Sutton, MA | Member Since 2012
My family and I drove from Boston to New York listening to "the wonderful wizard of Oz." At 3HRs 52MIN OZ was the prefect length for a long car ride. We were enthralled and memorized by the depth and beauty of the story. The book is moderately different from the movie, which allows much discussion around the discrepancies. The narrator, Anne Hathaway, is excellent, where she bring so much magic and life to multiple characters. Our family continues to discuss the book weeks after completion.
In my opinion, Stephen King has set the standard of excellence relative to authoring books in the horror genre. It pains me to report that “Revival” falls short of this very high standard. The plot of “Revival” serves as a vehicle for Mr. King to spout off about drug addiction, aging, the existence of God, and guitar playing. All of these items are interesting to read about, but seem jammed into a non-compelling story. Also, the antagonist of “Revival” is not all that evil. The worst you may say is he practices medicine without a license and seems selfish sharing his discoveries. Another issue it is not until the half-way point when “Revival” finds its sea legs and rhythm.
“Revival” does have moments of pure delight (I affectionately refer to these as Kingnezian moments), such as listening to the “terrible sermon” in Chapter 3. I was also touched my Mr. King’s descriptions of first love and family reunions. For most authors,” Revival” would represent a triumph of writing and storytelling. However, we expect much more from Mr. King.
I hit a dry spell in finding new novels that would engage my interest. As a result, I started searching for notable American novels I missed during the height of their popularity. Mystic River shows up on every book critic’s top 25 lists of great American modern novels. Since I had not seen the movie, I gave it a listen.
It would be misleading to characterize Mystic River (MR) as a murder mystery or detective story. Any reader who watched more than three episodes of “Law & Order” will figure out the mystery of MR by the end of the fourth chapter. The value of MR comes in the author’s, Dennis Lahane, skills at making the reader feel the anguish of the characters and intensity of the storyline. MR is a dark serious drama devoid of humor. The three main characters carry a deep sense of misery and psychological trauma that cannot be conventionally expressed due the machismo cultural standards of South Boston. The culture of machismo results in a basic breakdown in social communication, isolation, rejection, and pointless death. Lahane expertly takes the reader into an insular community where most of us would rarely venture. MR is always moving toward the conclusion, where the reader feels a tension similar to watching a car speeding obliviously in the wrong direction of a busy one way street and waiting for the eventual crash. The drama of the book occurs as characters rush to judgments based on community standards and spurious information.
Although the audio book runs roughly 15 hours, every detail is important to understanding the eventual finale. The interplay between the environment and characters makes this book special. After completing the book I watched the film. MR the movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, is almost 100% faithful to the book in plot and tone. I recommend reading MR instead of watching the film to capture Lahane’s masterful writing. However, if you already watched the film, the book will lose much of its punch.
Donna Tart FaceBook page recommended “Station 11”, which is the sole reason I engaged Emily Saint John-Mandel’s book. Although I enjoyed and recommend “Station 11”, I feel that I have visited the pandemic theme countless times in the last year (California, the 5th Wave, and the Maze Runner). Basically, 99% percent of the population is wiped out by the Georgian flu, civilization falls apart, and the reset button must be pushed. Following an interim period of chaos, a small troupe of actors/musicians travels to self-governing communities staging Shakespeare plays for the deprived peoples (there are no other forms of entertainment in the post-apocalyptic world).
The story of “Station 11” floats back and forth in time and centers on six characters. Saint John-Mandel is a very good writer, which makes “Station 11” a cut above similar pandemic books. “Station 11” is primarily about strong relationships. When society is stripped down to a survival of fittest mentality, forming and maintaining groups of friends with similar values are essential. Saint John-Mandel also has some interesting and creative ideas about how small independent communities may differ relative to self-governance.
Overall, Station 11 is a well written and offers a creative perspective on an old theme. The book is never boring or unnecessary violent. Instead, I found Saint John-Mandel’s work thoughtful and introspective.
The Invisible Bridge (IB) describes the cultural, economic, political, domestic, and social conditions that set the occasion for the "Reagan Revolution" or political realignment of the U.S. in favor of conservatism. Rick Perlstein starts “IB” with a detailed analysis of the Nixon administration’s break-in at the Watergate hotel in September 1971. Perlstein reminds the reader that Nixon had other problems brewing in 1971: Bombing of Cambodia, attempting to withdraw from Vietnam without the appearance of losing the war, POWs, and student demonstrations. Overall, the consecutive Presidency’s of Johnson /Nixon permanently changed the American people’s perception of the executive office. The office that was once revered and respected was now seen as corrupt and implacably tarnished.
