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Melinda

So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.

UT | Member Since 2009

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  • 228 reviews
  • 571 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 69 purchased in 2014
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  • Inferno: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Dan Brown
    • Narrated By Paul Michael
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (10081)
    Performance
    (9133)
    Story
    (9211)

    In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces: Dante’s Inferno. Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust...before the world is irrevocably altered.

    Livia says: "Formulaic and Hard to Finish...."
    "Paved with good intentions....hold the anchovies"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Unless - like our cerebral hero Langdon at the opening of Inferno - we find ourselves suffering from retrograde amnesia, it's impossible to not be reminded of the previous Langdon installments when reading this latest clue-seeking romp through the art treasures of Florence and Venice; or for that matter, comparing the previous 3 novels with Brown's latest. Dan Brown has his formula, as do most authors, and there is no sign here that he is trying to fix what was almost broke with his last Langdon adventure (The Lost Symbol). Both Brown and Langdon are in fine form here: Brown sends us on an almost scenic, fact-based excursion through the cathedrals, museums, and art hot spots, and Langdon dodges bullets, the Italian Polizia, untangling a sinister plot (with the prerequisite political statements ala Brown). Brown is nothing if not consistent; so you get what you know you are getting; better than Lost Symbol, not as good as Da Vinci Code; a solid middle grounder. If the formula has lost its luster to you, enjoy the new scenery and history, like I did (easily worth a star).

    More so than Brown's previous novels, I thought this was a bit padded (maybe that is because it seemed written for the silver screen, even to the point of describing the minutiae of the on-lookers, the horse-toothed girl getting her picture drawn near the Academe, etc.). As a do-over, and if it was offered, I would do the *gasp* abridged version. I also noticed Langdon has become a little snarky, taking pot shots at the turistas, poking fun at those guide-book toting Americanos, while he should have been paying attention to where he next placed his Italian loafered-foot on the cat-walk (oopsie! look out below).

    You want another Dan Brown/Langdon--you got it. A good pizza-read, and who doesn't love pizza? Paul Michael does a great job as narrator and tour-guide.



    110 of 144 people found this review helpful
  • The Bone Clocks

    • UNABRIDGED (24 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By David Mitchell
    • Narrated By Jessica Ball, Leon Williams, Colin Mace, and others
    Overall
    (50)
    Performance
    (44)
    Story
    (44)

    Following a scalding row with her mother, 15-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as "the radio people," Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

    Darwin8u says: "Brilliant at ventriloquism and style-jumping"
    "Not Short Listed, This Time"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    There's nothing wrong with pretending you know what's going on...sometimes you are along for the ride and will get it later. (Take Cloud Atlas for instance.) Mitchell does that best, and at a speed that sometimes reminds me of trying to have a conversation with a hyper active person at the height of their hyper arc (and pharmaceutically enhanced). His brilliance and out-there creativity require a catch-up period; you don't wait for the story to develop, you wait to catch-up with the story. I'm not a member of the Mitchell cult, but I've read many of his books and recognize an author with a rare creative talent and freshness that almost promises there are still great books to come. The Bone Clocks was a good one, (it was long-listed for a Man Booker before it was even released). I liked it enough to say Mitchell fans will be okay with it, but it is a departure from his more sophisticated novels.

    Bone Clocks is not just a journey through time at warp speed, it is a frenetic jump in and out of ages with the future periods reflecting on some I-told-you-so moments that are frighteningly timely (global warming, Iraq, etc.),major issues to us presently, but just back ground for an eternal battle raging between the forces of good and evil. He obviously has a message for his readers in here.

    Mitchell bends the boundaries, as usual, with connected characters, engaging backstories, and places in time, but pinning down which character you are with, and at what moment and where, is tricky. The constant present tense, the static back and forth, and the similarities in the characters, present challenges -- and not the kind intended by the author. The audio version is probably an advantage in some ways, (the presentation is done well) but the voice alone doesn't tell you when or where. Mitchell's presence is always looming subconsciously; Bone Clocks seemed to be lacking separation from the author.

