Archer Mayor's mysteries featuring Joe Gunther are "regionals" depicting life and crime in Brattleboro and other locales of the upper Connecticut River Valley of Vermont, along the Interstate 91 "ski-way." This installment takes Joe south down I-91, into the Western Massachusetts part of the Valley--which happens to be the region where I happily hang out. The action centers on Northampton, the self-proclaimed "Paradise City" of the book's title, which is generally regarded as the fine arts and fine dining center of Western Mass. (Snobs from Boston need not comment on that statement, thank you.)
I enjoyed reading the portrayals of Northampton, Amherst, Greenfield, and other haunts of my stomping grounds. Most of the places described are real--from Coolidge Cafe to the Summit House, from the abandoned Strategic Air Command post hidden inside Mount Tom to Amity Street and Potwine Lane, the accuracy of the locations was fun (at least for a "local" like me). The art and jewelry gallery that is crucial to the story is fictitious, but certain (noncriminal) elements of it were recognizable in real establishments.
Even though the "taste of home" kept me reading, I found the overall story less than compelling. I also found it very hard to follow the characters. We are introduced in rapid succession to Billie, Willie, Mickey, Bobby, Tony, Jimmy, Dan, and Ed, to name a few. One's a victim, some are cops, and the rest are bad guys. We also have Mina, Anna, Donna, Nancy, Sammie, and Lou. It was a relief to meet Li Anming, an artisan "smuggled in" from China and kept as slave labor, re-setting and re-crafting stolen jewelry; her character at least I was able to recognize readily.
I remember reading a couple of the early Gunther books, and that I enjoyed "Borderlines" and "The Skeleton's Knee." But the series never grabbed me, and there are 15 or 16 books in between "Knee" and "Paradise" that I never read; so it's partly my own lack that I didn't know the characters (beyond Joe Gunther himself) who are series regulars. But even discounting the regulars, the rather flimsy plot seemed overburdened with players. It's a fairly short read with some interesting scenes. Not awful, not great.
To me, one of the most best things about the three volumes of "Riyria Revelations" was the seamless way everything came together over the course of the saga and, especially, at the end. There are no bewildering meanderings by pointless characters; the whole enterprise is beautifully conceived and well written (and the narration is also very good). "The Jester" encapsulates all these qualities into a short, neat 1-hour package. Immediately, we are plunged (literally) into the adventure with no idea of what's going on, but over the course of a few pages all becomes clear and winds up in a poignant "wow" moment that's very satisfying.
It probably helps to have a little "Riyria" background -- at least enough to know who Hadrian and Royce and Riyria are -- but in terms of the story "The Jester" stands alone. Well done, Mr. Sullivan!
A rabbi, a priest, and a molecular geneticist... oh, you've heard this one?
Well, they are all part of a super-secret government project in an underground lab deep in the desert. It seems that while digging the Panama Canal in 1903, workers unearthed a huge, humanoid being with wings, horns, and cloven hooves. The being was alive but in a state of suspended animation. So of course Teddy Roosevelt took him back to the U.S. and installed him in this no-expenses-spared secret lab.
Fast-forward to the present. The molecular geneticist is there to sequence "Bub’s" DNA. There's also an M.D. and a veterinarian on the study team. The priest and the rabbi are there just in case, and there’s a crusty old army general who runs the show and reports to the president. Bub has suddenly woken up and started talking, but no one can understand him, so a noted linguist is called in. But Bub picks up English real quick, so the handsome linguist is really there to romance the pretty lady vet and to team up with her to lead the heroics when everything goes horribly wrong (as we know it will because we remember Jeff Goldblum's speech about chaos theory in Jurassic Park).
This adventure is fast-moving, gruesome, and ridiculous if you think about it (and you don’t have to think very hard). But it had enough interesting characters (including Bub) and unexpected plot twists to keep me intrigued and just enough humor to lighten the gore. It’s also the right length--long enough to build suspense but short enough so the silliness doesn't become exasperating. I suspect that if you enjoy books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (especially their solo efforts) you'll probably enjoy "Origin."
Luke Daniels does his usual fine job of narration, right up to the book's memorable last line, which he delivers perfectly.
The John Carter trilogy (Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars, Warlord of Mars) was a high school favorite of mine, and these three books were among the first purchases I made after joining Audible. I chose the Gene Engene recording of "Gods" and my review of it is there. But that production was marred by technical problems, so when the recent movie tie-in came out with veteran narrator Scott Brick at the helm, I decided to get a "new, improved" version of this middle book.
