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Mike Murphy

Long term book junkie only recently addicted to audio books. Now my iPod and I are inseparable.

Member Since 2012

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  • 37 reviews
  • 103 ratings
  • 332 titles in library
  • 40 purchased in 2014
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  • The Windup Girl

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Paolo Bacigalupi
    • Narrated By Jonathan Davis
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (3494)
    Performance
    (1884)
    Story
    (1897)

    Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman.

    Marius says: "Al Gore nightmare meets Blade Runner."
    "Good book made even better by great narration"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    "The Windup Girl" made quite a splash when it came out. It won the Nebula and the Hugo and it was the author's debut novel (although he'd written four previous novels that he couldn't get published).

    I bought a copy when it came out in paperback but I struggled so much with all the strange Thai names and words in the first chapter that I put it to one side and somehow it never came back to the top of the reading pile.

    When I saw that there was an Audible Frontiers version, read by Jonathan Davis, who did such a good job reading "Theiftaker", I decided to give it another try.

    "The Windup Girl" is set in a far future Bangkok and is written from the point of view of five different characters: three men an American from one of the calorie companies that controls the world's food supply, a Malay Chinese refugee who has lost everything, a Thai Captain in the Environment Ministry who passionately defends his country; and two women, a Thai subordinate to the Captain who has her own agenda and a New Person, the Windup Girl of the title, who was manufactured in Japan.,

    Jonathan Davis gives each of them a distinctive voice, in the right accent. He performs rather than simply narrating. He clearly studied the text carefully. Every inflection supports the author's meaning. He pronounces the many foreign words and formal titles with an easy familiarity that made me feel part of the landscape. The production standards are high. The music is appropriate. This is a movie for the ear.

    The book turned out to be everything I had hoped for. Bacigalupi (the name is Italian and means "kiss of the wolf. I know this because John Irving used it for his main writer character in "One Night At Twisted River". I wonder if he's ever read "The Windup Girl?) has created a plausible future in an exotic (to me) setting. It is a hard world and the main characters all face the same challenge: deciding what they are prepared to do to survive and having to live with the person they become with each survival decision they make.

    The book has a good plot and strong local colour but at its heart it is character driven.The characters do not divide easily into good or bad. They are products of their pasts who, under the extreme pressure of their current circumstances, have to decide what they really value and what they are prepared to sacrifice to get it. Some of the characters are hard to like but all of them feel real and all of them, even the most selfish and fear-driven, won my sympathy.

    Bacigalupi is willing to be truly brutal when the story demands it. The sex show that the Windup Girl is forced to perform is graphic and detailed and completely devoid of any trace of eroticism. In a land where keeping face is everything, Bacigalupi show us that this performance is about humiliation, shame and power. One of the characters is forced to make a public apology. Coming from the West this didn't strike me as a big deal. Bacifalupi put me far enough inside the Thai character's head that I was shocked at the vicious, merciless annihilation of the man's pride and identity.

    It's a long book, more than nineteen hours of listening, but it seemed to fly by and I regretted reaching the end simply because I had enjoyed it so much.

    Read this book if you're in the mood for something thought provoking, difficult but fundamentally human.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Shakespeare's Christmas: The Lily Bard Mysteries, Book 3

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Charlaine Harris
    • Narrated By Julia Gibson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (293)
    Performance
    (150)
    Story
    (155)

    Lily Bard is going home for the holidays. More comfortable in baggy sweats than bridesmaid's frills, Lilly isn't thrilled about attending her estranged sister's wedding. She has moved to Shakespeare, Arkansas, to start a new life, cleaning houses for a living, trying to forget the violence that once nearly destroyed her. Now she's heading back to home and hearth - just in time for murder.

    Shelly says: "Worth the read"
    "Best and darkest book in the series so far"
    Overall
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    Story

    Don't be misled by the title, "Shakespeare's Christmas" is is not a "Christmas Special" where we get to see the people of the small town of Shakespeare acting as if they were in a remake of "It's A Wonderful Life". It is the darkest, and I think the best, book in the series so far. It's set before, not at Christmas and most of it takes place outside of Shakespeare.

    The mystery in "Shakespeare's Christmas" is not a polite "whodunnit" murder under the mistletoe, but the death of a young mother, knifed and left to bleed out in the snow, and the search for a monster who preys on children while masquerading as a family friend. It has enough twist and turns to keep you guessing and enough evil to evoke rage in the reader.

