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North Haven, CT, United States | Member Since 2015

  • 22 reviews
  • 105 ratings
  • 458 titles in library
  • 28 purchased in 2015

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth: A Signature Performance by Tim Curry

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 20 mins)
    • By Jules Verne
    • Narrated By Tim Curry
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    A Signature Performance: Tim Curry, the source of our inspiration, returns – this time, he captures the quirky enthusiasm of this goofily visionary adventure.

    Ramon says: "Feels like Jules Verne"
    "Tim Curry: fantastic. The story: meh."

    I have had a ridiculous amount of fun this year listening to classic novels as audiobooks. When Audible offered a freebie (I think it was a freebie) of Journey to the Center of the Earth read by Tim Curry, I was excited – Tim Curry! Come on. It almost didn't matter what it was; I kind of place Curry in the same class as Tom Baker – love the actor, adore the voice, will listen to literally anything read by him.

    And I was right. Curry was fabulous. His performance – and it was in every way performance – was incredibly enjoyable, and accounted for a good part of my rating. The voices he gave to the characters were dead on; the emotion with which he invested some scenes elevated them; it's purely because of his voice that I don't completely loathe the two main characters of this book, Axel and his Uncle/Professor Otto Liedenbrock. Not completely …

    I do dislike them intensely, though. Even Tim Curry couldn't prevent that.

    I will absolutely grant that part of my dislike for the book was some inability to separate myself as a 21st-century woman with a (very) basic (high school) education in geology from myself as reader of a book published and I assume set in 1864. From the former point of view it's an absurd figment of science fantasy. I know, I know – I have no problem accepting vampires (as long as they don't sparkle), werewolves, thousand-year-old druids and 932-year-old Time Lords. I never said I was consistent.

    Still, despite the initial head-meets-desk reaction I had to a forest many leagues below the surface of the earth, not to mention a life-filled ocean and the mastodon-herding giants – still, it was fun. It felt like a Disney version of science, crossed with Lewis Carroll – fall down the universe's biggest rabbit hole, and land in an impossible, improbable wonderland. I was able to enjoy some of the fantasy.

    The parts I couldn't enjoy were simply outweighed by the stupidity of the characters. The two so-brilliant scientists, Axel and his uncle, were textbook examples of book-smart vs. street-smart. I mean, what moron goes on any expedition into the unknown with only a little water? Good God, people, don't you watch Les Stroud and Bear Grylls? Well, no, obviously not, but – common sense, men! "Oh, don't worry, we'll find fresh-water springs": probably the last words of many a dim adventurer.

    And the subject of stupid adventurers brings me straight to Axel. Good grief. In my Goodreads updates I referred to him as a damsel in distress, and also TSTL: Too Stupid To Live. Bringing that boy on an expedition (I keep wanting to write a Winnie-the-Pooh-esque "expotition") is like taking a penguin to the Bahamas. I lost count of the number of times he fell or got lost or otherwise needed rescuing – and every single time there was poor old Hans, probably thinking "ach du lieber (or the Icelandic equivalent thereof), we should just put the fool on a leash." I can't imagine why his uncle brought him in the first place, unless he didn't realize what a Moaning Myrtle the boy would become, in addition to being a hazard to himself and all those around him. Every step of the way he complained and protested and fretted and despaired. The fact that he happened to be right in some of his complaints – as, for example, when he protested the minimal amount of water they were toting – doesn't make his constant whingeing easier to tolerate.

    And the Professor … a more overbearing, pompous, irritating, foresightless windbag I don't remember in my reading. Did I mention it was his decision to bring only a little water with them? And also to chuck most of their gear down an apparently bottomless hole, confident that they would catch up to it in the climb. And also to set off across an apparently limitless ocean in a boat I wouldn't sail in a bathtub rather than try to trek the shoreline. And then to pause at random intervals and pontificate as if in front of an audience.

    Oh, and to take few or no specimens of their discoveries. "Center of the earth, eh, Liedenbrock? Riiiight."

    My list, made early on in the read/listen, for tips on a hypothetical Journey to the Center of the Earth:
    1. Bring water
    2. Lots
    3. Be sure to pay guide/servant/lifesaver weekly, even if he can't spend the money
    4. Give guide/etc raise after he saves your butt after you disregarded 1 & 2
    5. Do not bring nephew; he is prone to both hysterics and despair
    6. Do not bring uncle/professor, as he confuses humans with camels (also: twit)
    7. Do bring Tim Curry, because he just makes everything sound good.

    I don't think the uncle and nephew actually did give Hans any kind of monetary reward for saving their rear ends, on several more occasions than just the water situation. The uncle paid him promptly every week – not that he was able to spend or bank or otherwise appreciate said payment, miles below the surface of the earth – and probably lost it all in their adventures.

    The translation used by Audible was an odd one. The only example I noted was this: "His absolute silence increased every day." If it's absolute, it can't increase, though, can it? The Goodreads edition has it: "But his habit of silence gained upon him day by day" - which works. I would be interested in either reading or listening to another version, to see if anything improves … but no. The language wasn't the problem. The problem was that I spent over eight hours alternately smiling happily at Tim Curry's performance and wanting to reach through my iPod and shake Axel and Otto until their ears flapped. It's another of those "could-have-been" books. It could have been so much fun. It just wasn't.

    13 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • A Rare Recording of J. R. R. Tolkien

    • ORIGINAL (42 mins)
    • By J. R. R. Tolkien
    • Narrated By J. R. R. Tolkien

    J. R. R. Tolkien was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor best known as the author of fantasy works like "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings." Listen as Tolkien reads "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," "The Hoard," "Perry-The-Winkle," and "The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon." Also included is a reading of "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" in Elvish and "The Road Goes Ever on," sung by William Elvin with music by Donald Swann.

    Sandy says: "A very rare treat"
    "Not all Tolkien - wish I'd noticed that"

    So NOW I notice "Also included is a reading of 'A Elbereth Gilthoniel' in Elvish and 'The Road Goes Ever on,' sung by William Elvin with music by Donald Swann" ... William Elvin is an operatic baritone, which for me is the polar opposite of the characters whose songs he sings. (Also, whoever accompanied him on the piano hit some terribly painful notes.) Hobbits are - for me - neither operatic nor baritone; Elves are - for me - possibly operatic, but not baritone. And I disliked the arrangements.

    Long, long ago I had found an audiotape of the Professor reading - as I recall, side A was "Riddles in the Dark" from The Hobbit, and side B included some of what was here, did not include some of what was here (I don't recall Perry-the-Winkle, or this version of Tom Bombadil), and also included poems that are not here. That tape meant a lot to me - Tolkien reciting "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" was the first time I ever heard Elvish, and the only time until the movies. That was what I, not reading the description and just assuming, thought I was getting with this. Now I need to go find the tape wherever it's lurking in the house.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Odyssey

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Homer (translated by Robert Fagles)
    • Narrated By Ian McKellen
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    McGrath-Muniz says: "Beautiful recording marred by audio problems!"
    "Not even Ian McKellen could buy this another star"

    *warning: parentheses, italics, and spoilers abound* I think I’ve cleaned up the language, though. Mostly.

