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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 2014

3524
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 404 reviews
  • 1394 ratings
  • 1513 titles in library
  • 5 purchased in 2015
FOLLOWING
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FOLLOWERS
1023

  • The Accidental

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Ali Smith
    • Narrated By Heather O'Neill, Stina Nielsen, Jeff Woodman, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (186)
    Performance
    (35)
    Story
    (33)

    Barefoot, thirtysomething Amber shows up at the door of a Norfolk cottage that the Smarts are renting for the summer. Amber doesn't know them, but she talks her way in, telling lies, and stays for dinner. Eve, an author, thinks Amber is a student her husband is sleeping with. Michael, an English professor, knows only that her car broke down. Daughter Astrid, age 12, thinks she's her mother's friend. Son Magnus, 17, thinks she's an angel.

    Isabelle says: "I do not recommend"
    "Almost worth it"
    Overall

    This book did have meaningful core concept, and the writing was not too bad, but characterization seemed mechanical to me and the story was overly one dimensional. I particularly did not enjoy the numerous repetitious prose. The readers were all wonderful, but the overall experience was not quite worth the listen.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304 - 1576 AD, The Story of Civilization, Volume 5

    • UNABRIDGED (37 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By Will Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    Overall
    (28)
    Performance
    (25)
    Story
    (26)

    In this masterful work, listeners will encounter: the poets Petrarch and Boccaccio, the fathers of the Renaissance; the paintings, sculptures, and architecture of Milan, Florence, and Venice; the life and accomplishments of Leonardo DaVinci; the Catholic church and the popes of Avignon and Rome; the politicians and philosophers of Italy, including the Borgia family, Julius II, and Machiavelli; the Italian Wars, the conflicts with France, and the country's decline.

    Michael says: "Wonderful Review of Renaissance Italy"
    "Wonderful Review of Renaissance Italy"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the fifth book of Durant’s excellent History of Civilization series.
    See my review of the first volume for comments on the series as a whole.
    This volume does not cover all of, or only, the Renaissance, but instead covers Italy from 1304-1576 AD. Not to worry, Volume VI covers the same period in the rest of Europe. Durant presents an integrated history, which does not focus on dates, but upon the themes of history and the totality of each period including the daily life, the arts, the crafts, the politics and the ideas. This volume covers a few well known artists and popes and other characters of the Italian Renaissance, but also much more. After a brief framing of the period, the history of each major city or region is covered along with the art and artists, politics and leaders, and people and life, then each pope of the period is covered along with the politics and art of their pontificate. Finally the transition between the Renaissance and the reformation is described.

    I liked this series quite a bit, and would not recommend skipping this volume. This is not the best of the series, but is interesting never the less. I had read and listened to this volume before, yet I still learned things I had forgotten or did not previously absorb, and more importantly, I enjoyed every minute of the 37 hours.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • To the Lighthouse

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By Virginia Woolf
    • Narrated By Juliet Stevenson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (245)
    Performance
    (193)
    Story
    (190)

    To the Lighthouse is a landmark work of English fiction. Virginia Woolf explores perception and meaning in some of the most beautiful prose ever written, minutely detailing the characters thoughts and impressions. This unabridged version is read by Juliet Stevenson.

    Jefferson says: "A Stark Tower on a Bare Rock, or a Hanging Garden?"
    "Old Modern Proto-feminist Steam of Consciousness"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book is a pleasant stream of consciousness novel with little dialog or story. The characters are explored through their inner dialog and their perceptions of the environment, the other characters and, most importantly, themselves. There is a bit of (justifiable) feminist angst in the writing which I found a distraction weakening the work and distracting from the primary focus.

    The narration was excellent, using delicate pacing and tone to express complex internal states. The narration switches between characters which was a bit difficult to follow at points.

    I was surprised to see an attached PDF file. This has the CD liner notes, including a table of contents and a nice historical note by Roy McMillan.

