I've not read any of O'Reilly's previous books. They seem to be consistently well received and I've been curious, but I didn't know exactly what to expect ... how much of the book would be about the subject, and how much of it about the author. Any concerns I had about the author possibly challenging history and presenting a strongly biased personal point of view were unwarranted. At just 4 hours, the story moves along at a good pace, in line with the known history, and holds your interest. And therein lies it strength...and its weakness. O'Reilly doesn't present us with anything we didn't already know.
Dealing with history, there are the facts, then there is everything else: conjecture, speculation, the mythos, and legend. How does O'Reilly know that John the Baptist felt no pain when he was beheaded? I suppose the author's speculation is forgivable, and embellishing the history with those tiny bits of fiction keep the story immediate and relatable. He gives a good overall view of the political pulse as the events proceed from Jesus' birth up to his crucifixion. Having the story told in that context affords the listener an interesting view of the history. I can't compare this to his other books; I thought this was well written, interesting, and a worthy presentation of the history...with a well-timed publication date. I've read more in-depth books about the life and death of Jesus, more academic, and may have been expecting a little more from O'Reilly only because I was unfamiliar with his writing. A good recap of the hx; I won't have any qualms reading more (apolitical) from this author.
Yeah, yeah, good stuff, fun listen, wild ride...you can't go wrong with the most fun series you can get your teeth into. If you've read my reviews on Maberry's Ledger, you know he is my guilty pleasure, and I even offered to take up a collection so team Jon-Ray could devote all of their time to collaborating. So, I'm going to voice my opinion here safely among my fellow devotees and ask you all to take a step back, stand down (cut me some love). Here goes: needed MORE Ghost, more Bunny, more monsters, more story, more nifty weapons. This story leaned heavily on fist time and the guys running, a little too witlessly, into another trap to fight their way out of -- no complaints...It's just, if the story is going to rely on fight scenes for half the pages, can't Maberry at least churn out the stories faster?
Now that I've probably alienated my peer group of rabid Maberry/Porter fans, a helpful recommendation: Code Zero can stand on its own, but really needs (at least) Dragon Factory as a prelude. There ya go -- let the tomato-chucking-*no*-help-button-pressing begin!
[BTW: The Emperor was naked -- yeah; I said it!]
From one island to another; ten thousand miles away, but tens of thousands of years apart...
I had a mental image at the start of Hoffman's novel: the privileged Rockefeller, a poster boy for REI, standing ankle deep in the swamp mud, surrounded by his equipment bearing entourage; pockets bulging with credit cards and currency, a million dollar smile, and those ubiquitous thick framed black glasses. Gazing back at him, the stone age Asmat people, smeared with ash and mud, bone-pierced septums, bare bodies bejeweld with the skulls and bones of small animals. Progressing from that freeze frame image, a gigantic round boulder suddenly rolling in Rockefeller's direction, the sounds of phhfftt, phhfftt, phhfftt, would have seemed perfectly in order, I was tensed for the attack. No one, including Spielberg himself, could have told this outrageous tale more vibrantly; so eloquently orchestrating the facts and myths to shed some light on the human condition, as well as the mystery.
Hoffman, a travel journalist and contributing author/editor for National Geographic and Smithsonian, said in an interview that his goal in writing this book was not to solve the mystery of Michael Rockefeller. He wrote: “I [the author] hungered to see a humanity before the Bible, before the Koran, before Christian guilt and shame, before clothes and knives and forks.” By immersing himself in the Asmat culture, Hoffman came to understand far beyond clues, mythology, and hoaxes, what might have happened to Rockefeller, and fundamentally, why.
