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USA | Member Since 2009

  • 252 reviews
  • 601 ratings
  • 1056 titles in library
  • 22 purchased in 2015

  • The Dinner: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 55 mins)
    • By Herman Koch, Sam Garrett (translator)
    • Narrated By Clive Mantle

    It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse - the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. Each couple has a 15-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families.

    Jane says: "Dining at its most distubing"
    "The Axis II Dinner Club"

    Paul and Claire Lohman...the morally nihilistic parenting team "in comparison with whom Caligula's horse was respectable"...

    What is the joke about call me anything just don't call me late for dinner? This is the exception Dinner. Paul and Claire are meeting for dinner with Pauls' brother and his wife to discuss their teenaged sons and some serious trouble. The whole story is served up in one meal; with each course, more of the story is revealed. The restaurant is one of those Bourgeoisie establishments that relishes in detailing each artistic Lilliputian course, down to the PETA approved loving care the little lamb received before it was butchered for its sweetbreads that are now served "lightly sautéed in Moroccan olive oil and presented with white currants"...the server's pinky hooked and pointing out the fine details. The incongruity of that description stuck in my mind; and as the events are laid on the table, I wondered about the ethical treatment pre-butchering, the beautiful presentation of slaughter...there's an analogy coming? a statement about brutal society mayhaps?

    Koch tortures you with the details, that banal, tiresome drivel taken to the extreme, the back and forth bickering, adding a sense of taut irritation to an already tense situation--but this manipulation of the listener becomes tiresomely repetitive. Comparisons have been made to Defending Jacob, We Need To Talk About Kevin, books with the theme of parents protecting their children at all costs. But don't expect to find a likeable or redeeming quality that will allow you empathy for these parents, or even a flicker of parental love to validate the violation of truth and accountability. Koch's complete dedication to the darkness of these characters even eclipses Flynn's Nick and Amy.

    If The Silence of the Lambs, Gone Girl, American Psycho, Misery, even Prague Cemetery, are considered *dark*-- Koch has succeeded in creating a darker shade of black. This one left me agreeing that cell phones should not be allowed in restaurants, and feeling that the final course here should have been served with some Pepto.

    48 of 55 people found this review helpful
  • In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Hampton Sides
    • Narrated By Arthur Morey
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: The North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of "Arctic Fever." The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship.

    Dennis Hinkamp says: "Great found story"
    "Superb tale that unravels at an iceburg's pace"

    Pretend for a moment that this is a forum for ALL opinions, and that sometimes a person is trying to be *helpful* by sharing their personal experience of the book even when they know it probably won't be popular. Hey, that takes guts. I know this will be an unpopular view (WTH...I am getting hammered with the No Help button lately no matter what I write). It's possible to like a book, recommend it, and yet see some areas that may be problematic for some readers. [Ones like me that sometimes have the attention span of Daffy Duck.]

    I'm a fan of historic exploration novels -- from Alone on the Ice, Astoria, Dead Wake, Endurance, Savage Harvest, The Last Place on Earth, even this author's very good Blood and Thunder, just to name a few -- and this is a grand one. My only slight complaint (or should I say warning) is that it took 15 1/2 hrs. to gain 2 hrs. of momentum. The details were for the most part necessary and fascinating, but were at times, just more details, 20-30 more pages. The ice of the Arctic sea simply made quick work of all preparations that went on for pages and pages. That's not to say it isn't a terrific listen, and well worth the purchase (and 2/3's the time).

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 4 mins)
    • By Erik Larson
    • Narrated By Scott Brick

    On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic.

    Katherine Brown says: "Superb story teller"
    "'A Deed for Which a Hun Would Blush'"

    On May 1, 1915, the Lusitania departed from New York on the return leg of her 101st voyage. Six days later, 11 miles off the coast of Ireland, the Lusitania was struck by a German torpedo at 2:10 p.m. and within 18 minutes (the Titanic took 2 hr. 40 min.) the Lusitania slid into the water. A NY newspaper's headline read “A Deed for Which a Hun Would Blush, a Turk Be Ashamed, and a Barbary Pirate Apologize.”

