I really like John Hodgman and I ignored all the negative comments here because of the many glowing reviews by Leo Laporte and others on the TWiT network. Unfortunately, the negative comments are all right. This book is boring, and not funny. When someone like Bill Bryson finds genuinely odd facts and stories it's fascinating and very funny. When you just make up random strange stuff it's not interesting. The whole book feels somehow belabored and strained, as though someone is trying terribly hard to be funny. I really really really wanted to like it but I just couldn't
I love historical fiction but this one just didn't work for me. Perhaps because I recently finished the first two volumes of Ken Follet's new trilogy (Fall of Titans, Winter of the World), which are in a completely different class. I'm sure that Wouk's book made fascinating reading in the period shortly after World War II, but now it's just a little flat and probably dated. The characterization is on the level of Bonanza or The Waltons, and I just couldn't find it in myself to be interested in these shallow and really rather uninteresting people, particularly since the focus is so much more on their story than on the actual history of the War.
This is an outstanding, well-written and fascinating book with a perfect narration by John Lee. The only thing that is frustrating about it is that it tries to cover too much in a single volume. It would have been much better as a series of as many as ten novels. The material is there, and the author is easily up to the task: The characters, background, dialog, exposition and everything else are all wonderful. But as soon as you get familiar with a group of characters the story suddenly moves on a hundred years and you have to get used to another group. After every little episode I had the feeling of being short-changed.
In a way, it's more like a historical docu-drama than a novel. But that's not quite right either, because it really does have the quality of a novel; or rather, of a series of frustratingly unfinished novels. This feeling gets heightened towards the end, where I started to get the feeling that the author was getting a little tired of the project. The whole story of Julius Caesar and his murder was much too perfunctory, with much less introduction and background than many of the other episodes.
This is a good book and I'm not sorry I read it,but it could have been much, much better. And that's a pity.
Paul Scott's Raj Quartet series is a timeless classic about the British rule in India and its ignominious end. I enjoyed listening to the first volume so much that I bought the second without listening to a sample. Big mistake.
I have experienced my share of poor narrators on Audible but never ever anything as bad as this. The problem is not the narrator's ability but his voice, and the emotion it conveys. No matter what the narrator is saying, he always sounds snotty, arrogant and condescending. Even the most simple, factual sentences sound like scathing insults. What is even worse for this book is the fact that this narrator's voice is the epitome of everything that Paul Scott criticizes about the British rule in India. It is the voice of the narrow-minded, pig-headed, racist British upper class who despise everything and everyone that does not belong to their tiny elite club. It is the exact opposite of everything for which Paul Scott's wonderful work stands and speaks out. It is like having a production of the Diary of Anne Frank narrated by the voice of a German World War II radio newscaster.
Choosing Richard Brown to narrate this book is probably the most egregiously inappropriate decision in the entire history of audio book publishing. He manages to completely destroy it and its message.
I bought this on a whim, having never heard of it or Scott Turow before. Man, had I missed something. I greatly enjoy the legal thriller genre, even though I haven't read all that many of them. This was far and away the best I have ever read, made even better by Edward Herrmann's literally pitch perfect narration. I've never heard him narrate before, but he ranks right up there with the greats like John Lee and Simon Prebble.
All the characters are beautifully drawn and credible, brought to life by the wonderful narration. It's also really a pleasure to read a book that has been so carefully crafted in every detail, backed up by what is apparently really thorough research and familiarity with the subject matter.
It's almost impossible to really write anything about this book without creating a spoiler, so I'll just say: If you enjoy first-class, intelligent and suspenseful legal fiction get this book. It's brilliant, and I literally couldn't stop listening until I'd finished. And now I'm sorry that I didn't make it last longer, which is always a pretty sure sign of an outstanding read.
This was at least as good as the first volume in the series, possibly better. I'm hoping that all the historical information was accurate, because it was fascinating, including much that I did not know about the lead-up to World War II and what happened afterwards. Obviously it's impossible to cover everything in such an epic period in history in a novel of any length, but Follet does an excellent job of showing the War from the perspectives of many people in different parts of the world and on different sides. It also made me understand my parents' generation and appreciate what they lived through a lot better.
John Lee's narration was generally excellent, as always. I only subtracted one star because it really wouldn't have taken all that much effort to learn the pronunciation of the simple German words and names that appear in the story, which where often embarrassingly incorrect.
...and throw away the key!
If you love Westeros and its history you will still finish this book, because you must, but you will hate every horrible minute of it, and your anger at the narration will grow and grow and grow. Roy Dotrice's performance is as bad as his narration of the first three books was brilliant. In fact, it is so abominably bad that I can only guess that it was intentional: That he didn't want to do the job, was sick of the books and felt forced into doing it, and decided to ruin the performance as revenge. The only other explanation would be that he has contracted Parkinson's or had a stroke, and has thus forgotten everything he knew before, but as far as I can see that is not the case. What I cannot understand is how the producers could allow this travesty of a performance to reach publication.
