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I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!

Raglan, New Zealand | Member Since 2011

  • 66 reviews
  • 66 ratings
  • 212 titles in library
  • 8 purchased in 2015

  • Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By J. B. West
    • Narrated By Eric Martin
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - and coordinated its daily life - at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings, funerals, gardens, playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home.

    Jean says: "Fascinating"
    "A tasteful taste of history"

    The author, John West, was Chief Usher at the White House through several presidential administrations, from Roosevelt to Nixon.

    What are the key character attributes of anyone holding this job? Well, obviously, the person should be well-organised and a good communicator, but they should also be discrete and tactful, and able to be trusted to keep a secret. So can we still consider John West to be trustworthy now that he has spilled the beans, revealing the secrets of the presidents’ wives? Or do these revelations mean that trust in him was misplaced?

    Somehow John West manages to tell the story while retaining his reputation as a man of discretion and honour, so we aren’t left with the feeling that this is a tacky case of Kiss and Tell.

    How does he achieve this? Well, firstly, he says that his principle motive is to ensure that the lives of the First Ladies over three momentous decades are not lost to history. Secondly, he must have seen, or suspected, some scandalous behaviour going on within the White House walls, but if he did, he omits these incidents from the book. For example, he never mentions JFK’s infidelities, or any other sexual impropriety for that matter. Thirdly, without being sycophantic or bland, he manages to portray the characters of the presidents and their wives in a largely positive light. It seems as if he genuinely is telling us his story for the sake of history, and because he wants to share the interesting narrative with us, and with posterity, without resorting to scandal or gossip.

    It is fascinating to be a fly on the wall, getting an insider’s insight into the characters of the World’s most powerful men and their wives, as each couple displaced its predecessor and the White House staff adjusted to their different personas. We are privileged to get intimate behind-the-scenes views of such events as the death of Roosevelt, the Cuban missile crisis and the JFK assassination.

    The book has some weaknesses, but in fairness, they are probably an inevitable result of its structure and subject matter: Although the author has a masterly ability to portray the characters of the presidents and their wives, it is inevitably conveyed as a long series of anecdotes. If this was the autobiography of a great inventor or adventurer, then there might be some sense of the protagonist gradually building towards the climax of achieving their life’s goal. Whereas in this book, each presidency is a new chapter, without a sense of it building on the previous chapter’s momentum, and there is no overriding goal, because the chief protagonist is essentially a passive witness to the lives of the first families, rather than having a historically significant life of his own. So for this reason the book fails to be truly captivating.

    Because of the subject matter the story also, equally inevitably, gets caught up from time to time in the details of room décor, furniture, bedlinen, etc., and so the listener can be forgiven for drifting off a little from time to time when such particulars fail to hold the attention.

    But these negative aspects of the listening experience are outweighed by the positives, and the overall impression as a listener is that I’m glad John West shared his story with us.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Girl on the Train: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By Paula Hawkins
    • Narrated By Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, India Fisher
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. "Jess and Jason," she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good? Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

    L. O. Pardue says: ""Rear Window" Meets "Gone Girl""
    "What a stunner"

    I didn’t choose this book, it chose me. Or rather, the Audible software algorithms recommended it to me based on the usual ‘you liked that book so you’ll like this book’ connections. The book I’d read before, which was very similar in many ways, was ‘The girl I left behind’ by Jojo Moyes. That book was also narrated in the first person by several different female characters, and was based (mostly) in suburban London.

    With both books I was initially a bit put off by the slightly posh, twee lives of the central characters, very reminiscent of a BBC Radio 4 play on ‘Woman’s Hour’, but in both cases I was soon won over by strong characterisation and great storytelling.

    In this story our heroine, Rachael, doesn’t seem to have a lot going for her. She is a jilted, physically unattractive alcoholic who loses her job by being drunk and offensive at work, and continues to commute to London on the train and walk around going to pubs, rather than admit to her flatmate that she has been fired. She often drinks herself into oblivion, vomits, wets herself, gets into arguments and fights, and even briefly abducts her ex-husband’s child. So part of the great skill of this book is to get us to sympathise with this flawed character as she tells her story.

