Cotacachi, Ecuador | Member Since 2000
For a generation of readers, "Something Wicked" represents Ray Bradbury at the peak of his astonishing powers, spinning fantastic tales in ways that would inspire a generation of writers to follow. Against the ordinary background of a typical Midwestern town, Bradbury could construct twisted characters and bizarre plot lines that were patently absurd--yet the reader believed every detail. His descriptive skills are without equal, and narrator Paul Hecht somberly wraps his deep and expressive voice around every chilling adjective. It's a great listen, and awesome writing.
As a resident of the Andes, I thought I’d better learn a little more about the Incas, whose legendary empire encompassed immense portions of South America and established monumental cities and road systems—but really lasted only a century in its full imperial incarnation.
Terence D’Altroy knows his Inca (and pre-Inca) history, and his lectures are lively and articulate. The recording does have some editing errors causing repetitions, and the droning “announcer” before and after each section, with the contrived insertion of one question from an unheard student, recalls the most deadly of voices from the old days of classroom films. But that is cosmetic, and overall, this very accessible series of lectures offers more than almost anyone could wish to know about the lightning rise and dizzying fall of one of the greatest and briefest of the world’s dynasties.
“I have a 4 millimeter camera and thousands of meters of film,” remarks one character. Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction masterpiece doesn’t predict everything with accuracy, whether it’s the evolution of digital cameras or the failed dream of worldwide adoption of the metric system. But it does paint a fascinating future in which the malaise of prosperity and unlimited leisure time leads in an unexpected way to the complete disappearance of professional sports, for example, and most scientific research.
I must admit that I’m not a serious science fiction fan, though I do appreciate a good story. And my conclusion is that this is a better story than it is spellbinding prose. The plot, despite those occasional holes, is inventive and often surprising. It covers a lot of territory, sometimes in dramatic leaps, after a bit of a slow start. The writing, however, is stilted and formal in style, and so is the narration. But the story carries the day, as it must, and the result is a good listen to a seminal work.
David Sedaris, like most entertainers, is usually at his best before a live and appreciative audience. He is a very funny guy, and the invariable audience response electrifies the experience.
“Naked” is a different kind of recording, but no less engaging and maybe even more so. It’s a studio production, with no audience. There are a few staccato jazz bridges, and multiple characters briefly and brilliantly voiced by his sister, the extraordinarily talented actress and writer Amy Sedaris. And David reads his writings as only he can.
The sometimes cringe-inducing title piece comes at the end, having to do with visiting a nudist community, but the entire performance is an intimate, candid self-portrait, in which David reveals as much about himself as he has always done to his siblings, to their frequent dismay. It’s very funny—I laughed out loud countless times while listening—but also deadly serious. As such, it’s a fascinating audio achievement to be enjoyed and admired.
By now, Stephen King has produced such a variety of books that he is increasingly difficult to pigeonhole. Fans of horror will find something closer to a classic detective story in “Mr. Mercedes,” and a good one. There’s the hard-bitten cop (retired), a truly demented criminal, and a range of characters who populate the twists and turns of a complicated whodunit. But in fact, we know whodunit pretty early on. What happens next, and what happens after that, is a nonstop series of surprises building to a heart-racing finale. Horror fans will find some pretty horrifying scenes, too.
A great story, and narrator Will Patton is up to the task. The subtle shading of his voicing for each character, even when not reading their actual dialogue, is a work of consummate skill.
If, like me, your childhood memories of Twain have dimmed, and you tend to think of Huckleberry Finn as “Tom Sawyer (continued),” you’re in for a treat. Tom Sawyer came first and often comes first to mind, but many consider “Huckleberry Finn” to be Twain’s real masterpiece. It’s a true opus of dialogue and social documentary, cloaked in grand boyish adventure on the mighty Mississippi at the peak of the steamboat age.
