, lives wasted was pretty strong for me. After all the plotting, betrayal and bloodshed the information was really not as hard to come by as Szara thought and so what good did it all do? That’s the feeling of futility and doom that pervaded for me throughout, but especially at the end when I got a horrible deflated feeling.
I did like the small sphere Furst gave us though. Through his descriptions of bombings, life as a refugee and as ‘burnt’ spy desperate for a new identity and way to safety, I really felt how trapped and hopeless it was for those people caught by it. It was very quotidian and not over the top and thus much more believable. I could easily imagine people going through with and attempting similar things to Szara. Small cogs just trying to get by. It was touching and somehow familiar although I wonder if they still make people who could do what these did. The absolute audacity of the German regime and the utter passivity of the rest of Europe (well, that’s how it came across in this novel anyway) was pretty shocking. I mean, I understand wanting to keep out of someone else’s fight, but what the hell did they think was happening to these people as they were marginalized, shut out and shipped from one place to another? Unthinkable, but it happened.
Once you read one Goddard, you start to hunger for more. This is my 4th. Or maybe my 5th. If you don’t like long, involved and convoluted plots with lots of characters (many not what they seem), shenanigans and the unexpected, don’t read him. If you do like all those things along with a dash of the historical, I’m sure you’ll become an addict like me once you read one.
As usual, one of the main characters is drawn into the plot indirectly and it is quite a while before we know precisely why. Ostensibly it’s for one reason, but Goddard is never so straightforward and I was just waiting for the truth. He’s taken for one hell of a ride. Mostly, he’s a pawn and is used and abused pretty much the whole time.
Then there’s James Norton and his bid to get back into his family’s good graces and claim his inheritance. I knew better than to become emotionally connected to him or his cause. His family didn’t help me though; what a bunch of spiteful, entitled jerks. Only Constance got any sympathy from me, but I had a feeling she was going to suffer in the end, too. I can’t give anything more away, but if you like sordid family dramas, check this out. It's not quite as tight and addictive as some of his other books; it meanders quite a bit and lacks some of the physical danger and relentless pacing, but it is good and rewards the effort.
This series has always been a comfort read for me. Alex is a grown-up Nancy Drew and because they're so formulaic, I always know what to expect and Alex has a charmed life (well aside from the occasional murdered friend) that is fun to peek in on. One aspect I do like is the NYC history info that is peppered throughout. This time though, it was info-dump overload! Restaurant regulation info. The Paris Catacombs. French drug-running. African art. Wine buying. 21's secret rooms. Wine storage. Ugh! It was too much. Way too much. And please find Alex's spine, Ms. Fairstein. I think she lost it. Maybe it's at the Vineyard or maybe in France or maybe even in the drawer of pantyhose and deodorant in her office, but wherever it is, please give it back to her. If she wasn't a stunned puppy she was blubbering or being confused and snippy. She was hysterical most of the time. Or horny. Or both. Oy. Way too much scenery, backstory and info and way too little crime and investigation.
I appreciated the rape case angle and usually those are secondary plot lines, but this time that case was way more interesting than what was going on with Luc. Who is a jerk, btw. He hasn't had as much screen time prior to this novel so both we readers and Alex got to know his less romantic side and it ain't pretty. I didn't like him much before and now it's even less. There is only one book left in the series unread for me and if it isn't an improvement, I'm afraid it will be my last.
A funny aside...I use a wine storage facility in CT with an eeriliy similar name to the one in the book. Unless a reader is a customer, they wouldn't catch it, but I did. Interesting name change and a bit too close for comfort I think.
Alas, I should have checked the publisher before downloading this from audible. If I’d seen the Harlequin name there I would have saved myself some trouble. This is not my thing. Too much romance and breathy innuendo and too little mystery. Too many modern ideas. Really, Lady Julia, enough with your cross-class do-gooder motif. I know there had to be some women who thought a bit like she did, but it didn’t ring true and that axe just kept getting ground. I don’t think there’s any left. I figured who had to have done it pretty early and so the culprit wasn’t a surprise. Overall disappointing. Lady Julia’s bosom will just have to go on heaving without me. And the fangirls will downvote because they're so mature.
