New York, NY, United States
Like many of the songs that are described in the book, The Wrecking Crew may be worth listening to again. However, I think the next step is to see the film documentary. Though it may lack the detail of the book, it would have the added benefit of including snippets of the songs and showing us the faces of the musicians who are the subject of the book.
Actually, I found that it was the songs that held this true life story together, and the author must have felt so as well, organizing the chapters by song rather than my personality. When your subjects are anonymous studio musicians who are by necessity devoid of the egomania that drives their front men, their biographical back stories, while certainly interesting, do not burn down any barns.
But the songs they created -- the stories behind how these huge hits of the 60s and 70s came together in surprising ways -- is the real attraction here, especially for people like me who grew up on those songs.
If you consider my first name, one of the most interesting stories is how they came up with the coda to Strangers in the Night. I have had to live with that my whole life. I never knew until now how Frank Sinatra ended up improvising that fade out on the third take, and how the producer decided to include it in the version that was ultimately released.
And if you ever danced the limbo at a party, you might be surprised to hear the story of how the famous limbo song came to be -- how it was written, what the songwriter called it, and how it affected him. This book is full of those types of gems.
The book's tag line is "The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Best Kept Secret". The poster for the movie version, made by the son of one of the musicians central to The Wrecking Crew, has a full paragraph backing up the title. But since the songs are the real stars of this story, I'd tag the movie with something like "The Inside Story Behind Your Favorite Songs." That doesn't shortchange the musicians who people that inside story, but it highlights the work product which is their lasting legacy.
As an adult listening to a middle grade book, what I like best about Mudville are its variety of themes, the complexity of its main characters, and the messages it offers young readers. The plot is built upon a baseball showdown between Moundville (Mudville) and a rival neighboring town, but woven into that are themes of friendship, family, loyalty, dedication, selflessness, defining moments, first crushes, and even some issues of race relations.
Baseball always makes for a good metaphor, and Mudville proves to be no exception, to its credit even using the statistical aspect of baseball as a recurring metaphor. Well written, well thought out, and surprisingly complex (but not too complex) for its target audience.
I would not believe anyone who read this book and chose any character other than Sturgis as a favorite. Sure, the narrator, whose father takes Sturgis in as a foster son, is as likeable as he is omnipresent. But Sturgis is the focal point for the complexities of character and plot that make Mudville work. He may be annoying, his story arc may take a strange turn toward the end, but he is without doubt the most interesting character.
I'm going to blame the director rather than the performer for the problems with the way this book is read. Randy Anderson is good for the majority of the time, when he is the voice of Roy, whether it's his voice as narrator or in dialogue. Most of the other voices, however, are so awful that the book was almost unlistenable until I started to get used to them, or to at least expect them when I saw them coming.
Roy's father and mother and the girl he's crushing on are all given unfortunate voices, as are many other characters. But Sturgis, especially because he is so central to the story, is way too far over the top. Roy's voice is almost sotto voce, Sturgis is practically shouting at every turn (speaking in caps lock, as he does when he writes on the internet). It's jarring -- in a car, it is impossible to listen to, having to choose between not hearing Roy or having Sturgis make you jump out of your seat every time he talks.
Wanted to, but was unable to. I started listening to it in the car on a long trip with my daughter, who is sports nut and only a year or so past Mudville's target age. It was the right length to start and finish on that ride. We turned it off after half an hour because of the difficulty of hearing Roy and the annoyance of Sturgis and the other voices. I finished listening to it on my own on my cell phone, the sound easier to control through earbuds. Still, it was impossible to listen to except in small doses because of the way it was read.
Group therapy as a device to develop character is certainly nothing new in movies, books, TV. Gregg Hurwitz in my mind takes a risk using it as the fulcrum for his serial killer thriller, the format having previously been mined so deeply. But his group therapy sessions are the best part of this book. Indeed, through the first few hours, I was ready to complain that there weren't enough group sessions, but that was not at all the case by the end.
What makes it work so well is that Hurwitz's main character, the therapist, suspects someone in the group of being the killer, but for reasons I will not divulge, he has to conduct his sessions as if nothing is afoot, as if he is only delving into their psyche as he was before the killings began. The reason why this works so well is that it allows Hurwitz to focus more on character development than plot, and that is almost always a difference maker in literature.
