I just didn't care enough about the characters, their interactions, or the plot to force myself through this one. Claire Danes as the reader is wasted on what's just a bad book. I made it 3/4 of the way through and thought, why am I forcing myself to listen to something so unsatisfying? The nice thing about being an adult (and not a student with homework) is that you really DON'T have to finish a book that doesn't warrant the time or attention.
My book group read this book and I enjoyed it more than the women who read it in paperback or ebook form. That's a credit to the readers -- a male and a female voice whose excellent performances add dimension to a very flat book. Basically, nothing happens because the story is one of past secrets revealed and attempts to atone for past mistakes. It is weighted down by too many (and too implausible) parallels in this depressing story of madness, betrayal, family lies, the Holocaust, rewriting one's personal history.
What a treat to listen to Cynthia Nixon PERFORM all the parts, rather than just read them as so many narrators do! I lived in San Francisco when Tales of the City ran in the Chronicle each week so this is a walk down memory lane for me. I doubt it will resonate with a young reader (it's set in the 1970s and boy, have times changed) but the story is vivid, the characters quirky and appealing, and the reading, superb. This is light but very satisfying listening.
The best part of this novel is the history that inspired it. The author paints a vivid portrait of how Asians were treated in the 1930s and 40s and how they adapted, and occasionally flourished, in the face of ignorance and bigotry. The 3 women whose lives are intertwined in the world of theater and dance are not clearly drawn, however. Each is a "type" but the author assigns a generic voice to all 3 so it's hard to keep straight who is speaking.
This historical novel gives depth and dimension to a fascinating piece of American history. I knew a little about the orphan trains that carried NY's "unwanted" to the midwest but what became of them forms the basis of this compelling novel. The readers are true actors, making the characters fully dimensional from an Irish 9-year-old to a 91-year-old woman in Maine.
As a globetrotter myself, I was intrigued with the idea behind this book. Unfortunately, the authors come across as hopelessly naive. They didn't do their homework (why would retired people opt to spend the beastly hot summer months living in Italy -- and then complain how beastly hot it is?). They blithely assumed they could live as long as they wanted to, anywhere in Europe. (Never heard of visas and their restrictions -- really?) Their travels sound very stressful (who wants to uproot and start over as soon as you figure out the driving patterns, lifestyle, and maybe meet a few people?) What initially seems romantic and appealing actually sounds lonely and isolating as they describe it. Lynne Martin is not a great writer, which hampers the book. Her reading is much too enthusiastic and gee-whiz. Foods are "the best" and a friend, "the funniest". The "how to" in the title is a bit deceptive. To me, it was more of a "how NOT to" guide.
I have no idea why this book was ever written. It feels like "outtakes" -- the weaker Kinsey Milhone short stories that lack the quirky charm of Sue Grafton's full-length books, followed by grim, graphic autobiographical passages that read like private journal entries that should never have been aired. I thought her memoirs would relate in some way to her books and lead character but that's not the case. They are sad, depressing anecdotes about her alcoholic parents, mother's suicide, failed marriages. Judy Kaye is the reader so that part works, but she really didn't have much to go on here. I love the alphabet mysteries but this one's a turkey.
My book group read this (yes, it's a YA novel and we are adults, but there were reasons) and had a very lively discussion about it. But the two of us who listened to it had the same problem: the 2 Will Graysons are read by two different actors but their voices and personalities sound alike -- so much so that we couldn't tell who was speaking and were confused most of the way! Those who read the book form told us that one is italicized so you always know who's "speaking." This should be re-recorded with two distinct voices.
I usually shy away from books read by the author himself, but Jess Walter does an excellent job of bringing his characters to life. This is a contemporary story of economic challenges that lead good people to make poor choices, and the spiraling downhill path that can follow. It's a kinder, gentler "Breaking Bad" where one man's desire to help his family leads him -- in innocence, at first -- to see drug dealing as a way to provide for his family. This is not a violent tale, just a sad and inevitable one.
Disparate stories of seemingly unconnected lives are slowly revealed over the course of this meaty novel. The characters and situations span many decades and a couple of continents but the highly skilled reader makes it easy to enjoy and retain them all. It didn't really matter to me how it all tied up in the end; the pleasure is in the journey and I enjoyed it all the way through.
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