I loved this book, about smart teenagers trying to understand their world and get by in Manhattan and Vermont in the late 1980s. The characters are flawed and troubled and sometimes dangerous, but you grow to care about them as the book moves forward. The author successfully shifts to the different points of view of the characters, including their wayward parents. You can always tell that she cares deeply for each of them.
The narration was excellent. I have not experienced this narrator before, but I thought he brought the right note of yearning and wonder to the story. His handling of the different characters' voices was strong without being distracting.
I recently read "A Visit From the Goon Squad," which has similar themes, and I can't say that I preferred one over the other. Both were absorbing and enjoyable novels. But "Goon Squad" was more of a novel composed of short stories (a lot of those these days....), while Ten Thousand Saints was a real novel, focusing on one protagonist with a lot of compelling parallel subplots.
The novel is set in a milieu that is ripe for deep consideration of issues of war, home, bigotry, fascism and faith, namely, Lisbon in the late 1930s, a city filled with refugees fleeing Europe and trying to find new countries to accept them. But the novel focuses instead on four shallow, silly people who act like spoiled teenagers out of Gossip Girls. The narrator is a car salesman; the other couple write mystery novels under a pseudonym. The characters are disengaged from the war and nearly oblivious to the tragedies around them, both in Lisbon and in Europe. No doubt there were plenty of dull, disengaged people trying to leave Europe at that time, but it's not something worth reading about. The audiobook narrator had a good sense of voice for the characters.
Moth Smoke presented a lively but disturbing portrait of life among the wealthy and privileged in Pakistan. The novel includes a Great Gatsby-like love triangle between the narrator, his best friend and the best friend's wife. The narrator, who is smart and handsome but whose background is less privileged than that of his friends, finds himself in increasing trouble as he tries to exercise the prerogatives of the young and rich without the means or connections. And despite the narrator's strong moral sense, he has a devastating sense of entitlement that ends up creating havoc in his life.
The images of Lahore, with its disparities in wealth and its casual corruption, were informative. A favorite minor character was the narrator's young servant, who comes the closest to a moral center for the novel.
The narration was well done, and the story easily holds up through the end. One drawback: The beginning, with allusions to Pakistani myths and an imagined courtroom scene, is hard to follow in audio. It's the kind of book you have to get in hard copy just to check out what was going on at the beginning. But then, as the novel flows, it gets easier to follow. Overall, a worthwhile and entertaining read.
This was a wonderfully written book, with pitch-perfect characterizations and a compelling plot. I found myself repeatedly surprised by the plot twists and the unexpected developments (like the way the characters' kids turned out). The underlying theme of the strength of relationships built as teenagers was fascinating--the relationships built in a couple of summers prove to be the most important relationships of these characters' lives, despite growth and marriage and fights and the rest. The narration was excellent, with subtle shifts in voice and tone to immediately identify the numerous characters, but without sliding into exaggeration. Minor characters were fun and well drawn, too--the camp founders, the Icelandic counselor, the folk singer. They all seemed real. Surprisingly, one of the most likeable characters was a husband who hadn't gone to camp and who wasn't artsy. He provided a nice contrast to the "Interestings." All in all, a beautiful novel.
Glen McCready was an ideal narrator for this factually based story of heroes and others in Czechoslovakia in World War II. The novel presents a young man, trying to understand his parents' relationship and their possible support for the Resistance in World War II. There is an ominous, almost menacing tone to McCready's narration, as the young man gets closer to his parents' history. Among the livelier scenes were those from the protagonist's boyhood in the US, surrounded by emigres from the postwar Czech world, so many trying to understand what had happened to their lost world. But there is a heaviness, too, as the book confronts the horrors of the war and the suffering of these sometimes sentimental emigres. Very well written and read.
George Howe Colt provides a masterful, well structured analysis of brotherly relationships. The book uses famous brothers to illustrate his themes: John Wilkes and Edwin Booth for "good brother, bad brother," the Kelloggs for sibling rivalry, the Van Goghs for "brother's keeper," etc. Most entertaining are the digressions about so many different brothers in history: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau (does God favor the younger brother, even if he's a trickster?), the Rothschilds, Lehmans, Kennedys, Nixons, Carters, Mayos, Melvilles, Jameses (Jesse and Frank; Henry and William), Joyces, Bellows, Emersons, Thoreaus...even Romulus and Remus and the Five Chinese Brothers in the old children's book. If you have a brother, you will love all of this.
