This is Episode 4 of the Human Division series. Some reviewers say each episode is a short standalone story, others say Scalzi just divided what would have been one book into multiple separate episodes. I have heard four episodes now, and I am beginning to see that they will likely all combine together into one ending. I would not buy these as standalone books, as they are very short, the plot isn't strong enough and the endings either leave you hanging or, in the case of Episode 4, is just so-so.
The story is better written than much of Scalzi's work I've heard so far. It lacked the irritating transcript style of "he said," "she said" which has absolutely ruined some of his other stories, in my opinion. Reader did a good job, even though it was not a difficult narration to perform.
STORY (creepy) - This is a very dark story about an alternate world on the other side of a door in Coraline's home. When young Coraline (probably age 10ish) discovers the door and passes through, she meets twisted versions of her parents and neighbors, talking rats, a talking cat and other strange creatures. She becomes involved in a dangerous life-and-death game of strategy against her "Other Mother" and, in particular, one of her detachable hands. Coraline is smart and resourceful for a young girl her age and manages to come up with a pretty clever way to win the game, save the day and eliminate the threat of the villainous hand!
I thought the story was unique and somewhat interesting, but I can't help wonder what Gaimon's target audience actually was meant to be. As an adult listener, I thought it was fairly juvenile but, on the other hand, I think it would be too dark or intense for many children.
PERFORMANCE - Gaimon himself reads this work, and he does a good job. Not so sure that the weird songs added anything, but they were kind of creepy.
OVERALL - As stated above, I question what age group Gaimon wrote this book for, but maybe girls around 10-12 years old would find it enjoyable, perhaps even as a Halloween listen. No adult situations or language, but quite a bit of creepy characters and events, the type that can cause bad dreams...
STORY (mystery) - This books starts off quickly. A young boy has been kidnapped, drugged and put in a suitcase which has been stuffed in a locker in a train station. Nina, the main character, tries to find who he is so that he can be returned safely home. The boy's mother is desperately trying to find who's taken him and why. The story rocks along as Nina and the mother (working separately) travel around the Copenhagen area following clues, until the final scenes where everything finally all comes together.
Some reviewers have commented that Nina is stupid, but I don't feel that common sense is thrown out the window in this story any more than most fiction. While this wasn't the most exciting mystery I've ever read or listened to, I was never bored and was entertained throughout.
PERFORMANCE - Katherine Kellgren is my favorite female narrator. Her performances are usually so awesome that I save my five-star ratings almost exclusively for her. This time, however, she just gets a four. I don't have any complaints about her performance. It just wasn't one of her more stellar ones.
OVERALL - This is Book 1 of the series, but it stands alone. There's no sex, but there's violence and some foul language. Recommended for mature adults.
STORY (fiction) - First let me vent about Audible's rating system. This book is suggested for kids age 8-10. What are they thinking? The main characters are in high school and beyond. There's the vocabulary, with words like churlish, ablution, frenetic and taciturn coming to my mind. Then there's the F-word thrown in a couple times for emphasis. And of course, anyone who's seen the movie trailer might guess the subject matter isn't for children. So I'll get off that soapbox for a while, until Audible screws up the recommendation for another book!
Mia, the main character, is a high school senior with a cute rock star boyfriend named Adam. She plays the cello and hopes to attend Julliard in the fall. Until the accident. Her parents and younger brother are killed and Mia is unconscious with multiple life-threatening injuries. She has an out-of-body experience beginning at the accident scene. She describes the horrific crash as if it's happening in slow motion, she describes the bodies of her family as she finds them, and she describes her own body laying motionless on the ground. As she's moved to the helicopter and finally the hospital, she continues to describe her treatments and the reactions of her loved ones as they arrive.
The book basically alternates between Mia's out-of-body viewpoint and flashbacks of her life, kind of like her life is flashing before her eyes. She realizes that the choice between life and death is in her hands. It's her choice, just like the title of the book, "If I Stay." I won't tell you how the book ends, but be sure to have some Kleenex handy.
PERFORMANCE - Good job. Sometimes I could "feel" the smile in her voice, and her emotional performance during the more serious scenes was convincing as well.
OVERALL - For mature teenagers and adults only, due primarily to the subject matter. There's no sex, but there is an unusual scene where Mia and Adam play each other like instruments. The descriptions at the accident scene are a bit graphic (complete with brain matter on the road), but they don't last long. Some of the flashbacks were a little slow, but I enjoyed the book and plan to see the movie.
