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S. Yates

Member Since 2018

368
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 328 reviews
  • 504 ratings
  • 902 titles in library
  • 129 purchased in 2018
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  • Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

    • UNABRIDGED (26 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Robert M. Sapolsky
    • Narrated By Michael Goldstrom
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1410)
    Performance
    (1257)
    Story
    (1241)

    Why do we do the things we do? More than a decade in the making, this game-changing book is Robert Sapolsky's genre-shattering attempt to answer that question as fully as perhaps only he could, looking at it from every angle. Sapolsky's storytelling concept is delightful, but it also has a powerful intrinsic logic: He starts by looking at the factors that bear on a person's reaction in the precise moment a behavior occurs and then hops back in time from there in stages, ultimately ending up at the deep history of our species and its evolutionary legacy.

    Doug Hay says: "Insightful"
    "Complex subject, expertly explained"
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    Any additional comments?

    4.5 stars. Sapolsky brings a truly epic amount of scientific research to bear in the entertaining, humane, and illuminating book. This book acts as a synethesis of a wide array of research into human behavior, incorporating work in evolutionary development, neurology, psychology, sociology, and the like. Sapolsky has looked at the various factors that influence human behavior, guiding the reader from the immediate influences that trigger a behavior in the preceding seconds, to the factors that lead to any given behavior in preceding days and weeks, to those that shaped us in the years before and in the womb, all the way back to the evolutionary factors that gave rise to homo sapiens. He manages to patiently lay out complex webs of influence, never giving in to oversimiplification and often finding ways to inject wit and humor into the text. He repeatedly offers up commonly held beliefs, pat explanations, and historical certainties and then explains why we now have evidence showing that we were wrong. And he does this not only with obsolete conclusions from yesteryear, but with some overly enthusiastic interpretations of recent data (often falling into the category of people overstating findings and failing to see nuance). The book discusses the full range of human behavior as promised in the subtitle - our behavior at its best and its worst. Having finished the book, a reader should walk away with mind broadened and an understanding that our behavior is not as simple as a gene or an environement or an event, but a complex tapestry of all those things interacting. This knowledge should both frighten and engender hope.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • My Stroke of Insight

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Jill Bolte Taylor
    • Narrated By Jill Bolte Taylor
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1346)
    Performance
    (940)
    Story
    (938)

    In My Stroke of Insight, Taylor shares her unique perspective on the brain and its capacity for recovery, and the sense of omniscient understanding she gained from this unusual and inspiring voyage out of the abyss of a wounded brain. It would take eight years for Taylor to heal completely. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, her respect for the cells composing her human form, and most of all an amazing mother, Taylor completely repaired her mind and recalibrated her understanding of the world.

    Polyhymnia says: "Excellent description of stroke experience"
    "Some fascinating parts, author's voice annoying"
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    Story

    3.5 stars. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke at age 37 and in this book she combines a scientific discussion of strokes, a play-by-play recounting of what it felt like as her mind malfunctioned, a description of her road to recovery (a road that lasted 8 years), and an exploration of what her "stroke of insight" has meant for her, her personality, and her approach to life. I'll get this out of the way first -- I personally found Dr. Taylor's voice annoying. Her delivery sometimes feels immature, but I understand that she has every right to tell her own story in her own voice. But it made it hard to get through and I found myself resorting to putting the book on 1.25 speed to get through it.

    That said, this book works very well when she is in the mode of describing the rapid disintegration of her mind, with details you rarely here about strokes, from how language became unhinged and sight started operating differently, to the fast deterioration of her ability to operate her body or hold on to thoughts. The memoir aspect of the book, especially when she discusses her stay in the hospital and how caregivers who treated her with kindness and patience accelerated her recovery, is important. Having a patient who was severely impacted by stroke relay what it feels like to navigate the medical system without full cognitive or physical function is telling, and underscores that medical professionals must not only be excellent scientists but also let humanity enter their care. Even more, you realize how important it is to be an advocate for your care and, hopefully, to have family or friends who can advocate on your behalf. As Dr. Taylor recovers, the chapters dealing with the incremental steps she had to take to recover function are both inspiring and informative.

    The book is also solid, if not relevatory, where Dr. Taylor explains the mechanics of stroke and some of the basic science of how the brain works. Other books have done it more extensively and more engagingly, but her primer is to the point and useful when approaching the rest of the book.

