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UT | Member Since 2009

  • 248 reviews
  • 593 ratings
  • 1054 titles in library
  • 18 purchased in 2015

  • Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By Walter Kirn
    • Narrated By Stephen Bel Davies
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    In the summer of 1998, Walter Kirn - then an aspiring novelist struggling with impending fatherhood and a dissolving marriage - set out on a peculiar, fateful errand: to personally deliver a crippled hunting dog from his home in Montana to the New York apartment of one Clark Rockefeller, a secretive young banker and art collector who had adopted the dog over the Internet. Thus began a 15-year relationship that drew Kirn deep into the fun-house world of an outlandish, eccentric son of privilege who ultimately would be unmasked as a brazen serial impostor, child kidnapper, and brutal murderer.

    Sharon says: "Zzzzzzzzzzzzz - this one put me to sleep"
    "Compilation of old news"

    Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller was a fascinating character that captivated the country's attention in 2008, even earning a place on Top Ten Imposters of All Time lists, and an FBI *Most Wanted* poster. The wanna-be Mr. Ripley had assumed the roles of art collector, ship's captain, talk show host, even a Pentagon Advisor before being captured and charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder. All the juicy ingredients for a possibly fascinating book, especially when the author is a journalist and a personal friend of the chameleon -- but author Kirn's disappointing shot misses the target. Was Kirn hoping for a comparison to one of the great crime non-fiction novels? BLOOD Will Out...In Cold BLOOD?...that's where the similarities end. But, Capote's In Cold Blood, consider to be one of the best true-crime novels ever written, is a tough act to follow.

    Blood Will Out, unfortunately, is not even on the same path. Not a chapter sheds new light, or insight, on the case against Rockefeller, or the man of many aliases. What Kirn delivers instead of smart revealing look at a psycho jackpot turns out to be nothing more than a lazy compilation of what we already know about Rockefeller, with some unspectacular personal interactions that come across as uninteresting petty incidents, even jealousies. The book lacks the research and professional polish to be an intriguing true story of a murder, or a mystery, and ends up masquerading as a limp re-hashed story. Wish it wasn't so. I followed the case and was hoping for a riveting new book and didn't even get a riveting chapter. [*Not a total wash. If this case is new to you, you might find this interesting.]

    24 of 34 people found this review helpful
  • The Nightingale

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Kristin Hannah
    • Narrated By Polly Stone

    From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes Kristin Hannah’s next novel. It is an epic love story and family drama set at the dawn of World War II. She is the author of twenty-one novels. Her previous novels include Home Front, Night Road, Firefly Lane, Fly Away, and Winter Garden.

    Gayle says: "Beautiful Story of a Horrific Time in History"
    "A bird that roared"

    After reading the publisher's summary in Audible's *Featured Pre-Orders,* I was drawn to The Nightingale -- I have an obsession with the history of early twentieth century France, particularly the Inter War period and the few years after WWII. Unfamiliar with Hannah's body of work, I read that her oeuvre was *female fiction,* repeatedly compared to other authors I have chosen not to read. That translated to concern that I would be disappointed with the author, and by a book that inaccurately used history to piggy back on a saccharine love story. Not what I was looking for.

    It was this line from the Kirkus Review that perfectly addressed my worries and sold me on this book: "Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II." Hannah's skillful writing, and forceful story telling ability quickly became apparent and convinced me The Nightingale was a perfect choice.

    As the story begins, the reader knows only that the novel is about two disparate sisters during the WWII Nazi occupation of France. From one of those sisters, now placed in a nursing home in Oregon, USA, the tale of survival is unraveled, but which surviving sister narrates the history remains unknown until the novel's end...and I hung onto the book until that ending and wished the story could've gone on.

    Sisters Vianne and Isabelle are polar opposites, even in their individual strengths: Vianne is compassionate with the strengths we know as *a mother's-love,* wise and thoughtful; while the younger Isabelle is defiant, fearless, and recklessly brave -- opposites, but equally formidable. Each of their paths are harrowing and absorbing. On the home-front, Vianne must protect her daughter while fighting starvation, freezing winters, and the degradation from German soldiers. In silent horror, she watches as her friends and neighbors are branded with the Jewish star, then gathered into wagons and trains, often leaving infants behind alone. Even a rumor started from jealousy, or a false accusation can be deathly under the brutal Gestapo's presence. Young and compulsive, Isabelle defies the occupation openly until an event brings soldiers too close to their home. She realizes that for the protection of Vianne and her daughter, she must flee. She joins the Resistance and becomes a guide secretly transporting injured Allied airmen over the Pyrenees into Spain. [Isabelle's surname, Rossignol, is the French word for nightingale.]