    On her train journeys to London Rachael can see the rear of her old home, the dream house that she bought with her ex-husband. He still lives there with his new wife and child, much to Rachael’s anguish and despair.

    Rachael also has a slight fixation on a couple who live a few houses away. She has never met them, but she sees snippets of their apparently blissful relationship through the train window and fantasizes about various aspects of their lives. The main action in the book is based around the disappearance of the woman in this house, and Rachael’s increasing involvement in this incident.

    The story begins slowly and gradually gains pace until it becomes an electrifying page-turner, an absolutely riveting humdinger of a book. Thoroughly enjoyable. Definitely recommended.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By Brent Schlender, Rick Tetzeli
    • Narrated By George Newbern
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    There have been many books - on a large and small scale - about Steve Jobs, one of the most famous CEOs in history. But this book is different from all the others. Becoming Steve Jobs takes on and breaks down the existing myth and stereotypes about Steve Jobs. The conventional, one-dimensional view of Jobs is that he was half genius, half jerk from youth, an irascible and selfish leader who slighted friends and family alike.

    Douglas Vincent says: "Contextual, Insightful, Inspiring"
    "As well constructed as an Ipod"

    This book didn’t surprise me. When I chose it I saw that it had been given an average of nearly 5 stars on all Audible parameters, so I expected it to be good - and it was. Even though a lot of the content is discussion of the minutiae of the computer industry, which you might expect to get a bit boring, I was never bored. I carried on wanting to know what would happen next all the way through.

    How significant was the contribution of Steve Jobs to shaping today’s world? I guess the answer has to be: ‘very’. The World has changed spectacularly and dramatically over the last 30 years in which the digital revolution has taken place. Our lives have been utterly transformed by the computerisation of so many aspects of daily life, at work and play. If Steve Jobs had not existed (or Bill Gates, who is certainly given due credit in this book), then the digital revolution would have gone ahead just the same, and I expect the World would look roughly similar to the way it does today, but these were the two men who got to decide exactly how the hardware and software would look and function. They are the Thomas Edisons of the digital age.

    Clearly they were in the right place at the right time. This hasn’t always applied to history’s great visionaries. Gregor Mendel and Gallileo Gallilei were in the wrong places at the wrong times, and weren’t given the credit they deserved. Leonardo Da Vinci was ahead of his time, inventing things like helicopters which the technology of the time couldn’t come close to fulfilling. Even Einstein was a bit ahead of his time, although he did live to see some of his scientific breakthroughs come to fruition. But Jobs and Gates were both absolute Johnnies-on-the-spot. They were born and raised in the cradle of the burgeoning computer industry, just as it was about to take off spectacularly. They had the determination, innovative genius and charisma to be the leaders of this revolution.

    I knew a bit about Steve’s life because I’d seen the biopic and I had also listened to an Audible book ‘The Innovators’ outlining the history of the digital age going right back to the late 19th century (a pretty good listen too, by the way), but this book offered much more detail about Steve’s life than either of those could fit in. Everyone knows that Steve could be ruthless at times in pursuit of his goals, but this book also tells of Steve’s more humane side. He also had to overcome a number of demoralising failures – his career wasn’t just a long litany of success. As a listener, you have the luxury of being privy to the ups and downs of the life of this phenomenon, but, despite this detail, you don’t really get to know him. He was a private man and this book was written by two journalists, with relatively minor and formal roles in Steve Jobs’ life. But the lack of a really private and personal insight into Steve Jobs’ life doesn't detract from the quality of this brilliantly written and articulated story.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (A Full Cast Production)

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Neil Gaiman
    • Narrated By Dennis Boutsikaris, Daniel Oreskes, Ron McLarty, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    First published in 2001, American Gods became an instant classic, an intellectual and artistic benchmark from the multiple-award-winning master of innovative fiction, Neil Gaiman. Now discover the mystery and magic of American Gods in this 10th anniversary edition. Newly updated and expanded with the author's preferred text, this commemorative volume is a true celebration of a modern masterpiece by the one, the only, Neil Gaiman.

