Houston, TX, United States | Member Since 2008
I tell my acting students that they pass people on the street every day who are as extraordinary and unbelievable as anyone they will play on stage--they just can't see behind the masks. M.C.Smith's books, as carefully plotted as they are, are not about plot. They are, rather, about revealing the desperation, the depravity, the courage and sometimes even the nobility lurking behind the banal masks worn by everyone in a uniformly grey society. Often the worst and the best even co-exist, unsuspected, in the same person. His characters act in ways we never expect, and when they do, our eyes go wide with recognition as their hidden purposes and obsessions become apparent. Not plot but a rich stew of competing and sometimes deadly motives gives his tales their extraordinary power, and at the center is Renko whose only uncompromising motive is the simplist and most dangerous of all--to find the truth.
Smith's other great strength is the evocation of locale. The white domain of deadly cold which he gives us in Polar Star provides constant intersections of breathtaking beauty and unforgiving peril which the author uses to spine chilling effect during Renko's frequent brushes with death. In almost every instance, numbing cold or intense fire or both play their part in vivid detail.
Happily, the author's mastery of character and locale are matched by Frank Muller's marvelous voice which brings it all into audible presence, understating but never neglecting a nuance, creating the white world and the grey cast of characters and the suppressed desperation with a bone true reading.
This book gains momentum slowly but rewards the reader with extaordinary tension and some action sequences which you will likely not forget. I recommend it very highly.
I am old enough that I should be able to relate to this novel quite easily. It is clear that a lot of people do. It is about the unreliability of memory and how that intersects with an accumulating sense of responsibility for actions which now lie partially obscured by our inexact recollections of the distant past.
The book begins with a good deal of discussion of the nature of history, but what is never said is that, after participants in events have had their shot at justifying or condemning their own actions, the real work of evaluating is done by people who have some useful distance from which to observe. Memoirs are not history whether they condemn or exonerate. They are only useful as raw material for later evaluation. And I can think of few activities more useless and self indulgent than picking apart one's own memories in search of untapped resources of guilt. Dealing with the readily apparent lapses is quite enough to keep most of us occupied. Besides, it seems to me that living as well as one can in the present is the real moral and ethical imperative and is quite enough to keep one busy and challenged as long as breath lasts.
That said, Julian Barnes, with his gorgeous prose and seductive way with the nagging mysteries of common life, comes close to making the tedious, ad infinitum self-examination palatable. And Richard Morant's voice and pace brought the obtuse Tony to convincing life (though he did not provide a voice for any of the other characters). Nonetheless, when I finished listening to the last, perfectly turned phrase, I breathed a sigh of relief.
I hope this review is transparent enough to allow listeners who love a bit of very stylish wallowing in self-reproach to recognize that this is a book which will delight on every level. I think this is one of those works which will please or disappoint based on temperament rather than taste.
Perhaps Joe Abercrombie is a little weary of seeing the word "gritty" attached to his name in every other review, however accurate it may be. But formulaic is not an alternative to gritty; it's just...formulaic. Most of this book you have read before. Admittedly Abercrombie does it at least as well and mostly better than others, but it is impossible not to sigh and wonder why he decided to attend the party without his best clothes on. Still, reweaving old threads into a costume which is perhaps somewhat more stylish than the original demonstrates skill, albeit little inspiration. Less wise was his impulse to rework a peerless piece of stitching (a scene from Hamlet) and leave it hanging tattered on the rack. The advice comics give to their peers, "If you are going to steal, steal from the best," is not necessarily good counsel for writers.
All that being said, this is still Abercrombie, and his second or third best work is well worth reading. The ending, in particular, is very well crafted (will we have to wait until a sequel or two have come and gone before we can get you fully back, Joe?), and I was never really bored or confused. I certainly do not regret the credit, though I was also never astonished, never shocked, never terrified, never convulsed with laughter, never deeply moved, never transfixed by an image. Much more tender, much less muddy. But oh how the mighty have fallen. An extra star off for the descent from the heights, I'm afraid.
John Keating does a perfectly creditable job with the narration. Stephen Pacey or Michael Page, as much as I admire them both, would have been poor choices for this wide-eyed, coming of age story. Keating uses a variety of Scots, Irish and English dialects to set and identify the characters, and he only occasionally misses a meaningful inflection. It is strange hearing him read Abercrombie only because this is not the JA we are all used to.
