The Great Santini was Pat Conroy's first novel, and it was the one that rocketed him to literary fame in America. It's easy to see why. Though troubled at times by identifiable rookie errors like over-repetition and unrealistic dialog, the book--and particularly the writing--possess an astonishing depth for a debut effort. By now readers have come to identify Conroy as one of the great literary voices of his generation, but when Santini was published, he was an unknown Southern writer trying to tell what was essentially a fictionalized account of his own childhood. Happily, he succeeded.
Anyone who has read even one or two Pat Conroy books will recognize in this first novel patterns that will become familiar in later works. A loving but abusive father. A beautiful mother. The military. A family trying to make their way in the world despite many hardships and tragedy. And of course, the ever-present undercurrent of coastal South Carolina. These were all evidently ingredients of Conroy's own life, and he weaves them into his fiction with unusual skill. His work, though at times harsh, is a pleasure to read.
What's great about The Great Santini is the way Conroy makes Bull Meecham such a sympathetic character. Even though he's abusive, stubborn, foul-mouthed, and often just simply unpleasant, he wants to do the right thing. He's intensely patriotic and utterly competitive, and he truly loves his family. Yet all too often, his demons get the best of him. When it happens, you feel terrible for his suffering family, but you feel bad for Bull, too.
The audiobook version is surprisingly good. I wasn't sure Dick Hill, who provided a brilliant Harry Bosch in Michael Connelly's early books, would be right for Conroy's Southern narrative rhythms, but he was excellent. His loud, brash portrayal of Bull Meecham is perfect and really makes the character come alive.
As in any Pat Conroy book, there's a lot of language and some very difficult scenes, including some graphic crimes. But there are also plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as of course page after page of simply beautiful writing. For a compelling and powerful picture of what life in the South was like for a military family in the 1960s, look no further. It's not Conroy's best--he was still finding himself as a writer--but it's still great and definitely recommended.
Beach Music is a sweeping, stirring, at times kind of rambling saga that shows Pat Conroy for the most part doing what he does best—setting real and believable characters in lush, wonderful settings amidst the very best of human relationships and the very worst of human cruelty. It features all the usual themes familiar to Conroy fans—family relationships, abuse, addiction, sports, mental illness, tragedy—and of course the ever-present Low Country of South Carolina. In this book, however, Conroy takes things a bit further, setting a significant portion of the book in Rome and even reliving two characters’ recollections of the horrors of the Holocaust.
As in all Conroy novels, it is the characters’ relationships and interactions that drive the story. From the opening pages to the somewhat drawn-out ending, Jack McCall’s relationships with his parents, his brothers, and his close-knit circle of friends provide story element after story element. From four high-school boys lost at sea in an open boat to a campus prank gone horribly wrong to inadvertent murder and an international flight from justice, Conroy reaches deep into each character’s backstory to provide a multilayered tapestry of affection and, in many cases, dysfunction.
This is not Conroy’s best work, though it may be his most ambitious. There are some surprising miscues, including several repeated dialog segments and at least one character that seems to have been forgotten about for most of the second half of the book. Nevertheless, the overall strength of the writing manages to make up for what might otherwise be distractions.
The audiobook, while a far cry from the artistry of Frank Muller’s narration of The Prince of Tides, is smooth and enjoyable. Jonathan Marosz’s Southern drawl seems a bit affected at times, but in general he provides fairly accurate and consistent character voices, and the pacing is good throughout.
The story contains the usual amount of language and rough content. Because portions of this book deal with the Holocaust, there is perhaps more dark content here than in Conroy’s others. But as always, Conroy dwells on the horrors people can inflict on each other only as much as is needed to bring out the wonder and joy that comes when individuals and communities overcome such obstacles.
Beach Music, though flawed, is a beautiful book, full of rich characterizations, incredible settings, and the indomitable buoyancy of the human spirit. Pat Conroy fans will enjoy the familiar themes and literary patterns, and the uninitiated will be treated to a wonderful introduction to one of modern America’s truly great authors.
Edgar-winner Steve Hamilton shows why he's a decorated author in this great book about a kid with a distinct disability and fascinating gift. The protagonist, who is also the narrator, is an incarcerated 18-year-old who hasn't been able to speak in years. What he has been able to do, though, is unlock any door and break into any safe. The Lock Artist is the story of his life, and it's a fascinating one indeed. The strangeness of the main character is what really drives the story, and he gets himself into all kinds of interesting situations, from performing at an alcohol-fueled football party to a dangerous heist at sea. The story moves rapidly and never lets up. There's even a little teenage romance thrown in for good measure. There's some language, which narrator MacLeod Andrews belts out in the various characters' accents enthusiastically, but it fits the tone of the story. Note that although the primary character is a teenager, this is absolutely not a YA book. There is some dark material in here that is clearly aimed at adults. It's a surprisingly thoughtful crime book, written from the perspective of a very unusual criminal. Great story with great narration--highly recommended.
Book 2 in the "Helen trilogy" starts off with a bang--literally--and doesn't let up till the end. And in classic Preston and Child fashion, the end isn't the end at all, but a massive cliffhanger. Rene Auberjonois is excellent as always--his voice for Pendergast has always struck me as spot on, though I prefer Scott Brick's characterization of Vincent D'Agosta. One thing to be aware of is that this book, while billed as a potential stand-alone, really must be read in the context of P&C's other Pendergast books and particularly Fever Dream (book 1 in the "Helen trilogy"). The action starts right where it left off at the end of the previous book, and there are many characters that make an appearance whom readers and listeners will not recognize unless they're familiar with this incredible pair's previous work. One thing they're really good at is incorporating characters from other books into the story, and they do that here as well. The action is great, the mystery is supurb, the plot zips along, the narration is nearly perfect. All in all, a terrific listening experience. Can't wait for the next one!