    The level of writing and creativity have already been expounded on by reviewers. Worth mentioning again is Mitchell's superb "ventriloquistic" style that pulls you in while the story unfolds around you. The story itself expands on Mitchell's on-going play with fantasy; he gives us a version of *vampires* -- soul sucking fiends that feed on children. But, these are Mitchell's vampires, so I am pretending I get it... that these undead might just be metaphors for something deeper and more meaningful.

    The story is enjoyable and reminded me a little of the fantastical film, Highlander (the movie with the Scottish swordsman that battles the evil immortal, the two swordsmen popping in and out of time periods and places). It wasn't exactly the book I anticipated, but I saw plenty of glimmers of Mitchell's brilliance. Worth the read, but probably not worth the Man Booker.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Herman Koch
    • Narrated By Peter Berkrot
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (88)
    Performance
    (79)
    Story
    (77)

    When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high-profile doctor to the stars, Marc can’t hide from the truth forever.

    Simone says: "I am all over the place with this one!"
    "Big Boys Behaving Badly"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Months ago I finished this novel, attempted to review, but my fingers hovered over the keyboard and my head felt scrambled -- the condition is called being *dumbstruck.* As a reviewer wrote, Summer House is "uncommon" and if you read Koch's previous novel, The Dinner, you know the author has a blunt-force style that is anything but common. He is out of the box, out of bounds, and you need to brace yourself for a style that might leave you a little dumbstruck. It's not that he is offensive -- he is completely unique and captures his characters in sticky icky situations, at the edge of civility, then pushes it to places we hope we are incapable of falling to ourselves.

    Subject matter is borderline, of course, it's Koch, and if just hearing *lecherous older men and barely-into-their-teens young girls* already has you grimacing -- not your book because that is just the beginning. (I had to keep in mind that nude sunbathing and swimming is de rigueur in some cultures.) Throw in lots of alcohol, a doctor that is repulsed by the human body, adultery, rape, and nude frolicking on the beach... it's gritty and uncomfortable (like getting sand in places usually covered by your bathing suit). And as if it isn't already prickly enough, there are plenty of moments where you shouldn't be laughing, but you are...that watching someone stumble and ride down the stairs laugh. Koch connects with a part of us that some of us don't want to know is there, and that is what is the most discomforting.

    Koch is a good writer and does what he sets out to do well. He keeps you engaged even when it's uncomfortable -- but so does an electric fence. I occasionally like a book where I am expected to boo and hiss the bad guys -- it's all good fun. But, I think Summer House crossed MY line by featuring too many taboos. In the end (and what about that end??-huh?) I recognize the author's uniqueness and talent, but Summer House "enriched me not" and left me feeling almost guilty, "poor indeed." If you think you have the mental fortitude, you don't have bouts of depression triggered by icky situations, you love to hate the characters and dark deeds, don't mind sand in cracks...this may be your book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Lost Island: Gideon Crew, Book 3

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child
    • Narrated By David W. Collins
    Overall
    (294)
    Performance
    (262)
    Story
    (264)

    Gideon Crew, brilliant scientist, master thief, is living on borrowed time. When his mysterious employer, Eli Glinn, gives him an eyebrow-raising mission, he has no reason to refuse. Gideon's task: steal a page from the priceless Book of Kells, now on display in New York City and protected by unbreakable security. Accomplishing the impossible, Gideon steals the parchment - only to learn that hidden beneath the gorgeously illuminated image is a treasure map dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks.

    Poconos says: "Want my money back! Just plain HORRIBLE!"
    "Maybe this one should have stayed lost..."
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I started at the beginning with Relic, moved onto Reliquary, became a fan of Pendergast, continued, even outside the series with Riptide, Thunderhead, and Ice Limit because I enjoy a clever, original thriller. Like most fans, a P&C release guaranteed an entertaining read to me, and I believe fans will again be entertained with The Lost Island.

    Increasingly, I've found myself less intrigued by the prolific duo's stories, relying more and more on my devotion to the pair than the satisfaction I have been getting from their novels. White Fire, I didn't even review -- it tested my endurance and left me a little sickened. The sensationalism trumped the writing. The Lost Island not only tested my endurance, it asked me to venture way outside the limits of my reasoning until I felt like I was being dragged through nonsense for the sake of entertainment. I finished this, but without a sense of satisfaction. There isn't much depth (other than the deep blue sea), the story seems flat, contrived, and I hate to say it, but, silly. In fairness, I haven't read other books in the Gideon series...but I don't feel compelled to do so after reading this one.