    Where the book lost me and tested my patience was toward the end. Dr. Taylor writes about how the stroke disabled the left hemisphere of her brain (the hemisphere more responsible for logic) and in its relative absence the right hemisphere (the creative side) took over. This meant, for Taylor, that some of her personality traits (competitiveness, sarcasm, etc.) were likewise disabled and that this allowed her to disengage from many negative feelings, feel the wonder of life, and embrace joy. This is all well and good, and I did find it interesting that as she healed and her left hemisphere began rewiring itself, she consciously worked on not falling into old habits by redirecting her responses to stimulus and eschewing the most negative feelings (a concept central to some forms of meditation). But she got incredibly repetitive and slipped into some decidedly new age concepts. Obviously, if this is what she experienced and what she believes, she should write about it. But discussions of being part of the universe, of sending your energy to people, of being beings of energy -- this kept vacillating between concepts grounded in fact, study, and science, and concepts that are at best intuited but certainly not tested or confirmed. And for me it distracted from the rest of the book and went on quite a bit too long.

    Overall, the book was mostly good. It is astounding that Dr. Taylor was able to call for help and, over the course of years, have the determination and perseverance to fully recover. Her writing style sometimes veers into repetitiveness and some of the language feels immature. But her exuberance for life and amazing story made the book a perfectly fine use of time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 4 mins)
    • By Erik Larson
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (9300)
    Performance
    (8330)
    Story
    (8315)

    On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic.

    Sara says: "Naivety VS Barbarians Of War"
    "Larson excellent, blends big themes with humanity"
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    Larson is in fine form, weaving together the small details of the passengers and crew of the Lusitania, a history of the ship, an overview of international relations, a truncated bit of biography of President Wilson during WWI before the US entered the Great War, a peak into Great Britain's Room 40 as it secretly read Germany's encrypted messages, and an exploration of the captain of submarine U-20 on the patrol that would bring it into a fateful meeting with the Lusitania. Where the fate of the ship is so widely known, Larson must work hard to build the suspense. He does this ably by making sure the reader is introduced to enough individuals to make their journey across the Atlantic fraught, as you begin to wonder who will and won't survive, and start picturing the agony that passengers and crew would feel if separated from siblings, lovers, spouses, friends, or children.

    As Larson puts together the larger picture and sets the scene, we range from German U-boat captains, to a widowed Woodrow Wilson, to a pugnacious Winston Churchill, to a ship's crew lacking extensive experience. He lets us in on the reasons for various passengers' trips, describes the treasures they brought with them, and what they hoped for out of the Atlantic crossing. Interspersed with the intensely human details are lovingly rendered descriptions of the ship, and worrying revelations about the German's intentions toward Atlantic shipping and the uneven protection offered by the British Admiralty in response. The reader gets a very focused examination of a small part of World War I, seeing how warfare was beginning to change, how targets that were not wholly military were being stalked and that civilians were quickly becoming casualties.

    With disaster looming, the reader knows that the Lusitania is speeding toward Britain but that its final destination will not be a dock but a sinking. At least 80% of the book covers the lead up to that disaster. And when the torpedoes strike, the reader is likewise struck with how luck (good for the U-boat, bad for the Lusitania) plays such a role in the event. Larson's description of the 18 minutes between torpedo strike and ultimate sinking are gripping, harrowing, and somber. He recounts impossible decisions: do you first rescue your sleeping child one deck below or your playing toddler one deck above; do you take the step off of the rail even though you can't swim; is there time to retrieve a life vest; should you search the ship for loved ones or get onto a lifeboat; do you lift one more floating person into a raft and risk capsizing it? Through use of interviews and written accounts by survivors, as well as diaries from passengers, Larson has masterfully recounted events (and personalities) leading up to the event, the reality of the sinking ship and struggle for life itself, and the aftermath.

    And that aftermath manages to be troubling, confusing, mournful, and hopeful at once. Most troubling was the British Admiralty's immediate decision to try to blame the entire event on Captain Turner (the man in charge of the Lusitania), despite the fact that the Admiralty itself ignored some clear warnings and did not provide basic escorts for the Lusitania's protection. Suggested reasons abound, ranging from conspiracies to try to force America's hand and make them join the war to too jealously protecting intelligence to mere ineptitude. For the passengers themselves, after the sinking it meant waiting for rescue in cold water (some dying of hypothermia), finding out that companions had died, having to identify bodies. And for relatives of the passengers, there was a long wait to get word, and rife confusion where some where told their loved ones had died when they were in fact alive, or worse, that they were alive when they were actually dead. But for all the despair, there were fortunate reunions, husbands and wives, and two brothers in the crew. And of course bittersweet moments where some, but not all, of a family survived, or one person surviving where a companion perished. Despite the tragedy and some British strategists' beliefs that the 100+ deaths of American citizens would drive the country out of its isolationism, it would be years yet before America entered the war. Regardless, the sinking of the Lusitania was bellwether of changing norms and, when America finally did get off the fence, still something that struck the heart of the nation.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Night Ocean

