This compilation of interviews from the StoryCorps booths covers a variety of people in different relationships talking about important parts of their lives: a man interviews his grandfather about his late wife; a brother and sister reminisce about the strong religious women who influenced their childhood; a man interviews his wife as she slips into the early stages of dementia; a woman interviews her immigrant mother about her modern marriage. There is something here in these ordinary that will touch you, guaranteed.
This story follows Lavinia, an Irish immigrant put into indentured servitude on a Virginia plantation just a decade or two after the Revolutionary War. She sees both sides of the plantation: she is white, so privileged, but a servant, so raised by slaves. As she grows up, she has a good heart, a rather weak mind, and an astounding amount of naïveté and (occasional, but pivotal) petulance.
On the North/South border of the slave states, the characters pass back and forth between free Pennsylvania and slave Virginia. Being the turn of the 19th century, medicine is primitive, communication poor, and deaths all too common. I had to stop listening several times when babies or children or kind characters came into tragedy, and the relentlessness was overwhelming. Some characters behave in ways incomprehensible to modern, post-Oprah society, but the story arc remains believable because the decisions are always well-framed by history.
The glimpse into the brutal, dehumanizing, and shameful American past is tempered by a host of sympathetic characters of both races, and the novel is stuffed with distinct and realistic individuals living out a compelling story brought to life by the excellent narration. A worthwhile listen.
This book was written in deliberately simple English, as though by an immigrant student or translator, to reflect the straightforwardness of our protagonist, Wang Long. His life is followed from his wedding day til his sunset, and we see his fortunes rise and fall and rise even higher than before.
It's hard to describe this novel; as an American born Chinese woman, I have mixed feelings about the all-too-recognizable disregard that the culture had for females, even from females themselves, and the cognitive dissonance that the protagonist is able to hold (his first wife, O-Lan, brings him most of his fortune, works hard, and does necessary tasks that he can't bring himself to do - without complaint, while bearing him six children - yet he tosses her aside; he is too ethical to eat stolen pork, yet his great fortune springs from him and his wife seizing lucky chances for thievery created by riots during the Communist Revolution; he knows that he needs to stay close to his land, or he loses himself, yet he lets his children disdain farming once they have money). His treatment of O-Lan is deplorable and almost sickening, yet still we hope for him and his family as they travel the full arc from poor farmer to great family, mimicking along the way the foibles of the family they replace. At its heart, this is a novel about the cycle of life and the all-too-common inability of people to learn from history.
I remember visiting China as a child in the 1980s and meeting my great-great-grandmother, who was then in her late 90s. They introduced a middle-aged woman who was her "slave." No one wanted to explain further, and this book has given me more insight into my ancestors and hereditary culture than any of my living relatives. Though I had to stop at times for tears - the famine and the deaths really got to me, partly because of stories I'd heard whispered about the death of my uncle as an infant - it was a compelling listen, and deserves its status as a classic despite the simplistic and often repetitive language.
This story was told from seven viewpoints, seven times, yet like the fabled movie referenced in my headline, the story felt organic rather than repetitive.
The book focuses on the life of Harry, whose father(?) was killed when he was just a toddler and who is raised in penury by a determined single mother, who lives with her family and her destructive brother. His mother, and a village of well-meaning characters, does everything she can to get him ahead in 1930s Britain through education and hard work - first through a choral scholarship, then through grit, savings, and more hard work.
The central MacGuffin of this story is Harry's parentage. His mother had a one-night dalliance with the local baron's son, and it's possible that he's the father. Unfortunately for anyone who paid attention in high school biology, the "proof" is his colorblindness, which "has plagued the men in my family for generations," according to his putative grandfather, even though color blindness is carried on the X chromosome and so comes solely from the mother for males. So that was unconvincing and more than a little annoying. I mean, this book was written well after Google was invented. It took two seconds for me to confirm my half-memory that this is a maternal trait, and I know they have Google on the other side of the pond. Lazy on the part of the author.
The characters are fun, though caricatures: the drunken brawler uncle, the villainous and greedy baronet, the mother willing to sacrifice anything for her son, the learned and wise homeless mentor, the brilliant nerdy academic friend... The imagination comes purely in bringing to life the dockside England of a hundred years ago, and maybe the perfect characters are a deliberate reflection of the unsophistication and naïveté of stories from that time. Regardless, the story is compelling and enjoyable - you want things to work out for Harry and his family and friends, and are maybe willing to buy the next book to see how the cliffhanger is resolved.
In these final two books, Michael J. Sullivan wraps up the adventures of Royce and Hadrian (Riyeria) and the arc of the story satisfies the fans: the (surviving) characters remain true to themselves even as they move on with their lives; the mystery driving the series from the beginning is explained (and enough clues are there for even me to figure out most of it ahead of time, but not in such a way that the characters seemed like dunces); and the journey to the end is packed with adventure and humor.
It's really hard to end a series, especially one with the type of characters that the reader can invest herself in and a world where fans can easily imagine further adventures for the beloved cast. Just look at the TV shows Lost or Battlestar Galactica. But the author does a great job of wrapping everything up in a natural way, with a coda that satisfies the fan's desire to know what happens to the characters after the adventures are over.
Again, the narrator was a huge contributor to making this series snappy and enjoyable. He slipped up in the voices once in awhile during extended dialogue, but his reading really brought the colorful world and its distinct characters to life.
