I decided to give the "Lots of Laughs!"-series a second try, hoping that my first buy was just an unhappy coincidence. However, unfortunately, this book too is just not funny. I love Neil Gaiman and his story is the only one that I found sweetly funny, but the title "lot's of laughs" suggests something different to me. Sadly, most stories didn't even make me smile, let alone laugh out loud.
For me, this one of the most bring books I've read/listened to in a long time! It just kept dragging on forever. Nothing ever happened! The only part of the book I enjoyed even remotely was the part set in Mexico but aside from that is is just going on and on and on without any real plot. The narrator was decent, though.
Sadly, I was really struggling with this book. While I like a dose of surrealism in my books, this one was too much for me. I liked the overall universe the story is set it but did not care for the fates of the people or their endless meanderings. I didn't find it "quirky" as the Audible review suggested, nor exciting or even mildly amusing but rather lengthy and very difficult to get through. Clearly this book was not my cup of tea.
The title of this book could just as well have been "Broken" - because every character in the story is broken in some way and the ragged edges of their lives hurt your soul as you are following Camille through the story. In a way, the book itself is a sharp object.
Don't get me wrong, the writing is excellent, because bad writing is dull. On the other hand, the writing in this book is like a scalpel that cuts into piece of unprotected soft tissue that the characters or the reader leaves exposed.
I couldn't stop listening to the book, but in the same way that some people find it hard to look away from a train crash. I felt almost indecent for not turning away.
I nearly gave this book back, but somehow stayed with it. Having said that, I was almost constantly annoyed. Some people said that they think this is historically very well researched - well, I think the opposite. The portrayal of the Tsar as a loving, doting if slightly confused monarch who pours over the personnel files of the cadets and is worried that any of the revolutionaries might get hurt seems more than far fetched. And from what I heard Stalin wasn't exactly a stern but forgiving person either. Aside from the character of the Tsar, the person that annoyed me almost as much was Kirov. No political commissar in Stalin's days would have been that naive. I understand what his function in the book is: he is asking the stupid questions so that the author can explain things to the reader. But during that time, nobody would survived to rise to political commissar without political awareness.
For a better, and more realistic, crime story set in the same time I recommend Tom Rob Smith's "Child 44" that is also available on Audible.
I found it quite hard to rate this book and in the end decided to go for the middle. After all, you can't blame a book for what it is. You wouldn't say a technical manual is bad because it is boring and in the same way you can't say that "Hard Magic" is bad because it is cheesy, over the top and full of extremely corny lines. After all "Hard Magic" is clearly pulp fiction and that is also the writing that you get. The writing is on par with the most clichèd romance novels, with the only difference being that here people are flinging around magic and bullets.
Having said all that, I think it is good pulp fiction - you just need to be in the mood for it and embrace the pulp.
As for the narrator: I think he is doing a decent job, but unfortunately sometimes gets the accents wrong so that character A will suddenly answer with the accent and inflection of character B. However, this doesn't happen very often and is only a minor annoyance and I found it always quite easy to follow who is saying what.
I really liked the idea of this book: an almost mythical character from the past turns up again in times of need but it turns out he is just as human and fallible as everyone else. That's a really nice idea. I also really liked that Campbell cares about physics and manages to integrate the difficulties that would potentially occur in space battles into the book quite neatly, for example that it would take time to see and hear about events that are a couple of light minutes away because communication cannot travel fast than light.
What I didn't like is that he belabours these points a bit too much. I don't need him to explain the laws of physics to me every three minutes. I also though the whole "we are better than this"-mantra intertwined with the "I'm just human like you"-theme was way to repetitive.
I really liked how the book started out, the two mysteries (one in the past, one in the present) and particularly how the characters of the two detectives and their relationship to each other was developed. However, towards the middle of the book, the story just turns depressing. Not thrilling or scary, but depressing and that is not the kind of thing I'm looking for in this kind of book. In addition there are some lose ends which are never picked up so that you are left wondering: "What was the point of that whole strand?"
This is probably one of the nerdiest books I have ever read. But that is ok, because I am a nerd. To enjoy this book you should have played Dungeons and Dragons as a child and languished in the very special teenage limbo where you dreamt of good looking, cool girls who liked you for your brains and were into computers. And then you grew up to become a successful media or communications manager, web designer or SEO specialists. Sounds familiar? Then you will love this book. Else, you will probably be a bit bewildered and confused because most of the references won't make sense to you. So much for the story.
As for the delivery: I think Ari Fliakos does a great job reading this book and bringing the different characters to life.
The problem with history books and history lessons is that they are almost always focussing on dates, statistics and major events rather than giving us an impression what this era was like for ordinary people living through it. Of course, in a lot of cases there is only very little source material, but in "Winter of the World" Follett takes advantage of the fact that the events he is describing have happened in recent history and that some of the people who lived through that time are still alive or have described their experience.
Of course, it is more than a little contrived that the handfull of families to whom he has introduced us in "Fall of Giants" are also miraculously present at all the pivotal events of this era - from the fire at the Reichstag to the first Soviet nuclear bomb - but to me this did not diminish the joy of reading (or listening).
"Winter of the World" creates a vivid picture of the years between 1933 and 1949, showing how ordinary people in almost all countries have suffered and struggled to survive. It's neither a depressing, nor uplifting book in that it shows there are heroes and villains in all countries.
I really enjoyed listening to the book, particularly since I live in Berlin at the moment and walked through the city while listening to events that had taken place more than 60 years ago, but which I could still very well imagine unfolding around me.
John Lee also does a superb job as a narrator and manages to give the countless different characters their own personalities and inflections.
The books starts to be enjoyable as soon as the bullets are flying - but that only happens roughly 30 hours into the story. The rest I found pretty horrible and frequently reads like a right-wing pamphlet that would even make the tea party blush. In addition, there logical holes big enough to fly an Apache through.
The one positive thing is the narrator. I think Prichard is superb and if it wasn't for him I might never have finished the book.
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