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Brussels, Belgium | Member Since 2011

  • 82 reviews
  • 228 ratings
  • 515 titles in library
  • 89 purchased in 2014

  • Empires of Sand

    • UNABRIDGED (27 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By David Ball
    • Narrated By George Guidall

    After four trips to the Sahara and extensive historical research, David Ball crafted this sweeping adventure novel spanning two continents and 15 years. Set against a backdrop of the crumbling French Empire’s attempts to colonize the Sahara Desert, Empires of Sand follows the lives of two cousins who are raised as brothers but destined to become enemies. It is 1870, and France is at war with Prussia.

    Pamela says: "my first review"
    "Exciting plot-driven adventure story"

    Empires of Sand is an exciting, plot driven adventure story based on true events. It starts with a bang - a boar hunt in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Two cousins, Moussa and Paul, are playing in the very same forest,of course in close proximity to the furious, wounded boar. What will happen?! The adventure continues chronicling the de Vries family through Bismarck's siege of Paris, 1870-71, with balloon flights and subterranean escape routes under the streets of Paris. The hunger, the rats, and two boys up to pranks. The research is solid and the escapades are fun and exciting.

    The story doesn't stop there. Next thing you know you are off to the deserts of Sahara. And there we have the Tuareg people. Again the author has built his story on research about these proud people. The women are unveiled and independent, but the men are hidden behind indigo colored veils. All one sees is their eyes through small slits. Here the book continues to follows Moussa and Paul within the framework of real events. France wanted to build a railroad that would cross the Algerian Sahara south to Timbuktu in the French Sudan, what is today Mali. Colonel Paul Flatters led an exploratory expedition for France in 1880-81. The true events of this massacre are related through this story.

    You are delivered one adventure after another. You get love and hatred and the evils of the Church and balloon rides and...... put your self in a deep irrigation tunnel, naked, digging as a slave. This is an adventure story that teaches about real historical events.

    You can tell the author is having fun. There is humor. You can tell the author is poking at the church.....wait till you meet the Bishop and oh, there is a demonic nun! The author clearly has a message about hatred, about love and about being an outsider, a person who doesn't fit in.

    Impressive narration by George Guidall.The audiobook had both an author's note and a final interview with the author. Perfect conclusion to a fun book. The author says that the most successful parts of any book will be those parts where the author has had fun. Authors must write for themselves. It is difficult; you must persevere. You must build upon solid research. I think this author has had fun and there is solid research. It shows.

    5 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • History of the Rain

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Niall Williams
    • Narrated By Jennifer McGrath

    We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. In Faha, County Clare, everyone is a long story...Bedbound in her attic room beneath the falling rain, Plain Ruth Swain is in search of her father. To find him Ruthie must first trace the jutting jaw lines, narrow faces, and gleamy skin of the Swains from the restless Reverend Swain, her great-grandfather, to her father.

    Chrissie says: "DEPRESSING and flashing of famed books"
    "DEPRESSING and flashing of famed books"

    This book is d-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-n-g! Must it be SO depressing? It doesn't help that the end tries to close with a hopeful note.

    The book is about death and illness and how some people demand so much of themselves that they are doomed to fail. It is also about the importance of stories, our stories. There lies the wisp of hope embedded in the book.

    There are some beautiful lines, lines that perceptively reveal human relationships and some of descriptive beauty. I did feel the drumming of the rain on the skylight above Ruth's bed.

    The book is written for bibliophiles....maybe. I love books, and I have read a large number of the many referred to, but still this book was not for me. The central character, Ruth, is a bedridden girl of 19. She has decided to read all her father's books, the point being to discover who her father really was. A person's books do say who you are, don't they? She refers to these books by their number in her father's library. Yep, they are all numbered, and they are in the thousands. Poetry and classics. Mythology and history. Dickens and Edith Wharton and Faulkner. Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy too, of course. I objected to how she refers to characters/events in theses famous books as quick explanations for events and characters in her story. (The book we are reading is Ruth's story.) But you can't do that. The situations are not the same; the details are not the same, and it is the details that make a story. It all becomes superficial and cursory. For me this was a disservice to the original literature. In addition, the numerous references to the books' titles, date and city of publication made the writing disjointed.

    I didn't feel engaged in the lives of her father, her mother, her grandparents or great grandparents. All are quickly covered. There is too much in too few pages. Her relationship with her twin brother, yes, there the story came alive. Only here did I feel the love that bound these two.

    There is humor. Maybe half of it made me laugh.

    The setting is Clare, Ireland, after the bust, but the stories of her ancestors go back to the First World War.

