Having grown up listening to Boris Karloff's beautiful narration, Matthau's reading seemed strangely flat. However, the story is still as enjoyable as ever - a timeless classic!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, especially as it was a refreshing change from the usual current holiday glurge. The author seems to give an honest picture of the families he followed, treating them with respect, affection, and humor. I think he did a pretty good job of capturing, from an outsider's perspective, what we all want Christmas to be, how we try to go about making it happen, and how it can sometimes fall short of that dream. He completely nailed Stonebriar Mall, Frisco, a certain type of affluent North Texas demographic, and Canton. I laughed out loud at his description of Canton, remembering my own WTF-moment when I saw the scooter-people last time I was there. My only criticism is his seemingly hurried treatment of the last two years of the book. He really only covers a single Christmas - 2006 - and just checks in and gives us an update of the 2007 and 2008 Christmases. It's unfortunate, because he was in a unique position to thoroughly document how the changing economy impacted our attitudes between those years. I remember 2008 as the year we could no longer pretend that there wasn't something seriously wrong with the economy, and that Christmas as especially black. But I suppose it wasn't *that* kind of a book.
Ray Porter's reading was excellent. He lent a dry tone of voice to the text that seemed just right, and he gave a pretty good approximation of the Texas drawl. Most audiobook narrators seem to substitute a southern accent for Texans.
Maya Angelou has a voice like warm butter. If she read it aloud, she could make her grocery list sound wise and sensual and beautiful. When listening to her, I just want to nod my head and agree, grateful that she's sharing her thoughts with me. In this book, she recounts many of her personal experiences across eight decades of life. It's honest and sincere, and I was touched that she generously shared some of her own most embarrassing mistakes and what she learned about herself and the world through them.
After finishing this book, which only took a couple of hours, I reflected back on her lessons and can't say that I can embrace them all, perhaps because my experiences are not hers. But I'm nonetheless grateful that she's shared the insight she's gained through her remarkable life, and in her own voice.
I had low expectations for this book for a number of reasons. As a fan of JKR's Potter books, I knew that anything not-Potter would inevitably feel like something of a letdown. For example, any time poor Patricia Cornwell writes any non-Scarpetta book, she gets roasted by her Scarpetta fans. Also, the reviews for this book were generally poor. Although my taste differs significantly from that of professional book snobs, um, *reviewers*, I find the aggregate user reviews on Goodreads and Audible to be generally in the ballpark. Finally, the reviews I read generally indicated that this book was dark and grim, with a downer of an ending. Had I not enjoyed the Potter world JKR built so much, I probably wouldn't have read this book at all.
Curiously, I had just been listening to Peyton Place on audio, and couldn't help but mentally compare the two. They are similar in theme - both are about the sordid realities hiding behind a small town's pretty facade, including the sort of small-town class politics and power struggles where the successful and unsympathetic fight with the successful and sympathetic over the town's civic responsibility to their "undeserving poor", as Alfred P Doolittle would say. I had the same difficulties at the start of the story, too. So many characters are introduced so rapidly that I simply couldn’t keep track of them all. This is a uniquely audio problem, because in a paper format, I’d be able to flip back and forth to remind myself what each character had been up to previously, until all the dots start connecting and the individual storylines come together.
I suppose the comparison to the Potter books is inevitable, but JKR is successful in repeating and improving on one of the things I loved about those books. The huge cast of characters is wonderfully drawn. Each character is unique, and each character is flawed in some way, and stays true to itself throughout the story arc. What she has improved upon in this adult book is that there is no clear division between the “good” characters and the “bad” characters. Even her most unlikeable characters have some positive qualities (or at least sympathetic ones, given their eventually revealed histories and situations), and we understand how those positive and negative qualities drive their actions. The characters come from all walks of life and all situations, from the congenitally wealthy to middle class to children of heroin addicts. Had the children’s books been written this way, I wouldn’t have wondered where the inhabitants of Knockturn Alley went to school, because they obviously weren’t at Hogwarts.
Many reviewers complained that the ending was too grim, but I have to disagree. There is tragedy at the end, but many characters have learned and grown from their experiences to varying degrees, and there is genuine hope for some at the end.
This is very much a character-driven story, to the degree that there seems to be very little plot at all. Halfway through the book, though I was enjoying the characters, I wondered if there was a point to the story. At the end, I can see the point. But anyone who prefers a story with some action driving toward a particular end will not be happy with this story. It’s really just about people and how they behave and think and interact with one another. It’s about how attitudes and prejudices create the kind of society we live in.