    Although I liked To the Lighthouse, I liked Proust and Joyce quite a bit better.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 5 mins)
    • By Brian Wansink
    • Narrated By Brian Wansink
    Overall
    (11)
    Performance
    (11)
    Story
    (11)

    InSlim by Design, leading behavioral economist, food psychologist, and bestselling author Brian Wansink introduces groundbreaking solutions for designing our most common spaces - schools, restaurants, grocery stores, and home kitchens, among others - in order to make positive changes in how we approach and manage our diets.

    Michael says: "Another Weird Diet Book"
    "Another Weird Diet Book"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is basically a self-help book with most of the defects of the genre. The author ecstatically supports his premise, and presents lots of evidence to support his ideas, but never rigorously tests his ideas. There are quite a few very good common sense ideas and the ideas all seem plausible, particularly with the short term evidence presented.

    There are a bunch of very short term experiments described (like moving chocolate milk to the back of the school milk case which results in lower chocolate milk sales). Perhaps, but my experience of teens is once they re-find the chocolate milk, they will quickly return to their previous behavior. I don’t recall any long term controlled studies of the ideas presented. After finishing the book I tried to find long term studies online, but found promo-videos and other descriptions of the same short term studies.

    The author repeatedly discusses things that thin people do differently than fat people (like sitting far from the buffet and not facing the buffet), then strongly implies that people who do the things thin people do will become thin people. While there are some key areas where this is clearly true (like calorie intake and exercise) I am dubious sitting facing away from the buffet will really reduce weight in the long term.

    After finishing the book, I began wondering if the ideas presented there would work for alcoholics as well as foodoholics. Would hiding your vodka in the hall closet, or sitting not facing the bar, or making sure all the alcohol is out of sight, or using a smaller basket when buying booze, or giving enticing names to non-alcoholic drinks, or using small glasses, or hiding the hard stuff in a drawer, really deal with a drinking issue? I have dealt with several alcoholics and they committed to just about every one of these ideas, and guess what, THEY WORKED! For a few days. In the long run they didn’t work. What did work? Either the tough personal decision to stop drinking or committing to getting help. I was quite dubious these kinds of changes without the tough personal decision part would be successful in weight loss.

    There is a PDF associated with the book with some pictures illustrating some of the books points and several assessment test.

    There are some good ideas like keep foods that are good for you prepped and convenient, but this actually takes a substantial commitment to buying the healthy food, prepping the healthy food, and eating the healthy food before it goes bad. That is basically was we used to call healthy eating.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Lessons of History

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Will, Ariel Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    Overall
    (297)
    Performance
    (161)
    Story
    (161)

    The authors devoted five decades to the study of world history and philosophy, culminating in the masterful 11-volume Story of Civilization. In this compact summation of their work, Will and Ariel Durant share the vital and profound lessons of our collective past. Their perspective, gained after a lifetime of thinking and writing about the history of humankind, is an invaluable resource for us today.

    Brad the Dad says: "This is a must for every Educated Person"
    "Impossible"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It is not possible to summarize the lessons of history so compactly, and I would not really recommend this book on its own, but as a capstone to Durant’s massive history series it is quite nice. I enjoyed the authors ideas of what America should do to postpone, for a short while, our inevitable demise as a civilization.

    The narration of the actual book was excellent, bold and clear, with humor and feeling.

    Having read and listened to Durant’s many volume history I completely enjoyed the short interview sections between chapters with the 72 year old author and his wife, Ariel. Ariel correctly points out, one should not take the advice of an old man, nevertheless it was fun to hear the author’s voice and his opinions that have changed over the years. The audio of the interview parts is really not great and the interviewer is not very good (with repeated Ah huhs and sometimes quite silly questions).