Reagan’s story and ascendance is always lurking as the backdrop to the scandalous events ranging from Vietnam to Jimmy Carter. Perlstein gives the reader a good biography of Reagan’s development and history, but this is not comprehensive. The emphasis of IB is a microanalysis of political and cultural events that affected Americans between 1971 and 1976. I must admit, I had forgotten how turbulent and chaotic these years were in American history; especially the high degree of domestic terrorism.
IB is not a love letter to Republicans, Democrats, or Reaganites. Perlstein appears to treat all of the players between 1971 and 1976 with equal contempt and cynicism. If you interested in learning about a fairly turbulent time in the United States that set the occasion for a conservative agenda, IB is a winner. If you are a fan of Rush Limbaugh looking to re-affirm your existing worship of the 40th President, look elsewhere.
It took me the entire summer of 2014 to complete Robert Caro’s four volume set on Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). That’s over 160 hours of listening engagement and six downloads (“Master of the Senate” is sold in three separate sections to swindle the listener). However, like a lays potato chip, you can’t stop at one volume. Caro’s critically acclaimed masterwork is a contender for the greatest biography ever put to paper. I was actually saddened to complete the series as I found myself yearning for the release of the 5th and final volume.
Caro’s LBJ series is best described as a micro analysis of about amassing and exercising of power over others. For most of the work, the reader will learn how through duplicitous and manipulative means, LBJ acquired and wielded power. The 36th President displayed an innate motivation and skill that drove him to outwork and outthink his opponents. His drive for power is evident from the earliest years growing up in poverty in near Johnson City, Texas. Caro’s ability to describe the early life LBJ is done so expertly that the reader becomes totally engrossed in the story. Caro descriptions of LBJ’s childhood, economics conditions of South Texas, and socio economic conditions are full of passion and entertainment.
As a listener, you should know within 10-minutes of listening to the introduction if “Path to Power” is the right choice for you. Caro starts each book in the series with an overview. I found these introductions riveting and knew within a few minutes that I selected a winner. The LBJ series is also narrated by Grover Gardener, who is my opinion the very best audible reader in the business.
Paul Robert's “The Impulse Society” is one of the most interesting and intellectually satisfying non-fiction books I have engaged in the last year. Roberts begins with the premise that modern day American society is built on the need for immediate gratification from our consumer behaviors, social interactions, business practices, and political preferences. These claims are backed up with data and astute cultural/political observations dating back from Reagan and ending with Obama. The author also provides a historical perspective relative to the times when America citizens made personal and business sacrifices for the public good. “The Impulse Society” is completely engaging with great narration. The book will challenge the reader's long established beliefs and hopefully open them up to new perspective.
I was fascinated and enthralled by the HBO series “The Leftovers.” The show is dark, cerebral, and deals with penultimate questions of life after death. When the 2014 season ended without total closure, I raced to the novel to have all my questions answered. However, the novel is superficial and intellectually disappointing aside the HBO series. The Leftovers novel provides only the basic outline which is expertly filled by the created of the television show “Lost” (Damon Lindelof). There is little to be gained in the novel for fans of the HBO series.
In 1987, at the height of Stephen King's cocaine and alcohol addiction, he wrote the Tommyknockers (TK). A quick unscientific online search reveals that many King fans rank the “TK” toward the very bottom of his 62 published works. In 1999 in an editorial for the Onion, King reported that he had almost no recollection of this novel about an alien spacecraft that slowly takes over the minds and bodies of the citizenry of Haven, Maine. Although “TK” cannot compare to The Stand, Salem’s Lot, or The Dome, it's surprisingly entertaining.
The TK has a strong start which allows for the development of the main characters: a writer, Bobbie Anderson, and poet, Jim Gardner. These recluses have the unique ability to tolerate each other. One day when running in the woods, Bobbie trips over a piece of metal protruding slightly from the ground. This seemingly inconsequential event starts off a series of changes that lead us through the “TK”. I love that King is willing and unafraid to uncover the world's greatest discovery in such a happenstance manner. It reminds me of King's time travel concept in “11-22-63”, where the time travel vehicle is a dirty cleaning closet at a local dinner. Only Stephen King can get away with this level of ludicrousness. With any other author most readers would throw down the book saying, “You expect me to buy this malarkey”.
