Like a dancing bear, the key issue concerning "The Storyteller" isn't how well it's done, but that fact that it's done at all.
The fact that a book like this, with so much excellent and accurate information about not just the Shoah, but also about the people involved and the culture in Europe at the time, is simply amazing. The fact that an awesome number of readers not only read or listened to it, but reported liking or even loving it, is even more amazing. It's reaffirming, in some simple way. In a world where way too many people, on too many continents, are openly saying they wished Hitler had succeeded, it's good to know that opinion isn't shared by everyone.
I'm also astonished at the amount of research Ms. Picoult -- or her research assistants -- did. Although the main story line -- the writing of the story about the vampire or golem -- is fictional, virtually all of the stories that comprise Minka's experiences before and after her incarceration in the camps are factual and written about by actual survivors. In order to come up with all these little stories, someone did a whale of a lot of reading to find them all. That's impressive.
Also unusual is the fact that several times, Ms. Picoult manages to make the very clear distinction between Jewish "forgiveness" and that of the Christians. That was brave -- and much appreciated, at least by this Jew. This is a theme that almost never appears as a plot point -- at least not favorably -- in contemporary fiction, and it blew me away, how well she did it. Kol hakavod!
... which made it disappointing, I have to admit, that when Leo decides to take Sage to a shul in a subtle attempt to reconnect her to her roots, that he took her to a reform synagogue. That was a major false note and very disappointing. What that meant was that as Sage sat there, contemplating that her grandmother in her youth had said these same prayers, attended these same services, that simply wasn't true. Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat services at an orthodox shul would have been 100% familiar to her grandmother -- orthodox services haven't changed -- but in a reform organization, an awful lot would be different to Minka I'd guess that she would have been shocked. What a bummer! Since Ms. Picoult goes go far to be accurate in her Shoah history, why fall apart over that issue?
Even so, I greatly enjoyed the book. I'm delighted that it's out there, that a lot of people who would never think of picking up and reading a book on the Holocaust can get so much accurate history from a contemporary and compelling novel like this.
Unfortunately, I can't tell which of the narrators read the part of Leo, but he was absolutely excellent. Great voice, and perfect timing for Leo's many funny lines. Whichever of them it was, he was great.
On the whole? Great book. Very well done.
I was so delighted to see this whole series on Audible -- at least it appears the first 15 are here, those that Michael Gruber either wrote, or co-wrote, depending on who you believe. The books with Gruber are excellent, just excellent -- action packed, filled with moments of pure hilarity followed by white-knuckle situations, all played out with very likable characters, and best of all, so filled with inside stories of what goes on in the legal system it's impossible to put down.
This is the first of the series, where Butch and the love of his life, Marlene Ciampi meet -- a good introduction, because the series gets even more interesting later, after they're married and have a child who turns out to be a language prodigy, speaking any number of languages fluently, including Chinese. Her unique abilities lead the books in whole new directions and every one of them are just marvelous.
I read the whole series when they started to come out in the 1980's. I loved them so much I packed and moved my creased and tattered paperbacks every time I moved for decades. Now that I can get them on Audible -- or on Kindle, I see -- I can finally let the paper versions go.
As I listened to this one again, I was reminded of how little things have changed in the world of criminal justice since the 1980's. The same people are still committing the same crimes, being put into the same criminal justice systems, with the same woeful result. As Butch Karp remarks, "The criminal justice system is not just, but it most certainly is criminal." Yes, it was in 1988, and still is today -- which makes for some really good books, if nothing else.
Normally I wouldn't even have read this book, but I'd come across a free copy of Kellerman's immediately prior book, "The Beast", which alluded to Peter Decker's retirement from LAPD and his and Rina's move to the East Coast, and that piqued my interest. Curious about how that could happen, I bought this one.
Sigh. Faye Kellerman wrote some of the world's finest fiction in the early books in this series -- Ritual Bath, Sacred and Profane, etc etc. They were -- and remain -- exquisite, in any sense you want to consider them. Informative, interesting, great characters, unique world, they are absolutely fascinating, just the best. I've read and listened to the first five or six many times over. Then? I don't know what happened, but the books became clunkers -- maybe she got tired of her characters herself, I don't know. In any event, I stopped reading them.
So here we are, in 2014, 28 years after the publication meeting Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus in "Ritual Bath", and I realized I've grown up with these people. And they've aged too -- there's no Kinsey Millhone fantasy-life going on here: they don't remain ever-youthful, stuck in 1986. They've grown up, now grown old -- and boy, they never seem to be able to stop talking about it.
