Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of the coffeehouse mystery series. Despite this less-than-stellar review, I will still buy the next one. A Brew to a Kill didn't feel like it was written by Cleo Coyle but instead someone who tried to mimic her formula and over exaggerated. The result was a long, dull, drawn-out novel that I looked forward to ending. The book did have a few redeeming qualities, so let's start with those:
1. The mystery was not about a murder. For once, Clare Cosi did not stumble upon yet another dead body. If you are a fan of cozy mysteries, you may have noticed that authors tend to have their protagonists find dead bodies monthly. Eventually, you start to lose that sense of coziness, because the serene environment -- whether a coffee house or New England historic town -- becomes a place of horror and death. You can't have that, so authors have to make sure all of their mysteries are not murders. Kudos to Cleo Coyle for understanding that.
2. There weren't so many mysteries and murders that I couldn't keep up. Cozy mysteries should not be overwhelming or confusing. This one wasn't. Everything tied together nicely.
3. The culprit was discoverable. What I mean by this is that Coyle did not spring an unknown new character on us at the end and say he/she was responsible for everything. Too many mystery writers do this, making it impossible for the reader to sleuth.
4. Rebecca Gibel's narration was once again brilliant. Although Clare's rival cupcake lady was annoying, Gibel's French rendition of "Chocolat...ooh la la...chocolat" had me cracking up every time she spoke the cupcake menu.
Despite the good things, there were too many counteracting bombs.
1. A huge portion of the book contained a history of New York City. Every time someone moved from point A to point B, we were treated to a lovely textbook recitation of each borough of New York, the names of the gangs, the history of China Town, the demise of Little Italy, etc. Every time Coyle launched into one of these history lessons, I rolled my eyes and mumbled, "Here we go again." It's one of those no-nos in writing. Too much back story, and in this case, very little to do with the actual story line. Coyle just decided to be our tour guide throughout New York. The problem with it, aside from the boredom factor, is that it's ineffective. People (like myself) who've lived in or frequently visit the tri-state area already know most of this information. And those who have never been to New York can't possibly grasp the historical significance. This, in my opinion, is what made the book incredibly boring.
2. The food truck apparently was in service months before they even painted it. Why? If you have a truck that is representing the finest coffee in New York, why would you let it roam the city without an equally professional design? To make it worse, Clare let Dante paint the truck without first consulting her on the design. The result was a horrific, tasteless graphic that sickened Clare's stomach. So what did she do? She let the truck drive around like that, because she was too busy sleuthing. Unrealistic. A good business woman would have never allowed it.
3. In Cleo Coyle's book French Pressed, I enjoyed the rap. Even though I thought the language was inappropriate for Clare's business, it was fun for that one story. However, it's getting old and not at all flattering to the coffeehouse environment. I love that they support artists, but the rap isn't promoting a positive image. In fact, when the rich woman refused to support Esther's grant based on her street image, I didn't blame her. At each coffeehouse installment, the Village Blend is becoming less artsy and more ghetto. Coyle needs to class up the place a bit more. Ease up on the rap and crap.
4. The drug angle had great potential, but it was poorly delivered. First of all, the topic did not come about until nearly halfway into the book. Second, no drug lord would send expensive drugs to a guy in another country who didn't want them. It's too big of a risk, legally and financially. The whole story arc was far fetched but could have been pulled off with better planning (i.e. send a shipment of coffee beans to his cousin through Matt).
5. Matteo has got to go. I like him as a coffee partner, but his presence in Clare's life -- and in her apartment -- is offensive to her character. She put up with his nonsense during their marriage before spending ten years on her own trying to raise their daughter. Now he waltzes into Clare's life as if nothing happened, and we, the readers, are expected to embrace him? I don't think he's cute no matter how well Coyle describes his butt. In A Brew to a Kill, the scenes with Matt, Mike, and Clare were sickening. Were they supposed to turn us on? Is Coyle writing cheap romances now? Seriously, I'm tired of reading about Matt as if he's Clare's lover. He's an ex. He has his own wife. Clare has another guy. Please, PLEASE, give Clare her dignity back and kick Matt the heck out of the picture.