    As with the first two books, the thing I enjoyed most was the continuing development of Lily Bard. It's clear to me now that the five books in the series track Lily's evolution from someone who has isolated herself so that she can cope quietly with the task of staying alive from day-to-day, to someone who has taken the risk of creating a life that she values with people that she loves, even though she is always afraid of the vulnerability to loss and grief that this could produce.

    In "Shakespeare's Christmas", Lily has reluctantly come back to her home town to attend her younger sister's wedding. She knows that she will have to put on her company manners for the wedding showers and rehearsal dinners but what worries her are not the formal niceties but the need to show herself to the family and friends that she walked away from, after her rape and mutilation, when she could no longer live with their pity or their pain.

    There are no soft edges here, no Hallmark Moments, instead we get an honest exploration of how Lily copes with being back with people she loves but who she finds it hard to live with, not just because they grieve for who she was but because she no longer wants to be that person.

    In her mind there is the old Lily from before the rape and the new Lily she is now: someone solitary, someone vigilant, someone strong enough to protect herself, someone who's old life has been stolen from her, someone who can no longer believe that other people are fundamentally good.

    Lily struggles to connect her new self to her family and her friends. One of the things that helps her with this is her encounters with children. Lily believes that she does not understand children, yet the reader sees that her honesty, her directness and her strength mean that she succeeds in winning their trust and their admiration. Like at least some of the children around her, Lily believes in the monster beneath the bed; she believes that safety is an illusion; that vigilance and strength are necessary to survival and that men are willing to use violence to get what they want.

    What Lily learns from the children is that she has not become a cold, distant monster; she has become a dragon-slayer.

    As events unfold, Lily also learns that part of her strength now comes from being with Jack. Typically for Lily, while she knows this to be true and suspects it to be good, she worries that it will make her vulnerable.

    There is evil in this book. An evil made worse because, as Lily and Jack try to search out its source, they find too many potential candidates too close to home. There is also love in this book. As Lily does what she needs to do to make those around her safe, she finally comes to understand that she can be the new Lily, strong, honest, and wary and still be loved as a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a one-time lover, and an old friend.

    The book ends with Lily going back to Shakespeare for Christmas. It is her home now. It contains the things in her life that she most wants to celebrate.

    After finishing the book, I decided that to read the rest of the series back to back. I'll keep you posted on my impressions.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Heft

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Liz Moore
    • Narrated By Kirby Heyborne, Keith Szarabajka
    Overall
    (1530)
    Performance
    (1382)
    Story
    (1385)

    Forrmer academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn’t left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising baseball career - if he can untangle himself from his family drama.

    Deborah says: "Mesmerizing Performance"
    "Beautifully crafted story. Well drawn characters"
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    I wouldn't normally have chosen to read a novel about a morbidly obese middle-aged shut-in ex-academic and a High School student and wannabe baseball star with anger management issues but I'd heard that Liz Moore had a strong, distinctive, voice, so I tried the audiobook.

    It was an excellent decision, not just because Liz Moore writes beautifully but because "Heft" works well as an audiobook. The contrasting voices of Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka draw an even stronger distinction between the world as seen by the monstrously fat Arthur Opp and the athletic, on-the-brink-of-manhood Kel Keller.

    In "Heft", Liz Moore takes up the challenge of writing a character-driven novel that features two unsympathetic characters who are leading ordinary lives that verge on the dull. Her achievement is that, by the end of the book she had managed to tangle them in my imagination enough to make me hope on their behalf.

    The novel is structured a two parallel stories of frailty, failure and loss that are up-lifted by the accuracy of their observation and the suppression of the authorial voice which forces the reader to make their own judgements on the actions and motives of Opp and Keller.

    Some of those actions are hard to watch and don't paint Keller or Opp in a positive light.

    Keller's guilty anger at having to care for his sick and apparently drunk, mother and his encounter, in room strewn with beer cans and smelling of neglect, with the man he believes may be his father, create a bleak picture. One of the most powerful moments, for me, was Keller having sex with a girl from his old neighbourhood just because she's there and then remaining cruelly passive when he knows the hurt he has caused her. This is the kind adolescent many of us can remember being but would be ashamed to admit to. It speaks to the honesty that holds this book together.

    Arthur Opp is shown a s man unable to connect to connect to the people around him and who has been corrupted by a morbid desire for food, that ultimately becomes his only source of pleasure. That Opp's life has shrunk as his body has expanded symbolised by his inability to climb the stairs to reach the upper floor of his home.

