Rick Bragg delves into his family history, mostly to find out about his maternal grandfather, Charlie Bundrum, who he never met and no one in the family would talk much about. Bragg interviewed family members and then interlaced their memories to make Ava's Man. You actually learn much more about the Bundrum side of Bragg's family than you did in All Over But the Shoutin', which is about the author's mother (although it is substantially about the author's career in journalism). Great familial and regional lore. Sentence-to-sentence, Bragg just gets better with each book. And it is so marvelous to have Bragg read. When books have a Southern setting, the readers are generally not Southerners and feel they must try on a "Southern accent," which always ends up sounding like Foghorn Leghorn. Very distasteful. Great writing and fantastic reading.
Really great historical fiction for anybody, but if you are a feminist parent looking for good books for you children, I don't think you could do better than Karen Cushman's work. The medieval heroine of this one is esp. hilarious: "Now my father, the toad, conspires to sell me like a cheese to some lack-wit seeking a wife. . . Corpus bones! He comes to dine with us in two days' time. I plan to cross my eyes and drool in my meat." Narrator Jenny Sterlin really does Catherine justice: Plays her straight, which makes for great comedy.
I would dearly love for someone to write a really good historical novel about Alabama coals towns of the early twentieth century. I've read interviews with folks who lived in these towns and worked in the mines, and their stories are often gripping--the efforts to organize that were met with brutality and injustice, the unbelievably difficult and dangerous work, the enormous love that the people of the towns felt for one another and their community. By comparison, The Well and the Mine is pretty tepid stuff. It also fails to leave this time and take the reader to another. The Moore family is a contemporary white middle-class family plopped into a historical setting. They have the values and attitudes applauded by our time. Albert Moore is a miner, yet manages to own land and buy his momma a house. So few miners were able to own homes or land, at least not in their young lives. Their wages were too poor and too inconsistent, especially in the Depression years. That the Moore family does a bit of farming on the side is nothing out of the ordinary. Most miners kept a garden and a milch cow. Ultimately, The Well and the Mine is didactic and a bit preachy. Reads like young adult fiction.
Yes, Wolf Hall is historical fiction; it is also extremely witty. Sadly, the narrator, Simon Slater, is such a poor reader that he misses the humor entirely. He marches through the narrative with little understanding, and the characters sound very much the same. Cromwell he gives a kind of ill-natured growl, which is very much at odds with how is character is drawn and with the clever remarks he exchanges. And the rest of the characters Slater gives a priggish simper, including Cardinal Wolsey. I actually stopped listening and picked up the book instead. Would be great if someone capable decided to take on the book, Steve Hodson would be ideal. Derrick Jacobi also comes to mind, of course, but he almost always records abridged versions.
Stephen Thorne is my chosen reader for the Cadfael books. I would probably prefer Derek Jacobi, but he only does abridged readings. And really, Thorne gives an excellent performance, nuanced and intelligent. He gives the listener an excellent sense of each character as an individual. He does justice to Peters' lovely prose.
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