Flannery O'Connor was what one of her own characters might call "an intellectual," yet due to her health (she suffered from lupus), she lived on a farm in the country with her mother. This collection is in my opinion her best, because the stories draw directly from that struggle while taking on dozens of other issues such as racial and social equality, gender equality, faith, and mother/child dynamics.
My favorite story here is "The Lame Shall Enter First," a sly, dry, and ultimately revealing view of what O'Connor believed Jesus had in mind for all His followers. The rest show the world from the perspective of the postwar American South: the old ways still fighting the new. As one character says early on, "...the bottom rail is on the top," and few seem happy about it.
The resulting gloom could have made these stories depressing, but they're much too funny for that. O'Connor's particular gift was dialogue, a lot of which is still laugh-out-loud hilarious, even when you've read every story multiple times before.
The narrators here do a fabulous job. Nobody overdoes it on the Southern accents, and the audio quality is great. Flannery O'Connor's work is a national treasure--every American book-lover should experience these stories, and this edition is the perfect way to go.
Horror fiction is in kind of a weird place right now. There's the old classic stuff, where the horror is all in the mind, and then there's the plain gross-out stuff. A lot of the first type hasn't aged well--the things that scare us now are so different than they were back then. And the gross-out kind, while fun, can get boring after a while: another eyeball falls out, another arm gets torn off, but does anything actually happen?
Not too many people are hitting the midline these days: psychological exploration of fear mixed with just enough yuck to keep things interesting. But this guy, Nick Cutter--he's right on top of that balance beam in The Troop.
Scoutmaster Tim and his troop of five boys set off for a remote location off the coast of Prince Edward Island (which itself qualifies as remote!). Everything's going great--for a little while. And then, almost immediately, things begin to unravel when a stranger arrives. A really strange stranger. Suddenly, everything is falling off the edge of normal, especially the scouts themselves.
Fans of earlier Stephen King novels may recognize the structure: everything's fine and then the Bad Thing shows up, making everyone show their true, ugly colors. But this book reads like a later King actually wrote it, especially in the characterization. The boys start off as templates: bully, nerd, weirdo, kid with issues at home, normal (if confused) kid. And then stereotypes vanish as personalities evolve and blur under the stress of the situation.
Other reviewers have mentioned that parts of this book are just plain disgusting. I actually yelled out "Oh, gross!" on the bus at one point, causing my fellow passengers to look around cautiously. But even the gross stuff wasn't just there for effect--it was disgusting, squishy, and smelly, yes, but it was also truly horrifying. Suddenly I remembered what "spine-tingling" actually means. Yikes!
The only issue I had with this edition, and it was a little issue, was the production value. The narrator was fine, but I heard a few page-turns and there were parts where the sound level dropped for a few seconds. But like I said, it was a pretty small issue.
I can't remember the last time I read a book with virtually no boring parts. This book didn't have any that I noticed. I wandered around with my earbuds on for an entire day, completely glued to the story. I kept listening for "tells" that might point to Stephen King actually writing this book--apparently it's a first novel, but that was hard to believe because it's just so good (I don't think Stephen King wrote this...but I can't be entirely sure!). If you love horror that's really horrifying, and you don't mind some squishy parts, you will love The Troop.
I've read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction in the last few years. Usually zombies show up, or vampires, or else it's like Mad Max where bands of yahoos roam the wasted countryside, bringing destruction and disorder. Pat Frank's "Alas, Babylon" brings us a different scenario--for a dystopia, this is pretty utopian.
Randy Bragg is a lawyer in Fort Repose, Florida. He's kind of mooching along and drinking too much. Then the bombs fall. The world changes, and Randy changes with it as he finds himself responsible for leading a group of friends and family. Together, they work to survive in the Contaminated Zone. They're lucky--Fort Repose was too far away from the blast zones to get much radiation. With the help of a strong wind on The Day, as they call it, crops and water are spared. It's a matter of working with what they have left.
It's here that the book's original publication year (1959) becomes evident. Blacks and whites are suddenly desegregated--the significance of that may be a puzzle for younger readers, who may not know of awful stuff like "Colored" drinking fountains. They use the CONELRAD system for getting their information--horribly flawed, CONELRAD was replaced in 1963.
Perhaps strangest of all, people seem awfully polite. Fights are few, and the Fort Reposians immediately begin to help each other out in a town-picnic, chore-wheel kind of way. Drama is infrequent. Even the yahoos (who do eventually show up) don't use the f-word. I've heard of worse circumstances in a modern-day high school.
The main lessons of the book are still useful, however. One is, prepare for disaster--physically and mentally; don't expect your hair dryer to work! Another: just because the world changes, it doesn't mean you can't change yourself for the better. And, perhaps most important: stick together and show each other kindness; friends and family are all you really have, especially when the world is a mess.
I can imagine that this book was pretty scary for the Mad Men-era people who read it first. But as I listened to Will Patton's comfortable Carolina accent describing the fear and devastation, I realized why Pat Frank wrote this book--the Fort Repose survivors aren't scientists or world leaders. They're just regular small-town people, and they make it. You can, too.
Recommended for anyone interested in history--whether alternate or real.
