Houston, TX, United States | Member Since 2008
For me this read like exactly what it is--a first book by a very talented writer. It seemed to me that Courtenay loved his material--the historical character at the center of his novel and the extraordinary age of Dickens, so colorful that only a florid and artfully circumlocuted literary style could manage to describe it. On the other hand, he never really took control of his story the way Dickens would have. The plot wanders, held hostage perhaps by the historical record which inspired it, and we wait overlong for story lines to converge and come to a head. As a result, I became impatient at times, not because the book was long but because it was diffuse.
Along the way, however, the author delivers several wonderful, tightly constructed episodes which could hardly be improved upon for building tension and powerful effect. Mary's sea voyage as a convict, her one woman mission to find her lost son in the wilderness, and Ikey's escape from the authorities were all riveting and a joy to listen to. And Courtenay's evocation of the period and its own particular glories and cruelties is, by turns, delightful, chilling and enraging. It would be difficult to read this book without having a strong emotional response.
Humphrey Bower's voice is simply gorgeous, (as an actor I am jealous) and he creates marvelous characters with it. He does clearly miss the occasional inflection, delivering a meaning contrary to the text in some minor way, and his unaccountable pronunciation of "boatswain" with all the letters present and accounted for was jarring, but seeing him listed as narrator for another book would make it more likely that I would buy it.
I usually do not write reviews of audible books which have already been very well reviewed by other listeners and/or when the press clips are insightful and accurate. I am making an exception with The Road because it occurs to me that there may be some listeners who will read this who might otherwise have missed this book. So I encourage you to check out the lead reviews. No use repeating.
I would only add two things. First, many reviewers suggest that the center of this book is a meditation on the love between father and son which McCarthy brings to aching life for us. I think the real core of this book is about even deeper matters. If you have no reasonable hope for the future, why continue? This is not a question which is only faced by wanderers on a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape. Why take the next step? Which may, of course, bring us back to the aforementioned love.
Second, it seemed to me that the author copped out a little in the last five minutes. I will not elaborate, not wanting to risk spoilers. In any event, I am more than willing to forgive him and still stand in awed respect for this extraordinary piece of writing. It is as good as all those excellent reviews suggest. It is also the only book I can remember ever reading which authentically frightened me. Perhaps that is because my first grandchild is on the way.
Half an hour into the book I thought I was in for a tedious slog. Oskar, the more than precocious little boy who is the main character, wore me out fairly quickly with his wide-eyed naivete and remarkable imagination. This seemed like a writer who was trying way too hard. Gradually it became clear that it was Oskar who was trying way too hard, and the pain and confusion which were driving him were brought artfully into focus by some really brilliant writing. Still, Oskar's story by itself would not have sustained the book and, for me, the growing beauty of the narrative began to blossom with the entrance of his grandfather and grandmother, each relating his/her own journey in a continuous, Rashomon-like shift of perspectives. As things progress, these three points of view begin to construct a kind of hall of mirrors which finally can only be resolved by accepting all of them as true.
For me the book finally became poetry, not of word, though the use of language is often exquisite, but of narrative detail. Some readers have had problems with the far fetched elements of the story--a man who loses spoken language one word at a time until the only word he has left is "I" and then loses that as well. A man who, each day after the death of his wife, drives a new nail into the bed he built for her and shared with her, until the thing weighs so much that he must construct a column to support the floor beneath it--and cannot say why he does it. These are brilliant and profound poetic images which accumulate through the course of the book and resist a one for one interpretation of "meaning." They mean what they do-to-you as you encounter them and let them under your skin. They are improbable and entirely true.
Most reviewers seem most taken by Oskar but, perhaps because I am older than the average, I was most deeply affected by the grandmother and grandfather. I found their narratives deeply moving and evocative of the struggle we so often have with intimacy and being known by those closest to us. I recommend the book most enthusiastically to those who have loved or almost loved for many years and are still struggling to get it right.
Incidentally, the book actually has very little to do with 9/11 but a great deal to do with loss, healing and our amazing capacity to rediscover things we think we have lost forever. It lifted my spirits and made my heart swell.
The real focus of this book is New York City at the turn of the 20th century. A ghastly crime and the ensuing investigation, trial and denouement serve as the occasion for the narrative, but the book uses these central events to immerse the reader in a very wide ranging evocation of the time and place. As melodramatic as many of the events and details may be, in the end this is a piece of well researched cultural history which gives one the sense of being set down in the middle of the chaos, the sights, the sounds, the smells and the swirling energy at the vortex of American turn-of-the-century dynamism.