    The seeds of disaster may have been sown before the Lusitania even left NY when the Cunard Line and the passengers chose to brush aside the official warnings from the German Embassy. Kaiser Wilhelm had declared 8 months earlier that the North Sea was now a war zone, in which all merchant ships, including those from neutral countries, were liable to be sunk without warning. Adding heft to the facts that Larson presents, are the damning little mistakes and coincidences, plus the what-if's. He strategically lays out the pending disaster and shows how relevant it all is -- how 5 min. either way could have changed history. And, at times it felt like everything conspired against the Lusitania.

    Historians have flirted with the notion of a conspiracy orchestrated by Winston Churchill to prod a neutral United States into the war in Europe. While Larsen doesn't set out to prove or disprove that notion, the information he gives does push the reader in one of those directions. Citing comments by King George V: “Suppose they should sink the Lusitania with American passengers aboard?” and Churchill: “For our part, we want the traffic [from America] - the more the better; and if some of it gets into trouble, better still.” And naval historian, the late Patrick Beesly's interview with the Imperial War Museum in London: “there was indeed a plot, however imperfect, to endanger the Lusitania in order to involve the United States in the war.” I suppose a conclusion here calls for a higher form of deductive reasoning than if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck.

    Balancing the facts with the human elements and the political theater, Larson keeps the integrity of history, but gives it an easily held timeline and some pizazz -- even though we know what's coming, Larson's signature is skillful telling that builds anticipation. (Though his talent can occasionally be an impediment, as in having to read over pages of the ship's manifest. The minutiae at times is more a curiosity than it is interesting.)

    What happened adds up to more than just a series of horrible coincidences. : Why wasn't there a military escort into the Channel; why was a boat responding to the mayday ordered to turn around; why did *Room 40* not let the Lusitania know the information they had decoded; and...why were approximately four million rounds of U.S.manufactured Remington .303 bullets in the Lusitania's hold? Larsen puts the questions in your mouth, but don't expect him to give any answers. Not a lot of new information, but it's still history like only Larsen does history.

    Scott Brick's talents seem well suited reading this kind of book.

    15 of 25 people found this review helpful
  • The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By Gabrielle Zevin
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    The irascible A. J. Fikry, owner of Island Books - the only bookstore on Alice Island - has already lost his wife. Now his most prized possession, a rare book, has been stolen from right under his nose in the most embarrassing of circumstances. The store itself, it seems, will be next to go. One night upon closing, he discovers a toddler in his children’s section with a note from her mother pinned to her Elmo doll: I want Maya to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about such kinds of things. I love her very much, but I can no longer take care of her.

    Trish says: "Loved, Loved, Loved It!!"
    "A Big Dose of Feel Good"

    Bookstore Proprietor A.J. Fikry has definite tastes in books:

    “I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic
    realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices…genre mash-ups. Literary
    fiction about the Holocaust [is] distasteful -- non-fiction only, please. Literature should be
    literature, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything
    satisfying. I do not like children's books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer to not
    clutter my shelves with Young Adult. I do not like anything over 400 pages, or under 150

    He goes on to despise: ghostwritten novels, celebrity memoirs, debuts, chick-lit, poetry, or translations..."this goes without saying--vampires." But, he says, he likes "everything else."

    Fikry is a delightfully cantankerous man, a widower, satisfied with drinking his days away while the bookstore withers and dies. That is, until his nest egg, a rare copy of Poe's poetry, is stolen and he realizes he'll be making a living at selling books longer than he had intended. The theft sets off a series of events that broadens his lonely world, and tastes in books. It's like watching the Grinch's heart grow three sizes. Much of his personality is dispensed through his comments on known works of literature, and through little pearls of wisdom he passes along. We find out that in spite of his reading discriminations, Fikry is no misanthropic curmudgeon at all.

    The setting for this easy-breezy-love-song-to-reading is the kind of endangered species that is the destination find for any traveling bibliophile, a book-peruser's fantasy -- and very fitting because the book has a fantasy, fairy-tale like quality to it. Fikry's store is the lower floor of the little home he used to share with his wife, located on Alice island. I imagined: a charming cottage type with wood floors and braid rugs, a fireplace with overstuffed chairs to curl up in and test run a few books, a little bell over the front door. The sign over the shop reads:
    "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World" and I think most avid readers agree with the sentiment.