    Having read my share of French history, I was impressed with the historical accuracy of the story (though this was in part a love story that added little more than some quasi-romance). Many of the events were echoes of history books I've read and it was gratifying to see that Hannah did not treat the civilians as *landscape* and marginalize those poor souls caught in the crossfire of war. This was a riveting story, excellently told and narrated well (I will leave the accuracy of the French accent to those more knowledgeable than my HS French; it did not impede the story for me). It is worth mentioning that though this is fiction, Hannah said her idea for the story was ignited by a real incident she read about...and there are too many real incidents out there, both historical and current.

    **It is estimated that 350,00 French civilians died during the German occupation, not from bombs or fighting, but from: crimes against humanity, famine, disease and "military acting out." This war preceded Article 27 of the Geneva Convention; females were considered *carnal booty.* Since 1949 Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits wartime rape and enforced prostitution. In a speech to the United nations Security Council in 2008, Retired Major General Patrick Cammart stated,
    “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.” Sadly, we haven't made much progress.

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • My Sunshine Away

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By M.O. Walsh
    • Narrated By Kirby Heybourne

    My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when 15-year-old Lindy Simpson - free spirit, track star, and belle of the block - experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

    Melinda says: "'I dreamt I held you in my arms...'"
    "'I dreamt I held you in my arms...'"

    Another debut novel, and my faith in new authors continues to brighten -- and I say that after(struggling) listening to a story, that was somber from the opening sentence and weighed on me with almost every page. Therefore, I've given a lot of thought about how to approach this review without discouraging a possible reader. What sustains me through a read as difficult as this was is not only a strong story, writing and characters -- all those necessary elements Walsh does keenly -- it's the take away, the message, the lesson, and, while more nuanced than Aesop's moral, the no less present, moral of the story. My Sunshine Away is a story with a very nuanced message, or moral, that is especially relevant and necessary, handled with kid-soft gloves, (you can only see once you look back over what you just read).

    Walsh skillfully sets up the listener at the very beginning with the assault, then gorges them with emotions by having you believe the story is being told directly to you by this 15 yr. old neighbor boy considered a suspect. In addition to the opening offense, it may be difficult to hear what teenage boys do behind locked bathroom doors, so bluntly. You'll wonder if the revelation of those raging hormones is is to the narrator. Considered a suspect, his story feels confessional, both pleading his case and clearing his conscience.

    The rape brings the real and gritty world crashing into the unspoiled neighborhood. Walsh creates a community of children suddenly stripped of their innocence and thrust into the darkest aspects of adulthood. As the days move away from the crime life is compounded with the normal adversities of acne, popularity, divorce, child abuse (one incident of very sad animal abuse).

    The author clearly understands the teenage mind and capably balances the naiveté and discovery, but I was constantly struck by Walsh's amazing knack for subtly. His ability to take severe traumatic episodes and delicately weave them into the development of these teens gives the story the slightest bit of tenderness in the maelstrom. It is a captivating read that kept me so in the moment that I didn't do my usual detective-as-you-go. The signs are certainly there--but I told you...Walsh is subtle. I got caught up in the imaginings and suspicions of the teenage sleuth. It's not until the ending of the story that you finally hear who the story is for, and why. The *why* is that saving grace that brings light and hope to the novel. Difficult? Indeed, I almost quit, but with the conclusion, and looking back and taking the story as a whole -- it was remarkable. With so much in the headlines of violence against women and accountability, this is a little novel that slams the point across.

    The narration is done well. The flow between chapters itself is sometimes appropriately abrupt and that is made more obvious with an audio production, but no fault of author or narrator, and does not detract from the story. It's not for everyone, but I'm so glad I found this novel and stuck with it. Walsh shows here a talent with some real staying power.

    8 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • The Shell Collector

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 5 mins)
    • By Hugh Howey
    • Narrated By Samara Naeymi
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    The ocean is dying. The sea is growing warmer and is gradually rising. Seashells have become so rare that collecting them is now a national obsession. Flawless specimens sell like priceless works of art. Families hunt the tideline in the dark of night with flashlights. Crowds gather on beaches at the lowest of tides, hoping to get lucky.

    Mitch says: "Some books grab you and don't let go."
    "Put your ear up to it and you can hear the ocean.."

