Shepherdstown, WV, United States
What a tradition-- right up there with "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Christmas Carol," and "Christmas Vacation".
Many Christmas stories are sugar sweet, but, if you like a little spice with your sweet, include David Sedaris in your yearly holiday experience. "The Christmas Elf' is one of the funniest, most irreverent, and most memorable of listens.
Sedaris may not be for everyone, but if you sometimes appreciate the cynical side of holiday cheer, try this.
And do it for his absolutely unique, creakie little voice!
This is a book like none I have experienced. The writing is nearly sublime, and Helen Mcdonald narrates as only a person deeply involved in the story can.
I rated it 5 stars across the board because, like other reviewers, I was astounded at the language and range of this book. It deals with grief and recovery and loneliness and attachment. And it informs about her experiences with hawks as well as the somewhat parallel story of the author T. H. White and his efforts in dealing with life and a goshawk.
To me, this was also a deeply disturbing work of art. There can be no doubt about the love - and the respect - that Mcdonald has for her bird Mabel. Yet (and, for me, this was the elephant constantly in the room) she has had this bird trapped and dominated and trained to her will. Never in the book is this need to control a wild and free thing really discussed. Mcdonald refers to her hatred of killing and the reservations she must overcome about her role in this. She mentions that looking at pictures of birds is not sufficient for her - seeing them in life stimulates and satisfies something in her. So, why not bird watching? Or migration studies?
Hunting with birds of prey has, of course, a long and romantic history. The process of capturing, training, and working these birds undoubtedly requires skill and courage. And her book is very effective at showing the healing power this process had for her. It's a personal and revealing book, yet I could and cannot for the life of me get inside of the mind of a person who can most appreciate a living and wild thing by dominating it. In some ways, I left this book feeling close to Helen Mcdonald; in that one startling way, I never could be.
It's part of the fascination of this extraordinary listen.
can you fit "Mansfield Park" into 2 hours and 18 minutes? This lovely dramatized production answers the question thusly:
1) Get some wonderful A-list British actors;
2) Find a writer or writers who can severely cut Miss Austen to the bone without sacrificing all the dialogue, the essence of the characters, or the dated charm of Jane Austen and Fanny Price;
3) Don't worry if you seriously tick off the purist Janeites out there!
That's what the BBC has done, and here it is done supremely well. Cumberbatch, Tennant, and Jones are three of today's most popular artists - it's a wonder how they were assembled for such a project - and the rest of the cast equals their talent and energy.
I'm not usually a fan of abridged classics, but this is valuable whether or not you are familiar with Jane Austen's perhaps least-favorite novel. Reading "Mansfield Park" can be something of a chore - this listen is a breeze!
(The BBC dramatization may well encourage some to seek out the full version. I'd recommend going with Juliet Stevenson's narration of the unabridged "Mansfield Park" - it's available at Audible.)
I first "discovered" Vera Stanhope on TV. The extraordinary actress Brenda Blethyn brings her completely to life. Anxious to see if the books were as good, I was glad to see that Audible features one of her adventures - I certainly am hoping for more!
Vera is a dedicated, persistent investigator. She's also a loner, inept in social situations; a poor dresser; and a woman with demons from her past. Sound familiar? Well, she may not be the only such character in mystery fiction, but she is one of the most interesting.
"Silent Voices" follows a very complicated path to a very complicated conclusion. Maybe a bit too complicated - but Vera and her team make it well worth the journey.
In this performance, some wonderful British actors do a great job presenting Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White". We are by now so accustomed to this "Gothic" horror/romance formula that it's difficult to see the plot as much other than an old, melodramatic chestnut. There's the ladies in distress, the lonely old mansion, the ominous foreign villain, the spooky surroundings....on and on.
That's why this dramatization is so much fun. The original full-length book can get a little tedious in its Victorian excesses, but here we're reminded of how well this "grandaddy of them all" created his atmosphere and kept his readers on the edge of their seats. There are even sound effects!
It's a great listening experience.
Professor Dorsey Armstrong is obviously a real Arthur geek, as well as a serious medieval scholar. Her enthusiasm for all things Arthur - past and present - make this a well-rounded look at the Arthur of the 5th century all the way up to the Arthur of contemporary books, films and advertising (King Arthur flour!).
So we get a look at what evidence exists for a historical Arthur. Whatever that long ago, charismatic and valiant figure may have accomplished, none can argue with the power and scope of the legends and ideals he inspired. Professor Armstrong considers the legacy in literature of the Western world and in fine art ranging from ancient tapestry to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites to films and musicals.
Her emphasis is on the idealistic and romantic qualities which spread the legend, expanded it so much, and have kept it alive through the centuries. For me, a middling Arthur fan, there was quite a bit of new and very interesting information here.
I quite like the Professor's rather casual tone and her eagerness to include modern pop references. In this course, thankfully, there is none of the distracting "Great Courses" applause, although you may find yourself looking around for the source of the music that wafts in at the end of each lecture. My one qualification is that Armstrong does repeat herself more than necessary - and with the exact same words she previously used. For teachers in the classroom this may be a necessary and helpful tactic, but it's out of place in an Audible recording.
