Like the best science fiction, this book transports you to another world and invites you to immerse yourself in the lives of alien beings. And that's what the 14th century is to us -- literally another planet of ideas, social structures, relationships, diseases, professions and everything else that makes life interesting. The author has an artist's eye for the illuminating detail, and yet she tells enough of the history of the era to give you a complete picture of what is going on too.
If I had one complaint, it is that it's ridiculously difficult to follow the byzantine politics of city-state wars in 14th century Italy. So whenever the author gets into the thick weeds of this area, I kind of tune out the names, and it all ends up sounding like "so-and-so attacked whats-his-name, his uncle and former ally in the war against flibber-jibber, until dude #1 changed sides and joined his brother-in-law, dude #2, who was also his wife's cousin's stepfather." Seriously, it's that difficult to follow, and way too complicated to track in an audiobook.
Overall, this is really, really worth the credit, and you will enjoy spending time as a visitor to this distant century.
Full disclosure -- I am in awe of Victor Wooten's music and own many of his albums, so it was not too much of a stretch to think that I would enjoy his book too.
And the book is fun. It's like what "Golf in the Kingdom" is for the game of golf. Lots of mystical mumbo jumbo that's fun to listen to, and occasional nuggets of pure wisdom. Like Victor's point about how learning music should be like how babies learn to speak -- lots of time "jamming" with masters of the art who encourage you to take risks and celebrate (rather than criticize) your mistakes.
I get that the book is supposed to be a fantasy too, but some of the crazier, more mystical parts are just not my speed. Of course Victor kind of gets away with it, because he plays the role of the doubting student through all of the adventures that he and his teachers go through, but I get the sense that Victor's "doubt" isn't real at all -- he's already bought into the whole "vibrations rule the universe and control all time and matter" theory, so if you don't find that part of the book plausible, then you're kind of left out in the cold.
On the other hand, this book has an AMAZING SOUNDTRACK. First, there's Victor jamming on bass between each of the chapters and occasionally during the reading of the book. And then there's other musicians stepping in to play with Victor when the action in the book heats up. When Victor and his teacher are in a car, you hear the car noises; when they visit a lake at night, you hear all of the animal and insect noises. You get the idea.
Anyway, it's a fine use of your time IF YOU ALREADY WORSHIP VICTOR WOOTEN (which I do). But I'm also not so far gone that I can't see that this book might not appeal to you if you don't really know or care about Victor's music. I think there's value to the story and the wisdom in this book whether you play music or not, but realistically, people without at least some background in all things Wooten might not get far enough into the story to reach all of the good parts. Anyway, with that being said, I recommend this one highly.
I get that David Wong is trying to be cool and post-modern with this story, but the wisecracks and gimmicks don't do much to cover up the fact that this is a pretty average and not particularly well done "community versus monster" story. All the standard elements are there, but with an added degree of cutesy foolishness that is supposed to say "see, I'm scaring you out of your mind AND making you laugh at the same time." But no, it doesn't really work here. So seriously, dude, don't touch the book and save the credit for something worthy of your time.
I love the whole premise of this series, and one thing that I really respected about "Speaks the Nightbird" was the discipline it takes to write from the perspective of a character in 1699 but still make the writing sound like it was written by someone experiencing that period IN THE PRESENT. Also, the clues that Matthew Corbett put together to solve the mystery are right in the story, but it took some keen insight and creativity to figure the whole story out. That makes for a fun read.
This one . . . hmm, it's hard to say where it doesn't measure up. I mean, all of the same elements are present. Matthew's got a particularly devious killer to confront, clues everywhere to pick up and ponder and foes determined to block his progress. But the whole effort just ends up being a little less than its parts. And instead of exercising discipline in his writing perspective, it's more like the author has decided to let his characters run wild with living in the past but somehow knowing what's going to happen in the future. For example, Matthew Corbett "invents" the term "detective" as a name for his new-found profession and then, later in the book, receives a magnifying glass as a symbolic gift to mark his success at the end of the book?! Ok, I get it -- the author is having fun showing how his character created the very cliches and standard symbols for the things that we all take for granted in our present. I suppose Matthew Corbett could also invent Wall Street greed and Upper East Side snobs while he's at it, but I find these kinds of "foreshadow" insights in historical novels to be amateurish and distracting.
I'm not saying that you should skip the book. No way -- it's still four out of five stars, and if I had read this book without reading the first one, I would have been very, very happy with what I had read. It's just that this one is a shade less magical and a shade more mechanical than the first book. I'm hoping the third book gets back to the standards of the first!
This is such an epic story of greed, pure evil, lies, but also nobility, truth and heroism -- it's hard to believe that the entire thing is true.
