Rocklin, CA, United States | Member Since 2004
If there were an audiobook award for 'best of the year', Bryce Courtney's 'The Potato Factory' would get my vote, hands down. It has everything -- a compelling story, unforgetable characters, a plot with historical authenticity, and a narrator that can't be beat.
Scholars debate how historically accurate 'The Potato Factory' really is -- I personally knew very little about the founding of Australia, from its penal colony days, but in at least one sense, it doesn't matter. The story succeeds brilliantly, even if it were pure fiction. There is likewise debate about whether the book is anti-semitic -- as a Jew, I can't see any tinge of anti-Jewish feeling. Quite the contrary, in many instances. It's hardly a surprise that there were (and are) Jews of less than sterling character. Ikey Solomon, as portrayed by Courtney, is both lovable and dispicable, fully human and utterly fascinating. A man of his time, in a society that was very different from that which we live in today.
Special congratulations should go to Humphrey Bower, the narrator. Through a truly Dickensian cast of characters (including a cameo from the Boz himself!) from street urchins, to upper class Brits, through every element of British and then exiled-society in Van Damiens Land, men and women, adults and children, Bower does a masterful job of portrayal. Each voice is unique, each rings true. There oughta be Academy Awards for acting jobs like this one!
'The Potato Factory' is actually the first book of a trilogy that Courtney calls his gift to Australia. Having just finished listening to this first installment, I'm now on the hunt for the second and third books -- Audible would be doing an amazing service to its listeners if they also provided the next two. Having experienced the first, I can't imagine not wanting to hear the rest of the story as told by Courtney.
Don't miss this classic tale. "The Potato Factory" has it all -- audiobooks just don't get any better than this.
Surely 2013's worst news for followers of the Alan Gregory series was that author Stephen White is pulling the plug. There's a couple more in the pipeline, but the 20th book will be the last.
I've loved this series. There hasn't been a bad book in the lot -- some have been marginally better, some not quite as satisfying, but every installment has delivered plenty of intriguing characters, fascinating stories, white knuckle moments and as always, any number of laugh out loud lines. As soon as I heard the series was ended, I began buying the audio versions of the books -- I've had, and have read, all the paper versions as they came out, but now I also wanted to enjoy the audio books, all of which are read by the incredible Dick Hill, one of the finest and most professional of the narrator crowd. You won't hear any mispronounced words or place names from Dick Hill! He's perfection personified.
All in all, 'Blinded' was a superb production. Before I 'met' Alan Gregory and his wife Lauren, I didn't know anything at all about Multiple Sclerosis -- thank Gd, I didn't know anything about it -- so I've always been fascinated by the details of this terrible disease, as Lauren's struggles with it ebb and flow. There's a lot of that in 'Blinded', as Lauren's 'brain mud' worsens and her condition takes its toll on the whole family. I love Emily the Bouvier, I love Sam Purdy -- love the Minnesota accent done just fine by Dick Hill, love Purdy's homespun wisdom, his forthright sense of justice and fair play. He plays a big part in this book, too. Dr. Diane Esteves, Gregory's partner, plays a lesser role, but she scores several of the belly laugh lines -- no spoiler, but a running joke throughout has to do with having an axe in the head. (You'll have to listen to it, you really will...)
And of course I love the wacky characters -- the clients who come to Dr. Gregory with their issues. There's plenty of those in this book, too. I noticed that a couple book reviewers said the story line was "predictable" -- but once again, I sure as heck didn't predict that ending. I suppose almost every book in a fictional detective series is predictable, in some sense -- you can predict that the main character will survive to fight another day. That said, I can't imagine that many people figured this one out in advance. But even if they had, in these books, it's the journey that's fun, not the arrival at the destination.
'Blinded' is a worthy entry in the Alan Gregory chronicles. I have no doubt that over the years, I'll listen to this one again and again.
"I'm a Coroner. I spend my life laying things to rest . . ."
Somehow I came across "Coroner" in hardcover when it was first published. I loved it so much I bought two subsequent volumes in hardcover, too, as soon as they came out. I don't think I've ever done that before. All three are magnificent. I was delighted to see them now in Audible and already bought all three again, and am looking forward to the two more that M. R. Hall has now written. These books are the best of the best, and the narration by Sian Thomas is absolutely perfect. She's exactly what I'd expect Coroner Jenny Cooper to sound like. (Not that it matters, but I was astonished to see that "M. R. Hall" is actually Matthew Hall, a young man who created a pitch-perfect female as his protagonist. I didn't realize that until I'd read all three books and looked up the author out of curiosity. Wow! Well done!)
