Here's the thing about Connie Willis's books: they move slooooowly. The reviewers who are knocking the book for that fact aren't wrong. And it's repetitive. You get a lot of internal dialogue from characters who fixate on the same details over and over again. That doesn't always make for complex characters, and sometimes that lack of character development is odd, if not frustrating.
I really liked this book anyway, and I think you might too. Or you might not. Here's why.
1. Time Travel. Obviously, this is not a time travel story for the futuristic sci-fi lover. This is a time travel story for the history/historical fiction lover. The technology in the book is kind of lame. It basically screams "I was written in 1993!" (which, you know, it was). Personally, I was able to suspend disbelief enough to just roll along with the lame tech, but I can see how many sci-fi lovers wouldn't be able to get past that.
2. History. As I've said, this is a book for history lovers. One thing Connie Willis always seems to do well, in my experience, is completely immerse her readers in a time and place in the past. She clearly does her research, and that's probably my favorite thing about her books. This attention to historical detail is wonderful, and had me constantly pausing the audio book to do quick searches on various historical details to learn more. Throughout the book, I had this very real sense of the fear and confusion and outright despair that characterized the Middle Ages - that the world seemed to be ending and no one could understand why.
And yes, of course, it's a sad book. Do not pick up a book about the bubonic plague if you are looking for a lighthearted romp through history. Some reviewers appear to have been surprised by how sad a book about the Black Death turned out to be. So never let it be said that you weren't warned: books about that time half of Europe died are sad (see also water: it's so wet!). Moving on.
3. Adventures in Postsecondary Education. One of the less-appreciated aspects of this book is the comically realistic depiction of the bureaucratic and administrative hurdles inherent to a large university. I really enjoyed watching the academic turf wars and backbiting unfold, preventing Mr. Dunworthy from being able to help Kivrin, who is, all the while, wasting away in the Middle Ages. I'm not sure if that was intended to be dark humor, but it worked for me.
Overall, I really liked this book and ended up reading the other 3 books in the Oxford Time Travel Series after this one. That said, it's a serious time investment, so hopefully this review helps you decide if this book sounds like your cup of tea.
Disclaimer: A few years ago, I tried to read Dune, and gave up about a quarter of the way in. I just couldn't get into it. So when I saw this audiobook, with such good reviews and a full cast narration, I was excited to give it another go. I know that Dune is incredibly significant in the annals of science fiction, and I absolutely don't want to diminish that importance in any way. That said...
First, the story itself. Dune is world-building sci-fi, and if that's your thing, you are going to love it. The universe that Frank Herbert creates here is really spectacular. If you are looking for complex, interesting characters, however, you may want to look elsewhere. Spoiler alert for the next paragraph.
Dune has some Lady Problems. Jessica does nothing but worry about and/or stand in awe of her son's brilliance. We know he's brilliant because she spends a lot of time thinking about how brilliant he is. Chani has no real personality other than being (pretty understandably) bummed when Paul informs her that she's going to be his concubine because he's got to marry Princess Irulan, for political reasons that don't actually make a lot of sense, but whatever. For her part, Princess Irulan apparently did nothing with her life except write approximately 57 books about her husband, who we're told will be cold and unloving to her until his death. Sounds awesome, sign me up. And despite all we're told, Paul's no prize either. He's kind of mean to his mother, and again with the making the woman he loves a concubine (that's a family tradition) and marrying another chick who he's not even going to try to be nice to.
Then there are the Harkonnens. Of course the bad guy is gay, morbidly obese, and a pedophile. Subtle stuff there, Herbert.
Anyway, the main reason I was so excited about this audiobook was the narration. Simon Vance! Scott Brick! I would listen to either of those guys read the phone book. My beef with the narration is probably more about the production than about any of the narrators. Specifically, the entire audiobook is not a full cast recording - only certain parts with a lot of dialogue involve the full cast. That gets confusing, because there are more than a few places where the overall narrator uses a completely different tone and/or accent for a character (Count Fenring is perhaps the most glaring example). The accents are another issue altogether. Look, I get that it's sci-fi and that as such, there's no reason why a wide variety of accents can't be used. But it's confusing as hell to have a character with an American accent one minute and an English one the next. Not to mention the fact that both of Paul's parents have American accents, while his is British. How did that happen?
At the end of the day, I'm not sure Dune stands the test of time well for a wide audience. It's certainly an important book, and I think sci-fi lovers ought to read it. This particular recording disappointed me, but listeners ought to seek out other works read by these narrators, because they are truly some of the best.
Ehh. It's steampunk X-Men. The characters have magical powers instead of mutations. The good guys just want to be accepted and live peacefully in society, and they're led by a feeble old dude. The bad guys think they're superior to the rest of humanity and want to enslave and/or kill everyone. It's just....not very original. The writing is fine - pretty much what you'd expect. The narration is solid, though for some reason I didn't love Sullivan's southern accent, but I'm a southerner and may just be particular about such things.
This book made me realize I'm probably just not that into alternate histories. I love fantasy and sci-fi, and I even enjoy speculative historical fiction like Wolf Hall. But I got the sense that the author made decisions based on how he wished history had gone down rather than on what would make for the most compelling story. But making actual historical events about magic rather than about the complex social and political realities that drove them....it's a bit flip. That's his prerogative, but I didn't love it.
