Checking the dates of publication to be sure I was right that Hell House is a sort of pastiche or homage or even plagarism of "The Haunting of Hill House," I saw this opening sentence in Wikipedia that says it all:
"Hell House is a novel by American novelist Richard Matheson, published in 1971. The novel has significant similarities to the earlier work The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson, though rendered with much more violence and sexual imagery."
He beefed it up, basically. You could even say coarsened it and simplified it --- but in fact both novels are quite good. I suppose you could call it a remake! Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" is of course much scarier, because it deals with madness and human fragility as well as whatever haunts Hill House, and Audible has an excellent reading of it. Matheson uses the same set-up, the same basic scene and the same four basic characters -- six, really, counting the two cook/caretakers.
Shirley Jackson achieves true horror. Chilling, ghastly, oh-no horror, with never an indelicate word or scene. Its opening and closing paragraphs are famous. Matheson's Hell House is more conventional and less truly terrifying, despite a lot of Sturm und Drang. It is the Matheson book that was made into a great movie, "The Legend of Hell House," one of the scariest movies ever made, I thought as a girl.
The reading of this novel by Ray Porter is excellent. There are a lot of scary emotional scenes and the reader does well with them, and with character differentiation. I think both books are well worth listening to, for themselves and for the really instructive differences.
At least the first half of this lecture series is a good run-down of rhetorical devices, such as logical fallacies people use to argue their case. Also a good summary of the many ways the human brain is evolved to make sense of the world even when it doesn't make sense -- how we see patterns in tree bark, clouds and numbers that aren't really there, for instance. The prof carefully uses non-toxic examples the first half. He slides gradually into advocacy of leftist causes, however. He's death on Creationism/Intelligent Design, most notably.
The worst problem, and several reviewers here have noted this, is that after giving a good review of the process of science, he handles his favorite problem issues in ways that don't use that scientific process. He treats ESP properly and interestingly by pointing out that science gains knowledge once it cracks into an area of study. We learn more and more about the area. But a hundred years later, people are still trying to figure out if ESP even exists --- a bad sign.
However, the Harvard prof who thought his patients actually had been abducted by aliens -- he doesn't actually disprove this guy so much as just saying, well, we all know there are no aliens, so it never happened. Maybe: but isn't the "we all know" thought pattern exactly the one we're trying to get away from?
Same with aliens at Roswell. The lecturer says no aliens because the Army admitted they lied the first time, and were spying on the Soviets with something that came down. So because they admitted they lied the first time we should all believe they can't possibly be lying the second time?? That doesn't work.
The tone of the lectures becomes more and more urgent as he tries to advocate his political positions, especially once he gets into Global Warming, which he is strongly for. It all begins to feel like a discussion forum on the Internet, but his audience is trapped into silence. He calls the global warming idea "Climate Change" without realizing he is "moving the goalposts," one of the logical fallacies he discusses. He talks about the faults of Science without more than mentioning in passing the worst one of all --- the too-common problem of scientists simply lying. They lie in large numbers for personal reasons or political reasons, the famous emails promoting lying to the public that were exposed from a climate-change "research" group being what really turned the public away from believing in all that. Our professor lectures about how impossible it is to predict the future: but as there hasn't been any global warming for 15 or 20 years (the famous "pause") his whole case is based merely on future prediction models, which appear to be wrong.
This would have been a much better lecture series if he had kept to neutral examples and left off the leftwing political advocacy. This course should be about teaching people HOW to think, but instead it pushes telling people WHAT to think.
These zoo people REALLY like animals. I was pleased with the subtle characterizations and the humor from the first. I was not happy that we seemed to be going to wrestle with one of those tedious marriage relationships where the guy is a drunk and the wife decides to blame herself for it and be good enough to change him. BUT -- happily he is quickly found dead in the lion pen, and good riddance. Good plot (are you remembering the brown envelope?), lively action.
The reader is wrong for this series. The protagonist is a big woman, strong as a man, expresses her anger by throwing several beer bottles at her own door (it was a mistake for hubby to demand she get him a beer while she was in the kitchen.....) and she is really, really good with lions. This gal is no pushover, but Cassandra Campbell reads her in a tiny little high voice that uncertainly goes up on the end of every sentence because she doesn't know how to make a statement. I expect that's the only voice the reader has.
They should have used a reader who used to ride horses: THAT puts the assertiveness in women's statements! And Our Hero is nothing if not assertive. I see that all these books were read by the same reader, so I'll just read the rest as ebooks. They need to switch out readers at the publisher of these audiobooks, because writer Ann Littlewood is good and may well get a good following.
