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.
I didn't think there were any more possible takes on zombies. I was wrong. I like the genre, but I never saw THIS coming.
Melanie lives in a facility with some other "special" kids. She loves pictures, history, Greek myths, and especially her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau. Each day of learning is fun--and all days are just like the others. Until one day when everything changes.
I won't give more details: they wouldn't be spoilers, exactly, but the events of the book unfold in such an unconventional way that each reader should experience it individually. This is well-trodden ground, and yet that's the genius of this book: just when you're expecting a familiar chain of events, something completely new shows up and puts you way off course.
Most books I've read in this genre focus exclusively on humans; you don't get much of the other point of view, and you wouldn't expect it to be so nuanced--or scary. Melanie's like any kid, but she's also NOT like any kid, and the comparison can be very creepy.
Melanie alone was enough for four stars from me. The book does have flaws--for one thing, it takes a while to really get rolling. The opening sections aren't boring, fortunately, but they felt static, and I began to wonder when something was going to happen. The character development also felt a little slow, and Carey's prose style, while literary, doesn't have the exciting flow I'm used to from other suspense and horror authors.
But as the story developed, I began to get more and more interested with every horrible little surprise that came up. By the end, I was completely glued to my player, all the way through to the absolutely chilling end--yikes! The last hour was utterly and completely different from what I had expected, in a very good way.
The narration by Finty Williams is fantastic, especially the voice for Melanie--little-girlish, and yet also terrifying when necessary. Highly recommended for those looking for a more thoughtful (but still scary) zombie experience!
This book has been coming up in my recommendations for a long time, but I always skipped it. When I listened to the Audible sample it sounded as if the book's world-building was terrible or even non-existent (which is because it's not from the beginning of the book!) Further, descriptions of the book's 80s nostalgia were kind of a turn-off: as a member of Gen X, I'm not always very nostalgic about the 80s.
But I had a credit, and I like Wil Wheaton--so when I read the Audible Essentials review of Ready Player One, I thought I might as well try it. Boy. Was I ever wrong about what this book would be like!
In 2045, Wade Watts is a child of the new era, a teenage orphan living with his aunt and a bunch of other people in a derelict trailer. The planet is a dump and most people are jerks, or worse. The only place he can find peace is OASIS, a Second Life-style digital game environment where he attends school, goes on adventures, and hides from the drag that reality has become (and where Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctorow are elected officials!) The game's creator has been dead for several years, leaving behind an in-game easter egg hunt: the winner gets his entire multi-billion dollar fortune! But nobody's had any luck. Until now.
This book wasn't much like anything else I've read recently: it's part mystery, part quest-legend story, part love story, part fairytale, and part dystopian-future novel. I was afraid it might be depressing, but it wasn't--not at all. Events moved quickly, and the humorous tone kept me laughing out loud. The nostalgia itself turned out to directed mostly toward geeky stuff that I remember fondly, like arcade games and old computers. Puzzling out what might happen next was an additional bonus--I was so proud of myself when I got a crucial reference before Wade did!
Wil Wheaton does a great job on narration. The only thing I was a little disappointed with--it caused me to knock off a star--was the character development. Wade, and especially his friends, come off as somewhat two-dimensional. Perhaps that's because the events of the book are such a wild ride. I could not stop listening! I ran the batteries out in my headphones and was forced to dig through a junk drawer to find an analog pair so I could keep going. That's how determined I was to find out what would happen next.
Overall I recommend this book if you are looking for an exciting and fun science fiction adventure that's also close to home. If you recognize the headline for this review, you're definitely going to like Ready Player One.
Writers of zombie fiction face a problem--you've got your band of survivors, but then what? Most authors keep their protagonists shuffling forward, foraging food, picking among the ruins of civilization. Sometimes there's a small community, and the focus shifts to petty power struggles that keep me hoping the apocalypse won't ever arrive. Occasionally this strategy works (Robert Kirkman), but more often, it just gets depressing.
Not so with Manel Loureiro's Apocalypse Z. In this final installment, our Spanish lawyer, now in Mississippi, faces something even more terrifying than a horde of undead: an unhinged Evangelist dictator backed up by a skinhead army. Even worse, another army is arriving from the other side of the world to do battle over the last inhabited town in the United States. It's up to our lawyer, along with Lucia, Pritchenko, and faithful feline Lucullus, to stop it all in time to save what's left of the planet.
There aren't a lot of marauding undead in this novel--Loureiro focuses on humans this time, with exciting and sometimes sad results (with so few humans left, it's pretty disgusting that they'd kill and mistreat each other!) But there's just as much excitement as there was in the last two books, as the trio get in one imaginative scrape after another. It was impossible to guess what was going to happen next as the twists kept on coming.
The ending did not disappoint here: clearly, the author knew when to end the series. Still, I wish there were more on the way--I'm going to miss these characters! I'll also miss Nick Podehl's fantastic reading, which brings all the emotion and excitement you'd expect from such a story, along with well-done accents that never sound cartoonish.
