I listened to The False Friend over three months ago, and it continues to tug at me. Myla Goldberg has written what is not so much a coming-of-age story as a compelling novel about the profound and lingering wounds from girlhood bullying that we carry with us into womanhood. This is not the story of someone who was bullied; it is told from the point of view of someone who was a bully. On a journey to her childhood home to confront the truth behind a tragedy, she discovers that she left a broader swath of damage than she imagined. And a plot twist uncovers the unexpected extent of the damage she did to herself.
The False Friend is a novel of repentance and atonement. It is also a sobering cautionary tale. Young adults will probably not be able to project its full implications decades ahead into their own lives. What we can hope is that in this book women will find a healing perspective, and that all parents and teachers will find a renewed strength in guiding their daughters away from accepting bullying as a rite of passage.
Myla Goldberg does a creditable job of narration, although, as with most authors (with the notable exception of Sue Miller), Ms. Goldberg's pitch and tone are not ideal for a narrator. Given that her book delves into a pre-adolescent past, her chirpiness is not entirely misplaced. Though in the future I'd prefer to hear someone else narrate her work, in this instance her narration does not detract from the novel's impact.
The family secret on which this plot hung was obvious after only a few minutes. Even the final twist on the secret was obvious early on. This would have been a far more interesting book if Joyce Maynard had revealed it all to the reader in a prologue and developed the characters within that framework.
That said, the plot was poignant, and the characters were generally likable through most of the book. It seemed a shame, though, to learn near the end that perhaps the most likable character was guilty of making a truly monstrous decision years before, rather than having been as much victim as everyone else. I was left feeling cheated by that revelation after investing too much in a character capable of something so awful. Again, had we known of this character's actions at the outset and seen the flaws, contradictions and complexities developed during the course of the book, I think it might have been possible to come away with affection for the character intact.
Maynard captures the setting and era well. Overall, I think The Good Daughters is worth a listen. I only wish the potential in its premise had been more fully realized.
Unlike other reviewers, I can't say the music spoiled this book, but its mediocrity was embarrassing -- especially in light of the scene in which Vanessa calls Zoe "the next Sheryl Crow."
Other than that, for once I was not infuriated by the ending of a Picoult book. Her premises are invariably too tempting to resist, but her compulsion to kill off characters for no particular reason is something I've found disturbing. Here, at least, she finds a way to resolve a plot without tragedy.
I thought the main characters were reasonably well-drawn. Even Max, despite his many flaws, was not wholly unsympathetic.
Picoult's handling of the legal circus is reminiscent of Grisham's A Time to Kill, though not as deftly handled. The idea works here, though -- the characters' personal struggle lost in their very public exploitation by outsiders who care only about their own agendas. It would have rung a bit more true if there had been an equal amount of exploitation coming from those in Zoe's court. That side is where my own sympathies lie, but I harbor no illusions; in real life there would have been just as many high-profile lawyers and groups grabbing publicity as on the other side.
I'd have preferred fewer courtroom revelations coming out of the blue. They came and went too quickly to serve any real purpose in terms of either plot or character development, especially so late in the book, and they made Zoe's lawyer look extraordinarily inept. By contrast, the plot point on which Zoe's decision rested was wholly predictable. One only wonders why on earth Vanessa did not have sufficient information to foresee, at the very least, a conflict.
Nonetheless, I found this to be a book with an interesting idea at its heart, characters who were likable, and a satisfying resolution.
I tended to stay away from James Patterson's co-authored books until I happened to stumble over the first in his Michael Bennett series. I was instantly hooked. Bennett and his family are immensely engaging. I was delighted to see another in the series, and it didn't disappoint. I read the first two and opted to listen to the next two. These audio versions are extremely well done. Bobby Cannavale's narration captures Michael Bennett perfectly in a voice as likable as the written character. Highly recommended.
Then She Found Me is a charming book. It's funny, at times poignant, and its characters are vivid and complex. Elinor Lipman's writing sparkles. I highly recommend it if you're in the mood for something light and entertaining.
