I so wanted to like this book. It has much that appealed to me - strong women, quilting, a bit of history and the courage of all who participated in the underground railway.
But the characters are uniformly predictable. No one evolves or develops; there are no moral quandaries or moments of self-doubt and enlightenment. No one's beliefs, character or behavior veers off the path of stereo-type.
The two primary characters are the same unpleasant, judgmental, self-righteous and selfish personality, living 150 years apart. The colorless characters who surround them are generic and almost disposable. Silva's gentleman friend appears to be added as a total after thought when an editor noted there were no men portrayed in modern times. Scenes with Andrew should have been pruned entirely as he adds nothing to the novel.
This might be forgivable if the story were credible, but it isn't. No matter how much we may wish it were not so, a black family, slave or free, would never have received the same treatment at the hand of society and the law as a white family would. Discussions of "held without charge" and "due process" were laughable in the context of a rural community in mid-19th century. They would be lucky to see a circuit-riding judge once a year for proper trials. An immigrant with no money and no husbandry experience would not gain prominence and wealth as a horse breeder in just a few years. Gerda talks about being isolated and far from any resources on the farm, but she is able to drive her sister-in-law to and from work in the carriage every day. The only time she complains about being overworked, there are 3 women in the home full-time.
Anachronisms abound. One of the most telling to me was that when a dirty, rough stranger touched one of the women in the early period, there was not a hue and cry over the sacrilege, but when a modern woman accidentally brushed the back of a man's hand in the library, she was mortified.
The narrator was not horrible except in the way she voiced a female slave from Virginia. But I kept imagining Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher (in "Murder She Wrote") with her thin lips pursed in disapproval when someone behaves in a way she finds deplorable. I do not know if the women would have been less unpleasant with a different narrator, but Christina Moore certainly reinforced my already negative opinion of them
Finally, Silva is obsessed with her ancestors and how noble they were. A few problems with this are obvious. Noble ancestors do not a noble offspring make. No one is wholly noble - something Silva seems to find unimaginable. And as the last in this noble line, just who is Silva preserving this heritage for? She should be finding a research university to curate everything, not hoarding it for herself.
This book could have unfolded with new discoveries about history and all that we cherish and value, but instead it bores with no whiff of nuance or ambiguity. That is sad.
I have not read any of the Royal Spyness stories so far but they constantly come up in my "recommended for you" list so I thought this would be a good introduction. The story is predictable and light weight, but mildly amusing in its own way.
There are several glaring mistakes in the story itself which definitely reduced my relaxed listening. A couple of examples:
A police inspector enters a ball in progress and makes a general announcement to all of the attendees. That would not even happen today, let alone nearly a century ago when all police, even inspectors, were generally relegated to the servants' entrance and waiting in the kitchen until the man of the house could be called to attend to him.
The lady of the house asks her 19 year old cousin / houseguest if she slept alone the night of a ball. Maybe an older, married women may be asked that by her best friend, but not a 19 year old who is considered fodder for the royal marriage engines.
There were a couple of things about the narration that made the book harder for me to listen to. A primary character is described as having careful but correct English and that is how he is read. Later the same character reappears and suddenly has a strong brogue - no comment or notice taken but a completely different voice. And as with many English readers, the American women are shrill, loud and harsh. There may be women out there who sound like that and perhaps even Wallis Simpson did, but I personally have never known any. It almost makes me want to turn the book off, the voice is so discordant.
I may try a full length Royal Soyness but with a different reader. I do like the premise and mysteries in this time period are among my favorites (I am a huge fan of the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood). I am glad this one was only 65 minutes long.
This is a fascinating topic and there are sections which I really enjoyed in this book. The Volkswagen story was a great expansion on the vague outline I already knew. We have all heard stories of the hard struggle Henry Ford suffered to get his cheap, reliable Model T on America's roads, but I learned new details here.
But there is way too much that reads like the newspaper articles Ingrassia wrote throughout his career. Names and dates, education, work history, job titles - way too much to remember and certainly too much to care about. The "man on the street" quotes especially grated on me - I do not care why 200 average Joes bought their first Beetle or what they think of BMV drivers.
The main focus of the book is on the cars of the 1950s to 1970s. I wish Ingrassia had spent time on the shortsighted management decisions of the late 70s and 80s and the blinders the Big 3 wore when it came to Japanese cars. I remember an apocryphal quote from one Detroit-based executive "I am not worried about Japanese imports - no one I know drives a Japanese car." Well, I grew up in California and just about everyone I knew drive a foreign car. From this book, you would think the only Hondas on the road are the Accords built in Ohio. The one exception is the final chapter which discusses the game-changing Prius.