Rather than compare Tell No Lies to books that center on group therapy, I will compare it to another serial killer thriller I read (listened to) recently, Blood Work by Michael Connelly. But I can't tell you why -- although if you read Blood Work, you can probably surmise why I chose it just because I chose it. But that's only an implicit spoiler for the first major reveal -- there are other nice twists to come.
Impossible to choose, for the reason already stated as to why I liked this book in the first place -- all the group therapy characters are good. They work in concert as a group in elevating the narration, as well as the writing. The one thing I will add about this latest of many Scott Brick performances is that he doesn't do the one thing I don't like him doing -- he doesn't read too slowly. I still listened to parts of the book at 1.25 or 1.5 speed because he is nevertheless deliberate in his pace, but he doesn't get overly ponderous in tone at all.
As much as I liked it, I went four stars instead of five because my initial (educated) guess as to motive and perp turned out to be right, from the very moment I heard the motive and perp first mentioned. It was somewhat telegraphed, especially the motive, although Hurwitz does throw us for a loop when it comes to perpetrator (which I will not hint at beyond that).
I've now listened to all four John Scalzi novels narrated by Wil Wheaton. But this is the first one I've listened to after reading the print edition. I would rate the print edition exactly the same way -- four stars for a humorous science fiction tale that hits a number of bulls-eyes, starting with the fun and funny standard that I apply to these kinds of novels.
But the audio edition is indeed better. And that's because of Wil Wheaton's narration. This type of book is by definition going to be better in audio if the narrator gets his comic timing down, and Wil Wheaton never fails to deliver. I look forward to the upcoming release, in audio, of the next Scalzi-Wheaton collaboration.
What I like best is that it's fun and funny. But to dig a little deeper, what I like best is the way Scalzi transposes present-day Washingtonian politics, world diplomacy, crackpot religion, and hacker technology into a future where Earth is a version of the U.S. that exists in an interplanetary setting filled with extraterrestrial cultures. It provides a recognizable context to that future, while at the same time using that imagined future to comment comically on our current way of doing things.
I especially like the sections where Scalzi explains what things are like in the future and how they got that way -- how Creek sets up his intelligent agent computer system, how the Nidu and UNE stack up militarily, how the Scientology-like Church of the Evolved Lamb came into being. That's where Sclazi gets to be at his funniest and where Wheaton's narration works best.
But for specific scenes, there is the mall chase, the battle simulation, the cruise ship escape, the denouement at the Nidu coronation ceremony where everything is resolved -- but the best scene by a country mile is the opening scene were a mid-level UNE trade negotiator enrages an extraterrestrial diplomat via flatulence. Hilarious!
Although the title is a direct nod to P.K. Dick's best known book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for the movie Blade Runner), and there is one mention of it again within the book, the story otherwise had nothing whatsoever to do with PKD or his novel. If that's what you're looking for, it's not here, not beyond the hommage in the title.
As I revisit some of the landmark works from my younger days, in literature, film, music, whatever, I discover that some remain as fresh as ever, the very definition of classic, while others do not withstand the test of time -- time may have passed them by, or maybe so much time has passed me by that I am no longer able to see in them what I saw back then.
Ragtime holds its own forty years later. I read the book when it was originally published, found the movie version just OK, and stayed away from the musical version because I stay away from all musicals as much as possible. I had no particular plans to re-read it, but being immersed this past year in the world of audiobooks, I could not resist listening to it because of one reason -- E.L. Doctorow himself is the narrator.
It's just about a truism that one will always get more out of a book when an author reads his own work. But this is a step beyond. Ragtime was hailed, rightly so, for its lyrical writing style, so hearing Doctorow read it in (what I assume) is the way he wrote it, that's a real treat. Surprisingly, after quoting Scott Joplin in his epigraph, saying that ragtime is meant to be played slowly, Doctorow narrates rather quickly, but this is no complaint -- the pace is perfect.
Ragtime music is noted for is syncopated rhythm. Doctorow clearly was inspired to apply that syncopated style to what would normally be called historical fiction, although that term does not do him enough justice. He masterfully interweaves the tales of three fictional families with a stream of true historical characters from the early years of the 20th century, taking on issues of social, racial, and economic justice that still resonate today, and the rhythm is perfectly timed.