That's one of the main problems with this book. Since I consumed this as an audible book, I can't account for actual pages, but it seems to me that there are very few pages in this book where there isn't some agonizing reference to their advanced ages. Newbie rich-kid and resident twerp Tyler McAdams constantly refers to Decker as "Old Man", which is insolent enough, but that's just for starters. Marge Dunn and Scott Oliver -- Decker's former partner/coworkers, make cameo appearances, and they, too, grouse about growing old. Then Rina starts chiming in, reminding Decker that he ISN'T old, which means, of course, that he is.
So more than a "mystery" -- and a slower moving, less exciting mystery would be hard to find -- this book is a meditation on growing old, both them and me. I couldn't help remembering who I was, when I first came across those first books, back in the mid-80's, where I was, how I, too, have changed and grown... well, for me, I've matured, not grown old. They story line here focuses on art theft and forgery -- "art" in the broadest possible sense, everything from paintings to icons to books to tapestries and funerary art -- and I confess I felt inundated with way too many factoids about all of it. Someone wanted to get that whole Master's thesis research in here, I'd say, but except for those students of art history among us, I'd guess that most readers will tune out for most of it. Nice to see the infamous and very real legal battle over the Chabad library as a fictional plot point -- surely the first time ever, for that. But still, most of this is too detailed for a lot of us.
Which means we're left with a book on aging.... and what to do after retirement. Scott Oliver has also retired and is at loose ends, wondering where to move, what to do with himself. Peter doesn't seem too happy in his new quasi-retirement status. Marge Dunn at least has her new love, and Rina? Well, she's happy doing whatever she does -- although she's come a long way since Ritual Bath, too. (To think of that early Rina, from 1986, who now, in this book, happily agrees to live -- and eat! -- in the home of a non-Jew is interesting all by itself. Really, Rina? Wow.)
The thing is, I'll now probably buy whatever book Kellerman writes next, to see what follows this one. Personally, I don't think this living-on-the-east-coast thing is going to work out. I think that sooner rather than later, attending Grandparent's Day at the elementary schools isn't going to be enough for this pair. Or maybe I'm just projecting. I am, after all, simply mature, not "old" like Peter Decker.
Do you have any series of paper books that you love so much, you're a little afraid to try the audible version, afraid they're going to screw it up somehow? This was one of mine. I love the three Dave Guerney books so much I held off listening to this first one. I wasn't familiar with the narrator, and who knows what could have happened....
This is a magnificent series. After reading this book for the first time -- paper version -- I actually emailed author John Verdon, gushing all over the place, telling him how much I loved the book. He responded with great kindness. I've done that very rarely, but it's always nice to know there's a real human there, plotting, writing, working to give us the great reading material we 'constant readers' -- so to speak -- enjoy so much.
Anyway, I needn't have worried -- this book is great. It has something for everyone -- unique and interesting characters, a great location -- Verdon makes you SEE the beauty of the snowy landscape -- plenty of curious murders plus a surprise ending, all wrapped up in a real puzzle, sure to please the who-dun-it lovers.
Personally, I mostly enjoy the character of Dave Guerney, a retired (not so very retired at all) detective who gets back into the game when a long-ago friend makes an appearance and begs for help. I have a love-hate thing with the character of Madeline, Guerney's wife. In subsequent books, I think of her much like "Helen", the eternal, troubled, difficult, love of Detective Inspector Lynley, in that I have to wonder if this woman is really worth all the angst she causes. Madeline is like that too -- more in the next book than this one. But why, oh why, do women marry police detectives, then spend the rest of their lives trying to get him to do something else?
What's so good about John Verdon's writing are all the little extras he throws in, wry observations, clever analogies.... and in this book, one of the characters gives a pop-psychology class, and Verdon quotes a significant part of the lecture. I blush to admit that a little piece of wisdom in that "class" hit me exactly when I needed to hear it. No, I don't run my life by the wisdom found in books of detective fiction, but the scope of Verdon's writing -- and apparently his knowledge -- is amazing, and delightful to come across.
The narrator was just fine -- if there was any minute downside to this book, it's that there were any number of places where -- apparently -- words, or a complete sentence -- had to be read over again, so it's a little jarring when that happens. You can hear the disjuncture -- but it's not enough to detract from the book itself.
I'm now looking forward to the next two books on Audible -- no more fear!