On the whole, I'd say this is an admirable quest.
The Great Courses offers several lecture series by Bart Ehrman and I have enjoyed each one I've encountered. He has great command of the subjects of early Christianity, and his approach is clear and understandable.
Ehrman begins the course with an explanation of his purpose. Not a religious interpretation, this is an attempt to explore the historical realities and the context in which early Christians lived, told their stories, and advanced their faith.
So the controversies include not only the questions Ehrman confronts about the historical probabilities of the Christian Bible and beliefs, but also about how listeners will react to the approach itself. As a scholar, the Professor challenges areas which most of us have encountered only in a religious context. If the listener's mind is not open to different ways of looking at Christianity, he/she will most likely not appreciate this course.
Anyone willing to listen will learn a lot.
I'm a big fan of Brunetti and Donna Leon, but this book did not seem to me to be at all inspired. The first of Leon's Venetian mysteries was set at La Fenice opera house, and this one is a return of both the location and one of the main characters of that book.
Unfortunately, that is about the only appeal of "Falling in Love." Venice, usually the star of this series, seems a bit tired and not nearly as 'present' as in previous volumes. Brunetti and his family and work colleagues also lack the vitality and wit we're used to.
The plot is slow to develop and not all that interesting. In short, "Falling in Love" is a pale, weakened addition to this series, and I, at least, hope Donna Leon will either find her Venetian muse again or move on to a new, fresher series.
Like so many reviewers, I have loved Maisie Dobbs! And it seems Jacqueline Winspear knew just how much we all wanted her to find happiness and James. But Ms. Winspear apparently has a more - at least to her - important view of Maisie as a seeker of Nirvana, that place of complete inner peace through ultimate detachment.
So we got what we wanted; then she swept it all aside and set Maisie back where she started. A good outcome? This listener is not so sure. An attempt to reboot the series? Or is this a finale? Whichever, this is certainly not a very satisfying chapter.
"A Dangerous Place" (really good title, by the way) is sad and slow with a mystery that goes nowhere and a Maisie wallowing in her sorrow while the people she should love (and who love her) wring their hands and wail and wonder what the heck she's up to. She's lost a lot of people she cared about, so it seems she's willfully setting out to lose more. I think our old Maisie would not have left her dear father and her friends in such pain. To say nothing of her readers!
The syrupy, oh so sweet and sleepy narration of Orlagh Cassidy just tops it all off as a real disappointment for those of us who have followed Maisie Dobbs faithfully and truly wanted to really like this book.
If you haven't read this series, please don't let this be your introduction to and lasting impression of Maisie Dobbs! The first 6-or-so books are really gems.
A long course, this is absolutely worth every moment spent. In fact, the variety and amount of content warrant a second listen to the entire 18 hours or so.
The first two-thirds of the sessions contain a real wealth of detail and analysis of the backgrounds and theories of conservative leaders, writers and philosophers in the English and American traditions. These lectures are a very valuable and, it seems to me, objective education.
It's hard to listen to the last third of the lectures without some sort of bias, whatever your political persuasion, as most of the content here is too recent for real historical perspective. It certainly is enlightening, however, for any listener who has lived through, studied, or heard about the Thatcher and Reagan years, the religious right and/or the neo-conservatives. So much becomes a lot clearer.
It amazes me that I came out of this, as I went in, with no really good guess about the political leaning of Professor Patrick N. Allitt! He deserves great credit for that, and for his exhaustive command of and enthusiasm for the subject. Next, I'd like to hear his 18 hours on Liberalism!
Another complete winner from The Great Courses.
Mary Balogh has been writing historical romances for many years - some of them quite good. So I saw this on sale and took a chance. And was very disappointed.
Our hero is one of a tediously saintly group of Napoleon War survivors - admirable men and a woman who have overcome terrible physical and mental injuries in battle but who lack just about any realistic human qualities. And our heroine is a supremely put-upon widow whose trials seem to be based mostly on her partial gypsy origins. So the two make a determinedly brave pair.
As the romance slowly develops, we are introduced to mean and horrible family members and eventually to an idyllic time spent by our lovers in Wales. Suddenly quite lovely and utterly surprising family attachments appear, and our heroine is now rich and appreciated by villagers who care not that a torrid love affair is being conducted by their recently bereaved new neighbor.
Things work out in the end, of course, and our lovely couple face a future of happiness together as the Industrial Revolution promises to make them even richer and more beloved by the happily singing Welsh people who are increasingly being put to work down the family's coal mines.
I know this is meant to be light entertainment, but the complete disregard of the social and moral rules of the time is startling. Evidently Balogh believes readers no longer care (or, worse, don't know) about historical accuracy. And never to even hint at the less positive side of the emerging industries which she introduces into this plot line is a real distraction.
I was constantly thinking of repressive Victorian morals and of the black skies and dangerous working conditions in early mining towns. Just not real conducive to happily-ever-after!
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