The Parkinson's angle isn't as pronounced in Lost because Joe isn't the central figure. Instead he's now Ruiz's friend and becomes his sounding-board. Ruiz counts on Joe's near prescient insight into human behavior, habitat and habits. Like in Suspect, Ruiz isn't guilty of what people suspect him. He truly can't remember why he was on the boat, what happened to everyone on it and where the missing diamonds are. After his one ally is taken out in the line of duty, he has no one and the equivalent of Internal Affairs is gunning for him. Through breaks in his memory and deduction he knits up the unraveled past and finds the real truth to the 3-year-old murder and the events on the boat.
I particularly liked how well Robotham conveyed Ruiz's frustration to the reader. I wanted to know what happened as badly as Ruiz did, but like him, I couldn't find out. Not right away. And the way sections of his memory returned and how they helped him connect up the facts was well done, too. It kept things off-balance yet moving forward at the same time. Little things would come to him after a big chunk of the missing time returned and he'd be able to get a little further. In hindsight, the solution to the kidnapping and the murder should have been less of a surprise to me. I had a bit of a "doh" moment there at the end. What I wish we had a bit more of was what happened with Ruiz at the end. Did he get back on the force or not? Maybe in the next book we'll find out.
The first part was hard to get into. The scribblings of an adolescent boy are pretty trying, but in a sense they were successful because of that. I applaud Boyd for being able to show character and more importantly, growth and change through the journal entries of LMS. The voice, perspective and level of maturity definitely change with each phase of his life and that's hard to pull off. So while I wasn't sure I'd like this LMS character, in the end I came to love him and each up and down in his life had me emotionally hooked. So much so that it's hard to think of this as a work of fiction, LMS's character is that real.
Partly it's because so many real-life people pepper his life including Hemingway, Picasso, Evelyn Waugh, Ian Flemming and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While not many of them penetrate to the core of LMS's life, they all affect the course of it. The reality they add to the narrative definitely contributes to the overall feeling of biography here, or I should say, autobiography. Although the beginning of LMS's life is basically smooth and tranquil, the middle and end have many surprises and strange scenes.
One reviewer I saw characterizes LMS's whole life as dismal and LMS himself as hapless. I wonder if we read the same book. While there are some moments that are out of his control and he is clearly an alcoholic, none of it is so desperately dire that we see him as a tragic figure. Instead I found LMS to be remarkably adaptable; resourceful and able to land on his feet. Yes, he's a randy bugger his whole life, but he knows true love and treasures it when he finds it. Yes, there is a lot of coincidence and LMS is connected to a lot of important people, but he has a very small circle of real friends who sustain him like the air he breathes.
And it's that interconnectedness and coincidence that frame one of the novel's strongest aspects; an overview of the ways and moves of the 20th century. From war to terrorism, art and attitudes, LMS's life encompasses a great deal of the change and upheaval that shaped the century from almost every outpost on the globe. If you are a student of history you'll love the little vignettes in Spain, Nigeria, Bahamas, England and France. All those changes and events shape LMS and his outlook and attitude although at heart he never really does change and he's not sorry or apologetic about anything in his life, even the dog food years.
If you've never read a William Boyd novel, this is a good one to start with. It's my 3rd and there will be more. Oh and a note about the narration (like the others, my experience of this Boyd novel was as an audio) - Simon Vance did a great job. LMS's voice does change character as he ages and Vance reflected that in each section of journal, capturing the enthusiasm, peril, resignation and joy of each phase of LMS's rich and varied life. Bravo!
Several reviews characterize The Aeneid as a slog and I agree. Compared to The Iliad and Odyssey it definitely is a more difficult story to get through. Partly for its self-aggrandizement of the Roman people and foundation, partly for its huge chunks of backstory and wild justification, but mostly for the insufferable gods and goddesses. Oh my head that was painful. Everyone it seems has a stake in Aeneas’s fate, but of course they are almost all at odds with each other and none seem to know what the others were doing. Every once in a while Zeus/Jove/Jupiter gets involved and lackadaisically makes a decision, but for the most part Venus and Juno get to butt heads and see who can mess with the participants the most in order to fulfill her ends. I guess it's a testament to how in control of their own lives the people in Virgil's world felt.
To some degree it’s a foregone conclusion since Virgil is writing this epic to give validation and divine permission to Augustus (his patron) and the Claudian and Julian families for crushing the life out of the Roman Republic. That means that Aeneas has to be perfect. Noble. Brave. Clear-sighted. Righteous. Pious. Determined. Bor-ring! There wasn’t enough humanity about Aeneas for me to connect with him. He was the correct embodiment of all that Roman Patrician families strive for in their men and he came off robot-like and stilted. Give me the much-maligned Odysseus any day.