STORY (contemporary romance) - As you might guess by the cover art, much of this story takes place in and around wine country, someplace in New York. Faith (the main character) has a large family, and each member has his own quirky personality or situation that keeps the story interesting. The summary suggests that Faith is left at the altar, but it doesn't say why and I won't either. Let me just say it's another interesting component to this cute romance. There's lots of clever dialogue between characters which will make you giggle, and then there's a hilarious scene involving a restroom window which will make you laugh out loud.
I loved the romance in the story. Levi is dreamy and sexy, but the author never really "goes there" with long, explicit descriptions of sexual acts. While there are some pretty hot scenes, they're tasteful and romantic as opposed to graphic. (I like both kinds equally well).
PERFORMANCE - Amy Rubinate reads one of my favorite series, The Selection. This is not a difficult performance, but I love her sultry voice and she does a good job.
OVERALL (Actual rating 4.5) - This book has sexual situations and lots of talk about Faith's "rack" but otherwise is fairly tame compared to most romance novels. There's some mild curse words (mainly $hit) but not a lot. If you like clever contemporary romance, I'd definitely check this one out.
STORY (true crime) - True crime is not my favorite genre, but Homicidal is a free download so I decided to try it. It's sort of like the crime documentaries my husband watches on TV which, again, isn't my favorite genre. It's short (less than 4 hours) and talks a lot about various crimes committed in Los Angeles in the seventies and eighties. The main thrust of the book is the story of "The Grim Sleeper," which is very interesting. I don't have the numbers memorized, but he's accused of killing many women over a period of several decades. He supposedly took a multiple-year "break" from murdering women, thus his nickname.
Like most crime documentaries, the book lays out the facts, the problems with the investigation and the evidence, etc. The book ends with a comment that The Grim Sleeper will have to answer to God for his crimes, but it says nothing about his trial or his sentence. Well, since this inquiring mind wants to know, I immediately Googled him after the book finished. Apparently, there's been a movie made about him, and he has been sitting in jail while continuing to draw a retirement pension. His attorneys have been using delay tactics to stall the trial and according to my research, he's still awaiting trial as of today, 9-5-2014.
PERFORMANCE - The narrator's job is to read the facts documentary style, and he does a good job.
OVERALL - No sex or cursing, but there's reference to prostitutes and lots of murders. While the killings are obviously violent, the descriptions in this book aren't detailed or gruesome, so those with weak stomachs needn't fear. It's pretty interesting, it's short, and it's free. I say go for it, but it's definitely not for every listener and it's definitely not a must-hear.
STORY (fiction) - As the summary suggests, this book is about how a small band of people in rural Florida survive a nuclear attack by the Russians. It is set sometime in the sixties, I suppose. In the beginning you will be introduced to the main characters and learn about international tension. Then there's an event that slowly escalates into a nuclear attack by the Russians. You will be on the edge of your seat as the story progresses into war. It's creepy to be "in the heads" of the characters as they watch bombs hit nearby Tampa and Orlando and as they realize they've just been pushed back 100 years -- no electricity, communication, etc. The major part of the story is after the bombings as the people band together to survive. They must find food and water, combat radiation sickness and disease, find a way to stop highwaymen from looting, etc. etc.
In my opinion, this story is not depressing, though I will admit it sat in my library for a while before I felt like I was in the mood to hear it. After the bombings, the story changes from exciting to one of human courage and survival. You will love the characters and you will root for them as they face each new challenge. They never dwell on the sadness of their situation. They just think positively, work together and make smart decisions as they move forward.
PERFORMANCE - The narrator does a good job, including some good southern accents and the voice of a radio commentator.
OVERALL - I'd recommend for any adult who's interested in the subject matter. The book is well-written and performed. There's no sex or bad language. It will make you count your blessings.
STORY (classic sci-fi) - Way Station is a thoroughly enjoyable book. It was written in the sixties, but it's still forward-thinking even today in 2014. I suppose that's why it's won numerous awards and has become a sci-fi classic. The basic story is that for over 100 years a human, Enoch, has operated a way station on earth for aliens from a multitude of other planets to stop. He gives them a place to stay and sometimes entertains them. Some visit repeatedly and have become dear friends. Throughout the story you will "meet" various aliens, each with his own special appearance and characteristics. Eventually, Enoch unintentionally becomes involved in an incident of intergalactic importance. This incident threatens his life, his way station and the future of the human race.