    Don’t get me wrong: Sir Ian was terrific. I love him. It’s just that from now on if I say something like “I could listen to [so-and-so] read the phone book”, I will continue the sentence with “but NOT the Odyssey”. Also, sometime a little more than halfway through something went wonky with one of his recording sessions, and the speed of the read slooowwwed down. Just what I needed. Some parts were a bit muffled; the volume went up and down; maybe the production staff hated this as much as I did. The musical interludes dropped here and there throughout were strangely placed and jarring rather than adding any sort of dramatic flourish (they felt like a very earnest attempt at "really! It’s genuine Ancient Greek music! Honest!"); they didn’t divide sections of the story, but it seemed like they might have divided up those recording sessions. Which was just odd.

    And also, don’t think I don’t respect the thing in the abstract. It’s a two-thousand-+-year-old thing, with a probable origin date in the BC’s – that’s tremendous. It’s impacted literature throughout that time – marvelous. I knew most of the bits of the story – Circe, Calypso, the sirens, the Cyclops, men into sheep, Scylla and Charybdis, the lotus-eaters, Penelope and the weaving, even O’s dog – and for the most part I’m glad I’ve now experienced the whole thing. I have already met up with two references to the thing in other books – and I just finished The Odyssey a couple of days ago.


    My God – er, gods – it was painful.

    Part of it is, yes, laying a Christian 21st-century viewpoint over the thing, and being disgusted by the caprice of the deities. Because good grief. Wikipedia calls Athena – no, sorry, bright-eyed Athena – “Odysseus' protectress”. With a protectress like her, who needs enemies? Great job, babe. Of course, if O hadn’t gotten massively cocky and blinded the Cyclops - and then introduced himself - he would have been okay. But noooo.

    And that’s the overriding source of my hatred, or one of them: I hated Odysseus. My language got a little colorful as I listened to yet another fable cooked up for a loved one. I understand why he wouldn’t just hop back onto Ithaca and yodel “Honey, I’m home” – but to have to listen to four separate, elaborate, seriously over-detailed false stories (one for the swineherd (and how is someone whose father was a noble supposed to be happy being another guy’s swineherd?), Telemachus, Penelope, AND Laertes (whom I kept thinking ought to be a young guy out to defend his sister, of course)) was … painful. I may have wailed out loud when I realized he hit Ithaca and there were still about five hours to go in the audiobook. It would have been a lot less without the lies. Wait, five false stories – the old nurse got one too, but she didn’t buy it. I thought for sure Laertes would expire of the shock. (And don’t think I’m not holding the dog against … everybody.) (Was I supposed to admire or despise Penelope? She stayed true to O for 20 years, but she let the dog die; even Telemachus couldn’t decide whether to love her or hate her.) And why? To “test” them. “I will put my father to the test, see if the old man knows me now, on sight, or fails to, after twenty years apart.” REALLY? Okay, no, I get it – were they all faithful? (Though, after 20 years, if they hadn’t been, they could hardly be blamed; nowadays you’re declared dead after seven. Though, of course, they WOULD have been blamed, and would have probably ended up dead on O’s arrows. Or the gods would smite them. Or something.) (I don’t even want to discuss O’s poor mother.)

    And … I’m sorry, Odysseus was just an overweening ass. Again, “Yay, we’re getting away from the Cyclops – with whom we wouldn’t have been in trouble if I had listened to, oh, everyone – let me taunt him like a Monty Python Frenchman. Oh. Your dad is who now? Oopsy.” And oh, yes, his durances vile with Circe and Calypso – how hideous. Man of troubles my ear. His mother dies of grief. His father withers away. His wife fends off 108 importunate jerks trying to get into her bed, raping her maids, and eating her out of house and home (while being reviled half the time by the suitors, and the other half by everyone else). O? Spends years banging nymphs and goddesses. “Long-enduring Odysseus” my ass.

    Too, it may be a lifetime of steeping in Star Trek and British naval tradition talking here, but a captain who comes home having lost not only his ship but every single crewman is a piss-poor captain. He was attacked by the families of the suitors he killed – I was hoping he’d be attacked by the families of his sometimes-hideously-dead crew. (Not that most of his crew didn’t deserve to be eaten by various and sundry nasties; what a bunch of chuckleheads.)

    And then, at (well, toward) the end, he kills all the suitors almost single-handed – and then tells his son and the serfs to gather up all the women who had slept with the suitors and mocked him and so on and kill them slowly and painfully. Wait, what? So they do. And of course I’m aware that I’m still imposing my point of view on the story, but … I was horrified. Yes, they betrayed Pen and O, fine, got it. But … women. I’m not used to the fight being taken to the women. (Um ... yay early equal rights?) Well, it wasn’t much of a fight – at least the suitors did get to fight back. The women could just cry and plead. The main thing, though, was that O didn’t do it himself. He did all the manly-man stuff – and left the dispatch of the women to the boy and the servants. Again, that just strikes me as the action of a piss-poor leader.

    The second largest component of the pain of this thing was the translation by Robert Fagles. “Hate” is not too strong a word for how I feel about this. It’s a bit like the problem I had with Jules Verne a while back; part of me wants to give a different translation a try, but the most of me shudders at the thought of going through it all again. I don’t know if Fagles was trying to modernize it, or just had a tin ear – or, for all I know, this was a dead-on accurate translation (which I seriously doubt) – but to hear O say something is “not my style”, or that something cramped his style, made my flesh crawl. Why would Fagles use the word “appetizers” (over and over) instead of what another translation calls “delicacies”? I picture pigs in blankets and things on toothpicks. Fagles repeats often that the suitors are decimating O’s herds “scot-free”; the other translation I’m looking at uses “without repayment”. Oh, here’s a good one: the other translation says “please listen and reflect”. Fagles? “Listen. Catch my drift.” Ow. There was more. I don’t think it’s necessary to continue the list.

    It was obvious to me that this must have begun as an oral epic, sung or recited; that makes sense of the constant repetition. However, even in audio form, to my present-day ear the constant repetition was like the proverbial clawed blackboard. Yes. I know dawn has rosy fingers. Stop it. And the recaps. Oh, the recaps. Here I thought that was a modern development for reality shows catering to the attention-and-short-term-memory-impaired. Nope. Example: three minutes after all the suitors are dispatched I got to hear the whole story again as the ghosts tell it, with the added bonus of hearing about Penelope’s weaving. Again.

    And then, finally, the thing just … ended. I was sure I was going to have to sit and listen as O toted his oar inland (which just made me think of the song “Marching Inland”, which I suppose was inspired by this) and then, apparently, dropped dead when someone said “hey, what’s that thing?” At least I was spared that. But what a bizarre way to close it out.

    And good lord, the amount of time spent lauding some jackass who got drunk and fell off a roof. I … wow. I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t a paean to some idiot who tripped over the laces of his sandals.