This New York has spawned a gaggle of newspapers engaged in a cutthroat struggle for survival. It is a rich, bubbling brew of newly arrived European immigrants finding their place in a brash society which has just gotten a grip on its confidence and is changing at the speed of avaricious inspiration. It is a time when trial reports are transmitted to anxious newsrooms by both telephone and carrier pigeon. Scientific "experts" are finding their way onto witness stands, and American jurisprudence is celebrating its first superstar criminal attorneys. In short, this is an extremely interesting city!
If you are looking for a gripping true crime investigation, penetrating character studies or a probing examination of the newspaper wars, you will be somewhat disappointed. If you would be delighted to be delivered by time-machine to a fascinating city where a diver in a newfangled helmet is searching the bottom of the river for a severed head and where the grisly aspects of the recently introduced and quite inefficient electric chair are being hotly debated, this may be your cup of tea.
I found William Dufris' narration to be a bit labored and overwrought, perhaps in keeping with the lurid nature of some of the content. Still I would recommend the book to anyone who will enjoy a colorful and detailed glimpse of a moment in history.
There was a time when R.A.Salvatore was one of my favorite fantasy authors. I even had him autograph my copy of "Homeland," his introduction to the Drizzt character, which was riveting and original, set as it was in the Underdark where we were introduced to an entirely novel culture of shocking matriarchal cruelty and the Spider Queen goddess of the Drow elves.
Somehow I missed moving on to his second Drizzt trilogy, so I was looking forward to picking up the tale now after all these years. Unfortunately I found that the old school world of frost giants, dwarves, hobbits and barbarians suffers somewhat in comparison with the deluge of imagination and creativity to which we have been treated in the past thirty years. I wish I had read "Icewind Dale" when it first came out so that I could have enjoyed it without having to compare it to Sanderson and Abercrombie and Bujold and Lynch's Locke Lamora and, yes, R.R. Martin."
Still, I enjoyed traveling with the old companions again for a few hours. Though I find Victer Bevine's delivery to be a bit wide-eyed and labored, he does maintain the energy of the work and delineate the characters clearly. Though I will not follow the rest of the "Icewind" series, I'm glad I got reacquainted with Salvatore, and I may check out some of his more recent works to see how he has responded to the development of the fantasy genre.
Having been completely captivated by Robert Graves' "I Claudius" when I was young, first as a book and then in the brilliant Masterpiece Theatre series, I'm afraid I was a fairly tough audience for this entirely workmanlike and respectable biography of the pivotal Augustus. It is completely unfair and foolish to compare history with historical fiction--different rules and different objectives. Nonetheless, I could have hoped for a style and approach which were somewhat more evocative of the world in which Augustus operated. Almost all of the context here is political or military which is somewhat disappointing when you are dealing with an era which is so rich in so many other ways. Of course the historian is limited by the available sources, but I think Everitt could have utilized a good deal more of the available material on the social and physical milieu of the times.
Nonetheless, I never found my interest flagging. The presentation of the material was coherent and there is more than enough fascinating detail to draw one along. Where the historical record is too scanty to provide definitive answers to key questions, the author speculates, carefully laying out the evidence for alternative theories and making some tentative judgements about the most likely answers in a way which leaves paths open for further speculation.
So while this is certainly not a riveting account of Augustus’ life, it is definitely worth your time and credit if you want a solid introduction to the subject.
This is unquestionably the most amazing tale of men against the elements that I have ever read or heard, and it is told remarkably well by Lansing who draws artfully from the actual diary entries of the participants without ever reducing the narrative to a dry progression of quotes. His ability to bring the harrowing conditions and landscape, the fascinating array of characters, and the grueling sequence of challenges and hairsbreadth escapes into sharp and riveting focus is quite extraordinary. Simon Prebble is a perfect match for the fine writing. He audibly sorts out the personalities involved and presents the whole with an understated but charged clarity which keeps the narrative moving even through what could seem like a never ending and tedious progression of disasters in the voice of a lesser reader.
Of course the real stars here are Shackleton and the men under his command who prove themselves capable of feats of courage, endurance and simple, stubborn determination which almost surpass belief. Ordinary and flawed in so many ways, they come together to become much more than the sum of their individual qualities.
In the end, the most fascinating part of this story is the long and torturous series of life and death choices involved. Time after time Shackleton's decisions are crucial to the party's survival, whether the question is when to abandon the pack ice for the boats, when to kill the dogs, when to allow the party to split, or how to get to the bottom of a nearly vertical snowbound precipice in order to avoid freezing at high altitude (think Butch Cassidy and Sundance). Nature is an implacable adversary for these men, marshaling countless terrifying storms, thirst, cold, hunger, completely unpredictable ice and long weeks of winter darkness against them and time after time crushing hope just as it seems most justified. Perhaps the most extraordinary decision of all, under the circumstances, was the choice each of them made to simply keep on keeping on when it seemed to make no sense
Finally, while this tale is exhausting in some ways, it is also deeply inspiring and satisfying. And Lansing and Prebble have given us the wonderful opportunity to "experience" it all while sitting in comfort and safety. Almost doesn't seem fair, but I strongly urge you to take advantage of the offer.
