Massachusetts | Member Since 2010
Brother Cadfael is a monk and herbalist/healer in a 12th-century Benedictine abbey on the border of England and Wales--an historically accurate location whose ruins can still be visited. The novels are set during a time of civil war and unrestas two cousins, Steven and Matilda (the Empress Maud) compete for England's throne. This series, published between 1977 and its author's death in 1995, helped launch the "historical sleuth" genre of mysteries. As with many series, the early-middle entries (Chronicles 3-8 in my opinion) seem to me to be the strongest. This entry, Chronicle 4, is one of my favorites.
There is an embarrassment of riches on Audible when it comes to narrator choice for this series. Patrick Tull, best known for his splendid narrations of the Aubrey/Maturin nautical novels, is an excellent choice for the "monastic" atmosphere of the series. But since Cadfael's stories lack the action of Aubrey's sea battles and political intrigues, Tull's low-key (if forceful) presentation can become soporific. Sir Derek Jacobi played the title role in the BBC dramatizations. Stephen Thorne is a classic English reader; his presentations are faultless, but not compelling. Then there's Johanna Ward.
It may seem strange to have a woman narrate these stories, in which almost all the major characters are male. But I found her reading to be highly enjoyable, moving faster and with more energy than other versions of these stories I've listened to. Whichever narrator you choose, if you like classic historical mysteries with lots of period ambience, you should enjoy these books.
The first five novels in Stephen Saylor’s “Roma Sub Rosa” saga span almost 30 years, from when Gordianus the Finder met Cicero the Advocate (“Roman Blood,” set in 80 BC) to the murder of Clodius (“Murder on the Appian Way,” 52 BC). Gordianus rubbed shoulders with historical bigshots while he solved crimes, got married, acquired children, and watched as the Roman republic crumbled. In "Rubicon," the sixth book of the series, he (and we) reach the era of outright civil war--early 49 BC, as Julius Caesar and his legions “cross the Rubicon” in defiance of the Roman senate and its leader, Pompey Magnus (“the great,” a title Pompey apparently bestowed on himself).
“Rubicon” opens with Pompey’s nephew found murdered in the atrium of Gordianus’ own home. “Pompey is going to be mightily pissed,” moans Gordianus, now 60 and retired. He has tried to avoid taking sides in the civil war, despite the fact that his son Meto is Caesar’s close adviser and literary amanuensis. Gordianus the Finder has given way to Gordianus the Father (and grandfather), paterfamilias of a unique family that he loves deeply and is desperate to protect. But of course the startling murder drags him into the thick of things. Pompey, about to lead his own army against Caesar, takes Gordianus’ son-in-law hostage and will return him only when Gordianus finds the killer.
Especially considering that it’s one of the shorter entries in the series, the plot of “’Rubicon” is complex. There are secret love affairs and coded messages and disguises and blackmail and a climactic battle. The ending reveals the killer but opens up a whole new mystery that will play out over the next few books.
The Roman Republic-into-Empire era epitomizes the curse “may you live in interesting times.” Saylor’s books portray the uncertainty, violence, and chaos and its effects on ordinary citizens with verve and scholarship. The parallel but somewhat less earnest SPQR books by John Maddox Roberts feature the same timeframe and events, starring a young aristocrat who is prone to stumble across murders. Both series are treats for the classical history lover.
In terms of audiobooks, it’s unfortunate that the early Gordianus novels were *extremely* poorly narrated. Ralph Cosham takes over the narration for Rubicon and later books, and I enjoy him (once I get over wondering how Inspector Armand Gamache--a trademark Cosham character--got from modern Quebec to ancient Rome). The SPQR books are narrated by Simon Vance and John Lee, both great old hands at this type of material. We who are about to listen salute you!