    18 of 21 people found this review helpful
  • Wayfaring Stranger

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By James Lee Burke
    • Narrated By Will Patton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (433)
    Performance
    (401)
    Story
    (402)

    It is 1934 and the Depression is bearing down when 16-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends as Weldon puts a bullet through the rear window of Clyde’s stolen automobile. Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland and his sergeant, Hershel Pine, escape certain death in the Battle of the Bulge and encounter a beautiful young woman named Rosita Lowenstein hiding in a deserted extermination camp.

    Marci says: "Near perfect. One of Burke's Best."
    "In His Own league"
    Overall
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    Story


    It's Burke therefore it's great. He is one of those authors that has to be placed in a different league, one a few steps higher, like a handicap in golf -- he's just that professional and good with his craft. I've read almost everything he's written; even his books I didn't initially like I have looked back over. I appreciate them more the longer I read, and the more I read. I've not liked some stories, not cared about the subject matter, but I've never been disappointed with the quality of writing or the power of the story. Burke is a phenomenon; a class act, taking on stories of oppression, corruption, and integrity, with larger-than-life characters that seem charged with the iconic traits we all associate with heroes and scoundrels. In many ways, I enjoy him as much as I enjoy McCarthy (though I don't know if you can use *McCarthy* and *enjoy* in the same sentence). His style is identifiable within the first paragraph of any of his books, and always makes me feel like sitting down, once again, with an old very good friend.

    Wayfaring Stranger seemed a bit of a departure from Burke's usual crime fiction format. Weldon Holland (who can trace his geneology back to the Hackberry Holland familiar to hard core Burke fans) is a more solitary introspect character than Robicheaux or Holland cousins Billy Bob and Hackberry. Weldon's early memories of a chance encounter with infamous crime partners Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow impacts his life and stays with him through his adulthood, an encounter that reaches into his future to come full circle.

    The book covers the fascinating period of time in America after WWII, including the politics and anti-Semitism following the war. It was a time when simple investors became powerful tycoons, when mobsters like Bugsy Siegel rubbed elbows with powerful movie studio moguls, and when Hollywood had the power to make starlets out of girls they discovered at soda fountains -- or break them. And Burke wraps it into a neat circular story.

    The story is rich and layered with themes and history, and Burke's writing is as polished and lush as ever, yet, I missed the sparring I've come to love so much from Burke's characters. I miss the white hat morality taking on a barrage of smart-ass comments from the black hats; that back and forth volley between two polar characters that were equally matched. These characters were dynamic, but dark, without much, if any, humor. It's a fine book in every sense, but my personal tastes (regarding Burke's books) have been spoiled by the usual dark story highlighted with a sprinkle of wisdom and copious amounts of witty repartee in his previous novels...thus my 3* for what is probably a 4* book.

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 22 mins)
    • By Neil Gaiman
    • Narrated By Neil Gaiman
    Overall
    (37)
    Performance
    (37)
    Story
    (36)

    You ask me if I can forgive myself? I can forgive myself. And so begins The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, a haunting story of family, the otherworld, and a search for hidden treasure. This audiobook is brought to vivid life by the characters and landscape of Gaiman’s award-winning story. In this volume, the talents and vision of two great creative geniuses come together in a glorious explosion of color and shadow, memory and regret, vengeance and, ultimately, love.

    Janice says: "Dark Quest"
    "Just for the experience"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    If you have ever listened to Gaiman being interviewed, to his podcasts, or been lucky enough to attend one of his performance readings you'll understand the Gaiman experience. The experience goes far beyond reading one of his books. His voice is almost a magical instrument that lifts the words off the pages. I'm not an expert or even a follower of Gaiman's, but I've read a few of his novels, even a couple of his graphic novels. It was after listening to him read just a few paragraphs of The Truth Is a Cave on the radio that I went looking for the rest of the fable -- specifically, him reading the novelette himself. I wasn't looking for the end of the story, as captivating as it was, but rather being under Gaiman's spell during the journey.

