The Black Count was a fun, fascinating listen. As Reiss makes clear early, there's not exactly a surplus of historical source documentation on the titular general - much of what's new here comes from one furious visit to a single safe. But Reiss artfully combines these documents (letters, military communiques, etc.) with his son's (often subtly exaggerated) retellings of events and insightful summaries of relevant history. The result is that the reader/listener feels like they're taking part in an exciting investigation, criss-crossing the many worlds that Dumas inhabited -from his roots in brutal 18th century colonial Saint-Domengue to Enlightenment and Napoleonic France to the shadows of a Naples prison. I found it consistently engaging - it made me want to read up on a long list of subjects.
While it was certainly a five star listen for me, my only hesitation might be in recommending this would be to someone deeply familiar with French history. If you're well read on their colonies, the enlightenment and Revolution, there might be a bit too much survey of well-covered events. For me, though, this was a refreshing way to engage with historical subjects I haven't given enough attention to.
Inverted World is the first book by Priest I've read, and I found it to be a revelation. The main business here is the building of an outlandishly original fantasy world, artfully revealed to us in provocative flashes by a young apprentice named Helward. Without giving anything away (the revealing is so much of the fun!), I'd just say that it's one of the more unique fictional worlds I've inhabited lately, to the point where comparisons are difficult - if you mash up China Mieville, Terry Pratchett and Haruki Murakami, with a dash of George Lucas, you might be in the ball park?
The book is marked by a lot of playful, artful zig zags. Very subtly, the story shifts from a coming of age story to a bizarro, Odyssey-like journey to a chronicle of a very warped world, and back. It's heady, but unlike other brainmelting 70's sci-fi, I found it to be constantly humane - the characters maintain their charm and as a reader I felt like my amusement was the mission. In that respect, I'd say it's more along the lines of Terry Pratchett than Philip K. Dick.
Cree's narration was pitch perfect, in my estimation. He conveys the sound of an awed young apprentice wondering at a world full of new curiosities.
Note: the forward (ie chapter 1 of this audiobook) has what I'd consider to be minor spoilers. A lot of the joy of this book is following his crazy-worldbuilding, and the forward makes a lot of the connections for you. It didn't ruin the book by any means, but I'd recommend skipping it and listening to it after you finish.
I'm strangely happy that I read Declare. Strangely because to me, the book lost a lot of momentum after it's first third, which deal with some exciting events in the younger years of the main character. Some suspense and fascinating scenery remains, but for me the rest of the book was told in overly broad strokes. Weeks fly by between paragraphs, the personal motivations become less palpable, the imagery becomes scarcer.
Yet I'm happy I listened too, as "Declare" plays in some of history's stranger intersections. It raised questions in me, which is the mark of an at least worthwhile book. Coldwar spycraft meets ancient mythology. Nazis, communists, Catholics, double-agents... there's not a simple character in the book and even when some of the more immediate literary pleasures are lacking, I often found myself spurred to excited thought, writing down subjects for further reading. Separating the considerably researched fact from the fiction (helped immensely by the afterward) was rewarding too.
I liked but didn't love the narrator. Rather, I found him initially enjoyable yet I wondered if the overly consistent cadence to his speech was at least partly what was tiring me as I worked through Declare.
I like zombies and comedy, but I called it quits on "Zombie Fallout" after a few chapters. I'm chiming in because many of these "unanimous five star" genre books have been unqualified hits for me. With this one, I wish I'd listened to the sample, although frankly I think the cover, title and marketing should indicate a bit more of the schticky style contained.
There's a lot here that just wasn't my taste - constant references to past zombie pop culture (no 00's movie or videogame goes unnoticed), the conceit that the main character was fully prepared for a zombie apocalypse, and, most of all, Mr. Tufo's overeager and slightly corny sense of humor.
Not a minute goes by without him trying to elicit some kind of laugh from the listener/reader, and just about every attempt was a failure with me. It's all firmly from the Jeff Foxworthy/King Of The Hill school of "redneck sitcom husband" humor; he slips in poop, gets annoyed with his wife, disdains anything more high-brow than a monster-truck rally, and expresses exasperation at the idiot neighbors. Hey, I have no problem with humor or bending genre conventions, but it didn't connect with me and felt fairly stale after Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland (which, of course, are knowingly referenced).