    So, to sum up, I’m glad I listened to it… rather in the same way I was glad to have wisdom teeth extracted. It was necessary, it was good for me, I hated the whole experience and never want to do that again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Nerd's Guide to Being Confident

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 54 mins)
    • By Mark Manson
    • Narrated By Fleet Cooper
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Everyone knows confidence when they see it; but seemingly no one can actually describe what goes into it or how to get it. The Nerd's Guide to Being Confident is an unconventional way of looking at one of the most basic and obvious human traits and what one can do to gain a little more of it without feeling like a phony. Laughter included.

    Anthony A. says: "A More-Than-Pleasant Surprise"
    "Oh, thank goodness – this was a free download."

    It was free, so I took a shot; when I was thinking I paid for it I was a little worried about my sanity.

    Apparently, in Mark Manson’s world, you can only be a “nerd” if you’re male.

    Apparently, in Mark Manson’s world, a big part of “confident” means “feeling able to pick up hot girls”.

    Apparently, in Mark Manson’s world, giving advice means putting down all the other guides out there, and then proceeding to follow precisely in their footsteps.

    To the privileged whiny twenty-something white male who is apparently his target audience, Manson recommends practicing gratitude. I’m worlds away from his target audience, but I’m going to follow his advice right now: I am grateful that I didn't pay anything for this audiobook, because it’s two months past the time I would have been allowed to return it for a refund.

    Gosh. I feel all warm and fuzzy.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Storm Front: The Dresden Files, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Jim Butcher
    • Narrated By James Marsters
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    A call from a distraught wife, and another from Lt Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigation Unit makes Harry believe things are looking up, but they are about to get worse, much worse. Someone is harnessing immense supernatural forces to commit a series of grisly murders. Someone has violated the first law of magic: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Tracking that someone takes Harry into the dangerous underbelly of Chicago, from mobsters.

    Tom says: "Excellent Story, Distracting Sound Engineering"
    "Such a deal"

    I’ve heard a great deal about the audio books of (most of) the Dresden Files, read by James Marsters. Really, there is absolutely no need to sell me on the man who was Captain John Harper and – especially, and always – Spike. No need at all. Given the crankiness of the car, I also had no problem justifying the joining of, and so I downloaded Storm Front for $7.49 (such a deal!) (no, really!) and put it on my iPod.

    Oh. My.

    Marsters doesn’t just read the story. He is Harry Dresden, telling me what happened to him late that summer. (It doesn’t hurt that it’s first person – which is hereby my new favorite book format: first person audio.) He gives as much attention to the details of making Harry real as he ever did for any onscreen character. I love it. During a fight his voice went low and fast, describing the action with intensity – and then made me laugh when he read a line of Harry’s outraged-at-an-uncalled-for-attack dialogue. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    And his Bob is just … dreamy. Not something I ever thought I’d say.

    To my surprise, I’ve seen a lot of negativity – mostly from women – about Harry’s deeply ingrained chivalry – called by many chauvinism. Who the hell does he think he is to protect Murphy the way he does, she’s a grown woman and a cop for *&#!’s sake and she can take care of herself how dare he?? As I said, it took me by surprise; it’s not something that ever troubled me. It’s probably not something best addressed after reading just Storm Front again; it becomes a real problem later in the series, for some. Here’s my thinking on it after this first book, pseudo-psychology (for which I apologize) and all; there may be minor spoilers for Harry’s background.

    My surprise comes from the fact that … well, he is what he is. He is tall, he is dark, he is powerful, he has a strongly developed sense of justice, and a perhaps over-developed sense of chivalry. It is what it is. When he meets with her here, Bianca observes that Harry is a gentleman, a charmingly passé thing to be. He pulls out her chair for her – before and again after she tries to kill him – and politely declines to comment on the change in her appearance when the human façade drops. Even if it wasn’t gauche to a deadly degree to comment, Harry wouldn’t; it would be rudeness to a(n apparent) woman.

    (“I was passing polite to her” – *hugs Harry/Jim Butcher for using the word “passing” in this context*)

    Harry doesn’t have much experience with women, either in a romantic sense or, really, any other. He’s not celibate, but he’s not nearly so un-celibate as he’d like. He could be rather more active, but he’s not, for many reasons. His mother died – was killed – when he was very young. The extensive Criminal Minds training I’ve received chimes in right there with the comment that this alone could account for his having an idealized image of Woman: he never had the chance to learn his mother had any ordinary human flaws, and therefore even as an adult, knowing she wasn’t perfect, he still has lodged deep within him that ideal image. And since he hasn’t known so many other women well, by extension that perfect image has not had too many strikes against it. He hasn’t had so very many romantic liaisons (one of the many reasons I hated the tv show, that error), he has never had a sister, and Murphy – particularly in the beginning – isn’t quite a friend; he doesn’t seem to have very many female friends, if any. Women are a race apart.

    And let’s face it. Karrin Murphy aside, how many women are there – realistically – who could defend themselves in the sorts of situations Harry finds himself in? How many people, for that matter, male or female? I don’t find it at all unreasonable for Harry’s first instinct to be protect, without taking the extra moment to process the additional data: “Wait, it’s Murphy. She might be able to handle the demon by herself.” For him it’s emergency = reaction; I find it difficult to believe that people expect him to hesitate to try to protect anyone who happens to be nearby, female or not, in the situations he finds himself in. And in truth, no amount of martial arts expertise or firearms proficiency is going to help much against a summoned demon or a PO’d vampire.

    I don’t accept the interpretation that Harry thinks women are in any way weak. He’s not stupid. He has a great deal of respect for women. For him, being a gentleman, that old-fashioned role, is the way that respect is expressed. When he takes risks to protect, say, Murphy, it isn’t a result of stepping back and thinking “Geez, Murph can’t handle this. She’s all little and female and all. I’d better do it.” It doesn’t matter who the person beside Harry is, if they’re not another wizard. It’s instinctual: if it’s something paranormal, he has the skills to handle it, and he will. He can’t help it. He shouldn’t help it.

    While reading I never really noticed that every time Harry encounters a woman, the detailed description of her includes her makeup. It’s another complaint I’ve heard about the books: every time, we the readers find out what a woman is wearing in clothes and cosmetics. I did notice it more in the audio, probably because my nose was rubbed in it prior to listening. On the one hand, I get it – Butcher really, really wants his reader to see the characters. But on the other hand I admit it’s a little odd. But on the other hand it does make sense – he’s a PI and a wizard, both of which callings require strong observational skills. Where most men might take notice of too much or too little makeup, Harry – not unlike Holmes, in other recent reading – sees more. Clothing and cosmetics indicate quite a bit about a woman: economic status, personality, sometimes intent. A woman in full war paint wearing Jimmy Choos is probably going to be very different in reaction and conversation from a woman in lip gloss and Nikes, or no makeup and Birkenstocks; it’s self defense to make note of the appearance a woman presents to the world. And, on the other hand, he makes note of similar details about everyone – it doesn’t bother me.

    In other words, I can and will find excuses for any perceived flaw in Harry or the books. They’re just that good.

