I finished listening to this book a couple of months ago, and it has remained in my mind more than any other book I've read recently. I'm not sure why it has stuck in my mind so much, but then, uncertainty is part of the experience of this book. Don't read this book expecting an exploration of sweeping themes or great historical events. It is a very small scale history, concentrating on the members of the small expatriate (chiefly British) community in Peking/Beijing and their interaction with the Chinese in the years before the war and then communism changed everything,
The centerpiece of the book is a gruesome murder, and various types of vice do come in for discussion, but don't expect lurid sensationalism. The writing is detailed and meticulous, and the reader is matter-of-fact. I was tempted to say that the book is more true crime than history, but these days true crime implies a degree of sensationalism that is absent here.
I found Midnight in Peking fascinating, and would recommend it highly to the right sort of reader.
Note that pictures of many of the participants and of the relevant locations can be found online.
Rabid is an interesting exploration of a once-horrifying disease that inhabitants of first-world countries, particularly city dwellers, may erroneously think is nothing but a historical footnote. The book dispels some of the myths (modern rabies treatment doesn't require dozens of injections into the patient's stomach), while leaving the reader -- or this reader, at least -- with a healthy fear of the disease. (If untreated, rabies is still essentially 100% fatal, and it's not a pretty way to go.) I have some criticisms of the book -- for example, I don't think the discussion of zombies in popular culture has much to do with rabies -- but I would still recommend it. Even more strongly, I would recommend being extremely cautious in the presence of raccoons and bats, particularly if they're acting weirdly.
14 is well written, intelligent, and genuinely suspenseful. Frankly. it was better than I expected. The characters are believable and individual. Those intended to be likeable are likeable. In retrospect, there are some improbabilities (beyond those inherent in the nature of the story) and some loose ends, but they didn't bother me when I was listening to the book. I didn't love the narration, but for the most part, it was unobtrusive. The narrator did occasionally mispronounce a word, and, more often, fell into the too-common trap of too much emphasis on the wrong word. I wouldn't seek out books read by this narrator, but I wouldn't avoid them, either.
Books like this make me appreciate how good Jim Butcher is. Consciously or not, Hearne is a Butcher wannabe, and he's not succeeding. Rather than create a believable world in which the fantastic exists, Hearne gives the impression that he bought a book of world mythology and flipped through it for characters he could plug into his book. (And of course the main character is a so-called druid, to cash in on the segment of the market that finds Celtic trendy and sexy.) The reviews on which I relied (to my regret) praised Hearne's sense of humor. I found his humor juvenile and uninspired -- which could be forgiven if it were funny, but it's not.
I struggled to get through the whole book, because I hoped that it would get better. It didn't. I even listened to part of the second book, in hopes that it would be better. It wasn't.
And then there's the dog. I hated the dog. I stuck it out until the second book because I hoped that there would be less of the dog. There wasn't. The dog was the single most annoying thing about this book, and the narration just made it worse.
The multitude of glowing reviews of this series makes me think -- and I hate being forced to think this -- that most of the reading public just isn't very intelligent.
Thank you, Audible, for having a generous return policy! I try not to abuse it, but this one definitely merited a return.
I enjoyed this, although I didn't like it as much as Hard Magic. Correia's fantasy world is intriguing. You have to like the hardboiled/noir genre, or you won't care for this series, even if you're a fantasy or steampunk fan. It's fast-moving and violent, although without the sort of wallowing or glorying in violence that you find (for example) in some serial killer-type novels. I enjoyed watching the character of Faye develop. I'm looking forward to the next one.
As I said in my review of Hard Magic, I don't love Bronson Pinchot's narration, but it didn't bother me as much in Spellbound as in Hard Magic.
This is a book for pure entertainment, provided you don't mind violence. It will not educate you or change your life. If you're the sort of science fiction reader who likes to pick apart writers for not getting the details of, say, time travel or rocket ship acceleration correct, you'll probably hate it. (Note that this is a steampunk world, so you get airships instead of rockets. I'm not telling whether you get any time travel.) It's definitely genre fiction, with some deliberate stereotyping of characters -- although I think Faye Vierra is quite an original.
With all that out of the way, this book is fun. Once it gets going, which takes a little time, it moves fast. In print, this would be a "read in one sitting" book. That's a bit of a problem for an audiobook, because few people would have time to listen to the whole thing at once, and there aren't a lot of good places to stop. I had to do some re-winding and re-listening to make sure I didn't lose the thread after a break.
I did not love Bronson Pinchot's narration. I know he's a hugely popular reader, but to my mind, he went overboard in trying to give each character a distinctive voice. To be fair, the voice he did that bothered me most was prompted by a description in the book, and luckily it wasn't one of the chief characters of the book. I managed to get over my dislike of Pinchot's narration, but I won't go looking for more books read by him.
I did buy the second book in the series (Spellbound) immediately after finishing Hard Magic. I didn't like it as much as Hard Magic, but I still plan to buy the third when it comes out.
Hodder clearly had a great deal of fun creating his steampunk world, and wants to tell the reader about it -- all about it. Repeatedly. He also did his research into the Victorian world, and doesn't trust his reader to know anything about it, or to remember the essentials unless constantly reminded. (I did happen to know beforehand who Sir Richard Francis Burton was, but I wouldn't have been bothered by a reminder or two. If only Hodder had stopped at one or two . . .) Hodder's fascination with his created world gets in the way of his story. The best part of the book is Springheeled Jack's first-person account of how he came to be who he is, showing that Hodder is more successful at telling a story outside the steampunk detective framework he so lovingly created.
