Sutton, MA | Member Since 2012
Peter Ames Carlin's biography of Bruce Springsteen fails in its most basic obligation to the reader; explaining and analyzing how Springsteen become one of the most successful singer/songwriters in American History. The author reveals the Boss was not an especially talented student, did not grow up in a musical environment, and had limited opportunities for cultural enhancement, yet developed into a historic musical icon. Carlin skips over the development of the young Springsteen so quickly that it seems that he acquired his musical gifts through magic. Bruce's mother buys him a guitar and three pages later he his compared to Eric Clapton. The development of his song writer talents are equally ambiguous, where Bruce seems to reject reading books and relies solely on watching movies.
The remainder of "Bruce" deals with very superficial and boring factual accounts of business contracts, touring locations, and terse interactions with band mates. The actual Springsteen comments quoted in the book are often only a few words, where he seems highly guarded. I honestly did not feel that I learned anything revealing about Springsteen. His genius and motivations remain as mysterious to me now as they were when I started "Bruce."
The Goldfinch is one of the best books I have read in the last two years. What makes the Goldfinch so good? The Story! The reader is locked into a completely original and captivating story with excellent character development. The Goldfinch deals with many social issues, personal sagas, and themes without losing distracting the reader from the main story. This was my first Donna Tartt book, where many book aficionados refer to her as a genius. I may fall into that camp. Tartt's use of foreshadowing and character describing analogies will make you want to read the book twice.
Tartt brings the reader into environments, personal circumstances, and private meetings that create a great sense of reader intimacy and connectedness throughout the book. The Goldfinch addresses the motivations and experiences associated with drug abuse, addiction, and PTSD. These heady and sad experiences are handled expertly by Tartt, where the reader is not overwhelmed by pessimism or hopelessness.
I have two major criticisms of the Goldfinch: 1) Some sections of the book are overwritten. As the reader you want to move to the next scene change. However, Tartt gives allows the main charter to overly process their current dilemma to the point the reader shouts out loud "For the love of God please make a decision"! 2) The reader must struggle through the first 75 pages. Tartt give the reader a long wind-up before delivering the pitch. This is not helped by the somewhat awkward narrator voice of Theo's mother in the audio book. For the most part the narrator, David Pittu, is excellent. However, he struggles with the Theo's mother voice to the point of distraction.
Criticisms aside, I loved and would recommend the Goldfinch to any serious fan of fiction. In my rank order book evaluation system (Best to Work) that I have developed for all the audio books I have listen to over the last two years, I rank the Goldfinch number 5 of 58. Not Too Shabby.
Chang-rae Lee's "On Such a Full Sea" (Sea) received very strong reviews from the New York Times and The Guardian. I was less than impressed. Sea has an imaginative premise, but lacks a solid story to maintain the reader's engagement. Throughout Sea the reader never feels a sense of conclusion as so many questions and issues are unresolved. At points Sea seems like a series of unconnected short stories with only a single familiar character. References to dystopia science fiction theme are overblown (one reviewer comparing Sea to Brave New World). Chang-rae Lee leaves you in dark relative to the development or history of the dystopia society.
I will pay Chang-rae Lee his due respect as a writing of prose. He is the master of describing what others are feeling, observing, or experiencing. Ultimately, despite the technical perfection of the writing the reader just doesn't care about the characters.
I have read 56 books in the last two years, where Sea ranks in 44th position (21%).
Robert Gates served as Secretary of Defense under both the Bush and Obama White House administrations. Gates was the first Secretary of Defense to serve two administrations from different political parties. Gates was also former head of the CIA, President of Texas A&M, and one of the original members of the Iraq study group (2006). It is widely accepted that Gates is respected (and revered) by both Republicans and Democrats. He is not a polarizing political figure or a talking head espousing a political agenda. For these reasons, Duty has immediate credibility and should evoke reader interest.
Duty is not full of details that rehashes major historical/political events of the Obama and Bush administrations (Iraq war, Afghanistan war, bin Laden’s death, the Surge..). Instead, these situations are briefly summarized to allow Gates the opportunity to provide the reader his problem solving process when dealing with these events. Duty is ultimately about how to be an effective manager in the largest and most complex organization in the world. Gates reveals his approach to defining the problem, analyzing a problem, and developing a solution. The reader take away is Gates was an effective listener, implementer, and manager of complex personalities.