The late great Frank Muller turns in a signature performance with this reading of Pat Conroy's classic The Prince of Tides. Muller, who died in 2008 from complications related to a motorcycle accident, was unparalleled in his ability to capture the moods and subtleties of each character. And the characters are rich and wonderful in this probing song of the South. Pat Conroy, in an author's introduction to the audiobook, says he learned things about the novel that even he didn't know when listening to Frank Muller read his work. That's about as high a compliment as a narrator can get, I would think!
The book is great apart from the stellar performance. Conroy is so good at weaving together snippets of life from the Wingoe family across multiple generations, culminating in the heartwrenching struggle of Savanah Wingoe to beat her suicidal tendencies. Conroy seems to be largely autobiographical in many of his stories. One area where the book falls away from the realm of reality is in the dialog; each and every character is so wonderfully verbose and eloquent that they're not believable as real people. If anything, though, that makes the story even more entertaining.
There is some language in the book, but it does not come across as gratuitous. Sexual content, while present, is handled discreetly. Perhaps the most objectionable content has to do with the physical and emotional abuse of the Wingoe children at the hands of their parents. One horrific scene describes the event that changed the family forever, but even that, while terrible, is not particularly graphic.
This is a triumph of a book in its own right, and Muller's reading of it makes it an audiobook classic. Highly recommended!
Michael Palmer turns in another good read in Oath of Office, a chilling look at the politics and science behind genetically modified food. The story is a good one, though at times the decisions some of the characters make are frustrating. The medicine behind the plot seems authentic enough; Palmer always does his research. I don't think it's the best book he's ever written, but it's still entertaining. There's a little bit of everything here: some medicinal sleuth work, murder, conspiracy, a little romance, and even a high-speed chase through a cornfield. Robert Petkoff is solid as the narrator.
This is a surprisingly good book about one of the worst things one human being can do to another. A little boy and his mom, imprisoned in a small room, day after day, for years. Sounds horrible, right? Yet the book really isn't about the terror of that situation; it's about the relationship between the kid and his mother. As they invent games, do exercises, and fantasize together about the outside world (which the kid has never even seen), their deep love for each other comes across clearly in every chapter. The second half of the book changes things up somewhat, as the two face new and unexpected challenges, but their bond endures. The narration is quite good; Michal Friedman (who tragically died in late 2011) is spot-on as the voice of the young boy, and Ellen Archer makes for a compassionate and believable mother. It's not necessarily an easy book to listen to; the narrative is heartbreaking at times. But it's very well written and performed. Highly recommended.
The twists and turns aren't exactly unexpected in this formulaic but satisfying courtroom drama. William Landay might not be the next John Grisham, but the story is good, and the trial scenes seem authentic. I was glad to see this book on the bestseller list, because I think legal thrillers are too often overlooked. This book is thoughtful and reasonably compelling--not the best book you'll read this year, but right up there in the top ten, probably. Grover Gardner's excellent narration brings the story to life; anything he reads is well worth listening to. This is a good book, worth your time. Enthusiastically recommended.
Listeners who enjoyed Roslund & Hellstrom's Three Seconds will likely find the followup to be just about as good. In some ways it's even better, as the characters are now a little more familiar to both the authors and the readers. In other ways it's less good, as there's not as much of a mystery to the story as there was in the first book. Be prepared for a pretty blatant anti-death penalty message without a lot of subtlety. If you don't mind that, the story is entertaining. The problem with a "message book" like this is that the authors' viewpoint tends to take center stage, and the story takes a backseat. That is mostly not the case here, happily. The authors are against the death penalty; that seems clear. But since most of the world is against it too, I'm not sure now necessary it is to beat readers over the head with it. Nevertheless, the story is creative, the narration is very good (Christopher Lane really does a good job with the Swedish accents), and the characters are believable. Inspector Ewert Grens comes across wonderfully in the audio version; it's hard to imagine him being as good if you were reading the print version. This is a good example of where the audiobook adds layers that the print book almost certainly does not. That alone is a good reason to give it a listen, in my view.
Stephen King has expressed some bewilderment that The Stand is so often thought of as one of his finer books. He says it has never been one of his favorites, and he's a bit mystified as to why so many of his readers rank it above many of his other works. As a longtime lover of King's writing, I can see why he doesn't feel it's his strongest story. The Stand, while epic and amazing in many respects, is at times a bit rambling and doesn't follow a traditional story arc. What's so remarkable about it, though, is that it doesn't matter a bit. The book is just really, really good.
This "tale of dark Christianity" is by turns disturbing, touching, emotive, violent, heartwarming, and religious. The characters are deep and complex, the settings are realistic, and the action is intense. Yes, it's long, but to me the test of a really good book is whether its length is distracting. The Stand's length is not distracting; if anything, I wanted it to keep going when I got to the end.
Grover Gardner is a fantastic narrator. He doesn't outdo himself with different voices for the different characters (and there are a lot of main characters in this book!), but somehow his inflections are just distinct enough that you never have any trouble deciphering who is speaking or whose point of view the narration is in. The book is worth listening to for his reading alone.
If you've seen the ABC miniseries, prepare to be wonderfully surprised by the book, which is not just better than the TV adaptation--it's almost a different story. Characters that were annoying and shallow in the miniseries and deep and multilayered in the book. The various plot threads don't always hold together as well as one might like, but again, the book is so long and so good that it just doesn't matter.
As with any Stephen King book, there is a lot of language, which always seems a little harsher when you're listening to it rather than reading it on the page, but it's not gratuitous. This is a dark story, and the characters' lives fit the setting.
This audiobook is highly, highly recommended. Even if you've read the book previously (as I had), the listening experience is one worth having. Great book, great reader, great writer. What more can you ask for?
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