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 well-received quasi-novel focuses on a guy a lot like Ben Lerner, I guess. Other readers found it brilliant, but I found it too self-satisfied and too self-indulgent. There are lots of scenes around New York that show off his cleverness and sensitivity, at dinner parties and natural history museums and lunch with his agent and fertility clinics. But only one character struck me as real: Mr. Lerner himself. The others were one-dimensional mirrors for the narrator, not much more. (One exception: his colleague at the Park Slope Food Coop, who tells the narrator a surprising and suspenseful story about her family history, interrupted by Ben's having to deliver the dried mango he's been packing to the sales floor.)
I have one suspicion, that a story late in the novel about an intern at a literary retreat in Marfa whom the narrator comforts through a bad drug trip...was this based upon an adventure in which Mr. Lerner was the intern and not the comforting older figure? But a bad trip, was that too cliched and uncool for our narrator? Who knows. It's a novel.
The book was well-read by Eric Michael Summerer.
This rich and entertaining novel begins with the residents of a gentrifying London street receiving anonymous postcards, stating only, "We Want What You Have." The novel follows many of the residents, who live amazing lives, and who are troubled by but generally oblivious to the postcards. These include the ambitious but lazy banker and his giddy wife, who lives to spend; the Pakistani family that owns the shop on the corner; the elderly widow whose family has lived in their house for generations, and the young Senegalese soccer star, living with his father in his agent's house. And then there are the non-residents, like the middle-class detective charged with finding the source of the postcards, the Banksy-like anonymous artist, the Zimbabwean refugee meter maid, the Polish handyman and the Hungarian nanny. And various assistants, friends and family. All the characters are well-drawn and believable.
Despite this melange, the plot is clear and well-constructed. There is humor throughout, and suspense and some surprisingly moving scenes. The author makes fun of some of the characters and their ambitions, but he also likes them all (I think). Personally, I liked the characters and rooted for most of them throughout the book.
The narrator was excellent, speaking with the right tone of bemusement. Frankly, I loved this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this post-apocalyptic tale of traveling actors and musicians after a flu pandemic wipes out most of the world's population. Kirsten Potter did an excellent job of narrating the novel, easily differentiating the characters' voices without overly dramatizing them.
The book may be difficult to read for those fearful of ebola, enterovirus and the many other potential pandemics traveling the globe. But it is optimistic, showing the importance of art, music, history and ultimately cooperation and caring for others--the essence of civilization. The resilience of the survivors, orphans living and creating new art in a world surrounded by corpses and disease, is moving. The novel is told through the adventures of several interlocked characters, all connected to the actor/celebrity Arthur Leander, who dies onstage at the start of the novel, playing King Lear in Toronto, just before the plague strikes. There is romance, danger, murder and even a false prophet. While it's not always believable, it's always compelling.
This was one of my favorite recent books.
This is an excellent, absorbing novel nearly ruined by a poor narrator.
The story focuses on a young law professor in Bogota who grew up uncomfortably through the violent years when Pedro Escobar's drug gang imposed random violence on all levels of society--even blowing up a passenger plane in flight to kill a politician who was not on board.
There are several plane crashes in the course of the novel, but the "things falling" include more than airplanes--the professor's life gradually disintegrates after a mysterious older man, a friend he met shooting billiards, is shot dead on the Bogota street. The professor had tried to stop the shooting, but he is also shot and seriously wounded. The story turns to the professor's increasingly obsessive search to understand the friend's life. Along the way, we learn the family history of the murdered man--his grandfather was a prominent pilot for the Colombian military, his daughter raises bees in the countryside. We also learn much about recent Colombian history.
But the narrator is the worst. He reads the novel indifferently, as if he were reading a cookbook. You get the impression as he reads that he has not himself read the material in advance. He makes no effort to differentiate the voices of characters or to put any feeling into their conversation. At times, it's hard to tell which character is speaking because they all use the same resigned monotone.
While the poor narration makes it hard to stick with the book, it's worth the effort. "The Sound of Things Falling" is a thoughtful and moving, if tragic, tale of ordinary people trying to get by in extraordinary times.
