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Michael

I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

Walnut Creek, CA, United States | Member Since 2002

3305
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 401 reviews
  • 1391 ratings
  • 1500 titles in library
  • 87 purchased in 2014
FOLLOWING
9
FOLLOWERS
978

  • Shards of Honor

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Lois McMaster Bujold
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1383)
    Performance
    (860)
    Story
    (874)

    I>Shards of Honor is the novel in which Lois McMaster Bujold introduced the science-fiction world to Barrayar and Aral Vorkosigan, Beta Colony and Cordelia Naismith. From this beginning the author has created a multigenerational saga spanning time as well as space. Bujold is generally recognized as the current exemplar of the character-based science-fiction adventure story.

    Lifelong Reader says: "First story in the Miles Vorkosigan series"
    "A Good Start of a GREAT series"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the first in the Vorkosigan series. The writing here is good but not as good as the later books. Nevertheless it is still better than most Sci Fi and well worth reading to set the tone and history of the continuing characters. This is very light Sci-Fi and more like fantasy. The later books become a bit more Sci Fi oriented. This is one of my favorite series in Sci Fi. The series has lots of action, really great characters, lots of fun, interesting concepts, and stories that really hang together well. This first book is a little slow but I recommend it as it adds richness and depth to the later novels.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The Lessons of History

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Will, Ariel Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    Overall
    (283)
    Performance
    (147)
    Story
    (147)

    The authors devoted five decades to the study of world history and philosophy, culminating in the masterful 11-volume Story of Civilization. In this compact summation of their work, Will and Ariel Durant share the vital and profound lessons of our collective past. Their perspective, gained after a lifetime of thinking and writing about the history of humankind, is an invaluable resource for us today.

    Brad the Dad says: "This is a must for every Educated Person"
    "Impossible"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It is not possible to summarize the lessons of history so compactly, and I would not really recommend this book on its own, but as a capstone to Durant’s massive history series it is quite nice. I enjoyed the authors ideas of what America should do to postpone, for a short while, our inevitable demise as a civilization.

    The narration of the actual book was excellent, bold and clear, with humor and feeling.

    Having read and listened to Durant’s many volume history I completely enjoyed the short interview sections between chapters with the 72 year old author and his wife, Ariel. Ariel correctly points out, one should not take the advice of an old man, nevertheless it was fun to hear the author’s voice and his opinions that have changed over the years. The audio of the interview parts is really not great and the interviewer is not very good (with repeated Ah huhs and sometimes quite silly questions).

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Under the Volcano: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Malcolm Lowry
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (92)
    Performance
    (57)
    Story
    (58)

    On the Day of the Dead, in 1938, Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic and ruined man, is fatefully living out his last day, drowning himself in mescal while his former wife and half-brother look on, powerless to help him. The events of this one day unfold against a backdrop unforgettable for its evocation of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical.

    Melinda says: "Excellent...but not for everyone"
    "Great Prose, Too much drunk guy"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the story of one day, the Day of the Dead, of a British drunk in Mexico. The prose of this book are, at points, sublime and the imagery and characterizations are strong, but I did not really like any of the characters, and the story was not compelling to me. The portrait of the drunken main character is quite realistic and both compelling and repellant.

    I have never read the short story this novel was based upon, but I suspect, as a short story, this would be wonderful. Stretched into a novel, was too much drunk guy for my taste.

