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Michael

I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

Walnut Creek, CA, United States | Member Since 2002

3296
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 397 reviews
  • 1387 ratings
  • 2532 titles in library
  • 86 purchased in 2014
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  • Sons and Lovers

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By D. H. Lawrence
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (83)
    Performance
    (62)
    Story
    (62)

    Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence's first major novel, was also the first in the English language to explore ordinary working-class life from the inside. No writer before or since has written so well about the intimacies enforced by a tightly knit mining community and by a family where feelings are never hidden for long. When the marriage between Walter Morel and his sensitive, high-minded wife begins to break down, the bitterness of their frustration seeps into their children's lives.

    W. Perry Hall says: "Momma's Boy (The Dangers of Overbearing Parenting)"
    "Good Prose and Essential Truth through Life"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    These excellent prose loosely follow the life of struggling artist growing up in an English coal mining town of Nottinghamshire with a strong loving and involved mother and a rough, disillusioned, alcoholic, and uninvolved father. The later parts of the book seem quite autobiographical, while the early book seems more fictional, more novel like, and less focused on the artist’s character. The author pacts a lot of essential truth into this novel. The characters all feel deeply real, with all the inconsistencies, self-compromises, vagueness of memories, and vacillations of real humans. The author seems fair to all the characters portrayed (which is a common defect of autobiographical novels). The novel does not have any action to speak of, no adventure, little philosophy, just a story about real people living a real life, and that is enough.

    The narration is very good, handling the dialect particularly well.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Darkness at Noon

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By Arthur Koestler
    • Narrated By Frank Muller
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (102)
    Performance
    (72)
    Story
    (73)

    A fictional portrayal of an aging revolutionary, this novel is a powerful commentary on the nightmare politics of the troubled 20th century. Born in Hungary in 1905, a defector from the Communist Party in 1938, and then arrested in both Spain and France for his political views, Arthur Koestler writes from a wealth of personal experience.

    Roy says: "Disturbing Commentary"
    "Darkly Uplifting"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    In one sense, this is just another dystopian novel about the historical abuses of the now defunct Soviet Union, in another sense; it describes the essential folly of man through the disillusioning of a true believer. The novel presents a believable character, a fearless communist intellectual that fought passionately for the cause and rose to the elite in the party, so far as to be colleges with Stalin. We watch as the protagonist’s friends do what is expedient by betraying him as the party devolves towards totalitarianism and barbarism.

    Although this is not a cheerful story I found it uplifting and strangely positive, as the protagonist cleanly faces the truth of the dark side of his friends and the communist movement. While reading Darkness at Noon I could not help but think that, although the Soviet Union is now defunct, the Soviet era totalitarians are still in control of Russia, and the lies and oppression continue. Just watch Russian News (RT) for a while and count the number of negative Putin stories (generally zero).

    The narration was excellent, matching the tone and spirit of the book remarkably well.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Sound and the Fury

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By William Faulkner
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (480)
    Performance
    (201)
    Story
    (200)

    First published in 1929, Faulkner created his "heart's darling", the beautiful and tragic Caddy Compson, whose story Faulkner told through separate monologues by her three brothers: the idiot Benjy, the neurotic suicidal Quentin, and the monstrous Jason.

    W.Denis says: "Hang in"
    "Good, but no Ulysses"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The Sound and the Fury starts with a non-chronological stream of consciousness narrative from the point of view of a mentally challenged young boy. This part is a bit hard to follow the first time through and it really helps to read a synopsis (like the Wikipedia entry) before reading this section. Several printed version use italics to indicate the temporal shifts, which are hard to catch in the audio version. At times the prose rise to the level of greatness, but this is not so for of most of the writing. I found the stream of consciousness writing in the first section much less effective (and less enjoyable) than the narration in James Joyce’s Ulysses (which predated The Sound and the Fury by nearly a decade). Here the stream of consciousness, at times, seems inconsistent with the mental capabilities of character, and is subtly broken when the story demands clarity.

    Other sections use other narration styles and are more story like. The novel tells a story that rings true, but is unpleasant and unaffirming. This is a story of the slow decay of an upper class southern family and includes demeaning portrayals of black servants, anti-Semitism, and other politically incorrect material.

    This novel has some moments of excellent writing, and has some elements that were (almost) revolutionary at the time of publication, yet I found this overall a good, not great read.

    This version does not include the appendix covering the fictional family’s history that is included in many later print versions.

    Grover Gardner’s narration (as usual) is excellent, particularly considering the challenging material.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Of Human Bondage

    • UNABRIDGED (27 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By W. Somerset Maugham
    • Narrated By Charlton Griffin
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (78)
    Performance
    (68)
    Story
    (68)

    Of Human Bondage is one of the greatest novels of modern times, and it is certainly Maugham's greatest achievement. It was published in 1914, when Maugham was at the height of his creative powers. The story concerns Philip Carey, afflicted at birth with a club foot, and his passionate search for truth in a cruel world. We follow his growth to manhood, his educational progress, his first loves, and the wrenching tragedies and disappointments that life has in store for him. In some of the finest prose of the 20th century, Maugham has presented us with the timeless story of one man's search for the meaning of life.