... when you come across a book you've never heard of, by an author you've never heard of, and it just blows you away.... Well, this is one of those. So glad I rolled the dice and took a chance on an "orphan" book...
Cheryl Kaye Tardif is great -- she hooked me from the first page. In fact, I started listening in the early evening, having just finished a less-than-stellar book by a "New York Times Best Selling" author, one which left me feeling used. (Why, oh why, do I keep buying books by these big-name authors? Their early ones were really good, but it's clear they've run out of steam. Silly me, for continuing to buy them anyway.) So I wasn't expecting much from this unknown, but it was next on my iPod list, so.... What happened was that I ended up listening way past midnight, about half the book -- I couldn't find a good place to stop.
It's also good to find an author who does the literary equivalent of Audrey Hepburn's young
"Gypsy", when she just lets that single slip strap fall off her shoulder, not putting it all out in front of the leering men. There's lots of love in this book, but no hot erotic scenes, so if that's what you're looking for, this isn't it. This is a hope filled book, with decent characters, most of them -- except the bad guys and gals -- trying to do the right thing. Oh, it's not smarmy or goody-two-shoes, Tardif's characters struggle with their decisions, just as we all do. And there's plenty of tension, more white-knuckle suspense than you might need, in parts. But it's nice to read about some of the world's good people, too. There aren't enough books like that around.
Now? I'm looking for a few more Cheryl Kaye Tardif books -- I see she's got a lot of different genres out there, so I'll pick and choose. But I'm awfully glad I came across this one. Just an A-1 listen, all around!
I quit six hours in... it's probably a good story. I like the idea. But the narrator makes no distinction between the three young women's voices, and trying to figure out who is talking at any one time is absolutely impossible. Beyond that, she runs from one character's story to another's with no break whatever -- it's way beyond confusing. I got tired of backtracking.
So many (new) narrators do this -- run separate story segments together without a break, as if there weren't even a paragraph marking, Once again, I ask: what do they read from? Why can't they at least pause between different character's stories? Is it that they're reading from something that doesn't show paragraphs?
I keep telling myself I'll get back to this one, but honestly, I doubt it...
Living overseas, in a land where English-language books were very difficult to come by, I found myself reading all kinds of books I probably wouldn't have picked, had there been more options. I remember picking this book up, having never heard of either it or the author, and not having high expectations. Boy, I was wrong.
I was captivated from the first page -- the story moves along at breakneck speed, and not for quite a while can you even begin to imagine how such a thing could have happened: a teenage girl wakes up after a late night with her boyfriend, and finds that the rest of her family has simply disappeared, gone, without a trace. In spite of all the investigations and publicity at the time, nothing is ever discovered. The family just disappeared.
At some point, Barclay allows us to see how the solution to the puzzle could have occurred -- only things are never quite that simple.
So back then, years ago, in a country far away, I remember finishing the book, putting it down with a "Huh! Didn't see THAT coming..." and after wiping a few tears off my face, thinking, 'Wow. What a book!'
It IS quite a book. Still is. It's not Great Literature, maybe, but in terms of genre, one of the best. As an Audible book, this one was especially good because of the narrator, Christopher Lane. He narrates with exactly the right intonation -- sort of a befuddled-but-tolerant father figure, which is exactly right. Perfect for Terry Archer, a mild mannered wry-humored English teacher, husband of Cynthia Bigge, who was the teenager who lost her family. Archer never experienced any of the mystery himself, but nevertheless, he's the one who has coped with Cynthia's lifelong struggle with her loss. When things start to happen, it falls to him to figure it out.
To say much of anything more could spoil it, so I won't. Just know that this is a really good listen.
In fact, I love it so much I've bought it three times -- first as a paperback, then as an audible book, then again as a paperback, after I loaned out my first copy then never got it back. No problem: if any leisure reading is worth buying three times, this one is.
"Mary Kay Andrews" is Kathy Hogan Trocheck when she's at home -- I got hooked on her after hearing her interviewed on a Canadian radio station while driving home from Vancouver BC late one night, and was impressed with her versatility as a writer, publishing in several different genres. I'd never read any of her numerous books -- 17 novels, 10 of them mysteries -- but this one is my favorite. First of all, I like make-overs, whether it's hairstyles, makeup, dresses or houses. There are several "I got fired, but inherited an old house, so I may as well fix it up" books -- see the "Orchard Mysteries" series by Sheila Connolly, also available on Audible, not to mention a whole fixer-upper series by Sarah Graves. They're all good -- but there's more "meat" in this one than most, since there's a parallel story running about how protagonist Dempsey Killebrew got taken by a clever lobbyist boss in Washington, and found herself on the front pages of the Washington Post, hung out to dry for her boss's misdeeds. And then there's Ella Kate, the irascible 80-year old termagant who's been squatting in the house, adding an extra layer of interesting oddball Southern characters who populate Guthrie, Georgia, the wide spot in the road where "Birdsong", the dilapidated mansion, sits.
