Sugar Land, TX, United States | Member Since 2010
I liked this book. A lot. But it’s a challenge to explain why because there were things about it that were hard to like. The writing is outstanding. Woodrell uses economy and eloquence in a narrative filled with secrets, resentment, and sometimes, when least expected, dry dark humor. (His description of the “accidental” demise of a well hated citizen is priceless.) He has written characters vividly without letting us really get to know any of them well. It’s this arm’s length distance that makes it hard to become fully immersed in the story. But looking back I suspect that was the author’s intention. Alma, telling her version of the story, is herself hard to get close to – prickly, resentful, suspicious, and unyielding. Her distance from those she is describing keeps us at that same distance.
Alternating first person narration through Alma and her grandson, we learn from Alma’s memory what lead up to and followed the fire that killed 42 people, including her wayward but beloved sister. No one is ever called to account, and Alma's need for justice solidifies to a hard stone of anger towards those in the small town who are content to just let it go, ostracizing the troublemakers who refuse to do so. The author often switches to third person voice to relay biographical vignettes of other fire victims, and of characters whose roles remain unclear until the end when all the pieces are connected.
These narrative switchbacks caused a bit of auditory whiplash, making me hit the 30 second back-up many times when normal attention to traffic distracted me just enough to miss who was speaking and who was being spoken of. The print version would have made it easy see when a new narrative section was starting - it was not so clear just by listening. I have reluctantly dropped a star from the overall experience because those frequent back-ups took me out of the story just a little too often. But I can also happily give 5 stars to the story for the astounding writing quality and a tale that has stuck with me for the two days since I finished it. This may be a good Audible/Kindle combination for members who use both.
I would never have even heard of this book without the Daily Deal, but after checking out the reviews I decided that this might be an intriguingly different choice. I was rewarded beyond expectations with a surprisingly witty and unique mystery featuring the most endearing investigator I have ever read. Never did I imagine I would be laughing out loud so often in a murder mystery set in mid 70’s Laos. Dr. Siri’s dry ironic handling of the bureaucracy was priceless, and I actually backed up and replayed one scene in which he took his immediate superior to task, because it so perfectly showed what this little man was made of. Pretty much all of the political sides received a bit of tongue in cheek lampooning.
Some reviewers complain about the supernatural aspects of the story, some crying foul about ghostly assistance in the murder solving. Personally I loved that part of the story, but will say to any potential readers that if other worldly spirits bug you then don’t go for this series.
I admit that I only allowed 4 stars for the story because the mysteries being solved were somewhat lightweight. But perfect narration gave tangible personality to Siri and the secondary characters lifting this intelligently written story to a 5 star on the strength of strong character development. I’m going back for more.
I really wanted to like this story. I enjoy a good ghost story that is more on the psychologically spooky side (as opposed to the slasher, gory side), and thought this would fit the bill nicely. But the handling of the characters consistently got in the way of the atmosphere. The problems:
• None of the subjects participating in this expedition to the haunted house seemed to be serious about actually trying to discover its secrets. They moved in, experienced the strange phenomena, but afterwards never even discussed among themselves what had happened or even seemed terribly surprised or concerned. We were told they wrote copious notes, but they never seemed to go anywhere.
• The too-clever, ironic conversations felt contrived and out of place. Perhaps the wry humor was meant to be a sort of whistling-in-the-dark, but it didn't work for me.
• The crazy bangings and door slammings, voices and wall writings are all sensory events that are difficult to convey in writing with the impact they deserve. Perhaps the impact would have been heightened if the characters themselves had seemed to be more viscerally affected. But they all just got over it a few minutes later, looked for the brandy and made more jokes. I have seen the 1963 film version, and found it satisfyingly spooky, largely because the actors were able to convince me that they were scared themselves.
• I found Dr. Montague’s wife to be one of the single most irritating characters I have ever read. Worse, her nearly comical militant spiritualist crusade further weakened Dr. Montague’s already weak character, undermining any pretense of scientific authority he held.
I wish I could recommend this classic, but for me it did not live up to its billing.