So while I did learn some new aspects of the business, the scattered focus of this book left me frustrated. This could have been a much better book. I have a nagging feeling that I read this book before - in the front page center column stories of the Wall Street Journal where Ingrassia spent his career. There is a big difference between a great feature article and a great book.
The most amusing part of this edition is an introduction by Hugh Walpole stating that this book (originally published in 1920) is destined to become a classic of children's literature, unlike the pale imitations such as Wind in the Willows. Doolittle does not hold up well to aging, and even for its time there are disturbing patterns in the story.
Racism is prevalent and unlike stories such as Tom Sawyer, there are no cultural references here to provide a springboard for discussion with children. The book professes to take place in the time of our grandfathers but there are no surrounding clues. Even in 1920 I hope that terms such as nigger and blackie were on their way out of children's literature. A major plot point involves an African prince whose greatest wish is to be a white man. Along with the other Africans, he is easily fooled by the superior white man.
There is only one female character, Dolittle's sister Sarah, who acts as his housekeeper. When she tires of his antics she threatens to leave him and the poverty she has endured to get married. And that is all we hear from her. Oh, she was made happy by a new dress earlier in the story.
The apparently Arab pirate, Ben Ali is all evil, and no even a good Muslim as he craves the meat of Dolittle's pig pet Gub-Gub. But he and his band agree to give up their pirating way and become farmers after stupidly losing their ship to Dolittle.
The animals capture and hold captive the pushmi-pullyu to entice him to go on tour in England to make money for Dolittle. He is brainwashed for three days before he finally relents and agrees to go. He is told how wonderful it will be, but the same monkeys who captured him stay behind in Africa since it is their home.
The superiority of the English man is an overriding message here - one I am not comfortable with. I do not think everything has to be politically correct but this book made me cringe more than once.
The narrator is pretty good overall but his pig grunts bothered me. It effectively communicated "pig" but they are not in the book and to my ear quite unnecessary.
The two primary characters are small time robbers (grocery stores, liquor stores, bars) who ride out their luck until they fall in with some serious guys. They were not particularly appealing personalities to me. I appreciate that they did not intend to hurt anyone, but they are so careless and thoughtless that the inevitable happens.
The women are not as one-dimensional as some reviewers believe - there are a few women who really move the story forward. The "career girls" by the pool were a 1970s reality - looking for a bit of fun until they had to settle down. Teachers, clerks, models and other career girls were the ones who could afford to live independently in a singles apartment complex. They were as superficial in their relationships as the guy next door, even if that guy was a petty criminal.
These two guys, however, are not suave and slickly charming; they are insecure, whiny and weak. No one in the book was interesting enough for me to care what happened to them. Many much better Elmore Leonard novels out there (Get Shorty and Pronto come to mind)
This is clearly a classic of the horror / sci-fi genre but it did not age well to my ear. Not only is the story itself incredible knowing what we do today, but they way the story plays out to stereotypes and prejudice is disturbing. Characters who have physical or mental features different than the "normal" are mistrusted and treated with fear. In all cases that fear is well placed - as if simply being an albino or having large hairy hands makes you much more likely to murder your family.
That said, this is an author who broke fresh ground and inspired many well respected authors of the last several decades. In that context, it is worth reading (or listening to) for the foundation Lovecraft establishes.
The narrator is excellent for this book.
Yes, this is a Great American Novel, a classic of its time. The story of a back country crusader who becomes the powerful governor of an unnamed state (which is, of course, Louisiana) carries, at its core, important messages about America, politics and mankind.
But they are buried under mountains of words. There are intricate descriptions of people who we only glimpse once and never return to the story (anyone remember the man at the California gas station? you listened to 10 minutes about him). Peoples' actions are described multiple times with only slightly different phrases. Nothing is left to the imagination. And that is what I missed most in this book - the way good writing sends my mind reaching for images and stories beyond the words on the page.
It was also difficult for me to continue with a 20 hour book when I actively dislike the first person character. Yes, he does exhibit strong racist and sexist attitudes, but this was written in the 1940s and takes place in the South, so that is not the problem. But he is amoral man with no beliefs of his own. He is not even interesting - he simply observes interesting things.