6. The crime solution was too much of a stretch. The culprit was a good choice, but the way he went about it reminded me of one of those puzzle video games where you have to travel to the other side of an island to flip on a light switch. There are easier ways to commit a crime. Why did this one have to be so elaborate?
As I said, I'm still a fan. But I hope that the next book redeems this one.
It took me several attempts to get through this book. I hated Sam and her friends from day one, and I know that was the point, but by the time I got to chapter two, I was looking forward to her dying. Imagine my dismay when the moment finally arrives and instead of dying, she awakens to her alarm clock. My review/observations:
1) Samantha's story was bad enough the first time. Why on earth would I want to reread the same scenes seven times! It was torture.
2) I am not sure how Lauren Oliver got away with stealing the plot for Groundhog Day. It's the same story. The main character is a shallow, self-centered, mean, jerk who relives his/her day over and over and over until he/she finally gets a clue. Just because you make the main character a teenage girl instead of a middle aged man doesn't make it a unique plot.
3) Sarah Drew can narrate just fine if she's just reading Sam's perspective. As soon as another character comes in, Drew switches to this constipated zombie voice. She did the same thing in the Delirium series (I thought Lena's aunt was part frog). It drove me crazy in that series and drove me crazy again in this book. Can't you just read another character's conversation without giving them a mental deficiency? Lindsay's voice was so creepy, I wanted to run her over with a Land Rover myself. And I really think the narration hurt the story, because it kept me from sympathizing with the supporting characters.
4) The worst part was the ending. I hope I'm not giving too much away by saying that when the moment FINALLY came Lauren Oliver skipped right over it. I had to read through seven accidents, seven non-existent scenarios. The least you could do is tell me which one was real and what exactly happened. Who lived? Who died? What was the point of the Juliette story if you don't even tell us what happened to her in the end? What happened to the friends, who didn't get 7 chances? I suffered through 10 hours of Groundhog Day and I didn't even get closure.
I am glad I finally finished listening, but I have to say that I regret the download. The Delirium series was also filled with unlikable characters, but at least the storyline was unique and the writing was done well. Aside from Drew's zombie frog voice, I enjoyed THAT series. "Before I Fall" not so much. That's just my opinion; I know a lot of people loved this book.
I'll make this short. I assume you've read the first book in the series, so you understand about the frozen scientists traveling to a new planet in a ship full of worker bees. Elder is the leader of the worker bees (the citizens of the ship). You might remember from the first book that something was not quite right. A BIG problem was revealed at the end. In this second book, Elder works to find a solution to the problem, all the while unveiling all kinds of exciting twists and turns in the plot.
Should you read book 2?
You have to wait until January to read it, because when you are finished you are going to tear your hair out wanting to read the next book. So yes, of course you should read it (or listen to it, in this case), but do yourself a favor and pace yourself. Book 3 comes out in January 2013. Why not read both at the same time? :-)
I judged this book by its cover, so even though the summary sounded interesting, I saw two people on the cover who looked like they were about to kiss and I blanched. Nope. Not interested in a love story right now. Pass. Eventually, I needed to use up some Audible credits and finally decided to download Across the Universe.
First, let me clear up the misconception. This is not a love story. The picture on the cover has no relevance to the story, and I have no idea why the cover artist designed it like that. The closest scene to the cover image is when Elder first notices Amy in cryogenic sleep. He gets very close to her face to observer her. It wasn't much more to it. He was just looking at her, not kissing her. I must not be the first person to be turned off by the cover, because I noticed that Beth Revis has since changed the cover image.
The book was great. Beth and her parents are put in a cryogenic sleep so they can be the first colonists on a new planet that will take 300 years to travel to. Here's something freaky: She thinks she's going to go into an immediate sleep, but it turns out, she's awake during the whole ordeal. What a nightmare!
Meanwhile, there are people living on the ship. Their jobs are to keep life on the ship going and to maintain the ship so it arrives on the planet safely. The workers on the ship will never make it to the planet. Their lives are purely on the ship. Elder is a kid who is training to be the ship's ruler (called the Eldest). He discovers the room with the cryogenic scientists and notices a young girl his age. Soon after, someone opens Amy's compartment, and she's awaken too early. There is no way to put her back in a frozen state so she thinks she'll never make it to the planet and never see her parents again. She's pretty mad about it. Being from Earth, she also notices that the ship's government system is a little strange and somewhat suspicious. She encourages Elder to snoop around an ask more questions. What they uncover is pretty exciting and the conflicts that ensue were great.