    "Heft" handles big themes: how weakness and shame corrode; how parents can damage their children; how fantasy becomes a substitute for action,; how small practical acts of kindness can kindle hope and the possibilities that open up when we set out to build "families" composed of people we care about.

    Liz Moore knows how to describe the small victories and moments of kindness that make life worth living. Opp's first walk outside of his house in many years, convey a real sense of risk and triumph. The quiet hospitality Keller is offered by his almost-girlfriend and her family shows the impact of kindness. Both men are motivated to try to be more, to be better, by woman in their lives who can see beyond the failings and fear and the self-hatred to the men they could become with courage and love and time.

    "Heft" is not a didactic book. It is not selling self-help solutions and does not offer tidy endings. If it has a message, it is: "Life is a mess. Deal with it. But deal with it with as much kindness and empathy as you can manage."

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Shakespeare's Champion

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 20 mins)
    • By Charlaine Harris
    • Narrated By Julia Gibson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (10)
    Performance
    (7)
    Story
    (7)

    When Lily Bard stumbles upon the corpse of a local bodybuilder, the town's old racial tensions begin to boil over. The white victim was somehow connected to two unsolved murders of black residents of Shakespeare, but a resolute policeman is determined to stop the killings. Although it is Lily who has to decide whether to stay and fight for justice, or run away one more time...

    Mike Murphy says: "Well written book that hooked me on Lily Bard"
    "Well written book that hooked me on Lily Bard"
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    "Shakespeare's Champion" the second Lily Bard mystery, confirmed to me that I'm hooked on the series.

    Unfortunately, the plot of this book was give given away in Charlaine Harris' latest book, "Midnight Crossroad", so I already knew a lot of what would happen. That I still enjoyed the book is a tribute to how well written it is and how focused it is on the development of Lily Bard.

    The "Champion" of the title is a body-builder who is murdered in the gym Lily uses. The plot focuses around the actions of a secretive white supremacist group that has sprung up in Shakespeare and the people who are trying to stop them.

    Part of the strength of the book comes from the fact that Lily is cast neither as Civil Rights Activist nor as a vigilante but as a woman trying to get by without drawing attention to herself but unable to turn away when people are being hurt.

    Lily sees herself as being able to do two things well: clean and fight. She sees a great deal of what is going on around her but does not comment on it. She is more likely to offer help or violence than words. She does what she thinks should be done and she refuses to back down from those who threaten her.

    But Lily is not a hard-boiled action-hero. The book shows her compassion in helping the sick and comforting the dying, her empathy with those who have been hurt, and her reflex to intervene when violence is being done to those who can't defend themselves.

    Lily doesn't set out, Miss Marple, style to investigate the white supremacist group but her job and her social contacts in Shakespeare mean she is in the wrong place at the wrong time often enough to be drawn into the action.

    There are some powerful scenes in this book. For me, the most powerful describes Lily's involvement in a bombing and its aftermath. This is an up close and personal view of what this kind of violence does to those involved in it. It is beautifully and convincingly written.

    The book confronts some difficult small town topics: racial tension; the reaction to a promiscuous white woman who has sex with, among others, a black man; Christian fundamentalist who believe that God speaks through them and that those who oppose them are not just wrong but evil; men who attack women; packs of men who commit violence; corrupt police officers who turn a blind eye or even lend a hand; the social mores that mean that none of this gets discussed in polite society. I don't think it sets out to be a politically correct, liberal book. These issues are filtered primarily by Lily's view of the world, not political dogma. Lily believes in evil, expects little of other people, hates bullies and bigots, sees promiscuity as an act of stupid carelessness because it makes the woman so vulnerable, and understands at a bone deep level, that victims are not responsible for the harm done to them.

    In this book, Lily has started to understand that she is not strongly enough attracted to either of the men in the first book to be more than friends with them. That she wants to maintain that friendship and build others with some of the women around her, shows a desire to expand the narrow life she had been living. The arrival of stranger (yes, he is tall, dark and handsome) with a past as troubled and complex as her own, gives her someone new to value and changes her priorities in ways that drive the plot in interesting directions.

    The only thing I would change in the book is the prologue. I often find these things irritating because they seem to imply that I will only read a book if I'm shown in the first few pages that something dramatic is going to happen real soon, honest. This particular prologue adds little to the book. The information it gives could have been presented with more skill and more context later. I'd have preferred to have done without it.

    But that's a small niggle. I enjoyed the book a great deal. By the end of it, I liked Lily when previously I had only admired her. Her world and her relationships have become real to me and I want to know more.