I can totally understand why a lot of people seem to love this book - the author certainly seems to have a loyal following. It just really wasn't for me.
File this one under "Truth is stranger (and sometimes better) than fiction." I listened to this because I enjoyed Philbrick's "Mayflower," knew he was an excellent researcher and storyteller, and knew I liked Scott Brick as a narrator. I was not at all prepared for the tragedies upon tragedies in this book. I suspect if you're considering reading this book, you're already aware you are not in for a smooth or happy ride, but even so, brace yourself. It's just incredibly depressing, this story, because Philbrick does such an amazing job of showing us the despair the men aboard the Essex must have felt. I'm not sure the modern reader can come away from this with any real lessons or morals that apply to life today, but I was nonetheless glad I learned about a previously unfamiliar piece of history, and a gripping, fascinating one at that.
Being of a slightly younger generation, I wasn't all that familiar with the Manson murders before I listened to this audiobook. I knew who Charles Manson was by reputation, of course, but otherwise came in fairly ignorant of the exact nature of his crimes and their impact on society. So if you already know a lot about the case, I suspect this review won't help you decide whether you want to give this book a try.
I tend to love nonfiction that gives the reader/listener insight into the author - particularly when the book is not an autobiography. Something about understanding the author's process of writing the book or connection to the work compels me more than if I feel the author is just trying to provide an accurate blow-by-blow description of an event. My reviews of Ron Chernow's biographies of Washington and Hamilton speak to this skill as well, in that Chernow inserts himself just enough into the narrative that you remember that someone with an opinion is there, someone who you can imagine pouring over the details to piece together this story.
Vincent Bugliosi brings this story to life in much the same way, but the experience is heightened by the author's unique role in the Manson case as the lead prosecutor. Thus, this is not just a rehashing of a crime scene - though Bugliosi does recreate the crimes in a way I found powerful and moving. Rather, this story is one only Bugliosi could have told. He describes his thought processes in detail as he tries to show us the challenge facing him in making a case against Manson that would convince a jury to not only put Manson away for life, but hand down a death sentence. I loved, loved, loved this perspective.
I'm not a lawyer, but I've edited the writing of many a lawyer, and I know how difficult it is for many lawyers to explain legal concepts, particularly details of court proceedings, in plain language - without boring the reader to death. Bugliosi is particularly skilled at making the reader understand why various legal details were both important and interesting.
Scott Brick is always good, and he's exactly the perfect narrator for this book. His stern voice is expressive without being emotional, which strikes the perfect tone for such a harrowing story.
Yes, the book is long. But I feel like you can probably tell if you're the sort of person who is going to enjoy a 27 hour story about the details of a grizzly, historically significant murder trial. You might not be, and that's okay. I would urge you though, if you're intrigued but unsure about whether the book can hold your attention that long, to give it a try anyway. You might zone out for parts of it, but I can promise there will be many, many sections you'll find so fascinating you won't want to stop listening.
It has been a while since I listened to this, but I'm trying to get around to reviewing everything I've listened to, so bear with me.
I found a New York Times review of this novel from 1951 by George Mayberry, who concludes his review this way: "It is savage and sad, vulgar and ideal, coarse and refined, and a rather accurate image of an era of cunning and glory, of cowardice and heroism, of belief and unbelief."
I'm not sure I could put it better than that. For my part, though, I was drawn to and sympathetic toward the characters even though I couldn't particularly relate to any of them. I take that as evidence of Graham Greene's remarkable skill with words.
I've never been much of a fan of love stories, tragic or otherwise (which is why I give 3 stars for story rather than 4), but I think the restraint of Greene's writing is what made this story beautiful to me. What a challenge it must have been to portray a protagonist who is positively boiling over with emotion throughout the story without veering into overwrought, contrived prose. He's a masterful writer, and I plan to read more of his work.
As many reviews have said, Colin Firth is a perfect narrator and actor for the role of Maurice. I fully admit to being a total swooning fangirl for Firth, but I do also listen to a lot of audiobooks and feel I can semi-objectively assess his skill as a narrator (though perhaps that's wishful thinking). In any case, I suspect many readers will find themselves initially drawn into the story largely due to Firth's narration, but stay when they realize they're listening to such a beautifully crafted novel.
This is a fun story with many interesting and likable characters. I enjoyed the author's nuanced portrayal of many characters, particularly the Scottish clansmen like the MacKenzies and the mysterious Geilis Duncan. Those unfinished stories alone are enough to tempt me to read the next book in the series, but the not-so-good parts of the book, discussed below, give me pause about whether I want to continue.
This is is such a minor gripe I feel awful even including it, but in the interest of honesty I will say that Davina Porter's characterization of Claire didn't really work for me. Claire strikes me as a rather scrappy, funny, unpolished young woman who is brave and brash and outspoken and who curses like a sailor. I really liked her character. Porter, I think, narrates her as a woman a bit too old, a bit too proper, a bit too refined, and a bit too frail for who I thought she was. You don't get the sense that she's this awkward, inappropriate, swearing fish out of water that I think she's meant to be. And in a story that's already heavy on romance, having the heroine talk like a swooning, worrying old lady pushes it a bit too far into sappy territory for my taste.