I would have given the book five stars, and here is why I didn't. There were too many scenes where a character started to do something and then stopped for no reason. It was kind of like, "Oh, I'm going to open this box now" and just when he reaches for the box, he thinks, "Well, maybe I shouldn't open the box. No, I'm not going to open the box." Those scenes were incredibly annoying and frustrating. In the real world, when you are faced with a conflict full of mysteries, and the answers are all right in front of you, you're going to check it out. You're not going to wait until later, forget about it, decide not to, or remember that someone didn't want you to. Most of the book went smoothly, though, and most was thoroughly enjoyable.
I could give this book a 3-star rating because I was able to get through it without having to throw my MP3 player across the room. It was bearable enough and the narrators did an okay job. I listened to Steven Kaplan in "The Future of Us" and can say that he did a better job of that one than this.
The atmosphere, the general dystopian environment was okay. I might have enjoyed it more if the plot was stronger. Unfortunately, the plot was pretty weak and much of the story line was just too hard to swallow. I like dystopia, fantasy, make-believe, and even magic, but the actions and reactions of this book all felt forced and unnatural. Characters seemed to do things simply because the author told them to and not for any plausible reason.
The first flaw is that the main characters were unlikable. Let's start with their names. June and Day. The way each chapter was written does not play well on audio. Every chapter starts with "June" or "Day." The narrator doesn't say "Chapter one, Day." It's just simply "Day." These are terrible names and a terrible way to present them. Every time Steven Kaplan said "Day," I thought that it was no longer night; it was now day. It took a few moments to remember that that's the kids' name. June was even worse. Every time Mariel Stern said "June," I thought the month had changed. The flip-flopping back and forth were confusing. I'm not opposed to dual POVs in a book, it just didn't work well in this one.
Of the two main characters, I disliked June the most. She was so Mary Sue. Everything about her was supposedly perfect, except she was immature and incorrigible. For some reason this was tolerated within this unfair, ruthless, dystopian government. Hey, as long as she can climb, shoot, fight, do kung fu and dance a jig, they may as well put her in charge. What a great idea, to put a 15-year-old spoiled delinquent in charge of catching the most wanted criminal.
Speaking of the most wanted criminal, meet Superspiderman, a 15 year old kid who can climb up the sides of skyscrapers and leap tall buildings in a single bound. I actually liked Day at first. He left his family for their own safety but kept an eye on them for years to make sure they had food and money. He has to hide in the shadows, though, because he's a hardened criminal. He did something dreadful like shoot a water pistol or pull a fire alarm. I can't remember, but it was something trivial, not really things that those in power would spend years hunting down. I ceased to like Day the moment he kissed June. Everything went downhill from there. He didn't have a reason for kissing her other than the author wrote it into his script. The two of them hooking up after each was responsible for the death of the other's family was unthinkable. And completely unbelievable.
Please ignore any reviews that compare this book to The Hunger Games. What an insult to Suzanne Collins to even put this book in the same playing field. It's nothing like The Hunger Games. It's barely even dystopian. Dystopian fiction indicates a post-apocalyptic society that has developed an unconventional (and often ruthless) government model as a means of collective survival. The people in charge genuinely fear a repeat of the apocalypse and truly believe that how they rule is for the greater good. In Legend, no one appeared to believe in the greater good. Everyone was so mechanical.
Would I recommend this book? Not as a first choice. I would only recommend it if you've already explored all other options and have absolutely nothing else to read.
I thought The Eleventh Plague was a great book. The main character, Stephen, lived all his life as a scavenger, picking up and selling salvage left over after a horrific war that left the world pretty desolate. He's surprised when he stumbles across a functioning, intact community, with people eating regularly, kids going to school, and generally rebuilding life. It was more of a subdivision, but considering the rest of the world was in disarray, this little gated neighborhood was practically a borough. Stephen is welcomed by most of the community, but the most powerful family doesn't want strangers and makes things hard for Stephen. Not wanting to stir up trouble, Stephen decides to leave, but not before pulling a (really stupid) prank on the powerful family -- he actually did it because a girl told him to, not because he wanted to, the dummy. Bad things follow and Stephen runs around trying to fix his mistake.