    Once upon a time there was a little girl that loved to spend time with her father combing pristine beaches looking for sea shells. [Their mother had died.] Together they would travel and explore new beaches, rising with the out-going tide each morning to sweep the smooth fresh sands of the intertidal zones looking for their little calcium carbonate exoskeleton treasures. Her name was Mayarella, and as she grew, she waxed strong in beauty and the knowledge of conchology and became a famous journalist who wrote a column for the NY Times all about seashells, and people around the world loved it.

    It so happened that while Maya spent her childhood days combing beaches, there was a horrible and greedy man that was recklessly pumping out the pools of oil that had collected beneath the ocean floor. He had a little boy he named after a monster that lived in Scotland. Ness spent time at the ocean with his father also, looking for shells. His father didn't care about the oceans or shells, he only cared about money. He drilled and got richer than anyone in the whole world while the water got really polluted, then started getting warmer until all the animals and plants died, even the coral reefs. Next thing you know, New Yorkers were wearing galoshes like Venetians, sea shells disappeared with all living creatures in the sea. The evil man and his wife eventually died, leaving everything to Ness -- by then a young man.

    Ness has become reclusive, living in a compound surrounded by the only clean ocean left. Maya is about to publish a series of scathing articles about this evil shell-destroying family when she is summoned to appear before the FBI. A mush-mouthed FBI man dangles before her pretty eyes a perfect Lace Murex, a rare mollusk shell that sells now for millions of dollars. There is a dead body involved, a physicist that worked for Ness and owned the shells, but that's not the problem. FBI man Cooper thinks Ness is manufacturing fake shells, making millions of dollars selling them (and the IRS hasn't seen a penny from those sales, Maya knows from history that tax evasion is how the FBI gets their really big criminals. This goes against all of her shell collecting principles.) These shells have been extinct for 30 yrs., but these look new. "So, that famous shell collector Ness Wild is nothing more than a phony," she spits, and agrees to help the FBI take down the monster.

    The ridiculously long driveway to Ness' house crunches under Maya's tires and she realizes this isn't cement, Ness has crushed shells....gazillions of crustacean corpses, crushed shells, volutes, cones, cowries, and rock shells lining miles! She is appalled and ready to give this monster a piece of her mind. She pounds on the front door and standing there is a beautiful golden man with sun bleached hair. His body is tan and toned; he is bare footed, wearing white drawstring pants that billow around his muscular thighs. A large black pearl threaded through a leather thong hangs on his chiseled chest, and birds sing in the back ground, "I'm Ness."

    He's beautiful. His sea-green eyes twinkle, belying his evil nature, "Be my guest! Be my guest, put my vintage wine to the test!" he pours her wine and gives her crackers and cheese and charcuterie. She remembers she is a serious journalist, and on a mission from the FBI. She sips her wine suspiciously and judiciously. Her body tingles with each sip; Maya has never tasted anything so lovely. What a cad he is, she bats her eyes. Her head reels and she imagines a hallway lined with the photos of hundreds of female journalists Ness has slept with; she is determined not to fall for this smooth performance -- not to be part of his world. He is trying to tell her something he has never told anyone before--the *truth,* a real scoop, something about his *sniff* beloved misunderstood grandfather *tears in his eyes*. What a shameful act! She finishes her wine and she stands to go. Maya is a little, "what's that word...Tipsy!" And wouldn't ya know it, her car... it won't go, it won't go, Turn away and slam the door, back into Ness' house. He makes her the best coffee ever and tells her all about the rare Hakuna matata beans. Surely a man that makes his own coffee...

    Maya knows her life is in danger; she is on guard as she spends the night in his fabulous guest house. When she awakes, the fridge is stocked, and there is a surprise! Ness has a little girl (about the same age as the one Maya lost when she was once married). The little girl is spunky and cute, and takes right to Maya. They form the *I hate rain* club and cook eggs-in-a-hole, and fall asleep...Ness sneaks in after his meeting, and finds them cuddled together, and tears up.
    Eventually (that week) Maya blows off the FBI, discards the wires, tells her boss she quits, goes in a deep sea diving bell to the bottom of the ocean, makes out with Ness, and has several other adventures around the world before she discovers, by Friday, that she and Ness are soul mates. They knew it the minute they saw each other. Little daughter knew it too; all she's ever wanted is for her daddy to be happy. Together, the three save the oceans; new kids again find the joys of collecting shells...and they live happily ever after.