    John Lee reads these prose with the intensity of poetry with a rhythm and power, but does not do the Spanish justice.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • An American Tragedy

    • UNABRIDGED (34 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Theodore Dreiser
    • Narrated By Dan John Miller
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (217)
    Performance
    (190)
    Story
    (193)

    An American Tragedy is the story of Clyde Griffiths, who spends his life in the desperate pursuit of success. On a deeper, more profound level, it is the masterful portrayal of the society whose values both shape Clyde's ambitions and seal his fate; it is an unsurpassed depiction of the harsh realities of American life and of the dark side of the American dream.

    beatrice says: "a period piece, still resonant"
    "Funny in Perspective"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I found this book funny on almost every page. Not ha-ha funny, but a mild warm sardonic funny. This is not a classic tragedy of fate directing the characters to untimely deaths, instead, through an unbiased narrator, we see nature simply take its course without morality or judgment or even meaning, towards untimely death. The narrator seems not to be God, but some neutral naturalistic viewer of all the characters and situations, and from this perspective everything, including death, may seem funny.

    If you don’t see the very subtle humor in this novel early on, it will likely seem tediously long and slow, as the novel follows the main character’s developing motivations, beliefs, and actions as they slowly and inevitability, unfold. This powerful inevitability reminds me of Russia writers, as such inevitability is rare in American novels. As I saw the silliness of the character’s choices (which will certainly lead to unpleasant consequences) I felt compassion, yet I had to chuckle.

    The characters are very well developed, even the very minor characters, yet I related more with the narrator than any of the characters, and the story was, of course, predictable. I was moved by this writing and think I will be affected by the undercurrents of this novel for quite some time to come.

    The narration was flawless, using subtle tones of voice to reflect the subtle inconsistencies and indecision within the characters.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Catch-22

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Joseph Heller
    • Narrated By Jay O. Sanders
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2135)
    Performance
    (1188)
    Story
    (1206)

    Catch-22 is set in the closing months of World War II, in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy. Its hero is a bombardier named Yossarian, who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. (He has decided to live forever, even if he has to die in the attempt.)

    Phil says: "Phenominal Reading - Story and Damn Funny"
    "Iconic Dialog"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Catch-22 is an absurdist look at military thinking set in WWII with a constant dark backdrop of fear and death. This book is a must read not for the characters or story (which are subordinate to the absurdity of the vignettes) but for the numerous truly classic dialogs. The narration of this version was excellent with great funny character voices and clear delivery of the sometimes complicated dialog.

    It is a bit odd that this work is set in WWII but does not feel like WWII in many ways. The mood and characters seem set in the 1950’s with loyalty oaths and constipated conservative military thinking of the Korean conflict.


    I had read Catch-22 many years ago, and remembered it fondly, on this reading many of the bits were still really funny, but some were less impactful the second time around. Yet this was totally worth it for the wild iconic dialog.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Sons and Lovers

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By D. H. Lawrence
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (83)
    Performance
    (62)
    Story
    (62)

    Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence's first major novel, was also the first in the English language to explore ordinary working-class life from the inside. No writer before or since has written so well about the intimacies enforced by a tightly knit mining community and by a family where feelings are never hidden for long. When the marriage between Walter Morel and his sensitive, high-minded wife begins to break down, the bitterness of their frustration seeps into their children's lives.

    W. Perry Hall says: "Momma's Boy (The Dangers of Overbearing Parenting)"
    "Good Prose and Essential Truth through Life"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    These excellent prose loosely follow the life of struggling artist growing up in an English coal mining town of Nottinghamshire with a strong loving and involved mother and a rough, disillusioned, alcoholic, and uninvolved father. The later parts of the book seem quite autobiographical, while the early book seems more fictional, more novel like, and less focused on the artist’s character. The author pacts a lot of essential truth into this novel. The characters all feel deeply real, with all the inconsistencies, self-compromises, vagueness of memories, and vacillations of real humans. The author seems fair to all the characters portrayed (which is a common defect of autobiographical novels). The novel does not have any action to speak of, no adventure, little philosophy, just a story about real people living a real life, and that is enough.

    The narration is very good, handling the dialect particularly well.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Darkness at Noon

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By Arthur Koestler
    • Narrated By Frank Muller
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (102)
    Performance
    (72)
    Story
    (73)

    A fictional portrayal of an aging revolutionary, this novel is a powerful commentary on the nightmare politics of the troubled 20th century. Born in Hungary in 1905, a defector from the Communist Party in 1938, and then arrested in both Spain and France for his political views, Arthur Koestler writes from a wealth of personal experience.

