Zane Grey wrote simple Westerns in the "romantic" vein; the kind where the good guys are always noble, the women pure, and the bad guys are just plain evil. They're not realistic or modern in anyway, and sometimes his portrayals of Native Americans are simply offensive. But in a story like this, about a young man forced to kill and then flee his home and make his way among bad men, Grey's strengths seem to me to shine. His landscapes are clearly drawn, and the cowboys, gunslingers and lawmen speak of life, death and the vicissitudes of fate in phrases sometimes almost Shakespearean.
In this story the hero's life plays out against the vivid backdrop of SW Texas' cliffs and arroyos. Amidst the wasted and sometimes evil lives of the outlaws hiding there, young Buckley Duane strives to keep his humanity and morals in tact. Along the way he manages to bring out the best in several older outlaws, rids the area of some evil men, and acquires a reputation for indiscriminate killing he doesn't deserve. An opportunity to save Jenny, the chaste young girl he encounters with the outlaws, could be his salvation or his undoing. Eventually Duane is invited by McNelly, the famous captain of the Texas Rangers, to help clean the outlaws out of the area that once harbored him.
One of the strengths of this recording is the narrator, Ed Sala, whose warm, laid-back and slightly twangy tones are perfect for this book. I often turned it on as much to enjoy his story telling skills as to hear more of the plot. There weren't many female characters, but I didn't find myself cringing as I listened to them like I sometimes do when narrators are having to portray the opposite sex. I would definitely listen to more books told by Sala.
First, let me say that the professor is a very entertaining speaker, easy to listen to, with a pleasant voice. (He could easily be Gandalf or Dumbledore, I think.) Each segment is about 30 minutes long, so they never drag, and he spends some time recapping story lines and pivotal scenes for those who aren't familiar with the characters. How effectively that works for someone truly ignorant of them I can't say, as I knew all of them, and so will many listeners who have read the Westernized classics. This is basically a survey of Western Lit through it's memorable characters, with the lecturer examining why each one has so captured our imaginations and, in some cases, survived for centuries.
In the course of the lectures he often mentions other books that have taken off from these classics, so the listener has a good chance of finding some new ideas for their To-Be-Read pile. (He doesn't scorn to mention television, movies, or comics, either.) Another plus is that each character is given a separate chapter in the recording, so it's easy to jump around and pick out your favorites for a repeat listen.
I recommend this survey. If you're an avid classic reader you might not learn too much that is new, but you'll probably pick up a few interesting tidbits, and I suspect you'll enjoy revisiting so many fascinating characters, as I did.
One thing I would have liked before I purchased was a listing of the characters that are included, so here it is, in order:
Bilbo Baggins/ Odysseus/ Aeneas/ Guinevere/ The Wife of Bath/ Cressida/ Beowulf/ Thor/
Robin Hood/ Don Quixote/ Robinson Crusoe/ Elizabeth Bennet/ Natty Bumppo and Woodrow Call/ Uncle Tom/ Huckleberry Finn/ Sherlock Holmes/ Dracula/ Mowgli/ Celie (from The Color Purple)/ Winston Smith/ James Bond/ Fairy Tale Heroines/ Lisbeth Salandar/ Harry Potter
(Note - He pronounces Quixote as QUICKS-ut. You'll just have to put up with it if it annoys you.)
I won't try to retell the story here, only say that I've read all the current Stephanie Plum novels - the early ones several times each. This is my first time listening to them, however, and I really can only give the narrator an OK. She sounds too old and mature to be Stephanie; Ranger and Morelli sound more cheesy than hot; and worst of all to me, Grandma Mazur comes across as an elderly Italian man. I kept doing double-takes when I realized it was supposed to be Grandma talking. She sounded more like the Godfather to me.
I liked the story well enough to enjoy listening, but if it had been my first intro to them I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much. So I can only recommend these if you know you love the stories or you're pretty forgiving of narrators, I'm afraid.
Diana Wynne Jones' books are the kind I wish I'd encountered when I was young. Magical fantasies often featuring strong girls, they're fun, clean and well written. Howl's Moving Castle is one of her best known. It tells of Sophie, the eldest of three girls, who knows magical tradition well enough to realize the oldest child never wins great love or great fame, so when her father dies she settles into the boring life she's always expected would be hers. Then a witch's curse leads her to an eccentric magician, and she finds life requires all of her courage and intelligence. Well-plotted, this book pulls you along with Sophie for an adventure young people and adults can all enjoy.
The narrator is especially good, voicing the men and women of the story so well I sometimes forgot I wasn't listening to a dramatization. Her pacing is excellent, too. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in spending some enjoyable hours with interesting characters you will care about in a story that that takes some surprising and delightful twists. It deserves to be called "Magical".
I read the first few Amelia Peabody books years ago, and remembered enjoying them, but I dislike reading books in first person and eventually got tired of Amelia's total self-absorption, so I stopped. When I saw that the first novel was available as an audio book I was delighted. I find listening to first person novels much nicer than reading them, and that was true of this book.
Amelia Peabody is outspoken, confident, adventurous and a little naive. The story, a trifle old-fashioned, is a fun mix of exotic travel, mystery and a little romance. I felt the narrator did an excellent job of reading Amelia, whose voice was exactly what I'd imagined when I read the book. However, I dislike the was she portrays men's voices. They all sound either cartoony, with a slight lisp, or effeminate. Radcliff is clearly a masculine, testosterone-laden fellow, but here he sounds like a young boy who's voice hasn't changed.
I'm still glad I purchased the book. the story and portrayal of Amelia more than make up for the deficiencies in the men's voices. I was genuinely sorry when we reached the end and will definitely look forward to hearing this one again.
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