    The narration of the audiobook by Jennifer McGrath was lovely. Her Irish dialect is beautiful, lilting.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Bertie: A Life of Edward VII

    • UNABRIDGED (22 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Jane Ridley
    • Narrated By Carole Boyd

    Entertaining and different, this is an enjoyable study of a flawed yet characterful Prince of Wales seen through the eyes of the women in his life. Edward Vll, who gave his name to the Edwardian Age and died in 1911, was King of England for the final 10 years of his life. He was 59 when at last he came to the throne. Known as Bertie, the eldest son of Victoria and Albert, he was bullied by both his parents.

    Flatbroke says: "A charming pleasure-seeker who did the job his way"
    "Well researched but gossipy in tone"

    The gossip drove me crazy. A good book, but you have to be interested in all the gossip that always surrounded Bertie. The narration enhances the gossipy tone.

    Don't make the mistake I did when choosing the book. There are two Berties. One was the great grandson of Queen Victoria, but this one is her son!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Hunger: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Knut Hamsun
    • Narrated By Kevin Foley

    Knut Hamsun's Hunger, first published in 1890 and hailed as the literary beginning of the 20th century, is a masterpiece of psychologically driven fiction. The story of a struggling artist living on the edge of starvation, the novel portrays the unnamed first-person narrator's descent into paranoia, despair, and madness as hunger overtakes him. As the protagonist loses his grip on reality, Hamsun brilliantly portrays the disturbing and irrational recesses of the human mind through increasingly disjointed and urgent prose.

    Erez says: "Book quite good; wrong narrator"
    "Crazy? Hungry? Both?"

    The basic problem for me was that the central character, an author in Christiania (Oslo), Norway, just didn't convince me he was really hungry. I guess he was, because his hair was falling out in clumps. At the same time he had such pride and this stopped him from accepting any help offered him. If you are really starving do you refuse food? One thing is clear. He was ether hallucinating, due to a lack of food, or he was quite simply crazy. I couldn't figure out which.

    The author, the Norwegian Knut Hamsun, was one of the first to use stream of consciousness writing, but since the central character's thoughts are so delusional I wasn't interested in getting inside his head. His thoughts are confusing. I hardly even felt pity for this guy, who seemed more worried about what others would think of him than figuring out how to solve his problems. I am being harsh.... Virginia Woolf claims one needs a room of one's own to write. Well, first you need some food and a bed and a lamp to write by. A brain does not function without glucose! This book will appeal most to those who are interested in reading about the delusional. I simply wasn't convinced he was really starving.

    You don't get a feel for Christiania either.

    The narrator of the audiobook was Kevin Foley. I have no complaints with that. He does women’s voices remarkably well.

    The ending annoyed me -he finally does something constructive. At least he was on the verge of doing something. My response was: “Why didn't you do that earlier!” Hamsun did not make me feel for this poor, starving author! THAT is the biggest problem of the book!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Down and Out in Paris and London

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By George Orwell
    • Narrated By Jeremy Northam
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    An autobiographical study, Down and Out in Paris and London follows Orwell as he tramps around both Paris and London. Pawning his belongings to buy food, unemployment, drinking heavily and jostling for a place in homeless hostels are but a few of the experiences related with candour and insight in this unabridged exclusive audiobook. Orwell was arguably one of the first 'gonzo' journalists.

    Paul says: "A Superb Writer"
    "Report, Memoir or Novel?"

    OK, here is why I did not like this book:

    This is touted as a book of fiction with strong autobiographical elements. So if Orwell is presenting a book of fiction I want characters who engage me. I want a bit of a story. I want good descriptive writing. This novel fails on these points. It reads as a report. It is instead the direct retelling of Orwell’s experiences when he was down and out trying to survive in the slums first of Paris and then later in London. Probably the 1920s.. He had no money – at times, not even a few centimes. No job, no home, no clothes, no sleep – only hunger and cold and bugs. I am telling you his situation was m-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e! He delivers a minute by minute account of his days as a dishwasher and as a homeless bum when he didn’t even have dishwashing. I do sympathize with him and his comrades’ plight, but if Orwell wanted to present this as a novel then the characters should draw me in. This is not the nature of the book; it is a report of what he saw and experienced.

    So, if this is a report then I must judge how that report is delivered. I disliked elements of this report:
    -the author’s anti-Semitic views
    -the concluding analysis of how the homeless’ situation should be improved
    -and in a report one need not include numerous verbatim emotional outbursts filled with expletives.