While the story is very good, it's a little slow at times. The intergalactic incident is unique and interesting, but there's not a lot of action and it doesn't rise to the standards of today's thrillers. (Not necessarily a bad thing).
PERFORMANCE - Good job, but nothing special.
OVERALL - There is no sex or inappropriate language and only some mild violence. I'd recommend this book for mature male or female listeners, but younger listeners might find it boring.
STORY (contemporary romance) - This is a really cute contemporary romance. Mark is a sexy hockey player who is recuperating from a very serious traffic accident. Chelsie is hired to be his assistant while he recuperates. Mark starts out a grumbly jerk and Chelsie is adorably irritating to him -- "Nothing But Trouble." Like many romance stories, they start out seriously disliking each other till things start warming up. I personally like my romance stories to also have a mystery or thriller plot line to make things more interesting, which is why I've rated this a 4.5 overall instead of a 5, but this story is just so sarcastic and clever that I caught myself smiling or laughing out loud several times. Some might think it's just silly fluff, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
PERFORMANCE - Rachel Gibson's humor and wit is perfectly delivered by Susan Bennett. This author/narrator combo is a great pairing, much like the Molly Harper/Amanda Ronconi team. I plan to hear more books by them!
OVERALL (actual overall rating 4.5) - There's some pretty explicit sex, but not a whole lot of it. The tension builds for a while before they finally actually "do it." There's also a sprinkling of cursing and F-words through the story but, again, not a lot. The story stands alone. Recommended for adult females because of the language and sexual content.
STORY (Swedish crime fiction) - There are 15 or 20 short stories in this collection, each lasting about an hour or less. I enjoyed this book as a whole but, as my title suggests, some stories were much better than others. They are written by various Swedish authors, each with their own writing style. Some are just basic detective-type stories, some are thrillers, some are dark and eerie, some noir... blah, blah. Steig Larsson himself (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) wrote one of the stores, and his long-time girlfriend pitched in a couple as well. Another reviewer, Alcairha, has written an excellent summary of each story and rated them individually. I agree with most of her opinions.
The entire first chapter is basically an introduction to Swedish crime fiction which I could have done without, and before each story is a summary of its author. I listened to all that stuff but, in hindsight, I wish I'd fast-forwarded through it because I gained very little information of interest when compared with the time spent listening to it all.
My favorite was the third story entitled "Never in Real Life," about a couple on a camping trip. Not only is it very good, but the ending totally rocks! Another story toward the end of the book is entitled "Diary Braun." I was totally confused by the story till it finished and I did a Google search to figure who in the heck it was about. While I enjoyed the mystery and suspense, I think I would have enjoyed the story more if I'd been familiar with the story behind it. If you're interested, do a Google search of the name Eva Braun and read briefly about her relationship with Hitler, their marriage and their deaths. Interesting stuff.
PERFORMANCE - There are a variety of narrators reading these stories, some male, some female. All were very good and one of my favorites, Scott Brick, narrates a couple.
OVERALL - I would recommend this to all mature listeners, whether male or female. There are some sexual references (including lesbianism) and some cursing, but not a lot of either. I hope to hear more from some of these authors in the future!
STORY (historical fiction) - I've listened to a couple of religion-oriented books lately. I'm not really sure why since that's not a genre I usually enjoy, but the fact that Meryl Streep is the narrator definitely had something to do with my decision. This story presents the Mother Mary in a totally different light than usual and it may be offensive to some, but I found it interesting and refreshing. Mary is a mother, just like you or me. She doesn't really like her son's friends (the disciples) and she doesn't believe he is the Son of God. You will feel her pain as she observes the crucifixion, and you will experience her deep regret that she didn't stay with her son till the very end, fearing for her own safety. Yeah, you guessed it, this book is very emotionally raw. The details of the crucifixion are difficult to hear. I rated the book a little low because of the "cringe factor" and also because it was a bit slow at times.
PERFORMANCE - Meryl Streep delivers, as always. She was the perfect choice to read this book. The emotion she injects into every sentence is palpable. I rated her performance a four, however, because it often sounds like she gets lost reading a sentence and then just tacks the rest of it on as an afterthought.
OVERALL - I would recommend this book for mature men and women who are in the mood for an emotional experience with some very difficult scenes. You must also be okay with hearing the Mother Mary presented as a flesh-and-blood woman with fears, faults, and who does not believe her son is our Savior.
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