I read this when it came out, because I was a graduate student of medieval history at the time, and now I've heard it on audiobook. Some aspects of the work are very impressive, others are rather simplistic pop fiction, but overall it's a rewarding book, and the performance is impressive, considering how long John Lee has to keep your attention with his reading.
The aspect of the book I loved most was the setting and the technical details. It recreates a medieval world, from the economy of the villages to the politics of the monastery, with intricate and impressive detail on the building of the cathedral and the changing architectural styles and challenges. That alone is worth the listen.
The story--as he himself has described it--is a series of melodramas over a couple of generations, some of which take the whole book to develop, some of which are settled as they go, much like a Victor Hugo novel, but without the great writing and complex insight. The tales themselves sound more like 20th century dramas than medieval lives. There are few of the moral dilemmas medieval literature dwells on, and you could just drop the same stories into modern England without much change beyond clothing and settings. Add a few cell phones and IPods, and you're good to go.
Overall, I recommend it. Four stars, because I can't give three and a half. The setting is worth the listen, and the melodramas are emotionally engaging even if not very medieval. It's long pop fiction with a more sophisticated setting. If you want a modern novel in a well-researched medieval setting, this is it. If you want historical fiction that recreates the emotional and intellectual psyche of the time, this is not it. Try Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" for that, I guess.
For those who don't know the Cotton Malone series, he's a super-agent who investigates modern crimes that involve historical mysteries of the conspiracy variety. Steve Berry is much better than Dan Brown at working the historical premise into the plot, and he's much better at explaining the historical detail, but he's not as exciting at creating the modern day action. He doesn't fail at it, but he's not as suspenseful as Brown.
Overall, this is a complex mystery and intriguing political thriller that will illuminate the basic themes of Chinese history as the story works its way through the modern world. Berry does that well. He falls short in two areas, though. The history is a very westernized opinion of Chinese history, and the premise of the mystery is just silly. The biggest question you will have at the end of this book is "Why were they fighting over that?"
But it's a reasonably good mystery with a good primer of Chinese history and a weird little science conspiracy theory woven in. The characters are good, the reading is good, and it's entertaining. If you like history. If you don't, it probably wouldn't be worth the listen.
I grew up near the area this book was set (the settings are fictional, but the bigger towns, like Hattiesburg and Meridian, are real). From just a Mississippi standpoint, it does a good job of representing some elements of the region. Maybe it's a little darker and more isolated than the exact region is, but that hardly matters to the novel.
The story is very good. It starts as a bit of a mystery, then turns into more of a story about relationships and culture and personal history of the region. The racial dynamics struck me as very real, which is unusual for a story set in Mississippi in the 80s (the history parts of the story). Either the racism is too extreme or not visible, usually, but this story nails it just perfectly. The racial tensions are there, but they are also weakening, and they don't create conflict, so much as they influence conflict when it happens.
The characters are good. Larry is hard to get a read on, in a good way, and the rest of the characters have their good and bad sides, interwoven believably. The plot develops smoothly, with tension and suspense but without an artificial formulaic feel. The relationships feel genuine, sometimes pathetic, sometimes touching.
Overall, I really liked the book. It's not a tense thriller or a cliff-hanging mystery, but more of a story of relationships within a mystery. It's dark and brooding and a wonderful moody setting that felt real to me.
The reader is fantastic, and fits the tone of the writing perfectly. He creates distinct voices, crosses subtle accent and dialogue and even racial distinctions without caricature, and generally just feels like the story.
So I'd recommend it as a good story, a great mood setting, and a great narration.
Henning Mankell is just one of the best detective writers in the genre. This book is exceptional. The main character isn't quite as fascinating as Kurt Wallander, but he is fascinating for his own reasons. From the tension of a human trying to figure out his own life while solving crimes, to the horrific nature of the crimes and the incredible stories behind them, this is just worth the read.
Mankell's new hero is troubled, flawed, likable, and at times not very nice. The villain is sympathetic, and all the side characters have their own flaws and virtues. There are almost no points where it feels like the writer is padding the story just to make it longer. It's a well-told story with excellent characters and a disturbing premise.
The translation seems to have been more for the UK's version of English than the US's, but anyone who watched Harry Potter will follow it. There are some places a phrase sounds awkwardly translated. Not enough to distract, but enough to notice.
Overall, I love this writer and this book.
Lee Child's Reacher series started off with decent writing, improbable coincidences, and unpredictable stories that pulled the reader along. Over the series, the writing has improved steadily, the improbably coincidences have gotten more probable, and the stories have generally stayed unpredictable, with the resolution just out of reach of the reader until the end.
This book is no exception to the above summary. The writing is downright superb for serial thrillers. The probability factor is extremely low here at the beginning, but once over the central coincidence, the story flows smoothly. And the story for most of it drags the reader along on the edge of understanding but not quite getting it. Child has become very good at having Reacher get some of it right and some wrong from the beginning, and showing him work it out as the story moves. He's also good at revealing just enough of the bad guy's perspective to build tension without giving it away.
My only complaint is that the endings are becoming trite and cartoonish. Reacher has become invincible, the enemies have become mindless and faceless, and the heroic deeds have become simplistic and repetitive, and plain old violent. The ending seemed, basically, lazy, like a writer filling out a formula.
The reading was exceptional, as always when Dick Hill reads Lee Child. Early on in the series, Hill's reading of female dialogue was annoying, but he has gotten better. Child writes strong female characters, mostly, and Hill has gotten better at reading them.
I liked the book. The ending got monotonous and troubling, but the rest of the story was good. I hope Child gets away from his current ending formula, though.