The book has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now. I've tried to figure out from which angle to approach a review. It's so much more than *just* the tale of Michael Rockefeller's disappearance -- which alone could rank among Into Thin Air, Kon Tiki, The Right Stuff, The Perfect Storm. Savage Harvest is back-stage access to an amazing story, a travel pass to trek along with a great story teller/ traveler and a public figure that was an avid adventurer on a quest. It is a revealing excursion through a political history, and an education of an ancient people with a complex spiritual system based on the conception of a dualistic, balanced cosmos...whose village was currently feeling very unbalanced and at odds with the modern concepts imposed on them. "The last great unexplored land," a remote island -- that was until as late as 1953, still practicing the ritual of head-hunting and cannibalism. Hoffman gives his readers a multi-faceted gem that has been crafted with skill and intelligence.
Most impactful for me: The beginning of the book gives a sequence of Michael's demise, from the capsizing of the boat, to the horrific step-by-step ritual of preparing the body for consumption. But, it is Hoffman's wrap up. He concludes with an enigmatic look at another possibility -- which I will not reveal. In a few places, the book reads more like an educational piece than an adventure novel, restating facts, carefully alignment with objectivity, but the story itself is unimaginably fascinating and drives you forward smoothly over any little bumps. I have no complaints about the narrator, but I do think his voice will be a matter of preference. He neither added nor subtracted from the material.
***Perhaps you've gone to the Michael C. Rockefeller wing and seen the art of the Asmat people procured by Rockefeller (he was on his way to pick up a piece on his fatal expedition). The canoes, platters, shields carved from mangrove trees are impressive. The bisj (or bis) poles are hypnotic and eerie. The Asmat believe spirits of deceased ancestors inhabit the sacred wooden poles until their death is avenged. The symbols of the Asmat cosmology, indigenous birds, animals and insects, as well as symbolic references to headhunting, and the crowning phallic symbol, are intricately carved into the trees in cyclic rituals which accompany the death of a great warrior, headhunting raids, and as appeasement of evil spirits. You can also listen to Michael's twin sister and father talk about the pieces, their provenance: *Michael C. Rockefeller Expedition, collected 1961; Indonesia, Monu village, Unir (Undir) River region (upper); Culture: Asmat people.* And, you can hear twin sister Mary explain the thick black framed glasses her brother wore; Michael was dyslexic. All the Rockefeller money couldn't buy for Michael the artifacts, the Asmat had no need for money; they cost him chunks of tobacco, metal axes, ramen noodles, and possibly his life.
First of all, bravo to Macur, not only for her excellent job of journalism here, but for having the balls to stand up to Armstrong's cocky insistence, "You can write what you want, but your book is called Cycle of Lies? That has to change!" Evidently, the fallen, self-aggrandizing demigod is still juiced up on a cocktail of arrogance, bullying, moral relativism, and egotism. I'm more fascinated than disgusted -- as long as I don't have a full stomach. I'm also fascinated by Pete Rose, Bernie Madoff, the Emperor's new parade outfit, Presidents that scrutinize what the meaning of the word 'is' is, and anyone that has to have Oprah Winfrey clarify the word *cheater*.
Oprah: You did not feel that you were cheating taking banned drugs?
Armstrong: I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat. And the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don't have. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.
Almost everything that has come out of this guy's mouth since he was finally cornered and force fed the irrefutable evidence, is a toxic sound bite arguing the case against there being even a miniscule glimmer of remorse, enlightenment, or humility within.
Cycle of Lies (nee-ner-nee-ner-nee-ner) is a *fascinating* and wonderfully researched book that rises above previous points of view and factoid pieces of work, setting some records straight, and obliterating others. Macur's one on one journalistic relationship with Armstrong (often more like a sparring partnership), and hours of conversations with insiders that have never spoken before about their knowledge of Armstrong, due to a doping *Omertà* among the cyclists, reveal whole new levels of ugliness to the grand deception. Called "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen," by the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). [Omertà implies "the categorical prohibition of cooperation with state authorities or reliance on its services, even when one has been victim of a crime"; a term used by the Mafia; or the equivalent of a pinkie-swear among cycling dopers.]
