UT | Member Since 2009
2003: When this book was released, I chose not to read it because of a newspaper critique that, in spite of giving a good review, questioned the credibility of the author--saying that Roberts had romanticized himself into a god-like superhuman and glorified a life of heroin addiction and crime; I had my reasons, working at the time in a professional capacity with addicts and, whadda ya know, criminals. The timing wasn't right...and some things you don't need to know, it is, afterall, a "fictionalized" biography.
2012: Chanced upon listener's reviews and could not resist. So much has been said already, Shantaram is a mesmerizing tale almost worthy of Sherehezade, and trying to encapsulate such a saga would be impossible. Other reviews have made it clear this is fantastic: it does get philosophical; the abundant prose is sometimes flowery; it is long, but enjoyably so; it is like being dropped into the middle of Bombay--engaging all of your senses; it would make a great movie (and is being made into a movie).
BUT--the narration! Together, Roberts and Humphrey Bower create something that is better than either of them are alone. I thought of some of my most memorable "tandem" experiences: Peter and the Wolf--it wasn't the same without the narrator; How the Grinch Stole Christmas--wasn't the same without Boris Karloff; Jim Dale brought Night Circus out of a dreamy fog and was perfection for Harry Potter, Joe Barrett made us love whiny little Owen Meany, because of Jeff Woodman I'll never forget Pi's conversations with Richard Parker (the Bengal tiger), Ron Perlman created the consummate creepy atmosphere reading The Strain, Chad Lowe's amazing performance with Peace Like A River, George Guidall's venomous Simonini, and the talented ladies from The Help (will we ever forget "You is smart. You is Kind. You is important."?) ...I could go on with amazing performances that brought text to life and enhanced writing that was already near perfect. Roberts wrote this memorable book, but Bower gives it heart and soul with a performance that is impeccable--the absolute high mark.
A book that will stand the test of time and worth the 43 hrs. (set your ipod setting to fast!); break it up and savor it, listen to the conversations and chuckle, immerse yourself in the people and culture, excuse some of the flowery over-kill prose (gag on the "tongue" referrence), listen to the philosophy and realize how it is interpretated. An unforgettable experience.
As far as just the facts ma'am...Navarro does a good job giving a detailed, no frills outline of psychopathy. It reminded me a little of watching one of those films in high school where everything is boiled down to rudimentary facts..."if a, b, c, d are present then you may be dealing with a psychopath. You're life is in danger. Get help immediately..." He knows his material and presents it in an easy to understand format for any level of reader, though a bit bland and blunt, very textbook.
Navarro gives a criteria checklist at the end of each chapter, containing over 100 items; when you're done tallying your own score, or your neighbor's and friends, you are convinced you are all psychopaths -- a problem inherent in these armchair psychology books. But before you schedule analysis, or turn your neighbors into the FBI, consider what Professor Robert D. Hare has to say. Hare is the criminal psychologist responsible for the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised which has been adopted worldwide. Hare's assessment tool, in contrast, uses a list of 20 criteria:
"On average, someone with no criminal convictions scores 5. It’s dimensional" says Hare. “There are people who are part-way up the scale, high enough to warrant an assessment for psychopathy, but not high enough up to cause problems...“psycho-pathy”, the diagnosis, bleeds into normalcy."
If you are seriously interested in this subject, I highly recommend Hare's book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths. I sat in on several of his presentations while I was working in the field, and he was always fascinating. Navarro refers to Hare and the PCL-R often in this book.
Navarro is precise and accurate, narrates the book clearly, and his professional record clearly gives him authority in this field. He also responsibly advises readers with concerns to get professional advice. While he drops a few names that we all relate to heinous crimes, (Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, Jerry Sandusky, John Wayne Gacy) I felt he missed the chance to tie in the predators with their profiles which would have more narrowly defined the many traits on his lists. His professional/cautionary approach make this book read more like an informative report than the really chilling and interesting read it could have been.
