*Love don't make things nice - it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and to love the wrong people and die.* [Moonstruck]
The ruination of love, a promising career, a cliff-side village, innocent ideals, a culture, even a handsome youthful face, ...elements that comprise this *beautiful* novel about balancing what we want, with what is best. It is Time that moves the element of Ruin in each case: deceit, vanity, circumstance, ego, and duty--and author Walter perfectly constructs every minute of time in this brilliant book with insightfullness and finesse...my favorite Jess Walter book to date, and one of my favorite novels of the year. A cast of some of the most memorable and endearing characters to come along in a while (and there are a lot of them in this 40 year saga), including the larger-than-life tornado of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, in a rare supporting role. It is the breathtaking Italian coast that steals the show as the main character -- so perfectly drawn that I remember that sea breeze off the Amalfi and Liguaria coasts like I was there just yesterday. Liz and Dick buzz through this seaside town and these villager's lives like a wreckless speedboat, and the story develops in that ever-growing destructive wake.
This book is cinemascope in text! About as different in subject as you could get from Walter's recent The Financial Lives of Poets, but still glittering with his original and accurate voice, his knack for capturing the social zeitgeist, and his tender compassion masked so well as dark irony. Written and performed so damned well, that I thought parts were absolutely serious (it's Hollyweird...who knows?) and it took me a few minutes to remember, "this is Jess Walter...this is sarcasm, this is funny!" (outbursts of laughter followed). He describes the lecherous and oily machinations of the 60's Hollywood scene, and a particularly vile film producer that has had so many spa treatments, facial surgeries, botox injections, "cyst and growth removals," that at 72 yrs. old he looks "like a 9-yr. old Filipino girl;" this waxen-faced producer has his assistant hold "Wild Pitch Fridays", one where a hopeful screenwriter even pitches a movie about "Donner!" (complete with exclamation point and chapter entitled "Eating Human Flesh")--it is gut-busting funny. A highlight of the book was the too-brief section where Sir Richard Burton appears--a ridiculously elegant drunk womanizer--performed so well by narrator Edoardo Ballerini that I enthusiastically made everyone I came in contact with while I listened share this part.
But, high-brow chuckles aside, this is not a humorous novel--it is a love story--or at least, several love stories, with *beautiful* and poignant scenes that just resonnate in the listener. Walter creates heart warming (and heartbreaking) moments, as well as the wonderful and sincere Pasquale, one of the most lovelorn characters since Florentino from Gabriel Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera --and one of the few characters with conscience in this story, that actually even considers the theme of desire vs. duty. (A conscience imbedded in him by a dying Italian mama and the great character of his old crone aunt, a "witch" that calls women whores and puts a curse on a drunken Sir Richard.)
The last small section of the book is one of the most outstanding "wrap-ups" I've read --moving, and again, *beautiful* in every sense.
Large and sweeping, absolutely panoramic; but it is Walter's undeniable talent that aligns it all so effortlessly that it flows into a masterpiece. Ballerini as narrator: Perfezione! From his lilting Italian prose, to his remarkable Welsh drunk dialect...no one could have performed this book better. Some may find the bulk of cast and their individual stories overwhelming, or the skipping between the past and present confusing; the conversations can languish and don't always serve to move the story forward...but there was nowhere else I wanted to go, and I loved every minute of this beautiful book..
There are pages of reviews...but I thought Grisham newbies might benefit from another first-timer's view:
I've always thought to pick up a Grisham novel, but seems they were on the screen before I could choose where to start (sorting out the ones that Hollywood had already translated). Understanding, after-the-fact, that this is a continuation of a previous novel, I realize my choice may not have been very strategic, but I don't think I would have enjoyed this one any more if I had read that novel, and am glad to finally join the throngs of Grisham fans.
This was a great read written with a focused projection that kept the plot steaming toward a very grand finalé. The characters were colorful without being Southern stereo types; even without knowledge of the prior book, I was able to fill in their personalities and get that familiarization that makes you feel comfy with a book and its inhabitants.
What sets this courtroom drama apart from the many, is the absolute precision of Grisham as he meticulously builds this story from its roots -- during one of our country's darkest chapters in history. There is never a sense of filler, no characters to just add bulk, or subplots to steer you away from a weak plot line. The story is powerful and spans generations. As the history is uncovered, the characters expand and even become studies of the different shades of humanity. Because of Grisham's own legal background, I expected to be inundated with profession braggadocio, but the actual attitude expressed surprised me as well as kept me on level with all of the legalese.
My modus operandi may be backassward, but I've already downloaded the prequel, A Time to Kill, and am looking forward to going "back to where it all began." It's no surprise these books made it to the screen before I made it into Barnes & Noble (BA - before Audible).
