I ended this book with very mixed feelings - it was riveting enough to keep me from being productive around the house, it is masterfully narrated by great readers, and it certainly debunks the myths of the noble plantation master.
But there were several plot lines that stretched credulity - that a white child (indentured servant) would be so readily trusted throughout a slave community in an unstable household, that this child could grow up to tempt marriage offers from two members of the landed gentry of the area (a simple farmer, yes, but to see Virginians crossing class lines is hard to believe), and that this same individual could miss facts right under her nose and keep silent about other crucial facts for decades.
One reviewer described it as a Gothic novel - and that it is, combining alcoholism, pedophilia, laudunum addiction, sadism, lots of melodrama around lost children and parents, a Bronte-like house fire, and a heroine who maintains her purity of spirit throughout the perils that await her. You can almost envision her tied to railroad tracks.
And although the main protagonist certainly suffers from the dastardly deeds at the hands of her own Simon Legree, it is difficult as a listener to feel much compassion for her since what's happening to the slaves on this plantation is far worse and somewhat glossed over by the way the author keeps having them bounce back from being victimized by extreme brutality to resume their roles as sad-but-wise-and-loving house servants. The author waxes between fascinating and believable detail (field slaves stealing boards from the smokehouse to boil to get salt into their food) and hackneyed stereotypes of a mammy. I ended up giving Grissom credit for trying to be honest about slavery and forgave her the fall into stereotypes, but other readers might not.
The Aubrey/Maturin series is, as a body of work, the greatest set of novels in the English language. Post Captain is one of the best.
Post Captain introduces both the ladies' auxilary of the series, with fierce Diana and beautiful Sophie, and also shows us the hilarious social commentary of the Austen-loving O'Brian at his best. There is plenty of war action - Jack and Stephen are on a number of ships - and a harrowing, wonderful trek across the Pyrenees with Jack disguised as a bear, ending in a visit to Stephen's castle. (This is a real castle - I have seen it.)
And it introduces us to Stephen's identities as a natural historian and intelligence agent, that give so much color to the books over time.
If you consume these auditorially, accept no substitutions for Patrick Tull as narrator. He is magnificent.
The Aubrey/Maturin novels, as a body of work, are the greatest novels in the English language.
This, the first in the 20-book series, is very good. We meet Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, before they have money, at the beginning of their careers, with uncertain prospects, learning about each other. We are introduced to most of the man-of-war's men that we will come to know over many books - Pullings, Mowatt, Babbington, Bonden, Killick. We find out Jack's a lady's man and that both Jack and Stephen love music.
This novel has a greater emphasis on the wartime operations of the royal navy and battles at sea than the rest of the novels, which is to be expected as Jack and Stephen are only getting started.
The books are even better when consumed audibly - but ONLY the versions narrated by Patrick Tull - accept no substitutions for the magnificent Tull. Tull is MAGNIFICENT.
Tana French can write. She plots well, gets inside her characters' heads, brings the reader along, moves the pace quickly without leaving us behind, and manages to weave in modern social commentary and personal anchors around her characters along the way.
The narrator here does a great job with Cassie Maddox's interior voice.
The Likeness picks up six months or so after In the Woods, with a different character (Cassie Maddox - the partner of the protagonist in In the Woods). One of French's strengths is her ability to write each of these Dublin Murder Squad books from the perspective of a different, yet related, character. Here she's a female, and her female voice is as strong and authentic as her male voices in the third and fourth novels.
A specialty of this book is the in-depth journey French takes us into undercover work - how detectives prepare for a role, maintain cover, manage the boundaries between their persona and reality, etc.
The "family" of characters Cassie Maddox enters is well-drawn, and because she is under cover as the murder victim, gives the reader a unique view into a dead person's perspective.
Whoever thought playing loud, discordant music that drowns out the sound of the reading of TS Eliot's "Hollow Men" was a good idea is an IDIOT. The poetry, of course, is the reason you download this - and you can't even HEAR it over the discordant cacophony of "music." And - uh - poetry has its own meter, so overlaying other soundtracks over it makes it pretty difficult to absorb the original work. I exercised Audible's refund option.
A pretty good historical novel about two aristocratic sisters during the Italian Renaissance. I found all of the characters rather one-dimensional, but the descriptions of life during wartime for the Borgia-Pope era ruling class was pretty and evocative.
This book is the Lean In for the Millenial Generation - fresh, bright, gritty, pragmatic, and fun. No less important than Lean In, and I bet Amouruso and Sandberg aren't too far apart in age - but worlds apart in perspective. Work ethic is the same. Women working their asses off, getting shit done.
Better narrator than Lean In, as well. No whining.