What a great pleasure it is to pick up a read, even one you are already so familiar with, and be totally immersed in atmosphere; a pace that proceeds with urgency; and writing that takes you to foggy old England and holds you there so convincingly that real-life seems like a fuzzy distant intrusion while you are reading. There is here that kind of precise balance of the writerly elements -- you can count on them with Sir Arthur. So easily, the reader can slip into the inner circle of Watson and Holmes.
When I was a child, I saw the film version starring Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville; a Hollywood version for sure, Doyle may have rolled once or twice in his grave, but it inspired me to read the book. Minus the grandiosity of Hollywood, the book lacked nothing, and still contains magic that even Hollywood can't trump. On a calm enough evening, sitting with your family, The Hound of the Baskervilles might even be able to compete with Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Warlord, Doodle Jump. What's that old saying..."They just don't make 'em like this anymore"...they do, but not very often. Great production, and worth re-visiting.
It's October; who doesn't like a ghost story this time of year; Garth Stein has a pretty impressive track record (The Art of Racing in the Rain); lots of high ratings; fellow well-credentialed authors gave some enticing blurbs...if it sounds like I'm thinking aloud, I'm trying to figure out where I went wrong -- because this was the wrong book for me. I'm not sure whom this book is for.
My biggest complaint, and one that is consistent when I'm duped, is that it is presented as one thing, "a ghost story," but is something very different, but what I'm not sure. It could be a message about conservation, a spiritual philosophy, a Puget Sound Broke Mountain (melodramatically, "the dark past of his forefathers"), but it's not a ghost story.
The *ghost* element seems more an excuse, or a utilitarian connection to history; the ghosts themselves limp and (NPI) lifeless -- dancing in ballrooms, turning out the lights, writing messages through human Ouija boards. The story had an over reliance on the diaries and their expository dialogue, which could have been passable but came across as a lazy means to move the story forward. Stein is heavy-handed with the philosophy that's suppose to bolster the plot, and spouts it often and unnecessarily, from the mouth of a temporarily possessed grandfather. The 14 yr. old narrator Trevor also possess an uncanny repertoire of philosophy and literature. Like all of the characters, there was a thinness, a randomness, even a falseness to Trevor. Both the characters and the plot seemed to fall apart under the weight of an ambiguous sense of importance.
There is plenty of restless wandering here, but not from any ghosts. In my opinion, an unsuccessful melding of too many random elements, not well thought out or executed, and not particularly well written. Only Hope propelled me -- battling all the while with contrivance, predictability, and banality -- as far into this novel as I got. I don't like to write mean-spirited or pernicious reviews, and I like to think I could say anything I write face to face with the author...I heard Stein's other books are good, but I can't say the same about this one.
After a handful of Hiaasen novels, my hypothesis is that your first Hiaasen experience is the best. From that introductory experience, the thrill of it all either drops a notch and maintains a level of mildly humorous material guaranteed to lighten your mood, or you find the giggles slowly sliding into eye rolling, until you have to break up with Hiaasen. (Which reminds me of my first fiancé -- eventually everything I found so charming about him in the beginning, I later cited as reasons to loose the guy.) Hiaasen's humor still makes me smile, but I resort to it only when I need a little pick-me-up. It relies a bit on Murphy's Law mixed with ridiculousness, so there is an element of predictability after 2 or 3 of his books. Native Tongue had it's moments, and the expected characters, but it was a little dated, and a lot ridiculous. My fave is still Skinny Dip, my first experience with Hiaasen. NT is still the silly fun I've come to expect from Hiaasen, but at my 5th outing with the author... most of the thrill is gone. Let's just say I laughed AND rolled my eyes.
I can't say what kind of apocalyptic society member I would be. A religious, rapture-ish event... I'd have to brush up on my survival skills, but a nuclear event or count down to Armageddon, and I would place my chair at Ground Zero, because I wouldn't want to be without the people I love, nor would I choose to live in a world where there was not some form of beauty, or sense of community. Alone, fighting just to survive, I would wind up as mad as King Lear. Station Eleven opens with a scene from the Shakespeare play and expands on the themes of survival and meaning.