    At one point, Fikry offers this bit of wisdom:

    “You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is your favorite book?” -- I'm still trying to choose just one.

    For anyone that loves to read, can't imagine ever being without a book, lists reading as their favorite pastime, this might be your answer (or at least one of them) to Fikry's question.

    Scott Brick's narration is a (controversial) matter of taste, like oysters or mushrooms or like it, or you really really don't. I've listened to books where his voice was well suited for the narration, but here it didn't convey the kind of warmth and charm needed to tell this story.

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Code Name Verity

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By Elizabeth Wein
    • Narrated By Morven Christie, Lucy Gaskell
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Code Name Verity is a compelling, emotionally rich story with universal themes of friendship and loyalty, heroism and bravery. Two young women from totally different backgrounds are thrown together during World War II: one a working-class girl from Manchester, the other a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a wireless operator. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted friends. But then a vital mission goes wrong....

    Suzn F says: "Haunting, Beautiful, Exquisite, Special Book"
    "'Like A Girl'...Fräulein Power"

    IF you've wondered about this book, thought about purchasing it when Audible highlighted it a month ago...just do it. *Like a girl*, like a boy, like a YA or an OF, just download it and prepare yourself for a fantastic read, a brilliant experience; but, one you may have to, may want to, take twice. Even those savvy readers who can follow a twisting plot like a hungry cat on a mouse are going to be tossed in a special way. That's why all these reviews let you know right off that they can't tell you a thing (except you'll probably need a tissue.)
    [Did you see the movie "The Usual Suspects;" do you remember the shocking end where everything you thought you knew was turned on its head? When Keyser Söze straightens his limp and walks erectly across the street, letting you know that everything was hiding in plain sight all along? And you watched the whole movie again just to shake your head and see it in a new light? That's this experience.] We can't tell you more or we'd have to kill you...
    The book is constructed so cleverly with such elegance that you won't see the end coming, though it was always there over you like a sledge hammer. And when it hits you, and it will, you'll realize the force of the story and the talent of this author. You'll realize this is a more fiendishly complex and riveting story than you already thought it was.

    A piece of historical fiction that is an espionage thriller, impressively capable of standing up to even the most sophisticated of the genre, not just limited to YA, although none of them could match the heart of this adventure. The themes of courage and friendship are both heartbreaking and uplifting, and the basis of the story, but the history is remarkable. By describing the air raids, the tensions felt by the civilians, and finally the torture endured by the captured spy, Wein brings the terror of war to life. [Imagine how terrifying: Captured by an SS officer for something so simple as looking the wrong way before crossing the street...she looked left, like the British, instead of right, like the French.] Hiding behind the narrator's allusions to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” Kipling's "Kim," Shakespeare, and other literary works, the daily horrors take on a fairytale-like quality that add to the overall masquerade. These two great characters/narrators will grab your heart and burrow in, so make room. I want to see the movie; make T-shirts with their names emblazoned on the front; join their fan clubs.

    Yea for the girls...I love that the contribution of females is portrayed so wonderfully by this book. These two friends have all the power, bravery, and loyalty of the females in The Hunger Games or Divergent, etc., but these are human characters created from history, not from fantasy or science fiction. The similar acts of bravery during WWII and other wars are well documented. Women weren't only helpful Rosie the Riveters -- they were soldiers, spies, pilots; they fought, they were tortured and they died.

    My little sis reads for a living; over all YA and Children's books for libraries in another state. When Code Name Verity was published, she told me it was great, the new favorite of her Young Writers Group, which is comprised of people ages 14-23. She also told me she thought I'd like it. So, I purchased this in 2013 per her recommendation, foolishly put it in my TBR file thinking YA would be good, but not big-girl good...stupid mistake. I read a couple hundred books between downloading this and finally listening. Code Name Verity is one of the most impressive.

    And, the narration...I'm so surprised the book hasn't been nominated for an award for the narration. It was outstanding. A Scottish brogue, French, German, English -- every accent spot on, clear, and animated. They both give spectacular performances.
    Just fantastic in everyway. I hope this helps you decide if this is a book you'd enjoy.

    8 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • The Nightingale

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Kristin Hannah
    • Narrated By Polly Stone

    From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes Kristin Hannah’s next novel. It is an epic love story and family drama set at the dawn of World War II. She is the author of twenty-one novels. Her previous novels include Home Front, Night Road, Firefly Lane, Fly Away, and Winter Garden.