    There are three more novels in the series. I feel a Lily Bard fest coming on.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Shakespeare's Landlord: Lily Bard Mysteries, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 48 mins)
    • By Charlaine Harris
    • Narrated By Julia Gibson
    Overall
    (511)
    Performance
    (301)
    Story
    (298)

    From the Anthony Award-winning author of the immensely popular Sookie Stackhouse mysteries comes the first book starring Lily Bard, a reclusive cleaning lady with a penchant for karate. When Lily finds and reports a dead body, her shady past and connections to potential perpetrators make her a leading suspect.

    Bonnie says: "If your looking for Sookie leave this series alone"
    "Loved Lily Bard's strength in this dark novel"
    Overall
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    It turns out that you can no more judge a book by its title than by its cover.

    I'd been put off reading the Lily Bard books because the combination of Lily Bard and the word "Shakespeare" in the title of each novel reminded me of the twee and sugar-coated Aurora Teagarden books, which I had not enjoyed.

    I'm glad I overcame my prejudices and listened to the first Lily Bard novel.

    There is nothing sugar-coated here. Lily Bard is a survivor. Her old life has been stolen from her. She regards her current life as successful if she gets through each day quietly, without attracting any attention.

    Lily is strong, focused, observant but tight-lipped. She earns her living cleaning houses in the small town of Shakespeare. She comes alive when she is practising Karate. partly because of the joy of doing something so demanding well and partly because it stands between her and any future threat to make her a victim.

    Her life changes when, walking off her insomnia in the middle of the night, she notices somebody using her garbage can cart to dump a body. Despite her best efforts to protect the anonymous life she's built, events and her own strong will, pull Lily deeper into solving the murder, even at the cost of revealing her own past.

    The plot of "Shakespeare's Landlord" works as a conventional "whodunnit" mystery. Two things raise the book well above the average for this genre. The fist is that Lily Bard is a wonderful creation: strong but vulnerable, proud but wanting to stay in the background, curious but discrete, and afraid but brave. She seemed real to me. A woman to be admired, whether there is a mystery to solve or not. The second is Charlaine Harris' prose: she does not waste a word, does not indulge in extravagant descriptions, but the result is still a rich evocation of people and the town they live in.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • A Discovery of Witches

    • UNABRIDGED (24 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By Deborah Harkness
    • Narrated By Jennifer Ikeda
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (9801)
    Performance
    (7287)
    Story
    (7326)

    Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library.

    haesel says: "Where was this woman's editor?"
    "Enteraining fantasy"
    Overall
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    "A Discovery Of Witches" has a strong sense of place and how people live in them, even though the places are disparate - academic life in Oxford, long-established aristocracy in a Château in rural France, an old Family home in Madison New York.

    The creatures in the book - witches, vampires, demons, - are deftly redefined to create something new, intriguing and satisfyingly plausible.

    The pace is leisurely without being plodding. Deborah Harkness understands that for the action of the book to mean anything, we have to care about the people as people. She takes the time to show us what they care about, how they live and who they love. She is writing a trilogy and she isn't inclined to rush anything. She knows that those of us who devour these things love the details as much if not more than the action.

    I thought the start of the book was particularly strong. I was completely engaged with the life of Diana Bishop, a Yale History Professor doing research on Alchemical texts in the in the Bodleian library and spending her spare time rowing and running to burn off her endless energy. It's not easy to write about sitting in a library, reading and taking notes, and make it interesting, but Deborah Harkness pulls it off. This is clearly a world and a place she is at home with and the authenticity of it her descriptions provides the book with a solid base of reality which all good fantasy needs.

    The book is salted with historical references and literary quotations that feel right and which demonstrate the insatiable curiosity that drives Diana Bishop's passion for history.

    Deborah Harkness has a good ear for dialogue and a good understanding of the differences between how the British and the Americans use English. Jennifer Ikeda rises to the challenge of delivering the wide range of male and female voices and accents (with the exception of Glaswegian which came out too Edinburgh for me) and carried me along effortlessly in the story.

    The thing I am most ambivalent about, is Diana Bishop's relationship with Matthew Clairmont. At points it seems like the (almost too) perfect love affair. At other times Diana seems like a cult member, traumatized into being someone different from her natural self and unquestioningly putting Matthew's interests ahead of her own. Of course, this could be the definition of true love.