There's much to love about these books: the fascinating details about the unusual job of coroner -- a bit different in England than in the States, but no less interesting. The locale, especially the house Jenny just bought, a remote, greatly-in-need-of-care farmhouse I expect most of us would give our eye teeth to live in. And Jenny herself. I can't help but compare her to Lynda LaPlante's memorable 'Lorraine Paige', that brilliant but much-abused alcoholic police detective who struggles against her many personal demons in LaPlante's "Cold" series, "Cold Heart", etc. For Jenny, it's not alcohol so much as Valium that's her demon. Coming off a nasty, long-term marriage to an arrogant surgeon, followed by a divorce in which their teenage son is sent to live with her husband -- then learning that she was appointed as Coroner more or less as a 'charity' case -- Jenny has grown dependent on the drug to maintain, with the struggle to hide her dependence almost as much of a problem as is the stress of everything else. All of this makes the unquestionably brilliant Jenny Cooper an immensely sympathetic protagonist, especially given her determination to see justice done for the dead "clients" she's responsible for.
It's really a misnomer to call these "crime" novels, because although the setting indeed involves crimes and courts, its the characters who hold the real attraction, and Jenny Cooper is a winner in every respect. Just one warning: If you buy 'Coroner', be sure you have enough credits to buy the rest of the series, too. You won't want to wait to buy them.
Not sure why I bought this book -- in general, legal thrillers drive me nuts (do doctors read medical thrillers?) but this was an okay book. Better than okay, in fact. Thoroughly enjoyable.
I think part of the difference was Lescroat's choice of protagonists. Gina Roake, a lady lawyer who'd taken a professional bashing, been out of the game for a time, comes to this case just to help out a friend with what everyone expected would be a simple appearance. Then it rather quickly turns into a murder trial, something she's never done before, ever. What was charming (no other word will quite do) was the lack of arrogance involved here. Roake makes mistakes -- big ones, we see it, she sees it, but instead of covering it up with bluster and blaming everyone else, she admits it. Wow! How uncommon is that? HA -- but there was a kind of touching integrity to her character, something not seen often at all in the halls of justice, either in fiction or real life.
Without issuing a spoiler, Lescroat also targets an very unusual person as the villain -- or one of them, anyway. Political correctness usually shields some people from being portrayed as nasty or criminally inclined, but not Lescroat. That, too, was refreshing.
Okay, so I'm not likely to turn into a fanatic fan of legal thrillers, but this was a very good book -- I'll look for more of Lescroat books, I can say that.
Can't quite get my mind around this one yet. I have few doubts that book clubs, having picked this book, will spend many hours debating what it all really means.
The plot swings from one extreme to another -- at points, it's almost too harsh to bear. A young suicide victim is refused burial in the "regular" part of the cemetery, shunted off, instead, to the section for the damned, those hopelessly beyond salvation. And then there's the 'prairie raw', parts, where the bleak and bitter nature of farm life is laid on with a trowel. For me, the dead animal quotient came perilously close to being too high. Time after time, I was within a hair of signing off, finding something a little easier to listen to.
But I didn't turn it off -- which says something else about this book.
It has its delightful moments too, some of them hilarious. This is a German Lutheran town -- seriously judgemental and harsh in its own right, in terms of how 'newcomers' are treated, in terms of what's done and what's not done. In that sense, Clara is a fish out of water. As a pastor's wife, certain standards of conduct are imposed upon her, and she is expected to comply. But she seems blithely unaware, or better yet, doesn't much care. One absolutely hilarious scene has her showing up, seriously pregnant, at a women's circle meeting in shorts, an incident that will no doubt be recounted with titillation and delighted horror for the next hundred years or so. That vignette is wonderful, exceptionally well written and insightful. I wish there'd been more scenes like that.
The narrator? Once again, this one didn't do her homework. I don't understand why professional narrators don't check for the correct pronunciation of local place names. In this one, Hillary Huber, who otherwise does a good job, repeatedly renders the Minnesota town of "Mankato" as man-KHAAT-o, whereas any real prairie kid will know it's man-KAY-o. Stupid error -- would only have taken a moment to check, and instead, it renders her as less than professional.