    I do believe Orwell’s experiences could have been turned into a novel about the life of people working in restaurants, cooks and waiters and yes the dishwashers too. The homeless and the foreign exiles. It could have made a marvelous novel, but what is delivered here is half novel and half memoir, neither one nor the other.

    Jeremy Northam narrated the audiobook I listened to. Set in the slums of both London and Paris there are numerous foreign exiles and thus numerous dialects. The only dialects that felt genuine were the British ones. The Russian dialect was ridiculously fake. The French was off too, and half of the book is set in Paris!

    Really, I did want to give this at least two stars because the plight of the lowest of low in the slums of Paris and London is clearly depicted, but my honest feeling toward this book is one of dislike. So one star it is.

    Read Homage to Catalonia or Animal Farm instead. They are better.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Red and the Black

    • UNABRIDGED (22 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Stendhal
    • Narrated By Bill Homewood

    Young Julien Sorel, the son of a country timber merchant, carries a portrait of his hero Napoleon Bonaparte and dreams of military glory. A brilliant career in the Church leads him into Parisian high society, where, 'mounted upon the finest horse in Alsace', he gains high military office and wins the heart of the aristocratic Mlle Mathilde de la Mole. Julien's cunning and ambition lead him into all sorts of scrapes.

    Chrissie says: "Slow and wordy"
    "Slow and wordy"

    No, I did not like this book. I disliked the intertwining of its two central themes, one being a criticism of French Bourbon society after the fall of Napoleon and the crazy, unbelievable love affairs. The writing becomes more and more absurd the further you progress into the novel. The language is old-fashioned, formal, complicated and wordy. I was bugged to no end by the excessive use of etcetera and etcetera over and over again. Perhaps that was a translation problem? I am not sure.

    The book is extremely slow, even if it does pick speed as it nears the end only to fall again to turtle velocity at the conclusion.

    This is a book of satire and by the end the author's "message" has been pounded into you. Events become absurdly ridiculous. I preferred the more subtle humor at the beginning. The question is - did I ever really laugh? No.

    I must repeat my earlier statement found below: if this is a book that is supposed to offer a psychological study of characters, why are my feelings toward Julien, the main character, only lukewarm?

    The famed actor Bill Homewood narrated the audiobook I listened to. The French pronunciation was fine but I disliked his added dramatics, even if perhaps he was merely exaggerating what the author intended to be exaggerated.

    So I did not enjoy the humor, or the wordy writing, or the incredible romances. I will neither be listening to Homewood again nor reading more books by Stendhal.


    Two-thirds through the audiobook:

    This is v-e-r-y slow.

    Be prepared for a multitude of pontificating old men.

    The language is old-fashioned and formal; it was written in 1830 and is concerned with the upper-classes of French society after the defeat of Napoleon.

    What is important above all else is your class. Will Julien Sorel be able to escape his class? He is intelligent. He is ambitious.

    And then there are scandalous love affairs....involving not only Julien but an older woman who really ought to know better because she at least has the experience of age! More importantly, the author's lines do not make me feel either Julien's or her passion.

    I do not empathize with any character. I do not dislike Julien, but I dislike what he is aspiring to. In addition, if this is a book that is supposed to offer a psychological study of characters why are my feelings toward Julien only lukewarm?

    I am not done, and I will continue, but.....

    Keep in mind when you look at the rating that MANY people close the book before completion and thus do not rate it.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Empire Falls

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By Richard Russo
    • Narrated By Ron McLarty

    Dexter County, Maine, and specifically the town of Empire Falls, has seen better days, and for decades, in fact, only a succession from bad to worse. One by one, its logging and textile enterprises have gone belly-up, and the once vast holdings of the Whiting clan (presided over by the last scion’s widow) now mostly amount to decrepit real estate. The working classes, meanwhile, continue to eke out whatever meager promise isn’t already boarded up. Miles Roby gazes over this ruined kingdom from the Empire Grill, an opportunity of his youth that has become the albatross of his life.

    margaret says: "Hugely Enjoyable"
    "Sit-com dialogs and snide humor"

    After a bit more than four chapters:

    I continue to have a hard time with this. I find it extremely depressing. There is humor, but it is not the kind I like. It is sarcastic, mean humor where you are supposed to laugh at the stupidity or crude behavior of people. I protest; I like to laugh with people in happiness, not at people for our weaknesses. There is a priest that is demented and he wants to hear confessionals so he can hear what is going on and then he tells others. Now I don't think that is nice. Sure it might happen in the real world but how often? There is Miles' alcoholic father who continually throws out cruel, snide criticisms of his son and others. Miles' mother has died of cancer and her death was painful and horrible for all. I find this depressing. I am not avoiding the reality of life, but what is the purpose of sinking myself into the worst of man's behavior.