It was actually pretty good. Jeff Hirsch did a nice job of narrating. No weird voice changes or strange gulping habits.
If you're a fan of dystopian fiction, you should definitely put The Eleventh Plague on your list of good reads.
I have read/listened to every other book in this series. Weirdly, I avoided this one. Why? Because it focused on Claire's daughter, Joy, who always came across to me as the most selfish, whiny, know-it-all brat without a lick of common sense. Shame on me for judging so harshly and waiting so long to read the best book in the coffeehouse series. Okay, yeah, Joy still didn't have a lick of sense. If she'd just go home at a respectable hour instead of gallivanting across Manhattan in the middle of the night, she wouldn't have found herself in so much trouble.
That said, her ordeal was nevertheless heartbreaking. Maybe it's because I'm a mom, but the thought of that young girl sitting in Rikers Island for days due to nothing but her own naivety was unbearable. I was cheering on Claire who busted through a bunch of cops in her quest to protect her child, and when she drove all over the city interrogating suspects, putting herself at risk just to find out the truth.
Lately, all of Cleo Coyle's coffeehouse mysteries start out with an annoying internal monologue of "the killer." It's gotten to where we have to suffer through these killer scenes throughout the whole book, which to me ruins the flow of the story. I don't want to know what the killer is thinking. I just want to guess who it is. French Pressed, I am happy to say, does not force those annoying scenes upon us. There's a quick killer scene in the beginning, but it's not the paranormal-psycho-theme-music type of scene we have to endure in some of the other coffeehouse books. Coyle even gave us a few good suspects to ponder over. The whole thing was well done with just enough of this and that.
Now for the grand praise. Rebecca Gibel outdid herself. Wow, her performance was worth an award. Throughout the book, Gibel had to switch from character to character, perfecting an impossible number of accents and dialects. She smoothly transitioned from Claire's nondescript talking voice to Esther Best's Brooklyn twang, jumped into a flawless rap song using a Russian accent, back to Brooklyn twang, then spoke fluent Russian, French, Old Lady, and Cop in a single chapter. What the heck? Who does that? Give this woman a medal! I was completely lost in her performance to the point that I forgot that it was the same person narrating the whole time. Very impressive.
I'm looking forward to the newest installment due to be released in the next few days. I hope the new one lives up to Book 6. It'll be a hard one to follow.
I originally read this book twenty-something years ago. My paperback copy is frail and yellow and the cover is barely hanging on by a thread. I thought it'd be neat to listen to it. It was a good choice. Michael Kramer did an excellent job narrating both Phaedrus and Robert's perspectives (though Robert is never mentioned by name in the entire book). I learned a few more things this time around, even though I thought I sucked all the philosophy out of it the first 100 times I read it. I think I learned more about the rhetoric of quality than any one person should in a lifetime. Pirsig spent way too much time pondering it -- but then again, I think that was the whole point and the reason he eventually lot his mind.
If you've ever pondered anything--relationships, equations, language, theory--you must read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If you own and ride a motorcycle and have ever pondered life during a road trip, you have to read this. If you have a heartbeat, you should read it. Seriously. You need to read it. And then listen to the Audible.
Once again, I am surprised by so many raving reviews, leaving me wondering, "Did we all read the same book?" I liked Divergent. I didn't exactly buy into the dystopian, faction-split world, but I thought the idea was interesting enough. Learning all the factions was fun as was the brutal Dauntless initiation tests. In Divergent, I especially liked it when Triss made quick Dauntless-like decisions, instead of sitting around brooding over right and wrong. She had spunk. She was brave and crazy. The character was refreshing.
I don't know what I expected from Insurgent, but I did not expect everything to fall apart. None of the characters actually stayed in character. Were they even the same characters? Same names, but completely different personalities. Triss was the worst. While in Divergent, she acted first and thought later, didn't worry about her family or consequences or right and wrong, or anything like that. Now, suddenly in Insurgent, she's this weak, wishy-washy little girl who does nothing but cry and faint and whine about how little she is. Insert cringe here. At some point in the beginning (or possibly the last book), she is shot, and she milks her injury throughout the whole book. She even lets people carry her around because she's too hopeless to stand on her own two feet.