I really enjoyed Theft Of Swords, the first installment of this series. The main characters, Royce and Hadrian, have an enjoyable banter - if literally superhuman skills and luck - and a skill for adventure. This set of two books further explores the mystery set up in the first two: mainly, there is some big event coming that threatens humanity, and a powerful manipulative force fighting for chaos, and the duo known as Riyeria are needed to save the world as they know it.
The book further develops the back story and explores the relationship of the partners, as well as the characters Arista, Thrace (Modina), Magnus the Dwarf, and minor but crucial characters such as Myron and Saldor. The adventures of the cast are tempered by sad tragedies, and the author doesn't shy away from depicting the senselessness of death and the grotesque bloodthirstiness of certain elements of humanity.
I've read a short story by Michael J. Sullivan, and he is careless with his grammar and punctuation to a degree that is distracting. I'm so glad that I listened to these books instead. The narrator does a great job of creating distinct voices for everyone and imbuing each scene with appropriate shades of everything from humor to heartbreak in a way that enhanced the experience.
This mystery novel takes the listener through two generations, using letters as "flashbacks," as the historians in question are drawn into the chase of Dracula. The occult is neglected; we must take it on faith that vampirism is possible, and that lends a frisson of suspicion to historical documents of unexplained plagues. We must also take it on faith that one certain historian can find Dracula, despite the failed attempts of many and flimsy explanations for people's behavior. Worse, the ending was that of a predictable Hollywood movie.
This book has its protagonists traveling all over Europe, reading documents and lyrics, and looking at maps. The large visual component of the plot is lost during a listen - it's hard to rewind to check on certain clues, and part of the joy of mystery books is being able to follow along with the sleuths and piece together information on your own. That is much more difficult when listening, and especially difficult with such convoluted gumshoeing as in this book. In short, I feel that reading this book would have done it better justice. It was hard to stay interested when I couldn't remember the lyrics of some important song or phrasing of some letter and couldn't flip back to check on them during the hours and hours and hours of listening.
All is not right in the Muggle world. Or so I thought with annoyance as I listened to the first chapter. The gritty, profanity-laced small town England Rowling has created here and populated with bitter, ineffective, or downright destructive characters feels more like a screenplay by Guy Ritchie than a novel of the most beloved children's books of our generation.
But then I left my own prejudices behind and got drawn into the story. Those unpleasant characters have backgrounds, those angelic characters have nuances, that society of interlocking stories is bolstered by shared small-town history and weakened by private secrets. Once the politics of the "casual vacancy" - a vacant town council seat caused by a casualty, or death - is established, the story comes alive with concerns and machinations of myriad characters. Even the smallest characters are more than sketches, but fully fleshed out in a brilliant combination of internal monologues, regard by other characters, and external descriptions.
The politics of the small town serve as a framework for clashes and alliances among the factions fighting to either preserve or destroy the vision advocated by Barry Fairwater, the man whose death causes the vacancy, and whose shadow hangs over a surprisingly large portion of the town. Within this framework, Rowling explores the effect that grownups have on their children, and the lengths to which people will go to feel significant. Although I was put off a bit by the frequent, lacerating profanity, I have to concede that this book is a masterwork of fiction.
It took me a couple of chapters to get into the first book, but by the time the protagonists got the assignment to thieve the first sword, I was hooked. The author doesn't take his world too seriously, so Important Things can happen without the narrative turning ponderous. The plot moves quickly, and although its few attempts at twists or mysteries are in general easy to decipher ahead of time, I found that I didn't mind.
Trying not to give too much away: The main characters are the Riyeri, two master thieves who are basically like the A-team: the function outside of typical challenge, and you go to them when you need something difficult done. There is adventure, camaraderie, jokes, more adventure, fun and funny characters, and thieves you can root for in these two books. They are a fast listen and certainly entertaining.
This short vignette introduces us to the United Colonies' diplomatic B Team, which in a time of political turmoil (Earth has split from her colonies - "The Human Division" - and 400 disparate alien races have united to face the human force) is sent in to salvage a crucial mission that has been sabotaged, and succeeds beyond anyone's expectations. The voice is typical Scalzi, perhaps a touch less flippant than usual. It's good he keeps his POV characters male; women are often present in his stories, often strong, often smart, often competent, often in positions of power, and often hard-assed to the point of one-dimensionality. That is the case here. I look forward to future episodes in this series to see if any of the female characters are fleshed out and to see how the colonies handle their split from Mater Earth.
This book describes a supernatural mystery centered on an apartment building in Los Angeles. The POV character is a slacker named Nate who for some reason becomes interested enough in the mysteries of the building to corral his neighbors into a Mystery Gang (Scooby Doo is frequently mentioned) and explore. Dodging building manager Oskar and a scary PI assigned to watch a neighbor with a shady past, Nate and his group of underpaid fellow renters dig up a lot more than they were expecting.
The book is lighthearted in tone, even (unfortunately) when events take a dark turn. Sometimes, I think, the laughs are unintentional. Does anyone in LA still use "bro" when talking to other people? It's a fun ride if you can believe in a magical version of science; the name checking of Tesla and Lovecraft go a long way to setting the scene, and are a sort of apology from the author for ripping off (homaging?) the latter. You also have to believe that a large group of people will act in completely illogical ways if they get curious enough. And you have to not mind that some of these people will die purely to ratchet up tension/human interest. This actually knocked a star off for me: "There is a way that we can save the world, and it is this----" (character gets randomly prevented from saying).
Go in without too many expectations: treat it like a Universal Studios ride, and enjoy.
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