The title novella in this anthology by Man Booker Prize recipient Ismail Kadare is a reference to the Greek king Agamemnon, who lured his daughter Iphigenia to the altar with promises of marriage to the hero Achilles, only to seize her and sacrifice her to the gods so that his army would be allowed to sail away and attack Troy. The narrator of Kadare’s novella, a broadcast journalist in totalitarian socialist Albania during the early 80s, finds the ancient story of Iphigenia strangely resonant. He is hurting because the woman he loves has recently left him, allegedly because her father did not find their relationship politically expedient. He has also received a last-minute ticket to a grandstand seat at the May Day Parade--a high honor he cannot refuse--and his romantic musings as he walks to claim his unsought “exalted” position are interspersed with paranoid reflections as to the meaning behind the anonymous invitation. Is it really a reward (and if so, for what?), or is it a trap?
“Agamemnon’s Daughter” is Kadare’s no doubt autobiographical mirror of the conditions prevailing in Albania from 1944-1985, under the rule of dictator Enver Hoxa (referred to in the story as the “Supreme Guide”). During that time Albania achieved unprecedented economic and agricultural success; the people were said to be “tax-free”; education (within rigidly prescribed socialist contexts) was available to all and literacy skyrocketed. By the May Day described, it is also a society where personal privacy, independence, family loyalty, and love itself have been sacrificed to absolute political authority. It is all the more chilling for having been drawn from reality.
The second story, “The Blinding Order,” explores the paranoid psychology that grips people when a “witch hunt” is on; in this case, the hunt involves seeking out those who possess the “evil eye.” It was an original approach to a topic that’s been covered many times.
I found the last and shortest story, “The Great Wall,” to be the most interesting. Set in the 14th century, it documents the internal musings of two men, one an engineer called to work on shoring up China’s Great Wall against an attack by Tamarlane’s army; the second man is a scout for that army. It’s not exactly action-packed, but it’s an interesting take on fear, conquest, and psyching out the enemy.
This collection was an unusually literary choice for me; I tend to listen mostly to genre fiction, which these stories definitely are not. If this had been a novel I probably would have found it, well, boring, but the length of these pieces made each of them an intriguing change of pace. I was a little put off by the coarse, even misogynisitic, language Kadare uses when describing women sexually, but aside from those brief instances I found the writing admirable. All in all, a worthy selection, especially for anyone interested in political history.
It has been five years since "An Echo in the Bone" was published, and the long awaited Volume 8 is finally imminent (June 2014). Although readers are now five years older, the forthcoming "Written in My Own Heart's Blood" will apparently pick up the story on the same day (well at least one of the same days) "Echo" ended.
I started listening to this series four years ago and listened to them all in sequence (along with the Lord John Grey books--and a lot other books in between). I just recently finished "Echo," so I guess I timed it right. I can't imagine how frustrating it's been for fans of the series who read "Echo" when it came out to have had all those cliffhangers hanging all this time. You've probably re-read the book in anticipation of the new one; it's certainly a good idea to do so.
After three books set claustrophobically in frontier North Carolina and stories centered almost exclusively on Jamie, Claire, Roger, and Brianna, in "Echo" we *finally* get off of Fraser's Ridge--with a vengeance! If almost nothing happened in "Fiery Cross" and the action was slow (and mostly depressing) in "Snow and Ashes," then "An Echo in the Bone" seems determined to make up for it. Not only do characters from previous books (notably Ian, Lord John, and William) now take center stage right along with J,C,R&B, we are suddenly world and time travelers again. The action covers much of the American east coast, has great scenes in Scotland (in TWO story lines, 200 years apart!), and for kicks throws in several scenes in London and France. We meet historical characters, including Benedict Arnold and a naked Ben Franklin. Even Rollo the Wolfhound gets featured actor status.
The mind reels and the plot jumps can be hard to follow, but I enjoyed "An Echo in the Bone." I'm especially grateful for the action-packed pace after the previous two snoozers. I think you do need to have read "The Brotherhood of the Blade" in the Lord John series to fully appreciate "Echo," but that should not be a hardship; in my opinion, "Brotherhood" is, all things considered, Diana Gabaldon's best novel to date. And I'm glad I won't have to wait five years to find out what happened in Philadelphia that day.