    He is a performance artist. His voice is like a ripple in time that harkens back to nights tucked safely under a cozy blanket, listening to a bedtime story...a huge, dark story more Grimm than Disney. I wasn't a child that closed my eyes and dreamed of princesses with golden hair or frogs that burst into handsome princes...I closed my eyes and shivered with delighted at the trolls, goblins, and witches that lived in gingerbread houses.

    A trait I realized I passed onto my own grandchildren: one night I told my 3 little ones a story, embellishing as much as I could to compete with Spongebob Squarepants. With attention to their tender ages, and the fact that they each were expected to sleep in their own beds once the lights went out, I was careful to balance the scary tale with some sparkle. It was completely silent when I finished, and I waited to assess their emotional state...then the oldest child whispered, "tell us more about the bad wolves." They still ask me to tell them that story; they've heard it dozens of times, yet still want the experience. Gaiman reminds me that I still need an occasional *tuck in* experience, to feel swept away into far away lands where shivers can be delightful.

    It's a short story I think best left to the interpretation of the listener. An award winning tale I found charming, brilliant in its sparseness and illusion, but I wouldn't say it is a work of staggering genius unless you can hear it told by the author. As noted by another reviewer, the music is part of the presentation. I enjoyed it because I expected it, but can understand that it might be distracting if you just want straight story: try out the sample. Trying to recreate Gaiman's lauded public performance of this piece didn't work entirely, so I recommend switching to the kindle version to see the collaboration with artist Eddie Campbell. His paintings, whatever you may think of his style, do add an additional dimension. At the price of a ticket to a performance, the book is worth paying for, keeping your credit for those $40 behemoth novels . *Also: You can find this complete novelette on line -- free to read. Audible won't appreciate that announcement, but you won't get Gaiman whisking you away -- and that is priceless.


    19 of 23 people found this review helpful
  • I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 20 mins)
    • By Courtney Maum
    • Narrated By Sam Deveraux
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (43)
    Performance
    (39)
    Story
    (40)

    Despite the success of his first solo show in Paris and the support of his brilliant French wife and young daughter, thirty-four-year-old British artist Richard Haddon is too busy mourning the loss of his American mistress to appreciate his fortune. But after Richard discovers that a painting he originally made for his wife, Anne, has sold, it shocks him back to reality and he resolves to reinvest wholeheartedly in his family life - just in time for his wife to learn the extent of his affair.

    Toby says: "A tremendous romp through the Paris art world"
    "Postmortem and resurrection of a marriage"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Excuse the clichés, but it is what it is, and this is an easy, quick, mildly entertaining read, that is (IMO) harmlessly overrated. The starred reviews, and "best-of" tag lines had me going into this read anxiously waiting for the 5* fabulousness and humorous story.

    Expect instead, a slow, but steady and engaging launch. Richard Haddon is a semi-successful British artist, living in Paris with his beautiful Parisian wife and daughter, in the home of their dreams. He narrates (in a voice perfectly dripping with ennui), complaining about life in general, the disillusionment of his marriage, his dissatisfaction with his career, and a sex life that had become dull. All justification for a 7 month affair with an American girl. With that foundation, Richard plummets into the depths of despair/mid-life crisis when his young lover announces she is leaving him. In an attempt to gain our sympathy for his painful state of affairs, he only becomes more detestable with every word. Maum creates layer upon layer of delicious debauchery and self-pity, with a keen eye on the realistic and uncensored thoughts of a character slowly coming to grips with his actions.

    Maum skewers human behaviors with a charming British bluntness that adds an enjoyable jolt of reality (but not comedy). She turns the characters inside out and has them work their way right again. The candidly narrated journey of self discovery is what gives heart to this book...albeit a syrup-y, sentimental heart.

    The clichés, predictability, pointless fillers, pretentious rote characters, by any formula, keep this from being a 5* book; the witty and smart writing, the personal evolution of the characters, and some smooth narration by Deveraux, make this an enjoyable middle grounder -- at least, in my book. Just in case: **Expect some hot sexy scenes as the narrator recalls episodes of his affair, and some explicit language peppered with F-bombs, but nothing gratuitous.

