I am a long-time fan of Rita Mae Brown's books, particularly the Sister Jane fox-hunting series. She chose to narrate this one, as she has done on at least one of her past books. Unfortunately her voice is neither particularly suitable, or does she have the acting range to bring the words to life.
Since I am a devoted reader, I can put up with a fairly monotone-like reading, but it might put off those who are new to her books. The only advantage is that she could ably pronounce every single one of the exotic Indian names of characters in the story. Please, Ms. Brown, let a professional do the book - either over again, or in the future. Really. It makes a difference.
The plot is certainly different, based on illicit tobacco sales, and not especially engrossing. I learned a lot about the tobacco industry, but I wasn't avidly seeking every detail about that enterprise. There is also a terrorism angle.
I am not one that plays at solving the mystery as I read it. I simply "live" in the story while it takes place, enjoying the setting, the activities (and in this book, the fox hunts are fantastic as always), and just cruising along for the ride. When it ends, it ends, and I'm not sitting there, "Well I didn't see THAT coming."
The Sister Jane books are all based on fox-hunting, using hounds to track fox across country as riders follow along. It is a long-standing American and British tradition with strict rules and etiquette. American hunts do not kill their quarry, just running it to ground (into the den or other inaccessible place), and calling it good. There are two primary groups of riders, First Flight, the riders who ride in the main body of the hunt, taking virtually all the obstacles and riding at speed, and the Hilltoppers, who are mostly inexperienced horsemen or those who prefer to travel at slower speeds, with little or no jumping. The First Flight is under the Master's (Jane) direct eye and follows her instructions. Another senior member escorts the Hilltoppers, trying to get them views of the fox and the main body of the hunt while letting them participate at their own pace. He makes sure that everyone gets back safely and teaches them about hunting technique and etiquette. If you aren't interested in horsemanship, foxhunting, wildlife -- this isn't the book for you.
By the way, the foxes enjoy the challenge. Those who don't, go to ground quickly and evade further attention that day. Others delight in laying difficult tracks that are hard to decode by the eager hounds.
It was a delight to revisit most of my favorite characters in this series, though the multiple references to Betty and Bobby's financial situation got tedious. We all get it if you tell us ONCE. These favorite characters also include the non-human members, the animals and birds of the area, the hounds and horses, all of whom can carry on conversations very intelligently, though their humans don't have a clue about it. As an animal lover, I know darn well they're talking about us.
I also liked reconnecting with the Custis Hall girls, now on to college and adult life. While this is a stand-alone book, you will really benefit by reading the entire series in order so that you understand all of the inside remarks, and why Crawford Howard, millionaire foxhunter and jerk, makes so much trouble.
One of the foxes finds human remains as he roams his woodland, and determines that he needs to let one of the humans know somehow. He doesn't really care that much, but he knows that the humans really get concerned over these things, and that it would be the right thing to do. When the hunt comes out the next day, he leads them into the area of the remains, where a sharp-eyed whip, Sybil, spots the bones.
Story-wise, you'll either love Brown's books as a body of work, or you'll hate them. For this particular audio book, it could have been done in a better manner.
I love Charles Pellegrino's books, and have particularly enjoyed the Titanic books. If you haven't read some of these other books, you'll be surprised when you learn the tie-ins with 9-11 and the collapse of the World Trade towers. The physics of destruction had many common features with the two disasters.
I especially liked that this book reflected some of the latest revelations about Titanic trivia and history. Edith Russell's toy pig was a good luck charm, not just grabbed on a whim when she left her stateroom for the last time. Among her preparations for leaving were multiple slugs of whiskey, and she left the final drink in the glass holder, untouched. The weight of the liquor held the glass in place as the Titanic shook and tilted on her trip to the ocean floor. Generations later, that glass sits in its place in her stateroom, unbroken.
The Titanic crew took a poor approach to managing the disaster, and only Murdock really responded in a positive manner that saved lives. The "women and children only" edict resulted in partly-filled lifeboats that took forever to load, and the officers were also concerned that the boats were not sturdy enough to be lowered when fully loaded.