    "A bird that roared"

    After reading the publisher's summary in Audible's *Featured Pre-Orders,* I was drawn to The Nightingale -- I have an obsession with the history of early twentieth century France, particularly the Inter War period and the few years after WWII. Unfamiliar with Hannah's body of work, I read that her oeuvre was *female fiction,* repeatedly compared to other authors I have chosen not to read. That translated to concern that I would be disappointed with the author, and by a book that inaccurately used history to piggy back on a saccharine love story. Not what I was looking for.

    It was this line from the Kirkus Review that perfectly addressed my worries and sold me on this book: "Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II." Hannah's skillful writing, and forceful story telling ability quickly became apparent and convinced me The Nightingale was a perfect choice.

    As the story begins, the reader knows only that the novel is about two disparate sisters during the WWII Nazi occupation of France. From one of those sisters, now placed in a nursing home in Oregon, USA, the tale of survival is unraveled, but which surviving sister narrates the history remains unknown until the novel's end...and I hung onto the book until that ending and wished the story could've gone on.

    Sisters Vianne and Isabelle are polar opposites, even in their individual strengths: Vianne is compassionate with the strengths we know as *a mother's-love,* wise and thoughtful; while the younger Isabelle is defiant, fearless, and recklessly brave -- opposites, but equally formidable. Each of their paths are harrowing and absorbing. On the home-front, Vianne must protect her daughter while fighting starvation, freezing winters, and the degradation from German soldiers. In silent horror, she watches as her friends and neighbors are branded with the Jewish star, then gathered into wagons and trains, often leaving infants behind alone. Even a rumor started from jealousy, or a false accusation can be deathly under the brutal Gestapo's presence. Young and compulsive, Isabelle defies the occupation openly until an event brings soldiers too close to their home. She realizes that for the protection of Vianne and her daughter, she must flee. She joins the Resistance and becomes a guide secretly transporting injured Allied airmen over the Pyrenees into Spain. [Isabelle's surname, Rossignol, is the French word for nightingale.]

    Having read my share of French history, I was impressed with the historical accuracy of the story (though this was in part a love story that added little more than some quasi-romance). Many of the events were echoes of history books I've read and it was gratifying to see that Hannah did not treat the civilians as *landscape* and marginalize those poor souls caught in the crossfire of war. This was a riveting story, excellently told and narrated well (I will leave the accuracy of the French accent to those more knowledgeable than my HS French; it did not impede the story for me). It is worth mentioning that though this is fiction, Hannah said her idea for the story was ignited by a real incident she read about...and there are too many real incidents out there, both historical and current.

    **It is estimated that 350,00 French civilians died during the German occupation, not from bombs or fighting, but from: crimes against humanity, famine, disease and "military acting out." This war preceded Article 27 of the Geneva Convention; females were considered *carnal booty.* Since 1949 Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits wartime rape and enforced prostitution. In a speech to the United nations Security Council in 2008, Retired Major General Patrick Cammart stated,
    “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.” Sadly, we haven't made much progress.

    21 of 26 people found this review helpful
  • My Sunshine Away

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By M.O. Walsh
    • Narrated By Kirby Heybourne

    My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when 15-year-old Lindy Simpson - free spirit, track star, and belle of the block - experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

    Mel says: "'I dreamt I held you in my arms...'"
    "'I dreamt I held you in my arms...'"

    Another debut novel, and my faith in new authors continues to brighten -- and I say that after(struggling) listening to a story, that was somber from the opening sentence and weighed on me with almost every page. Therefore, I've given a lot of thought about how to approach this review without discouraging a possible reader. What sustains me through a read as difficult as this was is not only a strong story, writing and characters -- all those necessary elements Walsh does keenly -- it's the take away, the message, the lesson, and, while more nuanced than Aesop's moral, the no less present, moral of the story. My Sunshine Away is a story with a very nuanced message, or moral, that is especially relevant and necessary, handled with kid-soft gloves, (you can only see once you look back over what you just read).