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 23 mins)
    • By Paul La Farge
    • Narrated By Elisabeth Rodgers
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (72)
    Performance
    (68)
    Story
    (68)

    Marina Willett, MD, has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H. P. Lovecraft, in particular with one episode in the legendary horror writer's life: In the summer of 1934, the "old gent" lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert Barlow, at Barlow's family home in central Florida. What were the two of them up to? Were they friends - or something more? Just when Charlie thinks he's solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears.

    Adam says: "Frustratingly Uneven Due to Clumsy Plot Structure"
    "Excellent narration, odd book"
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    3.5 stars. This book has gotten generally rave reviews from critics. I can appreciate the skill of La Farge, his prose is clear and he builds characters well, and there is a certain dexterity to his construction of this story within a story within a story. But overall, it just sort of left me cold. In a somewhat convoluted nutshell, the story starts with the promisingly creepy disappearance of the narrator's writer husband. Her husband had voluntarily entered a hospital for some mental health issues, but he goes missing one night, apparently walking into a lake. The story then flashes back and she recounts how her husband researched and wrote a book about H. P. Lovecraft and his relationship (often thought to be mysterious and potentially romantic) with Robert Barlow. In telling this winding tale, it includes a book within the book, the flashback story of Barlow pre- and post-Lovecraft, and a flashback story of a character named Leo Spinks, before it returns to present day and follows Marina (the narrator) as she deals with her husband's disappearance.

    While La Farge brings to bear ingenuity in the layered tale and excellent technique, I never found myself truly absorbed. First, I did not care much about any of the characters, which made it difficult to stay immersed in the story. Second, the circuitous route the story took was unexpected, but not in a good way--it never truly lived up to the atmospheric beginning. Last, the ending was interesting, but again felt sort of tacked on. It almost felt as if La Farge had a lot of ideas he wanted to cram in, but in the end it felt heavy on technical execution and light on a real emotional center.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Seanan McGuire
    • Narrated By Emily Bauer
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (101)
    Performance
    (97)
    Story
    (96)

    When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

    Donna says: "A Story of Ghosts & Witches from a New Perspective"
    "Promising start, middling overall"
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    3.5 stars. This book started out promisingly creepy and unique, with poems about death and a southern, rural family in mourning over the suicide of their daughter/sister. Atmospheric and surreal, the surviving sister, unable to face the grief of the family, runs out into a stormy night, and inadvertently falls down a ravine to her death. Fast forward 40 years, and that self-same sister, Jenna, is a ghost working a suicide prevention hotline in New York City. The book (which is too short to be a novel, too long to be a novella) loses much of its atmosphere and becomes somewhat mundane, even though it is discussing the paranormal. Jenna is likable, almost too likable, and McGuire has only broadly sketched the world Jenna inhabits. There are witches, and a host of ghosts, the ability to shift time (years, months, days, minutes) from the living to the dead and vice versa, and a number of old wive's tales come to life (trapping ghosts in mirrors, death shrouds, and the like). There are some convenient solutions to nagging issues (how does a minimum wage coffee shop barista and ghost pay for NYC rent? Her landlord is a ghost), some broad hints about how this paranormal world works (witches have power over ghosts, ghosts must go incorporeal at times, there must be certain numbers of ghosts in places to anchor it properly to reality), and a rushed mystery involving missing ghosts. The book is still entertaining, though the narrator's twang and tendency to repeat herself can lose any charm quickly. The villain has a suitably dark plan, but her plan and her motivation is just barely introduced and insufficiently explored (a lot of interesting work could have been done with the plot, but was just glossed over). The book ties up neatly, and it wasn't a waste of time, but it isn't anything special and does not live up to the opening prologue.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 29 mins)
    • By Hilary Mantel
    • Narrated By Jane Carr
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (133)
    Performance
    (122)
    Story
    (120)

    From the two-time Man Booker award-winning author, comes a collection of short stories. Ranging from a ghost story to a vampire story to a near-memoir to mini-sagas of family and social fracture. Each story brilliantly unsettles the listener with Mantel’s classic wicked humor and unsparing eye, in an unmistakably Mantel way.