The setting and central character of C. Johnson's Longmire series invite comparison with James Lee Burke's recent books set in Montana. Both authors evoke landscape and local culture with deft brush strokes which contribute not only vivid visual images but also a sometimes haunting sense of milieu which actively drives the story. Both law officers are Vietnam era vets who have evolved into men who possess tremendous charisma rooted in a wisdom and gentleness born of tragedy, loss and recovery. Both are surrounded by an engaging cast of characters who become more interesting and "real" with each book. Both mine rich veins of mysticism at times in ways which challenge our comfortable assumptions about the limits of reality.
That said, there is something much more comfortable, approachable and less visceral (not to mention bloody) in Sheriff Longmire and his adventures. If you seek antagonists who are personifications of evil, you will be disappointed here. Johnson's plots rise most often from the everyday and the prosaic while Burke's almost celebrate the existence of a kind of intrusive malevolence beyond understanding. As a result, instead of the high voltage exhilaration derived from defeating Dave Robicheaux's typically diabolical adversaries, Walt Longmire leaves us with satisfaction at a job well done and a nagging awareness of how most evil springs from roots which are very familiar to all of us.
I love both series, but I was less taken by "Crow" than by the previous Longmire novels. The victim never quite mattered enough for me, and it seemed that the investigation took a back seat to the introduction and development of a new character (a very promising one). These books are always driven by character, but the balance seemed a trifle off this time to the point that the climax of the investigation left me wanting more. Still well worth the credit, however, and I have already downloaded the next book in the series.
I loved the early books in this series, but I am slightly disappointed with this one.
Iggulden is a superb storyteller, no less here than in the previous Mongol works. He never allows my interest to flag; he creates complex and fascinating characters and is able to engage us emotionally; he writes battlefield descriptions to a fair-thee-well and builds suspense with remarkable skill. Plus, he is writing about some of the most amazing personalities in all of human history.
Unfortunately, while the author made a real effort to stay close to the historical narrative in the first few books and was in the habit of setting the record straight in an informative "Afterword" about instances where he had strayed or invented extensively, this time his story often bears only a passing resemblance to the facts, and he never acknowledges the discrepancies. Interestingly, there were a few times in the narrative where I had a little trouble believing the story or where it got particularly thin. Checking the history subsequently, I found some congruence between these weak points and the major departures from the factual record.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book a great deal, and Richard Ferrone does a terrific job with the narration. If you approach the story as fiction with some familiar names, you will probably have a fine time listening.
I would have to listen several more times to Hazen's very clear explanations of the details of the scientific evidence for our understanding of the history of the planet before much of it would remain in my sieve-like memory for more than a few days. What WILL persist, however, is a deep respect for the painstaking and ingenious scientific process which has yielded so much concrete understanding of events in the unimaginably distant past. The book also provides a broadly brush-stroked sequence for the Earth's development, often featuring vivid descriptions of the landscape and dynamic processes which bring the scientific findings to life in panoramas which will remain in my memory. (The image of our moon, a mere 12,000 miles away and gigantic in the sky, hurtling by overhead every few hours sporting visible volcanic fracturing, for instance.) What's more, I never would have guessed that rocks and minerals would become so fascinating and central to my understanding of the rise of life.
Hazen's narrative is replete with details of change. Two kinds of change: that which has driven the history of the planet through constant and extraordinary formation, destruction and reformation with only occasional periods of stasis, and that which has marked the development of our scientific understanding of our own particular niche in the universe. The result is a picture of mixed certitude and conjecture, and he is quite clear about the difference between the two. This is a fascinating listen, very well read. If you can deal with a good deal of clear but fairly detailed technical explanation, I recommend it to you highly.
This is not a particularly enlightening book, but with its moment by moment recital of the events in and around the White House at that wrenching moment in history, it does make clear how all the political skirmishing and hostility of the preceding months suddenly became inconsequential in the face of the Pearl Harbor debacle. FDR's ability to read the American will correctly at that moment and his decision to deliver a simple address informing the country of the seriousness of the attack and expressing the nation's resolve seems like the obvious choice now, but Gillon makes it clear that the President's advisers pressed for the kind of extended historical diatribe which would have diminished the clarity and power of the speech. We are left with an image of a president perfectly attuned to the task of leading a unified nation into the conflict.
There is little else of significance in Gillon's account. The biographical material about FDR's struggle with polio and the unraveling of his marriage does little to shed light on his initial response to the crisis in the Pacific, and notes about the scramble to establish a new security environment for the White House do not add much to our understanding of the crucial events of the day. As I listened I found myself waiting for more momentous revelations, but they never came.
John Pruden's narration is competent and unremarkable.
