In order, the things I look for in an audio book are 1) literary value, 2) engrossing entertainment and 3) good vocal performances. Bonus points are given if I learn something in the process.
"The Help," by Kathryn Stockett probably doesn't deserve any special note -- for or against -- on the first score. It's well-enough written, but it won't be added to anyone's great books series next century.
However, it makes up for a lack of literary pretension with engaging characters, a unique view point, and extraordinary performances. What's more, I feel I learned something about American society that I didn't know before.
I've hit a few clinkers in my Audible subscriptions lately: enough to turn me off the genre. "The Help" was a pleasant way to turn me right back on.
The editorial blurb says this book "transcends genres." Maybe so, but I could only tolerate about 90 minutes of this wimpy bible-story redress -- and that despite that fact that I'd brought nothing else to listen to on a long car drive.
Puppet-show Christianity is one of the reasons I bring audio books with me in the car -- to save me from juvenile productions on backwoods radio stations along the way.
Unless you're one of those church ladies who swoons at the scent of a bible story with a (surprise!) moral and redemption, save your points for something better written and better performed.
The listener reviews on this book were decidedly mixed, so I chose to put my money with those who label this book "Literature," and write off the others as pop fiction fans. Wow. Was I wrong.
If this book has any merit, you may find it in the printed version. The slow-moving plot, charmless language and unengaging characters may meld into something better in silence and typeset. Here, where the narrator takes enough time to sip water at every punctuation mark, and pauses between each as if to word sound it out phonetically, the tedium is painful.
In six months of repeated tries, I have been unable to finish the first section of this book.
Save your money, your time, and the space on your iPod for even a mediocre selection. This novel is not worthy.
A little long in the second (sea survival) section, or I would have rated it higher. But the prolonged discussion has the variety of a well-composed symphonic work, recombining elements and adding something with each challenge that made it more an imaginative exercise than a repetitive re-telling.
Testament to the power of the work: for several days after finishing this book I found myself wondering which story was "really true." As if the plot of a novel has a REAL truth to it!
The failure of this book lies not the author's annoying character voices, or her choice not to leaven the interwoven stories with anything like an upbeat ending. Nor, surprisingly is it a lack of any of the native elements that make a novel work.
The author uses language in a fresh and original way. Her plotting is uniquely quirky. And she appears to have an imaginative if not experiential grasp of the flavors of mysticism with which the characters variously flirt.
Yet, by the time satisfaction is achieved along these paths, one grows weary of the endless disfunctionality of the paterfamilias who clodishly sustains it all.
I picked this book because another listener compared it with "The History of Love" -- a favorite of mine -- and despite the many warnings of other reviewers on this site.
I finished it out of a sense of duty to the money I spent on the download.
Not a complete waste of time -- there are phrases, images, even complete sections that will linger after the digital space is trashed. But one hopes that this author will spend her talents on something more satisfying next time.
And that she'll cede the acting to a professional, if that book is ever recorded.
Densely interwoven with leitmotifs, fantasy and fairytale allusions, character and plot echoing archetype and rich language, this book only disappoints toward the end, when it settles down into a thriller/mystery plot tie up. Over all an enticing and delightful listen.
What a surprise, a divine revelation to find this treasure buried among the cast offs in Audible's last sale. How is it possible that the title "A History of Love" is not shouted from the roof-tops, bill-boarded along reader's highways and passed around slyly like a rumor between friends-in-the-know.
Or perhaps it is, and I am just out of the loop, confused by the lack of awards notices on a book that is so far superior to the NY Book Review, Pulitzer, Oprah and Best Seller marks plastered on less-deserving works.
Though mysterious and filled with shadings of poetry, magical realism and literary allusion this book is nonetheless well grounded in the here-and-now, and straight forward in narrative.
Of note, the audio version may be superior to the printed in that the listener is spared the work of guessing when voices change, and who is narrating. Also, because the four actors in this recording give outstanding, lyrical and pitch-perfect performances.
PS: Please save discovery of the narrative for your own pleasure, and avoid pre-reading the plethora of (mostly favorable) reviews about this book. I went through a few after listening, and felt the destructive weight of the spoilers among the praises, even for a book I had already read. Don't let someone else trample through this garden before you've had your joy of it.
This is an enjoyable modern take on a period piece, with a bit of self mockery thrown in. Don't expect a coherent explanation for the premise, or great literature, but enjoy the ride.
Predictable, repetitious character studies that never quite resolve central questions, and finish anticlimactically when the author gets tired of writing. Skip this one.
This was quite an enjoyable "read," but I gave it two stars so as not to skew my personalized recommendations. A cross between steamy romance lit, mythology and fantasy, this book was engaging and funny -- and literate enough to make me wonder about the classic sources for at last of few of its embellished allusions.
It's great for any fans of each of the above genres. After all, if your book is going to feature monolithic, god-like characters, what better excuse than the fact that they are actually gods?
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