    Walsh skillfully sets up the listener at the very beginning with the assault, then gorges them with emotions by having you believe the story is being told directly to you by this 15 yr. old neighbor boy considered a suspect. In addition to the opening offense, it may be difficult to hear what teenage boys do behind locked bathroom doors, so bluntly. You'll wonder if the revelation of those raging hormones is is to the narrator. Considered a suspect, his story feels confessional, both pleading his case and clearing his conscience.

    The rape brings the real and gritty world crashing into the unspoiled neighborhood. Walsh creates a community of children suddenly stripped of their innocence and thrust into the darkest aspects of adulthood. As the days move away from the crime life is compounded with the normal adversities of acne, popularity, divorce, child abuse (one incident of very sad animal abuse).

    The author clearly understands the teenage mind and capably balances the naiveté and discovery, but I was constantly struck by Walsh's amazing knack for subtly. His ability to take severe traumatic episodes and delicately weave them into the development of these teens gives the story the slightest bit of tenderness in the maelstrom. It is a captivating read that kept me so in the moment that I didn't do my usual detective-as-you-go. The signs are certainly there--but I told you...Walsh is subtle. I got caught up in the imaginings and suspicions of the teenage sleuth. It's not until the ending of the story that you finally hear who the story is for, and why. The *why* is that saving grace that brings light and hope to the novel. Difficult? Indeed, I almost quit, but with the conclusion, and looking back and taking the story as a whole -- it was remarkable. With so much in the headlines of violence against women and accountability, this is a little novel that slams the point across.

    The narration is done well. The flow between chapters itself is sometimes appropriately abrupt and that is made more obvious with an audio production, but no fault of author or narrator, and does not detract from the story. It's not for everyone, but I'm so glad I found this novel and stuck with it. Walsh shows here a talent with some real staying power.

    11 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • The Shell Collector

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 5 mins)
    • By Hugh Howey
    • Narrated By Samara Naeymi
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    The ocean is dying. The sea is growing warmer and is gradually rising. Seashells have become so rare that collecting them is now a national obsession. Flawless specimens sell like priceless works of art. Families hunt the tideline in the dark of night with flashlights. Crowds gather on beaches at the lowest of tides, hoping to get lucky.

    E. Gallegos says: "Nice romance story, but predictable."
    "Put your ear up to it and you can hear the ocean.."

    Once upon a time there was a little girl that loved to spend time with her father combing pristine beaches looking for sea shells. [Their mother had died.] Together they would travel and explore new beaches, rising with the out-going tide each morning to sweep the smooth fresh sands of the intertidal zones looking for their little calcium carbonate exoskeleton treasures. Her name was Mayarella, and as she grew, she waxed strong in beauty and the knowledge of conchology and became a famous journalist who wrote a column for the NY Times all about seashells, and people around the world loved it.

    It so happened that while Maya spent her childhood days combing beaches, there was a horrible and greedy man that was recklessly pumping out the pools of oil that had collected beneath the ocean floor. He had a little boy he named after a monster that lived in Scotland. Ness spent time at the ocean with his father also, looking for shells. His father didn't care about the oceans or shells, he only cared about money. He drilled and got richer than anyone in the whole world while the water got really polluted, then started getting warmer until all the animals and plants died, even the coral reefs. Next thing you know, New Yorkers were wearing galoshes like Venetians, sea shells disappeared with all living creatures in the sea. The evil man and his wife eventually died, leaving everything to Ness -- by then a young man.

    Ness has become reclusive, living in a compound surrounded by the only clean ocean left. Maya is about to publish a series of scathing articles about this evil shell-destroying family when she is summoned to appear before the FBI. A mush-mouthed FBI man dangles before her pretty eyes a perfect Lace Murex, a rare mollusk shell that sells now for millions of dollars. There is a dead body involved, a physicist that worked for Ness and owned the shells, but that's not the problem. FBI man Cooper thinks Ness is manufacturing fake shells, making millions of dollars selling them (and the IRS hasn't seen a penny from those sales, Maya knows from history that tax evasion is how the FBI gets their really big criminals. This goes against all of her shell collecting principles.) These shells have been extinct for 30 yrs., but these look new. "So, that famous shell collector Ness Wild is nothing more than a phony," she spits, and agrees to help the FBI take down the monster.