This is definitely a case of truth beggaring fiction. I found this account of America's occupation and attempted transformation of post-Hussein Iraq to be riveting--a kind of masochistic fascination is perhaps the best way to describe it. Eight years after the book was written, there has still been no adequate response to the indictment it embodies, even though the account Chandrasekaran presents is substantially undisputed.
The picture here is so appalling that it is hard not to suspect (hope?) that the author has neglected to report some positive aspects of the U.S. occupation, but one looks in vain for such material elsewhere. What's more, his on-the-spot access to the events and personnel involved with the story was clearly extraordinary. So in the end his reportage, compellingly straightforward and extremely well written, is convincing.
Ray Porter's voicing of the book was, in keeping with all his work, superb.
Do not be misled by the cover art for the book. The "Green Zone" movie starring Matt Damon was a piece of fiction inspired by but definitely distinct from this non-fiction work.
This is not a genre I would normally have visited, but I was given a choice from several pre-release titles as a bonus for contributing reviews on a regular basis, and the others were even farther out of my ball park. Consequently, since I do not often venture into the horrific or the macabre, I do not feel terribly well qualified to judge this one. As a result I will resort to a simple list of what I noticed.
1. It is essentially a combination of the Jekyll/Hyde theme and the ever popular clown demon with some other pretty standard occult fare such as a hell mouth and reality shift gates thrown in for good measure.
2. It garners a good deal of its shock effect from descriptions of all the usual bodily fluids flowing, pooling, spurting, spattering, and soaking the into whatever surface is handy and repulsive.
3. The action moves along at a satisfying pace and the writing is skilled though unremarkable.
4. Unless you are especially sensitive to the aforementioned clowns, you are not going to find anything terrifying or chilling here. Creepy is about the extent of it, but some of it is creepy in a pretty entertaining way.
5. By the end I did not feel I had wasted my time listening. The story was engaging and entertaining, and the narration was quite good. Definitely worth more than the nothing I paid for it, though I doubt I would spend a full credit for the book since I usually pass on the occult.
I wish I could read this as a twelve year-old. It would send me scurrying to find the myriad sources of the storyteller's material, filling a summer with wonder and delight. Rushdie's literary fantasy video game seems capable of seducing a kid away from XBox or PSP and enriching a young imagination as it explores the treasure trove(s) from which the writer has conjured teasing glimpses and succulently baited hooks. Amerindian demigods; deities from every age and corner of the globe; named natural powers of wind and sea and fire; all play their parts in an extraordinary embroidery of tale and myth. As a child, I would have tracked them all down in their original settings and then reread Luka's adventure with deep satisfaction and pleasure.
For an adult reader the tale is perhaps a trifle overwrought. I could not help but wonder at the amazingly comprehensive cast of characters. Still, I found the narration, which is quite in keeping with the world of the twelve year-old auditor, a bit too wide-eyed and breathless for an adult listener, and the cavalcade of mythical beings became a little wearisome by the end. This even while under the influence of Rushdie's superb prose style.
I suspect, however, that I will find myself reading this book to a grandchild in bedtime installments sometime in the future. So three stars boosted to four in anticipation of that greater pleasure yet to come.
This is another book for which excellent listener reviews are already available but which I would like to call to the attention of anyone who may have missed them so far. (While I am on the subject, allow me to apologize to Westergren Viveca. The single negative response to her very interesting review came when my finger slipped. I wish Amazon would make it possible to correct such mistakes.)
One caveat. This is not a book which will slip easily into one ear while the other is atuned to traffic or a house full of distractions or the underdrone exigencies of a busy day. It is full of riches which will be missed by the casual listener. Perhaps this explains the problems some people have had with the narration. Dean Robertson brilliantly captures the rhythm, inflection and expressive idiosyncracies Kingsolver has written into these Georgia bred women and differentiates them in wonderful verisimilitude. Their words come alive in the voice of this gifted actor, and since the speaker is clearly named at the beginning of each chapter, no pyrotechnics of pitch or timbre are required to identify them. The result is a very truthful and telling characterization in every instance. Nor would a slower reading have served the text. These women do not speak slowly, savoring the poetry in their mouths. That bit of truth is one of the delights of this book. Just as with any really excellent piece of writing, there may be times when you want to go back. and dig a little deeper into the meaning and beauty. It is worth the time and effort.
That was a pretty long caveat, wasn't it! Sorry. But do consider treating yourself to Barbara Kingsolver's ravishing book sometime when you can really listen with both ears.
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