    Michael says: "New to Neil"

    I don’t believe in gods, or life after death, so I found it hard to ‘believe’ this novel. The characters, dialogue and narration are all excellent, and it’s quite a good story too, except that some of it takes place in a nether World where gods do battle and where our (mortal) hero is able to participate despite being dead.

    The story begins prosaically enough, with our hero, Shadow, nearing the end of his prison sentence. He is paroled and is met by Wednesday, a grifter (aka the god, Odin) who offers Shadow a job as his henchman. Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a car crash, but that doesn’t stop her ghost or corpse or whatever from participating further in the story, as a kind of guardian angel for Shadow.

    So Shadow goes on a journey around America and meets lots of other people and gods as we head towards a climactic battle between the ancient and the modern gods in the Pantheon. It’s very much like a Quentin Tarantino film in the way that quirky characters use snappy streetwise dialogue and engage in a lot of violence, but with a few Norse Gods thrown in for good measure.

    It seems as if this book was written to answer the difficult question: ‘what happened to all the gods that all the various immigrants believed in when they came to America?’ Well…what really happened was nothing, they never existed and the immigrants, or their descendants, forgot about them. But in this book they exist and have a battle with modern gods, and I don’t really see the point of it all, except that it was an OK listen because of the good characters, situations and interactions.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Girl You Left Behind

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 29 mins)
    • By Jojo Moyes
    • Narrated By Clare Corbett, Penny Rawlins
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    France, 1916: Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War II, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer’s dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything - her family, her reputation, and her life - to see her husband again.

    FanB14 says: "Exquisite Portrait of Sophie and Liz"
    "A proper story"

    This book received high praise in a recent Facebook conversation, so I thought I would take a punt. I hunted it down on Audible and had a listen.

    I’d have to agree with the Facebook reviewers, it is a really good, engaging story and, when life’s routines demanded that I switch it off (e.g. arriving at work) I was usually disappointed because I wanted to keep on listening.

    It’s all about a painting: The story takes place in two different settings: Occupied France during World War 1 and London in the present day. We also have two heroines (one in each era), two heroes, and a couple of villains. The eponymous painting is of our First World War heroine, Sophie. She is the owner of a hotel (Le Coq Rouge) in an occupied village in rural France. The picture had been painted before the war by her husband, Edouard, who is away fighting the Germans.

    The most senior German officer in Sophie’s town is Freidrich, a Kommandant who takes his meals at the hotel and takes a liking to Sophie and her painting.

    Then we suddenly switch to modern London to meet Olivia, whose architect husband David died unexpectedly 4 years earlier. She is still grieving his loss, and her favourite possession is the painting of Sophie, which David had bought from an American woman.

    I won’t reveal too much more of the plot, but from then on the story follows Olivia’s battle to keep the painting when a legal action is initiated by Sophie’s relatives, who claim that the picture was stolen by the Germans.

    It is very well written, with good characterisation and dialogue, and plenty of twists and turns. I think it would make a good film (incidentally, if a film was made I think it might be categorised as a ‘chick flick’). The narrators told the story very well in the sense that they played the roles convincingly, but they also made lots of mistakes and this distracted and irritated me a bit, but this is a churlish criticism of a really good listen.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • A Confederacy of Dunces

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By John Kennedy Toole
    • Narrated By Barrett Whitener
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    The hero of John Kennedy Toole's incomparable, Pulitzer Prize-winning comic classic is one Ignatius J. Reilly, "huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter". His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans' lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures.

    Jon says: "Well Done"
    "A wet firecracker"

    This is the third book I have read on the recommendation of Andy Miller, who wrote ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously (how 50 great books saved my life)’. I didn’t really enjoy any of them very much, and so I’m not planning to listen to any more of his 50 picks.

    So, what about ‘A confederacy of Dunces’? Well, I suppose I can see why it became a cult classic. It includes some interesting characters and clever dialogue. But I never found any of them to be truly believable, and I didn’t find the plot to be at all believable either.

    To this, an imaginary defender of the book might object that the book is a comedy and therefore it isn’t supposed to be believable. Well, I would accept that, except that comedies are supposed to make you laugh, and I didn’t laugh once. There were some slightly amusing bits, but no LOL moments, not even close I’m afraid. To be honest, I spent most of the book being mildly entertained by its interesting cartoon caricatures, but really I just wanted it to end. I actually tried to return it, but for some reason it was not eligible for a return.