    Roy says: "Disturbing Commentary"
    "Darkly Uplifting"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    In one sense, this is just another dystopian novel about the historical abuses of the now defunct Soviet Union, in another sense; it describes the essential folly of man through the disillusioning of a true believer. The novel presents a believable character, a fearless communist intellectual that fought passionately for the cause and rose to the elite in the party, so far as to be colleges with Stalin. We watch as the protagonist’s friends do what is expedient by betraying him as the party devolves towards totalitarianism and barbarism.

    Although this is not a cheerful story I found it uplifting and strangely positive, as the protagonist cleanly faces the truth of the dark side of his friends and the communist movement. While reading Darkness at Noon I could not help but think that, although the Soviet Union is now defunct, the Soviet era totalitarians are still in control of Russia, and the lies and oppression continue. Just watch Russian News (RT) for a while and count the number of negative Putin stories (generally zero).

    The narration was excellent, matching the tone and spirit of the book remarkably well.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Sound and the Fury

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By William Faulkner
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (480)
    Performance
    (201)
    Story
    (200)

    First published in 1929, Faulkner created his "heart's darling", the beautiful and tragic Caddy Compson, whose story Faulkner told through separate monologues by her three brothers: the idiot Benjy, the neurotic suicidal Quentin, and the monstrous Jason.

    W.Denis says: "Hang in"
    "Good, but no Ulysses"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The Sound and the Fury starts with a non-chronological stream of consciousness narrative from the point of view of a mentally challenged young boy. This part is a bit hard to follow the first time through and it really helps to read a synopsis (like the Wikipedia entry) before reading this section. Several printed version use italics to indicate the temporal shifts, which are hard to catch in the audio version. At times the prose rise to the level of greatness, but this is not so for of most of the writing. I found the stream of consciousness writing in the first section much less effective (and less enjoyable) than the narration in James Joyce’s Ulysses (which predated The Sound and the Fury by nearly a decade). Here the stream of consciousness, at times, seems inconsistent with the mental capabilities of character, and is subtly broken when the story demands clarity.

    Other sections use other narration styles and are more story like. The novel tells a story that rings true, but is unpleasant and unaffirming. This is a story of the slow decay of an upper class southern family and includes demeaning portrayals of black servants, anti-Semitism, and other politically incorrect material.

    This novel has some moments of excellent writing, and has some elements that were (almost) revolutionary at the time of publication, yet I found this overall a good, not great read.

    This version does not include the appendix covering the fictional family’s history that is included in many later print versions.

    Grover Gardner’s narration (as usual) is excellent, particularly considering the challenging material.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Of Human Bondage

    • UNABRIDGED (27 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By W. Somerset Maugham
    • Narrated By Charlton Griffin
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (78)
    Performance
    (68)
    Story
    (68)

    Of Human Bondage is one of the greatest novels of modern times, and it is certainly Maugham's greatest achievement. It was published in 1914, when Maugham was at the height of his creative powers. The story concerns Philip Carey, afflicted at birth with a club foot, and his passionate search for truth in a cruel world. We follow his growth to manhood, his educational progress, his first loves, and the wrenching tragedies and disappointments that life has in store for him. In some of the finest prose of the 20th century, Maugham has presented us with the timeless story of one man's search for the meaning of life.

    Michael says: "Greatly Unsettling"
    "Greatly Unsettling"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The writing and essential truth of the novel is compelling but the protagonist, who is a caring, intelligent, and thoughtful person, is buffeted by fate and his emotions control much of his life. I did not like the protagonist, even at the end of the book. Yet, this book is not about the protagonist, it had no action, and is not even a story of a journey of discovery, but is about an idea, and the book’s title “Of Human Bondage” resonates throughout the book.

