Sweet Tooth is a compelling, intriguing listen that grabs hold immediately; from first sentence to last satisfying twist. Like McEwan's excellent book "Atonement," the author's pitch perfect prose unveils a multi-layered story that explores universal human themes of secrecy, loyalty, betrayal and identity.
Set in 1970s London, "rather gorgeous" recent Cambridge grad Serena Frome tells her story with some self awareness and a wry sense of humor. She describes her teen-age self as "the first person to truly understand Orwell's 1984." Recovering from an abrupt break-up, Serena throws herself into a low level job with MI-5. Disenchanted with the mundane nature of the work, Serena quickly agrees to participate in a covert cultural program that funds young writers in an effort to win the "war of ideas" taking place in Cold War Europe. Of course the romantically vulnerable Serena falls for her target, author T.C. Healy, but luckily the ensuing story isn't formulaic or predictable.
As a slavish admirer of LeCarre (well, truth be told my passionate secret affair is really with George Smiley) I reveled in the scenes set at MI-5 headquarters. McEwan's MI-5 was so evocative of "The Circus" that I almost expected Connie Sachs to lumber around the corner, god bless her. Some of the darkness in the story reminded me of John Fowles, as did the novel's unconventional structure. Interesting cameos by real life literati added fun and rang true: Martin Amis buys dejected author Healy a whisky, and Ian Hamilton offers words of wisdom to an agitated Serena.
Experienced actress Juliet Stevenson does a stellar job narrating. I especially enjoyed the way she voiced an American ex-CIA agent. Cringe worthy only because I have a feeling we really do sound like that to the world. She was dead on and a treat to hear.
Finally, the idea of "a contract between a book's author and its reader" is explored in various interesting ways. Afraid of being manipulated or feeling tricked, I steeled myself for disappointing ending. Thankfully, this book's author seems to truly like and respect his reader. Apart from an almost (just a teensy bit) Poirot-like explanatory soliloquy, McEwan keeps his end of the bargain and then some. "Sweet Tooth" is wonderfully thought provoking; the kind of novel you just want to mull over for awhile before beginning anything else.
With apologies to Shakespeare, "some men are born sad and some men have sadness thrust upon them." Bob Burgess is one of the latter. Years ago, a freak car accident with toddler Bob in the front seat claimed the life of Bob's father. Modern psychology sometimes distinguishes guilt from shame this way: Guilt says, "What I did was bad " and Shame says "Who I am is bad." Bob could be the poster child for what happens when blame hardens into shame which results in a life that never really gets off the ground. Nevertheless, it is Bob who is the heart and soul of "The Burgess Boys." He lives his blighted life with humility, intelligence, and humor while struggling to keep his old personal demons from affecting his current relationships. Big brother Jim is a successful go getter who works hard, plays hard, and when he wants your opinion, he'll give it to you. Jim Burgess has achieved worldly success but is not the guy you trust to have your back. Just when you mentally roll your eyes convinced the author's description of Jim is veering into an obnoxious caricature, the origins of his larger-than-life personality begin to emerge. Jim begins to make sense, and this adds to our understanding of his siblings as well. Layers are peeled away as each character responds to unexpected events, and each other.
I found this book captivating and extremely well written. The story describes what happens to the Burgess family when an impulsive, foolish act becomes a catalyst for life changes and truth telling. The characters are fantastic - very human in the best sense of the word: life bats them about, but they find enough courage and tenacity to rise above worn grooves of resignation. Even if the players in the story aren't the most likable at times, they each are worth getting to know. Strout's plot is compelling and raises complex moral questions that have no easy answers. I'm still pondering some points a day after finishing the book. Finally, narrator Cassandra Campbell is perfection. She narrates "The Burgess Boys" with warmth, intelligence and a wicked Maine accent. Ayuh.
If you've ever seen a self you barely recognize reflected back in the eyes of another, you know the agonizing frustration consuming protagonist Rank as "The Antagonist" begins. Frustration deepens into anger as Rank ruminates on the injustice of how a former friend turned novelist Adam has "stolen" his life for a recent book. Luckily for the reader, when Rank is angry, Rank is very sarcastic, very caustic, and very funny.
The story unfolds in a series of emails to his old college buddy, Adam. After reading Adam's book, Rank is determined to set the record straight. Adam's treatment of Rank's past and person is both intrusive and reductive. How can some events loom so large in Adam's "novel" while the thing that rocked Rank's world is dismissed with one sentence? The answers come but not without raising more questions - and this keeps the reader hooked into the tale until the very last word.
Narrator MacLeod Andrews was great - perfectly pacing Rank's smart, articulate rants while giving poignant moments the respect and emotion they deserved. The story is set in eastern Canada so there are some speech patterns and inflections to contend with and Andrews does this well.
I devoured this book IN ONE DAY. I know. But I just kept finding projects to do that enabled me to keep listening. It was that good. Author Lynn Coady has done a masterful job addressing the many components of identity while telling a deceptively simple but riveting story.