    Wonderful, wonderful, and the girl telling the story does a lovely job in spite of sometimes using her boy voice when it's time for her girl voice (and the mush-mouthed FBI Cooper).

    My complaints: So many missed opportunities; choreographed little sea creatures frolicking around the kissing couple would have added some magic to the romance; a colony of sick oil drenched otters hiding out on Ness' property secretly aided by the little daughter would have given emotional depth and dimension; a full-on Mer-people attack against humankind was definitely needed for the drama element, a resentful lone-surviving giant squid could have attacked the diving bell, the FBI would have logically launched a door to door hunt for Mayarella, testing each young lady resident to see if the wire fit -- come on, Howey! (And, I know this is a little out there, but...wouldn't an appearance by the real Loch Ness monster at a wedding have been just the ultimate?!) If an author is going to turn an environmental issue into a fairytale romance, there absolutely HAS to be an Olaf and/or Sven, at least a Gus Gus, a Jiminy Cricket, or perfectly suited for this sea-theme, a Sebastian the Crab(!). I take off stars for such oversights.

    12 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • Unbecoming: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Rebecca Scherm
    • Narrated By Catherine Taber

    On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says she's from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, she's in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail.

    Melinda says: "Staying a step ahead of her lies"
    "Staying a step ahead of her lies"

    This story begins in Paris with her first lie... "Bonjour, je m'appelle Julie." She is really Grace from Tennessee, hiding out in France. Tomorrow her secret husband, and former lover will be released after 8 yrs. in prison for a crime she masterminded. Casually she tells the reader, "the best lies were the simplest...and made the most sense...these lies are the easiest to swallow." With the ease of a chameleon switching colors Grace tells the reader how she came to be Julie in Paris. The story is told in flashbacks for the first portion, then switches to real-time. Until that switch, the story is jittery and suffused with tension; Julie expecting any minute to be found.

    From a dysfunctional wrong-side-of-the-tracks family, Grace has always felt insignificant and ashamed. Growing into a pretty young girl, she catches the affections of local golden boy Riley Graham. From an esteemed and wealthy family Riley has everything Grace has ever dreamed of, a wealthy aristocratic family, respectable parents and a doting mother that has always wanted a daughter. Grace twists and turns herself to meet their expectation, molding herself into that longed-for daughter, and Riley's perfect girlfriend. Always on her mind is caution to keep up the become the person she is pretending to be, staying one step ahead of the lies. As we hear her tell it, it all seems a harmless act of survival by a desperate little girl longing for love. Grace's longings go much further than just love though, and as she moves through the years her personality becomes defined, Scherm deftly creating a little sociopath before the reader's eyes, that dismisses the trail of destruction she leaves behind.

    The back and forth narrative style keeps the plot going at a steady, but sometimes bumpy pace. The flashbacks didn't always transition smoothly into a segment, but it wasn't distracting either. While not nearly Highsmith or Hitchcock, Scherm gave me the sense and promise of her own definite style. Her development of Grace/Julie was most nuanced while she is away from Riley, but it was also interesting to see how she manipulated around the Grahams. Most enjoyable to me was while Julie worked for the disreputable Jacqueline restoring antique jewels, and then finally, where we see what the author can really do when she releases Julie from her years of self-doubt -- when she finally *becomes.*

    New author Rebecca Sherm is one of the new crop of debut novelists that have found themselves one of the *critic's darlings* having their debut novel released with an attached pedigreed before it even hit the shelves. It's commonplace lately to see every psychological thriller with a psycho femme fatale branded the next Gone Girl, every art heist story inspired by Tartt's The Goldfinch, and any suspenseful crime novel the offspring of Hitchcock or Highsmith. With these astral claims, marketers are lining these fledgling writers at the gate with the seasoned thoroughbreds --not always a favor. My opinion is that Unbecoming was a very good debut novel, and I hope that Scherm will feel encouraged to continue writing. She definitely has both creative and writing talent and a distinctive style that I'll be looking forward to reading in the future.

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • The Deep

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Nick Cutter
    • Narrated By Corey Brill

    A strange plague called the "Gets" is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget - small things at first, like where they left their keys... then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily - and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as "ambrosia" has been discovered - a universal healer, from initial reports.