If you can make the leap and accept the ridiculous manner in which the spacecraft is discovered, you can lock in and go on an exciting ride. It's amazing that King writes so clearly and fluidly for a man at the height of addiction. His writing is always clear and he vividly brings horrific scenes to the reader's consciousness. Overall, there are many King books better than the “TK”. A much better book about alien invasion mind control is “The Cell.” However, if you are a rabid King fan, like me, and want to study all the works, the “TK” is fun and revealing. Of the 87 books I have read over the last two years, TK is ranked 41.
Gary Taubes' “Why We Get Fat” (WWGF) is an engaging summary of the science related to human weight gain. Taubes cites numerous research articles, case studies, and social/cultural situations to support the hypothesis that obesity is a result of our bodies inability to effectively digest select carbohydrates. The more complex the carbohydrate (bread, rice, potatoes,...) the higher the probability an individual will gain weight. This carbohydrate digestive processing program is also idiosyncratic, effecting some while not others.
WWGF reads like a doctoral dissertation attempting to support the argument that excess carbohydrates are responsible for excess human weight gain and corresponding health problems. Taubes espouses that diets high in protein and fat with restricted intake of complex carbohydrates not only results in weight loss, but are the healthier for the body. WWGF also reports that although exercising is beneficial to the human body, it relationship to weight lose is inconclusive at best. At this moment many readers may be saying “What the What”? According to Taubes you have been brain washed by the dieting industry and he has the research to prove it.
The strength of WWGF is Taubes debunking many long established weight lose myths. For example, the myth that weight lose occurs when calories consumed are exceeded by calories expended (called the first law of thermodynamics). For Taubes, the solution to society's obesity problem is not reducing time sitting on couch, but the replacing complex carbohydrates with copious amounts fat/proteins. Does this make sense? To Taubes the research is clear and Americans have been mislead into thinking dieting is an excess calorie problem.
There are two major drawbacks to the WWGF. Taubes arguments and theories are not independently verified. He does not conduct the hard scientific experiment to justify his claims. As a reader you keep waiting for him to discuss that well controlled study that will allow you to start eating steak for three meals per day. That study never materializes. A second weakness is WWGF does not provide any guidance on the types of carbohydrates you should focus on relative to weight lose. His best advice is to replace high insulin producing carbs with green leafy carbs. WOW and Thank you!
WWGH is a great book for readers interested in a more than passing interest in weight lose. The book is very well written, flows, and the information is easily digestible.
Stephen King novels fall into two categories: Wide Scope or Intimate Character Studies. Wide scope King novels juggle multiple characters and story lines (The Stand, The Dome, It, and Salem's Lot..). The intimate charter studies are laser focused on no more than five characters, where the characters are a akin to the reader's family members by the end of the novel (Joyland, Duma Key...) . Mr. Mercedes is an intimate character study that locks the reader into experiencing an almost personal relationship with the main characters.
Mr. Mercedes is a terrific read! The prose of the main charter, retired detective Bill Hodges, is rough, funny, and indicative of a shrewd curmudgeon. Hodges is ready to be taken to the glue factory until the book's villain, Brady Hartsfield, decides to wake this sleeping dog out of pure narcissism. The interplay between the two characters creates numerous out loud laughable moments especially in the email exchanges. Mr. Mercedes is not scary, but creates a creepy tone throughout the novel through King's use of imagery and graphic detail.
Mr. Mercedes is never dull and moves at a surprisingly brisk pace despite the fact that there are few action sequences. The excitement of Mr. Mercedes occurs under the hood, being exposed to cognitions or mental problem solving of the two protagonists. King expertly gives the reader both sides of the coin relative to motives and motivations of the good guys and bad guys.
Obsessive Stephen King fans know that the master of the horror genre has more than a passing interest in gritty detective novels. In King's only nonfiction book, On Writing, he pays his respects to detective fiction by Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, and hardboiled pulp fiction stories from magazines. With Mr. Mercedes, King gets his opportunity to make his contribution to the detective genre, albeit Steve King style.
My only negative comment about Mr. Mercedes is relative to the narration. Will Patton (The Postman and Remember the Titians) has a gruff and graveled voices that does not personally appeal to me.
Overall, Mr. Mercedes is a must read for all who enjoy escaping reality. The main joy Mr. Mercedes is experiencing the development of the main characters as "better angles of our nature" that arise during trying circumstances. In my personal rank order rating system, Mr. Mercedes ranks 20th of the 75 books I have read/listened to over the last 2.5 years.
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