Elijah Wood is a fine actor who brings to Huck’s first-person story the credible voice of both innocent youth and hardscrabble cunning. Huck can plan an elaborate raid worthy of a general, yet fall for every superstition and witches’ tale that comes along. The book is peopled with a lively cast of dozens of accomplices, con men, doting relatives, townspeople and slaves and they, too, are all Mr. Wood.
And the fine hand of Mark Twain is there throughout, weaving more plot twists and unexpected developments than any other adventure book or movie ever could, always with his trademark humor. An excellent read of perhaps the greatest story by the best-known author America has ever produced. How can you go wrong? I really like this Signature Classics idea.
Wolf’s Head is an engaging story that combines some familiar characters with several new ones in a fresh take on the forest legend. Since Robin Hood’s real historical origins are shaky at best, it’s hard to question the accuracy of the plot. There is a wicked sheriff and more than a few evil noblemen, along with a host of villagers, relatives, and tradesmen who are only too willing to collaborate with the colorful outlaws. The action is often more brutal than the childhood versions we remember.
Steven A. McKay’s writing is colorful and descriptive, but often falls victim to ponderous adverbs that hamstring its flow. The plot moves briskly most of the time. Sometimes the prescient insights of Robin and others approaches the level of magic, but there is no Merlin in this story. Nick Ellsworth gives a warm and enjoyable reading with a light touch throughout. Wolf’s Head is the first in a series, so some threads are inevitably left hanging at the end.
Someone asked, “Why 1927?” The answer, of course, is, “Why not?” What may seem at first like a random year drawn from a hat is in reality a summer of superlatives, achieved by legends like Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth. But there’s also a wealth of surprising insight that’s new to most of us, about Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Al Capone, Henry Ford and the greatest flood on the Mississippi in its history—not to mention scores of colorful eccentrics you never knew existed but will not soon forget. When the author reels off the fates of all his characters in the epilogue, you realize you've been following a cast of thousands.
Bill Bryson delivers a deeply researched and endlessly fascinating account as only he can, finding quirks and unearthing indelible meaning in one eventful season between the Great War and the Great Depression. It was a time like no other, and if America could get through it, it just might survive anything.
Paulo Coelho's tightly crafted little fable has become something of a contemporary classic in the nearly twenty years since it first appeared. It's a thought-provoking, somewhat mystical perspective on values--what really matters in life, and what really doesn't. The obvious things, it turns out, really don't, and anyone who pays close attention is likely to be better for the experience. The reading in the velvety voice of Jeremy Irons is perfect.
The word "epic" is thrown around a lot, especially by publicists. This is a rare case where it is wholly deserved.
I first read "Home Fires" around 15 years ago, discovering a monumental work that is really two ambitious books in one. It is the intimate, multigenerational story of a real American family, which in itself would be no small accomplishment. But then Don Katz uses the family saga as a framework on which he hangs the country's entire postwar social history. There is Vietnam, then folksingers and later rock 'n' roll, drugs, economic turmoil and our migration to the suburbs. It is related in such rich detail that countless throwaway sentences must have taken a week's research apiece.
As a new audiobook all these years later, "Home Fires" seems a new experience, somehow even more substantive and insightful than before. Narrator Joe Barrett weaves his way carefully through the twists and turns of each year, one after another. His voicing of characters is superb. Sure, all the Brooklyn males may sound more or less like Sam Gordon, but Mr. Barrett manages boys and girls, women, singers and prominent figures. His LBJ is passable, and his Richard Nixon pitch-perfect. Like the best of audiobooks, "the read" adds new dimensions to a remarkable work of journalism and literature. It's a long book. Totally worth it.
This is, as most reviews have said, a fascinating new take on an old favorite: Jekyll and Hyde from the perspective of a monster who becomes far less monstrous in the telling. He's no angel, either, but neither is Dr. Jekyll. It is a complex and inventive story, crafted in rich Victorian detail--a masterpiece of descriptive writing made better by the narration of John Curless, who seems to savor every word. It's another example of my favorite combination: an excellent book made even better in audio form.
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