I usually give in to the award winners, more out of a skeptical curiosity than the belief in some arbitrary group's promise that this will be *the best book I've read since...* I enjoy the mental argument that *they* got it wrong, as much as the agreement that *they* got it right, either way counting on being stirred enough by the read to have the passion for a discussion. In the case of the Luminaries, I get neither satisfaction. The only other short-listed Man Booker I've read this year is Harvest by Jim Crace -- it lost, and was about equally entertaining (as was Transatlantic, from the longlist). The word, I swore I'd never use in a review comes to mind -- meh (less a word than onomatopoeia) such a cop out, but the listen left me exhausted for the reasons I'll explain.
This is not a complaint, or to say I did not like the book. It is captivating and elaborately constructed with a great sense of place and time. The period details are transportive, in the beginning feeling much like a good Dickens pastiche. The characters, as many as there are months of the year, are each an astrological sign, or house, and the characteristics assigned to those distinctions, which she uses to prefix each chapter, as well as explain whom is in whose house, etc. Catton also enjoys some word-play in this complex production of writing and architecture -- writing each chapter with exactly half the words as the preceding chapter. All these pieces of construction are exceptionally ambitious and creative, but can be confusing and mentally labor intensive. (There is no explanation given in the audible version; I came to these realizations after banging my head against the wall for a couple of days, and relentlessly texting Darwin on the matter.)
Catton has definitely written an interesting novel, and written, and written, and belabored the plot until I just lost interest and wanted to move forward to a finish instead of reviewing, again, the events as told by each of the 12 characters involved. I would go into synopsis of the book, but then you'd have to hear the same plot from THIRTEEN points of view, instead of a mere TWELVE. Sophisticated intelligence, beautiful prose, and intricate plotting, become less so when redundant and complicated.
(A big) -- However... a friend tells me this is a book I would absolutely love if I read the book, which contains charts, graphs, and a very important list of characters, all adding clarity and an ease to the read, as well as beautifully tying in the astrological twist. For clarification, I did not like the book as I experienced it audibly, but I did recognize the talent and creativity enough to consider picking up the book and giving it another chance. It's is going to take me a while before I'm ready to tackle all 30 hours of this again. A consideration for those still undecided. Hopefully, a little understanding before going in will be helpful.
When an unstoppable force (aka the white man) meets an immoveable object (aka the American Indian). Vae Victis...
Well-researched and presented piece of American history that does not take sides, but rather presents the battles between the savage efficiency of the Oglala Sioux and a technologically advanced U.S. government. Chief Red Cloud realized early in his life that the government treatise "existed on paper and dissolved on the ground," and refused to continue meeting with the U.S. government, saying he would continue instead, to fight their encroachment on his people's sacred grounds. Considered by historians as the greatest American Indian military strategist, Red Cloud was able to analyze the U.S. soldiers fighting style and their conditions, and use the knowledge to his tactical advantage to fight for the Indian way of life. In his later years, after a life of battles and meetings with the government, Red Cloud knew his people and their life style was no match for the empire-minded white man; the bow and arrow no match for guns that fired multiple bullets.
Similar to Empire of the Summer Moon, but focused on Chief Red Cloud as opposed to a tribe of American Indians. I found the read fascinating, but definitely brutal. After reading dozens of books about the American Indians, a favorite subject of mine, this is the first time I have had the authors actually explain the reason for such savage butchery.
I read the Autobiography of Red Cloud (by R. Eli Paul) about a dozen years ago, told by Red Cloud to different journalists, writers, etc., (which would be a good companion read to this book) but found this one better organized and the better view into life in the American West from both sides on the great plains in the mid 1800's. Don't miss if this is a subject you are interested in--the information is riveting and the narration/production very good.
It didn't help that I started this book after just spending two nights in a row watching the movies Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, and discussing the highly improbable scenarios with the son of a decorated Air Force Colonel.
In the mood for more espionage, I picked up former NPR contributor Kelly's first book. And as I got into the book, I realized that this was the ladies version of WHD or OHF...great shoes, Chanel bags, lots of batting eyelashes, and a few lusty rounds of sheet hockey in between keeping the White House from tumbling. All in all fun and always entertaining, and the author knows when to reel in the frivolities before the story plunges into a Bridget Jones kind of caper. Alexander James (the protagonist) stays intelligent and gutsy. But, I admit to expecting a little more sophistication and intrigue from author Kelly. The idea of aging upper echelon politicians padding their retirement by...well that would be a spoiler...but the basic premise doesn't have the muscle to pull off this kind of upheaval. At least, I hope not. Still, this was light and fun, no explicit sex, and no F bombs. I don't think personally I would follow reporter/part time sleuth Alexander James, but I do see this character capable of becoming a popular red-headed agent, carrying a series -- especially for readers that like a little raunch-free spiciness, and international intrigue. If so, I hope that someone lets me know what ever happens with hunky Lucien, and the biotchy Petronella and her cat suit.
