Minneapolis, MN, United States | Member Since 2007
It seems that sometimes the best way to understand how big events impact the world is to get a glimpse of how they impact individual people. That is exactly what happens with this book.
You can read the summary and know the book is set in WWII and two children are involved. I've read plenty about the war, but this book gave me just a little more insight into kids and what they went through at the time. In addition, Marie-Laure's situation is even more unique. I kept thinking throughout the book about people with disabilities and what they do when the world around them goes upside down.
About the narration ... I wasn't impressed at first. As the book went on, I really came to appreciate his style of narration. He doesn't inhabit the characters. He reads the story. In this particular case, it worked for me. I think if he'd used a voice appropriate for a 14-year-old French girl, it would have been very odd. A competent reading is all that was necessary.
I'm really not sure how to describe this book. The writing is the best I've encountered in a very long time. Every sentence is loaded. Magnificent? I wonder if that actually does it justice. I know that judging it on normal terms simply won't do.
Though I've read a lot of WWII history, I've never read anything this realistic about the building of the Burma Railway. To say the conditions were horrific doesn't even begin to describe what those men endured. It's heartbreaking on an unimaginable scale.
So there you have it: the most beautiful writing about the ugliest of conditions. With that contrast, it reaches you in a way few books ever can. But it's more than a book about POWs or the building of an impossible railway. The topics are HUGE - love, war, death, forgiveness, loyalty, obedience, honesty - and that's just for starters. Flanagan made me look at everything in a different light. I was surprised who earned my respect and who earned disdain.
Every now and again an award-winner surfaces that I think has really earned its praise. This is in that special category. Brutal, yes. But absolutely gorgeous. This really is one very special book.
I count on books to give me a glimpse of what life is like for other people in environments that are completely different from mine. Settling in with this one, I hoped to get something really insightful about women in Afghanistan. Through the tale of the two main characters, I think I have a better understanding of day-to-day life and the control placed on women. Culturally, it's eye-opening. That's all good - particularly if it's new turf for the reader. My issue had more to do with the writing and the narration.
I hate saying anything negative about an author's first book. But in this particular book, the dialogue feels so stilted that I have to comment on it. I'm not sure if it's an accurate look at the kinds of conversations people have or a flaw in the writing. I just know that sometimes I felt like I was listening to a YA. It felt choppy and was narrated in a way that exaggerated it.
This book will likely be on every book club's reading list for 2015. If it brings awareness, then it has done its job. Though the writing isn't nearly as graceful as I'd hoped, it is very functional. It's a book I liked - but could not love.
I unfairly thought I would be listening to the same kind of mind-bending book as "Fingersmith" - Waters' book with one of the most surprising plot twists of all time. (The subtitle for that one should be "Gotcha!") In this book, as in others, the author has a terrific way of establishing a kind of tautness that keeps you listening well past when you should have hit the stop button. But I kept waiting for the twist ... and waiting. No spoilers here. Just a warning: this is NOT Fingersmith II.
If you have an issue with gay relationships, perhaps you should pass on this and choose something else. It is front and center in this book - and in my mind, is treated with more importance in the storyline than anything else.
I've thoroughly enjoyed all of Louise Penny's books and really looked forward to this, the newest one. I had the pleasure of seeing her in person while she was on her book tour and couldn't wait to dig in.
It's hard to say what I didn't like without a spoiler, and I won't do that. Suffice it to say, the book took a departure from the usual pattern and the way the characters participate in the plots. Gamache has some big shoes to fill, and no one else can really do that.
Penny really took all of the conventions and flipped them 180°. Just like the upside down cover on the book. Interesting, yes. But I hope she knows we rely on her for a certain amount of predictability.
One other note ... if you've never listened to any of the books of this series, you're in for a treat with Ralph Cosham. He's perfect. But don't start with this book. Go back to the beginning and start with the earlier ones. While each one can stand alone, they are best in sequence.
I'm now going through the Outlander series again ... the second time listening to them in order. With a few minutes break in between, the differences between the books has become clearer. While I love the series, certain books just hit me the right way.
I don't disclose spoilers in my reviews and I won't do that here. BUT, my sense is that this book was written to provide a geographic change ... a segue. So while the storyline does go on, there's this thing taking place that feels a little forced.
It's funny really. Here I am listening to a book that involves time travel - a concept which doesn't seem so far-fetched in Gabaldon's capable hands. The whole thing is wildly inventive and completely addictive -- even for people like me who enjoy non-fiction. I've come to accept all the magical things. Then something happens in this book - which really is just an event - and I throw my hands in the air and exclaim, "Oh, come on! That's completely unrealistic!" As though time travel and magic stones are?
Diana Gabaldon has incredible power over her readers. We trust her to take us on a journey that stretches the imagination and we go with her willingly. This book proves to me that even the most talented writers can ask a little too much from their readers/listeners.
That said, it didn't spoil the series. I'm eager to listen to the next one - if only to hear more Davina Porter. She has got to be one of the most talented narrators around. A 5-star rating just isn't enough.
Before I downloaded the book, I saw where another reviewer warned that it takes about 9 hours to get into it. That was VERY helpful info. I easily could have put it aside those first hours. I kept at it because of the warning and I'm very glad I did.