Opening night, the lead actor suffers a heart attack and passes away. The news that night pronounces the actor's passing, and barely mentions a mysterious illness that has people flooding hospital ERs. Within 3 weeks, 99% of the world will die from a flu pandemic. Forward: Twenty years later, a troupe of actors and musicians called The Travelling Symphony moves from one outcropping of survivors to another performing plays and music. Their mission statement sounds enlightened and magnanimous, an ode to the arts... “Because survival is insufficient,” it is a quote one member recalls from a Star Trek episode he watched as a child. The troupe includes a woman that was a young child in the King Lear production the night the actor had his heart attack on stage.
At times, author St. John Mandel is eloquent with understated visions of a broken world. Her museum of artifacts is a centerpiece that connects people and stories, including the actor Leander. His personal life, his celebrity, is captured there in articles from the celebrity magazines left intact. She doesn't go into the breakdown of society or the aftermath of the pandemic, but focuses on the emptiness and melancholy borne of lost loved ones, simple pleasures only remembered, and the connections that remain stretched across a barren world, traversed by The Travelling Symphony. Here, the author is a mighty gentle giant.
Beyond the difficulties of surviving day to day, there is a menacing group of brutal men ruled by The Prophet, but sadly,he makes only a brief appearance and whimpers away. Just when I was hoping for a little trouble-maker to take my mind off the moping and memories, and roasting venison over burning tires, again. Once you get the general premise, you better be ready to dwell on it. Mandel writes beautifully and has created a world that is eerie and surreal, but I started to feel swallowed by the melancholy. For all the hype, all the great reviews, all the promises that I would be haunted by this powerful story, I wasn't feeling it. From my frame of reference, it's been done before. Mandel thinks outside the apocalyptic genre box, but doesn't enlarge the real estate.
The book stays high centered in that world of reflection, the menagerie of meandering melancholics mourning the past, hoping for a better future, chewing deer meat, occasionally appreciating the arts, coming up with some profound thoughts--wallowing in sentimentality. I recommend the book, in spite of my sarcastic, irreverent nature; but not to hard-core apocalyptic/dystopia fans, or anyone that believes the saying "you can't move forward with one foot in the past." (I think Mr.Spock said that in an episode.) It is a lovely novel, written beautifully-- my head tells me so.
There's nothing wrong with pretending you know what's going on...sometimes you are along for the ride and will get it later. (Take Cloud Atlas for instance.) Mitchell does that best, and at a speed that sometimes reminds me of trying to have a conversation with a hyper active person at the height of their hyper arc (and pharmaceutically enhanced). His brilliance and out-there creativity require a catch-up period; you don't wait for the story to develop, you wait to catch-up with the story. I'm not a member of the Mitchell cult, but I've read many of his books and recognize an author with a rare creative talent and freshness that almost promises there are still great books to come. The Bone Clocks was a good one, (it was long-listed for a Man Booker before it was even released). I liked it enough to say Mitchell fans will be okay with it, but it is a departure from his more sophisticated novels.
Bone Clocks is not just a journey through time at warp speed, it is a frenetic jump in and out of ages with the future periods reflecting on some I-told-you-so moments that are frighteningly timely (global warming, Iraq, etc.),major issues to us presently, but just back ground for an eternal battle raging between the forces of good and evil. He obviously has a message for his readers in here.
Mitchell bends the boundaries, as usual, with connected characters, engaging backstories, and places in time, but pinning down which character you are with, and at what moment and where, is tricky. The constant present tense, the static back and forth, and the similarities in the characters, present challenges -- and not the kind intended by the author. The audio version is probably an advantage in some ways, (the presentation is done well) but the voice alone doesn't tell you when or where. Mitchell's presence is always looming subconsciously; Bone Clocks seemed to be lacking separation from the author.