On the one hand, there is the pure embodiment of lust, greed and sheer evil genius, King Leopold. If Leopold didn't exist, you'd almost have to invent him just to personify all the bad intentions and misdeeds that created the Congo Free State. But that's what's so amazing about this book -- people like Leopold actual existed and did the things that are described here. I always have trouble imagining a person of pure, unadulterated evil, just sheer badness with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The shorthand view for this person is always Hitler, but I think the cool thing about this book is bringing one to the realization that there are other Hitlers who existed in their own periods of time. Leopold did not have the military might of a Germany at his disposal, but he used every tool at his disposal to build a concentration camp for the people of the Congo -- not for racial cleansing or any high ideals like that, but just to line his own pockets. Wow.
And at the same time, there's the heros of this book -- none of whom have any of the money or power or connections of Leopold, but they use the one thing at their disposal eventually to bring him down. The truth. This part of the book actually made me wish for a time like the early 20th century, when we still had the capacity to be shocked by the sorts of abuses then happening in Leopold's Congo.
Anyway, do not miss this book. It is an awesome story that is all but forgotten in today's history overviews. I would give this book six stars if I could.
Let me start by saying that I LOVED "Wool" and "Half Way Home," and I think Hugh Howey is among the most talented writers of science fiction alive today.
That being said, what the heck happened with this book?! All the same parts are there from the "Wool" installment -- the claustrophobic confinement of entire civilizations into huge Silos, the instant death outside the Silo, the politics, secrets and resentments of those trapped within the Silos, and so forth.
But in this book, it's like Hugh Howey got trapped in a "silo" of his own making. The whole book revolves, inexplicably, around three not-very-engaging characters -- there's Donald, the Georgia Congressman-turned-architect-turned-Silo-chief, there's Thurman, the Georgia Senator-turned-apocalyptic-prophet/lunatic and then there's Anna (Thurman's daughter), the MIT engineer-turned-desperate-girlfriend. None of these people were very interesting to follow, and yet that's what the entire book was about. With all of the possible directions that Hugh could have taken this story, why confine the narrative to just these three? Being cooped up for hundreds of pages with just these characters was like a prison sentence.
Also, I know this probably doesn't bother most people as much as it bothers me, but I find obvious factual or technical mistakes in science fiction writing to be really inexcusable. I mean, it's FICTION, which means that the reader accepts the basic untruth or premise of the story, but having done so, the author's duty is then to get the rest of the facts right (or at least offer a plausible explanation for why these things are different). In this story, you have a US Congressman acting as an architect for a Federal building project and a US Senator in charge of the building project. This is simply impossible under our present form of government, as anyone with any background in the area can tell you. Has our form of government changed by 2049, which is when the first part of the story is set? Hugh Howey doesn't say. You can also read in the story about a meeting between a US Congressman and a Senator in Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle while Secret Service agents circle nearby. But Congressmen and Senators aren't protected by Secret Service agents, and in any event, none of them have meetings in Kramerbooks, ever. And even though a part of the story is set in the year 2049, why don't any characters use any technological devices that existed after 2005? One character even spends time setting up a huge desktop computer in an office, as if people in 2049 are all still using Dell desktop machines from 1993!
Anyway, I'm glad that I got through the book, because I'm looking forward to reading "Dust" in August (the third installment of the series). I suppose if you're like me (a huge Hugh Howey fan), you're going to read this book no matter what the reviews are, but for the casual reader, stick with "Wool" and some of Hugh's other, better works.
This series is just amazing -- and listening to the books read by Rob Inglis is like reading the story for the first time.
I have to admit that the Two Towers isn't the best of the LOTR series. It's more like the first half of the Return of the King, so don't expect a satisfying, self-contained story line. This book is more like the bridge for getting to the conclusion of the story, and so long as you keep this perspective in mind, you'll find that the story works well.
But what really makes the book worthwhile is Rob Inglis's character voices, and particularly the voice of Gollum/Smeagle. The whole point of Gollum is that he's two things at the same time -- both evil and good, dangerous and sympathetic, enemy and friend. Rob Inglis nails this voice exactly, in my opinion, and that alone makes the story and the book work well.
Enjoy the listening, and get ready for the conclusion in the Return of the King!
Where to start -- when a book gets five-star reviews from so many listeners, when a book is universally recognized as one of the greatest works of one of the greatest writers of English literature, how do I begin to explain how "meh" this story really is?
And, to be honest, it's not just that the story is "meh" (more of that later), but the story is actually kind of arrogant and dishonest -- which is disheartening when you consider that Dickens himself considered this to be his most autobiographical of novels. In other words, if this novel is a window into Dickens's character or soul, I'm not sure he's someone I'd ever want to meet.
You start with David Copperfield, who has a wonderfully engaging voice and early story to tell -- the death of his father and later his mother, the abuse by his stepfather, the series of schools and menial jobs followed (eventually) by his real life's work and success. Ok, all of that is pretty standard stuff, and you can read the exact same thing in a million other autobiographies, from the Glen Miller story to Howard Stern. So far, not too impressive.
After a while, however, as you are reading more and more about David Copperfield's many travails and disappointments, you start to get the sense that this is all a form of backwards, subtle bragging. David had so much difficulty mastering shorthand, but with courage, determination and hard work, he mastered it. David had no money to support himself, but with courage, determination and hard work, he saved what he needed and was able to live. David had no friends at school, but with courage, determination and hard work, etc. etc. You get the idea. And the book goes on like this forever.