Mia Barron's narration is energetic and suits the book's tone, but I'd have liked the characters' voices to be a bit more nuanced and the pacing to be a little more varied. If I could have deducted only half a star for that, I would have.
Note to those who (as I did) found their way here after seeing Helen Hunt's movie adaptation and hoped to delve a little more deeply into some of the movie's themes: You won't find the movie here. The movie's broad premise is the same, Bernice is essentially the same, and the April of the book is vaguely recognizable on film, as if strayed into a parallel universe and driven by different motivations. The movie's plot is entirely different, with most of the other characters either absent, utterly changed, or newly-created for the screenplay. The insights at the end of the movie, which are perhaps what I value most about it, are not drawn from the book.
None of that is to say that the book suffers by comparison, no matter how much you loved the movie. In its own right, it's a lovely book with characters you'd miss if you read the book first and then saw the movie -- just as the movie is a lovely and deeply touching movie, with characters you miss if you see it first. If you're forewarned, if you approach the book as a different story, you won't be disappointed.
I had to stop listening to this book halfway through. It's the first time I've done that. I don't know what possessed Dick Hill to make the choices he did in his narration, but it was unbearably ponderous and articulated with a bizarre sameness, no matter which region a character was supposed to be from. Purdy sounds as if he ended up in Minnesota by way of New York. Poe's accent is simply a toned-down version of Purdy's. I don't know if Hill thinks this quirk of speech is characteristic of law enforcement generally (although he couldn't seem to break out of these speech patterns for any of the characters), but after over seven hours of it, I was ready to jump out of my skin.
I listened to clips of some of the other books Dick Hill narrates, and he's clearly capable of making entirely different choices.
I don't feel as if I've missed much. The book's premise has a lot of promise, but the first half meanders among the personal woes of angst-ridden cops, with little plot development.
Justin Cronin writes well. His post-apocalyptic world is well-imagined (especially life in the Colony), and the characters are well-realized. Scott Brick's narration is excellent.
What bothered me throughout The Passage is that far too many elements are derived from The Stand -- major plot devices, settings, characters (especially Auntie, but others in subtler ways), even the taunting voice of evil in dreams (certain phrases like "got a little bunski in the ovenski" struck me as a near parody of Stephen King).
King did it better, though. If you're one of his fans, I recommend holding out for an audio version of The Stand.
It has been years since I read Watership Down, but much of it, including names, personalities, and lapine words, stayed with me all this time. Richard Adams imagined a non-sentimental, engrossing rabbit world, which he then fully realized and sustained in writing that beautifully and lyrically brings it alive. Ralph Cosham's narration does it full justice.
Like another reviewer, I find myself wanting to share this magnificent audio version with my family -- and like that same reviewer, I laughed out loud at the story of Rowsby Woof and the Fairy Wogdog.
Watership Down held me in its spell when I was 30, and in audio format it is equally, if not more, spellbinding years later. Highly recommended!
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is part murder mystery, part tale of personal and family redemption, and wholly evocative of a poor, rural area of Mississippi in both the '80s and the present. Tom Franklin's writing is superb -- carefully crafted, its beauty at times spare and at times lyrical -- and his ear for dialect is unerring. Kevin Kenerly's narration captures the South and the timbres of black and white voices with perfect understatement.
One reviewer remarked that this is not a book for the sensitive, but I disagree. Yes, it touches our own pain on many levels; yes, we are drawn into bleak lives. Even at their bleakest moments, though, the characters are never entirely without a touching, tenuous, almost baffling hope. Ultimately, this is a story of healing, of refashioning what is broken into a new wholeness. A book that can take us on that journey is for the most sensitive among us, a book that above all is uplifting.
The multiple layers of obsession and madness in Asylum are masterfully crafted right through its final sentence. Ian McKellen's narration is flawless, perfectly nuanced. I have well over two hundred books in my library, and I'd put Asylum high in the top five.
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