Technically this is indeed a good productio. But Scott Brick's modern, somewhat deadpan delivery seems at odds with the over-the-top drama of the "this is my marvelous life" voice that Burroughs used for John Carter's first-person "memoir." Admittedly, capturing the colorful dramatics without sounding silly is a tough job for any narrator. Brick is a pro, and this is a professional if not inspired reading.
I still like Sondricker's narration of the first book, "Princess of Mars," the best. Engene's version of "Warlord" is fine, technical problems were fixed, but "Warlord" isn't as good as the first two books.
Preston & Child's "Helen" trilogy (Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, Two Graves) introduced a lot of twists, turn, changes, and new characters into Pendergast's life. It also re-introduced Corrie Swanson, the grubby adolescent from "Still Life with Crows," now a college student and apparently potential protege of Pendergast.
"White Fire" opens about a year after the end of "Two Graves." Pendergast has been in a state of isolation, traveling the world alone, when he receives a forwarded letter from Corrie describing her exciting new forensic project. He joins her in the nick of time to save her from the rich and despicable.
This is, as others have said, Corrie's adventure. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't typical Pendergast. It will be interesting to see how P&C handle the "scope for the future" that we glimpsed at the end of Helen's story. I hope there's another trilogy in the works. Meanwhile, this stand-alone was an OK fast and gruesome adventure.
As always, Rene Aberjonois does a spectacular job of narration.
The Spenser books, particularly the early ones, are good, fast reads and very short by today's standards. Although technically book #3, "Mortal Stakes" (1975) is a good starting place for this classic series.
On the surface it's a simple story: the Boston Red Sox' manager suspects that their superstar may be throwing games as well as pitches (all Red Sox personnel in the book are entirely fictional). The manager hires PI Spenser to investigate the rumor. The trademark Parker descriptions of meals (heavy on the cholesterol), drinks (Labatt's Pale Ale, anyone?), clothes (lots of polyester), and local flavor (Boston's ambiance is captured nicely) are all there, as is Spenser's trademark repartee (which unfortunately doesn't always translate well to audio, especially since Michael Prichard is an OK but not spectacular reader).
Underneath a fast-moving plot involving blackmail and gambling, this novel builds the foundation for the Code of Spenser as the tough PI faces up to the physical, emotional, and spiritual conflicts inherent when "work is play for mortal stakes." At this point in the series he has not yet partnered with Hawk, the sociopath-with-integrity who plays such a large role in later books. Hit men like Vinnie and Chollo have not yet become Spenser's buddies and back-up. Cops Belson and Quirk, his stalwart links to law enforcement, are present, and the bonds of commitment between Spenser and his future soulmate Susan Silverman glimmer but are not yet forged.
Over 35 years and 30 novels (there are more than 30, but for me the books lose their lustre and originality somewhere after "Potshot," which was #28 or so), Robert B. Parker created an iconic character that in many ways (and despite many superficial differences) is the logical antecedent of Lee Child's Jack Reacher. Both "heroes" operate under individualistic codes of honor that in their world justify breaking rules and laws in the interests of eliminating evil, protecting the innocent, and righting wrongs. As the lines from Robert Frost that are the epigraph in "Mortal Stakes" sum it up, their deeds are done "for Heaven and the future's sakes." Spenser thinks about it a lot more than Reacher does, but they both wind up serving as judge, jury, and executioner more often than not.
If Georgette Heyer's many fans were to vote for their favorite Heyer heroine/novel, I predict "The Grand Sophy" would win. Naxos did a nice job on the abridgment that has been on Audible for two years (and which I quickly ponied up a credit for), but it was … abridged.
Now we get the entire book, and it is good. I enjoyed Clare Wille's narration of the abridgment -- she also reads the unabridged versions of "Cotillion" and "A Civil Contract," both well worth listening to -- but Sarah Woodward's rendition is equally good, and now all my favorite scenes are here, not on the cutting room floor.
Sophia Stanton-Lacy is the daughter of a British diplomat who has spent her teenage years traveling the Continent with her widower father as the Napoleonic wars wound down. Now Sir Horace is off to Brazil and leaves the 21-year-old Sophy in London with his sister and her numerous offspring. The household's eldest son is strait-laced Charles, who has recently (1) inherited a large fortune from a distant relative and (2) become engaged to the Honourable and egregiously proper Eugenia Wraxton.
