Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time, so when this re-telling was recommended to me I jumped at it with both anticipation and trepidation. Could anything else be as good? Nearly.
The writing is quite good, but the plot seems forced at times. No question that it's hard to get a more contemporary character to follow the same path as a character from the 19th century, especially when the options open to a woman were so dramatically different with a century's advance. Within those limitations author Margo Livesey does a very good job.
However, I was unhappy with the cause of Gemma's parting from Sinclair (her Rochester). I won't spoil it, because I know I read to this point with lots of excited anticipation wondering what Livesey would come up with to replace Rochester's bigamy. Let's just say it falls flat: It wasn't really an impediment to their marriage or their love, and it certainly wasn't something so horrible as so send her fleeing from a man who attempted to tarnish her character beyond redemption. So it makes Gemma seem silly and childish.
Then later, Livesey has Gemma do something else which is immature and petty -- quite out of character to what we've seen to this point. A little re-write could have moved the plot in the same direction without this out-of-synch moment.
Still, given the constraints it's not impossible to look past these minor failings for what's overall quite well done. I'll be looking for other work by Livesey.
Davina Porter narrates quite well, with well done voices for all the main characters. There's an odd, breath-y, falsetto child's voice at one point that doesn't work, but the rest is quite outstanding. Porter has a well-deserved reputation as one of the industry's best!
I decided to take advantage of Audible's return program on this one -- something I've only done once before in all the years I've been a member. This book was recommended to me as a really funny book, but the narration is flat and dull. It's read with zero inflection or verve, no sense of the irony or comedy that should be there and every single sentence ends on a down beat. And not a bah-dum-duh sort of down beat either.
I'm giving the story 3-stars, but just because I'm giving the original the benefit of the doubt. Maybe someday I'll read it in paper, but not this version!
My complete review is on Goodreads, but I'm posting part of it here to discourage others from making the same mistake I did.
"...this is one of those horrendous productions that has music...
[It] only adds to the confusion of the multiple narrators in this book. Rather than just three narration voices, they are semi-dramatized...Zero stars for directing and production. The individual performances weren???t that bad considering the material they had to work with."
I absolutely love the characters in Touchstone, but I didn't find the story as compelling as some of King's other works.
Bennett Gray, the "touchstone" of the title, is meant to be a main character and is surprisingly sidelined in the action. He's there, tagging along at a number of points, but not really part of the action if that makes sense. This is a disappointment as he's more interesting than some of the others, but it also makes for a bit of awkwardness as you wonder just what the point of him is at times. His unusual skill in heightened awareness or rapid cognition aren't really used in the "dectection" of the mystery, but rather as a secondary plot.
Lead dectector, Harry Stuyvesant, is also complex and likable, plus there's a good, if somewhat obvious, villain.
The weak point here is the plot. Unfortunately, the end doesn't really surprise. This is in part because the lead suspect is a) announced as such from the start, and b) gets very little screen time. And there are very few other options as to who it might be. The main plot detours from it's original focus, and the secondary plot doesn't tie in well, so it's a bit of a jumble in places.
In the end, you want to know more about the characters, want to know what happens to them next and really want a better book for them ??? all of which is happening as King says "The book I'll be writing this year  is set in Paris, 1929, and is about some of the characters from Touchstone."
Jefferson Mays was a fine narrator, though something felt "off" to me about his voice for Bennett Gray. Nothing specifically wrong with it, but just not how I "hear" Bennett. And his voice for American Stuyvesant was a good effort, but sounded stilted especially with Harry's constant use of slang.
I was once charmed by the lilting narratives of Salman Rushdie???s "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" read out loud to me with background music by a rather talented boyfriend. It is not among Rushdie???s more famous works, so it???s surprising that, given how much I loved that other work, it???s taken me this long to get to another.
And again I am charmed. And overwhelmed. Charmed by the language and rhythm of "Midnight???s Children", by the vastness of the story, of the magical realism which I normally dislike. Overwhelmed by the hugeness of it all, the multiple stories, some historical, some so fantastical that they make "One Hundred Years of Solitude" look like non-fiction. I???ve just finished it and already can???t remember parts of it because my brain simply won???t hold it all.
"Midnight???s Children" is predominantly the biography of Saleem Sinai, born in the first minute of India???s independence from Britain. The story traces his life and simultaneously that of the new India through optimism and growth, partition and war, and emergency and corruption. Coincidence builds on coincidence until the stories begin to spiral upwards to stretch plausibility and then, rather than losing control, culminate in a sunburst of magical fantasy in which Saleem disappears from being entirely at one point. While the story winds in at the end, the language keeps rushing towards the final page leaving you at the conclusion ever so slightly out of breath. It will take you a moment to realize that you are actually sitting still.
I am not usually a fan of magical realism such as the aforementioned "One Hundred Years of Solitude". Maybe this works for me here because I expect India to be a place of bright, outlandishness. (That extraordinary lotus pink is, after all, the navy blue of India.) It is a place so distant to me that it???s easier for me to suspend belief perhaps. But it???s also Rushdie???s ability to make words dance and to mesmerize sentences like a snake charmer.
Winner of both the Booker Prize and the Booker-of-Bookers, it is considered to be one of the best books of the 20th century. Rushdie certainly deserves all this high praise: It???s a great work and he manages to sustain it over thousands of pages. I don???t know that I consider it the best book ever, and I confess it could have been a smidge shorter: There are a few points when you wish he would linger less. Still, absolutely worth the time and effort.