There are new characters to meet, including a Japanese efficiency expert who was traveling in second class. He was not allowed to buy a first class ticket because he was not white. He survived, though he was later vilified when people thought he'd dressed as a woman to get into a boat. In truth, the officer overseeing the loading had sent him into the boat as a rower. There was also a story that a Chinese individual had gotten in a boat by trickery and acted in an insulting manner to the first class ladies who were already aboard. This resulted in vigilante behavior toward the Japanese man, and the mistaken identity followed him for the rest of his life.
Chief Baker Charles Joughin knew he would die in this wreck. The ship's doctor advised him to drink heavily and be insensible when the cold waters closed over him for the last time. Meanwhile he drank and helped get people into the boats. He helped package food and water for the boats at a time when the story was "we'll all be back on the ship for breakfast, folks, don't bother to take anything." He knew better. When the ship went down, he made it to a piece of floating wreckage, getting only partially wet, and survived. Suffering from hypothermia, he had the kitchen crew on the Carpathia put him into a warm oven. That should have killed him, as rapid rewarming is now considered too hard on the heart. Joughin survived rewarming and became a near-comic character in "A Night to Remember."
Only one first class child died. No third class (immigrant class) children survived.
The actions of second mate Lightoller contributed to the failure of the evacuation and the high death toll. He did redeem himself in later years, particularly at Dunkirk, where he sailed his own yacht back and forth to bring trapped soldiers off the beach in France.
The seas were flat calm that night in April. Had there been a light chop, the bioluminescent creatures of the Atlantic would have helped the lookouts spot the deadly ice ahead. There would have been little glimmers and flashes caused by the animal life being disturbed by the motion of the water. This is why the ship's wakes glow in certain conditions.
Captain Smith and his crew knew there was ice ahead. The decision, none the less, was still "go faster!" A coal bunker fire was barely managed, but the goal of setting a record Atlantic crossing was more important.
She reached the sea floor in record time...
The Michael Connelly books have always been "go to" books for repeat listening, and frankly, we think of Harry Bosch as family. We've even become fond of Mickey Haller.
The newest book doesn't do it for us. The reader was adequate - barely - why? Because he sounded like the reincarnation of "Joe Friday" of "Dragnet." Flat intonations, little variation and emotion, and can't do very many voices. Len Cariou was the best Harry, and when I think of Harry, that's the voice he has.
The story itself was not interesting, and it telegraphed its destination very early. Harry wants to retire in a year and take his retirement in a lump sum. Ding Ding Ding! We know Harry will have problems staying employed for the next year, and the cliff-hanger ending is just a predictable pitfall to put Harry in peril.
Of Connelly's many books, only two of them have been duds. Now there are three.
It's possible that when the remaining books in the Harry series are out, that they'll all come together and form a more likeable book when listened to in sequence. At this point I'd be tempted to wait until the Harry series is completed, then get the books...maybe.
Harry Bosch has always been one of the most interesting and complex characters. I'd invite him to Thanksgiving dinner if I could.
This new detective Lucy doesn't do it for us. I don't care if she walks off a cliff or takes up driving a taxi. She's just a chair warmer, and if she becomes the heir apparent of the series, I will be very disappointed. It looks like that's the plan. Now would be a good time for the partner-destroying tradition to revive.
This isn't a good audio book. Read it in print so you can bring it to life yourself. Borrowed from the library, of course.
Perhaps George Guidall could have salvaged the book with his genius for good voices and acting emphasis. Perhaps.
It's very difficult for a woman tor do male characters when reading, but some of them pull it off. This one did not. Her males were strained and fake, the same voices that you hear in cliche, usually saying something like "Heap big chief." While they're using good English, the tonal emphasis says they're producing a heap big pile of pony product.
I don't know if George ever spent any time around Navajos, but he could at least produce the diction and pacing associated with many Natives. Even those who are of different tribes seem to have some speech techniques in common, probably from the large numbers who travel from one tribe to another.