    At the start of the book, Diana is a strong, independent, successful woman. In the course of her relationship with Matthew, she abandons that independence and although she grows in power, she seems less confident and less able to cope.

    Part of what makes "A Discovery of Witches" worth reading is that I'm certain that the ambivalence I'm feeling is intentionally provoked by Deborah Harkness. Diana is a complex character who has been through multiple traumas and who is very far away from normal by anyone's standards. The Diana we meet in Oxford at the start of the book is not the Diana we meet in Madison at the end. One way to read the book is that the first Diana was an artificial construct, built by a woman hiding from her own true nature and refusing to engage with the world around her and that the book describes her journey to discover herself as a witch. Another reading is that the Diana we meet in Oxford had already been crippled by earlier events that keep her solitary and make her subject to anxiety attacks and dependent on strenuous exercise to stay calm. Events in France and in Madison further traumatise Diana and the woman she is at the end of the book is scarred and not fully whole. It's also possible to see the story as a romance where the real meaning of Diana's life IS her relationship with Matthew or to see Matthew as a predator who cannot stop himself from consuming Diana's life by taking control of her and changing who she is.

    In my view, this all makes "A Discovery of Witches" an entertaining read.

    There are a couple of things in the book that don't work for me. The sensual scenes are too Romance Writers of America for my taste. They lack the vivid reality the rest of the book has. I also the bringing together of creatures in Madison was a little too comfortable to be completely credible.

    One thing to be aware of before you buy "A Discovery of Witches": it is not really a free-standing novel. It is book one of a trilogy. If you're not up for reading all three then reading book one will not do much for you.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Lexicon

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 36 mins)
    • By Max Barry
    • Narrated By Heather Corrigan, Zach Appelman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (618)
    Performance
    (557)
    Story
    (564)

    At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics - at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets": adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.

    Tango says: "Fasten your seat belt..."
    "Innovative, clever, exciting, violent, SF"
    Overall
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    Max Barry is now one of my "I think I'll read everything he's written" authors.

    I've been reading science fiction for decades, so I know how rare it is to come across a book like "Lexicon" which has not just a new ideas, but a clever, well-thought through plot, written by someone who is skilled at dialogue, characterisation and action scenes and who can unfold the story in a way that engages the reader's intellect and emotions.

    The basic premise of "Lexicon" is that words have the power to control how we think and behave and that this power can be shaped into a weapon by those with the right skills.

    The characters constantly explain how influence and manipulation work: get someone to pay attention to the wrong thing, play on their emotions to shape their perception of good and evil, understand their personality and then pry their psyche apart. Despite this, it took me several chapters to realize that Max Barry had been manipulating me from the first page onwards.He did it by controlling the order in which I received information, who I received it from and the emotional terms used to convey it. At least twice in the novel I had to reset what I thought I knew to be true. Barry didn't cheat. All the information correctly to understand what is going on is there but my own assumptions make me see one thing and read another.

    A book that is about weaponising words is likely to appeal to those of us with a recreational addiction to fiction. We KNOW words have power, so we are ripe for the ideas in this novel. If, like me, you've been trained in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), public speaking, influencing skills, psychometric assessment and you read tarot cards and palms as a party trick, then the early parts of this book are frighteningly familiar. The book takes what I know I can do and then asks me to imagine what a motivated person, with REAL talent, no social ties, no inhibitions and the support of an organization with generations of research at their disposal, could achieve.

    "Lexicon" is filled with coercion, violence and killing from the first page. Max Barry doesn't pull his punches but he doesn't turn the violence into pornography either. He makes it too real and too repulsive for that.

    His main evil-incarnate character is suitably chilling but I could write that off as stereo-type. Elliot and Emily I got to know and like and care about, so what they did, to others, to each other and to themselves had much more impact.

    My only niggle with the book is the last chapter. It's not where I would have gone with this. It felt like the kind of thing Hollywood might have changed in the movie version to ensure they stayed firmly in the summer blockbuster segment. But then, I'd never have thought up something as clever and powerful as "Lexicon" in the first place, so I'll go with Barry's judgement.