Alternate chapters tell the story of Colt's own brothers: how they grew and fought and looked out for each other. For those who grew up in the '50 and '60s, there are wonderful details about life back then. But ultimately, the Colts fade in comparison to the famous brothers profiled elsewhere.
The narration is serviceable and professional, holding the listener's interest without drama. Overall, a very enjoyable book.
Simon Vance did a beautiful job of narrating this classic Dickens novel, which I had never read. But I confess to disappointment in the book. The good guys were too virtuous, the bad guys too slimy (although I loved the scene where Micawber keeps saying "Heeee-eee-eeep...Heee-eeee-eeep"), and it kind of went on and on and on (33+ hours). I am a big fan of several Dickens novels--Great Ex, Two Cities, Oliver Twist--but perhaps for a longer book like this, you are better off reading it on the page, where you can skim over the slow parts.
I loved the openness and insights of the narrator of this Jamesian novel, looking back years later on the life changes he underwent as a foreign-born graduate student at Harvard. The unnamed (I think) narrator longs to be part of both the elite Cambridge community and the working class taxi-driving community of North Africans and other exiles. The narrator is drawn to the brash, vulgar, impulsive Kalash, feeling as foreign (at times) as his hard-to-control friend. The changes in his attitude to Kalash, to Cambridge and to the Harvard community provide the book's momentum. There are moments of laugh-out-loud humor that subside to the deepest sadness. Beautiful portraits of the immigrant community within a very special American subculture.
The narration by Sanjiv Jhaveri left me with mixed feelings. At first, I thought his accent (assumed for the book, based on his accent-free introduction and a few other characters' voices) was a caricature, something you might find in a comic foil on a network sitcom. But as we got to know the narrator, elements of Jhaveri's voice became appealing--a longing quality, a wistfulness, an eagerness to please. I was very sorry to "miss" his voice when the book ended.
All in all, an enjoyable listening experience that made me want to read more by this author.
Jonny Valentine is an amazing creation, an 11-year-old pop superstar with a combination of naivete, ambition, sincerity and street smarts--at least about the music business and what it takes to be successful. Teddy Wayne has created a deeply sympathetic character, a boy genius (in his field) surrounded by grown-up handlers who themselves have mixed emotions and motivations, using Jonny while also trying to help him grow. There are touching moments where Jonny's loneliness on his American tour comes through, but also laugh-out-loud moments. Some of the most moving scenes involve Jonny's interactions with kids around his own age, a childhood friend, a budding female singer that could be Jonny's first crush.
After a while, Jonny began to remind me of Huck Finn, another lonely kid traveling the country, trying to handle the world on his own and dealing with manipulative and often selfish adults with humor and increasing maturity. But Huck didn't have video games to distract him.
The narrator has just the right tone, conveying Jonny's longings and his youthful innocence. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its narration.
This intriguing novel alternates between Seattle in 1962, when the Worlds Fair opened, and Seattle in 2001, when the whiz-kid "father of the fair" resurfaces to run for mayor. The conflict between an aggressive but thoughtful young journalist and the pragmatic, candid civic leader is the heart of the book. While the characters didn't quite come to life for me, the novel presents a realistic look at the ethical dilemmas faced by both ambitious politicians who do what they can for their towns and careful journalists who struggle under deadline and pressure from their editors.
As the novel moves toward its climax, there is real tension over the kind of news story Helen, the reporter, will ultimately write about Roger, the mayoral candidate. Questions linger over the main characters' integrity and drivers--as well as that of potential news sources. Subplots involving the personal lives of the main characters and cameo appearances by celebrity visitors to the fair--LBJ, Elvis, John Glenn, Benny Goodman--provide entertaining diversions.
Richard Poe is my favorite narrator. He brings the right level of drama to his narration, with pauses just when you want to think about what is happening (too many narrators just plow ahead after a startling plot development, and I have to turn off the audio for a while to think about it). He brings the right amount of color to the voices of the characters. A great choice for this enjoyable novel.
This book just kept getting better. The novel takes place in one day, at one football game. The more I listened, the more surprises and turns of plot. The author has a great feel for 2004 and life in Texas and football and film agents and guys on teams and, yes, young love. The narrator was very strong, good with his characters' voices. I will read The Yellow Birds next, the other highly praised Iraq war novel--but this one was entertaining and insightful. Very sympathetic characters too.
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