    12 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 17 mins)
    • By Harper Lee
    • Narrated By Sissy Spacek
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (799)
    Performance
    (742)
    Story
    (749)

    Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep south - and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred, available now for the first time as a digital audiobook. One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than 40 languages, sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the 20th century by librarians across the country.

    Alan says: "Stunning"
    "Leaves me breathless each time"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    How many books have you lived in; walked the streets waving to old ladies on their front porches, smelled pound cakes cooling on window ledges, knew which houses to give a wide berth when passing by, and missed when you left? Like Twain's enduring fictional classic Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird is a story so well told, so perfect, that you stroll through it and dwell for a while, coming away from it different for having been there. For many of us we visited Harper Lee's Maycomb to get our HS diploma, and it seems a natural progression to go back. I wonder if we miss those characters, or the healing balm of hearing a precocious little girl's voice cry out, "Hey, Mr. Cunningham. I'm Jean Louise Finch...I go to school with Walter; he's your boy aint he?"

    As she shows so many times in her one and only novel, Harper Lee is a born story teller. The back stories of the characters are immense, yet told with an economy of words that contain volumes. You experience this especially your second time through...Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, what have you suffered to become so mean; what has Mr. Dolphus Raymond learned about people that keeps him content to have townsfolk believe that's a bottle of whiskey, instead of a regular ol' Coca Cola, in that little brown sack; how has Link Deas kept his humanity; does every town spit out a Bob Ewell; and what is Miss Maudie's pound cake recipe? -- there's a not an insignificant character or event in this book. It is a treasure trove of stories and lessons. I'd love a couple hours of Calpurnia talking about the day old Tim Johnson, Judge Taylor's dog, came shuffling down the road, rabid and threatening, sending the neighborhood into their homes, barring their windows... But Lee left us with just this one brilliant book.

    To Kill A Mockingbird was published July 11, 1960 and has never gone out of print. When contemplating whether to review this (what I think is THE perfect novel), I had to wonder "is there really anything that hasn't already been said?" In this case, *Sissy Spacek*; no matter how many times you have read this novel, or even listened, Spacek, with her sweet drawl, IS Scout, speaking back through the years, recounting her story. She is the perfect choice for a perfect novel.

    Though it is cliché to say it, this beautiful novel feeds your spirit. The easy wisdom reminds us of the importance of having understanding and love for others, demonstrated without guile or pretense by the innocence of children. The moral integrity and gentle strength of Atticus brings tears to my eyes (and has inspired the line *What would Atticus do?*) just thinking that we as human beings have the capability of such grace. Quotes from this superb novel fill notebooks I keep, but it is always two words, repeated half a dozen time by Jem, when his father orders him to take Scout and flee the angry mob at the jail, that choke me up. They contain all that there is of love, courage, and strength...even a young boy's faith in mankind, "No, Sir." They get me every time.

    *[Addressing the frequent use of the *N* word; quoted from Banned Books Awareness;
    A worldwide literacy project to celebrate the freedom to read.: "The American Library Association reports that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most challenged classics of all time because of the racial slurs and discussion of rape and incest, and still ranks at number 21 of the 100 most frequently challenged books." "In 1968 the National Education Association placed the novel second on a list of titles receiving the most complaints from private organizations. The top spot belonged to Little Black Sambo."]

    35 of 41 people found this review helpful
  • The Silkworm

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 22 mins)
    • By Robert Galbraith
    • Narrated By Robert Glenister
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2839)
    Performance
    (2640)
    Story
    (2633)

    When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days - as he has done before - and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home. But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows.

    H James Lucas says: "A well-worn genre enlivened with fresh characters"
    "Bombyx Mori - A Successful Spell"
    Overall
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    Story


    For me, one of the joys of a sequel, especially when it has been announced that there will be at least one other to follow, is the comfort I develop with the characters as they bloom. From their humble beginnings in Cuckoo's Calling, Cormoran Strike and his Watson-esque side-kick Robin Ellacot felt like people I wanted to spend more time with. Knowing Robert Galbraith's talent for character development (consistently captivating us through 7 volumes penned under Galbraith's nom de plume of J.K. Rowling), continuing on from Cuckoo was a given which paid off. The duo is back on the case looking for novelist Owen Quine who has gone missing since writing a scathing quasi-fictional manuscript that paints his associates in the publishing world in the darkest tones possible. When his body is found, elaborately murdered in a ritualistic play that mirrors Quine's manuscript, his colleagues are all suspect.