    Darwin8u says: "Superhuman Prose that Defies Gravity"
    "Some great, others good, all worth the time"
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    I'm not usually one for short stories, but numerous people recommended this set of stories and I'm so glad that I finally picked them up. Mantel writes in a variety of genres (well known for her novels ranging from historical fiction to more modern tales with some supernatural or fantastical flair), and this collection shows her range. Some stories feel like brief vignettes or a slice of life, others have a definite story arc. Some are awash in the mundane, others the absurd, and still others the gruesome or enchanted. Most of the voices heard are female, and the stories are all marked by Mantel's sharp observations, tart and dry humor, and erudition that has just the right blend of elite snobbishness and self-deprecation. Some of the stories were utterly satisfying in length, though others I was left wondering what happened next. Mantel, as is typical of an author of her talent, surely left me wishing that this volume was not quite so slim.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Farthing: Small Change, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Jo Walton
    • Narrated By John Keating, Bianca Amato
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (748)
    Performance
    (643)
    Story
    (657)

    One summer weekend in 1949 - but not our 1949 - the well-connected "Farthing set", a group of upper-crust English families, enjoy a country retreat. Lucy is a minor daughter in one of those families; her parents were both leading figures in the group that overthrew Churchill and negotiated peace with Herr Hitler eight years before....

    Nancy J says: "It Couldn't Happen Here, Right? RIGHT?"
    "Superb execution, outstanding narration"
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    4.5 stars. An outstanding blending of British mystery, historical novel, and alternate history. Walton grabbed my attention right away, with the book exceptionally easy to slip into due to the familiarity of its initial premise (upper crust country weekend, social climbing and social tensions, and a crime in the offing). But in those first chapters you are introduced to the twist, slight at first, that in 1941 Britain entered a peace accord with Nazi Germany, the United States never entered the war, and Germany engulfed the European continent. The book's events take place in 1949, with Britain eight years into the peace with Germany, and Germany eight years into a protracted war with Bolshevik Russia. This combination of familiar mystery with the permutation of a world where WWII never occurred makes for a gripping story.

    Walton uses two point of view characters, Lucy Kahn (the daughter of aristocracy who bucked entrenched British antisemitism to marry her Jewish Husband) and Inspector Carmichael (of Scotland Yard, accomplished and educated, with one or two secrets of his own). The scene is the country estate of Lucy's parents, Farthing, and a weekend where the movers and shakers of the Farthing Set are to gather in advance of an important vote the coming week reorganizing the British government. The Farthing Set were largely responsible for the 1941 peace and there is some question about how much power they may be able to consolidate.

    Then, as things so often do in British mysteries, a body is found and a murder appears to be political and Lucy's husbands looks like he is being framed. What follows are alternating chapters from Lucy's point of view with that of Carmichael's and the investigation. What makes this so effective is that where the book feels weighted heavily toward the British mystery side in the beginning, as the chapters roll by our view of this alternate history expands and acts as an impetus to deep thought about what it would mean if Britain had not stood against Hitler. Whether the insular nature of British culture and its much underscored distaste for the non-English would have worsened if not for the protracted resistance to Hitler. Whether both Britain and the United States would have quite so firmly self-identified as anti-fascist and pro-democratic, as liberty-loving and free, or as interested in at least putting up a facade of equality if they had not stood toe-to-toe against Nazi Germany and, facing a diabolical and perverse enemy, sought to embrace the things that enemy wasn't. Perhaps most effective is Walton's ability to, in the guise of a mystery and political intrigue, show how a country's denizens can believe "it can't happen here" and all the while slip slowly into totalitarian government.

    In the end, the reader finds out the whodunit for the crime. But the climax is broader than that, and far more disturbing in its plausibility. There are changes in fortune, and characters who show remarkable insight and others who cannot see what is plain to the reader (though the reader has the benefit of historical hindsight). This book left me thinking for days after I finished it, managing to be both entertaining but also thought-provokingly unsettling, all without being heavy-handed. A book for mystery fans and those who love historical fiction. But also for those who are willing to look a society's complacency in the fact and admit that when someone says "it couldn't happen here," to respond "it could happen anywhere."