    I seem to have a disturbing tendency to find many works of fiction disagreeable. I expect I will be in the minority, and that this book will be highly praised by other Audible reviewers. I don’t know yet because I will wait until I have posted this review before I go and read the others. Maybe I am just not cultured enough to appreciate quality fiction. In any case, I didn’t really enjoy it and I don’t recommend it, so you can decide for yourself.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Timothy Egan
    • Narrated By Patrick Lawlor, Ken Burns
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    The dust storms that terrorized America's High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since, and the stories of the people that held on have never been fully told. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author Timothy Egan follows a half-dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region.

    Sara says: "A Fascinating History"
    "A cautionary tale"

    I had read Jared Diamond’s harrowing and fascinating book ‘Collapse’, explaining how different populations throughout human history have destroyed their own, previously rich and fertile, environments and brought about their own extinction, but I wasn’t aware that this had happened in America.

    The High Plains of the Midwest were originally home to Native Americans and millions of bison. These were slaughtered or driven off the land in favour of cowboys and cattle, damaging the land to some extent, but by no means irreparably. Next came the farmers, encouraged by the government and the offer of homesteads, who ploughed away the grasslands to plant crops. This agriculture intensified with the increasing demand for wheat and the introduction of industrialised farming, until there was hardly any grassland left.

    At this stage there didn’t appear to be a problem, until the drought came along. The drought lasted several years and in the early period crops failed, then, worse, all the topsoil dried out and began to be blown into the sky to form colossal dust storms. Topsoil that had taken thousands of years to accumulate was lost in a few years and was deposited all over the USA and beyond.

    The toll in human suffering was horrendous. People became bankrupt and starved, or died of ‘dust pneumonia’. Livestock went blind and died of lack of food or with intestines clogged with dirt.

    This environmental disaster coincided with the great economic depression of the 30s to produce a grim double whammy of misery. Many people abandoned their land in a diaspora known as the ‘Exodust’, but some mega-hardy people stayed and held on to what they had, suffering immense hardship, despite the Roosevelt government’s considerable efforts to support the people and regenerate the land.

    The book carries an obvious and ominous message of warning to us all about the way we are overpopulating and over-exploiting the World today, with similar consequences being quite possible. But a reader choosing to overlook this theme can still appreciate this powerful insight into the lives of the people who stuck it out in frightful, arid, baking conditions. Whilst it is awful to see how these people suffered, it is uplifting to appreciate their courage and doggedness.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Anna Karenina

    • UNABRIDGED (38 hrs and 5 mins)
    • By Leo Tolstoy
    • Narrated By David Horovitch

    Anna Karenina seems to have everything - beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son. But she feels that her life is empty until the moment she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky.

    Marcus Vorwaller says: "Beautiful story, amazing narration"

    Q. Why did I listen to ‘Anna Karenina’? A. I had listened to ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Miller, in which he reads and reviews 50 books, and he singled out ‘Anna Karenina’ for high praise. Incidentally, I also tried to get his absolute favourite number one book on the list ‘Atomised’, but it isn’t available as a talking book so I hunted down a hard copy, and I haven’t finished it yet but have struggled so far. This is the problem with recommendations. People’s tastes differ.

    Anyway, back to the main point, which is ‘Anna Karenina’: I found it enjoyable, mostly, but it does meander off into politics and philosophising quite a lot. It has been described as ‘the best book ever written’, but, whatever these qualities are that qualify it for such hyperbole are lost on me.

    The characterisation is good and realistic, and you are drawn in to sympathise with the characters. There is interesting social comment (the fact that when a man and a woman commit the same social indiscretion, adultery, the man is unpunished while the woman is ostracised and disgraced). The narration is excellent. But the plot is a bit of a disappointment and after the ‘main event’ near the end there is a boring epilogue and I was waiting for it to finish so I could listen to something more interesting.