    The ridiculously long driveway to Ness' house crunches under Maya's tires and she realizes this isn't cement, Ness has crushed shells....gazillions of crustacean corpses, crushed shells, volutes, cones, cowries, and rock shells lining miles! She is appalled and ready to give this monster a piece of her mind. She pounds on the front door and standing there is a beautiful golden man with sun bleached hair. His body is tan and toned; he is bare footed, wearing white drawstring pants that billow around his muscular thighs. A large black pearl threaded through a leather thong hangs on his chiseled chest, and birds sing in the back ground, "I'm Ness."

    He's beautiful. His sea-green eyes twinkle, belying his evil nature, "Be my guest! Be my guest, put my vintage wine to the test!" he pours her wine and gives her crackers and cheese and charcuterie. She remembers she is a serious journalist, and on a mission from the FBI. She sips her wine suspiciously and judiciously. Her body tingles with each sip; Maya has never tasted anything so lovely. What a cad he is, she bats her eyes. Her head reels and she imagines a hallway lined with the photos of hundreds of female journalists Ness has slept with; she is determined not to fall for this smooth performance -- not to be part of his world. He is trying to tell her something he has never told anyone before--the *truth,* a real scoop, something about his *sniff* beloved misunderstood grandfather *tears in his eyes*. What a shameful act! She finishes her wine and she stands to go. Maya is a little, "what's that word...Tipsy!" And wouldn't ya know it, her car... it won't go, it won't go, Turn away and slam the door, back into Ness' house. He makes her the best coffee ever and tells her all about the rare Hakuna matata beans. Surely a man that makes his own coffee...

    Maya knows her life is in danger; she is on guard as she spends the night in his fabulous guest house. When she awakes, the fridge is stocked, and there is a surprise! Ness has a little girl (about the same age as the one Maya lost when she was once married). The little girl is spunky and cute, and takes right to Maya. They form the *I hate rain* club and cook eggs-in-a-hole, and fall asleep...Ness sneaks in after his meeting, and finds them cuddled together, and tears up.
    Eventually (that week) Maya blows off the FBI, discards the wires, tells her boss she quits, goes in a deep sea diving bell to the bottom of the ocean, makes out with Ness, and has several other adventures around the world before she discovers, by Friday, that she and Ness are soul mates. They knew it the minute they saw each other. Little daughter knew it too; all she's ever wanted is for her daddy to be happy. Together, the three save the oceans; new kids again find the joys of collecting shells...and they live happily ever after.

    Wonderful, wonderful, and the girl telling the story does a lovely job in spite of sometimes using her boy voice when it's time for her girl voice (and the mush-mouthed FBI Cooper).

    My complaints: So many missed opportunities; choreographed little sea creatures frolicking around the kissing couple would have added some magic to the romance; a colony of sick oil drenched otters hiding out on Ness' property secretly aided by the little daughter would have given emotional depth and dimension; a full-on Mer-people attack against humankind was definitely needed for the drama element, a resentful lone-surviving giant squid could have attacked the diving bell, the FBI would have logically launched a door to door hunt for Mayarella, testing each young lady resident to see if the wire fit -- come on, Howey! (And, I know this is a little out there, but...wouldn't an appearance by the real Loch Ness monster at a wedding have been just the ultimate?!) If an author is going to turn an environmental issue into a fairytale romance, there absolutely HAS to be an Olaf and/or Sven, at least a Gus Gus, a Jiminy Cricket, or perfectly suited for this sea-theme, a Sebastian the Crab(!). I take off stars for such oversights.

    15 of 20 people found this review helpful
  • Unbecoming: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Rebecca Scherm
    • Narrated By Catherine Taber

    On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says she's from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, she's in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail.

    Mel says: "Staying a step ahead of her lies"
    "Staying a step ahead of her lies"

    This story begins in Paris with her first lie... "Bonjour, je m'appelle Julie." She is really Grace from Tennessee, hiding out in France. Tomorrow her secret husband, and former lover will be released after 8 yrs. in prison for a crime she masterminded. Casually she tells the reader, "the best lies were the simplest...and made the most sense...these lies are the easiest to swallow." With the ease of a chameleon switching colors Grace tells the reader how she came to be Julie in Paris. The story is told in flashbacks for the first portion, then switches to real-time. Until that switch, the story is jittery and suffused with tension; Julie expecting any minute to be found.