The level of writing and creativity have already been expounded on by reviewers. Worth mentioning again is Mitchell's superb "ventriloquistic" style that pulls you in while the story unfolds around you. The story itself expands on Mitchell's on-going play with fantasy; he gives us a version of *vampires* -- soul sucking fiends that feed on children. But, these are Mitchell's vampires, so I am pretending I get it... that these undead might just be metaphors for something deeper and more meaningful.
The story is enjoyable and reminded me a little of the fantastical film, Highlander (the movie with the Scottish swordsman that battles the evil immortal, the two swordsmen popping in and out of time periods and places). It wasn't exactly the book I anticipated, but I saw plenty of glimmers of Mitchell's brilliance. Worth the read, but probably not worth the Man Booker.
Months ago I finished this novel, attempted to review, but my fingers hovered over the keyboard and my head felt scrambled -- the condition is called being *dumbstruck.* As a reviewer wrote, Summer House is "uncommon" and if you read Koch's previous novel, The Dinner, you know the author has a blunt-force style that is anything but common. He is out of the box, out of bounds, and you need to brace yourself for a style that might leave you a little dumbstruck. It's not that he is offensive -- he is completely unique and captures his characters in sticky icky situations, at the edge of civility, then pushes it to places we hope we are incapable of falling to ourselves.
Subject matter is borderline, of course, it's Koch, and if just hearing *lecherous older men and barely-into-their-teens young girls* already has you grimacing -- not your book because that is just the beginning. (I had to keep in mind that nude sunbathing and swimming is de rigueur in some cultures.) Throw in lots of alcohol, a doctor that is repulsed by the human body, adultery, rape, and nude frolicking on the beach... it's gritty and uncomfortable (like getting sand in places usually covered by your bathing suit). And as if it isn't already prickly enough, there are plenty of moments where you shouldn't be laughing, but you are...that watching someone stumble and ride down the stairs laugh. Koch connects with a part of us that some of us don't want to know is there, and that is what is the most discomforting.
Koch is a good writer and does what he sets out to do well. He keeps you engaged even when it's uncomfortable -- but so does an electric fence. I occasionally like a book where I am expected to boo and hiss the bad guys -- it's all good fun. But, I think Summer House crossed MY line by featuring too many taboos. In the end (and what about that end??-huh?) I recognize the author's uniqueness and talent, but Summer House "enriched me not" and left me feeling almost guilty, "poor indeed." If you think you have the mental fortitude, you don't have bouts of depression triggered by icky situations, you love to hate the characters and dark deeds, don't mind sand in cracks...this may be your book.
I started at the beginning with Relic, moved onto Reliquary, became a fan of Pendergast, continued, even outside the series with Riptide, Thunderhead, and Ice Limit because I enjoy a clever, original thriller. Like most fans, a P&C release guaranteed an entertaining read to me, and I believe fans will again be entertained with The Lost Island.
Increasingly, I've found myself less intrigued by the prolific duo's stories, relying more and more on my devotion to the pair than the satisfaction I have been getting from their novels. White Fire, I didn't even review -- it tested my endurance and left me a little sickened. The sensationalism trumped the writing. The Lost Island not only tested my endurance, it asked me to venture way outside the limits of my reasoning until I felt like I was being dragged through nonsense for the sake of entertainment. I finished this, but without a sense of satisfaction. There isn't much depth (other than the deep blue sea), the story seems flat, contrived, and I hate to say it, but, silly. In fairness, I haven't read other books in the Gideon series...but I don't feel compelled to do so after reading this one.
It's Burke therefore it's great. He is one of those authors that has to be placed in a different league, one a few steps higher, like a handicap in golf -- he's just that professional and good with his craft. I've read almost everything he's written; even his books I didn't initially like I have looked back over. I appreciate them more the longer I read, and the more I read. I've not liked some stories, not cared about the subject matter, but I've never been disappointed with the quality of writing or the power of the story. Burke is a phenomenon; a class act, taking on stories of oppression, corruption, and integrity, with larger-than-life characters that seem charged with the iconic traits we all associate with heroes and scoundrels. In many ways, I enjoy him as much as I enjoy McCarthy (though I don't know if you can use *McCarthy* and *enjoy* in the same sentence). His style is identifiable within the first paragraph of any of his books, and always makes me feel like sitting down, once again, with an old very good friend.