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Under the Volcano: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Malcolm Lowry
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (94)
    Performance
    (59)
    Story
    (60)

    On the Day of the Dead, in 1938, Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic and ruined man, is fatefully living out his last day, drowning himself in mescal while his former wife and half-brother look on, powerless to help him. The events of this one day unfold against a backdrop unforgettable for its evocation of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical.

    Melinda says: "Excellent...but not for everyone"
    "Great Prose, Too much drunk guy"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the story of one day, the Day of the Dead, of a British drunk in Mexico. The prose of this book are, at points, sublime and the imagery and characterizations are strong, but I did not really like any of the characters, and the story was not compelling to me. The portrait of the drunken main character is quite realistic and both compelling and repellant.

    I have never read the short story this novel was based upon, but I suspect, as a short story, this would be wonderful. Stretched into a novel, was too much drunk guy for my taste.

    John Lee reads these prose with the intensity of poetry with a rhythm and power, but does not do the Spanish justice.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • An American Tragedy

    • UNABRIDGED (34 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Theodore Dreiser
    • Narrated By Dan John Miller
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (225)
    Performance
    (196)
    Story
    (199)

    An American Tragedy is the story of Clyde Griffiths, who spends his life in the desperate pursuit of success. On a deeper, more profound level, it is the masterful portrayal of the society whose values both shape Clyde's ambitions and seal his fate; it is an unsurpassed depiction of the harsh realities of American life and of the dark side of the American dream.

    beatrice says: "a period piece, still resonant"
    "Funny in Perspective"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I found this book funny on almost every page. Not ha-ha funny, but a mild warm sardonic funny. This is not a classic tragedy of fate directing the characters to untimely deaths, instead, through an unbiased narrator, we see nature simply take its course without morality or judgment or even meaning, towards untimely death. The narrator seems not to be God, but some neutral naturalistic viewer of all the characters and situations, and from this perspective everything, including death, may seem funny.

    If you don’t see the very subtle humor in this novel early on, it will likely seem tediously long and slow, as the novel follows the main character’s developing motivations, beliefs, and actions as they slowly and inevitability, unfold. This powerful inevitability reminds me of Russia writers, as such inevitability is rare in American novels. As I saw the silliness of the character’s choices (which will certainly lead to unpleasant consequences) I felt compassion, yet I had to chuckle.

    The characters are very well developed, even the very minor characters, yet I related more with the narrator than any of the characters, and the story was, of course, predictable. I was moved by this writing and think I will be affected by the undercurrents of this novel for quite some time to come.

    The narration was flawless, using subtle tones of voice to reflect the subtle inconsistencies and indecision within the characters.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Catch-22

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Joseph Heller
    • Narrated By Jay O. Sanders
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2202)
    Performance
    (1252)
    Story
    (1267)

    Catch-22 is set in the closing months of World War II, in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy. Its hero is a bombardier named Yossarian, who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. (He has decided to live forever, even if he has to die in the attempt.)

    Phil says: "Phenominal Reading - Story and Damn Funny"
    "Iconic Dialog"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Catch-22 is an absurdist look at military thinking set in WWII with a constant dark backdrop of fear and death. This book is a must read not for the characters or story (which are subordinate to the absurdity of the vignettes) but for the numerous truly classic dialogs. The narration of this version was excellent with great funny character voices and clear delivery of the sometimes complicated dialog.

    It is a bit odd that this work is set in WWII but does not feel like WWII in many ways. The mood and characters seem set in the 1950’s with loyalty oaths and constipated conservative military thinking of the Korean conflict.


    I had read Catch-22 many years ago, and remembered it fondly, on this reading many of the bits were still really funny, but some were less impactful the second time around. Yet this was totally worth it for the wild iconic dialog.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Sons and Lovers

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By D. H. Lawrence
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (87)
    Performance
    (65)
    Story
    (65)

    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 2 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
    (106)
    Performance
    (75)
    Story
    (76)

    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.

    1 of 2 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
    (495)
    Performance
    (214)
    Story
    (213)

    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 3 people found this review helpful

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