Waking Up In Heaven is a new entry into the same genre as Proof of Heaven (Alexander) and To Heaven and Back (Neal). For lack of a better term, the afterlife genre. It's written by Crystal McVea and she narrates her own story of dying and getting to heaven and returning.
The book is laid out cleverly - with a flash of what she saw in the afterlife, followed by hours of her life story, followed by minute two in Heaven, back to hours of her life story... a slick arrangement designed to keep the reader/listener plowing through to find out the answer to the only interesting question here: what happened after you died?
I suppose the life story is to establish her credibility.She tells us in the beginning that she is the ultimate sinner, having broken all ten Commandments. All. Ten. But I have to say, her shadowy past was pretty lame for someone claiming to be the ultimate sinner. It didn't seem to me that she fell that far. (i.e. she was never on drugs, never on the street, never stole, never prostituted, never hurt another person with malice, etc.) I won't tell you what she bases her claim of ultimate sinfulness on since I'm not writing spoilers here, but I was not impressed with her claim to baseness.
I did believe her claims of abuse and those claims explain her internal struggles better than the sin hypothesis. But where she and I really parted company was her insistence that she honestly believed God was punishing her for her pretty ordinary sins by inflicting traumatic brain injury on her three-year-old son. Oh, come on. Who would worship a God like that whether he/she exists or not?
In all these books, the credibility of the witness is important so we can decide what we think of their story. And here, Crystal McVea runs into some trouble. Listening to her life story (unavoidable if we want to find out what she experienced) she came across to me like one of those people who changes themselves to match whoever they are involved with/married to at the time.
So, when she meets and marries her current husband (who, though she was done with men forever, happened in less than four months - she introduced him to her six-year-old daughter after only a month!) and he is a devout Christian, life changes.
She runs into two cases of demonic possession in otherwise normal friends, something her husband is prepared to deal with, is prompted by God to leave a hundred dollar tip on a one dollar bill (something her husband finds out is the answer to a prayer) and, last but not least, a trip to the pearly gates. If Occam's Razor applies (the principle that the simplest solution is usually correct) this testimony seems much more earthly inspired than divine.
But Crystal tells us multiple times in the introduction, we will only believe her if we chose to. I guess that's true with everything, but, for me, her case did not add anything persuasive to the discussion one way or another. Skip this one.
This was an original approach to the experience of being stalked by an anti-semetic lunatic set on ruining him - via literary analysis.
Not to say I found Lasdun cold. I really felt his anxiety as it grew and how it wore him down. And he does well exposing the humiliation he felt as someone who was innocent but accused (of arranging a rape before he even met her, for example.)
There were times I caught myself rolling my eyes at the way that Lasdun tried to understand "Nasreen" (whose real identity has been outed on the Internet and is easily findable with a cursory google) through literature, starting with Gawain, the Green Knight, I kid you not. But Lasdun is a poet, so I guess Sylvia Plath, D.H. Lawrence and even ol' Gawain is where his thoughts naturally turn. (Patricia Highsmith too. I haven't thought of her in ages.) If he were a plumber, a more natural comparison might have occurred to him.
But still, worth the read.
Listening to A Son of the Circus is like going for a very long, meandering walk with a crazy uncle. Lots of stories of the past, woven only slightly together, driven by insane coincidences, following spur of the moment tangents to other distant places -- and yet, when the crazy uncle is John Irving, with his unmistakeable warmth and humor at full force, it's a walk worth taking.
This is a novel I've failed to read all the way through for eighteen years (I'm ashamed to admit this) and I'm a devoted Irving fan. It takes perseverance. But listening to it did help me connect the characters (and keep them all straight) for the first time. Definitely better listened to in audio format than read.
For Irving fans (and I think you have to be or I don't think you'll make it through this one): Recommend.
I am a huge fan of C.J. Sansom's historical mysteries, with the Matthew Shardlake series ranking among my all-time favorites. So, it was an easy decision to see what CJS would make of an alternate history where the British signed a peace treaty with the Nazi's in 1940 instead of going to war as they did.
I found, as I listened, that though all the characters were well realized and though each had some sort of secret, I missed the "mystery" that I'm used to in a Sansom novel. The narrative is split between several main characters, including the Gestapo agent chasing our band of resistance fighters so Dominion was tense all the way through. I wished that the author had split the narrative one more time and shown us more of Winston Churchill leading the resistance. He does finally, but I was waiting most of the book to hear that.
I think to get all the nuances of the story, it helps to have a working knowledge of Britain before, during and after the Second World War. But I'm guessing most fans of historical fiction have that. I liked the book, but didn't love it as I do earlier Sansom books.
I listened to all of Kate Quinn's The Serpent and the Pearl and I'd have liked to have found out how it ended. Yes, yes, I listened to the entire thing, but the story just stops with the heroes in grave danger and no resolution to any of the stories I've been following for sixteen hours.While it is true that the title includes a "Book 1" after a very strategic colon, I took that to mean the first one in a series - not act one of a story.
I might listen to the next one if I can't find anything good (want to bet it won't resolve anything either?) but I feel a little ripped off.