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • What Belongs to You

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 20 mins)
    • By Garth Greenwell
    • Narrated By Piter Marek
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (190)
    Performance
    (179)
    Story
    (177)

    On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia's National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence.

    Rochelle says: "Intimate Narration of a Powerful Novel"
    "Painful, Uncomfortable, Beautiful"
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    A gorgeously written book, with prose that manages to be almost poetic. Our narrator, who remains unnamed, is an American expat working as a teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is a foreigner, a non-fluent speaker of Bulgarian, a homosexual in a country where it is relegated to the shadows, an estranged son, and a man unsure of what he wants. Greenwell has written something that reads less as a novel with an overarching plot, than as a series of meditations or interludes dealing with broader themes of desire and disgust, belonging and ostracization, dominance and submission, facades and truth, shame and self-realization.

    Told in three parts, the first and third sections deal largely with the narrator's life in Sofia and how that life is unsettled when he encounters a young man in an underground bathroom frequented by those seeking to purchase sexual favors. Mitko is at once a foil to and contrast with the narrator--electric and confident and forceful, chameleon-like as he plays to a customer's expectations. While Greenwell masterfully portrays the illicit encounters between Mitko and the narrator, conveying the combined lust and longing with the underlying tawdriness, the heart of the matter is not sex and the most interesting parts are not the sexual ones. Instead, you see both characters groping for identity and stability in their lives, and you witness the obvious and subtle manipulations Mitko works on the narrator and the narrator's own willingness to be manipulated. Even more, you see the interesting and shifting power dynamics, with the narrator being nominally in charge as the patron and Mitko in desperate need for money, but with Mitko in control of how close he allows the narrator to get and wielding his magnetism (and later a certain physical intimidation and threat of violence) that makes his position often seem superior. Perhaps most striking is the ongoing description of how the narrator wants this to be more than a paid encounter, wants to think of himself as benevolent and them as friends, wants to avoid being crude or crass. By the third section, the sexual relationship is all but over (with two years having passed from the initial section), the narrator is in a committed relationship, but Mitko still manages to have an out-sized effect on the narrator's daily life.

    The middle section is told mostly in flashback and recalls the narrator awakening to his attraction to men, his first physical encounters, and the deterioration and eventual severing of his relationship with his father. Here we meet his stepsisters, get insight into how the utter rejection by his father shaped him, and the secrets his father was keeping. Through the step-sister and the father, we find echoes of earlier themes dealing with the faces we present to the world and the aching need to belong.

    A brief but beautiful book, painful in turns and uncomfortable, but a treasure.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Every Heart a Doorway

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Seanan McGuire
    • Narrated By Cynthia Hopkins
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (700)
    Performance
    (652)
    Story
    (652)

    Children have always disappeared under the right conditions - slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere...else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced...they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

    tm says: "Utterly Moving"
    "A grim fairy tale"
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    4.5 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique, little book. The story manages to combine the fantastical and ordinary, and is at once peculiar and familiar, ghoulish and whimsical, macabre and heartfelt. Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children is a place that takes in the youth who have wandered into and then been ejected from other worlds (worlds that fall on a spectrum, or really in directions in four general cardinal directions -- nonsense, virtue, logic, and wicked). No two worlds identical, with wonders and horrors and rules of their own. The students each found secret doorways to these worlds, and such doorways are fickle at best, sometimes appearing only once never to be seen again. We are introduced to these concepts and the school by Nancy. In her late teens, she is the newest student and we see the school through her eyes.

    The students, while underpinned by the fantastic, are typical in other ways. There are cliques, rivalries, friendships, and bullying. Though almost every student at the school longs to return to their own worlds, worlds that in many cases are the only ones that feel like home, McGuire uses the otherworldly to explore issues of mental health, belonging, and that cusp between childhood and adulthood. These issues can be made more immediate by virtue of the worlds the students came from. In some, violence was all in the normal course, in others death was embraced, and in every case the students came back fundamentally changed.