    Raymond says: "Well, it was just my imagination ..."
    "Deeply Disturbing; Descent into Madness"

    "The Abyss meets The Shining" and I would say also meets King's IT, and a quite a bit of Jeff VanderMeer's *weird fiction,* the AreaX: Southern Reach Trilogy. I can see why author Nick Cutter has amassed fans like Stephen King. To open this book, you are under the control of Cutter's chilling narrative in a setting that is completely foreign from what you know. He controls the horror with vivid imagery that (unfortunately for us) imprints itself on your mind. It is a multi-level horror attack that is claustrophobic, psychological, repulsive, and in the end, unfathomable. In other happy ending and chances of some pretty macabre nightmares.

    Readers, especially listeners, are at the mercy of Cutter's darkly creative mind as the book descends into the Marianas Trench and the total deprivation of the Trieste. Isolated 8 miles below the sunny surface in a pitch black world, a spider-like conglomerate of tubes form the lab. The lights illuminate only a tiny radius, lighting just parts of foreign creatures that glide in and out of the murky *sea snow* at the bottom of the ocean. The sounds are slurpy, slimey, and schllicky, and your mind does awful things with those sounds. At 8 mi. below, the pressure against the lab makes every sound a horrifying threat; they sound like bowels and digestion of a gigantic beast. It is almost traumatizing.

    If not already terrifying, Cutter creates a pair of brothers that survived a very dysfunctional childhood that would be enough to induce nightmares. The older brother is the scientist that has not been heard from since the Trieste went incommunicado. Clayton spent his childhood escaping the abuse by unconscionably experimenting on (dismembering) animals. He is cold and without compassion, purely scientific. Luke has the opposite temperament; a veterinarian and a father that lost a son in a heartbreaking *missing-child* incident that haunts him. (Let's just say the boys have TONS of baggage between them.)

    An issue I had with this book is the lack of story about the *Gets,* the initial catalyst for the story. So little is said about the effect on the world and how it motivates the trip down to the Trieste. That could be a whole great book. And for animal lovers...don't expect any mercy from this horror master. There are animals aboard the Trieste, cute, furry, animals and they don't fare well. The narration was spot-on, with great pronunciation of those onomatopoeia words that Cutter uses to make your skin crawl, and things slurp and splat and skitter.

    Stephen King once said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.” The Deep is one of those that swings for the terror, bounces on the horror, and lands square on the gross-out. If that sounds like your kind of read -- enjoy. A little too much like swallowing slugs for me personally, but to you horror fanatics I say...Bon Appétit! You'll love this.

    15 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Christopher Scotton
    • Narrated By Robert Petkoff

    After witnessing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, 14-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin's grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky.

    Melinda says: "Loved it in Spite of..."
    "Loved it in Spite of..."

    Some of my favorite novels are those told from the *looking back* POV -- those coming of age stories, retelling of events enlightened by hindsight. From King's The Body, to Twain's The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, when told with skill and sincerity the shared humanity, no matter how diverse, *strikes those familiar chords* in each of us [*paraphrased from author Daniel Woodrell's NY Times review for this book]. In his debut novel, Christopher Scotton shares the tragedy of a family and strikes those chords with a skill that defies the term 'debut novel.'

    The plot of this Bildungsroman is complex in that it is set in 1985 and tackles not only the usual companion issues of growing up after tragedy, but also is intertwined with the complexities of social and environmental attitudes. Kevin recalls the summer when after witnessing the horrific death of his 3 yr. old little brother (truly grizzly), the mother is grief stricken and withdraws into a catatonic state. At the urging of the grandfather (Pops) the two retreat to the mother's childhood home, tucked into the Appalachian Mountains, to heal.

    Pops is that stalwart of integrity and honor; a hard working veterinarian with a love for the land and its people. He introduces Kevin to reading and great books, but when Kevin still shows signs of heading into serious trouble to cope with his feelings of guilt and loss, Pops makes him his vet assistant. Together they trek back into the hills to administer to ailing livestock. But it is Buzzy Fink that saves Kevin from his sorrow by befriending the naïve city boy and teaching him the secrets of the mountains. Under Buzzy's tutelage, Kevin learns to respect and love this land, opening a connection and a closeness with Pops. He also learns that in a small town everyone is connected, and nothing remains a secret for long.

    In Scotton's characters, you'll recognize many of the same qualities that define the great characters of favorite novels. As the book progresses, these characters become more defined by the environmental and social issues. The bucolic setting hits a boiling point when the towns people begin experiencing the effects of Mountaintop Removal Mining -- a process that literally blasts the tops off the mountains leaving the countryside scarred and riddled with toxic carcinogens. Bubba Boyd is the strong arm mine owner that employs most of the town and is buying out the land to extract coal without consideration for the environment. The contention splits the town and the leader of the opposition, a gay hairdresser despised by Bubba both for his stand on preserving the pristine mountains and his secret sexual orientation, is found murdered.