    Michael says: "Greatly Unsettling"
    "Greatly Unsettling"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The writing and essential truth of the novel is compelling but the protagonist, who is a caring, intelligent, and thoughtful person, is buffeted by fate and his emotions control much of his life. I did not like the protagonist, even at the end of the book. Yet, this book is not about the protagonist, it had no action, and is not even a story of a journey of discovery, but is about an idea, and the book’s title “Of Human Bondage” resonates throughout the book.

    This is a great book, but this is not a book to escape into, it is a book to experience and learn from. It was not a fun read, maybe not even enjoyable, but the book is subtle and powerful. As I read the various scenes, I would think “dumb kid”, then think of human bondage, and how his passions and environment bound him, and how elusive is the path to human freedom.

    I just read this for the first time in my fifties, but I could see this book would have been even more powerful if read as a young adult. I would recommend this book to any adult, but especially to young adults. This book is unsettling in the best way. My advice, when the book seems off-putting, recall the title, and read on.

    The short musical interludes and rare sound effects add absolutely nothing, and are distracting but do not ruin the experience.

    The narration is really excellent, expressing conflicting emotions while remaining a very clear reading of the text.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Lock In (Narrated by Wil Wheaton)

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs)
    • By John Scalzi
    • Narrated By Wil Wheaton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1289)
    Performance
    (1204)
    Story
    (1209)

    Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent - and nearly five million souls in the United States alone - the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

    Alexis says: "Fun! Things you might want to know:"
    "High Quality Scalzi"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book is a cop procedural mystery with a nice sci-fi story. As with most of Scalzi the science is well thought out and interesting. This story mixes a lot of action with a compelling mystery, good characters, and a lot of humor. This is not Scalzi’s best work, but it is still quite good. Scalzi works in a bit a social commentary which adds an extra level of interest to the book. This is yet another good example of Scalzi’s unique style and high quality.

    The book has a long (2+ hour) audio performance of a fictional documentary covering the disease that is pivotal to the book. I listened to this after the book, but I wondered if it would have been more interesting integrated into the novel, or even before the novel. Perhaps it would be a little too dry before the book without knowing the characters.

    I enjoyed the narration and was not annoyed by the use of “he said”. Having listened to unabridged for many years, I think I am used to authors that attribute each line of dialog.

    I finished the book wanting to know more about the world and the characters. Lock In was not quite good enough for me to buy and listen to the second narrator addition, and I will not likely listen to this addition again, but if Scalzi writes a sequel, I will certainly get it ASAP.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Outlander

    • UNABRIDGED (33 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Diana Gabaldon
    • Narrated By Davina Porter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (18180)
    Performance
    (12326)
    Story
    (12222)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: An all-time Audible favorite that mixes historic fiction, adventure, and romance with one of the most fascinating literary devices: time travel. Outlander introduces an exhilarating world of heroism and breathtaking thrills as one woman is torn between past and present, passion and love. In 1945, former combat nurse Claire Randall returns from World War II and joins her husband for a second honeymoon. But their blissful reunion is shattered....

    Lulu says: "The Reason for the Existence of Audio Books"
    "Superior Historical Romance but nothing more"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    As a historical romance this book has really steamy explicit sex scenes and more than a bit of sadistic violence. The sex scenes are from the female perspective, and quite steamy but not at all crude.

    This is a superior historical romance and it is well read, but it remains only a historical romance. This is not science fiction or fantasy, the time travel is only a tiny plot device that solves a really annoying problem with historical romance. The female protagonist must think in a modern way to be approachable and interesting to modern women, the time travel bit was a brilliant little technique to allow this. I don’t consider this a love story, as there is a lot more to love than what is under the kilt. This was a story of passion, with a bit of adventure and a historical context.

    I am a guy, and I don’t tend to like historical romances unless the novel transcends the genre, this novel was good, but did not transcend. In the end, it was just a sequence of scenes (romance, passion, adventure, historical, violent, and steamy) with nice characters and a historical context but never really going anywhere. I find most historical romance either totally unreadable, or enjoyable only because they are so bad they are funny. Outlander scenes are well written and enjoyable, and if I were a bored female, I may have really appreciated the steamy scenes, but I want more from a novel, I want an arc or epic, or exploration, or transformation, or something. Outlander was mildly entertaining but nothing else.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Dune

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Frank Herbert
    • Narrated By Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, and others
    Overall
    (10022)
    Performance
    (5677)
    Story
    (5755)

    Here is the novel that will be forever considered a triumph of the imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud'dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream.

    Joshua says: "Wonderful production!"
    "Essential – more than once"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    If your only experience with Dune was the horrific movie, read on.
    The mini-series was much better, but does not hold a candle to the original novel.
    If you read and loved the original, you may be surprised how much you will enjoy this audible version.