Plenty of novels that offer great truths about the world are rewarding to read, but unfortunately dry as dust. Reviews for The Goldfinch mention its many themes and messages--consequently I was a little nervous putting it in my cart, especially after I read some of the reviews of the narrator.
My worry was wasted. The Goldfinch really comes through with 32-plus hours of riveting listening.
Theo Decker is only 13 when he loses his mother in a catastrophe at a museum. He survives, and with him is a tiny painting by a forgotten Dutch master, Carel Fabritius. The painting is always in his thoughts as, over a number of years, he is passed from home to home: with a school friend on Park Avenue in New York, with his father and a wiggy girlfriend in Las Vegas, with a restorer of fine furniture in Greenwich Village.
In those places, as he tries desperately to put his life back together in spite of a total lack of preparation for such a disaster, Theo meets some of the more interesting and well-drawn characters I've seen in a literary novel. Some books that purport to be about "quirky" people feel a little forced--in less skillful hands, characters can seem like they're trying too hard to be weird and fun.
But good characters like Tartt's remind you of people you've known in your own life: a frustrating parent, well-meaning school counselors, annoying kids at school, an uncle that's always fussing over you. There are plenty of great examples here, including my favorite, Boris--a guy so crazy and fearless that even a trip to the local Quickie Mart is an epic adventure. (I firmly believe everyone should have at least one person like him in their life at some point!)
Some sections of the book were a bit long--there were a few conversations that made me squirm with frustration. I wanted to yell out, "Just SAY it!" But to balance it out there's a great wealth of detail that reminded me of the fun parts of anything by Dickens or Stephen King (to non-readers of King--yes, there are fun parts!).
The detail is particularly worthy when works of art are described. Art history geeks will be in heaven (I was!) but it's pretty easy to find Tartt's references online--I know, because there were a bunch I had to look up. I suggest finding a good picture of The Goldfinch to look at before listening, too--there were places where I wished I had done that myself.
I had never heard of David Pittu before and like I mentioned, I was a little nervous after I read some of the reviews. But again, the worry was wasted. For the great wealth of characters, he managed to come up with different accents and voices, and I always knew who was talking. His Russian/Ukraine accents were as good as his New York society ladies. At some points he seemed a little breathless, maybe even hammy, but it never lasted long and with the length of this book, I forgive him.
If you like art, or literature, or humor, or edge-of-the-seat suspense, or even if you just want to see some of the wide selection of weirdos this world has to offer, I recommend The Goldfinch. It's big--but it's worth it.
...but somehow, I found myself rooting for them anyway.
Belle and Jade are notorious for a horrible crime they committed when they were only 11 years old. Now it's twenty years later. One is a journalist writing Sunday Supplement "in depth" pieces. The other is a cleanup crew supervisor at a local amusement park. Both have spouses as well as new names.
They've moved on--kinda. Neither has told any of the people in her life about the past, and neither wants to. But when a string of murders brings them back together, their deception may have to be revealed.
This book was definitely a page-turner. With so many lies going around, something is always on the edge of being uncovered! There's also the suspense of finding out what really happened on that horrible day twenty years before--that story is mixed in throughout the book.
But even such an exciting story can touch on a lot of different themes. Besides deception, you'll find such topics as social inequality, relationships, parenting, and passing judgment on others. Marwood deals with all these competently, without hitting us over the head.
The most amazing thing about this book, though, is that I ended up liking people I didn't want to like, and hoping they'd come out all right, no matter what they might have done. Only careful character development can do that, and this book has it.
There are some grisly scenes here, but nothing you wouldn't find in your average crime novel. The narrator is just plain excellent. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but she varied her voice for each. Two characters have changes in social class, and their accents change appropriately according to what time period the book is currently in.
Overall, a great, suspenseful listen and well worth the credit! Five stars all around.
This came up in my recommendations, and I'm glad I gave it a shot. The author alternates between 2010 and 1985, telling the story of architect Regina "Reggie" Dufrane and her flaky mom, Vera. Vera's a washed-up former model who asks everyone she meets if they knew she was the Aphrodite Cold Cream girl.
In 1985, Vera disappears, taken by a serial killer. Her body never turns up, though...at least not for a while.
The alternation between timelines adds to the suspense. It's hard to guess what's going to happen next, no matter which year you're in! I have to admit it didn't keep me guessing all the way until the end--but I was still in the dark for much longer than I would have been with a typical mystery.
Going back and forth was also the source of my main issue with the book: some of the characters came out a bit cardboardish. It seemed that with their timelines split, none of them had the chance to become whole. That feeling carried over to a few characters who existed only in one of the years, too. It felt like they just didn't get enough page time to fully develop.
Still, the problem was small in a story that moved so fast, taking so many interesting twists and turns. The ending did not disappoint. And I can't say enough about the narration, expertly provided by Julia Whelan who did such a fabulous job on "Gone Girl."
Recommended for anyone who enjoys a good, creepy serial killer yarn!
There are numerous descriptions of the structure of this book, so I'll skip the details and just say there are six different stories, all set in different times, but interconnected, and each is read by a different narrator.