    I listened to "Lexicon" as an audiobook, which, I think, made the book even more exciting. Zach Appleman did a splendid job as the rugged, world-weary, Elliot. His American accents are perfect and he at least managed to sound like he'd been to Australia. Heather Corrigan was marvellous at evoking Emily's vulnerability and her strength but her attempts at Australian accents ranged from unconvincing to inappropriately hilarious. Nevertheless, both narrators kept me listening, often on the edge of my seat.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Lone Wolf

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 56 mins)
    • By Jodi Picoult
    • Narrated By Natalia Payne, Louis Changchien, Celeste Ciulla, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1094)
    Performance
    (914)
    Story
    (921)

    In the wild, when a wolf knows its time is over, when it knows it is of no more use to its pack, it may sometimes choose to slip away. Dying apart from its family, it stays proud and true to its nature. Humans aren’t so lucky. Luke Warren has spent his life researching wolves. He has written about them, studied their habits intensively, and even lived with them for extended periods of time.

    Elle in the Great NorthWest says: "Typical Jodi Picoult plot, chik lit but good"
    "Excellent novel made even more compelling by audio"
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    Despite what many of the reviews and much of the marketing says, I don't see Jodi Picoult as Chic Lit. I see her as straightforward Lit. The gap between her and Barbara Kingsolver seems to me to be more one of style than intent. What they both have in common is the ability to get me inside the heads of multiple characters and see the choices that they face in a different light and empathise with them, even if I don't like them.

    "Lone Wolf" is structured around two Big Topic: what it means to be in a wolf pack, living in the moment and always to putting the pack first and the ethics of dealing with someone in a persistent vegetative state.

    The exploration of these topics was cleverly, and often dramatically, woven into the story, without leaving me feeling that I was being force-fed a lot of research and driven to a particular point of view.

    The accuracy of Jodi Picoult's depiction of wolves has been challenged. I think this misses the point. This is a work of fiction that explores the life of Luke, a man who is better able to relate to wolves than to his own family. All the descriptions of wolves are given by Luke, who may or may not be a reliable narrator. How he describes wolf behaviour is important for what it tells me about t Luke, not for its merits as a popular-science manual on wolves.

    Picoult uses the Big Topics as vehicles to help us understand what it means to be part of a family led by Luke, the charismatic "Lone Wolf" of the title, who is beloved by strangers, but who will always place his wolves ahead of his family.

    We see the impact of Luke on his family from the point of view of Cara, the daughter passionately devoted to her father but guilty about her role in the events that put him in a coma, Edward, the son who walked away from his family because he could not live with who his father had become, Georgie, the ex-wife who finally decided that she could not live with always coming second to Luke's wolves and, indirectly through extracts from Luke's autobiography, describing how he became "the man who lives with wolves".

    By using multiple first person accounts, some of which pre-date the main events and some of which recall previous events, Jodi Picoult makes clear that there is no single truth about who a person is or how a family works; that the past can be re-written and the future can be changed but that we remain, always, ourselves.

    The message I took from this books was that, unlike a wolf pack, where roles and rules are strongly enforced to place the security of the pack above the welfare of the individual, a human family is a series of choices and willingly made commitments that shape the individuals who live in them. The love between the family members is the strongest force determining the growth that the family enables and the damage that it inflicts.

    Jodi Picoult's writing and her decision to have each chapter from a specific character's point of view, already made the voices of the characters very distinct. Recorded Books' decision to cast different actors for each character makes the book stronger and much easier to listen to.

    My only quibble with the book is in the, short, last scene, which I don't think fits the rest of the story.

    I recommend this book as more than an entertaining read or tear-jerking chic lit. Read it as the literature it is and see whether you think it measures up.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Virgin Suicides

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Jeffrey Eugenides
    • Narrated By Nick Landrum
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (735)
    Performance
    (478)
    Story
    (484)

    This nationally best-selling novel from Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeffrey Eugenides was adapted into an acclaimed film by Academy Award-winner Sofia Coppola. A haunting yet wickedly funny tale, The Virgin Suicides has captivated countless readers with its intoxicating portrait of lost innocence. A brilliant fusion of dark humor and tragedy, it is an atmospheric, allegorical masterpiece about five oppressed, suicidal sisters and the boys who dream of rescuing them.

    Lexi Lou says: "Read this if you want to enjoy this audiobook"
    "A repulsive book that drained my will to listen"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Normally, I finish the books I start, especially when, like this one, they are well written and well narrated.

    I made it half way through this put book and put it away in disgust. I didn't want any more of it in my head.

    This isn't because I felt too emotionally distraught by experiencing a novel that centres around the death by suicide of five young sisters. There is no empathy for those women in this novel. The young women here are displayed as curiosities, barely distinguishable from one another, alien to the boy/man describing them, important because of the impact they have on the boys who observe them rather than because of any intrinsic worth. They are the thunderstorm the boys stand in. How the boys felt in the rain is what Jeffrey Eugenides is concerned with, not what it means to be a storm.