Probably the most revealing and damning information comes from Macur's exclusive access to 26 hrs. of taped testimony from Armstrong's mentor and surrogate father, J.T. Neal. Beyond the doping facts, Neal gives a clear picture of a boy that was ruthlessly mean, self-centered, and uncaring, who grew up to be a man that magnified those traits, determined to win at all costs. There is nary a kind word spoken of the champion (that actually never was, according to information contained in Cycle of Lies). Which shouldn't be so surprising dealing with a man that "used cancer as his shield many times," [The Armstrong Lie; Alex Gibney] and discarded people like used up garbage. Just when you begin to wonder if Macur had a wee bit of a get-back fantasy, a secret desire to dish out crow -- surely there has to be some tenderness, some softness somewhere, some pleasant testimony powerful enough to redeem the self-justification and destruction -- Armstrong opens his mouth and spits out another arrogant comment, demanding pity for money problems that ensued after sponsor's jumped ship, or thanks from corporations that owe their success singularly to him. He just doesn't get it.
Before listening to this book, I read Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever, by Reed Albergotti, and wrote down this quote: “...Lance is the inevitable product of our celebrity-worshipping culture and the whole money-mad world of sports gone amok. This is the Golden Age of fraud, an era of general willingness to ignore and justify the wrongdoings of the rich and powerful, which makes every lie bigger and widens its destructive path.” I think Macur eloquently makes the point that Lance is the product of Lance, and in the end, for any of us and our choices, the responsibility is ours alone.
If you are still hanging onto one of those rubber yellow wristbands, you're probably not going to appreciate a great job by author Juliet Macur. A cyclist myself, I found the book engrossing, with each mind-boggling revelation leading into another, more absurd than the previous. I tossed my Live Strong band, unworn, years ago. It's not my job to judge or forgive; I just remain fascinated, and in the saddle.
'Nothing is ever what it seems' -- hold onto that mantra; it will serve you well as a reminder while traveling through the pages of this globe spinning political conspiracy that will have you feeling like you are navigating in the modern political panorama through a house of distorted mirrors. A smart, complex story of espionage that relies not on the thriller aspects, but on not knowing the intricacies of a tangled web of spy vs. spy.
The novel spans 20 tumultuous years, 1991-2011: Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, the Arab Spring, civil wars, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yugoslavia... and leaked political cables via WikiLeaks. The historical significance of those years is powerful when compressed and reflected on, and I suggest listening carefully to the *Collection Strategies* that precede chapter 1. The story jumps back and forth through the years, and employs different points of view, which helps once you chalk up any *contradictions* to point of view and not actual contradictions . The cast of characters is daunting at times, some critics suggest superfluous. I didn't find that the case. Steinhauer keeps a sharp focus on a twisting plot of foggy allegiances and surprising betrayals; the characters' weaknesses and strengths are revealed subtly.
I admit to stumbling with reckoning a bored, blonde, manicured, middle-aged, lady-that-lunches, being recruited to work in such a deadly theater. (Who knew the days of the obvious iron bowler hatted, or metal toothed giant no good-niks would give way to....me.) Maybe a case of the perfect front? Nothing is ever what it seems...
I liked D8U's thoughtful comments. As much as I also love this genre -- I read le Carré, Furst, Littell, Deighton, Oppenheim -- this was my first novel by Steinhauer and am glad to see Audible offers several Steinhauer titles from which to choose. Ideally, Ballerini would be the narrator for each novel; as always, first rate narration with this novel, which was no easy task when interpreting so many diverse characters. About all you can be sure of with The Cairo Affair is that it comes together into a good, slick read, and may possibly leave some of you trying to quiet some uncomfortable thoughts -- beyond which Steinhauer novel to read next.