Like voices from the grave, devastatingly profound, and haunting. A review would be inappropriate, but my experience with this book was probably similar to other readers that were very young teens during the height of the Viet Nam war. Though I wore one of those MIA bracelets, sent neighbors and friend's older brothers off, went to Country Joe and the Fish concerts and yelled out the FISH cheer, I was young, distant, and naïve, and could only marginally intellectualize the atrocities and the nightly tally of deaths. Listening to Cranston narrate these stories gives faces to the words; the soldiers become flesh and blood -- not just characters and chapters. Their candid stories and Cranston's seriously brilliant interpretations were so achingly real that I could not listen long without pausing, or just stopping my device for a breather. (It took me 2 weeks to get through this.) This would be a much easier read, but hardly better; Cranston is able to convey the emotion, every chuckle, every hope, every pain, every horror. It's not always the obvious that is difficult to hear; the slaughter of the water buffalo wasn't half as savage as the fundamental experience that nurtured the attack... it's listening to the innocence and promise in these young soldiers as it ebbs away. It's looking back through the all-seeing eyes of retrospection and time, and probably also adding *mother* to the list of sister, daughter, girlfriend, neighbor. A vivid reminder of the fragility of life and the true cost of war. Like others have mentioned, there are several books concerning wars that give you that *boots-on-the-ground* feel, but this one, especially as it is performed here, is the emotional experience--to the degree that it can be shared.
Rueben, the Renaissance man, reluctant werewolf, continues his paradoxical struggle with his transformation into the world of the Morphenkinder, aka Man Wolves, now surrounded by the gentlemanly old-school wolf pack. He's moved into the bequeathed Nideck mansion, is doing well with his Man Wolf lessons, has a new loup-garou love interest for his animalistic amatory side, but is haunted by the painful memory AND the spectral manifestations of his one-night stand love, the beautiful now ghostly, benefactor Marchent. Marchent is "Earth-bound" and hanging with the Forest Gentry until she works out the glitches in her ascension to the other side.
Did I mention it is the Yuletide season?!! Oh, it is -- for about 14 hours of the 16. The Man Wolves renovate the mansion and surrounding *village,* plan a Midwinter celebration feast for the local population, and string miles of colored lights. (This is the true horror of this book... stuck at Westworld-like Medieval Times and being schooled on all the minutiae of the period: roasted wild boar, mead and mincemeat, antique rag dolls, Battenburg lace, wooden puppets, and mummers...with an infinite loop of Greensleeves playing. Where's a hungry Man Wolf when you need him?) If it takes $1.5 million to maintain Downton Abbey, the Man Wolfs make the Grantham/Crawleys look like paupers; they are gazillionaires with an over-the-top penchant for decoration -- when they aren't taking care of magnanimous depradation or ritualistically frolicking naked among the ancient redwoods.
I 'd like to sit down with the spiritually diverse Ms. Rice...say maybe over a pina colada at Trader Vic's, or a big dish of beef chow mein from Lee Ho Fook's...discuss philosophy, Germanic neopaganism, her conversion from atheism. I'd sit with her for days until she got it all out of her system; I'd do it in memory of Lestat and Louis, and for all the reader/fans that yearn for the Anne Rice from the Vampire Chronicles. With that out of the way, I'd love to talk to her about what she does best -- writing gothic-fantasy-horror, creating epic characters and their complete cosmology based on universal myths and lore, how she layers her books with her knowledge of history and a keen eye for architectural and atmospheric details. Once she understood that I meant her no disrespect, I would start a conversation about the importance of an author distancing her personal obsessions from her work, and the need for professional editing to avoid a bloated theological treatise, over reliant on superfluous imagery that suffocates the plot.
There actually is a good story here, and it does set up some interesting possibilities for the concluding book, but you have to suffer for it. If you barely made it through Wolf Gift, you probably won't make this installment -- unless you are obsessed with Medieval set decorating. If determined but reluctant--skip through the decking the halls. They say horror done poorly becomes comedy...this is borderline, at times causing me mental images of a super-hero Man Wolf, sniffing out evil, and devouring the evil-doers down to "the last knuckle" before dragging himself to confession. I crawled to the finish line with hope that the final book makes the often uneasy reading task, so far, worth it.
I've watched over the months as the reviews for this one came in. You see five more stars from the corner of your eye and think, "don't do it...you know how disappointed you get when it doesn't meet your expectations." But, reviewers I watch and trust really liked this. I caved in and downloaded it, the whole while with those oh-my-god-what-have-I-done blues.