    The novel is substantial in page number and subject matter, difficult to summarize and do it justice. The heart of the story is charming and unforgettable, and this was one of my favorite reads. I can't recommend it highly enough. Here comes the BUT... I had a few issues with the book that I point out to justify my rating: Once Pops takes Buzzy and Kevin on a *Quest* into the mountains, I found myself having to chew a little more to swallow some of the story. There's a chimerical white stag that felt a little too "Expecto patronum!" and a legendary moss-back fish that almost swims onto Kevin's hook, a poultice concocted by Buzzy that defies known medical cures. Character-wise, Kevin is inordinately naïve; Buzzy, very Huckleberry; Big Bad Bubba?; Peter the gay hairdresser? the mule-shootin', corn-piped hillbilly?...I'm listening to their story, but sometimes thinking *central casting.* Technically these are issues that felt like little hiccups, but kept this from being a perfect novel. Didn't really matter...loved it in spite of itself.

    *[Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell, is one of my all-time favorite novels.]

    **Though already long, I'd like to address another reviewer's comments about the foul language. With respect, there are a few F-bombs, but I don't recall it being used often or gratuitously (I didn't count).

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • The Girl on the Train: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By Paula Hawkins
    • Narrated By Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, India Fisher
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. "Jess and Jason," she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good? Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

    L. O. Pardue says: ""Rear Window" Meets "Gone Girl""
    "On Track"

    From the onslaught of pre-release reviews for this book I was very prepared for the *unreliable narrator,* that tricky little beastie that requires the reader to stay on their toes, but, when our girl Rachel settles onto the train and pops her canned gin and tonic for breakfast, I knew we were in for one helluva ride. In what has been called an *amnesia thriller,* been compared to Hitchcock's Rear Window, and tacked with the ubiquitous "the next Gone Girl" tagline (when will that stop?) author Hawkins gives us one of those always entertaining train-ride thrillers told from the pov of 3 female narrators -- one of whoms story is ala Mary Alice Young in Desperate Housewives, from the grave. Their connection...a man, a neighborhood, and a fateful event.

    Not much should be said about the story because it relies heavily on slowly revealing a little more with each clickety-clak of the rails. I'd suggest just settling in and riding along as sad, overweight, unemployed, newly divorced, and barren Rachel rides the train and peers into a certain yard/window of a house that borders the tracks along her journey. Looking out the window of the train at that house, she projects everything she wished for onto a certain willowy blonde she names *Jess,* and her husband. Rachel used to live in the same neighborhood -- now her ex lives in the home with his new wife and baby girl.

    Hawkins dishes out the information with a controlling hand, and might rely a little too much on this tactic to keep a sense of tension when more information, fleshing out the characters a little more, could have given the story more psychological depth -- she certainly has created characters with the underpinnings of a great psychological thriller and shows talent as a writer. Maybe I've seen too much Hitchcock, read too many Flynn novels; I didn't find the story really thrilling or mysterious, but that's OK -- it was fun and entertaining, and I flew through it enjoying every minute. I have to say it is a much lighter read than that GG novel (except for the issue of alcoholism, which is especially dark here).

    The narrators did a good job keeping the novel moving and interpreting the characters and make this all the more enticing.

    124 of 150 people found this review helpful
  • Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 55 mins)
    • By Peter Stark
    • Narrated By Michael Kramer
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    At a time when the edge of American settlement barely reached beyond the Appalachian Mountains, two visionaries, President Thomas Jefferson and millionaire John Jacob Astor, foresaw that one day the Pacific would dominate world trade as much as the Atlantic did in their day. Just two years after the Lewis and Clark expedition concluded in 1806, Jefferson and Astor turned their sights westward once again. Thus began one of history's dramatic but largely forgotten turning points in the conquest of the North American continent.