    Mid-life crises kind of bore me.

    None of this is a spoiler since I have not gone far into the book.

    Neither have I even mentioned the prologue which was utterly disgusting. I don't find it appetizing to read about a decomposing moose, even if it leads C.B. to make a foolish decision - BTW, here I am just guessing. Let me point out that I never shy away from gruesome events in history, but what is the point here in reading about how people behave so cruelly to one another? What does that teach me?

    There is absolutely nothing exceptional about the writing; the author's ability to depict an emotion, a place or an event is just plain ordinary.

    This received a Pulitzer. Would somebody who loves this book explain to me why I should continue reading. I just do not understand. SHOULD I continue? I need advice.


    After 14 chapters (about half of the book):

    So I continued; several said that Tick is a fabulous character. She plays a larger and larger role starting in Part Two. She cannot save this book for me. I find the humor not to my taste. I find the characters black or white - cardboard characters. It is simple to make two piles, the good ones and the bad ones. I cannot accept such characterization. People are complicated; they cannot be sorted in this manner. And the dialogs sound like those perfect for a popular weekly television series. Perfect sitcom dialogs.

    In desperation I went and read spoiler reviews...... No, what is coming is not up my alley either. Enough is enough. I will be reading no more books by Richard Russo. This is my third and last try.

    I listened to the audiobook narrated by Ron Mclarty. That was the only thing that was exceptional. Great narration. His intonation perfectly matched the lines. So if you want to read this book don't hesitate to choose the audio format and this narrator.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • David Copperfield

    • UNABRIDGED (32 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Charles Dickens
    • Narrated By Peter Batchelor
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Dickens called David Copperfield his "favourite child," and many critics consider the novel to be one of his best depictions of childhood. Set in early Victorian England against a backdrop of great social change, Dickens acutely observed the phenomena of the Industrial Revolution and used them as the canvas on which he painted the novel. Many consider David Copperfield to be the author’s finest work.

    Richard says: "Delightful Dickens listening"

    Peter Batchelor narrates my audiobook! There are at least ten or twelve characters that return over and over again. He narrates each of them with a different voice so you can hear who is speaking. However in places the recording isn't the best; here the words were difficult to decipher.

    Dickens is disappointing AGAIN. I have recently tried Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. I will give this a fair try, all through to the end, but I believe it will be my last Dickens.

    Everyone gushes over Dickens so maybe an alternate view is good to hear occasionally too. I find it wordy, alternately cute or sentimental or downright drippy. The characters are simply not complex enough for my taste.

    I can conclude that I liked this one better than the others I have read by Dickens. Why? Because by the end I had come to care for the characters. I knew who they were; I could guess how they would behave given a particular situation. Some I disliked immensely, with others I chuckled over their peculiarities and others I alternately ached with them and smiled with them. The variety of characters presented was wide; this was entertaining. I cannot deny that Dickens wove a story of a group of individuals that became a close knit group, and the reader comes to know all of them well. All are important for the story, and all are different.

    You do see how life was for those of the lover classes in Victorian England. A struggle.

    But the story is extremely predictable. When Agnes enters the story at the beginning of the book I knew immediately where she was going to end up at the end. And Uriah Heap! You know when he enters the scene what role he will play, not the specific details of course, but almost. He is so very slimy.

    There is another serious problem with this book. David Copperfield is looking back and telling us of his life. So guess what, much of the action is told rather than shown. Isn't that a widely acknowledged no-no?!

    If I had to pick one word to describe the book? It would be CUTE I think it reads like a fairy tale. You are alternately supposed to feel a wide gamut of emotions - anger, happiness, fear, satisfaction. And how must it end? Don't expect a story that will get you thinking.

    By the book's end I was happy. So very cute. How can you not smile? Through much of it however I was alternately bored, wished there had been a better editor and was successfully predicting what would happen next. So I am afraid I can only give this two stars. It was OK. Sure, read it if you are in the mood for a cute story, a long cute story. I didn't waste my time. I know now clearly why I feel as I do about Dickens' writing.

    This is partially autobiographical, but how accurate is the relationship with his wife?!

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By Monica Wood
    • Narrated By Monica Wood
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father's wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depending on Father Bob, Mum's youngest brother, a charismatic Catholic priest who feels his new responsibilities deeply.