    Maybe I’m just too shallow for old classics, but I wasn’t particularly impressed by this book. 7/10.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Andy Miller
    • Narrated By Andy Miller

    An editor and writer's vivaciously entertaining, and often moving, memoir — a true story that reminds us why we should all make time in our lives for books.Nearing his fortieth birthday, author and critic Andy Miller realized he's not nearly as well read as he'd like to be. A devout book lover who somehow fell out of the habit of reading, he began to ponder the power of books to change an individual life—including his own—and to define the sort of person he would like to be.

    Myrtha says: "A BOOKLOVER'S BOOK"
    "Not a great book, but a good one"

    The book takes the form of a sort of diary-blog-journal of a year in the life of a middle-aged Englishman from Middle-England. He parodies his own suburban middleness with a lot of wit and engaging humour, poking fun at his rat-trap, 9 to 5, 1.8-children lifestyle and the fact that he no longer has time to pursue his passion, reading books (although he is an editor at a London Publishing Company and had written 2 books before this one, so it isn’t as if he is totally disengaged from literature).

    In order to remedy this situation (and also to provide the premise for writing this book), he decides to read 50 books that he has either always wanted to read, or feels that he ought to have read. They are all works of fiction. Some of the books are difficult to read, such as Middlemarch, Moby Dick and Of Human Bondage. Others are more popular and accessible, such as The Da Vinci Code, Pride and Prejudice and Absolute Beginners.

    The book is definitely interesting from start to finish, and he certainly gives tips about what not to read and a few ideas about books that are worth a try (although, as he is a somewhat eccentric character, I do have some doubts about whether I would enjoy his favourite picks as much as he does). At times, he drifts off on a bit of a tangent and you want him to get back on course, and also, he doesn’t review a significant number (half perhaps?) of the books, he just tells you that he read them.

    Despite these shortcomings, it's a good entertaining, worthwhile read, excellently narrated by the author himself. Unfortunately, his absolute-number-one-must-read pick of all the books is Atomised (aka The Elementary Particles) by Michel Houellebecq, which I sadly could not find on an Audible search - and so maybe I will have to find and read an old-fashioned 'dead-tree' version of this book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Michael Moss
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Every year, the average American eats 33 pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and 70 pounds of sugar (about 22 teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It’s no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese.

    Michael says: "This is all too real, and YOU are the victim."
    "Not a feelgood book"

    ‘Salt, Sugar, Fat' is a depressing expose of the processed food industry. It’s a fairly detailed analysis of how the industry has crammed more and more of these three ingredients into food, and the resulting havoc wrought on the health of Americans. Dramatically increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke have arisen as the population has become increasingly dependent on fast, cheap, convenient, tasty food and drink containing frightening amounts of these eponymous ingredients, as well as a whole load of other chemicals to flavour, colour and preserve the food and increase its shelf-life. The same problem has now been inflicted on other, poorer, nations, such as Mexico as the corporate giants have colonised other markets in their relentless pursuit of greater profits.

    Over time, some sections of the public have become more aware of the health hazards associated with these foods, but it hasn’t really reduced the scale of the problem. Attempts to introduce government regulation in the US have largely been scuppered by the lobbyists representing the powerful food and agriculture industries. There has been some effort on the part of the food corporations to reduce the quantities of salt, sugar and fat in their products, but these reductions have been fairly minor, token cuts and haven’t reduced the scale of the problem. Many people have cravings for these powerfully tempting products and can’t cut back effectively, and often don’t have the time, awareness or motivation to make radical changes to their lifestyles. Advertising and marketing campaigns are cleverly designed to make processed food seem irresistible, and of course advertisers are more likely to emphasize health benefits than to warn of the dangers of eating these products.

    The World has surely got itself into a sorry mess when people are encouraged to oversize their drink portions so that they are ingesting 44 teaspoons of sugar in their giant cup of fizzy soda, while people in other countries starve to death in droves. The companies defend themselves by saying that no one is being forced to consume their products. It’s a free market and they are only selling what people want. But surely, for the sake of the health of everyone, there should be a massive education campaign telling people how they are potentially harming themselves by eating fast food. There should be limits on the amounts of salt, sugar and fat that can be included in processed foods, as there are in other countries. Surely enough is enough?

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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