The action and plotting in the story are very good. There are some rough places where characters act ridiculously obtuse or change motivations without warning, and sometimes you wonder if the medicine and science has any basis in fact. Mostly, though, it's a fun story with a fun premise and basic but interesting characters. It's a good book to keep you alert on a long drive.
Pratchett's sense of humor makes every line worth the read, but the story in this book builds from a pointless character sketch to a brilliant, satirical work about prejudice and cultural bias before you realize it is doing it. Well worth the read, both for the story and for Pratchett's inimitable writing. The reader is amusing, too.
This is a book with a brilliant plot and silly premise by a mediocre thinker who can tell a story with the best of them. The train ride scene with Hank and D'agny is worth the listen in itself, and Scott Brick reads that scene beautifully. The characters and actions in this book are thrilling and well created, with a couple of exceptions--but any book this long will have dull parts. It's a shame that this novel is linked so firmly in people's minds to Rand's ideology, because the story itself is worth the read. There are parts where the writer pontificates for far too long--one speech lasted about three hours, and really said the same thing it said in the first three minutes over and over and over and over--and parts that just don't seem believable--like one prominent suicide. But even some of her ramblings will yield gems--like Francisco's theories of romance. Other parts are stunningly sexist, even for the 50s.
Overall, though, it's like James Bond. You know it's fantasy, but it's still a good story, even if Ayn Rand's political ideology isn't your thing (and for disclosure, it isn't mine).
And I can't compare Scott Brick to the other reader--Hurt--because I haven't heard the other one, but I found Brick's reading to be impressive, especially for such a long work. He manages to make unmanageable speeches flow smoothly, although sometimes the longer speeches are a bit melodramatic. Maybe Hurt is better, I can't say, but this one is excellent.
Yeah, everyone is right about the music. They need to reissue this book. The music is loud, random, and sometimes drowns out the words. It suddenly flairs to a crescendo at times, so if you are listening quietly it disturbs others. It adds nothing to the reading except a headache when it occurs.
The book is a good one. King gets you involved in the mystery right away, then leaves it for a while to develop his characters, with his usual magic of keeping the reader charmed and intrigued. The story goes places you don't fully expect, and keeps you listening.
A few flaws. Some of the political arguments might upset some people, even though King covers all sides somewhat neutrally. A couple of deaths seemed not only gratuitous, but somehow vengeful on King's part--maybe that was just me. And King's usual way of digressing to maximize the suspense gets way too carried away near the end of this one. One of the ways King loses me is when he seems to be intruding into the story--I like my novels to have distance between the writer and the narrator. This one has a little too much of that sloppiness.
But not enough to ruin it. It's a good, suspenseful, and at times impressive novel. It's not a groundbreaker for King, but it's not derivative of his other works, either. Enjoyable novel.
The reader is good. The music is horrible, and it was enough to almost make me stop listening. That's unusual for me, too, so for some, I imagine it will be too much.
First, I have to say it--Will Patton, visit Louisiana. No one says "Pe-CAN." People from the Irish Channel don't sound like hyperactive gutter junkies. It's not Georgia or Kentucky or wherever that accent is from.
I had mixed feelings on this book. On the one hand, Burke's prose has never been better. His descriptions, insights, metaphors, and most everything else is almost breathtaking. It's easily worth the read for that alone. The plot is solid, though unfulfilled at points, and the themes, while starting to sound familiar, are explored well, and it moves along at a clip that will prevent you from putting it down through the last quarter of the novel.
On the other hand, some of it is just weird. The supernatural self-indulgences almost cross the line into science fiction, while serving little purpose that couldn't have been accomplished through metaphor. It's not crippling, it's just distracting in a book that is bent on exposing the gritty reality of evil. Some of the cliche phrases are getting tired--how does everyone in the known universe know what "Take the mashed potatoes out of your mouth" means, and how and when to use it, anyway? All characters, no matter the background, sound like Dave. You will recognize every type of character and every profile from his past books, too.
And at the end I felt like there were unresolved issues, so that Burke needed to either write a little more or a little less.
But in the end, who cares? Burke is a beautiful writer who should be experienced and enjoyed. This book is the darkest and most introspective he's written, exploring emotions and fears that Burke seems to have rare insight into. You have to read it.
I love Nelson DeMille, but I'd have probably never read him again if I'd picked this book up in the late 80s, when it was written. The writing, as always, is good, and the basic plotting and layout of the story is solid. But the premise is an odd mixture of banal and unbelievable, the characters are two dimensional at their best, and the whole thing is so one-sided it could have been written by the Reagan State Department.
The book is set in Soviet Russia, and starts out well, recreating the constant tensions of a police state masterfully. The plotting and scene development is good. But the book gets mushy as it goes along. Relationships seem inexplicable and out-of-character, actions make no real sense, and the constant repetition of the "evil Soviet/perfect America" motif would have even Reagan shaking his head and muttering "come on!" Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending the Soviet Union, but the book never meets an idealist Communist, never meets a non-virtuous peasant, or a smart peasant, etc. They are all simplistic caricatures, and that weakens the story.
The hero murders people, then never sees an irony as he condemns the Soviet bad guys for killing people with pretty much the same justification. The heroine continually touts her own superior morality, but justifies anything she wants to, nonetheless. She has a deep religious belief that comes and goes as the story requires. The inconsistency, not the belief, is distracting.
Even so, DeMille's storytelling works well enough to overcome these flaws through the first half of the book. At some point, though, it just starts losing believability, devolving into the cliche of politicians working against soldiers and spies, and the story gets mechanical. Great ethical questions are asked, then forgotten. It just fatally loses focus, despite the promise at the beginning.
I liked it at the beginning, but by the end I wished I had skipped it. It was unfulfilling by DeMille standards.
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