Euphoria presents a classic love triangle among three anthropologists in New Guinea between the world wars. The main charcter is Nell Stone, modeled after Margaret Mead, a free-thinking, insightful, deeply empathetic student of native cultures. Her husband Fen is her opposite, cynical, greedy and dismissive of local sentiments. Between them comes Bankson, the narrator, looking back years later on their brief time together in a small village, trying to control their lusts but not their ambitions. The story is well told, more absorbing and suspenseful as the book progresses. The author, like Nell, has a quick feel for other characters. Minor characters are well drawn with a few telling details. You especially feel for several of the villagers whose lives are changed by their observers.
The audiobook has a serious flaw, namely, the drab narration by Simon Vance. Bankson should be an energetic, passionate, vibrant young force of nature, despite his failed suicide attempt at the novel's start. Instead, Vance reads as a depressed and weary old man. This drains the novel of much of its excitement. Xe Sands, reading as Nell Stone, is far better, with the right enthusiasm and wonder in her voice. Overall, however, this was an excellent book.
This was a beautifully written, thoughtful book about the very different lives taken for granted by natives of two continents, a troubled region in Africa and a complacent midwestern America. The story follows Isaac, an impoverished African who flees civil war to become a curious, lonely student in Illinois. He is befriended by the equally isolated social worker Helen, and they slowly build a relationship. The best chapters take place in Africa, during the student uprising that inspired Isaac's closest friend. But the most memorable scene takes place in a small-town American luncheonette. Isaac expects little, and in her own way Helen also has muted ambitions. There are many moving moments on both continents. And both narrators are excellent, with the right voices of tenderness and regret. A strongly recommended novel.
Three Brothers portrays a world in which ambition and success lead only to misery. Of the three brothers, the oldest, Harry, makes his way in journalism through connections and by burying stories of corruption that would cause his boss financial problems. Daniel, the middle brother, becomes a professor and critic who is increasingly panicky about hiding his homosexuality. The youngest brother, Sam, has neither goals nor friends, but the author seems to regard his meekness as the greatest virtue. The brothers lose touch with each other early in the book, after their mother mysteriously abandons them. Their lives become three parallel but separate morality tales. The author is especially harsh on foreigners, like the South Indian Asher Roopta, a corrupt landlord. The book aims at a Dickensian flavor, with scenes at every level of society and with oddly named characters and coincidences. But even Dickens' most odious characters (Uriah Heep) were understandable, while Ackroyd's villains are cardboard targets. I confess that I enjoyed the book's first few chapters, until the author became increasingly bitter and his characters increasingly mean. Steven Crossley's narration was very good, as always.
Jo Becker has written a compelling drama, tracing the history of the lawsuit that declared unconstitutional California's Proposition 8, revoking the right to gay marriage. The author has a nice ability to take complex legal concepts--heightened scrutiny, equal protection--and make them clear and understandable. More important, she has a great ear for detail, so the characters all come alive. She focuses on the four plaintiffs--Paul and Jeff, Chris and Sandy--and the depth of their feelings for each other, as well as the importance of the case to those within and outside the gay/lesbian community. She also conveys the hard work, strategic decisions and almost obsessive attention to the case by the key lawyers (mostly Ted Olson and David Boies, with troops of lawyers supporting them) and the public relations groups advising them. Becker highlights the opposition from "traditional" gay advocates, who lobbied to avoid a federal case as they moved forward state by state, for fear of moving too quickly. She also provides an entertaining summary of the parallel Edie Windsor case, which set aside the Defense of Marriage Act, and its legal team. The ending, which was of course covered by newspapers and TV, is quite moving. Overall, the book is filled with lively personalities, nicely drawn, in the context of a very significant civil rights case. The narrator had a light touch.
This melancholy novel focuses on a troop of three actors wandering in the Andean villages of an unnamed South American Country, performing a political play written by one of them years earlier called "The Idiot President." That play had gotten the playwright thrown into a vile, dangerous prison as a terrorist, and now the troop is reviving the play for small mountain audiences. But the novel focuses on Nelson, a lonely young actor who recently broke up with his girlfriend, who somewhat arbitrarily joins the other actors to play the "President's" son, and who suffers the consequences of others' selfishness.
The novel surprises again and again. It is so unpredictable. And some moments are utterly chilling. But it's real charm lies in the mood it evokes, one of fatalism and resignation, one where you long for the characters to do the right thing or at least to overcome their circumstances. But again and again, it seems like no one is in charge and no one bears responsibility.
The narration was very good, too.
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.
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