Shotgun Lovesongs takes a real human look not only at four guy-friends that grow up together in a small mid-western town, but what *home* means. That pull and push away, safe but suffocating, "place where everybody knows your name," and how it fits inside of us. The friends each strike out on a different path: leaving to find their voice, build a career better than they could have had if they'd stayed, drawn to a bigger life, staying and carrying on a legacy. Throughout their journeys, the four friends, and Beth, the girl that had a connection to them all, nurture each other and repel each other, and draw each other back together...home again.
The friends gather to attend a wedding in their home town. Each looks back nostalgically, narrating sections of the book from their point of view up to the wedding, when the events become current tense. Butler works the town into the traits of each of his characters, like an entity that molds and shapes who they become, then brings the story full circle proving that home is a place in the heart.
Butler's writing is at times poetic. There is an almost peaceful beauty to the writing, an honest and respectful voice redolent of hard-worked land and salt of the earth people. Though there is also a Big Chill / high school yearbook feel to the book, with plenty of capers, laughs, and tragedies that accompany life, the story doesn't rely on a catastrophic event to re-unite the characters. It is a slow and steady gurgling stream that gently flows by and through the seasons. [The buzz associated with the release of this book is the connection between author Butler and the Indie-folk band founded by Justin Vernon, Bon Iver; Butler went to high school with Justin Vernon. A fact I saw in every press release.]
The inherent problem with creating several voices from one head is -- that they all come from one head. The characters take on similarities, whether that is because they are all creations of Butler -- or all creations from Little Wing, Wisconsin -- is debatable. Either way, the audio narration could have benefitted from differentiating the voices. With similar thoughts and characteristics, even with a full cast, it was sometimes difficult to tell one character from the other, thus the 3 *'s.
I enjoyed this listen. It wasn't a grab-you-by-the-throat listen, I wasn't hanging on to hear what happened next, and I won't take away new wisdom, but I didn't want to put it down . It was a warm cozy blanket, curling up with your back against a tree on a blue-skied day and watching a peaceful stream -- recalling your own safe places, fond memories, and good friends. A poetic, peaceful stroll.
"Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home..." John H. Payne
In sixth grade, my son had a motion-sensor big black raven, dubbed Edgar of course, that would screech, "The end is near! The end is near! Beware. Beware." It was supposed to be a Halloween decoration, but being too large for any container, the feathery fiend perched in his closet making regular appearances for general antagonizing, and every time there was coverage of another *rapture fail* (common occurrence in the 90's, Heaven's Gate, etc.). The harbinger of doom had its heyday on the eve of Y2K, then *mysteriously* disappeared January 1st. We thought about Edgar in 2011, when evangelist Harold Camping took to the Christian Radio airways and announced, "The end is near! The end is near! Prepare. Prepare." proclaiming May 21 the End of Times. As the days ticked by to the rapture, millions of donated dollars flowed into Camping. It goes without saying, Camping corrected the date on May 22, forecasting Oct. 21, 2011 as the correct End of Times, and so on.
The Last Days of California is a quirky and bittersweet story about a God-fearing family that packs their van and heads from Alabama to California to witness the rapture. I'm guessing it is during the time of Edgar and Camping's reign, before the turn to the new century (there are references where the 80's are fondly looked back upon). The story is told from the perspective of 15 yr. old Jess who gives a meaningful and authentic voice to the coming of age journey. The true meat of the story needs to be deciphered by the wisdom of those who have lived the different periods of life; it is an adult story (very adult) told in the language of youth and naiveté, at times both troubling and sweet.