On top of all this, you also notice that no one else in the book can reach any kind of resolution or crossroads in their own lives without FIRST checking in with David Copperfield and receiving some kind of magic blessing or words of wisdom from him. In fact, this gets kind of comical towards the end of the book. David has basically done all of the growing and changing that he's ever going to do, and so all that remains is for each of the books other characters to show up for "meetings" with David all over London and bring him to taverns or homes so that they can talk about their problems with him. Give me a break.
And so let's go to all of the other characters in the book -- the ones that are so captivating to other reviewers. Frankly, they are only captivating because Dickens has figured out a way to populate his book with a series of one-dimensional, mechanical robots whose every word, gesture and even name is an expression of a single, monolithic, unchanging character trait. David's first wife is a CHILD-BRIDE, so of course she acts like a six year old in every possible setting and in every conversation, without any variation or departure whatsover. David's stepfather is a CHILD ABUSER, so of course he acts like a medieval torturer in every possible setting and in every conversation, without any variation or departure whatsoever. Ditto Mr. Micawber, the LOVEABLE DEBTOR, ditto Uriah Heep, the EVIL LAWYER. I was going to write that all of the characters are like cardboard cutouts, but even cardboard sometimes does what you don't expect -- wind might blow it over once in a while, rain might make it droop a bit. These "people" are not people at all but clockwork automatons put into the story to further flatter and show off the admirable qualities of David Copperfield, which they sorely lack.
So other than that, was it a good read? Well, I'm happy I got through the book, as I can now always say that I finished it, but other than the fact that it is "David Copperfield" by the great Charles Dickens, I wish I had spent the time listening to something else. Frankly, Dickens is an egomaniac, and this book is all the proof that you need of this fact. I'm sure that Dickens can write well, and I've enjoyed other of his books (particularly Bleak House), but this one is a disappointment.
This performance should be "Exhibit A" in a proof entitled "Why Audiobooks Exist." I've always loved the LTR series and read them several times at different points in my life, usually finding some nuance or turn of phrase that I had missed before.
But actually LISTENING to the songs in the book SUNG by the narrator, with the correct rhythm and a matching melody is like discovering there's an additional one-third of the book that I had never even seen before.
I could go through all of the other details of the narrator's performance and how well he's captured each of the characters' virtues and backgrounds in each of the voices, but that would just waste your time -- TIME THAT YOU SHOULD BE SPENDING LISTENING TO THIS BOOK!!
Honestly, after so many decades while this book has been unavailable as an audio recording, there's no better use for your credits than to buy this one now.
This one is just amazing -- a fantastic story, great writing, and true characters and events that are too implausible for fiction.
To begin with, I had no idea what an accomplished, brilliant man Garfield was. It's not too much of a stretch to say that he's probably the most intelligent person ever elected president. He also cared deeply about his family, his constituents and his place in history. The fact that he was replaced by a party hack like Chester Arthur makes you wonder how US history would have been different if the assassination had failed.
Likewise, Charles Guiteau is like a twisted time-traveler from our era -- he's obsessed with his fame and the press reports of his crime; he's a con man, a bully and a coward in the same vein as Lee Harvey Oswald or Mark Chapman.
But all of that is not even the best part of the book. Instead, it's the sheer arrogance and idiocy of the medical "team" surrounding the president after he's shot. It's quite clear that the injury Garfield received was serious but not life-threatening. In fact, had he only been fortunate enough to have been a some ordinary guy shot by accident in a bar, any physician would have simply sewn up the wound and Garfield would have lived for decades.
But instead, Garfield was the president of the United States, and so the doctors treating him were enthralled with the idea of their fame and recognition after "saving" the President's life. And that's what ended up killing Garfield.
What a heartbreaking story -- easily worth your time and the one credit! Try this one out, you will love it.
I've listened to all of Gillian Flynn's books, and this one is unfortunately one of the weaker offerings.
The premise of the book is interesting and enough to keep you going through the early chapters -- a husband whose wife has disappeared goes through all of the motions that we know from watching similar cases: the local news interview, the "search" for the missing wife with volunteers from the community, running from the press who hound him with questions.
The problem is that the remainder of the book just becomes so increasingly far-fetched that you lose sight of any realism or surprise in the plot -- all of it is just so incredible and unbelievable that it stops being shocking. Sure, the characters are interesting, in that they have an agenda and are plotting moves that are not apparent in the early parts of the book. But all of it seems so fake and staged that I actually felt a bit cheated at the end when the author revealed all of the hidden details in the last third of the book. You mean, that's it?! That's what I was waiting for all of this time?
Still, it's not a bad book, and the performances are pitch perfect readers, so I can't say that it is not worth the time. If you don't know what to do with one extra credit in your account and you like Ms. Flynn's work anyway, then buy this. Otherwise, there's probably other, better books for your time.
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