    Pamela says: "Daring, greedy men take on nature and natives"
    "Where Lewis and Clark Left Off"

    Each chapter of this superbly crafted book contains multiple *moments in history,* events that intersected with the political strategy and shaped this country's development. It is also a character study of ambition, courage, greed, inexperience and bad decisions, all set on the grand stage of the beautiful and treacherous, still uncharted, American Northwest. On the heels of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (just 2 years prior) one of the country's wealthiest businessmen, John Jacob Astor, schemed to corner the hungry global fur market by establishing a trading post on the west coast of the continent, thereby harvesting the untapped resources of the Pacific Northwest. *[from his NY base, Astor was already trading heavily with a demanding China and Europe. It was an extremely lucrative business for Astor. His company was trading *trinkets and beads* to several Indian tribes for pallets of furs worth thousands of dollars -- at a "2,500% profit."]

    Encouraged by Jefferson, who dreamed of claiming the country after Lewis & Clark's report, and expanding America from coast to coast, Astor financed 2 expeditions: by sea, the 94 ft. 290 ton, copper-hulled Merchant ship, the Tonquin, captained by a seasoned but arrogant, US Navy lieutenant, Jonathan Thorn; and a land expedition led by fur-trader businessman, Wilson Hunt Price. Though inexperienced, and it can now be added ignorant, Hunt planned to use information gathered from the Lewis & Clark Expedition to lead his group west to the mouth of the Columbia River. 340 days later, the two groups would meet at their destination...but, both journeys had been ill-fated. 61 men had perished (also an infant child born on the trek) or had suffered physical and psychological traumas, the Tonquin lay at the bottom of the Clayoquot Sound, and eventually, the weary survivors sold out to the Canadian North West Fur Company for pennies on Astor's dollars.

    Stark has done an outstanding job researching journals, letters, articles, interviewing descendants of the explorers, and studying the different cultures of the Native American tribes that inhabited the landscape of the American Northwest -- a culture that paid the ultimate price of Manifest Destiny. Stark, wonderfully describing the topography along the journey, leads his own expedition in a sense: the passages detailing Hell's Canyon and the "Mad River" (The Snake River) are both beautiful and intense; the vistas of buffalo covered prairie's out of the Dakota's are majestic, and so on. The voyage of the Tonquin is just as eloquently written. Struggling to navigate through the system of bars and shoals at the mouth of the Columbia River, battling the waves, wind, and currents, Stark gives readers a white-knuckle passage through what is known as the *Graveyard of the Pacific.* Often I was left behind, picturing the scenes, in awe of the fury or the serene beauty -- the land seems so raw from what I have experienced... I've safely rafted down the Snake River, looked out across the Badlands, ridden a tugboat through the bucking swells of the Columbia Bar. To look back through history from our hard-won state of comfort is incredible.

    The characters are nothing less than fascinating from the robust and colorful French Voyageurs to the quiet, brave interpreter, Maria Dorian [gave birth during the trek]. It would be overwhelming to highlight every stunning aspect of this book, or encapsulate such a huge and important adventure into paragraphs. The epilogue is the eye of history looking back over the expedition and wrapping it all up nicely for a great conclusion. This is a read I recommend highly to anyone, and an absolute *don't miss* for history fans. I would also recommend reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, if you haven't read about Lewis and Clark.

    9 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Michael Punke
    • Narrated By Holter Graham

    The year is 1823, and the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Trapping beaver, they contend daily with the threat of Indian tribes turned warlike over the white men's encroachment on their land, and other prairie foes - like the unforgiving landscape and its creatures. Hugh Glass is among the Company's finest men, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker.

    Alexandria says: "Surprisingly addictive."
    "It Was A Good Death...almost"

    Reading the account of the bear attack, I couldn't help but think of the almost silly slow motion battle between Tristan (Brad Pitt) and the monstrous grizzly bear (Bart the bear) at the end of Legends of the Fall. Apparently the trained stunt bear, Bart, thought the two were just rough housing and the clip had to be tweaked to make it appear the grizzly was the killer that would give Tristan his "good death."

    Working for Capt. Andrew Henry as a member of the Rocky Mountain Fur Co., Hugh Glass is sent out scouting the uncharted hostile territory along the tributaries of the Missouri River. The trapper is startled when a pair of frolicking bear cubs tumbles onto his path, their notoriously protective mother just a few yards behind. Faced with a charging mother grizzly, Glass knows that no matter how many bullets he can fire into the animal with his 1822 model rifle, he is facing certain death -- he draws his knife and braces for the blow of a massive paw.

    Glass is mortally wounded; Capt. Henry and the trapping party begin to dig his grave. After days of caring for the dying man, Capt. Henry decides he is losing money and time and leaves two men behind to bury the body; a cold-blooded cutthroat John Fitzgerald, and the young Jim Bridger. Seeing hostile Indians nearby, Fitzgerald forces Bridger to leave with him, taking the dying man's weapons as they leave.