    Chrissie says: ""Memory Lane", at least for some of us"
    ""Memory Lane", at least for some of us"

    I definitely liked this book and it is definitely worth reading.

    Its topic is the death of a loved one, seen particularly through the eyes of a young child. Monica, the author, speaks of her father's death when she was nine years old in 1963, the same year Kennedy was assassinated. How did that death impact her own life, her siblings', her mother's and her uncle’s? You follow first the days, then the seven months and finally the two years without Dad – the "Dad-less days". This is touching, but never maudlin. The author also makes you laugh.

    I liked very much following this good, religious family of Catholics. Few books talk about GOOD, upright families with high morals. Definitely refreshing. That is not to say they were faultless. Some of the adults certainly pulled whoppers, but these were good if ordinary people.

    This book will also take you back to "Memory Lane" - the 1960s, the death of Kennedy and life in a small, American town, in this case Mexico. Yes, this IS a small town in Maine near the border to Canada. I didn't realize how many in the area spoke and breathed French. This is the town of Oxford Paper, that shiny, smooth, glossy paper we all recognize from National Geographics. Do you remember the song Big Girls Don't Cry, the TV show Mr. Ed, the Talking Horse, the school game Red Rover, pedal-pushers and tootsie rolls will all come back when you read this book. To at least some of us.

    The author narrates her own book. She does it well. She delightfully sings the lyrics of those songs, the oldies we remember so well.

    This book is true to life and serious and fun too. Pick it up. Read it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich: A Leo Tolstoy Short Story

    • UNABRIDGED (2 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By Leo Tolstoy
    • Narrated By Bill DeWees
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    The brilliance of this story is in how a normal bureaucrat, a judge in this case, has a small accident that winds up gradually taking his life. As he deals with this incident, with hope at first and then despair, he comes to terms with his family, his life, and the mediocrities that we all suffer with, except for the exceptional few. This story rings a particularly poignant note for those in early middle age facing the next part of their lives. This story is considered Tolstoy's best.

    Michael says: "Great Book, Great Price, Good Narration"

    So this was a Tolstoy...... Hmph, the story doesn't say much except to reiterate how difficult and painful death can be, both physically and emotionally. The story is way too short to establish empathy for Ivan Ilyich! He was a judge. A game of bridge was his favorite amusement. All his life he conformed to proper decorum, becoming with age aloof and irascible. What was the point of life - both he and the readers may ask?!

    The narration by Walter Zimmerman was certainly not bad, but it didn't add anything.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Member of the Wedding

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Carson McCullers
    • Narrated By Susan Sarandon

    The best way to experience this classic of the American South is by joining five-time Academy Award nominee and Best Actress winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, Thelma & Louise) as she guides the listener on a journey through the anguish of adolescence and isolation.

    Chrissie says: "A Gem"
    "A Gem"

    Yes, a gem! Why I found it amazing and thus worth five stars is explained below in the partial review.

    I will only add here a bit about the book's setting: Georgia, 1944-45. You see the world through the eyes of 12 year old Frankie, or F. Jasmine Addams. SHE, not I, will explain to you why she appropriated this name. Not only do you see the emotional turmoil of a preteen but you also get the racial tensions in the South and the tension created by the War. We know it is 1944 from the simple line that "Patton is driving the Germans out of France". One line and so much is said. No long discourses on history.

    Do you remember when you were caught between being a child and an adult and belonging nowhere? Alone....and the world is a scary place.

    The narration is fantastic; it is read slowly, with feeling, and it is easy to follow. Wonderful Southern dialect.


    After part two of three OR after three fourths of a 6 hour audiobook:

    Lend me your ear for a moment please. I consider myself pretty hard to please. For this reason I tend to prefer non-fiction because then I tell myself I will at least learn something if the writing disappoints, if the story fails. But the most stupendous books are those of fiction where the writers create a marvelous gem all from NOTHING. They create a tale from assorted words and how they string them together, their imagination and their ability to capture human emotions that we all share. So when I run into astoundingly beautiful writing, and by that I do not mean "pretty" but rather writing that speaks to us all, that has the ability to to pull us out of our own existence and allows us to share common experiences and emotions, now that is something else. THAT is what Carson McCullers does in this book. Fantastic writing.

    Do you remember your preteens, when you didn't feel comfortable in your own skin, when the whole world changed over night and all was frightening? Physical changes and emotional changes that throw you off balance. Do you really remember that period in your life? Here it is again captured in writing.

    Don't read this. Listen to it narrated by Susan Sarandon. Stunning performance.

    Don't miss this audiobook.

    Yep, I have listened to " The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". This is even better!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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