Sophy is sparkling, spontaneous, self-sufficient, and as Charles disapprovingly observes, “on easy terms with every rattle who ever wore a red coat." Not hard to see where the romance will go, especially keeping in mind that first-cousin alliances were common among the “quality” right up through the early twentieth century.
Besides the protagonists -- and Sophy and Charles are among Heyer's most delightful and memorable -- several other characters also have romances underway or underfoot, and the machinations are tangled, funny, and occasionally bittersweet. Sophy's interactions with her large brood of cousins add marvelous depth to this classic novel. All will be well that ends well, so set aside the dreary dystopians and the vapid vampires and enjoy a romp through the Regency.
I am thankful for this series, which I've been reading since 1995, when Eve's pocket link communicator actually seemed futuristic.
I am thankful to be done with this particular installment, which--despite a few enjoyable scenes with Eve and friends-- spends far too much time in the head of a whining, despicable, disgusting psychopath who has suddenly discovered the joys of torture, mutilation, and murder.
I am thankful that Robb/Roberts continues to write this series, and I look forward to Installment #38, because even when there's been the occasional misfire (hey, 37 books? it happens), I always come back for more and am seldom disappointed.
In the beginning Faye Kellerman created a unique detective series, heavily character-based and set in the community of ultraorthodox Judaism. Rina Lazarus was so sympathetic that I embraced her character completely, even though I found it hard to accept that a highly intelligent modern American woman would voluntarily choose such a lifestyle.
The first books in the series were great, focused on young widow Rina and LAPD Detective Peter Decker, who marries Rina and becomes a loving stepfather to her two sons. Kellerman has expanded the character base throughout the series, introducing new faces that often stuck around. The most recent two books, "Gun Games" and "The Beast," have been major disappointments, not least because the emphasis on the Decker family has pretty much dissolved. Developments in "Beast" seem to indicate that the series may move in a new direction, which if it is to continue, I think it has to do.
The "mystery"--and I use the term loosely--in "Beast" is ridiculous. If you swallow the premise that a person could keep a Bengal tiger inside a suburban LA apartment complex for 2 years and the neighbors wouldn't even notice--well, I have a bridge you might like to buy. It does allow for some nice gruesome scenes, however, and the story moves along breezily, a (very) lightweight read. The big question is, What Will Faye Kellerman Do Next?
I would be happy to see Gabe Whitman and Chris Donati carry the leads in a book of their own. And I really want to know what's happened in the life of Jacob Lazarus Decker (Rina's younger son, now 30, the only character who seemed to have serious problems with the orthodox lifestyle of his parents). There's a throwaway line in "Beast" about the possibility of Gabe and Jake traveling to India together; therein lies an interesting possibility.
And as long as things are changing, I think it's time for a new narrator, and I'd really like to ditch the Jasmine character, at least until she grows up. The two problems may be related. Mitchell Greenberg makes sultry teenager Jasmine sound like a petulant 5-year-old--and we all know how much fun either of those entities is to listen to.
Posted under "The Lies of Locke Lamora" and "Red Seas Under Red Skies" (Books 1 and 2 of "Gentleman Bastards").
There are so many good and accurate reviews of both these books, I hesitate to add my 2 cents, but am so enthusiastic about them--and about the imminent release (Fall 2013) of the third book in the series, "A Republic of Thieves"--that I decided to pony up.
The writing is exquisite. It requires concentration. Scott Lynch moves masterfully between characters and time frames. The con games the protagonists play are complicated but ultimately, weirdly believable. There are scenes of surpassing beauty and events of excruciating brutality. These are not books to lull yourself to sleep with (unless you want some real nightmare images floating around your brain).
The narration by Michael Page is first-class. I've listened to a couple of other books he's narrated and always thought he was good, but for these books, he really stepped it up. Writing this good deserves time and thought in the interpretation, and Page delivers. A match made in audio heaven.
"Lies" should be read before "Red Seas," but each is complete and satisfying in itself. This is a good thing, because there have been 5 years between "Red Seas" and the forthcoming volume. Lynch's website lists a proposed 7-volume arc for this series, and he's apparently filling in with some novellas (the first of which are scheduled for publication in winter 2014). I wish Scott Lynch the best. I look forward to a long stretch of enjoying his books, especially if he can maintain the incredibly high writing and plotting standards of the first two.
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