    Storm Front was never my favorite Dresden, though way back when it was more than enough to thoroughly hook me on the series. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that I don’t like about it; I love so many of the elements: the introductions to many of the major characters we’ll be spending the series with; the carefully stingy doling out of information on Harry’s past, promising further exploration later (I admire Jim Butcher’s skill at doling out the information – about Harry’s past, his present, and everything else); the three-dimensionality of the second-tier characters like Monica and Johnny

    Marcone and Mac. The story is well told and solid, and given that it’s a first person narrative from the hero’s point of view I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that in the end good triumphs over evil in a big way. So I don’t know where the visceral reluctance is toward the book; it could be simply that the murders that begin the book are so brutal and sexually charged. I’m not fond of the cases Harry is dragged into. It’s a heck of a beginning when the big strong hero loses his lunch over a crime scene.

    Membership to $7.49 a month for the first three months, $14.95 a month thereafter. Storm Front download: one credit. James Marsters reading the line “You may think you know something about vampires” and then talking about a character named Spike … Priceless.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Ready Player One

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Ernest Cline
    • Narrated By Wil Wheaton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

    Travis says: "ADD TO CART, POWER UP +10000"

    Probably two and a half stars, with a dash of generosity. I might change my mind. Never been so glad to finish a recreational book. Ever.

    This will be, as often happens with me, long and a little spoilery, though I have retained most of the spoilers for my blog post. Still, please read at your own risk if you haven't read (or listened to) the book.

    First of all, Wil Wheaton. I chose the audiobook largely because of him. I mean, okay, I never cared for Wesley Crusher (okay, I couldn't stand him) (okay, I hated his precocious guts), but Wil himself is king of the geeks (or president, at least). Wil's narration of this book is very nicely done – and it totally doesn't hurt that he gets to read the occasional (not frequent enough, IMO) Star Trek reference. Or Wil Wheaton reference. However … I can't help but wonder if, for me at least, it might have improved my opinion if I had read it, words on paper. I'll come back to that.

    The idea of the book is a beauty. It picks up on something nearly everyone knows about (DVD and, apparently, video game Easter eggs) and on something everyone has at least a tiny seed of a dream about (winning lots and lots of money), and on a tried-and-true enjoyable gimmick (the treasure hunt), and blends it all together with real or pseudo (depending on the reader's age) nostalgia, a completely plausible excuse to get mileage out of all that time spent in front of TV and video game screens.

    But I was disappointed. In some places, very disappointed.

    Every review and blurb I've seen about the book celebrates the nostalgia, and to a certain degree that's valid for me. I never memorized WarGames, but this made me want to see it again. I've been watching a lot of 80's sitcoms on DVD lately - TV really was better then, in a lot of ways. And yes, I did indeed play D&D, and so the moment at the end of Halliday's video that echoed a certain manual cover made me smile. Nothing else in the book made me as happy as: "Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Kodan Armada" - ! Yes, I did indeed say it along with him.


    Keeping in mind, of course, that this story was a derivation of one man's 80's – Halliday's, heavily based, I presume, on Ernest Cline's – a good many things which were props and mainstays of my 80's are glanced at or missing entirely. ST:TNG was barely mentioned, and I thought it was the biggest geek Thing of the decade. Except for one thing: Princess Bride. Which was completely absent. Really? Are you joking? To my knowledge I've never, ever, met anyone in geek circles who can't (and doesn't) quote at least a quarter of the screenplay. Inconc- er, "ridiculous". Overall: nostalgia? Meh.

    The writing … "Infodump" is what happens when plot is brought to a dead halt for a period of explanation – like traffic being held up at an intersection while a really boring parade passes by. The idea is to, whenever possible, weave necessary information seamlessly into the action and dialogue so that the reader knows what's going on without being bored out of her mind. Ernest Cline? Not great at this. The beginning was pretty solid. Unfortunately, the smile that lingered on my face from the D&D and especially the Last Starfighter references Chapter Zero, refreshed briefly by the sardonic tone at the beginning of "what they should have told me", was wiped away by a ham-handed diatribe against organized religion (my attitude: you and your characters can believe whatever you want, just don't shove it up my nose) and – there it is. Big fat infodump, with the extra detraction of a jarringly bitter tone. The whole "life sucks" section put me off enough that I walked away from the book for several days.

    After two full commutes spent listening to yet more info being dumped ... if this had been in a different audio format I'd have been seriously tempted to chuck this particular CD or tape out the car window. It was around then that I decided that for every painful instance of egregious infodump I was taking off half a star from the rating I'd be giving this.

    Another exasperating habit Cline has is Reality Show Recapping. Having Wade watching a blow-by-blow recap of the situation on the news - I know. I was there. Don't tell me again. *headmeetdesk* Where was the man's editor? The repetitiveness might not have been so grating on the page, but aloud it was just one headbanger after another. Hearing the whole damned scoreboard read out again and again and yet again was worse than listening to someone chomp on ice cubes. (I hate that.) In a table on a page it could be skimmed for relevant information.

    Another problem I had: despite the fact that I'm not one of those who reads mystery novels to figure out the killer before the detective, and actually almost never do manage to do so, still – I was about two steps ahead of a lot of this book's plot developments. Where Wade should look for the copper key? Aech's secret? I called it. That's not good. Yes, there were some surprises, but even they, in retrospect, were thoroughly telegraphed.

    The characters were not built to become favorites of mine. Of themselves, they were entertaining, but my interest was almost academic, watching to see just what their challenges would be rather than how they would overcome them, much less whether. There was never much of a doubt as to whether, never much doubt about who would win (and even in what order). It was the writing that failed them, or me, or both. The "High Five" were in their late teens and early twenties, and acted like it – most of the time. They messed about and used foul language and were otherwise as un-endearing as the species is capable of … except when the plot demanded they speak or behave with more maturity and wherewithal (other than financial) than anything before made probable or believable.

    And, obviously, I have no respect for someone who blows off a Shakespeare quote.

    One last note: Art3emis's female-shaped robot fired from its breasts?! Oh. My. God. Seriously, how many psychological connotations does that have?

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  • The Count of Monte Cristo

    • UNABRIDGED (52 hrs and 45 mins)
    • By Alexandre Dumas
    • Narrated By Bill Homewood
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    On the eve of his marriage to the beautiful Mercedes, having that very day been made captain of his ship, the young sailor Edmond Dantès is arrested on a charge of treason, trumped up by jealous rivals. Incarcerated for many lonely years in the isolated and terrifying Chateau d'If near Marseille, he meticulously plans his brilliant escape and extraordinary revenge.

    A User says: "This is the definitive reading!"
    "Long book, long review"

    The spoiler-free short version: The Count of Monte Cristo is an extraordinary, long, complex (as in, takes a large chart to keep relationships straight) work with a very simple story idea: a young man is horribly wronged, emerges from prison with a new life and a vast fortune, and uses that plus his very good mind to wreak vengeance on the people who ruined his life. It's fantastic, in every meaning of the word; it's different from what I expected and from nearly everything I've read before; it's a great adventure yarn with a lovely little romance thrown in (almost entirely counterbalanced by wrecked relationships, but still lovely) … In fact …

    "Has it got any sports in it?"
    "Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..."

    The giants and monsters are figurative in The Count, but they're in there – they are in there. There's actually very little fencing or fighting, and the torture is almost all mental, but … yeah. It's all there.

