While Daphne Sheldrick undoubtedly led a fascinating life in Africa, this is not a fascinating book. It has the feel of a book that she started writing for her children, and then someone persuaded her to publish it for a general audience, but without eliminating the details that only a family member could find interesting. It is chock full of overly long, banal descriptions, repetitive observations and minor characters who come and go without contributing anything of significance. Every time a major life shift is going to happen, it is telegraphed so obviously that by the time it actually happens you're thinking, "just GET ON WITH IT, already!"
Dame Sheldrick also seems to lack any sense of perspective about things like colonialism and animal welfare. Her views are, understandably, rooted in her era, but several decades on she seems not to have gained any nuance in her point of view, or any sense of the larger societal issues that were at play and which contributed to the complexity of her situation. So she's really not contributing anything new to the literature of that time and place. She isn't one for enlightening analysis, favoring instead a worldview based on sentiment. For instance, she clearly thinks of herself as the "mother" of all these orphaned animals, and she frequently talks about how attached they are to her. But she seems to act primarily with her heart rather than her head, which makes her actions often seem capricious and poorly thought out, and perhaps not in the best interests of these animals she's so interested in protecting.
The narrator of the book contributes to the problem by reading the most sentimental lines in a tremulous whisper, which just emphasizes how amateurish and repetitive the writing is. In addition, she mispronounces words frequently. At first, I attributed this to differences between US and British pronunciation, but then she pronounced the word "geyser" first as "gazer" and then as "geezer" and I decided it was her, not me.
I should mention that the preface to the book is riveting -- if the rest of the book were like this, I would have been far more interested in it. As it is, with three more hours to slog through before my book club meeting, I'm seriously contemplating skipping the rest of it. I'd rate this one a complete waste of time.
If you are the kind of person who can't wait to get through the boring interpersonal relationships and plot development in order to reach the awesome science-y part, this book may well be for you. For me, on the other hand, this book consisted almost entirely of the kind of dry descriptive detail that I often find myself skipping over in order to get to the good stuff. It reads like one long word problem on a test, complete with detailed calculations, facts and figures. I was bored out of my gourd for hours on end.
I will say that there are many genuinely funny lines, and the narrator is very good. But this book is strictly for science enthusiasts – I would never recommend it for the "general reader."
I loved going on the journey of this book. For me, it was an intellectually and emotionally satisfying experience. Could it have been shorter? Without question. But the occasional repetitive sections did little to dim my enthusiasm. It is an ambitious work, full of period and scientific detail, and I applaud the effort.
On the whole, Juliet Stevenson did a lovely job, but I do wish she had asked for some input before butchering all those Dutch names. Sheesh.
I found this book thoroughly engaging, although I confess to being more interested in the historical events than in the contemporary plot. The characters were vivid, the situation poignant, and the pace of the storytelling brisk. The major quibble I have with the audiobook is that the narrator read much of it at such breakneck speed that it felt like she glanced off of the emotional content rather than allowing it to settle in to the listener. Her accent was somewhat iffy as well. But overall, a very enjoyable listen.
While the sections relating to his New York career were reasonably interesting, the first half of the book, in which he talks at length about his childhood, was really dull. The stories he's telling are not particularly extraordinary, so he would need to tell them with extraordinary wit and insight in order to hold my attention. Unfortunately, the storytelling was also pretty flat. Nearly all the early stories led up to a kind of anticlimactic non-ending, and then he just went on to the next pointless story. The amount of truly interesting material in this book might have yielded a good magazine article, but is insufficient for a five-hour book.
This is one of those books that leaves you feeling heartbroken at the end -- not because the ending is heartbreaking, but because you can't bear to leave it behind. I seriously considered starting over at the beginning just so I could stay in its spell a little longer. The writing is simply wonderful - characters so vivid and believable that you feel like they are old, dear friends. I was a teenager in the 80s, and I'm amazed at how persuasively Rowell was able to evoke all the feelings, the sights and sounds of that period. It's been a long time since I fell in love, but she brought it all back to me, in all its breathless, stomach-flipping glory. What a joy!
Beautifully performed by multiple narrators, and a fun, compelling, and even somewhat moving story. I really liked learning about the experience of the war in these two different settings, and the characters all brought those experiences to life in a very human way. Occasionally the constraint of having to tell all these stories through letters led to some slightly heavy-handed moments, but on the whole I thought it was a very fine book, and thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it.
A HUGE chunk of this book is about the author's family and her mother's death -- it takes her a surprisingly long time to even reach the trail. So if you're expecting a wilderness adventure along the lines of a Jon Krakauer book, this probably isn't what you're looking for.
For me, it was hard to forgive Cheryl Strayed for how blindly and naively she approached this dangerous journey. She really had no business getting on that trail in the first place, and having to listen to her fumbling around trying to get her footing for hour after hour sometimes made me want to shake her. But ultimately, there were some interesting moments and insights that partly made up for it.
I largely enjoyed the book, mostly because I liked the main character's voice -- his way of seeing and describing things. My main issue with the book is that it started to seem like a checklist of everything that can go wrong in adolescence. But for the most part, it was a pleasant ride, and the narrator was very good. By the way, I strongly discourage you from renting the movie after reading the book. It feels very thin by comparison.
Everyone in my book group was excited for this one, because the subject seemed so interesting. The problem is, in spite of how much was going on in the world at this time, NOTHING happens in the book. The people the author chooses to focus on are ultimately inconsequential and do nothing of consequence. So to try to make up for his protagonists' lack of importance, he includes vast amounts of detail and dozens of characters, few of whom end up being relevant or even particularly interesting. The book could have been half as long if the author had just focused on things that were actually important, instead of providing detailed descriptions of the weather, or a complete listing of every item in the ambassador's china cabinet (particularly grueling in an audiobook, where you can't skim).
Also irritating is the author's tendency to try to create suspense by ending every chapter with a portentous cliff-hanger-y tease: "Had they known at the time what was to come, they might have felt differently about it..." You can almost here the corny "Dunh dunh DUUNNNNNHH" sound cue. Really amateurish.
Many of the stories in this book are fascinating (especially the section that deals with the casting process, rehearsals and shooting of The Outsiders). It's just a really fun, gossipy insider's look at the industry and growing up famous, and Lowe is so funny, smart and insightful about himself that you are happy to be in his company for the duration.
And he does a surprisingly good Chris Walken impression!
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