This needs to be a series.
Hildy Good is the kind of sassy smart character you love -- even when she is passed out on her cellar floor. Leary has written an engaging funny book with a robust main character that just happens to be an alcoholic, whom everyone thinks is a successful graduate of AA. The author doesn't minimize the condition at all, rather she keeps Hildy human and dimensional, making those moments of drunkenness all the more sad and pitiful. She portrays the thinking process of an alcoholic wonderfully; you don't realize how truly destructive this funny woman is until she is raging out of control.
The Good House is one of those books with atmosphere; you feel immersed in the quaint little New England town. Hildy introduces the characters, mostly by their more scandalous moments, and they become neighbors. Leary develops the characters as the story proceeds, giving them a depth and personality you don't expect. But then, I didn't expect most of this story! It's funny, it's sobering, it's surprising, it's a great choice, and Mary Beth Hurt brings Hildy to life perfectly.
Can't be fairly compared to the horror novels of today, and that could go both ways. If you can sit down and shut out the world, slow down your own thoughts, and listen to the words, you will feel the anxiety building in layers, with even nature contributing to the ultimate madness and horror. The centuries old family castle is itself a creature conspiring to hold its inhabitants in a dark limbo. A short story with hardly a plot -- but simply, horribly, brilliant. Listening to Poe is like watching a great painter build his canvas stroke by stroke into a masterpiece.
Listening to this round robin collaboration was like watching the *Dream Team* lose the Olympics.
The most interesting aspect was listening to each author perform in the line-up. Working with the same characters, and basic plot projection, their signature styles were highlighted, and individually, at least, entertaining. [But woe to "the one" that had the male characters all mindlessly swooning immediately over the poor imitation of a young Lauren Bacall -- really? Mercifully, this only happens during this author's chapter.] Obviously, with such a dream line-up, there was no Think Tank prior to pen hitting paper to map out the best possible scenario...I've read more intriguing plots in a bowl of alphabet soup. (My apologies to the chefs.) It was amazingly unimaginative, rote, and clichéd.
The best thing I can say about this book is that some of the royalties will go to a worthy charity (Safe Horizon). If we all buy this, if there are enough sales to cover "editor and contributor compensation", we can hope our purchase becomes a contribution...so in that case, highly recommend, with the above caveats.
Dubbed *one of the kidnapping crimes of the century,* the abduction of 14 yr. old Elizabeth Smart from her family home, dominated the news on June 5, 2002. When 9 months later we heard the amazing report that she had been found, we rejoiced...then we pondered the nightmare. Where had she been? What had she gone through? How did she survive? Would she be okay? With this book, and the assistance of Congressman/author Chris Stewart, Smart goes back over her ordeal, and in her own words answers those questions with brave candor and purpose. A story horrific enough that Stewart said he wondered how, after he listened to the details, he would be able to "make it so that people would read it and walk away with more faith, hope and belief in the goodness in life," as Smart intended. And that is exactly what we do walk away with...plus admiration for this incredible woman.
Smart called her ordeal "nine months of hell," but never even hints at self-pity, or fishes for ours. We learn that she endured an almost daily menu of torture, including daily sexual abuse by the depraved Brian David Mitchell -- aka the self proclaimed prophet Emmanuelle. There are no new titillating facts revealed -- it is about the events as she experienced them. Smart and her family have courageously insisted on presenting the facts, but have consistently refused to discuss in the media details of the abuse. She continues to keep the story focused on the crime, free of salacious details, and true to the perspective of a 14 year old innocent and very scared girl. Hearing her narrate her own story makes this all the more poignant. It is heartbreaking to hear her voice tell of the near rescues as they crumbled...looking through her veil at a young boy and wondering how her first date would have gone. And then, with the voice of an indomitable spirit, she makes a brilliant case for Mitchell's and Barzee's competency, that ultimately destroyed their plot to be found legally mentally incompetent to stand trial for their crimes.
Through all of this darkness, with the exception of sharing a few deservedly low moments, she amazingly keeps a tone of hope, and her light shining. Drawing on her Mormon upbringing, and faith that God had not abandoned her, Elizabeth refused to be beaten or broken, refused to be a victim. Her survival, her appreciation for each day of life, her love for her family, and her dedication to those suffering from similar experiences (the Elizabeth Smart Foundation) is remarkable, and one of the most inspiring stories I've read. Listening to this book changed the way I look at my own challenges. At the end, Lois Smart tenderly, but with force, gives her daughter the most beautiful and empowering advice -- words that only a mother could offer. Through all else, that is what finally brought me to tears.
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