I don't think Tony would have taken this book in the same direction that his daughter did. There are families of writers who each find their own voice and become successful. This book did not do it for Anne. Perhaps her next effort will do it...but I will be extremely reluctant to try it.
I cannot recommend this as an audio book. As a written book, you have the option of giving your own interpretation to the words on the page, and this may make it somewhat viable in that form.
Meanwhile I only finished this to see what happened to the legendary Lieutenant. I'll never have a reason to listen to it again.
Jim Meskimen is steadily improving his narration skills as he works through the series. He is still not as versatile in character voicing as Christopher Lane, but he's trying. The pronounciation issues that were noticeable in "Specimen Song" are much better now, and Toussaint is now Too-sont, as it should be. He does have trouble with Belknap, which is more like Bell-nap, not Belk-nap. Benetsee has developed a good voice now.
I think of the Gabriel Du Pre' series as one long book. I listen to them over and over, not out of an interest in solving the mystery, but just as a visit in Montana with some people I like ver' much, and wish there were more books.
"The Stick Game" refers to an Indian gambling game, and one of Madeleine's cousins is very good at it. She's battling alcoholism, and her kids have their own problems. One is a deaf mute, but runs the household while her mother is off on her alcoholic tears. There are two brothers, one who is mostly okay, but one is having trouble...and he's missing.
Du Pre' searches for the lost boy as a courtesy, but he pretty much knows what he'll find out there in the sweetgrass country. A chat with the lad's friends takes him to a favorite hideout of the kids, and a rank odor leads him the rest of the way, where a rotting corpse dangles from a rope in an old well. The despairing boy had left a suicide note.
The spring in the hiding place is poison, no wildlife in it, plants all dead, and these kids have ben drinking from it. The survivors tell Du Pre' that Danny was slow but not too bad until a few years ago, when he suddenly couldn't concentrate. It was getting worse and worse, until Danny couldn't take it any more.
What's in that water? It's almost certainly a polluted source from a big gold mine in the area, but supposedly everything that mine does is clean and legal. Paperwork's right.
While Du Pre' asks questions, he and his friends make music at the bars. Them Turtle Mountain boys, Bassman and Talley, play them some good music, goes nice with his fiddle. Talley has suffered since he was born with spina bifida or something similar, leaving him with an open wound in his lower spine. When Bart learns of the man's condition, he promptly sends Talley to the Mayo Clinic for help. Got to help a good musician any way you can.
You need to read/listen to these books in order, as they grow on the previous events. You can read them as stand-alones, but you're going to miss about thirty percent of what's going on because you don't know the backstory.
The Gabriel Du Pre' mystery series by Peter Bowen are my favorite books. They are written with a lot of dialect, and have a lot of mystique in them. Now we finally have some more of them in audio, but we no longer have the gifted Christopher Lane reading them. Lane voiced Gabriel Du Pre' with Coyote French gutturals and western twang, creating a truly life-like character in all dimensions.
Mr. Meskimen reads the book adequately, but he does not have the acting ability or the vocal range to bring the characters alive.
Du Pre' is a Montana brand inspector that drives too fast, drinks too much, dances when he can, and fiddles to the happy crowds in Toussaint's lone bar, as well as at other gatherings. He lives in sin with the lovely Madeline, and they both have kids and grandkids. In the case of Du Pre', it's a passle of grandkids, as one of his two daughters decided to make up for her mother's early death by giving her papa a big family to love. The other daughter is a genius, off doing big things.
I tell you these things because you might not learn all of them in this book, and it is important that you know that Du Pre' takes no crap from anybody. Him, he's got good friends, and sometimes he figures things out, just because something doesn't look right. Meanwhile he is proud grandpapa and premier folk fiddler.
Him, he agrees to go to that Washington, D. C., and play his fiddle at a Smithsonian folk music festival, The crowds bother him some, but he enjoys the other musicians, and then the runaway horse comes, and he goes to get it. Takes the horse back, him, and finds a dead person.