    Here Galbraith shows her/his wonderfully inventive mind creating the eccentric characters and names as colorful as the residents that populated the Potter series. She also pokes some good-spirited fun at the publishing world that she reigned over in her rise to a billion dollar author. Even as *Galbraith* JK's talent is distinct, and a pleasure to read. It flows effortlessly, carrying the reader along through a world Rowling always seem to thoroughly inhabit in all of her writings and incarnations. This style is her strength. The plot of Silkworm is interesting and holds your attention, but it is theatrical more than plausible, with a bit of over achieving on the part of the murderer. Still, it makes for fun reading, as good as any in this genre.




    20 of 26 people found this review helpful
  • Fourth of July Creek: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 41 mins)
    • By Smith Henderson
    • Narrated By MacLeod Andrews, Jenna Lamia
    Overall
    (101)
    Performance
    (87)
    Story
    (87)

    After trying to help Benjamin Pearl, an undernourished, nearly feral 11-year-old boy living in the Montana wilderness, social worker Pete Snow comes face-to-face with the boy's profoundly disturbed father, Jeremiah. With courage and caution, Pete slowly earns a measure of trust from this paranoid survivalist itching for a final conflict that will signal the coming End Times. But as Pete's own family spins out of control, Pearl's activities spark the full-blown interest of the FBI, putting Pete at the center of a massive manhunt from which no one will emerge unscathed.

    Melinda says: "The Ghost of Tom Joad & the Wrath of Grapes"
    "The Ghost of Tom Joad & the Wrath of Grapes"
    Overall
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    Story

    I'd not heard of Smith Henderson. He has won both the Pushcart Prize and a PEN Emerging Writers Award in 2011; he also wrote the Emmy-nominated Super Bowl commercial “Halftime in America” which featured Clint Eastwood. The buzz in such circles that follow these kind of *accomplishments* has his name and the *Great American Novel* in the same orbit. Oblivious to Henderson prior to Audible's *Best of the Month* book list, I found myself, throughout this one, asking, "Can this truly be a debut novel?"

    It is no coincidence that Henderson dips his toe into the book writing business with the aptly named Fourth of July Creek. His depiction of 1980's America is heartbreaking and beautiful -- the kind of story flowing with the flotsam and jetsam down-and-outters that would have inspired a Woody Guthrie song. Like watching the ripples radiate from a rock thrown into Henderson's creek, the story grows and encompasses different themes and struggles until it slams onto the landscape of 'this land made for you and me' of today.

    The ghosts of Tom Joad inhabit the pages. Henderson's wretched refuse battle their own demons: poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, neglect, and mental illness, Hope driving them on as they struggle for different kinds of freedom. The people seem scraped from our underbelly. Even the DCFS case worker, Pete Snow, is a divorced alcoholic -- dispersing disposable diapers from the trunk of his car to homeless mothers, hiking into the mountains to aid the son of a Old Testament quoting survivalist. His own teen daughter has run away, disappearing into the seedy Seattle life of prostitution and drug addiction. He admits to his ex-wife, "I take kids away from people like us." (An insider's joke in psychology has always been: the odd treating the id.)

    How is it that we go on reading when an author makes us ache to our bones? When we can see the projection of an inevitable disaster, the futility of any effort, the cruelty of hope? Because Henderson's language is like a healing balm. It is elegant and rings with bare truth. He glides effortlessly from despair and ugliness to the beautiful realism redolent of Woodrell's *hillbilly noir* novel Winter's Bone, and the zen-like beauty of Heller's Dog Stars. It is restorative, redemptive. How can this be a debut novel?