    Against all odds, Glass does survive, and swears to kill the two men that left him defenseless, to die. Unable to walk, Glass begins his mission of revenge on hands and knees in what is a mind boggling account of survival and perseverance. Author Punke writes a riveting tale in the style of great westerns, based on the true story of Hugh Glass. The supporting characters are diverse and colorful pieces of the American Frontier. I couldn't put the book down (audible talk for couldn't disengage from my ipod) until I finished the story.

    As a narrator, Graham did a good job bringing the characters to life. His depiction of young Bridger tended to be jerky and halted, and therefore a little distracting at times, but not enough to spoil the novel for me. For fans of the American Western, you can't go wrong with this piece of absorbing historical fiction.
    *[I noticed a publish date of 2002 and found that this has been reprinted. It is probably no coincidence that the movie version is scheduled for release Dec. of 2015, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.]

    17 of 21 people found this review helpful
  • The Good Soldier

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 56 mins)
    • By Ford Madox Ford
    • Narrated By Frank Muller

    On the face of it Captain Edward Ashburnham's life was unimpeachable. But behind the mask where passion seethes, the captain's "good" life was rotting away.

    CB says: "The saddest story"
    "Treachery in the Troops"

    The saddest story my aching arse....

    Ford may have given readers the ultimate *unreliable narrator* in 1915 when he published The Good Soldier. For all of my reading, I don't recall ever coming across a narrator half as guileful, or as entitled, as John Dowell -- or is he so inconceivably dim-witted and naïve the story IS actually sad? There in lies the brilliant pinpoint on which this story is balanced, and masterfully so by author Ford Madox Ford. Though, there was the peer group of his day that would have taken to task anyone that thought the writer *masterful*, or anything other than *unreliable* himself. His own *wife* -- or should we say biga-mistress (seems Ford didn't have any problem *marrying* or carrying on affairs in spite of his legal marriage to another never being dissolved) wrote that Ford had "a genius for creating confusion," and he himself stated that,"he had a great contempt for fact." So, it is with that insight to this author that one should approach this story; this is the magic that turns just an OK story into absolute brilliant writing -- and a top notch mystery in disguise that requires an efficient reader.

    A wealthy American couple, Dowell and Florence, and a wealthy English couple, Edward and Leonora meet at a spa during an extended stay in Europe and become friends. Interestingly, Dowell narrates the story directly to the reader/listener, as if it is a tale he was told, "the saddest story I've ever heard in my life." Immediately you assume he was told this story and is just now recounting it to the reader, but as he goes on we learn it is his wife Florence and the Englishman, Edward, that have an affair that leads to her heartbreaking death on her and Dowell's honeymoon.

    Dowell's story continues to twist like a hanky wrenching out the tears. But, is it her reported weak heart that killed the young bride...(weak enough that she warns her new husband she is unable to have sex because of her condition) or is it suicide (her medicine bottle smells strongly similar to a particular acid)? So it goes... where nothing is as it first seems, nothing can be taken at face value. The outward grace, the breeding, the money, the passion, blend into a swirl of colors that lose definition and become a muddied mess. Even our narrator repeats often, "I don't know, I don't know!," sharing doubts as to his competence to recall what happened.

    The profiles of these characters are intriguing; illuminated by Dowell's shaky perspective they become outrageous, even contrarily uncivilized, extravagant, and completely without principles. I could only conceive of this caliber of persons by reminding myself, "how reliable is this narrator/participant, what hidden agendas, sociopathic befuddlements contort the players and twist this supposedly sad tale?"

    If you were a keen-eyed detective taking Dowell's testimony, you would listen carefully to this one...ignore your colleague's protests of his innocence...put a tail on for those insurance policies, secret bank accounts, more missing bodies of people he crossed paths with...sit back and wait for this Keyser Söze fellow to make a wrong move. Or; did poor Mr. Dowell just tell you, truly, the saddest story you've ever heard...? This is a classic that needs to be read competently to be truly appreciated. If so, you'll see The Good Soldier draws out the kind of reader participation, where the text is "open to the greatest variety of independent interpretation" -- what Barthes said was the *ideal text.* Gosh, what a masterpiece; if I wasn't so disgusted by the whole lot of them, I'd turn around and read this again, right now.

    12 of 17 people found this review helpful

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