    The book is set in an American White Middle Class suburb in the 1950's and is told, twenty years after the fact, by a man who was a boy at the time of the suicides and who is still sufficiently obsessed by the events to be investigating them, not so much, it seems, to unravel a mystery as to revive the taste of it in his mouth.

    Eugenides writes well. This does not endear his novel to me because he chooses to deploy his skill not to write an elegy that gives meaning to the suicides of the young women, but to write an almost masturbatory reminiscence of what it felt like to be a white boy with no first-hand knowledge of girls, lusting and longing for the Lisbon Sisters, without actually being able to see them as people.

    The era itself, including its racism and its sexual repression, is presented with unquestioning love. There seems to be more regret in the author's mind for the loss of a time when nice families raked leaves off their lawns in the Fall than there is for the death of any or all of the Lisbon sisters.

    The adult narrator, recalling his own reactions as a boy, seems to long for a time when girls were a mystery and boys spent hours talking to each other about what it might be like to touch them.

    The book seemed to me to be steeped in a repressed but deeply felt homoeroticism. The description of Trip Fontaine and his encounter with Lux Lisbon is a good example of this. Trip is described with a tenderness and admiration, bordering on love, both as a beautiful youth and as a middle-aged man, wrecked by drug use. Lux, in her short, frenzied, assault on Trip, is presented as a threat, an unleashed animal, something alien and dangerous and far from human.

    The longer I listened to this well written, well narrated book, the more I was repulsed by its nostalgia for ignorance and its voyeuristic delight in treating women as an alien, not quite human, species.

    Like all good story tellers, Eugenides is a skilled manipulator. He uses the passive, unquestioning, but articulate romanticism of the narrator to lull the reader into an uncritical assessment of this world and the people in it. He dresses his book with literary allusions, from character names that are amusingly descriptive, through selected quotations from poetry, to a stylistic nod at Steinbeck, and he sets this all back far enough in time that the use of tinted lenses to view the world is seen as appropriate.

    Unfortunately, I am repelled by this particular manipulation. It is at best hollow and uncritical and at worst sets out to eulogize a male view of the world that I despise.

    O.K., so he's a Pulitzer Prize winner. That wasn't my decision. Putting his book away halfway through was. Life is too short to spend on well expressed ideas that curdle the soul.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Web of Lies: Elemental Assassin, Book 2

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 17 mins)
    • By Jennifer Estep
    • Narrated By Lauren Fortgang
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1583)
    Performance
    (1218)
    Story
    (1211)

    "Curiosity is definitely going to get me dead one of these days. Probably real soon. I'm Gin Blanco. You might know me as the Spider, the most feared assassin in the South. I'm retired now, but trouble still has a way of finding me. Like the other day when two punks tried to rob my popular barbecue joint, the Pork Pit. Then there was the barrage of gunfire on the restaurant. Only, for once, those kill shots weren't aimed at me. They were meant for Violet Fox."

    Robert says: "Brilliant, Unique, Interesting with just 1 oddety"
    "Good story Lazy editing Poor production"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    When I read "Spiders's Bite", the first book in this series. last September I thought the series showed promise because, Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin of the title, was refreshingly amoral and because Lauren Fortgang's narration brought the book alive.

    "Web of Lies" has some good things going for it - if it hadn't I would never have made it to the end of the book because it also has a lot of things wrong with it.

    There is a basis for a really good series here. The characters continue to develop. We learn more about them through well-handled back-story and by seeing how they behave under physical and moral pressure. Estep makes sure that Gina Blanco is not one-dimensional, giving us just enough reasons to care about her to want her to win and to explain the loyalty others show her, while making her just broken enough to do the violent things that are asked of her.

    The cast of characters continues from the previous novel and new ones are introduced that you know you will enjoy learning more about. The goody-two-shoes Detective male interest of the first novel gets what he deserves.

    There is clearly a book-spanning story arc and it's intriguing enough for me to want to see how it plays out.

    The plot for the novel, a basic "Magnificent Seven" set up, is well handled and has enough sub-plots to keep me interested and it's set in spectacular places that are well described.

    The dialogue works well. The actions scenes and the violence are convincing and engaging without being pornographic and the magic has enough constraints and consistency to make it convincing.

    So what could possibly go wrong?