Many works of historical fiction are described using a visual metaphor -- as tapestries. Ragtime is all of that, but it also appeals your another sense, with the musical metaphor of the title.
Charming Vampire Comedy.
Jodie, an average San Francisco woman, gets turned into a vampire. She meets Tommy, a geek writer wannabe from Indiana, and they fall in love. At the same time, they are trying to locate the ancient vampire who turned Jodie and who is committing a series of murders that he seems to be laying upon the unlikely young lovers. It's humorous, it's charming, and it's about vampires.
I don't like vampires. I just never saw the point of it. Especially the seemingly neverending fixation with them in popular culture. I always associated vampire myths with antisemitism, knowing that the hysteria of the 19th century coincided exactly with the rise of antisemitism and echoed the worst anitsemitic belief, the blood libel. Any lingering doubts I may have had were quelled thirty years ago when I saw the original Nosferatu, made in 1922 in Germany. And still the parade of vampire fiction continues unabated.
Nevertheless, among the ceaseless flow, I took to True Blood, the TV show. I am a huge fan of Alan Ball and I liked the metaphor of vampires as gay culture in the context of its time. Similarly, I knew I would eventually have to read the vampire series written by one of my favorite authors, Chris Moore, although I left it for last after plowing through the rest of this back catalog. When Bloodsucking Fiends, the first in the series, showed up as an Audible Daily Deal, I knew the time had come to take the plunge.
And I liked it, despite it being about vampires, and for the same reason I like the TV version of the books it can be most compared to, the Sookie Stackhouse series that forms the basis for True Blood (even though Fiends predates Sookie by a number of years). Moore doesn't broach the gay metaphor, but he too places his vampires in contemporary society, in San Francisco, stays true to the reality of his setting despite the presence of supernatural beings (as he always does), and presents us with a book of charm and wit, tangentially tackling modern issues, like euthanasia. And he leaves out the gore, diverting from the True Blood comparison.
I have not listened to Susan Bennett before, but I guess I will again, since she narrates Moore's other two vampire books, Bite Me and You Suck (she also has narrated Charlaine Harris's most recent book that includes a vampire, though not in the Sookie series). Bennett does a good job, especially with the two main characters, Jodie and Tommy.
What makes this book stand out among similarly themed novels is the structure -- a modern day epistolary novel that relies on E-mails, reports, transcripts, notes, faxes, etc., and yes, even old fashioned snail mail letters. The writers and addressees of these messages are a variety of people, so we get a kaleidoscopic picture of Bernadette, the central character, and the four other main satellite characters, from many points of view.
The question is, does this work better in print, or in audio? As much as I liked listening to the book, I have to admit there were times I was confused about who was writing. If you zone out for a second and that second coincides with the From and To lines, you're in a bit of trouble. In print, you just look up and double check. Going back 30 seconds in audio, not so convenient, if you're driving or have to reach into your pocket to take out your cell phone.
But that is a minor quibble in an otherwise very funny and minorly insightful look at the ramifications of choosing motherhood over art and career, dealing with (unwanted) success and (perceived) failure, living with neurosis and mental illness, and finding your true place in the world while trying at the same time to be part of a family. And dealing with unimaginable horrors like five-way intersections, invasive blackberry vines, and game show hosts.
One of the genius decisions Maria Semple made in drawing her characters was to make none of them wholly sympathetic or wholly antipathetic. Bernadette is seriously annoying, Audrey is not as evil as you think, Bee is no saint. That makes them all seem so much more human, even when drawn as broadly, for comic effect, as Audrey and Soo-Lin. So, choose a favorite? Maybe another way to phrase this is, by the end, I love them all as characters.
Voices. That's the most common answer to this question. Whether that's good or bad is open to interpretation and matters of taste. They all work, but Bee's voice, which is the most used because she narrates all the in-between bits and the Antarctic trip that makes up most of the last couple of hours, can be too much to take in big doses. I hate to criticize Wilhoite for this, having had the exact opposite critique of the narrator of The Hunger Games -- I think she nails Bee's voice, but it's just too much to take in big doses.