This was another reliable entry in the Enzo series. The mystery is interesting and well strung together. I found the handling of the clues creative and intriguing, allowing me to play along with Enzo’s problem solving process, and even though I had figured out who-dunnit, I didn't mind because the scavenger hunt to get there was worth the trip. Enzo remains an engaging and full-blooded character, in this outing working without the entourage of his daughters and their boyfriends, but that was ok. I enjoyed the atmospheric Breton island location and the people he met there. My only complaint is the subplot involving sometime love interest, Charlotte, who was uncharacteristically surly, leaving a relationship cliffhanger that left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m sure there will be a resolution of sorts in future volumes, but I just didn't like the way this one faded out, but not so much as to lose the recommendation.
“There were people who ate the earth and those that stood around and watched them do it.”
So said Lillian Hellman in “The Little Foxes”, and the quote is apt for the McCullough dynasty in “The Son”. For all of its ambition to present a sweeping epic of Texas history through the eyes of three generational representatives, these three characters came across as soulless and selfish, with no clear motivations for their lives, simply grasping for what they could acquire no matter the cost or who had to pay it – generally the Mexicans and other family members.
Eli’s story is admittedly the most colorful, with his abduction by the Comanches, his life with them, and afterwards in the Texas Rangers and the Confederate Army. But none of it ever felt as adventurous as expected. Much of it was just gruesome and murderous, but quite emotionless, even for the victims. The ease with which he changed allegiances, killing without conscience the enemy of the moment, spoke of a man with no soul or direction. Love was just as empty, expressed almost exclusively in sophomoric sexual terms (and too often with barnyard vocabulary).
Peter (Eli’s son) and Jeannie (Eli’s great granddaughter) each eventually inherit to various degrees the empire, but exist only through the prism of Eli’s life – Peter hating him and Jeannie mythologizing him. Neither ever feel adequate with themselves, so they are weak and inadequate characters, and I found them essentially sterile. Lacking heartfelt emotions, I felt nothing for them. All background characters were just that: background and generally one-dimensional, too often stereotyped.
Narration – 2/3’s good. Patton and Shepherd did well with Eli and Peter. Kate Mulgrew to my ears was grating and rough, trying too hard to portray a tough Texas gal, which just came across as a whiskey roughened broad, often indistinguishable from the male voices.
I know this is a dissenting vote – most reviewers loved the book. I felt it was cynical and spoke to the futility of life spent only on building dynasties and not relationships. I'll give it three stars for ambition and many of the well written passages, but I found little inspiring or uplifting to recommend it.
This is a dark short story told in first person by an un-named man going on a quest to the Black Mountains. He hires a guide to take him there, disclosing little of himself or his reason for the journey. His tale unfolds slowly, bit by bit as the two travelors encounter challenges along the way, not fully trusting each other, but needing to rely on each other anyway. This slow buildup initially felt like nothing was really going on, but have patience. As pieces of each man's stories are revealed, the tension begins to mount right up to the opening of the mountain cave which is their destination. And then, as the title suggests, there is the truth.
It pains me to give anyting less than 5 stars to a Gaiman recording, but in this case it's not because of his narration, which is perfection as always. There is a musical score that plays throughout the story that often becomes more than just background. The listener's sample gives you some idea of the music. There are some parts that are more intrusive, but also many parts where the music benefits the atmosphere. But the fact that the score made itself so obvious lost one star.
What a wonderful story. Something for everyone – adventure, mystery, humor, creepiness. Enjoyable for adults in the way of the best literature for young people such as Peter Pan, Harry Potter and (not surprisingly) The Jungle Book. Good coming-of-age stories remind us grown-ups of who we once were and of the dreams and hopes we once had for ourselves and our belief that we could accomplish anything - before the "real world" teaches us not to believe in magic anymore. Gaiman is a Pied Piper of storytelling for all ages, and as always gives voice to his creations as no one else could. The added musical interludes enhanced the atmosphere. I long to know what Bod’s life became, but suspect that a sequel would not really be in order. Better to let us imagine.
Is there such a category as “geezer-lit”? If not, this book could start a new literary genre as I expect only those over the age of 50 have sufficient life experience to appreciate the humor and insights that make this wonderful tale hilarious, poignant, wise and affectionate all at the same time.