Tom Hollander did a fantastic job. Although he doesn’t attempt to create a unique voice for each character – that would have been nearly impossible with the number of characters – he read with feeling and I was easily able to distinguish one character’s speech from another. I enjoyed this very much, and may even possibly listen to it again sometime.
Probably not. The story was well-written enough to keep me listening, but the characters were uninteresting and the secrets, once revealed, weren't worth waiting for.
Maybe. There were bright moments when I was immersed in the experiences of the characters that made the time spent on this book worthwhile. For example, I was moved by Maisie's experience as a field nurse during the war.
This is the first I've listened to.
No. The main character is too perfect - a classic Mary Sue. She solves her mysteries mostly by a sense of intuition and fortunate coincidence. If I want a story with supernatural elements, I'd rather have straight out fantasy or horror, or even magical realism. In this case, it felt like a substitution for actually weaving in clues and reasoning.
A mildly interesting story from the young woman's point of view. At least from the viewpoint of her older, wiser self. Although she draws life lessons from the experience and feels she has become more self-actualized than she would have without the experience, I still found it a depressingly common story of abuse of power by the men who run our country. Even worse, men whom so many idolize and admire. I'd like to hear about a young woman who gave her political boss a kick to the groin instead of adoringly hopping in his bed.
I suspect this book would have been much better in a regular book format, rather than on audio. The boring and repetitive lists of events at each chapter (?) start are probably laid out visually in such a way as to allow you to refer back during the meat of each section. Aside from that, it was still a light and entertaining overview of historical events, presented in a way that I wish my dusty old history teachers could have taught it. I was even mightily impressed with the narrator's ability to make coherent sounding sentences using the tongue-twisting names of ancient civilizations and foreign languages. Until the book hit the 1940's and I had to endure hearing "nucular" spoken over and over again. I subtracted a star for that alone, and I'm afraid I had to abandon the audiobook while it was in the home stretch.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Although obviously written for children, it was well-imagined and well-plotted. The world created by the author is consistent - there were no major gaps in logic that kicked me out of the story. The characters were a little obvious, with the bad guys being suitably evil and the good guys being pretty much instantly likeable, but I enjoyed Emily's struggles to understand the events around her and to choose between her heart's desire and the moral high road. The twist at the end was a lot of fun and sets up the next book. I expect I'll read it, too.
I'm tempted to attribute the dumbed down world building, logic flaws, and flat characters to the fact that this is written as children's literature, but I've read far too many excellent stories in that category to accept that children don't need or deserve better. Much of the ignorance of the people of Ember is explained at the end - that the adults who were chosen to populate that world were under strict orders to not pass on knowledge of the world before, but that just seems like a cop-out to me. Children ask questions, and their caregivers didn't have anyone preventing them from answering after they were dropped off in Ember. There was no satisfactory explanation for why the Builders demanded that their history be erased. In fact, it's nonsensical, if they expected that their descendants would need to emerge from Ember and re-integrate into the outside world some 200 years later. This is just one of the many logical flaws that kept me disengaged from the book. The characters and their relationships with one another had no depth. Lina feels very little grief for her grandmother, and forgets her death almost immediately. She seems to feel very little for her sister except concern when the child wanders off and is lost. When she refuses to leave Ember without her sister later, it seems borne of a sense of responsibility rather than any actual connection. She might as well have been refusing to leave without her only pair of shoes. I finished the story mostly because it was on audio and kept me company while doing some chores around the house, but if I had been actually reading the book, I probably would have put it down halfway through and not picked it up again.
I always suspected that the real world of fairy tales would be a lot more Grimm than Disney. This story sucked me right in and kept my interest to the end. The little behind-the-storybook scenes, such as what really happened to Sleeping Beauty, added texture to the story rather than distracting from it. Not a sweet story, and everybody doesn't live happily forever after, but I highly recommend it. I look forward to the next book in the series.
The critics say this is a great work of literature, so I suppose it must be true. Based on the many user reviews of this book, it must have great appeal to those who appreciate great literature. Perhaps I might have loved this book, too, if I had been able to stick with it long enough, but after 22 minutes, the story failed to capture my interest or my imagination. When I realized my attention had wandered so far that I found watching the birds squabbling at the birdfeeder more entertaining than this story, I gave it up.
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