    Dune is more than great Sci-Fi, it is great fiction. I recently re-saw the mini-series and immediately wanted to experience the unabridged original again. The book was even better than I had remembered. The prose, the characters, and the story are all superior.

    I was surprised there were quite a few subtle nuances in the story that I had not picked up on in my pervious several readings. I enjoyed this immensely as this is rare in all but the best of fiction.

    Unfortunately the rest of this series does not live up to this powerful beginning, but not to worry, Dune stands alone. I strongly recommend this book even if you really disliked the movie. There are images and characters in this novel that have affected me strongly since my childhood and influenced me as a person. There are few works of fiction that I both enjoyed and appreciated as much as Dune.

    I generally don’t like music or sound effects in an audio book, but here the sound-effect are light and don’t distract from the story. The narration, although not perfect, is quite good. This audio edition does the work justice.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Written in Red: A Novel of the Others

    • UNABRIDGED (18 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Anne Bishop
    • Narrated By Alexandra Harris
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1123)
    Performance
    (1034)
    Story
    (1041)

    As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut - a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg's Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard - a business district operated by the Others. Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job.

    Angela says: "WOW!!!!! JUST WOW!"
    "Just TOOO Cute (for adults)"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Really, way too cute. I expected a dark adult urban fantasy. Instead this was beyond Disneyesque.

    There are cute ponies, cute puppies, cute talking animals, lots of cookies & peppermint tea, shopping & catalogs, and making friends, as well as an unbelievable amount of mail sorting. Yes, there were some potentially dark themes of cutting, vampires, and were-creatures, but everything was so darn cute and simplistic there was little tension.

    Even the antagonist is too cute to stomach.

    The universe did not seem internally consistent to me. The internet exists, but humans are woefully uniformed about vamps and werepacks. The protagonist was raised without emotional sensations except those stimulated by ritual cutting, yet is just as cute as a button and peppy as can be. There are also direct inconsistencies like the protagonist sometimes knowing about wolves and sometimes not. I am also dubious that associating self-mutilation with psychic-powers for impressionable young females readers is the best of ideas.

    The prose were weak, perhaps just ok for young readers, but too childlike for me. The universe is like 1990s US with the names changed to protect the cuteness. LA is “Sparkletown”, Wednesday is “Windsday”, and so on. Everyone and everything has a cute name. The masculine characters are all amazingly weak and PC considering they are mostly werecreatures and police.

    The writing was also totally predicable. After the second chapter if you pause and ask yourself “How will this book turn out?” You will likely guess correctly on every aspect. There was literally not a single thing that surprised me.

    The environment is not urban, instead it is like a friendly small college town where prey and predator learn mutual respect, how to understand each other and work together.

    The narration is quite annoying with exaggerated cutesy-pie or gruff, but I find it hard to blame the narrator for this, as it seems that is how the characters were written.

    My daughter really liked this series and recommended it to me. She loved the cuteness juxtaposed with darkness, and the characters and story, for her, made up for any inconsistencies. Nevertheless I would not even recommend this for young readers.

    4 of 5 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
    Overall
    (11287)
    Performance
    (10521)
    Story
    (10530)

    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.

    Ryan says: "Wil Wheaton for President"
    "Virtual Reality Teen Fiction that did not Suck!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I generally dislike virtual reality SF.

    I am not a teen, so teen fiction usually has to be transcendent to interest me.

    I saw 10,000 ratings with an average of 4.7…and thought “how bad could it be for light summer reading?”

    Ready Player One is virtual reality SF teen fiction, is not transcendent, but it majorly did not suck.

    Now, I must admit, I am a geek. I owned and programmed the TRS-80, Amiga, Commodore 64, and had first-hand experience with much of the tech and geek-pop of this novel. My main annoyance with this book was the failure to give the Heathkit EC-1 it’s due (admittedly not the 80’s). Ok, Ok, I am an uber-geek. If you are an uber-geek and lived through the 80’s, you will likely appreciate this book, even if you don’t love it.

    I did not love this book. It made a few geek-annoying mistakes, and was firmly in the first-kiss-goal-teen-fiction genre. The romantic tension is a first kiss, not, well, you know. This is only great fiction if you have spent WAY too much time playing video games. Yet, it is a pleasant little story with a Geekgasm of references that made it well worth the listen. I might even listen to this one again.

    The narration by STNG’s Will Wheaton was spot on throughout.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Gone Girl: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Gillian Flynn
    • Narrated By Julia Whelan, Kirby Heyborne
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (19791)
    Performance
    (17713)
    Story
    (17775)

    It is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media - as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents - the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter - but is he really a killer?

    Teddy says: "Demented, twisted, sick and I loved it!"
    "Don’t Risk Reading Reviews of This Book!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    A few of the reviews say a bit too much.
    No spoilers below – just the minimum readers should know.

    This book is really worth reading to the end, which was not clear early on.

    The book contains strong adult language, very adult themes, and deviant behavior.

    Kirby Heyborne is a just a bit weak as Nick, Julia Whelan is terrific as Amy, overall the narration is quite good.

    This is not great art, but it is well written and near the top of this genre.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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