I can't say the narrator helped. Mr. Runnette is affable and sympathetic but his reading neither delivered the punchlines or amped up the suspense for me. Frankly, he sounds like a quirky character actor more than the leading man I'd want to join for a multi-book saga.
I sensed some inventive supernatural twists before I quit, but all of this was too much baggage for me. But hey, a quick listen to Audible's generous sample should be enough for you to tell which reviewers you should listen to.
Overall, I considered this book a waste of time. There are a few nuggets of wisdom, but they're mixed in with thoroughly outdated scientific theories and organized in a loose, rambling way.
The book leans heavily on the concept of the triune brain (the lizard brain, mammal brain, etc) which is a cute and perhaps *useful* model but is almost completely discredited as an actual model of neurological evolution. The concept of "mirror neurons" is also specious at best as an explanation for social behavior, and is repeatedly referenced as if it completely explains how to unlock all the secrets of any relation or audience. A quick wikipedia search on either topic will quickly show that these theories are outdated at best. I consider including them as a foundation of a book a negligent waste of my time and money on behalf of the author and editors.
I consider such a weak foundation a cardinal sin for non-fiction. There were a few nice tidbits about overcoming extremely resistent audiences, but even these were loosely organized, not especially useful for everyday situations where people are somewhere between ecstatically receptive and icy toward me. The best bits were about "Being interested, not interesting", but I feel like a short article could have accomplished this. Any issue of Psychology Today will have more insights with much more carefully presented science.
Under the guise of young professional's straying thoughts as he walks New York (and later, Amsterdam), Cole weaves a complex world, combining thoughts on the world (everything from bed bugs to economic collapse), personal memoir, happenstance conversations, history and the world around him. As in the movie "The Waking Life", long passages of the novel are incidental monologues that characters seem to recite to the narrator, almost unprompted.
Open City rewards patience. On a minute, paragraph by paragraph scale, Cole's laconic plotting might seem aimless, but rich themes bubble to the fore of each chapter, and larger themes invite probing and relistening as you dig into the book. Cole paints a complex but vivid character, a man who seems to accomplish much but dreams so much more. Yet, you'll see, he isn't quite an angel.
I enjoyed this book greatly. It has its conceits - why does everyone open themselves up so unreservedly to this mysterious narrator? - but the tapestry of thoughts, conversations and dreamlike action, all told with gorgeous prose, was intoxicating. I've actually found it's rich world worth exploring again with a relisten.
It's a shame that the cover and title of Bloodmoney suggest a run of the mill potboiler when Bloodmoney's pleasures are so much headier: Ignatius gives us a dizzyingly fun but convincing tour of some of the most mysterious subjects in the modern world in modern Pakistan, the CIA and the world of high finance. While it is fictional, Ignatius paints a conspiracy with a startling ring of truth by portraying a dark intersection between these worlds. It helps that he fills Bloodmoney with engaging, believable characters - from the colorful CIA chief to the brusque boss of a CIA shadow organization to the pious Pakistani militant to the slyly witty ISI chief, each character is fully realized enough to evoke a separate world. The ultimate effect is a story that shows the human consequences of labyrinthine, secretive organizations with the heady joy of The Wire.
Firdous Bamji's reading is masterful - he covers plot exposition with a cool/unaffected tone in keeping with the story, and he acts the dialogue to perfection, giving real life to each character. "His" CIA and ISI chiefs are some of the most well acted performances in my recent listens.
I happen to subscribe to the Kindle edition, mostly just to use it's excellant text-to-speech functionality, but thought this sounded even better. Unfortunately, to my surprise and horror, each Audible issue probably contains less than half of the articles in the latest New Yorker. This issue is missing what is easily the most compelling article - a riveting, in-depth story on the Galleon insider trading scandle and its relation to the mortgage crisis. I hate to imagine what I'll be missing in future issues.
Furthermore, while the writing is universally world class, the readings are uneven. I find the female reader overly chipper and school-marmish and the male reader wearyingly droll. The Economist hires BBC-quality professionals to read every article, available in their excellant app. I do wish this great magazine would take this excellant concept a little bit further - with better narrators and a complete recording of each issue.
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