The book left me with a faint feeling of distaste. It wasn't terrible, but I can't say I enjoyed it, and I have no interest in further books in the series.
The Ghost Map is a fascinating account of the appalling conditions of mid-nineteenth century London and of an early exercise in medical detective work. The initial chapters are not for the squeamish, and are a poor choice for listening while eating lunch. They concern, in a word, feces -- of various species (sorry, I couldn't resist the rhyme) although chiefly human.
I think the beginning of the book was intended to give modern readers a healthy shock. (Fans of steampunk, for example, might do well to be reminded that the nineteenth century was not only the Age of Brass and Steam, but also of Filth and Stink -- or not, because steampunk is fantasy anyway. But I digress.) Johnson has interesting insights on how modernization and urbanization fostered disease. I'm not particularly a student of this era, so it was informative to me.
The later chapters of the book are less nauseating than the beginning, although the book is, from beginning to end, about a disease of the digestive tract. (See previous caution about listening and lunch.)
After finishing the book, I find that I have very little to say about the reader, which I think is a good thing. The reader enabled me to enjoy the book without getting in the way. This isn't perhaps the sort of glowing accolade that the reader would want to print out and tape onto his refrigerator or mail to his mother, but I consider it a compliment.
This book badly needs a good editor -- with a chainsaw. It would have been a decent pulp thriller if it had been half the length. As another reviewer commented, this book couldn't decide whether it was a horror thriller or a Lifetime movie. I assume that it was intended to be a thriller, which is a genre that depends on pacing for success. The endless, unnecessary, and uninteresting digressions into the pasts of even marginal characters destroyed any possiblity of suspense. The only sense of creeping dread I experienced came from my fear that, at any moment, the author would once again stop the story for a pointless flashback. I'm sure that the author thought that she was fleshing out the characters and making them real people, so that readers would really care about them. It didn't work.
I made it partway into the third Audible installment before I gave up. As it turned out, the dread of another six hours or so of not getting to the point isn't what did me in. It was the reference to a character "flaunting regulations." I'd managed to overlook the numerous grammatical errors (Due seems to have particular difficulty with subject-verb agreement) for about eighteen hours, but without a gripping story to keep me going, I lost my will to overlook any more.
It's possible that "The Good House" has a bang-up scary ending (although I note that another reviewer has characterized the ending as silly). I couldn't say. In the part that I managed to get through, however, the supernatural elements were pretty mild. After you've read most of Stephen King, good and bad (and hasn't pretty much anyone reading this genre already gone through Stephen King?), a bathtub full of mud just isn't going to cause you to lose a lot of sleep. Well, unless it's your own bathtub, I suppose.
(It's possible -- although I doubt it -- that I would have liked this book better if I hadn't listened to it shortly after finishing Dracula. Dracula is long, wordy, leisurely -- and genuinely scary, even though everyone now knows all the vampire tricks that would have been news to nineteenth-century readers. I recommend it. )
The reader of "The Good House" is -- well, fine. Adequate. Unobtrusive, which is often a very good thing. I won't be searching for audiobooks purely on the basis that she reads them, but I wouldn't hesitate to buy another book that she read.
This is not a fantasy story; rather, it is an utterly unmagical coming of age story about characters immature enough to believe that being bored by everything is the height of sophistication. (I suspect the author shares this view; certainly there is no suggestion that there is anything inappropriate in the characters' total disengagement.) The protagonist, Quentin, is transported from his boring and meaningless life as an upper-middle-class high schooler to a college for magicians, which he finds boring and meaningless. Even when Quentin plays a minor prank (out of boredom, of course), that causes a fellow student to be eaten alive, it causes only the most minor ripple in the lake of his ennui. Quentin frets briefly over whether or not his classmates noticed that he caused the event, then forgets it until graduation, when the class drinks a pretentious little toast to the dead student and then forgets all about it again. An episode when Quentin comes near to death during a trial-by-ordeal final exam has a similar lack of impact. Not only does Quentin not experience any significant emotional effects from spending days running naked across Antarctica, he doesn't particularly care when he returns and discovers that his friends simply skipped the ordeal and spent the time drinking cocktails on the terrace, without facing any repercussions. Throughout the hours of tedium consumed by the recounting of Quentin's years of magical education, the reader is tantalized by references to the fictional land of Fillory, with which Quentin has been obsessed since childhood. Surely, Fillory must be real, and at last something the reader can care about might happen! Fillory of course does turn out to be real, and Quentin and the members of his equally unlikeable clique eventually find their way there, only to discover that everything there is sordid and perverted. Thus, the lesson of this unpleasant novel is that growing up means replacing the bright fantasies of childhood with desperate, pointless emptiness, except for the special people who are privileged to discover that underneath the veneer of monotony, life is vile and depraved. Oh, and Mr. Grossman? When you want your heroine to express the closest thing that this book has to an emotional insight (she hates her parents, even though they're magicians, too), just have her say it. Nobody gasps out things like that in the throes of sexual passion. Gasping, yes. Gasping "don't let me turn out like my parents," no. Although in retrospect, I would certainly not have chosen to spend a credit on this book (or on the sequel -- I bought both books at once, the more fool I), I don't particularly want my credit back. What I want back is the brain cells that I wasted on this loathsome piece of work.
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