Bernadette, obviously, Just say one short phrase, any phrase, and then sit back and listen to her rant and rave endlessly about the subject, and digress into myriad other subjects that get her goat (and then finish up her dish, since she'll lose her appetite ranting away). Well, that's a big part of this book, Bernadette's skewed world view, that's the love-it or hate-it part which most people, myself included, seem to love. The only problem would be getting her to go out to dinner, since she's agoraphobic and now resides in Antarctica.
I had problems with Jon Green's Fault in our Stars that I distilled, in my review, to his concept of cancer perks. But I said I was willing to give him another try, and so I did, listening to Looking For Alaska. And now I have an even bigger problem with perks -- specifically, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Just type in Looking For Alaska vs. Perks in your Google and before you can even finish your search criteria, you will get a stream of autofilled results about how similar Alaska is to Perks. For the record, Perks came first by about 5-6 years. Why didn't any of the people Green thanks in his afterword stop him and say, "John, uh -- you know, Stephen Chbosky has not only written this book already, he even directed the film. Maybe you should change things up a little."
This is not a problem of similarly themed stories. This is an exact copy. Shy boys with no friends goes to a new school and is instantly taken in affectionately by the cool kids for no reason that makes sense, instantly curing his shyness. He instantly falls in love with the wild child girl who has a boyfriend in college and who sets him up with another girl. They both have teachers who touch something special within them. And it all comes crashing down at the end with a virtually identical climactic event.
Like all John Green characters, these kids always have the perfect bon mot ready on the tip of their tongues, without fail. But compared to the Perks characters, they are that shallow, with little in their past to explain their current behavior, with one exception (there isn't even an attempt to explain why the main character ever had socialization problems, which based on what happens in this book is not something he actually has).
Perks has sexual identity crises of various sorts, traumatic events that are believable rather than contrived, consequences that are far more common in real life than the contrived ones cooked up by Green. John Green is all over the YA best seller lists with his books. I don't get why. Read Perks of Being a Wallflower instead, if you haven't already.
I would recommend any Jonathan Tropper book to anyone, anytime. Yes, I'm a fan. I've read all his books in print, and I've gone back and listened to some of them as audiobooks, and plan to eventually listen to all of them -- in fact, listening to a Tropper book that I had already read got me started on listening to audiobooks regularly, at a time when has trouble concentrating on audiobooks that I hadn't already read. But none of this helps you.
Simply put, Tropper writes an easily accessible brand of literary fiction about contemporary characters that is full of humor (often laugh out loud funny) and achieving some depth of character and insight into the lives of ordinary people that is appealing to similarly situated people. The only flaw I can find with his writing is that his novels all seem to follow the same formula, but that has not been an issue for me, because the characters and situations are still fresh each time around.
What helps are the framing devices that get Tropper started, that catalyze his humorous analyses of (mostly) suburban families and the people around them and the towns they live in -- sitting next to Robert Downey Jr. on an airplane and wondering what would have happened had his college friends kidnapped him, as in Plan B, or sitting shiva with his family after his father's death, as in This Is Where I Leave You, or having the writer of an autobiographical novel return to his hometown and face the people he wrote about, as in Book of Joe.
In Widower, that device is a column that the main character writes about his life as a man who has been recently widowed, his wife having died in a plane crash, and his difficulties getting past it. That launches him into a series of events that brings in his wife's son by a previous marriage, his twin sister, his first attempts at dating again, and others. The device is particular suitable for the audiobook format, since our audio narrator gets to read the columns that our literary narrator writes about being a widower. Good stuff!
Tropper has often been compared to Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta. I don't think the latter comparison holds up through Perrotta's last couple of books, other than their suburban family settings, because they're so dramatic, but the comparison to Hornby is spot on, even though his characters are English and usually city dwellers.
In particular, I think How to Talk to a Widower is very much like Hornby's About a Boy, given central character who are lonely single men (single for different reasons) who develop relationships with young boys (different ages) and end up as a result learning to deal with their issues about being alone.
There are audiobooks that I don't like where I give the reader the benefit of the doubt, blaming the writer rather than his or her performance. Of course, there are some where the reader performs in ways that rankle me, whether the writing is good or bad.