    From a dysfunctional wrong-side-of-the-tracks family, Grace has always felt insignificant and ashamed. Growing into a pretty young girl, she catches the affections of local golden boy Riley Graham. From an esteemed and wealthy family Riley has everything Grace has ever dreamed of, a wealthy aristocratic family, respectable parents and a doting mother that has always wanted a daughter. Grace twists and turns herself to meet their expectation, molding herself into that longed-for daughter, and Riley's perfect girlfriend. Always on her mind is caution to keep up the become the person she is pretending to be, staying one step ahead of the lies. As we hear her tell it, it all seems a harmless act of survival by a desperate little girl longing for love. Grace's longings go much further than just love though, and as she moves through the years her personality becomes defined, Scherm deftly creating a little sociopath before the reader's eyes, that dismisses the trail of destruction she leaves behind.

    The back and forth narrative style keeps the plot going at a steady, but sometimes bumpy pace. The flashbacks didn't always transition smoothly into a segment, but it wasn't distracting either. While not nearly Highsmith or Hitchcock, Scherm gave me the sense and promise of her own definite style. Her development of Grace/Julie was most nuanced while she is away from Riley, but it was also interesting to see how she manipulated around the Grahams. Most enjoyable to me was while Julie worked for the disreputable Jacqueline restoring antique jewels, and then finally, where we see what the author can really do when she releases Julie from her years of self-doubt -- when she finally *becomes.*

    New author Rebecca Sherm is one of the new crop of debut novelists that have found themselves one of the *critic's darlings* having their debut novel released with an attached pedigreed before it even hit the shelves. It's commonplace lately to see every psychological thriller with a psycho femme fatale branded the next Gone Girl, every art heist story inspired by Tartt's The Goldfinch, and any suspenseful crime novel the offspring of Hitchcock or Highsmith. With these astral claims, marketers are lining these fledgling writers at the gate with the seasoned thoroughbreds --not always a favor. My opinion is that Unbecoming was a very good debut novel, and I hope that Scherm will feel encouraged to continue writing. She definitely has both creative and writing talent and a distinctive style that I'll be looking forward to reading in the future.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • The Deep

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Nick Cutter
    • Narrated By Corey Brill

    A strange plague called the "Gets" is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget - small things at first, like where they left their keys... then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily - and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as "ambrosia" has been discovered - a universal healer, from initial reports.

    Charles says: "Troubling"
    "Deeply Disturbing; Descent into Madness"

    "The Abyss meets The Shining" and I would say also meets King's IT, and a quite a bit of Jeff VanderMeer's *weird fiction,* the AreaX: Southern Reach Trilogy. I can see why author Nick Cutter has amassed fans like Stephen King. To open this book, you are under the control of Cutter's chilling narrative in a setting that is completely foreign from what you know. He controls the horror with vivid imagery that (unfortunately for us) imprints itself on your mind. It is a multi-level horror attack that is claustrophobic, psychological, repulsive, and in the end, unfathomable. In other happy ending and chances of some pretty macabre nightmares.

    Readers, especially listeners, are at the mercy of Cutter's darkly creative mind as the book descends into the Marianas Trench and the total deprivation of the Trieste. Isolated 8 miles below the sunny surface in a pitch black world, a spider-like conglomerate of tubes form the lab. The lights illuminate only a tiny radius, lighting just parts of foreign creatures that glide in and out of the murky *sea snow* at the bottom of the ocean. The sounds are slurpy, slimey, and schllicky, and your mind does awful things with those sounds. At 8 mi. below, the pressure against the lab makes every sound a horrifying threat; they sound like bowels and digestion of a gigantic beast. It is almost traumatizing.

    If not already terrifying, Cutter creates a pair of brothers that survived a very dysfunctional childhood that would be enough to induce nightmares. The older brother is the scientist that has not been heard from since the Trieste went incommunicado. Clayton spent his childhood escaping the abuse by unconscionably experimenting on (dismembering) animals. He is cold and without compassion, purely scientific. Luke has the opposite temperament; a veterinarian and a father that lost a son in a heartbreaking *missing-child* incident that haunts him. (Let's just say the boys have TONS of baggage between them.)

