I gave up about two hours into the book - the kids were far too precocious, and the plot seemed to be going nowhere.
which is why my overall rating is lower than the others. Morris writes beautifully, in great detail, on a few specific topics (The Rout of Kabul, The Hudson's Bay Company in Canada, Charles Parnell as a figure in Irish history, etc.), which McMillan's enthusiastic narration complements well.
I give the book a high rating because the story is told so well, backed up by solid narration - I felt as though I were (vicariously) living the events as they unfolded. At the risk of re-hashing the plot (something I frown upon generally), Federico's mother and step-father have managed to "fake" their way along as their mental health deteriorated; her mother was losing her sight as well. On vacation in Florida, however, Addie suffers a traumatic episode, triggering a "crisis" situation, until her death (it wasn't clear to me how much time elapsed, a couple of years perhaps). Addie and Walter had been married and widowed, bringing children to the union, but The Brady Bunch this is not - toleration, not cooperation, best describes the kids' relationship; he had sold his house and moved into hers after the wedding.
Getting Addie home to New Jersey was a story in itself (Walter's daughter had taken him back alone shortly after the incident). She's placed in a facility, which ... doesn't work out. Various health aides are hired in shifts to look after the couple at home from then on, with the author and her siblings doing their best to "supervise" things long-distance. The step-sister, who lives nearby it seems, is implied to do as little actual work as possible. She's mentioned only a couple of times, once as she had "taken her father to New York for the day in a limo." The implication being that she's lazy and self-centered.
Meanwhile, he becomes more verbally and physically abusive to everyone in the house, including Addie. The author mentions in a short aside that she was advised having (them) declared incompetent would be too difficult to pursue. Having some experience with such things in New Jersey, she should've moved her mother into a facility, citing the documented problems. Later on, there's a memoir-ish section on Addie and Meg's backgrounds, which was useful in putting the story in perspective.
Final thoughts ... Meg was either as naive (I hesitate to use the term "clueless") as she maintains, or a bit of a martyr. That may sound harsh, but if I had a physically abusive stepfather like that, I'd have gotten my mother out of there - or at least tried, in spite of the pessimism of those she says consulted. That having been said, I recommend the book for the writing, and narration - one of those cases where I'd say the audio seems preferable to reading the printed version.
I had thought that the first Maisie Dobbs novel seemed dragged out at 10 hours of series setup, with the mystery plot secondary, but this book being 50% longer suffered even more. I didn't find the village setting particularly "charming", nor the characters particularly likeable or interesting. Father Christmas himself seemed slightly on the dopey side, and his daughter a tad precocious. Apparently, Tom had agreed to raise her as a Jew, with the aunt taking on that role after the wife's murder; I would've liked to have heard a bit more on this. As a plus, he does mentioned being taunted at school for having a lesbian couple as parents (his aunt and her partner). A not-so-plus: late in the book Tom asserts medical knowledge, crying "I was married to a doctor!" I wasn't buying that physician spouses generally discuss their work in that much detail. Moreover, I found the author's assertion that "informal" euthanasia is a common practice among British doctors rather a brash statement.
I'm neither sorry, nor regretful, about having dropped a credit on this one. If Benison can tighten things up next time, there's a future for a Christmas series. Tom's audio voice struck me as a bit posh for a kid who went to state school, though he is an Oxbridge grad (like almost all characters in British books it seems). The housekeeper's "voice" consists entirely of daily letters to her mother, which, although a bit "telling" rather than "showing" worked out okay ... except for the device where she often strikes through words (she's not entirely sure of) to use a simpler one; that might look okay in print, but on audio it grated a bit.
A great chronicle of an astonishing journey that every single person told Butcher was "impossible". The most impressive point to me is his emphasis on how much the country has regressed since independence - he passes through deserted areas where colonial maps show thriving towns. Most everything in place in 1960 is now ruined, if still there. Diseases, which the Belgians had largely controlled, are back. An interesting take on colonialism comes from a disgusted Malaysian aid worker who snorts (paraphrased): "We had a colonial past, and got over it!"
Recommended, although Butcher's narration at a gazillion words per minute got tiring often. There were times I wanted to stop listening, and had to wait a while for a pause to do so, rather than stop in mid-torrent.
I guess I prefer stories with more "action" and less dialogue and introspection. The central character, through whom we view the story, gives background, and then the protagonist and antagonist give their lengthy sides of the same story, after which there are new developments, causing the process to start again, until the somewhat unsatisfactory ending.
The narration was good, though having an American reading the translator's British English was a bit disconcerting.
although the story itself proved rather grim. In this one, the point-of-view changes abruptly at times into the head of the villain, which the narrator handles well by giving him a sort of sing-song cadence so as to realize that switch immediately.
but this is a real breakthrough book on conditions in North Korea. Demick has done a terrific job of creating a gripping narrative, based upon her extensive interviews with the defectors, including transitions between stories - one person arrives, fresh out of the Yalu River border, at a house in China, sees a bowl of rice and meat just sitting there on the doorstep, thinks to herself, "That's more food than I've had at any meal back home in many years!", and then realizes it means there's a potentially fierce dog nearby ... fade to next story.
Karen White's audio narration is especially noteworthy - obvious that she made an extra effort to pronounce Korean words correctly.
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