In this case, given a reader who has done no other audiobooks (he's primarily a stage actor in New York), I give him five stars for a fine performance, but I have to give most of the credit for that to the work that he has performed -- especially because, as I have already said, the author's framing device is particularly suited for the audio format.
Let me make sure this is clear before I get into details: This book was entertaining and I'm happy to have listened to it. And I would try another book from Chris Ewan in the Good Thief's Guide series. But let me make this clear too: I would try one more, and if it's as full of holes as this one, that would be the last.
Ewan is a mystery writer writing about a mystery writer who is also a master thief. His protagonist, Charlie Howard, grapples with the details of the mystery book he is writing even as he acts out his part as master thief in Ewan's mystery book. Given this metafictional structure, I this it's totally fair game to have problems with the holes in Ewan's plot that mirror those in Howard's book.
Howard's prize possession is a framed first edition of The Maltese Falcon, which is mentioned on page 44, pretty early on. By then, we know that he has been hired to steal a pair of monkey figurines that everyone keeps telling him are worthless. If I as reader can instantly connect The Maltese Falcon to the worthless monkey figurines, why does it take Howard, a brilliant writer and thief who prizes The Maltese Falcon, so long? Not good.
There are other foreshadows of a similar nature that are instantly evident, but I will not go into detail so as not to spoil anything -- I don't think the figurine issue is a spoiler because it is just so obvious.
Without spoilers, I will again refer to Ewan's novel-within-the-novel. Howard's editor points out a huge hole in his plot that he tries to figure out even while he tries to figure out what is actually happening to him in the plot he is living in. After he fingers who done it and how and why, his editor points out the hole in his real life plot. He spends the last pages of the book explaining it away, to no one's satisfaction (by which I mean his, his editor's, or mine).
In Ewan's metafiction, the hole in his plot is left as unresolved as the hole in his character's plot. His editor even tells him, by way of consolation, that readers won't remember how the briefcase got into the policeman's hands by the time the ending rolls around. Not willing to take that chance, Ewan confronts his big hole and merely wishes it away, unsuccessfully.
In addition, the big ending in which Howard explains what happened and fingers the perp employs the classic technique of bringing everyone into the same room as he tells them all what he figured out. Obviously done on purpose, but equally obvious is that the scene is totally contrived, totally gratuitous, and beyond credulity.
Simon Vance is a staple of audiobooks. I've had the misfortune of only listening to him read books that were inadequately plotted. Still, he has done a masterful job in every case. He has that irresistible English accent and uses it in a classic understated manner.
Since it is a series, and English, and a mystery, it could definitely be a PBS Mystery or Masterpiece Theater, although reports in the press have ABC developing it . With a British cast, Bill Nighy has the right attitude for Charlie Howard, but he may be a bit too old to play the cat burglar. Maybe one of the Fiennes boys, Ralph or Joseph. Timothy Spall would be a good Rutherford/Stuart, although I'm not sure if he's a recurring character. Victoria? I'm gonna say Kristin Scott Thomas, but if you need someone younger, Kate Beckinsale.
Classic Sixties Caper
I saw The Hot Rock when it first came out as a movie in 1972, when I was 15. My friends and I loved it, quoted it endlessly. It has since passed out of our collective cinematic memory, did so almost instantly in fact, in part due to Robert Redford's unhappiness with it (he kept it from being released on video for a long time). But when I saw it come up in a recent BOGO sale -- I didn't even know it was originally a book -- I thought I'd give it a try.
So it didn't keep me on the edge of my seat, since I knew how it was going to go, but I don't think it was written that way -- it's a comic caper in the 60s tradition with the twist being that the gang has to commit a series of heists to get their target -- the hot rock of the title. Each heist is pulled off perfectly, except that they don't get the emerald, and therefore have to go after it again.
And in addition to the plot, the characters are well drawn -- stereotypical petty thieves to begin with, but each with a personality quirk that broadens their character, often to comedic effect. Bottom line, it was a quick fun read (listen) that for me harked back to a long forgotten pop culture touchstone from my past.
Voices. Although I don't think he does them all that well. The best narrators find a voice or a series of voices that beat out what you could come up with in your imagination -- these voices are stereotypes, exactly what you would imagine.
The Perfect Heist... Gone Wrong... Again and Again and Again
Report Inappropriate Content