Tobias, a.k.a. Four, is another one who's been taken over by aliens. In the last book, he was a tough guy, strong, hard to read. In this book, he's moody and childish. Caleb makes a longwinded appearance in Insurgent, but just like the other two, we can't tell who he is and what side he's on. Add in the remaining 700 characters, all with multiple personalities, and good luck keeping track of anything that's going on.
Insurgent had absolutely no transitional introduction, nothing to remind you of who everyone was and why they were wandering aimlessly. I actually had to go back and relisten to Divergent, because I couldn't follow this book. Once I got into the flow, I was still confused. For example, Triss and Four and a whole group of people suddenly show up at Amety headquarters. I had to rewind several times to see if I missed something. Why were they there? Did they announce that they were going there? The Amety promise that they're safe there, but as soon as the Erodite show up, they turn over their "guests" without the slightest coercion. "Sure, you can have them. There they are!" So they run to Candor, who say, "Yes, we know Erodite used mind control on everyone, but I see you on this camera doing bad things. So you must be guilty and not the mind controllers." Hmm, strike two. Hey, let's try going back to Dauntless. After all, we did save everyone's life. Surprise. Dauntless hates you too. That makes sense. Or not. Really, I know there a lot of stupid people in the world, fictional or otherwise, but does everyone have to be stupid?
Okay, so what saved this trilogy? The ending. At the very end, there is a somewhat, almost believable explanation for everything. It doesn't excuse the unforgivable chaos of characters running around with no memorable qualities. It doesn't explain why everyone's running around killing each other. But if you squint your eyes and tilt your head, the ending might possibly explain the factions and the post apocalyptic world that they live in.
If you've already read Divergent, you can't really miss Insurgent, because you have to finish the trilogy. Just take it all with a rain of salt. Grit your teeth and bear it until you get to the end. I plan to read the third, but after this fiasco, the third book BETTER be good.
I'm surprised by the reviews. Perhaps it's because I have already read this book in paperback. It's one of my favorite classics. Twenty years ago, I gave this book a five star rating. Having just listened to it with refreshed ears and a clear mind, I did pick up on a number of writing flaws, which I'm willing to forgive with just a one-star penalty.
First, let me critique the production of this audio. It was pretty bad. Although Kate Burton can read aloud just fine, without snacking her lips, swallowing loudly, or failing to block out background noise, she did fail to "perform." Contrary to what some reviewers are saying, her idea of a Brooklyn accent is not only embarrassing, but it's downright insulting to Brooklynites. She made everyone sound like the Three Stooges. It would be comical if it wasn't so annoying. There were also many parts of the book where the character was singing. Instead of singing the lyrics, she read them. Really, if you are going to "perform" a narration, at least try to sing when the characters sing. Reading Silent Night and Auld Lang Syne in a monotone, non-inflected voice ruins the experience.
The narrator was not the only problem. This is why I am critiquing the production, not just the narrator. The worst part of the production was this crazy jazz music that suddenly blares at you in the middle of a section. The loud music is followed by an agonizingly long pause and then a score of Schroder piano music. Horribly distracting. I wanted to throw my MP3 player across the room. The long silent pause between bursts of music was a waste of time. To be honest, I absolutely hate when there's music in my Audibles. Don't inflict your music on me. I have my own reading mood. I don't want to start out each chapter annoyed. (Besides, reading is a quiet, peaceful activity. Why would you blare music at someone?)
As for the writing flaws, nothing I say here is going to make a difference, nor should it discourage anyone from purchasing the book. I'm merely noting it in case someone is thinking of writing a similar memoir, to prevent what is considered poor writing in modern standards. The book was poorly organized. Smith kept shifting up and down her timeline to the point that it was difficult to tell what order events occurred. Points of view also kept shifting. The story began in Francie's POV and then suddenly there's a long narrative of Katie, a bit of Johnny, a quick thought from Nealy, and the complete biography of Sissy. There was even one scene where we got a glimpse inside the heads of all the neighbors. Too much. Give us one or two POVs so we can keep up.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is still one of my favorites. It's a beautifully honest depiction of a time gone by and should be a part of every book lover's library. I would suggest you read the book first, and if you still want the audio, try the other narrator.
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