Much of the attention Duty has received from critics involves identifying the winners and losers of the Bush/Obama administrations. For example, Joe Biden takes a pretty bad beating in Duty that will adversely impact his chances of winning the Presidency in 2016. However, Gates is very complementary and critical of various generals, presidents, politicians, and White House staff, regardless of political affiliation. Also, critical comments about the decision-making skills of our leaders are rooted in observable facts. I never felt the criticism of any political leaders was the main emphasis or intent of the book. Gates also effectively communicates the sacrifice and dedication exhibited by the US soldiers.
Overall, I would recommend Duty to anyone who keeps current with the world news. At times the book is shocking (the militaries lack of preparation/planning for the Iraqi war) and revealing (the courageous decision-making skills exhibited by Barack Obama).
Andy Weirs’ “The Martian” is an exciting book that follows the daily existence of an astronaut stranded on Mars. The main character, Mark Watney, is a across the between Survivorman and Stephen Hawking. Wantney is an astronaut, botanist, and mechanical engineer. He must use all of these skills to maintain his existence on Mars while attempting to communicate with NASA back on earth. Watney is the sole character throughout the great majority of the book.
The strength of “The Martian” is Weir’s ability to describe highly complex scientific information (botany, chemistry, astronomy, and physics) in a manner that does not overwhelm or bore the reader. The Martians ‘other strength is the use of comedy and Watney’s affable personality. Although the situations in the book are desperate, the reader rarely has a sense of pessimism. Difficult situations and challenges represent opportunities to solve problems.
Although I like “The Martian”, there were sections of the book that seemed overly long. I also wish there was more of an emphasis on what was occurring on earth during Watney’s ordeal. However, casual science fiction fans should find “The Martian” exciting and enjoyable.
Not only did Adam Johnson's "The Orphan Master's Son" (Orphan) win the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but Stephen King listed the book as the 2013 top work of fiction (Entertainment Magazine, 12/2013). The purpose of Johnson's book is to expose the world to the way of life North Korea citizens must endure. The author accomplishes this by depicting the life events of one man, Jun Do, whose adventures covers the spectrum of citizenship; orphan to hero.Through Jun Do’s story, the reader is exposed to North Korea’s exploitation of citizens, government propaganda, philosophy of leadership, and control of the masses through coercion.
Jun Do’s story is interesting enough, but the books purpose is to put you in touch with the daily living conditions of the North Korean people as controlled and dictated by a sinister ruling party. The genius of Johnson’s work is that the information gleaned by the reader never seems forced or a work of nonfiction. Elements of the North Korean lifestyle are woven seamlessly into the overarching story. The reader never feels they are attending a lecture or education seminar.
As a reader, I had some basic background information about the repressive North Korean government ruled by the now deceased Kim Jong-Il. However, Orphan brings to life the graphic reality the North Korean people experience. Orphan will open your eyes to the despotic/Orwellian nightmare of North Korea.
The narration of Orphan is excellent. My only criticism of Orphan is it’s about 100 pages too long. There are small sections of the book that are overwritten that serve to collectively frustrate the reader. However, this is a truly important and revealing book that will change your perspective on world events.
The author of “Tune In”, Mark Lewisohn, is one of the world’s “Toppermost of the Poppermost” Beatle aficionados. In the event that my 1st sentence makes sense and causes you to laugh, you should immediately purchase. Lewisohn is the author of “The Beatles Live” (1986), where he painstakingly details every Beatles’ concert performance. For Lewisohn, every Beatle related detail or rumor, regardless of size, warrants scholarly follow-up. Lewisohn approaches Tune In as a social scientist grinding out data based historical facts that must have taken him decades to accumulate and analyze. For these reasons, the book weighs in at about 900 pages and clocks in at over 43 hours for your audio book listening pleasure. However, for the diehard Beatles fans (or nuts) Lewisohn has created a Nirvana.
I was completely fascinated and locked in to the entire 43 hour audio book. Tune In provides so much history and insight into the factors that resulted in Beatlemania. However, the book goes far deeper than the Fab 4. Tune In is ultimately about the personal and cultural conditions that culminated in Liverpool in the late 1950s to forever change society. Lewisohn’s main task is to capture and described all of the elements that caused a social paradigm shift fully manifested in the mid to late 1960s. Four impoverished lads from Liverpool are ground zero for the beginnings of this shift.
I caution readers not to judge the youthful Beatles too harshly. You will learn things about John Lennon and Paul McCartney that will taint many of your idealized images. John Lennon exhibited despicable behaviors which would never be tolerated in our modern society. Paul often comes off as obstinate and jealous towards others competing for John Lennon’s attention. Given that these young men grew up in very aggressive/violent neighborhoods and received questionable formal education, these challenging behaviors seem shaped by their environments.