I highly recommend this suspenseful, insightful series for its excitement as well as its exploration of how horrible and wonderful human beings can be. Five stars all the way!
I've noticed a lack of good old scary stories in the last few years. Gory shock value is all over the place, and that's fine for what it is, but I've often wished authors would spend more time on their characters' psychology. Bird Box turned out to be just what I've been looking for.
Malorie and her sister have moved into a house together when reports start to come in from all over the world: normal people are glimpsing something that instantly turns them into crazed killers. While the Internet boils with theories, people gradually stop driving, stop shopping, and finally they just barricade themselves in their homes with the doors and windows blocked. Society eventually falls apart, yet Malorie finds hope and musters the strength to go on. But she can't live like a prisoner forever, so she begins a terrifying blindfolded journey to what she desperately hopes will be enduring safety.
I have to say it took me a good half-hour to get into this one. The narrator didn't really do it for me, with uneven reading volume and more angst than seemed necessary. It didn't help that Malorie imbues even the most boring object with intense dramatic feelings.
But I'm really glad I spent the time, because Bird Box turned out to be one of the best books I've listened to for a while. After the first chapter or two, we meet the real Malorie (not just the dramatic one) and hear her story--which is compelling, to say the least. By midway through, I completely understood the feelings those objects brought up, and the angst, too.
The real star of this book is the author's handling of his themes: fear, bravery, putting faith and trust in others and yourself. All those things can be scary, but sometimes you just have to face them anyway, even when you're blindfolded. Malorie and her friends give it their best, with varying results, in an evocative illustration of what it's like to be part of a group of survivors.
Throughout the book, Malorie's memories of the past alternate with her frightening present, creating suspense that made it really hard to stop listening. I did the last three hours in one go, putting off bedtime again and again.
There isn't a lot of how-and-why here, and logic nitpickers ("That couldn't possibly happen! It'd be more like..." etc) will probably be driven insane. But if you're looking for real horror, Bird Box is a sustained scare that will keep you thinking long after the book is over.
Most zombie apocalypse stories I've read were set in the USA. Apocalypse Z takes place in Galicia, a rainy region in Northwestern Spain best known for the historic area of Santiago de Compostela. It's a refreshing change that makes for an exciting zombie yarn.
A widowed lawyer and his cat, Lucullus, watch nervously as things go bad in Russia, then the EU, then everywhere. The lawyer blogs his struggles at first, and then is forced to change to paper when the Internet finally dies. He and Lucullus leave home and bravely traverse Galicia, taking out "those THINGS," as he calls them, searching desperately for any kind of safety.
All the regular zombie tropes are present here, but the story is made exciting by the fact that our hero is just some guy--sometimes brave, other times terrified, but able to use the knowledge he has to get by and survive. If you're at all familiar with Spanish culture, another dimension is added: the lawyer is a definite Spanish "type," so the story becomes more of a question of what would this average guy, the guy you see every morning on the train going into the city, what would he do if there were an apocalypse?
Some sections of the story didn't go fast enough for me--our hero was a little waffly at times, agonizing too much over decisions. But he is a lawyer, so maybe the overanalysis is a kind of professional hangover from normal times. Mostly, I was hooked--I had to find out what was going to happen next. And as an animal lover, not listening all the way through wasn't an option: would Lucullus make it? There was no way I could skip the answer to that question!
I can't say enough about the narration, beautifully done by Nick Podehl who did such a fantastic job on The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Podehl makes the fear, disgust, and sadness really come through. His Spanish pronunciation is pretty good, too.
If you're looking for a zombie story that's a little different, this one is a great choice: a little less John Wayne and a lot more guy-next-door, Apocalypse Z will keep you listening through to the end. I can't wait for the next volume in this saga!
I rolled the dice on this one, based on reviews--and I was definitely NOT disappointed!
In a dystopian future world where remnants of past technology still hang on, Three is a drifter, a scavenger, a hunter, an all-purpose badass. But he's also a little bored. Something's missing--and then, as he sits in a bar, drinking away his latest payoff, a woman and her son appear, begging him for help.
Their journey takes us through first-time author Jay Posey's intriguing futurescape: blasted cities, frontier villages, safehouse bunkers, all places to hide from the terrifying Weir who walk only at night. Some human badasses also stalk the trio, and the action keeps going from almost the very start as Three and his charges get into and out of one scrape after another.
Some of those scrapes are standard fare for a SF/apocalyptic novel, but the author kept the tension going through the characters themselves. Each has secrets that can make or break any situation they get into, so even when I was able to guess what might befall the travelers, I couldn't tell how things were going to shake out.
The world itself was pretty interesting, too, combining elements of a standard post-apocalyptic setting with a Gibson-esque cyberpunk tone. We never find out what happened to the world we know now, but that isn't a big deal, as the details of the future world stand in for a full-on explanation.
Luke Daniels narrates this competently, with an Eastwood-ish voice for the title character. Overall, exciting and very fun. Looking forward to the rest of this series!
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.
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