    Estep's editor seems to have been asleep at the wheel. There are number of times when passages giving back story are repeated, sometimes word for word, a few chapters apart. It was like listening again and again to a "Previously, on Elemental Assassin" segment designed for readers who either haven't been paying attention or suffer from short-term memory loss. I can tell you without any reference to the text that Gin was with Fletcher for seventeen years, that's she's been an assassin for seventeen years, that she has a rune on her hand: "a small circle with eight radiating lines, a spider rune, the symbol for patience." because they are repeated so often they are almost a chorus.

    It's natural for authors to repeat themselves from one scene to another, including use the same words. Its the editors job to find and eliminate these repetitions.

    A good editor would also have prevented Estep from over-using phrases like "I looked at him with my grey eyes" After the third time I was wondering if Gin either had eyes of another colour that she could have used instead or was able to use something other than her eyes to look at people.

    A good editor would have corrected the grammar, at least to the point of getting endings and tenses right.

    A good editor would have prevented Gin Blanco from going "Mmmmm" EVERY time she sees Detective Doright.

    I was left wondering if this book had an editor at all.

    My experience of the book was then worsened by the audiobook production standards.

    I know Lauren Fortgang can be a good narrator. I enjoyed her reading "Shadow and Bone" and she made "Spider's Bite" come alive but this time I felt that I was listening to a sight-reading in a rehearsal rather than the finished product: stresses where in the wrong places, she ran out of breath and there were inappropriate, pointless pauses. This all adds up to poor production in my view.

    Then there's the sex scene. It's not really a sex scene. It's a "Romance Writer's of America", guaranteed -not-to-offend, scene with all the erotic impact of a cold shower. Lauren Fortgang's decision to read this passage slowly, in what I assume was an effort to inject some passion into the dull prose, had me reaching for the "play at twice normal speed" button on my iPod.

    I'm going to stick with the series to find out what happens. I just Jennifer Estep got an editor who can help her make her books as good as I think they could be and a producer who gives the narrator an opportunity to do more than phone in their performance.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Wretched of Muirwood: Legends of Muirwood, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By Jeff Wheeler
    • Narrated By Kate Rudd
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (287)
    Performance
    (271)
    Story
    (272)

    The Wretched of Muirwood, the opening novel in the Muirwood Trilogy, is the tale of the orphan Lia - who is part of a pariah caste known only as the "wretched", a people unloved, unwanted, and destined to a life of servitude. Forbidden to read or write, and forced to slave away in the Abbey kitchen, Lia is all but resigned to her fate. But when an injured squire named Colvin is abandoned at the Abbey kitchen, opportunity arises, and Lia conspires to hide Colvin and change her life forever.…

    CJ says: "Nice Surprise from Unknown Author"
    "Well written YA Sword and Sourcery novel but..."
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    There are lots of good things to say about this book: the world is imagined in great detail and well described, it is well plotted, the main character is likeable, brave and compassionate, and the magic system is novel and well thought through. There are storms and babies abandoned on the Abbey steps, and swords and horses, an evil Sheriff, brave young knights, a corrupt King, a rebellion that turns into a war and of course, the fate of the world hangs upon the bravery of a very young girl.

    And yet… I couldn’t give myself up to this book.

    As a book for young adults, I understand that some of the darker possibilities have to be toned down a bit, but books like “Divergent” and “Written In Red” or “Anna Dressed in Blood” manage to tap into a real sense of evil without having to get the splatter-movie level. “The Wretched of Muirwood” sells evil short. The bad guys are just that: bad guys. They are corrupt and brutal but they have all the reality of a faceless mob-boss in a Batman comic.

    And the good guys are SO good, it’s like biting into an over-sweet apple: it sets your teeth on edge.

    But the real source of my lack of comfort with this book is the magic system. In this world, magic comes from accessing The Medium. Good Guys, born into the right bloodlines, do this by surrendering themselves to the will of The Medium, closing their mind to doubt and fear and doing what The Medium tells them to. Bad guys use an amulet-based technology to force the Medium to do what THEY want to do. The price they pay for this is a slow but inexorable poisoning of their souls.

    In other words, the Good Guys in this are fanatical Jihadists that The Medium uses as magical suicide bombers while the bad guys are trying to level the playing field between themselves and an elite set of families who refuse to share either knowledge or power. I hate everything about this set of ideas.

    The fact that this snagged at me badly enough to reduce my enjoyment of the book is. of course. a tribute to the quality of the writing.

    I knew with absolute certainty that, if I was in this world, I would be a bad guy. I just hope I’d make a better job of it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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