Charlie LeDuff is very, very mad. He is mad about the murder/death/disintegration of his hometown of Detroit, and he tells the gritty story of what it's like for many who still live there. Some may find his prose rather purple - I found it energized, driving - pretty full of testosterone, but the subject-matter deserved it. Firefighters losing their lives fighting chronic abandoned house fires in outdated gear that doesn't work? People living in half-populated neighborhoods where their homes aren't worth as much as their cars? Gobsmacking corruption of public officials?
I've met some of the activists and revitalize-rs who are bringing pieces of the Big D back. People like Reverend Joan Ross, who ran a nightclub before she was ordained and is now fighting to bring solar-powered street lights into the neighborhoods Detroit has taken off the grid so kids don't have to walk home from school in pitch black conditions in the winter. People like Jacob Corvidae at the WARM Training Center, who is working every day to build a cleaner, greener economy. If you visit Detroit, you come away believing that this is a city worth fighting for.
Charlie LeDuff focuses mostly on very negative aspects of the city - but somehow his energy and anger also make you believe that the city is worth fighting for, for its own sake, for the people who live there, and as a symbol of American recovery.
Donna Tartt certainly demonstrates her genius potential in this first novel. I read The Goldfinch before I read the Secret History, and the early themes and signs are there:
-the writing, of course - Tartt is a master craftsman of lyrical sentences. This woman can WRITE.
-the still, quiet plotcraft - the plots don't seem to be moving forward, until they do and you're suddenly in a very new place
-the characters who live deeply confined within academic frameworks of obscure humanities disciplines - not very relevant in the real world but strangely compelling
-the amoral characters, who you end up rooting for in some strange way - although many of the Secret History characters were less sympathetic than the Goldfinch protagonists (probably because their complete self-absorption and lack of any kind of empathy for others - even each other - became repellent after a while)
-the drug and alcohol abuse at staggering levels
-perfectly-drawn anti-hero characters you want to see more of on every page (Bunny in this book; Boris in The Goldfinch)
There are serious flaws, though. Tartt's main characters are bound together by esoteric studies, but only one of them (Henry) demonstrates any passion for the subjects. They are bound together by being children of great class privilege (or aspirations to that class), but there really isn't any love demonstrated between them (even though Tartt assures us that some of them love each other.) The kindest, most redeeming character (Francis) is the least well-drawn.
I found Tartt's descriptions of the way the main characters lived unrealistic. She carefully draws a perfect portrait of a small, New England liberal arts college (I attended one during the same time period that Tartt was at Bennington - the descriptions are spot-on, down to the town-and-gown divisions and spoiled, irrelevant professors), yet her characters don't seem to own a single college-logo hoodie, pair of jeans, electric typewriter, or even a ballpoint pen. All the boy protagonists run around in suits and ties - complete nonsense. They are all deathly afraid of working, although most people I knew in the same social class had jobs and internships galore during summers, trust funds or no. I was also surprised about the amount of weekday casual drug use she describes (rather than weekend recreational), and how she portrayed so many of the non-central fellow students as complete imbeciles, which Bennington surely does not attract.
This book is compelling, in an academic, crafted way. The Goldfinch is much better.
Tartt narrates this one herself, which bothers some who've reviewed it. I liked listening to her. She's a strong and dramatic reader, and one can forgive her Mississippi accent breaking through sometimes. Her deadpan, ennui-filled voice is perfect for Richard and Henry's perspectives as well as for their snobbery and self-absorption.
This is a difficult book to rate - it is written extremely well, but does not provide the same satisfaction of most masterfully-written memoirs, which shed light on the author's development as a result of what they experience in the memoir. This book is just a very honest, well-written portrayal of Bailey's brother's 30+ year descent into mental illness, and the daily assault on the family as a result. Nobody gets better, and we don't see any development of any of the family members as a result of the unrolling of the brother's life. In the end, I was just depressed and numb - I suppose reflecting how the family felt - but it is not why we read books, and if I were someone experiencing similar circumstances, there would be no help here for me.
This book holds some important truths about American women in leadership and the challenges of career focus. Sandberg's courage in sharing her own insecurities and challenges is sometimes empowering and sometimes just the reader being held hostage during a Sandberg therapy session, but overall her intentions and her commitment to women's success shines through. In the main, I'm glad she wrote it - she started a national conversation that is now a genie out of the bottle and unlikely to go back in. But it will be important to hear from other women with less privelege, perhaps that don't want to have children, and from men who support these women.
On the writing - Sandberg is clear and crisp, but she is not a powerful storyteller - you can tell she's a good driver of processes but not in marketing.
On the narrator - a very annoying, nasal voice and the woman sounds high-pitched and young - pretty unpleasant at times.
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