    The story itself has its gruesome bits -- a string of murders occur and the killer removes parts of each victim for mysterious reasons. The adults at the school have no special powers to protect the students, and there is the mix of fear and accusation as everyone fears where the killer will next strike. Bonds are tested, and the ugliness of human nature highlighted. But even when it is very dark, there is still that bit of whimsy and goodness to keep it from being oppressive. McGuire (who writes under the name Mira Grant when doing SF/horror), strikes a lovely balance of the horrific and the lovely. And unlike her work as Grant, Every Heart a Doorway is lean and fast-paced, with none of the bloat that some of her other books have. I thoroughly enjoyed this strange little tale, and look forward to continuing the series, and the narrator was excellent.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like, Literally)

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 1 min)
    • By John McWhorter
    • Narrated By John McWhorter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (783)
    Performance
    (729)
    Story
    (726)

    Words on the Move opens our eyes to the surprising backstories to the words and expressions we use every day. Did you know that silly once meant "blessed"? Or that ought was the original past tense of owe? Or that the suffix -ly in adverbs is actually a remnant of the word like? And have you ever wondered why some people from New Orleans sound as if they come from Brooklyn?

    sgonk says: "Literally A Great Listen"
    "Another McWhorter Gem"
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    Professor McWhorter remains a lively, humorous, and knowledgeable guide through the linguistic evolution of English. As in his earlier books, he underscores that linguistics, as the study of language, does not decry the ever-changing nature of language -- in fact, it is the erosion, expansion, and transformation of vowels, meaning, and usage that makes such study fascinating. As such, he again stresses that the heart palpitations suffered by some over the "degradation" of language, the proliferation of slang, the ubiquitous use of "like", the use of "incorrect" grammar and the like have nothing to do with linguistics. And moreover, are not rooted in any necessary truths and ignore the history of language. That is, that language is always on the move and won't and can't sit still (as McWhorter declaims in the title).

    In exhorting the reader to look to language changes (including changes in meaning and pronunciation) without clutching their pearls, McWhorter uses ample examples of how English has changed over the centuries. As discussed in earlier books, we are shown how Old English morphed into the English used by Shakespeare, and how it continued to change to present day (including how up to 10% of the words used by Shakespeare have changed -- making modern audiences' inability to fully grasp what is being said utterly explicable). The proliferation of the written word helped stabilize the language, but still it evolves over time. In prior books he has had extensive sections explaining how certain consonants are vulnerable to being dropped or morphing into other sounds, and to how vowels change. Here such discussions are more truncated, though he has an entertaining section on how the pronunciation of "bitch" has morphed to "betch" in certain areas of California. Between changing pronunciations (with explain many of the bizarre spellings of words in English that seem to bear no resemblance to how we say them) and changing meanings, any person feeling aghast at the the changes in English should take a deep breath. Such constant evolution is the rule, not the exception, and much of the effort expended in annoyance would be better served by realizing this is inevitable and necessary.

    All in all, McWhorter remains one of my favorite academics, willing to make silly jokes and find the humor in his subject. And pointing out the elitist nature of much of the criticism of language in its present form. Learning more about language and how it grows and transforms over time is nothing short of fascinating, and well worth any person's time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By David Quammen
    • Narrated By Mel Foster
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (55)
    Performance
    (49)
    Story
    (50)

    In 1976 a deadly virus emerged from the Congo forest. As swiftly as it came, it disappeared, leaving no trace. Over the four decades since, Ebola has emerged sporadically, each time to devastating effect. It can kill up to 90 percent of its victims. In between these outbreaks, it is untraceable, hiding deep in the jungle. The search is on to find Ebola's elusive host animal.

    Sheri says: "Very informative"
    "Concentrated and accessible"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Quammen remains a science writer par excellence when covering pandemics and zoonosis. His Spillover remains a masterpiece, covering a wide range of diseases that jump from animals to humans, examining the paths they take, how the diseases evolve and how they impact humans and animals alike, and the scientists and medical professionals who study and combat such diseases.

    In Ebola (published 2014), Quammen has excerpted the portion of Spillover (originally published in 2012) dealing with Ebola, and updated it with information and events from the intervening years. Namely, this iteration was written in the throes of the 2014 Ebola outbreak (or, more accurately, the 2013 outbreak that managed to spread internationally in 2014). In it, he covers what is known of Ebola, and also what frustratingly remains hidden, including the reservoir species that houses Ebola when it isn't crossing over into primates (from gorillas and chimps, to humans). As he does in Spillover, in this slim volume he spends a great deal of time and thought to the impact this disease has on animals, rather than only caring about the human costs.

    All in all, an excellent summing up of the history of Ebola, and what we know and what we still have to learn. Even better, for those who have yet to read Spillover, this provides entrée into Quammen's work and should whet the appetite for more.

    My only complaint, and it is a small one, is that the narrator does not seem to be aware that USAMRIID is generally pronounced yoo-sam-rid.

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