    This is a great book, but this is not a book to escape into, it is a book to experience and learn from. It was not a fun read, maybe not even enjoyable, but the book is subtle and powerful. As I read the various scenes, I would think “dumb kid”, then think of human bondage, and how his passions and environment bound him, and how elusive is the path to human freedom.

    I just read this for the first time in my fifties, but I could see this book would have been even more powerful if read as a young adult. I would recommend this book to any adult, but especially to young adults. This book is unsettling in the best way. My advice, when the book seems off-putting, recall the title, and read on.

    The short musical interludes and rare sound effects add absolutely nothing, and are distracting but do not ruin the experience.

    The narration is really excellent, expressing conflicting emotions while remaining a very clear reading of the text.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Lock In (Narrated by Wil Wheaton)

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs)
    • By John Scalzi
    • Narrated By Wil Wheaton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1325)
    Performance
    (1236)
    Story
    (1242)

    Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent - and nearly five million souls in the United States alone - the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

    Alexis says: "Fun! Things you might want to know:"
    "High Quality Scalzi"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book is a cop procedural mystery with a nice sci-fi story. As with most of Scalzi the science is well thought out and interesting. This story mixes a lot of action with a compelling mystery, good characters, and a lot of humor. This is not Scalzi’s best work, but it is still quite good. Scalzi works in a bit a social commentary which adds an extra level of interest to the book. This is yet another good example of Scalzi’s unique style and high quality.

    The book has a long (2+ hour) audio performance of a fictional documentary covering the disease that is pivotal to the book. I listened to this after the book, but I wondered if it would have been more interesting integrated into the novel, or even before the novel. Perhaps it would be a little too dry before the book without knowing the characters.

    I enjoyed the narration and was not annoyed by the use of “he said”. Having listened to unabridged for many years, I think I am used to authors that attribute each line of dialog.

    I finished the book wanting to know more about the world and the characters. Lock In was not quite good enough for me to buy and listen to the second narrator addition, and I will not likely listen to this addition again, but if Scalzi writes a sequel, I will certainly get it ASAP.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Outlander

    • UNABRIDGED (33 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Diana Gabaldon
    • Narrated By Davina Porter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (18271)
    Performance
    (12408)
    Story
    (12309)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: An all-time Audible favorite that mixes historic fiction, adventure, and romance with one of the most fascinating literary devices: time travel. Outlander introduces an exhilarating world of heroism and breathtaking thrills as one woman is torn between past and present, passion and love. In 1945, former combat nurse Claire Randall returns from World War II and joins her husband for a second honeymoon. But their blissful reunion is shattered....

    Lulu says: "The Reason for the Existence of Audio Books"
    "Superior Historical Romance but nothing more"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    As a historical romance this book has really steamy explicit sex scenes and more than a bit of sadistic violence. The sex scenes are from the female perspective, and quite steamy but not at all crude.

    This is a superior historical romance and it is well read, but it remains only a historical romance. This is not science fiction or fantasy, the time travel is only a tiny plot device that solves a really annoying problem with historical romance. The female protagonist must think in a modern way to be approachable and interesting to modern women, the time travel bit was a brilliant little technique to allow this. I don’t consider this a love story, as there is a lot more to love than what is under the kilt. This was a story of passion, with a bit of adventure and a historical context.

    I am a guy, and I don’t tend to like historical romances unless the novel transcends the genre, this novel was good, but did not transcend. In the end, it was just a sequence of scenes (romance, passion, adventure, historical, violent, and steamy) with nice characters and a historical context but never really going anywhere. I find most historical romance either totally unreadable, or enjoyable only because they are so bad they are funny. Outlander scenes are well written and enjoyable, and if I were a bored female, I may have really appreciated the steamy scenes, but I want more from a novel, I want an arc or epic, or exploration, or transformation, or something. Outlander was mildly entertaining but nothing else.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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