Literature is often complimented for its spare writing, with the bones of the story expressed and the rest only alluded to - a style exemplified by Ernest Hemingway. If the opposite of that style is flowery and overgrown as in Ayn Rand, this story clearly falls into the second group. Too much for my tastes; I do not prefer being smothered by the vines and tendrils of a book.
I have mixed feelings about this book. In the context of an adventure story that every boy dreams of, Time Pirate is hard to beat. But if consistency within a story and within the historical context it takes place is important to you, Time Pirate falls far short.
Our young hero is resourceful and brave. Great military and political leaders look to him for advice. His foolish exploits always end in success. Victory over the dastardly bad guys is a foregone conclusion. There is not a whiff of nuance or equivocation here.
But he consistently makes decisions that anyone can see are wrong - and those same great leaders do not challenge him. He does not take action that will clearly further his cause, but may eliminate a few chances for excitement in the book. He has intricate detailed knowledge of military battles and maneuvers in some cases and in others does not demonstrate the most basic understanding of the principles of battle.
In once scene, a great military leader passes triumphantly through a town, recognized by every soldier he passes. Moments later, he presses the man he has come to see into keeping his presence a closely guarded secret as knowledge of his presence could ruin great plans. Huh? On the occasions he is captured, he is put into custody with all of his worldly possessions, including firearms, knives and the time traveling orb. This does not make sense even to an eight year old.
But the story does move along and the adventures never stop. John Shea is an excellent narrator for this book although he does exhibit some odd narrative techniques. His pacing is far from steady and some of his voices are caricatures. But, his style seems to work well for this story of pirates, generals, airplanes and ships.
As did many other listeners, I had a very difficult time with this narrator. He is not a bad reader - this is simply NOT the series for him. He loses all of the Venetian personality of the story for me. The recurring female characters especially grated on my ear (Signorina Elettra, Paola Brunetti and Chiara Brunetti). Paola's aristocrat father was also way off the mark; to my ear he sounded like a weak, sniveling husk trying to live off the glories of the past (not the man we know from other books in the series).
I will not give complete blame to the narrator though, as I was shocked at one passage that refereed to Signorina Elettra responding "girlishly" - something we have not seem before or since from the sophisticated, elegant assistant.
The story was well developed and we met more colorful characters from Guido's past. The tale of trade in illicit artwork is perfect for the machinations of the rusty and ponderous Italian legal system. There are surprise discoveries and sad realizations. Guido makes mistakes and has to compromise justice - something that always breaks his heart. This book is a good addition to the series.
I, for one, would be happy to buy another copy and listen again if we could have David David Colacci narrate.
And that is not a compliment! The author "documents" the thoughts of the characters, even moments before they die. I know there are diaries and manuscripts, but they would never give the detailed level of dialogue and internal observations that are present here. If this had been sold as a fictionalized account of three characters, I would have been satisfied.
This is a "tale of the Yukon" and is interesting as that. It is NOT the story of the Yukon and if you come to it expecting a broader view of how and why the Klondike gold rush happened, you will be disappointed. Given those warnings however, it is an amazing story that gives a taste of the character of the times. It is about 30% too long for the subject, but the story moves along and kept me listening.
With scant knowledge of where they are headed or how the world will change while they are en route, two bands of intrepid men head for the Pacific Northwest to assert their dominion over the land and, more importantly, the fur trade.
Cultural differences between the partners (who have the most to gain financially), voyageurs (French Canadians who are expert boatmen), trappers and the Native Americans lead to ghastly mistakes with deadly consequences. The arrogance of the European mindset is difficult to overcome and the primary barrier a successful expedition.
Although I have spent much of my life in the Pacific Northwest, this is a story I had never heard. Perhaps that is because their motives were completely financial - no superficial talk about Manifest Destiny or God's will to give a patina of morality. The men were brave and often heroic but they were also stupid, indecisive and foolish. They were so far from home that the only choice was to go on, whatever lay ahead.
Running two stories along parallel paths can sometimes be difficult to follow, but this book does a good job with both the over-land and sea expeditions. At the very beginning of the book, there is a chapter which actually takes place at almost the close of the story. It comes across as a bit of a gimmick to me - and this story does not need any tricks to keep your interest. The rescue ship in that first chapter is actually one of the least engaging parts of the story.
Other than that one, admittedly minor, complaint, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and learned a great deal. The reader was good, no distracting tics to bother me. The pace is appropriate to the material.
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