I cannot reproduce Peter Bowen's well-written dialect, but I have talked to people, talk like this, and I know this kind of people. Good people. Good author.
You need to start with the first book in the series so that you know more about Du Pre' and the people who live in Montana ranch country. There are several other books in audio form as well, but you'll be hooked by the skills of Christopher Lane in "Coyote Wind," book one of the series. Then listen to this one. Big difference, this. Listen to the others that are already available, and wait anxiously for the rest of them, because even an average reader is better than no reader at all. (and yes, I did buy the kindle version of all of the books that did not come out in audio form until just this year).
Open your mind and dress warm, Montana pretty cold place most the time, but worth the trip. Take your dancin' boots and don't bump into them other people enjoying themselves.
I love the Shugak series. I listen to them again and again...but I won't bother with this one. It's stuffed with poofy purple prose and so much description that one is ready to gag on it.
In general, it's a Romeo and Juliet rehash with star-crossed lovers from two different villages that have traditionally feuded with each other. Gack. I don't care for this kind of storyline. I might as well be reading about a grizzly dating a beaver.
We've also got multiple murders, bootlegging, Erland Bannister is once again on the loose (he's tried to kill Kate before), and Jim Chopin is losing his ability to interact with hostile locals. His skiff is sabotaged, leading to a sinking in an icy cold river and potential hypothermia. Some one -- or everyone wants him to stop investigating the man who drowned in a fish wheel and the man who died, nailed into a crawlspace.
I don't need to hear stuff reiterated. Hearing the same details repeated inside of 5 or 10 minutes regarding Chopper Jim or Kate or two villages having a pissing match gets old. Really old. I usually listen to these books in a day, two at most. It took me a week to keep interested in this long enough to get to the bitter end.
It ends with a cliffhanger that's definitely dirty pool. Bullets are flying and two characters are hit. Then it ends. If my favorite character dies, I won't return to these books.
Wait for the next volume so that you can find out right away who lives, dies, whatever. It would also be a good idea to switch back to the ebook version so that you can flip pages with rapidity instead of listening to hours of blaah. A print version should be only an hour's read. At the very least, use your iPod and jack up the speed to "faster, must go faster!"
This is a superb book, especially for listening to while driving in the country traversed by the Donner party members. The amount of research that went into this book is overwhelming. I've never heard of some of these details, nor had I ever studied the event enough to realize the complexity.
It wasn't just that they got stranded on the wrong side of the summit when the snows of Truckee started falling in earnest. Over the course of the trip, there were times over and over when they could have gained a day here or there, thwarted by a flooded river for a loss of three days in one spot, taking an extra day off for a 4th of July hangover, etc. If any one of those events had been changed, sending the party on down the trail just a little faster and sooner, they'd have been able to crest the ridge and struggle into the California settlements.
Poor decision making made an impact, as did a shyster named Hastings, who promoted the Hastings Cutoff as a way to save time. It turned out to be an undeveloped trail that hadn't even been fully traversed by wagons, and the promoter didn't wait to guide them as promised. Trail progress was gained in inches as the roadway was built literally in front of the struggling train.
Had they stuck with known trails, they'd have made much easier and faster progress overall. They lost cattle and oxen during the trip, and when they finally gave up to winter over at the lake, they didn't have enough supplies. Animals wandered away, died under the deep snows, not to be found without grave difficulty. Even when found, the starved animals provided little food.
There were several efforts to push through to California with a few of the members, each group given a name, such as "The Forlorn Hope." Some made it through to Sutter's Fort, and Sutter himself helped in assembling relief parties to rescue the stranded. Some of these foundered in the foothills and lost heart themselves as they rationalized that these people in the mountains must be dead, or else doing just fine with all that livestock to eat.
Meanwhile, the stranded travelers, living in rude cabins roofed with ox hides, were eating everything they could, including the hides that formed their roofs. Eventually cannibalism became the only option left, for all but one family. The escape parties also engaged in cannibalism. The dead had been emaciated when they passed, and they provided little sustenance for those who yet lived.