Would I recommend "Little Wolves"? Maybe. Sort of. I guess. I'm glad I listened, and I know parts of it will stick in my mind for a long time. Other parts are sufficiently disturbing I can't forget them soon enough. If you like prairie stories, with all that entails, you might find it as intriguing as I did.
I came across John Verdon's second book first, "Shut Your Eyes". Half way through, it was so good I headed to the computer to find a copy of the first one, "Think of a Number". Both were so far beyond excellent I even found myself writing a gushing email of appreciation to Verdon himself -- who, like most kindly authors, wrote a very nice reply. Huh!
Those two books were absolutely outstanding -- completely innovative plots, an appealing protagonist with a nasty shrew of a wife (sorry, but she was) so there was someone to hate, as well as a question to ponder: Why would a guy like that put up with this nasty lady? Anyway, I',m delighted to see that now, all three books are available from Audible.
"Let the Devil Sleep" isn't quite as good as the first two -- but that's probably only because the first two were so outstanding. I was disappointed in the ending -- in fact, when I sensed that matters were drawing to a head, I had two hours left. I deliberately saved a block of time so I could listen, uninterrupted, wanting the full impact of the resolution. I wouldn't have needed to do that. It ended with more of a whimper than a bang.
Still, it's a darn good book. The moment Dave Gurney gets involved with that lissome journalism student, you know there's trouble ahead -- I was wrong about what kind of trouble, but not about its intensity. We get more of Wife Madeline, who this time has her shrewish nature tamed a bit, if not her wardrobe. This time, she comes across much more sympathetically -- still moody, ethereal and remote, but her nasty side was kept undercover for the most part. And we get Kim, the nudnik journalism student, who has a way of getting what she wants, no matter what, which is what sets up the story in the first place. Middle aged, retired detectives, really should be more careful about giving in to the pleas of female college students. But then, of course, there wouldn't have been a book and that would be a tragedy.
I recommend this book very highly, and while you don't have to read or listen to the first two first, it would help, if nothing else to see how the characters keep evolving.
Finally, Verdon might consider publishing a book of Madeline's recipes. The dinners she was serving in this one all sounded so good I was drooling over every one -- reminded me a little of Spenser and his Susan. The lady can cook, if nothing else.
I've read this book several times -- never seen either of the film adaptations -- so I knew the story well. I thought it would be fun to have someone read it to me for a change.
It was. I loved the introduction at the beginning -- told a little bit about the book when it was published in 1953, when Ira Levin was just 23 years old, about how it was received back then. That set the stage.
Suffice it to say that the audible version is a total delight, doesn't disappoint in the slightest. It's stood the test of time very well -- nothing in it is old, everything could happen just as easily today as it did back them.
Most fascinating was thinking about the mind of the author, Ira Levin-- how he could come up with this innovative plot, then move on to works like 'Deathtrap', surely one of the most pleasantly confounding plays ever produced. Then to move on to the Nazi thriller, 'The Boys from Brazil' then 'Rosemary's Baby' -- a very different genre.. After that, 'Sliver' -- also outstanding -- and 'The Stepford Wives', a classic in its own right And all this from an author who's first produced play was the comedy "No Time for Sergeants"!
I've loved every one of Levin's books for different reasons. I'm so happy the Audible made "A Kiss Before Dying" available in audio, and hope that both 'Sliver' -- which is much like 'Kiss' in many ways -- and "The Stepford Wives" will be available soon, too. Although the film version of that, starring Katherine Ross and Tine Louise, of all people, was very good, it doesn't compare to the written version. Levin's books are really are classics, all of them. I know I'll listen to "Kiss" again and again. It's just a very very good book.
I bought three 'unknown' books at the same time -- books written by authors new to me, writers and books I'd never heard of before or seen, outside of Audible. I listened to the first two, which were only so-so, and I was just about to remind myself to stick to known quantities from now on. All that said, I wasn't expecting much when I started 'Defending Jacob'. But WOW -- this one made up for what the other two lacked.
It's hard to say much about this book without giving too much away -- I can say that as I was listening, I felt myself getting furious with first the father, then the mother, for the way they saw, and treated, their son. The father was of the "my son can do no wrong" school of thought, which seemed totally ridiculous under the circumstances. The mother allowed herself to be drawn in by some nutty theory of genetic inclination to murder, which -- as described in this situation -- was just as bizarre. But that's the mark of a good book -- I couldn't stop listening. I was so involved with the characters -- we don't actually hear much from Jacob himself -- that I couldn't wait to see what would happen next.