Lots of things get "fixed up" in "The Fixer Upper" -- not just the house, but just about everyone involved. And if you've been putting off doing some painting, tiling or floor refinishing yourself, it works as an inspiration, too. After listening to "Jimmy" - a real estate agent who paints houses for fun -- wax lyrical about the ethereal grace involved in applying a new coat of paint to an old room, I called a painter and set about doing some 'fix-it' work myself.
Good book. But I guess I said that.
A "Daily Deal", knew nothing about the author or the book before listening.... which was probably my mistake. There are a series of books by this author, and I don't know where this one fits in, but it was obvious there was a lot of back-story about these much-wounded, bodies-covered-with-scars characters. The past was alluded to, but I never got over the feeling that I'd walked into the middle of a play.
It was well read and parts were interesting -- I could see the attraction -- but when I was an hour from the end, and had just listened to yet another set of paragraphs enthusing over Dani's body parts, most frequently extolling her exquisite legs, her "thin little arms" and her "tiny little feet", I decided I'd had enough. There's more to writing a "thriller" than endless descriptions of her body -- and everyone else's, come to think of it. Much ink was spend on defining, over and over again, everyone's body type, very very big, little teeny tiny, and in between. Seemed very strange.
So I never did really get into it -- it had great potential. I liked the location. But way too thin a story line to be compelling, and the characters never emerged from two-dimensional.
It was thanks to this book that I got all the windows in the house washed -- inside and out -- the garage floor swept and both the linen closet and the sewing room reorganized. I couldn't stop listening -- I had to find some way to justify taking the time to keep listening.
This was my first exposure to Jojo Moyes -- never heard of her before, never come across any of her books before this one, when I rolled the dice on yet another really great Daily Deal. "Night Music" won't be the last -- except that I expect I'll listen to this one a few more times before I'm finished with it.
It's funny, I see other reviewers saying that this isn't Moyes best book, which just blows my mind. Can't quite see how any of them could be better than this, but... hey, I'm willing to try.
Maybe it's just me, but there's something about a battle over a house that attracts me. Another of my favorite books (not the film) is Andre Dubus III's "House of Sand and Fog" which also involves a house everyone wants, and the emotional pull such an embattled dwelling can bring about. "Night Music" is very different from that book -- maybe even better -- but I felt the same compulsion to keep listening until it all got worked out. Of course "Night Music" is really about the people -- the fragile, wounded, too-trusting professional violinist who inherits it, the corrupt builder who pretends to help restore it, but has evil plans of his own, the children caught in the middle of it, the guy who's camping out, unknown, in the boiler room... and the rabbits. Can't forget the rabbits.
What can I say? Don't miss this one. Your own house will be a whole lot cleaner by the time you finish!
A low-key mystery set in Berlin -- and a great listen by any standard. There's murder afoot here -- but Dr, Felix Hoffman works with geriatric patients, and some of the normal end-of-life situations he encounters might be natural, others clearly not so. But this is not a "thriller", rather a really interesting look into the world of seriously ill old people and one doctor who serves them.
And their pets. The following is not really a "spoiler", but... "Trixie", described as an 'ugly mutt' was owned by Dr. Hoffman's elderly aunt, so when the aunt herself dies, Trixie is adopted by Dr. Hoffman and figures prominently in the tale. What's interesting -- as a side note in the story -- is that Dr, Hoffman recognizes the important part that pets play in the lives of the elderly, and so he uses a legacy to create an adjunct to their hospital, a kennel for patient's pets, where the patients can go to visit any time they're able -- they even installed a few hospital beds, so a patient can even spend the night with their pet if they wish. Not surprisingly for us pet lovers, but Dr. Hoffman notes that after this facility is established, the demand for pain medication and anti-depressants in his ward drops by half. I believe that -- and an interesting idea. I wonder if this really exists in Germany.
All in all, this a really good book. I'd never heard of the book or the author before -- thank you Daily Deal! -- but now I'll definitely seek out more "Dr. Hoffman" books on Audible. Very enjoyable -- I was sad to finish it.
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