As expected from Stuart Neville, this is a good, solidly crafted story that quickly captures the imagination with a morally complex mystery set in 1963 Ireland. The title "Ratlines" refers to a system of escape routes through Europe utilized by Nazis after the end of WWII. Having never heard the term before, I was surprised when a quick internet search revealed that the novel's villain, Otto Skorzeny, was not only a real historical figure, but the very Nazi who masterminded the "Odessa File" underground railroad for fleeing fascists. As Neville expertly builds a multi-layered foundation for his story, much is explained about Ireland's role in WWII. A large portion of the Irish population seemed to believe the old chestnut, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Unfortunately, Ireland's neutrality and some citizen's quiet support of Hitler's war with Britain brought the country to the slippery slope that is the background of "Ratlines."
Some reviewers have taken exception to Alan Smyth's narration of this book. While I see that Neville's previous titles are in my Audible library, I must not be as passionate about their narrator, the truly excellent Gerard Doyle. I thought Smyth's Irish accent pleasant and understated. A testament to Smyth's versatility is his ability to handle the narrative cocktail of several different European accents (so many old Nazis popping up!) with a South African and American chaser. He disappeared into the story and that's my definition of great narration.
Finally, I feel compelled to tell you that several scenes in this book are quite graphic in their description of torturous interrogation. I mean quite graphic. I mean, I pulled my earphones out for awhile, then listened again for a sec, then pulled them out for another while. To the author's credit, the scenes are so chillingly real, the dread experienced by the characters was easily grasped, giving further understanding of how fear drove their actions - and inactions.
"City of Women" is just fine for what it is: a star crossed love story taking place in WWII Germany. Unfortunately, the story lacks many valuable details that would anchor the tale in this time period. Your satisfaction with the story will probably vary according to your expectations. Rereading the books description now, I see the fault lies in me. I will say that narrator Suzanne Bertish is excellent. Her German accent light and pleasant - her intonation catching the rhythms of German speech perfectly.
I bought "City of Women" out of curiosity about the experience of German wives and mothers caring for their families during WWII. Though brought up in a second generation German immigrant family, the war was never discussed. Nor was there any sort of permission to ask questions. No one told me not to, I just got the message loud and clear that WWII was off limits. And yet I've always wondered: what did the average German know about the government's activities? What did they do with what they did know? Did parents send their children off to safer homes in the countryside as did their London counterparts? How did the disappearance of a huge chunks of the population (German men into the army and Jewish everyone to other countries or concentration camps) affect life and morale? There has been much written about wartime Britain but very little about domestic life in wartime Berlin. Unfortunately, other than a cursory mention of ration books and a few trips to a bomb shelter, this novel could take place in almost any historical period where circumstances (pick one or more: war, family disapproval, ethnic hatred, class difference) amps up the drama between two lovers cheating on their spouses.
It begins fairly promisingly and with an air of mystery. Why is protagonist Sigrid Shroeder, married to a German soldier fighting on the Eastern Front, so restless and lonely? One would expect her to be anxious about her husband's welfare, afraid for her friends and neighbors after nightly bombing raids. We quickly learn much of her alienated sad behavior is actually Sigrid mooning about for her vanished married Jewish lover. See (in case you miss the metaphor) her German soldier husband is not only distant physically, but also emotionally, you guys. Sigrid is what my daughters would call a 'guy's girl' not a 'girl's girl.' She's so beautiful and never really connects with the "city of women" left to tend the home fires during the war. Most readers will quickly recognize this novel's supporting cast of characters: impossibly mean mother-in-law, suspicious landlady, foolishly brave sidekick; you can fill in the rest.
There are some acts of heroism and personal risk in the story. However, in previous reading (like the excellent Bonhoeffer biography I devoured earlier this year) I've learned that most actual acts of heroism during this time period seemed to be fueled by moral courage or a philosophical mandate that left the hero no alternative but to confront evil head on. Sigrid's motives are largely unexplored, therefore unconvincing. Is she helping Jews out of guilt for sleeping with a married Jewish man? Is she trying to get out of the house more? It's all sort of vague. Plus, from what we learn of her lover, there isn't much to inspire such slavish romantic obsession. Although she does describe a certain part of his anatomy as "noble" which could be just as easily "novel" since I'm assuming her previous lovers were uncircumcised.
Enough. Sorry. I will end by saying that my experience echoed the much more concise review of "City of Women" written by Katherine of Ontario. For a compelling look at life under German occupation, I recommend "Anne Frank Remembered" by Miep Gies. Ms. Gies was an employee of Jewish business owner Otto Frank who hid the Franks (and many others) in occupied Holland for over 2 years. She fed them by going to several different shops a day, never carrying more than one shopping bag at a time to avoid suspicion. I doubt she had a Jewish lover, but I found reading about her life so deeply inspiring, I didn't miss it at all.