Introduced to Evelyn on the last evening of her life, enjoying a somewhat raucous dinner with her best friends, I was laughing so hard I had to pee. Then she was gone and her daughter Barbara had to pick up the pieces and plan Evelyn’s unique memorial according to instructions left in a wonderful letter that actually begins Barbara’s awakening (and ours too if we have the ears to hear).
There are other story lines that are outrageous and revealing in their own ways, but it’s Evelyn’s spirit winding through the tale that keeps some grounded, some inspired, and often both at the same time. As one rapidly reaching geezer-hood, I enjoyed the connection to family and community, and the message of living life to its fullest on your own terms. Life has no dress rehearsal and once the curtain comes down the play is over and regrets are wasted time. That message was Evelyn’s best gift to Barbara.
GK’s reading has his usual quirky pauses and breaths, and it took at bit to get used to. But really, there is no other voice that can tell a Lake Wobegon tale. It was a perfect match.
I chose this book because I have watched “Legends of the Fall” movie countless times, and because Mark Bramhall is one of my favorite narrators. Ranking the three novellas, I thought “Legends” was the best overall story, “Revenge” the one that affected me the deepest, and “The Man Who Gave Up His Name” the least relatable (making it 4 stars instead of 5). If you are already familiar with “Legends” and “Revenge” from their movies, know that the source stories told here are not straight repeats, but still wonderfully written. “Revenge” in particular provided strong characters in Cochran and Tibby.
Strongly masculine tales, there is a common thread of midlife self-doubt and sense of loss that could become depressing if Harrison’s writing was less masterful. If the stories had a soundtrack, it would be the beautiful but melancholy music of the cello – expressing a soulful yearning that communicates to the reader. Bramhall's reading ensures the cello is pitch perfect. I loved the stories, admired the writing, and will likely look for more of Harrison’s offerings.
The mystery/thriller genre can be fairly forgiving as long as the characters have dimension and the plot is suspenseful with twists that play fair with readers willing to suspend disbelief. “Watching You” does pretty well with the plot end of the bargain, but not so well with the characters.
On the positive side, there is plenty of suspense, the solution to the mystery not being obvious. In the interest of no spoilers, I can’t say much about the plot points, but thought and creativity have been put into the story structure. Don’t assume that your first impressions will hold up to the end. I like a story that can surprise me.
Oddly, in spite of the suspense I felt more curiosity than urgency about solving the mystery. Perhaps because this is my first outing with the O’Laughlin series I have missed the character build-up of Joe and Ruiz, who were not well defined. Regarding Joe, for a psychologist concerned about sharing confidential patient information, he sure spilled it out easily enough to Ruiz. And I found his Parkinson’s disease to be a gimmick that added nothing to who he is or to this story. As for the rest of the cast, often personality felt more governed by plot needs than by realistic responses.
So bottom line, this was a credible mystery with twists that were interesting if not edge-of-my-seat compelling. I just felt the characters were kept too far at a distance to get my adrenaline running for them.
I chose this book to get some insight into the creative minds behind stories I know best through the Hollywood renditions of their best works – Watch on the Rhine, The Little Foxes, The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon. I got background stories, but for most of the book there was an unexpected distance that kept the writers from becoming flesh and blood. Part of the problem was that for much of the book they remained apart from each other, their stories told in parallel. That may have been unavoidable since their relationship did have long separations, but life was not well infused even when they came together. The other part of the problem had to do with the narration.
I have enjoyed all three of these readers in previous selections, and their presence influenced me to download this book. But the producers made a curious choice about the narration assignments. The wonderful Mark Bramhall gave Hammett his voice and was by far the best part of the listening. But Bernadette Dunn as Lillian, and Lorna Raver as the overall narrator sounded too much alike to let Hellman sound distinctive. And because Raver narrated the largely third person voice, the sections dealing with Hammett’s life were read in the voice of an elderly woman. Raver is a very talented reader, and I have loved her in other outings, but her voice made it impossible to hear Lillian as a young woman in her 20’s and 30’s, and Hammett was just lost until Bramhall read his own words. It has been hard to choose a rating for the narration because all three read extremely well. The problems were in the production choices.
The very end of the book, the final years of their devotion to each other finally brought Dash and Lily to life for me. The voices finally matched their ages, and the lovers were finally together. It raised the book from being mediocre to good if a bit flawed.
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