This is a great book and wonderfully read (by the author?). HOWEVER... parents might want to listen to it first. The first scene is, well, to put it bluntly, the narrative of a professional murderer stabbing to death two parents and a little girl. It's pretty violent. The story really starts with the second scene, where the baby is "adopted" by ghosts in the graveyard, and if you think the scene of murder will bother your child overmuch, you can probably just skip right over it without losing much plot.
But this is a very good book, and the reader is really, really good, especially with the children's voices.
Brilliant, but too cruel: The book is a wonderful piece of literature worthy of the sweep and wildness of Oz and the griminess of Dickens' London. The narration of the audiobook is the best I've heard. The genius of Humphrey Bower's voice even exceeds Bryce Courtenay's as a writer. Bower does innumerable voices outstandingly well, from little snot-nosed urchins to aging whores and pompous magistrates.
Courtney has created a wonderful tale from the skeleton of history known about the 19th Century rascal Ikey Soloman (deemed to be Charles Dickens inspiration for Fagin in "Oliver Twist"). The fictional character of Mary Abacus is just as interesting, if not quite as endearing. And the secondary characters are wonderful in their scruffiness, pomposity, and winsomeness.
The book has one minor, and one major flaw, in my view. The minor is that conclusory statements about Ikey and Mary are made several times, which turn out not to be true. The one most common is that "Ikey is a broken man" or "has lost his will". But then he lives on to commit another scam or mentor another little scamp. But again, it's a minor quibble. More troubling is Courtenay's horrifying tortures of Mary. He goes much further than is necessary to win our sympathy and show Mary to be indomitable The brutality inflicted upon her in at least three instances is at The Walking Dead level, over the top and gratuitous. Bear the pain, the book is otherwise a delightful experience.
I would listen to another performance by Joe Barrett, who has a lovely wry voice and an intelligent way of presenting complex material.
Roddy Boyd's explanation of the complicated deals of AIG was impressively understandable. But the focus on particular "Big Guys" fell short of really explaining on what happened and why it caused the crash. I don't actually think Elliot Spitzer is the big villain of the piece here. So I guess I'd say, I might read Roddy Boyd again, but with a grain of salt.
I finished annoyed at the Hank Greenberg focus. I guess he was a major source here, but his thoughts were mostly about how everyone should have continued bowing down to him, so he maybe wasn't the best elucidator of what went wrong.
I enjoyed (bad this way) all the infighting when Hank Greenberg was finally eased into retirement. His successor kept referring to him as "Mr. Greenberg," and the PR people were going crazy that this new CEO sounded like a schoolboy.
I didn't like the absolute contempt for Spitzer and the rule of law, as if the wealthy corporation and its executives should be above those poltroons who enforce the law. That was very weird, as the book had carefully shown how deceptive and criminal many of AIG's actions were, then suddenly erupts in horror when the legal system finally steps up and enforces the law. I didn't like the subtext that corporations should be allowed to do what they please, destroy the economy, bankrupt shareholders, and none of us or elected officials or law enforcement officials can say anything negative. I guess we're supposed to let companies just do what they want and then bail them out?
That incident really bothered me, obviously. It seemed totally at odds with everything else in the book. I guess we shouldn't look to businessmen and business reporters for any real insight, but authors have to be wary of identifying too much with their sources.
I think I'll listen to it again, just to figure it out-- I have trouble understanding the strategy of this company, but I think one more listen will help!
David Faber's And the Roof Caved In, and the Harry Markopoulos book about Madoff were better at explaining what went wrong.
This is a young adult novel. There are mentions of sex and some extreme partying (the high-schoolers drink and smoke pot A LOT), plus references to rape and suicide. That is, this might not be for the 11-year-old reader.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. The premise is similar to the film Groundhog Day-- a self-absorbed protagonist is forced to live the same day over and over, learning lessons each time. I was kind of impressed at the risk the author took, not so much for the repetition of plot events (necessary of course for the overall thematic purpose), but for having really unlikeable "mean girls" as the main characters. Don't let that discourage you-- the author deepens the understanding of their personalities as the book goes on. I never did quite distinguish the two minor friends in the clique (never name similar characters with similar names :), but the protagonist and her best friend were sharply limned and boldly individualized.
I was expecting more of a "wow" ending, and was a bit disappointed by the soft-focus epilogue which didn't really answer the questions the story had set up. But I was really fascinated by the gritty exploration of life in a small high school and within the "in-group" of popular kids and what distinguishes them from everyone else. Well done and scary, and boy, am I glad I graduated and never looked back!
NOTE: I listened to the audio book from audible.com. I didn't think I'd like the narrator because she sounded so young at first, but she was very good at doing the voices of the different kids, and at conveying emotion, so I ended up really enjoying her narration.
This isn't an exciting book. It's the story of an old judge looking back on his life, and it isn't that fabulous a life. But the writing is lovely, and the character development strong and insightful. The narrator is terrific, portraying the judge in a thoughtful and considered voice. No big thriller moments, here, but the narrator and the prose make it worth listening to. I will certainly be reading the author's other books, and I will listen to any book narrated by Malcom!
This is one of his great celebrations of spring, mixing the ludicrous with the poignant.
I really don't get all the great reviews this has gotten. It's extremely slow, with long, dull passages of characters thinking and thinking. I got bored and so started noting down all the "inspirations" (read: thefts) from other writers. Stephen King hyped the book, but probably because he knew it would drive readers back to his superior The Stand, and the Dark Tower series, both of which clearly served as models. There's even a Harry Potter moment (the little girl communicates with animals at the zoo, just as Harry did... a decade ago).
It's not badly written, but it's not WELL-written, and I'm thinking all those literary reviewers who gave it faboo reviews are easily seduced by long paragraphs and lots of supposedly "deep" thoughts.
I do like the narrator (Scott Brick), who is always good. It's not his fault I got to the end of the first audio part and decided that I'd give the rest of it a miss.
I don't want to spoil this, but I was really disappointed when the problem was solved very much like in an earlier book of hers-- just as frustrating for what it said about family. Very unsatisfying, and it requires everyone to behave rather stupidly, like no one ever asking what someone else means.
But great emotion, as always with Picoult. The middle kind of dragged, but there were many really affecting moments. She does cops very well, I've noticed that before.
Great narrators too!
I really liked this. I grew up in the South in this period, and I am glad to see it addressed in a novel.
I agree, this is very like My Sister's Keeper, and has the same infuriating ending that pretty much undercuts the whole book. This book is NOT for those who want a happy ending. I don't want to say more so that the ending isn't spoiled, but just beware if negative endings bother you.
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