Hard on the heels of Naxos releasing "The Grand Sophy" and "Sylvester," two of Georgette Heyer's greatest, comes the equally wonderful "Venetia." All three books were written at the peak of Heyer's career. "Venetia" has a bit more melodrama than "Sophy" or "Sylvester," partly because of the reformed rake with a painful past that is the the hero, Lord Damerel.
All her life Venetia has heard oblique references to her "delicate position," along with veiled warnings that she must be especially protective of her reputation, "so as not to be thought to be...." At which point her well wishers generally trail off and say something like "....but I must say no more on that head," leaving Venetia puzzled, to say the least. The arrival of the charming but brooding Damerel increases these warnings to a fever pitch, for reasons that the reader will probably guess before Venetia solves the mystery.
During her lifetime Georgette Heyer was said to resent the fact that her Regency romances were so much more popular than her mysteries or her historical fiction. I agree her mysteries are underrated (particularly "Envious Casca," which I think is a minor masterpiece that Masterpiece Mystery should dramatize immediately), but, whether she agreed with the assessment or not, her Regencies are in a class by themselves. The best of them -- including Venetia -- stand head and shoulders above the pack. Enjoy!
If you are a huge fan of Michael Sullivan's "Riyria Revelations" (as I am), you may be disappointed by storyline of this book. If you love Hadrian and Royce and Gwen and Arista (as I do), you may be disappointed by the characters in this book. If you are simply a fan of Sullivan's writing (as I am), or if you like thought-provoking social commentary with offbeat sort-of science fiction, you may like this book.
Elements of the book reminded me of "Looking Backward," an 1888 book by Edward Bellamy. It is a change to see a vision of the future that had at least some elements of utopia, rather than the bleak and brutal dystopian futures portrayed in most 21st century novels. But 2,000 years is a long time (trying to go 200 years into the future, our MIT-trained protagonist miscalculates by an order of magnitude), and this future is indeed weird.
Definitely a change of pace for Michael Sullivan, and not something I would have chosen if he hadn't been the author. "Hollow World" lives up to his high standards as a novelist, and I'm not exactly sorry I listened to it, but, unlike the "Riyria" books, it's not something I'd want to listen to a second time.
You should only consider getting this title if you're already a fan of the Black Jewels trilogy ("Daughter of the Blood," "Heir to the Shadows," and "The Queen of Darkness," hereafter referred to as BJT), and even then I wouldn't recommend "The Invisible Ring."
The BJT is a mix of magic, epic fantasy, sadistic evil, adventure, romance, and erotica (both romantic and BDSM). Its world is one of multiple planes (Terreile, Kaelaer, Hayll, and the Twisted Kingdom) and different races (winged humans, humans who live for centuries, regular humans, "black widows," and undead sorta vamps). Jewels are the source of magic, and the darker the jewel the more potent the magic. Women hold the dominant sexual power and evil queens enforce it by forging "rings of obedience" onto the … anatomy … of any powerful Warlord Prince they can get their hands on.
If you're still reading this after the above description, you might enjoy the BJT books, which are unique, intriguing, exciting, romantic, and often erotic. But "The Invisible Ring," a prequel to the BJT, is none of these.
The marvelous, fully developed characters of BJT are absent. Instead we have the callow Jared and a pretty young pre-queen who may, if Jared and his buddies can manage to save her from the hideously evil Red Queen Dorothea, develop into a full-fledged Grey-Jewelled Queen (grey jewels being pretty high-powered items in this world). Dorothea is the only major character from BJT who shows up (well, BJT' s hero Daemon has a cameo, but it's so pale you can overlook it). Dorothea's scenes are truly gruesome--she is one corrupt witch queen!--but mostly the book is just boring and trite, and very unlike the books of the trilogy.
P.S. The review of Invisible Ring by Tango is spot on. I have been meaning to post this "warning" review for a while, and her excellent summation has just beaten me to it!
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.
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