I won't write a long review of this wonderful tale, a reader's dream of virtual lands made up of book worlds: Alice Through the Looking Glass, Gormenghast,, Borroughs' Mars books, etc. I've read it four times through in book form; I find George Newbern's reading wonderful. He handles the many foreign accents perfectly, even the African ones, and brings all the characters to life with their distinctive voices.
This is the best work Tad Williams has ever done, a cyberspace classic still as current as when it was written. It will be a classic, I predict, because of the strong and heart-warming characters.
This is a prepper book with the slightly unusual twist that the United States collapses from a financial disaster, not an EMP pulse or nukes or terrorism or epidemic or zombies. That's a good idea, and is why I bought it.
However, this so-called novel is poorly written and read aloud worse. Even more of a problem is the lack of focus: the author can't restrain himself just to rant about U.S. entitlement spending and lack of civilian private prepping --- he has to carry on about abortion and about wifely obedience and the Second Amendment and on and on. Supposedly Christian riffs occur frequently, including long, long Bible quotes. But how Christian can it be with the continual emphasis on preparing with multiple guns to kill people? And the gloating over how many are going to die because they depended on the government to provide them with everything. In this story the entire society breaks down as soon as the government food stamp credits are not fully renewed the first of one month. No waiting, not even a day, riots and looting and murders and robbery break out instantly. Implausible. This book is one long gloat about how well Our Hero is going to do because he's All Wise and super-prepared and how dead everyone else is going to be, especially all the you-know-who's, the ethnics one and all. There are good TEOWAWKI books and good prepper books. But this isn't one of them.
In many ways, this was a good survey of the Enlightenment: provocative ideas, interesting narratives. I stuck it out till the last three hours, in fact.
There are two problems, from my point of view: first, Prof. Kors has the strongest Brooklyn accent I expect to hear in this lifetime, so stabilized has spoken language become through movies and television. The worst of it is that he inhales the word "human," breathing the "h" in, not out, and the word human shows up ALL the time in enlightenment studies.
The second problem is that he preaches. I don't mean he pushes an agenda: he doesn't. I mean he preaches like the Southern radio preachers of my childhood, getting more and more excited, falling into a rhythm. Since so much of the series is about religion, in one form or another, Prof. Kors has to periodically remind people that he is not advocating --- he says he is trying to communicate the excitement the ideas had at the time. Sounds like preaching to me, though, and I didn't like it.
Eventually I decided I couldn't enjoy this anymore, stopped the audiobook and ordered a book on the Enlightenment to read. One thing about reading, whatever the author's verbal peculiarities, they won't be a problem.
Magician King is the second volume in the Magicians trilogy. Mark Bramhall does a perfect reading, getting the tone of mildly exasperated irony exactly right. This volume indulges fully in the Narnia knock-off, Fillory; the first one, The Magicians, starts as a Hogwarts and Harry Potter pastiche populated by young adults but segues into what the characters really want: they want Narnia, and they get it. The references to all the C.S. Lewis Narnia stories are deft and delightful and thought-provoking: this work is deeper than it looks and for someone who has read all the Narnia stories over and over, there is only one thing to do when reaching the end of the Magician King: start over again.
These police procedurals are amazingly good --- John Verdon is going to be big. The main characters, who carry over in a series, are very complex; the language is beautiful, and there are CONCEPTS, wonderful ideas, original thinking. The crime puzzles are so -- puzzling -- that one is drawn right in. The dramatic situations become believable, somehow, as mystery piles onto mystery. This is not the usual boring serial killer schtick. It's original and thrilling serial killer plot.
Unfortunately, this volume is read by Scott Brick. I swore never to get another one read by him, and it was an accident -- his ever-downward voice makes me think of d-words: dire, down, drear, death, doom. Every sentence has a histrionic, overly emotional tone that I wouldn't think men would like, but he does a lot of men's books, like Coben. He must have a darn good agent! is all I can think. The producers have figured it out and the third Verdon is read by someone else. All three current novels by Verdon are read by different readers, so these are books that have not found their voice yet.
