This was an odd book - compelling in its way (I did finish it), but often frustrating and downright uncomfortable to get through. The storyline, and the elements that make it up, are the compelling part. It's summarized elsewhere, so I won't do so here. But the characters are all either unsufferably good or insufferably bad. When they are insufferably good, they walk on water to the point of ridiculousness. When they are bad, they are very very bad. And Bryce Courtenay makes sure you know that, through overly written and thoroughly unpleasant scenes that drag on and on and on. The problem with audiobooks is that you can't easily skip over small sections because you don't know when they end. You're forced to plod through. As for the narrator, he's not too bad - he uses accents effectively, but at times indiscriminately, when they don't make sense (why would a woman, Dutch or not, who grew up in Java speak the native language with a heavy Dutch accent?)
A bad reader can wreck a great book, and this was pretty much the case. Frederick Davidson's accents may have been accurate, but they were also cartoonish and incredibly annoying. It's a credit to the story that I stuck it out, but such a shame that this particular reader was selected to deliver it.
I really enjoyed this book. I'm not not a serious foodie, don't watch cooking shows on tv, and really wasn't that familiar with Jacques Pepin. I do enjoy reading food biographies, though, and always vow to become a foodie when they are really good. This one was really good - highly enjoyable, good humored, and with enough sensory detail I wanted to head straight to a cook store after every chapter. The reader was really exceptional - I could believe he was Jacques Pepin, telling his own story. He never sounded like he was reading (save for the odd pauses punctuating the book throughout which I suspect are ends of lines or pages - but I got used to that). I have found that native English speaking actors in Audiio books - when called upon to use a French accent - often use extremely unpleasant and over-the-top interpretations. I've given up several audiobooks because of that. Michel Chevalier, who is the genuine article, should be required listening for anyone narrating an audiobook who wants to sound French, rather than like a French caricature.
I really wanted to enjoy this book, and as I became accustomed to the somewhat cold characters and started to simply luxuriate in the wonders of the circus, I began to really enjoy it. The descriptive writing is truly splendid. However, few of the characters are really that interesting in themselves. The reader does not help this. He's actually a very good reader, and I think with another book I'd enjoy him. Not this book though. His measured, somewhat aloof reading, although it seems to be well matched to tone of the book, interfered with the magic and made the characters seem even less accessible. This may be a book that's better read the traditional way, so your imagination has a chance to absorb it.
This was just an amazing book, read by a superb reader. I was utterly absorbed. The story was so rich with characters and ideas, and surged with an authenticity that made it fascinating.
I really enjoyed this book more than any I've listened to or read in a long time. It took me two tries to get going on it, but once I did, I was hooked. I wouldn't have thought I could have done so on an economic thriller (frankly, financial stuff generally puts me to sleep), but the story was told so well I wanted to drive around the block all night long to find out what happened next. The two ultimately converging story lines played together very nicely, and all the characters were intriguing. Christopher Lane did a superb job of narration - he is equally facile with men and women, various accents, personalities. Probably the best narrator at all of those I've heard.
I really enjoyed listening to the first book. I just started on the second. How disappointing - as other reviewers have noted, the reader is terrible. And, I'm sorry to say, I also purchased the third book at the same time, and it's the same reader. We'll see how it goes - hopefully I can filter out the voice and just listen to the words... or buy the hardcopy.
I really enjoyed this book most of the time, although it could be unrelenting. If I could have given 4.5 stars, I would have. John Lee mostly does an excellent job reading. My only complaint is that he redoes the voice=character_type assignments from Pillars. His Godwyn sounds just like Wallerin (sic). But Godwyn is supposed to be very charismatic, excellent at persuading people. Mr. Lee always reads him as snide and arrogant - that's the easy way, since Godwyn is a bit of a snake, but I think if he'd been read as he had been written, it would have been more interesting. Otherwise, I liked the characterizations.
The book itself was wonderful, beautifully written, and completely engaging -5 stars. The reader did a fine job with the narrative parts - 5 stars also. Unfortunately, the Monty Pythonesque falsetto the reader used for women and children's voices was extremely annoying to me, and detracted severely. Every time a woman or child spoke, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. Once I got used to it, it wasn't quite so bad and the book was compelling enough to listen though that. But I won't get a book with this reader again.
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