    I'll admit 5 stars is generous. It takes a commitment to get going, and it is a gritty tough novel -- but it is worth it. Novels that still vibrate in you long after you finish them, or when you hear the title mentioned, are rare. This one is like a Steinbeck and McCarthy novel taped together, with a Guthrie and Springsteen soundtrack running through the pages.

    **I will caution readers: the female characters here range from meth-head child abusers to full blown mental cases that murder their whole families, with nothing in between but prostitutes and hard-boiled backwoods ignoramuses. If you are looking for the positive female pillar of righteousness...wrong book.

    Finally, I was curious about Guthrie's patriotic anthem "This Land Was Made For You and Me". Inspired to read the lyrics, I found the Dustbowl Balladeer's original verses -- which aren't contained in the song we learned back in elementary school:

    Nobody living can ever stop me,
    As I go walking that freedom highway;
    Nobody living can ever make me turn back
    This land was made for you and me.
    In the squares of the city,
    In the shadow of a steeple;
    By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
    As they stood there hungry,
    I stood there asking,
    Is this land made for you and me?

    23 of 26 people found this review helpful
  • Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By Amy Alkon
    • Narrated By Carrington MacDuffie
    Overall
    (36)
    Performance
    (31)
    Story
    (34)

    We live in a world that's very different from the one in which Emily Post came of age. Many of us who are nice (but who also sometimes say "f*ck") are frequently at a loss for guidelines about how to be a good person who deals effectively with the onslaught of rudeness we all encounter. To lead us through this this miasma of modern manners, syndicated columnist Amy Alkon - The Advice Goddess - gives us a new set of manners for our 21st-century lives.

    G. House Sr. says: "Hilarious and a Direct Hit - Must Listen"
    "F-ing Funny and Factual"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    After using every tactic in our arsenal to solve the problem of 6 piles of dog excrement that dotted our front lawn like landmines and greeted us each morning when we opened the front door, I purchased this book. When I say every tactic, I mean from calling the city, animal control, stuffing mailboxes with fliers quoting the city ordinances regarding responsible pet ownership, posting a sign in the middle of our yard (with attached plastic bags) imploring neighbors *PLEASE clean up after your dog!* (or horse?), and even doing night recon with our old lame bulldog, an airsoft gun and a spotlight. By the time I had to resort to a ludicrous, tacky, ridiculous, sign pleading with people to pick up their pet's poop from our manicured lawn, we had already had the F-bomb blitzkrieg behind closed doors, and were at the point of standing in our flower beds screaming like crazy people at any one that even walked by our house, including children on tricycles. Having to clean up after a pack of assorted sized dogs with assorted diets every effing morning, will do that to you -- even you gentle folk that think the F-bomb is the ultimate no-no spewed only from those with mouths like a sewer pipe. Did I get an answer? Yes and no; but I definitely laughed and lowered my blood pressure.

    Alkon, who writes a syndicated advice column, actually offers some really good advice dealing with the tangles we get into living and working with those people that don't give a F*CK -- the ones that really need this book. The problems she tackles head-on include those not even on the horizon until the advent of electronics and social media, including how to re-act when you receive a text accompanied by a picture of an acquaintance's "zipperwurst". She is hilarious, clever, considerate, and grounded; but mostly she is blunt and fearless, empowering the reader to throw their shoulders back and take some power when dealing with any form of boorish, rude, impolite, inconsiderate, discourteous, insolent, people you still have to see every day. And sometimes she gives examples where the offender actually takes responsibility and ends up apologizing!

    Like she says, you can be aggressive without being hostile. But it is a fine art facing an offender of civility if you don't have any desire to surround your property with an electrical razor wire fence, find a new job, or change churches after flipping the middle finger to a driver that cuts you off and realizing it was your Pastor. I don't want to stand out in my yard giving passer-by's the stink-eye, or hurling words my grandmother said, "only make you look unintelligent;" but neither do I want to keep a garbage can full of stinky dog poop in my garage until garbage day. I'm not holding my breath until I hear... "we're so sorry our Great Dane has been using your lawn as his toilet!" But, I do feel fortified with the might of right, the responsibility to live with civility and dignity, and the duty to enforce, with kindness, good manners. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Alkon tells you how to begin that quest...and does it with terrific style and humor.

    20 of 27 people found this review helpful

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