    The story is, at its heart, very simple. A strong and handsome and capable young man is well on his way to having a golden life, complete with the girl he loves, until jealousy in those around him has him sent to prison on false charges. There he sits for seventeen years as the world spins on without him, his only relief from the dark solitude a fellow prisoner who takes him on a mad journey to escape, teaching him everything he could ever need to know about everything while they work at it. When he finally does escape, he embarks on a mad quest of his own, to have a subtle, vicious revenge on everyone who harmed him.

    My review of said story isn't as simple. I began listening to the book almost a year ago (!), but this thing never coalesced. So, finally, here's what I've got, somewhat disjointed – more a collection of random scattered thoughts I jotted down during the read than what I'd actually call a review. Beware of spoilers.

    I listened to the Audible audiobook read by Bill Homewood, and had a wonderful time – he made 52 hours and 45 minutes seem like only four days.

    No, I kid – he gave a magnificent performance. The audio book I chose for a Goodreads Buddy Read is in 6 parts, totaling 52 hours & 45 minutes. In other words, two days, four hours, and forty-five minutes. Funnily enough, other versions were of wildly varying lengths – unabridged editions run between 45 hours and the one I picked, 52 hours and 45 minutes. There were also several abridged editions – from a dramatic presentation lasting an hour (how??) to a 17 hour abridgement – but despite its being the longest out there I liked the sample of this, and I think it was a good choice: Mr. Homewood is an excellent companion. I can only assume some translations were more succinct than others, or that where Mr. Homewood uses a different (extremely well done) voice for each character (resulting in different cadences), and gives each line its full dramatic weight, someone reading in one level tone might get through the material more quickly. For me a big part of the enjoyment was listening to the performance – he went all out on it, conveying real emotion and suspense and humor and dread in a magnificent one-man show. He deserves an award. Most actors' performances are one character in some fraction of a film or play or tv episode between one and three hours; this was 100% of nearly 53 hours, and fantastic. (I spent no little time marveling at how he kept the voices straight. I would be doing constant re-takes after reading Danglars's lines in Villefort's voice or some such.) (Not to mention the occasional cut to edit out my frustrated exclamations of "Wait, who the *&$! is THIS, now??")

    From the beginning I was surprised at the sense of humor that pervades the book. If I had taken a good look at the portrait Wikipedia uses for M. Dumas, I might not have been – the humor in that face is wonderful. But I suppose despite so much evidence to the contrary I still retain the expectation, formed in high school, for literature more than a hundred years old to be dull and stodgy, especially the Victorians. It isn't fair – it's not the books, but the teachers, who (present company excepted, as applicable) do the damage to Dickens and Shakespeare and company. But, still, even knowing that M. Dumas buckled the ultimate swash in The Three Musketeers, I thought the language would be dense and impenetrable.

    Which is so very much not the case.

    It all depends on the translation, of course, and in the case of an audiobook on the reader. The translation I listened to was colloquial – often feeling very modern and oddly British (the character of Albert in particular was hilarious, and in many ways – especially given Bill Homewood's reading of him – verged on Bertie Wooster) - and casual (everyone, in every situation, says "Thanks", never "Thank you") – and much, much more fun than I expected. Yes, there are moments that made me smile inappropriately, such as after several minutes of strenuous detail followed by the rather unnecessary summing up of "Dantès was free" or "The Abbé was dead"; it's a style quirk that always vexes me, just a little.

    Apart from that, this couldn't have been more accessible.

    (Another little vexation: I am tempted to find an online source for The Count and do a search for the word "Well". I would want to discount any with the meaning of "place to fetch water" or "good" or such, and just count the ones that begin sentences. At first I thought it was just Caderousse who started every single sentence with "Well!" – but then I came to entire conversations where sentence after sentence began the same way. (What word translated to that, I wonder?))

    Humans are strange creatures. Early on – before Dantès's arrest but after the plot against him has been conceived, if not born – M. Morrel turns to Danglars and repeats to him what Edmond had said about him: nothing bad, by any means; in fact, remarkably generous. Ah, I thought – he's going to feel a pang here, even though it might be short-lived: Dantès has nothing against him, or at the very least he said nothing against him to the owner. But no: his only response is to internally exclaim "Hypocrite!" I already knew he was a thorough Bad Guy – that was when I knew he was very far gone indeed.

    And Dantès … Hope keeps welling up in Dantès, at every opportunity. He plunges to the depths of despair – but any time there is the least hint of light he throws his entire self at it and clings till long past the point when it's actually dead. And then at the very bottom of the depths of despair he finds – if not hope, then peace; the knowledge that he has the power to take his own life at any time he wishes gives him strength to carry on.

    I wonder how different things would have been if one person besides the Abbé had held out a hand – at least, done so with Dantès' knowledge. His despair and the hardness that grew out of it hinged on the fact that he had been forgotten, that no one on earth knew or cared where he was. The second jailer did try to do something for him, but was thwarted; it seems he never told Dantès (wise, as it would have gotten hopes up fruitlessly). M. Morrel was constantly (until the final overthrow of Napoleon) trying to do something for him. But the gestures were ineffective and unknown to Dantès, and so his eventual escape is almost entirely his own doing. If a solitary person had aided him in any way, perhaps his determination on vengeance would not have been so hard and unyielding.

    I thought it was a bit remarkable that Dantès should sit at the deathbed of the Abbé and think about killing himself – possibly committing "suicide by cop" – so as to follow after his friend and find him in the afterlife. Dantès, apparently, received little Christian education; it's a basic tenet that, without very good justification in terms of mental illness (and even then, in your stricter periods), suicides go to hell. There would be no reunion with the Abbé. I wonder if that was a blind spot in Dumas or in Dantès.

    Except for one, the people of M. Dumas's world seem to fall into perhaps three categories: the good, the bad, and the weak. The good are unimpeachable – the Abbé, M. Morrel and his family, Edmond's father, Valentine; they are honest and long-suffering, would never take any unfair advantage to better their own lot. The bad are irredeemable – Danglars, Fernand, Villefort; they are fixed on their singular goal, and no young prodigy is going to get in their way. The weak, such as Caderousse and Mercédès, can be considered friends – but only trusted so far. They are slender reeds. Not much can be expected of them, so when they do their weak best it is to be rewarded. But in the end Caderousse reverts to form (I'll come back to him) and Mercédès is broken by her experiences and caught up in her misery (I'll come back to her too); any rewards they've received are squandered or outweighed.

    And then there's that one exception: Dantès. He is not purely good or bad, and certainly not weak; his thirst for revenge is understandable given what was done to him without provocation. But Abbé Faria did advise him to put vengeance aside … and Dantès was unable to do so, even eager as he was to please his friend. Before long he seems to have forgotten that the Abbé ever said anything of the sort to him, or even, it seems at times, that he ever existed. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, and Dantès takes upon himself not only that aspect of the power of God but the omniscient omnipotent rewarding of good as well. Toward the end he shocked me by saying outright, and in all apparent seriousness, "God needed me". Forsooth. He sees himself as the infallible arbiter of right and wrong – until his nose is forcibly rubbed in the unintended consequences of his actions.