The story didn't immediately appeal to me and I set it aside, thinking I had mistakenly downloaded a YA novel. Looking through some reviews for encouragement to continue, I saw a comparison to Flannery O'Connor [Boston Globe, E. Williamson]. I started again and was surprised by the depth of the story and the humanity of these people. It's no O'Connor, but it is a fantastic debut novel that works its way into your heart. *Not for everyone, it is a little blunt and not exactly cheery. As another reviewer pointed out, it might be difficult if you have young girls.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller was a fascinating character that captivated the country's attention in 2008, even earning a place on Top Ten Imposters of All Time lists, and an FBI *Most Wanted* poster. The wanna-be Mr. Ripley had assumed the roles of art collector, ship's captain, talk show host, even a Pentagon Advisor before being captured and charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder. All the juicy ingredients for a possibly fascinating book, especially when the author is a journalist and a personal friend of the chameleon -- but author Kirn's disappointing shot misses the target. Was Kirn hoping for a comparison to one of the great crime non-fiction novels? BLOOD Will Out...In Cold BLOOD?...that's where the similarities end. But, Capote's In Cold Blood, consider to be one of the best true-crime novels ever written, is a tough act to follow.
Blood Will Out, unfortunately, is not even on the same path. Not a chapter sheds new light, or insight, on the case against Rockefeller, or the man of many aliases. What Kirn delivers instead of smart revealing look at a psycho jackpot turns out to be nothing more than a lazy compilation of what we already know about Rockefeller, with some unspectacular personal interactions that come across as uninteresting petty incidents, even jealousies. The book lacks the research and professional polish to be an intriguing true story of a murder, or a mystery, and ends up masquerading as a limp re-hashed story. Wish it wasn't so. I followed the case and was hoping for a riveting new book and didn't even get a riveting chapter. [*Not a total wash. If this case is new to you, you might find this interesting.]
My first glance at the galley covers for this novel, I thought Rorschach ink blots -- then I saw the significant golden horses galloping from the darkness. A fairy tale of an enchanted place with golden horses? Only if seen through the eyes of a mute psychopath who spins gold out of cobwebs in the bowels of a dilapidated stone prison. He imagines his death-row cell an enchanted world where he can magically float up through the walls in the steam of his breath, or step into a book and escape into the sunlight. He is surrounded by monsters, convicted of unspeakable violent crimes, but these inmates fear the mute; he is the most fearful monster in this prison, and the narrator of Denfeld's novel.
Rene Denfeld "is a licensed investigator who specializes in death penalty work. She is known for her diligent, informed and in-depth investigations. Rene has extensive training and experience in subjects including FASD, drug effects and cognitive impairments." [Rene Denfeld web page] This is her first novel and she sticks to the advice, write what you know. In an interview with Harper Books, Denfeld characterized her novel thus: "What does it mean to be human?" Whether or not you find the answer to that most fundamental inquiry of existence, your reaction to this ink blot novel may reveal a lot about your character. The book by design, is intrusive, and uncomfortable, challenging our fundamental beliefs. *There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us*...Denfeld gives the monsters the same weight as the angels in her tale. Does this equal weight unbalance our own comfortable notions of good and evil? Do we believe in redemption? Is the death penalty the answer?
Neither the nature of the narrator's crime, nor his name, are revealed until the end of the novel. Again Denfeld's challenge, how much can we trust this all-seeing narrator? Between brutal depictions of the daily life in this prison, and the vulturous staff, we get the inmate's take on a fellow death-row prisoner about to be executed, York; the angel come to save him, The Lady (a mitigation specialist, mandatory for death penalty cases); and glimpses of a fallen priest, and a struggling warden. As The Lady researches York's case she uncovers his wretched childhood -- the worst kinds of abuse against the little boy and his mentally ill mother, sanctioned by a town that turned their heads. York was "an abortion that went undone." What she finds will justify a change of York's sentence; but York wants to carry on with the death penalty. She must also fight her own battles with the intruding memories of a childhood similar to York's. More challenges: Does York have the right to choose death? How does The Lady see both sides of a monstrous killer and an innocent child and find a cause to fight for?