Besides the non-ending, this is a historic melodrama with characters and dialogue that are alright, but in no way memorable. The writer has an annoying tendency to harp on specific characterizations over and over again: Julia has long hair, the dwarf character is short and the cook is thin. Alright to pass the idle hour, but don't get your hopes up that you'll find out how it ends without spending more credits. Bah.
This is the first book I've read by Jojo Moyes and I'll be on the look-out for more. The characters sprang vividly to life, their voices and personalities unique to themselves. And they are memorable. It will be a long time before I forget Louisa Clark and Will Trainer. The pacing was intense too. The story grabbed me on page one and never let go.
The one cautionary note I have to add is that looking at the cover design, this book looks to me like a fairy tale romance. It's not. In my opinion, it's so much more. But I think if you are looking for a formula American romance, you may be disappointed.
In these reviews, I always try to think of another writer to whom I can compare the style of the work. Moyes reminded me a little of Liane Moriarty, a little of George Elliot and a little of Kurt Vonnegut. But really, she's in a class all her own.
As a big fan of two earlier Julia Stuart books (The Matchmaker and The Tower one), Pigeon Pie Mystery came as a significant let down. It felt like a rehash of The Tortoise and the Tower with the same fascination with exotic animals, historic properties and many mustachioed characters. A rehash that lacked the emotional weight that the earlier book had because of Milo's death, let me add. I spent almost the entire time wishing I was listening to it wishing I'd saved my credit and just re-read either of the earlier books.
The other problem I had was the reader got a kind of "knowing" edge to her voice when a line was meant to be funny. It drove me nuts! I understand that farce is the most difficult genre to read aloud (see the Tarquin Hall books or The Rosie Project to hear it done correctly) but it still grated. For that reason alone, grab the written form if you must. If you are already a fan of Julia Stuart, I think you're about to be disappointed.
I admit, I almost didn't finish listening to Shaman. The first third of the book is very slow-going. Hours of description, both of the exterior world and Loon's thoughts about his environment and his body (ahem), almost defeated me. It was kind of like hanging around a thirteen year-old who has one topic of discussion: him or herself. For hours.
But, I slogged on and by the break between parts one and two, you couldn't have pried my iPod out of my clutching fingers. I was hooked. This is not a fast read, but it is good - if you can make it that far.
While I enjoyed Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, I think I like this one was even better.
Here we are taken through a tour of the first generations following the death of Jesus and the many forms of Christianity that they practiced. He discusses why some flourished (able to claim ties to the antiquity of the Hebrew scriptures) and why some sects floundered (disagreements over the role of women.) It was very easy to follow along and see how each event contributed to the scripture and the forms of Christianity that have been handed down to us today.
I was just as fascinated with the stuff that almost made it into the New Testament (letters from Clement, Titus for example) as those that did.
Ehrman goes on to provide a clear context to understand the books of the Apocrypha as well. A lot of verses I never understood before suddenly made perfect sense when I was oriented in the right cultural beliefs. For example, in the Gospel of Thomas (alleged to have been written by Didamus Judas Thomas, Jesus's twin, but debunked by scholars) it says that women must become men to reach the Kingdom of God, Ehrman explains that Neo Platonists did not see the human race as having two genders, but only one. Ancients believed that women were males who never developed properly! Needless to say, that had never occurred to me. Suddenly, all became clear.
While this book may be too introductory for experts, it was fascinating to a lay person like me. Recommend.
I have to confess so that you know when you're evaluating this review and deciding how much weight to give it, I'm a fan of Mitch Albom's earlier work. His writing, that is. I had my doubts when I saw that he was narrating The First Phone Call from Heaven. But those doubts quickly evaporated. He's a great reader and enhanced the listen. So, kudos there.
The other question that came quickly into my mind is what happens when a sympathetic writer (Albom) portrays an unsympathetic character (Sully) behaving unsympathetically? The answer, it turned out, was subtle, but unmistakable suspense. I fell for Sully and was really intrigued to find out where the phone calls were coming from. Heaven or hoax? The telling was skillful enough that several times I wasn't sure which answer I was hoping would turn out to be true and found myself changing sides.
Since I'm writing this review to encourage you to listen to the book (well worth the credit, though a departure from Mitch Albom's earlier books, in content though the Albom pathos lingers...) I won't spoil the ending. I can say that it kept me engaged right through the end and, in the end, I was satisfied. I won't be surprised if I revisit this book in my library again.
After so much chick lit, The Rosie Project took me by surprise. It's not chick lit. It reminded me of the Adrian Mole diaries, by Sue Townsend in the 80's and 90's, and is in that much rarer and much more traditional genre - the comic novel.
The protagonist, Professor Don Tillman, has a flaw, as all great comic protagonists must, that has prevented him ever getting a second date with a woman. So he embarks on "The Wife Project" to find a compatible woman and instead meets Rosie, a completely incompatible barmaid/Ph.D candidate, on a quest to find the identity of her father.
I laughed and winced and rooted for Don as he fell under Rosie's spell, against his own better judgment (which he analyzes in agonizing detail) and the hours flew by.
I can't remember the last five star rating I gave a book. I usually top out at four. But I listened to this book straight through and have to say if it isn't five stars, then I don't know what is.
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