I don't think I can take Charlton Griffin anymore, which is unfortunate since he seems to be the narrator of choice for so many ancient books. His pronunciation (even of English words) is pretty poor, and sometimes he sounds like he's going to fall asleep.
Because it's so prevalent in modern culture, I was loosely familiar with this story and so kind of knew what I was getting into. It both fulfilled my expectations, but also surprised me in many ways. There's a lot of detail about things I felt were minor, and things I felt were major were glossed over and done with in short order. Because it's a tale that lived a lot of life as an oral piece, there are many refrains and catch phrases repeated throughout that are a bit jarring, but necessary for the oral tradition of the bard. Hearing it as opposed to reading it fulfills all the promise of such a gigantic and influential tale. After listening to The Aeneid as well, I prefer the wily Odysseus as a character over the staid and boring Aeneas. I still don't buy it that Odysseus really wanted to get back home so badly though. For a man who wanted to get home really fast, he spent a lot of time farting around…like spending all that time with Circe. Oh sure he really wanted to see Ithaca again. And it’s the same with the ass-kicking, he strings it out as long as possible. Finally everyone is dead and we think he and Penelope will just rush into each others' arms and fade to black. Not so. More lamentations, disbelief and foot-dragging.
Anyway, it’s an interesting story and an enlightening one. I learned a lot about how the Greeks viewed their world and how helpless they really felt. So much s--t just rolled downhill. Injustice heaped on injustice with a full complement of excuses. Cranky, childish and mercurial gods at the top, women and slaves on the bottom.
And a word about the narration - Anthony Heald did an amazing job. He's got a very expressive voice, but he never goes over the top. Heald injected the right amount of drama for each scene; anger, loneliness, fear, tenderness; whatever was needed. I'm glad I 'read' it this way since it is the way it was intended to be received by an audience. Pronunciation was excellent and I commend him for getting around all those tongue-twisters with what seemed effortless ease.
Very different from the only other Waters novel I've read (Tipping the Velvet) and shows her ability to stretch as a writer. The two novels contrast in many aspects - many characters v. few, many locales v. few, lots of action v. little, hectic pace v. sedate. Overall I think The Little Stranger works, but not quite as well as perhaps Tipping the Velvet. I felt that while Dr. Faraday was supposed to be cast as an unreliable narrator, he didn't come across that way. I couldn't get a handle on him and so Caroline's outburst at the end seemed even more alien and unjustified. Sure, he was half in love with Hundreds as much as he was with Caroline herself, but I never saw him as grasping or mercenary. He seemed more bumbling and out of touch with his own emotions and motivations to me. A bit backward and hemmed in by his role in his small community.
I also could not and did not get a handle on what exactly the Little Stranger was. Deliberate, to be sure, but I wished for something a bit more concrete to drive me to a conclusion. For once the ambiguous ending bugged me a bit. As a character, Hundreds Hall is wonderful though. The descriptions both overt and implied brought it to vivid life in my imagination. I felt pity and sorrow for its loss and the loss of other estates like it. So much history, culture and ways of life destroyed by ruinous taxation and changing values.
Foreshadowing is another of Water's strengths. Never once did I feel optimistic about circumstances or events. Everyone went from one tragedy to the next without hope of salvation. It was palpable, but somehow not depressing. I kept reading knowing the good doctor and Caroline were doomed and wanting to see how.
PS. After a second listen and some brooding, I think that possibly Faraday himself was the psychic force behind the happenings at Hundreds. He was after all, a child when he stole that bit of decoration from the house, and he did not live there. Since the house itself was really what he wanted all along, it made sense to drive everyone out so he could have it. Because it was all subconscious, he couldn't stop it and when it want too far and took Caroline, that was the end of the dream. Like the parasite that kills its host.
What else can be said about a novel that has gotten so much praise and attention? Deservedly for this Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Particularly I like the tone Stegner sets up. Lyman is not trying to 'translate' his grandmother, he is trying to discover her, faults and all. Despite her duality, I liked Susan Ward and would have been proud to know her. The intimacy and delicacy of her marriage was laid as bare as Lyman could make it and I liked the veils he drew across some scenes and the details he filled in for others. The letters were worked in with good timing although I would have liked to see Augusta's side of the correspondence. What a transcendental relationship that was in a way. Reading just this one book will make me seek out more of Stegner's work. Narrator Mark Bramhall's dry, but nuanced delivery fit the tone of the writing and the pace of the story perfectly
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