    At one point he required Morrel (Jr.) to remember that he is talking to someone who "never uttered a falsehood and cannot be deceived." Forsooth. That's the sort of remark that makes me want to comb through the text to locate every lie and deception perpetrated by and on him.

    Money may not bring happiness, but lack of it breeds fear and uncertainty. To an extent, I loved the mindset with which Dantès approaches wealth: he is changing lives. For the worse, where deserved: Danglars and Fernand and Villefort were marked men from the moment Dantès left the Isle D'If – but also, markedly, for the better. Those who were able to help him, all unknowing, in his quest for information were more than generously rewarded; even small actions were richly rewarded. And I will say for him that the money stolen by Danglars (did we really need that much confirmation that he was an evil SOB?) from the widows and orphans (five million!) was restored to them.

    It's a little annoying that some 40% of the way into the story references are made that are – for me, at least, playing without an organizational chart or even an easily searchable hard copy of the book – obscure at best. (A chart of who is who and married to whom and killed by/the killer of whom does exist, but is, obviously, filled with spoilers.) I didn't realize, for example, that Franz, met at the Festival alongside Albert, is the son of the man killed by the father of Villefort. Albert's identity came clear a lot sooner on its own, but even there there was certainly no immediate lightbulb. And I kept getting Morcerf and Morrel mixed up, because Morcerf kept not ringing the Fernand bell.

    Silly me.

    The manipulations of the cast of characters are kind of wonderful. At any point, any of his enemies could have redeemed himself. Caderousse was given yard after yard of rope, and not only hanged himself with it, he hog-tied himself too; Madame de Villefort was merely provided with a phial and a piece of information, and people around her started dropping like flies. I do wonder what Monte Cristo would have done had anyone failed to live down to his expectations. Would he have been pleased that someone was a better person than he expected, or would he have been vexed? He can read a person's character almost instantly, and can judge just the temptation to put into their path like an unattended, booby-trapped bundle of catnip for an unsuspecting tabby.

    Morrel (Maximilien, that is) runs full tilt from what appears to be Valentine's deathbed to plead with Monte Cristo for help – and then takes two minutes by the iPod counter nattering away before he even asks to send Baptistan to check on her, and then insists on relating the whole story to Monte Cristo with more regard, it seems, for whether he should go to the police than to, as I expected, ask Monte Cristo to try and save the girl. I just don't know.

    The evolution, if I can call it that, of Caderousse is strange. He is introduced as an acquaintance, a neighbor, whom Dantès knows to be not quite trustworthy (he takes steps to protect the money). It's a terrible first impression – he is an obvious enemy from the beginning, with no real reason – jealousy because Dantès is young and handsome and beloved? Later, though, he is stricken with remorse, and doesn't like what is proposed for Dantès. He doesn't do anything to stop it or come forward once it's done, but he doesn't like it. When he is revisited later he is a hard-luck case, bitter and almost sympathetic – until abruptly he not only reverts to the initial bad impression but turns out to actually be one of the nastiest pieces of work I've read about in a while, and I felt like a sucker for believing he wasn't so bad.

    The "death" of Valentine … first, even knowing how cold and purged of feeling Monte Cristo was, I was shocked at his casualness over whoever was dying. Ah well, I've been watching gleefully as they fall one by one – who now, Noirtier? So what? Valentine? Oh well!

    Then the cruelty with which he tricks both Noirtier and Maximilien – was that absolutely necessary? Especially the pain he caused Max, one of the family on whom he was committed to the opposite of revenge. He breaks into Morrel's room – what, about seven minutes before he was about to eat his gun? It was obvious from Max's frantic visit to Casa Cristo how much in love he was with Val – How could MC not say to him, and say "here's the thing. I gave Valentine an elixir to feign death, so that I could flush out her killer and get all sorts of revenge on her father. She's ok. She's not really dead. If you can't hide that, please stay put in your rooms until she comes back to life, 'kay? I don't want to screw this up." But no. He just 'killed' her off, let Noirtier suffer abominably – a complete paralytic whose only joy in life, his only pleasure, really, was this girl, with no guarantee that the boy who loved her would ever even think of him again once she was gone? That's abominable. And letting Morrel suffer, stopping off at Danglars's office to rob him blind, dropping in at the burial and only then hunting up his little friend. Gosh, he's upset. Oops. I'll let him go off, though – oh no, he's headed for a bridge -! Oh, ok. And then he busts in at the house and literally busts into Max's room – and what if he had been further delayed? What if there had been traffic, or a line at the bank?

    I ... don't know. I was glad he began to see some light toward the end, began to become a little more human for a bit - and then he went back to the Chateau d'If, and where I would have hoped he would remember the Abbé's dismay at his thirst for revenge (ah, you remember the Abbé, Edmond? That good man who saved your life, saved your soul, and provided everything you now have? That man who hadn't been mentioned in a few hundred pages?), he hardened back up again and went after Danglars with blood in his eye. Which he had to do – Danglars deserved a comeuppance, and it was fun, I have to say – and he did let him live, sane and hopefully a better man for the experience (doubtful). But ... I just don't know. I don't think he actually forgave Mercédès - he continued to call her faithless to the very end; that whole aspect of the story bothered me a little.

    And I don't think he ever recovered from the grandiose view of himself as God's instrument of retribution. I think in the end he was every bit as self-absorbed as he was in the middle there; maybe a little less confident in his infallibility, but he did manage to shrug off a lot of responsibility that belonged to him. I can't remember his exact words, but it was along the lines that the Villefort poisoner was entirely on her own - when in fact she might not have ever had the courage and foundation to do what she did without his advice and his gift of a really awesome, irresistible poison. She might - but she might not. He seemed to acknowledge that his interference helped bring about Edouard's death (no loss, but still, he was just a little boy), but not that that same interference almost killed Valentine. And I'm just not happy with leaving Maximilien in misery for months. Was that some sort of test? If you're really still miserable on this date then I'll give you back your beloved? If not, if Max had shown up and said "Nope, I'm good!" - then what?

    That's exactly why it fell a little flat at the end for me. Monte Cristo leaves a string of broken and ended lives, with the exceptions of the Morrels and Valentine (and Noirtier, though it's almost accidental that he made it), and sails off with his young slave/former slave... It's a great story, but ... I guess, especially given the period when it was written, I was expecting a moral to the story. The only one I can come up with is "If someone wrongs you, take them down hard; collateral damage may occur, but there are very few people worth saving anyway". In the end it left a sort of empty feeling. It's an adventure, a huge sprawling rarely-dull tale … but I guess that just wasn't the ending I felt it needed.

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  • All Creatures Great and Small

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 45 mins)
    • By James Herriot
    • Narrated By Christopher Timothy
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    In this first volume of his memoirs, then-newly-qualified vet James Herriot arrives in the small Yorkshire village of Darrowby, and he has no idea what to expect. How will he get on with his new boss? The local farmers? And what will the animals think? This program is filled with hilarious and touching tales of the unpredictable Siegfried Farnon, his charming student brother Tristan, and Herriot's first encounters with a beautiful girl named Helen.