Lyndham Gregory is amazing here giving perfect pace to the words and handling dozens of different characters and voices. A slight weakness on the females, but not especially noticeable. I???ll be looking for other work of his.
Since stumbling on the extraordinary trilogy by Steig Larsson, I???ve learned that Swedish writers have a long-standing reputation for producing great crime writing and have followed the hordes in tracking down some of these writers. First, of course, came Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall, a fabulous writing team from the 1960s and 70s. Now, the hugely popular Henning Mankell and his famous police detective of the 90s, Kurt Wallander.
Given his enormous popularity I was really looking forward to these books, but I was very disappointed by "Faceless Killers", the first in the series. Many reviewers find it riveting and entertaining, but I found that it dragged. The pace of the action is set over several months and there are many days when Wallander turns up in the office and the sum of the work is ???nothing happened today.??? Later in the book, the reader is taken more smoothly over these stages when there is little development in the case, but Mankell could have handled this more deftly early on. As it is, it causes severe problems with the pacing.
While Wallander???s character is broadly developed, full of faults and personal crises, it almost feels forced, as if the problematic character is stuck in to fill the gaps while we wait for something to happen in the action of the mystery. The rest of the police investigation team is not well developed and I had trouble keeping most of them straight.
Some (or perhaps all) of this may be down to the narration. Dick Hill was an inappropriate choice of narrator for this series. Hill approaches the material as if he???s reading Beat poetry rather than a police procedural. All his characterizations sound as if they???re 70-year-old Jewish men whining about parking, rather than young and middle-aged professional cops. The translation from the Swedish is to British English, but Hill reads with a Brooklyn accent incompatible with the language. Hearing distinctly British word choices (strand instead of beach, ???a video??? vs. VCR, first floor vs. second) read straight outta Brooklyn or the mispronunciation of words (pension as ???pen-shun???) is jarring. Speeding up the playback helped with the slowly. Punctuated. Beat. Interpretation. and the worst dragging of the narrative development, but I won???t try another of Mankell???s books read by Hill.
I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but do like the occasional history or travel memoir. This is an extraordinary combination of both. Dugard does a great job of piecing together the various stories of several explorers and how they all led to that one famous moment when Stanley meets Livingstone.
Instead of a story just tracing a long walk around Africa, he sets in all in context of what was happening on the world stage and helps the reader understand how explorers and scientists were part of the glitterati of the era, and how that drove the effort to find Livingstone and find him first.
Since the eventual Stanley-Livingstone meeting is famous, we all know what happens. Dugard pulls off quite a trick by keeping you on the edge of your seat wanting more until that fateful moment.
Dugard is frank about the lives and realities of these men, both in their native countries and in Africa. He doesn't try to gloss over the truth, as has been done in earlier eras for more Victorian sensibilities, rather he gives a more complete picture including all their foibles.
One reviewer felt that Dugard did not do enough to criticize the racism, slavery and imbalance that were so common in Africa at the time, but there is, in fact, quite a lot about the different ways that Livingstone and other explorers treated local residents, the Arab slave traders, and how desperate Livingstone had to be before he would accept assistance from the slavers.
John Lee's performance was solid and I'll look for other work of his. Kept the drama going, and did okay with various accents.
"Riders of the Purple Sage" is a classic of Western genre fiction, and I was looking forward to a good cowboy adventure story. It turns out that this is far less an adventure story and much more a morality tale about the abuse of power by religious leadership. The story is set during the era of Utah's pre-statehood 'theocratic democracy' and chronicles the conflicts that arise from attempts to force women into unwanted polygamous marriages and the church's violent efforts of the era to exclude non-Mormons from Utah. When it's done being a morality tale, it's a good old-fashioned romance.
The gunman, Lassiter, one of the most famous characters in Western literature, acts as a contrast to the perverse religiosity of the locals by acting according to his own moral code and sense of justice. He's the original Man in Black.
In the end the characters aren't developed deeply enough for the story to hold together completely. Still, there are a couple of good adventure sequences, beautifully described canyon country of southern Utah, and the bad guys all get what they deserve.
Nice narration by Mark Bramhall, though he's weak on the female voices.
I'd heard so much about Philippa Gregory's books and was looking forward to reading one of her historical novels. I understood that license had been taken with the historical facts, and I was prepared for that. What I wasn't prepared for was a poorly edited novel with a plodding plot and text and dialogue of the same quality that's in the average Harlequin romance novel. I got about a third of the way through this on Gregory's reputation and just gave up. I really like Davina Porter as a narrator and it's unfortunate that she does books like this (ie, Outlander series).
Still Life is a charming and well done mystery novel, if not quite gripping or riveting. In a few places the characters seem not quite thought through or cartoonish. And there were quite a number of characters that were developed enough to move the plot along, but never had their stories really wrapped up which was annoying. Overall a good read. The narrator was a poor choice, however. First, his delivery is rather staccato and reminded me of the old John-Wayne-does-Shakespeare joke (IsThis. TheDagger. ISee. BeforeMe?). Worse, he reads with a British accent even thought the book is set in Canada. Nothing sounds right. Gamache has a British English accent, but you don't notice it in the reading, because everyone does! And the reader chooses classic French pronunciation over Quebequois, so this all sounds off, too. He even mispronounces Gamache's name! (There's an audio pronunciation guide on the author's website so there's no excuse for getting these things wrong.) A reader with a basic Canadian (or even American) accent would have given the book a lot more sense of place and really brought the listener into the atmosphere more. It doesn't quite ruin the book, but it really does detract.
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