Nor will I betray anything else about the plot suffice it to say I listened to the ending, couldn't quite believe what I'd heard, so went back and listened to the last hour again. LOL -- great fun! What a book! Way beyond excellent plot, perfect narration, and all in all, one of the best of the year. Don't miss this one.
I'm supposing that most book lovers have already come across Angela's Ashes by this time -- so many prizes, so many awards, so much well-deserved international acclaim. I read the book when it first came out, loved it so much I then bought the audiotapes -- on cassette -- and listened to them several times over. One time, I remember listening on the long drive from Sacramento to Southern California, and I recall driving into urban Los Angeles crying so hard I could hardly see the road. It's that kind of book -- one that will have you both laughing and crying within the same minute. It's just priceless.
Somewhere along the way the cassettes got lost, so when I saw the book again on Audible, I was delighted. I haven't listened to it for maybe ten years, so it was new to me all over again. One of the delights of this book is seeing yourself reflected in what McCourt writes. My background is about as radically different from his as is possible to to be, for two English-speakers, anyway, but still, there are parts that resonate personally with me so much. When he's talking about his school days, there are time when I feel myself saying, "I remember that!" although of course I don't. Not exactly. But McCourt's book is like that -- it draws you in, and makes his story resonate in your own mind.
Author-read books are always the best, and in this case, McCourt is exceptional. No one can tell his own stories like he can, and you feel you're in the same room with him, listening as he tells you what it was like.
If you haven't read or listened to Angela's Ashes in a while, it's time to do it again. And if you've never come across it before, wow -- are you lucky! To listen to this book for the first time is really a wonderful thing.
One of the other commentators wrote, "Don't listen to this if you're off your meds." I'm not on meds, but at the end of five hours of listening to this horrifically depressing tale, I would gladly have swallowed a handful of Prozac or whatever the drug of choice is these days.
I finally gave up when I realized that -- contrary to 98% of all other books I've ever listened to -- I was dreading plugging in my ear buds, not looking forward to it. The story is unrelentingly bleak: people and animals are either dead or dying -- dying of hunger, cold, of enemy action, of the loss of hope and humanity. It's made all the worse by the really excellent narration by Ron Perlman -- he makes it all come alive, which is what really got to me. This isn't a "true" story, but the historical situation is true, and hearing Perlman give voice to the pure agony of whatever marginal survival most of these people had, made it more painful yet.
I don't need happy 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm' tales, but this one is too grim for me. Too much pain and sadness to willingly take on. Maybe I'd revise the other commentators advice: Be sure you've taken your meds before you turn this one on.
I'm not a knitter, had to look up "counted cross stitch" to figure out what they were talking about, but the Minnesota locale drew me in to the first book -- and now I can't stop reading and/or listening.
I have no doubt it has a niche appeal -- especially the narrator. If Connie Crawford were reading any other series, I'd never get through it. But for a book focusing on the Ladies Who Knit, in Minnesota, she's perfect -- talk about type casting. That accent! Loved it -- loved it for this book, you understand. That is precisely how I would expect such a woman to sound.
Sins and Needles has much more going on than previous books -- a much more multi faceted plot line. Here we have Great Aunt Edyth, a confirmed man-hater, passing away at age 97, and leaving tens of millions of dollars plus a house filled with antiques. The various characters -- her descendants, male, female and assorted hangers-on -- all vie to get a piece of the action, but her Aunt Edyth's will makes it tough. She specifies it will only go to her FEMALE descendants -- which means that the male members, and other greedy souls (no spoiler here) have to work overtime to get their hands on some of the loot. To be honest, it's a textbook on greed and avarice -- watching all of them scheme and plot was enough to make me think that if Great Aunt Ethyl had been smart, she would have disinherited the whole crowing, clawing, vicious lot of them and left it all to an animal shelter. Sheesh! They're disgusting -- which gets pretty funny, actually. It's sort of like watching the Superbowl:. There's one ball, and everyone is willing to risk life and limb to get it.
So? Among other things, in addition to a murder via knitting needle, we end up reading about a hidden map, an actual treasure hunt -- complete with leeches! -- children born "under the blanket", lots of trivia about antiques (which I enjoyed enormously) and leeches. Did I mention the leeches? This book has got 'The African Queen' beat all to heck.
If you want a quirky listen, I highly recommend this book, and indeed this series. Lake Minnetonka never seemed so appealing.
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