Tamsen Donner is a heroine, nursing a dying husband while sending her children to safety. The first time she sent them away, paying their guardians a substantial sum of money for their trouble, the guardians promptly dumped the kids with another stranded family that was camping a ways away. A second attempt at getting the kids out went better, but there were casualties in that party. Tamsen didn't go out with the last big group, electing to check on her husband once again, 7 miles by trail in their shabby cabin. She was going to catch up to them, but it was an unrealistic dream, as even strong men could only do some 5 miles or so a day in the snows, and Tamsen had been on starvation rations for months. Of her fate, we have only Lewis Keseberg swearing that she showed up at his cabin after George Donner died, and that she died that night, presumably from the stress of her journey from their own cabin. Did Keseberg help her into that final darkness? Rob her of family treasure?
It's a fascinating tale, though a tragic one. We know a luxurious life today compared to those struggling travelers who spent months in wet or icy clothing, huddled around a sputtering fire while gales howled through the drafty walls.
The narration is very well done.
Emmett Quanah Parker, BIA investigator, is on his own in this book. He thinks about Anna Turnipseed of the FBI, but she's not playing a part in this one.
Emmett receives an honor dance as a gesture of recognition for his hard work, but it goes downhill steadily from there, as old friends start getting dead and injured. Worse, it's all being set up so that it looks like he's become a crazed killer, gone rogue on the res.
While he's trying to stay ahead of a major manhunt, he also must find the real killer. He revisits old haunts from his childhood and draws support from friends, but it looks more and more hopeless that he'll be able to clear his name.
Meanwhile a native woman is engaged in a shyster royalty check cashing scheme, taking the funds that belong to legitimate recipients, cashing the checks and disappearing with the cash, which goes to her controller. She used to have a husband who participated in this crime with her, but he got on the bad side of the controller and wound up dead in the motorhome bathroom. Now she's desperately following the instructions of the controller while hoping for revenge. She's never met this man who keeps ordering her around and threatening her life...but she'd like to, just once.
The narrator does a decent job with this one. In fact, all of them except "Ancient Enemy" are done by the same narrator, but in that particular book, it just didn't quite work for me. In the other books, it's okay.
I read all three of these in print before getting the audio version, and while I liked them very well in print, they are even better in audio format. Reader Oliver Wyman nails a wide variety of voices and personalities for everything from subhuman monsters to crusty century-old werewolves and a combat accountant.
Monsters of all types are real, and outbreaks are quietly suppressed by the various government agencies for multiple nations as well as private contractors. Monster Hunters International is one of those private groups, recruiting constantly to keep up with demand for their services and to offset the inevitable losses of personnel.
Earl Harbinger is in charge of MHI, and this book is largely devoted to his story, how he became a werewolf and learned to control his homicidal urges, and how he became a recruit for special forces that dealt with monstrous situations.
He's come to Copper Lake, Michigan, at the height of winter, traveling solo, and finds himself at the center of a werewolf outbreak. A competitor in the monster hunting business has also arrived with a crew, and a contingent of government monster hunters is on hand. Earl finds that he knows some of the other players, including another aggressive and evil werewolf, Nicolai. Nicolai wants to settle a very old score.
Meanwhile the townspeople find themselves being attacked, turned into werewolves, and they have to fight or die.
There's a magical amulet involved, and the magic associated with it strips Earl of his werewolf curse. Human for the first time in many years, he's having trouble adapting to his new weaknesses, the injuries he's acquiring in this battle, and though he's wanted to get rid of the curse, it's obviously a mixed blessing. Deputy Heather has been turned in the process of fighting the werewolves, and she's displaying special powers, perhaps related to the amulet or the strength of the alpha werewolf in the town. Earl is going to have to kill her, though, because she's been turned, and that's his job. Very few of the supernatural beings have ever qualified to be safe from eradication, and Earl himself was a rare one. Now he's just another human, struggling to stay alive while trying to save the town and conquer evil.
In that fight, it turns out that a snow cutter, a big snow plow with rotary blades, really kicks butt when tackling werewolves!
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