Nothing like this ever was ---- a novel published in 1897 that prefigured powered flight, space travel, poison gas, lasers, and alien invasion from outer space. This is a short, exciting novel vividly read by the great reader Simon Vance, and I recommend people listen to it rather than read it: Vance makes it much more exciting than one can do reading silently to oneself. Every detail of the story was interpreted in modern terms in the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds movie and it's a lot of fun to listen to this book and then watch the movie and consider the parallels: the fleeing population, the loud moaning tripod-machines, the blackbirds at the end. The movie vividly illustrates the Martian takeover exactly as the book describes it in all its living red color. I appreciate the respectful homage paid by Hollywood to this great pioneering scifi story.
Our hero is quietly reading his paper at breakfast when news comes of a big crater splashed into the nearby Common from something large falling out of the sky. Many people go to see, and watch as a large cylinder unscrews at the top and strange beings emerge. A deputation arrives to parley, but talk is not what the Martians are after. Very bad things start to happen to the people, the town, London, and the countryside. More and more cylinders fall to Earth from Mars. A few people survive, but only by chance and only temporarily. It is the planet Earth itself that rejects the invaders.
The same reader, Robert Whitfield, did this unabridged Gormenghast as read the first volume, Titus Groan. His reading is brilliant, in my opinion: this is of course a very difficult book to read well, as it's experimental fiction on the order of Ulysses and it is a form of poetry in prose: note the very careful choice of every word, for the dire, the scary, the unsettling. The plot is vivid and full of action, but could be told in a third the words: but the words are the point. So enjoy them. This book is not about the plot, exciting though that is. It's not about the characters, fascinating though they are. It's about the second-by-second elaborate description of the experience.
There is a production problem that did not occur in Titus Groan: I counted eleven times when the reader repeated whole sentences, having apparently stopped, taken a break, and then went on repeating from the top of the paragraph. Obviously the editor should have edited out the repeats!! Bad production not to bother. It should be done right and reissued. However, it's still a very good rendition and well worth hearing.
The conclusion is highly satisfying and there is no need to go on to the post-mortem third volume cobbled together from notes on the author's desk. I would advise first reading the two works, then listening to them, and finally watching the excellent BBC movie starring John Rhys Meyer as Steerpike. It's a star-studded cast: you will be surprised at the important actors you recognize. They stay very close to the text, though it must have been hard to make, given the spectacular scenery and events.
Farthing seems at first to be a comfortable English country house mystery. It quickly becomes unusually candid about toxic relationships, however. Our heroine, Lucy, heiress to all the money of a very large and historic English estate, hates her mother, and it becomes apparent that she is right to do so. She also has married a Jew, and this in an England twisted out of the shape it has in our world by an early peace settlement in 1941. The war did not last five years and Hitler was not defeated. Instead, the Rudolf Hess flight to Scotland in May 1941, widely believed by many to this day, including me, to have been a separate peace offer from Hitler (it is, after all, what Hess claimed at the time!) was in that alternative reality taken up by a clique called the "Farthing set" which out-maneuvered Winston Churchill, who intended to fight on and would have squelched the initiative and jailed Hess as a madman as in our reality. The best alternative histories have that one tiny change that is plausible: England ended the war early, in 1941, with the Farthing slogan "Peace With Honor" after a short negotiation with Hitler. The resonances with the earlier real-time appeasement by Chamberlain in Munich are obvious, and add to the plausibility.
The war continues in Russia for many years and Jews are persecuted all over central and eastern Europe, and are losing ground in England, which had a substantial Fascist constituency before WWII and does again, since that was never defeated. An apparent murder at Farthing by Jews and a terrorist attack on Farthing by Bolsheviks puts Lucy's husband David right in the crosshairs, where he is intended to be. Can they escape? The chapters alternate between Lucy's narration and that of Inspector Carmichael, and so the producers have used two readers, a woman and a man. The woman reader uses the sad, falling-voice technique that I felt was a problem in the reading of Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall," too. After all, much of the life of Thomas Cromwell went very well. And Lucy Kahn is a more resolute than sad heroine. The male reader is excellent and the female one is quite good except for that one habit. This novel is sexually complex, but there is no explicit sexual description whatsoever; it's mainly characterization. I think this novel would be very suitable for late teens and any age after that.
Lucy Eversley married David Kahn partly as adolescent rebellion at the stultified, restricted life she leads in the ultra-upper-class: even she realizes there is a component of rebellion. However, it's a real marriage: they fill out each other's lacks and they are extremely supportive of each other. She wants children and believes she is pregnant and is very happy about that. Therefore, the reader is both aghast and amused at the surprise she gets in the end: Lucy is definitely going to be paying her dues now and having an interesting life.
I recommend Farthing strongly and plan to listen to the other two "Small Change" novels in the series.
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