Tune In starts with detailing the family histories of the Fab 4 and then follows the Beatles development in a linear fashion through elementary school, middle school, and art school. All of the musical influences, family interactions, and prevalent environmental conditions are analyzed. The story ends in 1962, where the Beatles are on the launching pointed towards stardom. The strengths of this book are as follows:
1) The life and influence of Stu Sutcliffe
2) The early songwriting interactions of Lennon and McCartney: starts and stops
3) The development of George Harrison: dedicated and hard-working
4) Description of how Pete Best entered and controversially exited the band: the whole story
5) Brian Epstein the good and decent. The true 5th Beatle without whose efforts there may not be a Beatles
6) George Martin the cynical and late to recognize
7) John Lennon’s ability to put the band first.
8) The Liverpool Beatles’ fans! Their support is as critical as Brian Epstein.
9) The Hamburg years: The good, bad, & ugly
10) The Beatles group behaviors that made them a success: open to all types of music, listening to B-sides, no repeating songs in the same act, and always trying to be different from typical bands…..
I am hopeful that you derive the same level of joy and excitement I’ve encountered by reading Tune In. This book should appeal to people who are just a little more fanatical than a casual Beatles fan. This is only the 1st volume in a series of 3. Reportedly, the author intends to publish volume 2 in roughly 5 years. For many, this may give you just enough time to finish the 1st volume.
“True Grit” by Charles Portis is just about a perfect audio book. I enjoyed both the John Wayne (1969) and Coen Brothers (2010) movie versions of True Grit. However, as always, the book absolutely outshines any film adaptation. What makes True Grit an almost perfect audio book? 1) The entire unabridged book clocks in at only 6 hours and 19 minutes. The story is relatively straightforward and contains possibly 5 characters of significance. Keeping events, names, and situations in your memory while driving and listening to an audio book is very easy. 2) Hands down, True Grit is the best narrated book I have ever listened to. Donna Tartt delivers a masterful and fully convincing performance. I would especially encourage readers to listen to Donna short essay on True Grit at the end of the audio book. She delivers insightful analysis that should not be missed. 3) True Grit has a plethora of funny and memorable prose. The intelligence and comedy associated with Charles Portis’ writing is often lost in screenplays. Finally, True Grit is the ultimate examination of revenge motivated behavior. 'You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God.”
Phillipp Meyer’s “The Son” is a gritty and intense novel that I fully enjoyed. The Son is always moving forward at a pace that easy to follow and leads to strong character development. The Son is historical fiction, where the reader/listener is exposed to the domestication of Texas by the United States by following three generations of a family from late 1800s to the 1980s. The three family stories switch at the conclusion of each chapter, allowing the reader to directly evaluate the impact of distant events on future behavior.
Word to the wise; The Son this is not for the faint of heart. Myers provides detailed scenes of torture, rape, kidnapping, and murder. However, these explicit elements are the keys that make the novel effective and powerful. If you are looking for a traditional Texas Cowboys versus American Indians stories, look elsewhere. The Son is full of real characters replete with dubious intentions, faulty assumptions, prejudice, and self-serving motivations. The Son is ultimately a tale of personal survival through the destruction of others.
In my opinion, the best parts of The Son occur through the expert description of the culture of the Comanche American Indian. The Comanche way of life, hunting/gathering skills, mating rituals, and family upbringing are exquisitely described. Learning the hunting rituals of the Comanche is reason enough to purchase this audio book. Overall, I would strongly recommend The Son as a highly engaging book for anyone who understands there are no heroes or pure villains when you analyze historical events. The Son is ultimately about perspective.
I was hesitant to purchase “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” (Ocean) as this was my first Neil Gaiman novel and my interest in the fantasy genre extends as far as George Martin. I was old-fashioned wrong! Ocean was terrific. Ocean was a simple and unpretentious story about a childhood experience. Similar to Martel’s “Life of Pi”, there’s much more happening here if the reader/listener bothers to delve underneath the surface.
Gaiman has an expert sense of the fears and anxieties that fuel the behaviors of a 7-year-old child. He also captures the magical thinking that children use to understand and negotiate their environments. Gaiman’s child has yet to be overtaken by the realities of science and logic. As a result, the reader is taken into imaginative situations only available through the mind of a child. The insights that come out of Ocean are refreshing and creative.
Ocean is very entertaining and never boring. The audiobook is also very manageable at roughly 5 hours in length and only a handful of characters to track. Ocean is well worth your investment in time and money.
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