Wayfaring Stranger seemed a bit of a departure from Burke's usual crime fiction format. Weldon Holland (who can trace his geneology back to the Hackberry Holland familiar to hard core Burke fans) is a more solitary introspect character than Robicheaux or Holland cousins Billy Bob and Hackberry. Weldon's early memories of a chance encounter with infamous crime partners Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow impacts his life and stays with him through his adulthood, an encounter that reaches into his future to come full circle.
The book covers the fascinating period of time in America after WWII, including the politics and anti-Semitism following the war. It was a time when simple investors became powerful tycoons, when mobsters like Bugsy Siegel rubbed elbows with powerful movie studio moguls, and when Hollywood had the power to make starlets out of girls they discovered at soda fountains -- or break them. And Burke wraps it into a neat circular story.
The story is rich and layered with themes and history, and Burke's writing is as polished and lush as ever, yet, I missed the sparring I've come to love so much from Burke's characters. I miss the white hat morality taking on a barrage of smart-ass comments from the black hats; that back and forth volley between two polar characters that were equally matched. These characters were dynamic, but dark, without much, if any, humor. It's a fine book in every sense, but my personal tastes (regarding Burke's books) have been spoiled by the usual dark story highlighted with a sprinkle of wisdom and copious amounts of witty repartee in his previous novels...thus my 3* for what is probably a 4* book.
If you have ever listened to Gaiman being interviewed, to his podcasts, or been lucky enough to attend one of his performance readings you'll understand the Gaiman experience. The experience goes far beyond reading one of his books. His voice is almost a magical instrument that lifts the words off the pages. I'm not an expert or even a follower of Gaiman's, but I've read a few of his novels, even a couple of his graphic novels. It was after listening to him read just a few paragraphs of The Truth Is a Cave on the radio that I went looking for the rest of the fable -- specifically, him reading the novelette himself. I wasn't looking for the end of the story, as captivating as it was, but rather being under Gaiman's spell during the journey.
He is a performance artist. His voice is like a ripple in time that harkens back to nights tucked safely under a cozy blanket, listening to a bedtime story...a huge, dark story more Grimm than Disney. I wasn't a child that closed my eyes and dreamed of princesses with golden hair or frogs that burst into handsome princes...I closed my eyes and shivered with delighted at the trolls, goblins, and witches that lived in gingerbread houses.
A trait I realized I passed onto my own grandchildren: one night I told my 3 little ones a story, embellishing as much as I could to compete with Spongebob Squarepants. With attention to their tender ages, and the fact that they each were expected to sleep in their own beds once the lights went out, I was careful to balance the scary tale with some sparkle. It was completely silent when I finished, and I waited to assess their emotional state...then the oldest child whispered, "tell us more about the bad wolves." They still ask me to tell them that story; they've heard it dozens of times, yet still want the experience. Gaiman reminds me that I still need an occasional *tuck in* experience, to feel swept away into far away lands where shivers can be delightful.
It's a short story I think best left to the interpretation of the listener. An award winning tale I found charming, brilliant in its sparseness and illusion, but I wouldn't say it is a work of staggering genius unless you can hear it told by the author. As noted by another reviewer, the music is part of the presentation. I enjoyed it because I expected it, but can understand that it might be distracting if you just want straight story: try out the sample. Trying to recreate Gaiman's lauded public performance of this piece didn't work entirely, so I recommend switching to the kindle version to see the collaboration with artist Eddie Campbell. His paintings, whatever you may think of his style, do add an additional dimension. At the price of a ticket to a performance, the book is worth paying for, keeping your credit for those $40 behemoth novels . *Also: You can find this complete novelette on line -- free to read. Audible won't appreciate that announcement, but you won't get Gaiman whisking you away -- and that is priceless.
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