    An issue I had with this book is the lack of story about the *Gets,* the initial catalyst for the story. So little is said about the effect on the world and how it motivates the trip down to the Trieste. That could be a whole great book. And for animal lovers...don't expect any mercy from this horror master. There are animals aboard the Trieste, cute, furry, animals and they don't fare well. The narration was spot-on, with great pronunciation of those onomatopoeia words that Cutter uses to make your skin crawl, and things slurp and splat and skitter.

    Stephen King once said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.” The Deep is one of those that swings for the terror, bounces on the horror, and lands square on the gross-out. If that sounds like your kind of read -- enjoy. A little too much like swallowing slugs for me personally, but to you horror fanatics I say...Bon Appétit! You'll love this.

    17 of 24 people found this review helpful
  • The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Christopher Scotton
    • Narrated By Robert Petkoff

    After witnessing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, 14-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin's grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky.

    Fred J. Kamm says: "Few people write so generously."
    "Loved it in Spite of..."

    Some of my favorite novels are those told from the *looking back* POV -- those coming of age stories, retelling of events enlightened by hindsight. From King's The Body, to Twain's The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, when told with skill and sincerity the shared humanity, no matter how diverse, *strikes those familiar chords* in each of us [*paraphrased from author Daniel Woodrell's NY Times review for this book]. In his debut novel, Christopher Scotton shares the tragedy of a family and strikes those chords with a skill that defies the term 'debut novel.'

    The plot of this Bildungsroman is complex in that it is set in 1985 and tackles not only the usual companion issues of growing up after tragedy, but also is intertwined with the complexities of social and environmental attitudes. Kevin recalls the summer when after witnessing the horrific death of his 3 yr. old little brother (truly grizzly), the mother is grief stricken and withdraws into a catatonic state. At the urging of the grandfather (Pops) the two retreat to the mother's childhood home, tucked into the Appalachian Mountains, to heal.

    Pops is that stalwart of integrity and honor; a hard working veterinarian with a love for the land and its people. He introduces Kevin to reading and great books, but when Kevin still shows signs of heading into serious trouble to cope with his feelings of guilt and loss, Pops makes him his vet assistant. Together they trek back into the hills to administer to ailing livestock. But it is Buzzy Fink that saves Kevin from his sorrow by befriending the naïve city boy and teaching him the secrets of the mountains. Under Buzzy's tutelage, Kevin learns to respect and love this land, opening a connection and a closeness with Pops. He also learns that in a small town everyone is connected, and nothing remains a secret for long.

    In Scotton's characters, you'll recognize many of the same qualities that define the great characters of favorite novels. As the book progresses, these characters become more defined by the environmental and social issues. The bucolic setting hits a boiling point when the towns people begin experiencing the effects of Mountaintop Removal Mining -- a process that literally blasts the tops off the mountains leaving the countryside scarred and riddled with toxic carcinogens. Bubba Boyd is the strong arm mine owner that employs most of the town and is buying out the land to extract coal without consideration for the environment. The contention splits the town and the leader of the opposition, a gay hairdresser despised by Bubba both for his stand on preserving the pristine mountains and his secret sexual orientation, is found murdered.

    The novel is substantial in page number and subject matter, difficult to summarize and do it justice. The heart of the story is charming and unforgettable, and this was one of my favorite reads. I can't recommend it highly enough. Here comes the BUT... I had a few issues with the book that I point out to justify my rating: Once Pops takes Buzzy and Kevin on a *Quest* into the mountains, I found myself having to chew a little more to swallow some of the story. There's a chimerical white stag that felt a little too "Expecto patronum!" and a legendary moss-back fish that almost swims onto Kevin's hook, a poultice concocted by Buzzy that defies known medical cures. Character-wise, Kevin is inordinately naïve; Buzzy, very Huckleberry; Big Bad Bubba?; Peter the gay hairdresser? the mule-shootin', corn-piped hillbilly?...I'm listening to their story, but sometimes thinking *central casting.* Technically these are issues that felt like little hiccups, but kept this from being a perfect novel. Didn't really matter...loved it in spite of itself.

    *[Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell, is one of my all-time favorite novels.]

    **Though already long, I'd like to address another reviewer's comments about the foul language. With respect, there are a few F-bombs, but I don't recall it being used often or gratuitously (I didn't count).

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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