    Sara says: "A Wonderful Listen--Stories That Never Get Old"
    "Creature comfort"

    James Herriot's books are, for me, the ultimate in comfort books. Which is odd, it occurred to me while listening to this audiobook; there's blood and gore and uterine explorations and knackerings and death and cruelty… There is casual mention of deeds and practices which would turn PETA's collective hair white. But I've been reading these books since I was about ten. (Which, considering the language, is surprising. Them Yorkshire farmers were salty, mind.) And then there was the wonderful tv series.

    That last is what made the audiobook ideal: the reader is Christopher Timothy, who played James in the series (alongside my beloved Peter Davison as Tristan). I think he's one of those I'll follow anywhere, listen to anything he reads. He's perfect. Not just because I know him so well in the role already – he is a warm, funny, compassionate reader, wonderful at the accents and natural in his delivery.

    Just like Alf Wight, better known as James Herriot. The things I mentioned before – well, they were simply a part of life on a Yorkshire farm, in a Yorkshire veterinary practice in the first half of the 20th century. It was as it was, there were no better treatments than some of the medieval remedies used, and for the most part animals were well kept because they were vital to the livelihood of their owners. There is a surprising lack of sentiment overall, whether the animal in question is a pig or a puppy, a horse or a heifer.

    Which isn't to say the stories are strictly cool and clinical – not by a long mark. Tricki Woo is the perfect embodiment of the series as a whole. The pampered Pekingese "son" of a rich widow, he is a good-natured little furball whose ailments tend to stem mainly from that pampering. And when he goes flop-bott or shows other symptoms which alarm his Mrs. Pumphrey, "Uncle Herriot" is summoned on to the scene at once. The reward for James's promptitude is baskets from London at Christmas (I can't even fathom how expensive that would be, sent all the way to the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930's) along with other periodic delicacies – so James, naturally, has a mercenary fondness for the Peke. But he is also genuinely fond of the dog for his own self, as a personality, and of Mrs. Pumphrey as well. And balancing it all out like a splash of lemon juice is Mrs. Pumphrey's chauffeur, responsible for the spasmodic bouts of exercise she penitently orders, along with the role of body servant to the dog, and he loathes Tricki with a deep and burning passion. (And when the pig Nugent comes along, there is much hilarity.)

    So, yes, there is some cringing as we visit the knacker's yard, or when some archaic remedy is brought out. But it merely acts in the same lemon juice fashion on the warmth found in the daily interactions with the farmers and peers and kids with their goldfish, the dogs and cats and horses and pigs and cows and sheep, the slowly disappearing way of life of the Dales farmers. The madness that is the Farnon brothers; the surely-hopeless love James has for a client's daughter – eccentric as it all can be, it still rings true, and that's the key. The book is, to co-opt what they might say about a particularly nice cob, as sound as a bell.

    So, whether it should be a comfort book or not, it got me through a particularly bad night recently. The very definition of a comfort book. I love these stories.

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  • Across the Nightingale Floor: Tales of the Otori, Book One

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By Lian Hearn
    • Narrated By Kevin Gray, Aiko Nakasone
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    A tour-de-force novel set in ancient Japan filled with passion, fantasy, and feuding warlords. The first volume in the highly anticipated Tales of the Otori trilogy.

    Jody R. Nathan says: "Wonderful epic story"
    "Not what I expected"

    I don't usually read others' reviews before writing my own; I don't want to be influenced. With this book, though, I was having trouble putting my thoughts in order. A look through Goodreads shows a wide variety of reactions, with very strongly held and expressed opinions on both ends of the spectrum. (One single star review begins "This book is nothing other than a flight-of-fancy on the part of the author." Well… yes. Aren't all novels?) My opinion is positive, though not rabidly so. I do wonder how I would feel about the book if I'd held it in my hands – but I listened to an audiobook, and this is what came of it.

    The narration took a little getting used to. A stretch of the first several chapters is first person POV Tomasu/Takeo, read by Kevin Gray in a dry, light voice. What called for adjustments for me was the faint trace of an accent he used (or which he has); there was some part of me that was not quite convinced by it. This part of me became a bit bigger when a few chapters in the point of view switched to the third person to tell of Lady Shirakawa, Kaede, as narrated by Aiko Nakasone – whose name, however, certainly seems to support the accent; part of my resistance there might simply have been that I didn't want a change of voice. I did get used to it, and was very much enjoying both narrators by the end. Kevin Gray's reading of emotional moments was moving, and I loved the characters he gave voice to.

    As for the book… A major, major drawback was the not-infrequent use of foreshadowing. One major character, a favorite of mine, was basically dispensed with a bit more than halfway through the book with a casual line about an omen of a grim future. (Exact quotes are difficult with audiobooks…I have enough trouble keeping my place.) I'm not happy about this. Maybe it's a good thing to be able to read something like that and know to start detaching myself from a character I've liked – but, really? I hate foreshadowing. The character was all but dead (dead man walking) long before the killing, and part of the story would have been much more gripping if I had had no idea whether things would work out or not. Then there was another character's "sudden but inevitable betrayal" – it was built up to, and telegraphed, and I think would have been far more effective as a shock.

    In reviews, one of the divisive factors of this book is the use of culture. It's almost, but not quite, feudal Japan; it resembles feudal Japan. It isn't feudal Japan. (Which does make it odd that, among other things, an actual historical figure, the artist Sesshu, is referenced…) There are plenty of people out there who fancy themselves experts on the period who are jumping up and down in their reviews, the book made them so angry. (As well as people who are put out because the author is not Japanese…) I know next to nothing, so I'm untroubled – except by small, random things like words which in my experience belong to other countries entirely. "Palanquin", used frequently, is one which irked me every time it was said: to me, the word brings up images of India and elephants, and does not fit. There were others, but, again, audiobooks and exact quotes. I do wonder, though, where the line was drawn between historical novel and pure fantasy, and why. Hagi is a real place. Sesshu was a real person. But so much else was changed, names and histories; it's curious.

    There is a strong undercurrent of brutality throughout the story, so despite the stated youth of the two main characters this doesn't work, I don't think, as a young adult novel – at least, it's not my idea of YA. I was surprised to see people refer to Nightingale Floor as such. The two main characters are very young, but there is no real "coming of age" story here; they have been forced into life as adults from the moment we meet them. Takeo is plucked from the life he has lived since birth and dropped into another, takes to it well, and there you are. Kaede has more of an arc, but her story could almost be that of any highborn female in any patriarchal culture; she could have been 25 rather than 15 and little would have changed, except for family worries that she was an old maid. Both of them could have been any age, and the story would have still worked. In fact, Takeo generally presents as much older, particularly with the level of skill he shows in just about everything – I kept forgetting he was supposed to be just 16. That is actually another drawback in the book: Takeo is just so incredibly good at nearly everything. There is very little learning curve for him once he discovers his skills – drawing, the tribal skills, even riding and writing once it clicks with him – everything but the sword, I think, and even with that it seems like his plateau is reached quickly. He is 16, and has never trained in art or martial skills before, but he is abruptly a master at most of what he attempts. Not good.