This was the most genre challenging books I have read, and one of the most unsettling. You will see reviews that praise this books as an almost spiritual experience. And no doubt it will reside on the favorite shelf of many readers. You will also read that it was too dark, depressing, filled with despair, for readers. And I believe you will hear the confusion from readers; I felt 5 *'s, 1*, and settled for 3 *'s because of the theme of equal weight. The one unifying detail is Denfeld's writing -- it is outrageously beautiful and breathtaking, and goes against all the usual tenets of writing...like seeing the opalescent sheen of a horrific soul-eating beast's scales reflected in it's fiery breath and saying, "Oh, so beautiful." That contradiction brings me to my trouble with seeing just the redemptive beauty of this book. I felt manipulated. I could not completely reckon myself with equating good and evil, the wounded child and the vile murderer. I didn't see the beauty, until it was suggested. I could not play with balancing weights and judgments. I do not have the wisdom of Solomon, nor the compassion of saints, though I do have a similar background as Denfeld and admire her ability to stay unhardened and charitable.
What will you see? Will you believe in redemption? Will you see golden horses and angels, or monsters with black souls? I will keep coming back to see. This was a brave, beautifully written book regardless of any ratings, and I hope to read more from this magnificent writer in the future.
Weir hasn't invented anything new with his trip into the final frontier: after a series of catastrophic events, astronaut becomes stranded in space, must strategize how to survive, and ultimately return to Earth. It's a dependable existing premise, set in a macrocosm we know very little about, that allows us to nourish and engage our imaginations -- feed our inner space geek. The premise has been around even before Sputnik and Apollo battled it out in the race to space. Some will read this and draw old parallels to Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and that resourceful banana-paste-sucking monkey that found the sausage-like water plants that sustained Commander Kit; some will remember castaway Tom Hanks and his ball-Friday, Wilson; and some will make a more current comparison, a breathy Sandra Bullock dodging space debris, bouncing off stranded space vehicles like a ball in a pinball machine. The book as an experience is large and entertaining because of the subject. The premise works again, here, without leaving you feeling like you've been on this mission before, in large part because of the sense of wide-eyed wonder and heart Weir imparts to the subject.
Andy Weir, a self confessed "life-long big-time space nerd," as well as software engineer with an impressive working knowledge of botany, chemistry, and mechanics, self-published The Martian in 2012. There is a kind of personal passion evident by that accomplishment and you can 't help but sense the connection, especially as you get to know the every-man kind of astronaut Mark Watney.
Watney is a wise-cracking astronaut/botanist/ engineer with an asset no other astronaut exhibited during training ... when the space sh__ hit the fan, he kept cool, calm, and had the best one-liners. He's the guy you most want to have a beer with, then be stranded in space with. Weir has given him the smarts and swagger you'll recognize in author Jonathon Mayberry's Joe Ledger character. That rakish, self-deprecating attitude, and the fact that he "is the best botanist in the world...definitely on Mars," fills Watney's log entries (used as the narrative) as he fights to survive alone on Mars. The information is impressive, and convincing, with a balance of facts that makes this seem plausible (and that shows you how much I know about the sciences).
The elements that make this an entertaining and fun read also have a polar impact; Watney's quips, in the face of Murphy's Law is space, can trivialize the situation. I'd have liked to see the switch to ground control's actions expand on the gravity of the situation, but Weir took what is probably the more accurate approach...he took the earth-bound coverage away from NASA and turned it over to the reality TV obsessed media, where the world checks in daily to Keep Up With Watney.
[Being just minutes before the Academy Awards, I couldn't help but think how the hit-movie Gravity would read on the page compared to The Martian, and this might give a perspective to the visual among us. The Martian might be the better story, with a broader plot that successfully creates the desolation of being stranded in space and keeps it tethered to two additional minute by minute plots. In book form, Gravity would be more Sputnik than Apollo.] Four stars is enthusiastic in my view; the banter gets a little locker room and trite, the technology wearing, but it's the kind of good fun entertainment you don't get often in books. And how often do we come away thinking "Science is cool?" A good listen for March -- the month of Mars, or any time.
"I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space," Stephen Hawking, giving us some food for thought.
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