Most of the time Dotrice abandons even a pretense of trying to deliver voices for his characters. For example, conversations between Jamie and Cerce are conducted with identical voices for both characters and the narration, and none of the voices are even remotely like the ones he used before. The brilliant characterizations he produced for wonderful minor characters like Dolorous Ed are simply gone. Samwel Tarly's perfect voice is gone. All the other voices are gone. Almost every single name is pronounced so differently that you often have no idea that you actually already know the character being referred to. Even normal reading is sloppy and slapdash and sometimes not even really English. In a passage I just listened to Dotrice pronounced a reference to a group of crossbowmen as "cross bowmen", making it sound as though they were in a bad temper. His lack of interest and distaste in his work are palpable in almost every sentence.
Unfortunately, Dotrice's miserable narration is compounded by the fact that this is the first weak book in the series (so far as I can judge, I haven't read the fifth yet...). George Martin's only real weakness as a writer is a tendency to indulge in unnecessary rambling exposition and detours into endless sidelines and side-stories, and this has gotten out of hand in this volume. There would be nothing wrong with the side-stories if they were interesting in their own right, but so far they aren't. Nothing really happens, and this is described at great, great length, with all the suspense of a thousand-page phone book. I often drift off and miss entire paragraphs but it doesn't seem to matter much because nothing worth listening to was happening in most of them.
I'm hoping that this is going to get better, and I'm going to finish the book and the next volume as well, because I must, but at the moment I'm horribly disappointed.
I actually initially gave up a few hours into the first book and even wrote quite a negative review about prolix fantasy with far too many characters, but I was completely wrong. Martin is the first writer since Tolkien to create a convincing world this complex. Although Martin is darker and less uplifting than Tolkien, he also has a gritty realism that can ultimately be more satisfying because it rings true.
The quality, breadth and depth of these stories is amazing, and all the characters ring real and true. Even the people who you think are the villains at first are drawn in all their complexity and depth so that you suddenly find yourself very unsure where your sympathies really lie -- and that is the mark of a truly good novelist.
Like Tolkien, Martin is clearly someone who understands how history works, and he makes the machinations and motivations of power comprehensible as few authors have ever been able to do. Many quotes from the book are already passing into common usage, like Varys' summation of power as the "shadow on the wall", and I am sure that many more will, because they describe how the "game of thrones" is played anywhere that it is played.
This is a work that you have to give yourself time to get into, but once you have it is going to be your world until you have used up all the ten credits you are going to need to complete all the volumes.
Roy Dotrice's narration is pitch perfect and matches the character of the story and everyone in it. Now at the end of the second volume he is already the voice of the Seven Kingdoms for me, and I am already looking forward with trepidation to the switch to the different narrator in volume four...
Bryce Courtenay is a gifted storyteller and Humphrey Bower is one of the best narrators on Audible, so it's hardly surprising that this is one of those books you just can't put down until it's finished. It's also historically very interesting, providing a wealth of information about the situation and events of the Pacific War that I wasn't yet aware of, and just for that it is definitely worth reading.
Even so, it does also have some annoying weaknesses. The main one is that the main character, who is also the first-person narrator of the story, simply isn't credible. I don't know if Courtenay himself ever saw active service in war, and if he did I apologize in advance. However, it doesn't seem even remotely believable that a man could go through the horrific wartime experiences described and still remain basically the same insouciant, happy-go-lucky young man he was at the beginning of the story. Even internally, they hardly seem to touch him. It doesn't ring true, and that lessens the impact of the story as a whole.
The resulting effect is of an author retelling a story that he has heard but was not involved in himself. It is as if he is seeing his characters from the outside, and knows nothing of how they really felt about what they experienced. It is still an excellent story, but if that missing depth had been there it would have been a much, much better novel.
This is the kind of book that will ruin your month if you're on a one-book plan. Narration, plot, characters and writing are all like a Scooby Doo comic. The author comes across as a sixteen-year-old smartass who's convinced he knows everything but is actually an ignorant and arrogant fool. This book makes Saturday morning cartoons look like great literature. If you enjoy good writers in the genre like Neil Gaiman and Susanne. Clarke you can safely ignore this one.
I gave up on this quickly. I found that the epistolary format just didn't work, it made the story jagged and unnecessarily hard to follow and it felt like laziness on the part of the author. What the characters had to say, and even more how they said it, was mostly boring, shallow and inconsequential. The narration by multiple voices didn't work at all, at least in the few hours of the book I managed to slog through, because all of the voices were so similar and none of them made any particular attempts at characterization of their single voice. A good single narrator doing characterizations would have been much better.
All this may have something to do with the fact that I just came from reading The Potato Factory by Bryce Courtenay, which is a true masterpiece of historical fiction in all the ways that Innocent Traitor isn't.
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