I haven't had the best of luck purchasing from the "Literary Fiction New Releases" section lately. Beginning to wonder if my expectations had become too high, I halfheartedly purchased "Sister" by Rosamund Lupton and prepared for yet another disappointing but somewhat diverting read. I was completely surprised when "Sister" grabbed me immediately and continued to be a satisfying, engrossing listen to the very end. Narrator Juanita McMahon was flawless: her delivery well paced, intonation perfectly capturing a wide range of characters.
Currently living in the U.S., twenty-something Beatrice is called home to England when her sister, Tess, goes missing and is ultimately found dead. Stunned and numb with grief, Beatrice struggles to get to know the person Tess had become in recent years so she can come to terms with this sudden and incomprehensible death. Of course, one question leads to another and it soon becomes clear that the answers needed to make sense of Tess' present are rooted in their family's complicated and haunting past.
The one little annoyance I had was how free spirited Tess is portrayed as a bit of a caricature: fragile genius hippie chick with noble social conscience, loved by all she meets. Upon reflection, however, I realized that even during flashbacks into the past, Tess is unable to speak for herself. All we know of her is through the recollections of others; and what we tend to do when some one we loves dies, is idealize them. This novel reminded me of "Restless" by William Boyd, which I loved. Both authors know how to spin a compelling, intelligent tale with characters flawed and fascinating.
This is the first book by Ruth Rendell that I cannot recommend or even finish. The most glaring fault of The St. Zita Society is its immediate introduction to a large cast of forgettable characters that are impossible to keep straight. This can be irritating in a print novel but in the audio format, the confusing cast of dozens is downright frustrating. On the rare occasion that I find myself confused while starting an audiobook, I have attributed the fault to my own distraction or inattentive listening. Restarting the book or replaying a section usually gets me into the swing of things and invested in the story. Today, a couple hours of listening in, I found myself so bored I didn't even care enough to pause and replay in order to find out what was going on, I knew it was time to quit. Just so you know, it's never all about the plot for me. If a book is character driven and well written, I'm happy as a clam. My favorite book of the summer kept me riveted as the protagonist essentially just walked around for awhile in "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." Rendell's writing is usually characterized by interesting characters and a compelling plot. Not this time. I recommend you give St. Zita a miss and opt for any other Ruth Rendell title. I also highly recommend "Asta's Book" or the many other novels she writes under the pseudonym "Barbara Vine." Still a loyal fan, I'm sure I'll pounce on the next Rendell offering as soon as it's released. I just hope when it comes time to select her characters, she chooses quality over quantity.
Don't worry, all the parts of 'A Distant Shore' are just where they should be! Early on, the non-linear narrative of this engrossing novel threw me for a loop - i actually double checked that my ipod wasn't on "shuffle." Reassured there was no technical glitch on Audible's end, I kept listening and it wasn't long before I was swept away by the unique, satisfying rhythm of the author's prose. Middle aged Dorothy and African immigrant Solomon share an England that neither of them recognizes any longer. The England of years gone by has disappeared but its ghost lingers on in ways both sentimental and disturbing. As their lives brush lightly against each other, we become privy to their secrets, dreams and fears. Narrator Jane Carr disappears into the characters giving each a believable, beautiful voice. Moving forward, backward, and sideways, Phillips weaves intriguing plot points and two disparate protagonists into a compelling story that was difficult to put down!
Something more by D.L. Stevenson or "Rules of Civility" by Towles
In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess to having listened to a mere 48 minutes of this novel before dropping everything to log into Audible and write a review. Maybe it was the book's cover photo that triggered a pleasant connection to Amor Towles's "Rules of Civility." Maybe it was my ravenous appetite for books set in early twentieth century Britain. Maybe it was the beautiful, soft, spring weather that made me open to a book with some romance. Whatever it was, it was a mistake. "The American Heiress" truly could be YA fiction or the book accompanying a new American Girl Doll, "Heiress Daisy." This novel features two dimensional characters and predictable construct. Nothing grabbed me, challenged me or made me care about anything in this book. I take that back, I am left with some melancholy over a dozen dead hummingbirds that did not survive being painted gold for the crass American dinner party.
I am by no means a prude and am certainly not put off by love affairs of any sort. Unfortunately, the story I eagerly looked forward to hearing in "The Indian Clerk" was frequently sidelined by graphic gay sex as well as extensive sexual detail that added nothing to characterization.The story's pace, not exactly brisk without the tiresome sexual themes, slows to an unbearable snail's pace that had me hitting "stop" on my iPod in order to google "Ramanujan." Although Leavitt is well within his right to embellish and imagine true events in this work of fiction, I can't help but feel that "The Indian Clerk" hits too many false notes in the name of "Look, we have sex scenes, get used to it." I'd post the same review of any "Literary Fiction" book featuring gratuitous heterosexual foolishness. It just doesn't ring true.
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