Hayes takes his time setting up the characters and the scenario. The first part of the book sounds and feels like non-fiction. It's interesting - because of the history and insight it provides - but it can be a little dry. It really lays a foundation so you can understand what makes people who they are. And then it turns into a rip-roaring page-turner.
I normally don't go for thrillers, but this one is exceptional. There's an expert pacing to everything that keeps you engaged even when there's no action. Hayes has a way of foreshadowing that also keeps the ball rolling. The characters are well formed, flawed and interesting. There's enough history thrown in that sometimes the events feel entirely plausible. Perhaps that's what makes it so engaging - and terrifying.
It all adds up to one thing: this is definitely a credit-worthy summer read.
Like many others, I've read this book a number of times and have always appreciated it as very fine work. Hearing it - rather than reading it - is a completely different experience. Simply said, I fell in love with it.
In a novel, James Lee Burke writes about his fictional daughter Alafair editing her own work until there isn't a "rattle left in any sentence." That's a perfect description for Harper Lee's writing. Even though I've read it before, I really missed just how perfectly this prose has been crafted. It's so tight. When I slowed down and listened, it became apparent. On that level alone, it's brilliant.
The issues of race, respect and otherness it raises are just as relevant today as they were in 1960 when it was written and in 1935 where it was set. The characters have a timeless appeal. I have a greater appreciation of the balance between observations by a child and interpretation of those events by a grown woman looking back. For some reason, this too became clearer listening to the book rather than reading it.
Sissy Spacek does a terrific job with the material. Her narration isn't spectacular in a Will Patton or George Guidall kind of way. Rather, it's understated. She never gets in the way of the story. She's perfect as the older, wiser Scout looking back. I loved listening to her and the subtle way she reads the book and gives voice to its characters. Perhaps another narrator would have given the book a showier treatment. Spacek gives it authenticity.
There are only three other authors who leave me so awed with their talent: Wallace Stegner, Eudora Welty and Willa Cather. Their books are a pleasure to experience again and again. This is no exception. It doesn't matter how many times you've read this book. Listening to it is a new experience and well worth a credit.
Over time I've really come to admire James Lee Burke and his writing style. I love his big, flawed characters and their insights about life. The dialogue is crafty and always spot on. In each of his books, I just settle in for the ride and am completely engrossed in the story. This particular book does all that x10.
He made me care so much about the characters that I'm still thinking about them a day after I finished the book. I can't get started on another because I want to know what's happening with Weldon. I loved the strength and dignity he gave to Rosita and the level of respectfulness with which he told her story. These people came and lived with me while I listened to this book and now I miss them.
I always love the attention to detail Burke gives to place and time. I don't know that I've ever had a better glimpse of post-WWII Texas and the heady, reckless oil boom. And it's not just that you can see all of it. Rather, you can feel all of it - the heat, the excitement, the hope and the despair.
I'm not sure this book would have the same impact without Will Patton's impeccable narration. No one does it better. He deserves all the awards there are to give.
Francine Prose has created the most vibrant picture of Paris before and during WWII. It's so beautifully written that you can smell the cigarette smoke in the Chameleon Club. It's that way throughout. Whether it's clothing, a car, a person or a place - it's all so real. For me, it's the way historical fiction is supposed to be written. As much as I've read and seen about WWII, I've never really had a good glimpse of the social atmosphere surrounding Hitler. It was new.
Using varying points of view can be an interesting way of writing. In the wrong hands, it interrupts the flow of the story and can be quite annoying. In this case, it filled out the story with the alternating POV giving reasons for an action or behavior. This author uses the technique to its advantage.
Now you're wondering why this didn't get 5 stars from me? The whole thing fell down with the narration. It runs the gamut from the fabulous - Edoardo Ballerini, who is perhaps one of the finest narrators around - to something akin to a phony French accent in a high school play. It is SO bad that I began dreading when a few characters would tell their story. I hoped each time it would be the last.
In my opinion, this is a book that would have worked better with one gifted narrator. If Davina Porter can pull off all the zillion characters in a Gabaldon book with grace, then certainly it could have been done with these 6 characters. The author's good work deserved better than it got with this inconsistent narration.
The first few hours with this book took some getting used to. I had become so accustomed to Gordon Griffin's impeccable narration in the first book that the change to Roger May was startling. His narration is very good, but not exceptional. It took me a while to get the hang of it and to appreciate his contribution to the story. By the end, I was comfortable with it - though never awed.
Magson's series is turning out to be terrific with a ton of potential for many books to come. He has a way of holding something back for the future. There's a restrained sense of character introduction. You expect a new character to become a big part of the plot soon like it typically would in a mystery. He's not that obvious. His characters sometimes become part of the book's ensemble cast. You know eventually there will be a story there, but he holds back. Second, while the plot is always compelling, he saves a little back. That understated approach actually makes it more interesting. Third, there's this location appeal. I'm getting such a good feel for rural France in the early 1960s. America almost always dominates any discussion of that era. It's really interesting to get a glimpse of that memorable decade from an entirely different perspective.
This series has it all: great characters, good solid plots, an interesting look back to the past, a wonderful terroir and excellent narration. I hope Magson can write fast.
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