Timothy Hallinan is as good as any mystery/thriller writer I know at immersing the reader in the world and situation of his characters. He uses wonderfully evocative detail to bring Bangkok to vibrant and chaotic life even for someone who has never been there. He paces the development of his plots expertly, keeping multiple threads twining all the time but never allowing them to become confusing or tedious. He holds back just enough information to allow us to enjoy the surprising revelation without feeling that we are being toyed with. And he has created a familiar cast of characters who are so appealing that we cannot help but be invested in their fates. Add more than a dollop of humor, much of it domestic and comically bittersweet to anyone who has lived for more than a couple decades, and you have a mixture so rich and familiar that it feels as though it is coming out of your own family. As a result, there is an intimacy in his writing which makes the threat or occurrence of violence almost physically painful, engaging the listener very powerfully.
Hallinan is one of the few writers whose books I ration, not wanting to gobble them all up at once. (Jo Nesbo falls into the same category.) I recommend him very highly to listeners who have not yet encountered Poke and Rose and Miaow. You'll have no problem staying immersed in these wonderful stories, I promise.
IF you delight in the more lurid strain of fantasy lit and are not put off by exuberant sexuality and the lingua franca of the average biker gang; if, in other words, your sensibilities are not delicate or dainty or sometimes even sensible, you are likely to have a great time reveling in the unlikely exploits of the irrepressible Jane Carver as she cuts (literally) a broad and sometimes bloody swath across the planet Waar. If you also happen to have fond memories of Burroughs' fantasy Mars books, you have a real treat in store. You are likely to laugh a good deal and exult in the triumph of all the virtues you hold most dear. Escapist literature in its purest form written with real skill. Enjoy!
During the late 1970's and early 80's my wife was the chairperson of the NOW chapter in two different communities, one of them an epi-center for the ERA struggle just south of the Georgia border. I marched with her and remember those days with great affection and pride. So it is very disappointing to me that this story, which is partially set in Atlanta during the days when women were first struggling to gain a toehold in police departments around the country, was so lacking in so many ways.
After several hours of painfully slow character and relationship exposition, much of it reminiscent of poorly written romance novels, I almost gave up and put it away, but I pressed on, hoping for improvement. While the plot finally came on-line and managed to engage me slightly, the writing was heavily larded with the most obvious of cliches and over-burdened with pop culture allusions meant to recreate the period. If you have a favorite TV show, recording artist or television commercial from those days, you may listen with complete confidence that it will pop up at some point as Slaughter works her way through what I am sure was an actual list of "evocative" details she had compiled. It was ludicrous.
Finally, since I found the narration flat and inexpressive, I realized that this was exactly the sort of instance for which the 2X setting on my iPod had been designed. For the first time ever, I used it. While this happened at a point more than halfway through the book, it did get me to the end of the marginally interesting plot more quickly, and that was a blessing.
Anyone who has read James Lee Burke's brilliant novels knows that, in the hands of a fine writer, social commentary can work wonderfully well in crime fiction. In this case, however, a really good concept fell victim to the unrelentingly pedestrian prose.
This is not a book which would have demanded my complete devotion had it been the first in the Gentleman Bastard series. [You should not even consider jumping into the series with this book!] The verbal pyrotechnics are as delightful as ever; characters grow in fascinating and satisfying ways, and the whole thing makes perfect sense and amuses throughout. But there is definitely a sense that, after a harrowing ordeal, we are traveling through a transitional adventure in preparation for an exquisite confrontation which is yet to come. The plotting and execution by our beloved ne'er-do-wells is decidedly thin and even uninspired, definitely falling short of the grand and intricate designs to which Lynch has accustomed us. There is very little at stake and one could easily sum up the essential action of the book in a couple of brief paragraphs. As a result I was somewhat disappointed after having salivated a messy little puddle on my desk in anticipation of the new adventure.
Until I reached the afterword. Scott Lynch knows how to twist a plot and, in the process, our guts. Republic of Thieves takes care of a lot of necessary business, embedding it in a great deal of wonderful verbal and operational repartee. It gives us Sabatha in marvelous detail and complication. And then it leaves us with a gasp and a shudder which promises an end to trivialities and easy triumphs. I'm drooling again.
Oh, and Michael Page is superb as usual.
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