The narration alone made this book worth a listen. It starts with Scott Brick--one of my favorites, although I know some people don't like him as much as I do. But the other narrators are good too, particularly the one in the middle, longest section (sorry, don't know which one he is), who reads in a futuristic sort of Hawaiian pidgin.
All the stories are at least engaging, and all but a couple are fun, with humorous moments. In each case it's as if someone is reading to you, or just telling you a story, perhaps to kill time while traveling, or at a boring party, or maybe around a campfire.
That's the power of this book: there are so many stories in the world, and so many are connected.
I do wonder if some of the stories could stand well on their own. One or two of these wouldn't have been as good without the framework. Together, though, they make a good experience. All were suspenseful; while I didn't care about every single character I did want to know what happened to them all. And the characters that I did care about stayed with me for days after listening.
So I wouldn't say this is the greatest novel of all time. But I do recommend it for the light it throws on the messy, sad, funny, happy human experience.
This was my first Audible "A-list" title, and I was not disappointed. Claire Danes was the perfect choice for this book.
What used to be the United States is now Gilead, a monotheistic regime where women are protected from "too much choice." Like our real-world foremothers of a few hundred years ago, the women of Gilead cannot earn money, own property, or vote. They have few lifestyle options: governess, domestic, prostitute, mother. Females with "viable ovaries" are drafted as "Handmaids," surrogate mothers for sterile women of the elite class.
For Offred, the Handmaid of the title, life is a chorus of "not allowed." No reading, for women may not read. No fraternization, no conversation, no acknowledgement, no unauthorized possessions like hand lotion. Only fear and loneliness remain as Offred spends her days in a grim little room from which anything she could use to kill herself has been removed.
Through it all she's starving for human interaction, yet terrified that she'll look in the wrong direction, say a wrong word, and be transferred to the ominous Colonies with the other "UnWomen." Claire Danes reads matter-of-factly, her emotions understated as if she really is Offred, who must hide all longing and pain to stay alive.
While there are plenty of great narrators to choose from among Audible titles, it's very infrequent that the performance makes the book this much better. The story is as chilling as it was when the book was published, but Danes' reading brings out the suffering, the confusion, the "how-did-I-get-to-this-awful-place" feelings in a way that didn't come out of the printed text.
This definitely goes on the A-list. Recommended for any woman, any mother, anyone at all.
This is the first book of Lords of the North that I've listened to because the first two are available only in the abridged format (Are you listening, Audible? Abridged is yuck!).
I enjoyed the detail of Cornwell's Agincourt, so I was expecting more of the same for this book, set in my favorite period of British history. I wasn't expecting Lords of the North to be at all humorous, but I was pleasantly surprised. Uhtred is disappointed in Alfred the Great's lack of generosity--Uhtred helped Alfred drive back the invading Danes, but because he was pagan, Uhtred was rewarded only by being made the lord of Five Hides, an estate of questionable value and little prestige.
He leaves Five Hides to take back Bebbanburgh castle, rightfully his, from his uncle. "And that was when the stupidity began," he says early on. He gets into one crazy mess after another, throwing his lot in with the deluded slave/king Guthred and a band of religious fanatics--that doesn't turn out well, and the craziness keeps on coming.
Uhtred is looking back on his life through this volume, and as he laughs at the stupidity of his younger self, we laugh with him. This isn't a strictly comic novel, however--we get plenty of political plotting and a great deal of fighting (some of which is quite violent and might be a turn-off for some readers). I also got all the historic detail I was hoping for.
I see that some other reviewers aren't happy with the narrator. If I'd started with book one and a different narrator, I might feel the same way, but as it is I think Tom Sellwood was a great choice. His Northumbrian accent is spot on (enough so that it might be an issue for readers not used to northern British accents). But the best part is that he's actually acting--I really got a sense of Uhtred being an older man looking back on the follies of his youth.
Overall, highly recommended for readers who like battles, adventure, and even a few laughs.
The Undead Situation is not your usual zombie story where a few heroic survivors do heroic stuff and eventually move forward with their lives. Instead, most of these survivors are kind of...well...OK, I'll just say it. They're jerks.
Fortunately, they're funny, clever jerks, which made this book a quick and amusing listen. The main character, Cyrus V. Sinclair, won me over early on just because he knows himself so well--he understands that he's a jerk and he at least tries to work with it instead of letting it hold him back.
A few other reviewers say there's a lack of story, so I'll warn prospective readers: this isn't an epic drama. If you'd prefer a chewier apocalypse with more examination of society and morality, I recommend Stephen King's "Cell" (which by the way I really liked). In other words, you won't find a good-vs.-evil showdown here; it's a fast-moving tale of survival. Seen from that perspective, it definitely did the job, keeping me entertained and leaving me wanting more.
Another warning: like most zombie adventures, this one's got plenty of yuck. Don't do what I did and sit down to eat lunch while listening! Ew. I'd rate it at least PG-13; younger kids might be a little freaked out by the mess (unless they already like zombies and know what to expect).
This narrator was new to me, and for the most part I liked his performance. He could get hammy, but that never lasted long, and he didn't try to do high voices for the female characters, which I always appreciate. Overall, I recommend this for a funny and fast listen.
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