THAT SAID, Davina Porter is a WONDERFUL narrator and I could listen to her all day (and have). She also narrates the wonderful "Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which in my opinion is a near-perfect book with near-perfect narration. So my complaint isn't at all with Porter's skill as a narrator. I just personally think I see Claire's character a bit differently than Porter depicts her.
Like many other readers and listeners of this book, I was troubled by details of the romance between the hero and heroine of the story, Claire and Jamie. Long story short, at one point, Jamie beats Claire nearly to death with a leather strap to punish her for running away. Claire is mad as hell for a few days, but then pretty much gets over it after a long talk with Jamie wherein she comes to understand that this is just what "justice" is to 18th century Scottish clansmen.
The story's take, and one that many people agree with, is that this is a brutal and reprehensible, but understandable, detail that reflects the social customs and ideals of the time. And that's fair. I have no doubt that this is exactly what a man like Jamie would have done under those circumstances.
That said, Claire's reaction to the beating is where the author lost me, and really bothered me. Claire is a 20th century woman who lives in a time when people had come to at least publicly frown on the idea of beating women, and who has presumably never had a man lay a hand on her. She's mad at Jamie, obviously, but she's not at all traumatized. This is weird to me. After Jamie's horrifying ordeal with Captain Randall later in the story (where he, to be fair, is quite a deal worse off than Claire was after he beat her), he is completely traumatized, as anyone would be. The author understands the concept of trauma, she just chooses to make Jamie the vulnerable character who has our sympathy after his traumatic event, while Claire is depicted as a stereotypical "strong female lead" who therefore, apparently, isn't allowed to feel anything but anger about the husband she deeply loves beating her half to death with a leather strap for running away.
That's not cool. Being a strong woman doesn't mean feeling nothing but anger all the time in the face of betrayal and abuse. A strong woman might also feel depressed and, you know, scared out of her damn mind after something like that. That Claire doesn't makes me feel like the author has some really questionable and not particularly woman-friendly ideas about what constitutes strength.
Fun, if overly sentimental, time-travel romance with lots of interesting historical details. Troubling treatment of women. For a better-written and more progressive alternative, I strongly recommend Kindred by Octavia Butler.
There's so much potential in this story and this book comes close - but doesn't quite - realize all it could be.
First of all, I have to say that this story - of one of the largest (or the largest? I'm not sure) cons in the history of modern art - is so full of interesting characters and truth-is-stranger-than-fiction scenarios that I guess I'm a little disappointed that Salisbury and Sujo too often didn't let the story speak for itself. There's a lot of telling, not showing, and that style of writing always makes me mistrust the author. Telling me that Drewe is a sociopath is fine I guess, as far as it goes, but I'd much rather know why you think that, through your first-hand impressions of the man and the many other characters in the story whom the authors surely met in person at some point in order to write the book.
What's missing is anything about why this book's telling of Drewe's story is particularly special. How did the authors come to learn about Drewe's story? Are the direct quotations from Drewe, Myatt, and others from the authors' interviews with the subjects? Did they speak to Drewe himself in prison? They don't say.
On an equally important note, I hated the narration. You know when you go to check your voicemail and the robot woman voice tells you, "You have 2 new voice messages"? I swear, I think the same voice is narrating this book. I gave up on the book after 2 minutes the first time I tried to listen to it, but eventually gave it another go because I was so interested in the story. The narrator's voice never grew on me.
What is there to say about this amazing story that hasn't already been said? This is a must-listen for fantasy lovers or anyone who has ever been even remotely interested in the Arthurian legend. White's story is full of wit and humor, and every word is perfectly chosen. Neville Jason's narration is flawless - I was in awe of his ability to capture each character's personality with his voice, and then to switch between the (many!) characters so effortlessly. I'm hard pressed to think of a better use of an Audible credit.
Oh, how I love Scott Brick as a narrator. There's nothing more I can say, really. His pace, tone, and expression capture nonfiction pieces perfectly.
I discovered this book after reading Chernow's "Washington: A Life," and realizing that I was finding myself more and more fascinated by Washington's devoted and talented young protege, Alexander Hamilton. Imagine my delight when I found that Chernow had authored a biography on Hamilton as well.
All of America's founding fathers were brilliant, courageous, enterprising, and thoroughly flawed men. Chernow captures this balance perfectly in writing about both Washington and Hamilton.
Hamilton has become my favorite founder (because yes, as a history nerd, I do have a favorite). He was one of the only truly self-made men of the founders, and as an immigrant and illegitimate child, perfectly embodies what I believe has always been the American dream (however romantic and idealized the notion may be): the ability to come to this land and discover one's own greatness, regardless of one's humble beginnings. There is so much more to Hamilton's story besides his well-known duel with Aaron Burr, and Chernow captures every detail and paints the clearest picture of a man whose legacy lives on in so many parts of our lives today.
Report Inappropriate Content