Antonia Fraser has an amazing knack for writing biographies that are both impeccably researched and absolutely entertaining to read, and Marie Antoinette is no exception. Fraser takes us into the life of the young "Antoine," the daughter of the strong, hands-on empress of Austria, Maria-Teresa, who has raised all her children to be rulers and consorts. We then follow Marie Antoinette from her arrival at the French court, where courtiers compete for the right to help her dress and privacy becomes a distant memory, to her affectionate but passionless marriage to the Dauphin (unconsummated for seven years) to her frivolous years as a fashion goddess, gambler and party animal and her final years as a woman who faced slander, intrigue, defamation and treason charges with dignity and grace. Whatever her shallow moments, Fraser's Marie Antoinette has wisdom, steel and immense loyalty. Alas, the narrator is so unpleasant that I abandoned this book several times in frustration. Donalda Peters has one of those annoying, tight, dry, upper-crust British voices that make the listener feel like a disobedient child being lectured by a menacing nanny. Although her French pronunciation is mostly adequate, Peters seems unable or unwilling to pronounce the French name "Marie," and refers to the heroine as "Marry Antoinette" and sometimes even sounds as if she is saying "Murray Antoinette." What an annoying disservice to a strong book.
. . . he can't possibly exist only in the author's imagination, because he's way too real. Looks like a surfer, talks to God, fly-fishes and charms women everywhere he goes. Oh, yeah, and solves cases that puzzle everyone else. I'm a huge Sandford fan, and love the fact that his plots are so intelligent and his characters are true to human nature. What I love about the Virgil Flowers series is getting into the character's mind as he solves the mystery -- in this case, a series of bombings that seem to be aimed at preventing the construction of a monster WalMart-type store in a small town. Every time he appears to be zeroing in on the killer, another bombing occurs and the facts have to be reassessed. Engaging and entertaining. I really like this narrator as well -- he's very laid-back, like Virgil, but he keeps a good rhythm and pace.
I grew up watching the original Upstairs, Downstairs, own all the episodes and recently enjoyed the new series. So it was wonderful to know that I could listen to a novelization voiced by Jean Marsh. Hawkesworth, who I believe wrote many if not all episodes of the original series, does a great job of turning the first season into stories. And Marsh is a very good reader, and does the various accents quite well. So I was hooked. But the bizarre thing is that someone forgot to edit this recording. We hear mistakes, retakes, different versions of the same line -- at one point we even hear the producer talking to Marsh -- and it's a bit disconcerting. I would have given this five stars, but had to take one off for the lack of editing. After all, we do pay for a finished product. But still worth listening to, and quite addictive!
I really enjoyed this book -- I was completely engaged by the characters and their stories. Loved the Jane Austen echoes and the fact that Schine knew exactly when to follow Ms. Austen's plot patterns and when to let modern life add its own twists. I agree that there wasn't any sense of New York in the narration, but I got used to it. Definitely not rocket science, but more than a beach read -- we all know characters like these men and women and Schine is a perceptive observer of human nature.
I was hooked by this book at first -- a troubled young woman who has spent most of her life in hiding, a serial killer who may be stalking her, links between this case and another one from the detective's past. But I felt so cheated by the climax -- without spoiling the ending, it was bizarre that a case this complex, with an entire task force devoted to solving it, could almost go off the rails because of shoddy police work. They blow the budget on surveillance and travel and an ill-considered sting operation, but forget such minor details as background checks on suspects and remembering to guard the killer's target? Please! Also really bugged me that at least two people knew the identity of the serial killer years earlier but one of them is still portrayed as a hero. Very frustrating ending after such a promising premise.
I've read and/or listened to all of Kathy Reichs's books and unfortunately they are getting tired. This particular book is so-so -- tedious and far-fetched at the same time. Raiders of the Lost Ark meets The Da Vinci Code, without the fun of the former. And it features offensive caricatures of Orthodox Jews dedicated to the preservation of human remains in Israel -- here, they are little more than gangs of thugs. But the worst part of this book is Michele Pawk's reading. She manages to butcher virtually every single French name in the Montreal scenes and makes some groaners with the Hebrew as well -- did no one think to consult a native speaker of either language for pronunciation guidelines? Started out as merely irritating but soon became offensive.
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