    The romance is something else that is both loved and hated in reviews, and something else that is not quite what it could be. It begins with something like love at first sight, and I wish more had been done with that. The element of magic is so strong throughout the story that it would have made sense to bring it in here, as I expected, but it turns out to be just another case of L@FS. It seemed fairly obvious before the two ever met that they would, and that there would be romance: the two characters featured in the narration, of an age, and set to converge? Done deal.

    There were parts of it I really liked. There were a couple of parts I hated. I probably will read (or listen to) at least the next book, just to find out what happens next, but I'm in no rush.

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  • Wuthering Heights

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 19 mins)
    • By Emily Brontë
    • Narrated By Anne Flosnik
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Perhaps the most haunting and tragic love story ever written, Wuthering Heights is the tale of Heathcliff, a brooding, troubled orphan, and his doomed love for Catherine Earnshaw. His desire for her leads him to madness when Catherine is made to marry a wealthy lord, sending Heathcliff on a lifelong quest to avenge himself upon those who stole his only love and his life.

    Tracey says: "Wuthering Depths"
    "Wuthering Depths"

    This is one of those classics I was never able to get very far into. The first time I got the whole gist of the story was watching the Olivier-Oberon film some time back, which surprised me with how much I disliked every single soul in the story.

    Last year I finally got determined to crack the shell of this thing and listen to the audiobook. Heck, I thought, I listened to one of my most-hated-books-ever, Tess of the Durbervilles, and ended up appreciating it; surely it would work with Wuthering Heights.

    Or not.

    Which is nothing against the narrator. Anne Flosnik was the only good thing about the experience: she was excellent.

    But the book made me want to bang my head against a wall until it was over. I am glad I finally completed it. It's a good thing to have under my belt. But the one-word review I posted when I was done was, quite simply, "Phew". it was my expression of amazement at how awful it was - and, more, my relief at being through. Put it this way: there was a very high body count in this book – it was one grim death after another. But I didn't mind so much in WH because, as in the long-ago-seen movie, I hated every single character. They were either so weak that a mouse sneeze would knock them over, or strong in the way that a serial killing psychopath is strong. So there was me listening to the book thinking “Yes! Die! Die! Die!”

    I honestly don't know if I've read and enjoyed a book where I've been unable to like anyone involved. And here it was beyond simply not liking anyone – this was a pulsating loathing. I don't know if I'd be able to like this one even if some of the characters were more amiable – there was another big factor in my loathing of this book: the utterly impenetrable dialect. Now, I can usually manage accents, especially British accents of all types. I love 'em. But my lord. A random sample that I pulled out: 'Ony books that yah leave, I shall tak' into th' hahse,' said Joseph, 'and it'll be mitch if yah find 'em agean; soa, yah may plase yerseln!' On paper, I can read that without such a problem. Aloud? It might as well have been Bantu.

    Kind of thought it might be now and then.

    But no. Hateful characters and impenetrable accents aside, this thing was just so unremittingly bleak, so grim and ugly … Heathcliff hanged Isabella’s dog. As a warning. And now if someone could explain to me why he’s considered (from Wikipedia): “an archetype of the tortured romantic hero”...

    “Romantic hero”.

    There is more to the word “romantic” than the common usage. I know that. What frightens me is the people who don’t know that, and still call Heathcliff a romantic hero. I would as soon call Ted Bundy a romantic hero.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The Three Musketeers

    • UNABRIDGED (23 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Alexandre Dumas
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Mixing a bit of seventeenth-century French history with a great deal of invention, Alexandre Dumas tells the tale of young D'Artagnan and his musketeer comrades, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis. Together they fight to foil the schemes of the brilliant, dangerous Cardinal Richelieu, who pretends to support the king while plotting to advance his own power. Bursting with swirling swordplay, swooning romance, and unforgettable figures.

    A. A. Green says: "What Fun!"
    "What a letdown"

    I know. I know. One star?? A swashbuckling adventure novel beloved for a couple of centuries? Yeah, well.

    I've tried to read this before. It had "me" written all over it: aforementioned buckling of swashes, romance and derring-do and so forth. But I never penetrated very far. There was a tone – perhaps to the particular translation I tried, perhaps to the work itself – that just put me off, exemplified by the instance of D'Artagnan selling the yellow horse after his father impressed upon him how he must never do so, and he promised faithfully that he would not. It was such a dishonorable, dishonest, ugly thing to do, in a book I had expected to be dripping with honor – and it was just the beginning.

    Last year I finally went with the audiobook, on the theory that classics that have not held a huge amount of interest for me go down better read aloud. I hold the reader, John Lee, responsible for my being able to finish it with as much tolerance as I did; if I’d been just reading words on a page I think it would have ended up in the trash by page 200. I hated this. I truly, deeply hated this. I’ve seen at least a couple of movie versions; I’ve enjoyed them, somewhat, as frothy swashbucklers, of course. I always expected the book to be better, though.

    One of my two Goodreads comments on the book was:
    "These people are all horrible - honorless, slutty morons. And this is a classic, beloved by schoolboys for - what, over 200 years? God help us."

    And that’s my biggest problem with the book. Perhaps it was supposed to be ironic, some kind of commentary on honor and courage and standards and morality through the depiction of noble swordsmen who were actually men you wouldn’t trust alone with a coin or a woman. I don’t remember ever coming across that take on it, though.

    Athos, Porthos, Aramis, D'Artagnan. These are the heroes I wanted to read about. The brave and loyal soldiers, the champions of right and defenders of womanhood and of France … I have no idea where my ideas came from – the movies, perhaps? What I found as I listened to the book was that Athos was a hypocritical prig, Aramis was a hypocritical pseudo-religious, Porthos was a gluttonous gambling dandy, and D'Artagnan a cocky young jackass. They were all four drunkards, given any opportunity; they were all womanizers, cuckolding widely and wildly, dropping whatever girl they had been bedding to move on without a pause or juggling as many as possible simultaneously. And the much-vaunted all-for-one loyalty? I didn't see it. Every single one of them was as likely to throw his buddies under the 18th century equivalent of a bus as to support them, or to leave them in assorted lurches. Then get a good laugh out of it. And the interactions between these four and the man-servants they could barely afford but NEEDED made The Comedy of Errors seem like a shining illustration of workplace harmony. It was depressing.

    D'Artagnan in particular was a letdown. The whole situation of swiving the maid in the room adjacent to her mistress, and vice versa – I wanted to throttle him. A lot. For one thing – seriously? They've let prepubescent boys read this for centuries? Oh, that’s just awesome. So, buckling of swashes, romance and derring-do and so forth? The swashes were askew at best; the romance was not the way Anne Shirley defines it (nor me), the doing wasn’t so derring. I only made it through the whole thing because it was an audiobook with a good narrator, and because I gritted my teeth in determination to see it all the way through. It was a deep disappointment, and I hated it.

    My other Goodreads comment:
    “Chapter 67: Conclusion
    Oh, thank God.”

    2 of 5 people found this review helpful

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