John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary and later secretary of state under presidents McKinley and Roosevelt, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, famous as "Mark Twain", grew up 50 miles apart on the banks of the Mississippi River in the same rural antebellum stew of race, class, and want. This shared history drew them together in the late 1860s, and their mutual admiration never waned in spite of sharp differences.
The central notion of this book - the friendship of Sam Clemens and John Hay - doesn’t hold up that well. They are more acquaintances than friends, and they move in different social circles. But the book succeeds brilliantly anyway. It’s a good story well told, an outstanding example of narrative nonfiction.
It covers a critical period in the lives of both men. Sam Clemens has gone bankrupt and goes on a round-the-world lecture tour to restore his finances. His daughter Susy dies, and then his wife Livy; his daughter Jean has epileptic seizures. An initial proponent of war with Spain, he becomes radicalized by the horrific way freedom fighters in the Philippines are treated after the US wins "possession" of the islands.
John Hay, one of Lincoln’s secretaries during the Civil War, later served McKinley as ambassador to the UK and then Secretary of State. When McKinley is assassinated at the beginning of his second term, Hay stays on at State under Theodore Roosevelt. (TR, an ambitious, blustering, and shallow imperialist warmonger, doesn’t come off well in this book.) Hay oversees the resolution of a Canadian border controversy and the acquisition of territory from Colombia - territory that became the future state of Panama - to build a canal across the isthmus. (The US sent gunboats to discourage Colombia from trying to suppress the rebellion in Panama.)
Zwonitzer has a great eye for detail, and his narrative is vivid and entertaining. And Joe Barrett gives a fantastic performance. It should be an entertaining read for fans of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, John Hay, and anyone interested in this less-well-known (by me) period of American history.
The Doones are a clan of murdering thieves, and among their victims is John Ridd's father. The strong, noble Ridd determines to avenge his father's death; but his plans are complicated when he falls in love with one of the hated family - the beautiful Lorna. Lorna is promised against her will to another; and that other will not let her go lightly. Set amid the political turmoils of the late 17th century, Lorna Doone brings West Country history and legends alive with wonderfully imaginative fiction.
Part swashbuckler, part romance, part hymn to the beauty of farm country. It reminds me a bit of Poldark - the original novel, not the TV version(s). Lorna Doone is episodic and a shade too long; what saves it and holds it together is the genial, self-deprecating common sense of the narrator, John Ridd. Jonathan Keeble delivers the entire book in regional dialect. It’s a bit softened, and perfectly understandable, in John’s case, but for the dialogue of some of his fellows, it’s full-blown. (Even there, though, the general sense is always clear.)
In The Aspern Papers, a cold and ruthless literary biographer travels to Venice on the trail of personal letters belonging to the deceased American poet Jeffrey Aspern. His journey takes him to a dilapidated, rambling house belonging to an elderly woman named Juliana Bordereau and her lonely niece, Miss Tina. Just how far will he go to get what he wants? Will morality confront his personal ambition and literary curiosity?
I’m not a fan of Henry James, but I’m trying to fill in some gaps in my education. This is the third of his novels I’ve read recently. The other two were Washington Square and The Europeans. The Aspern Papers, with its strong and focused plot, makes an interesting contrast with those two novels. (I found them to be diffuse, a bit drab, oddly structured.)
The narrator of The Aspern Papers has a very specific goal, and the story ends when that goal is finally resolved. He starts out as a likable, intense man, more than a little obsessed with a poet from a previous generation. He is editing the works of Jeffrey Aspern, and he has reason to believe that an old flame of the poet’s still possesses a great many of Aspern’s papers. What he does to obtain them quickly loses him any sympathy (at least from me). But there’s no question that he, and the other two main characters, are drawn convincingly and with nuance. He has the decency to feel guilty about his actions.
Adam Sims (not Adams Sims, listed as the narrator as I write this) is a good match for Henry James. All in all, this is an enjoyable listen.
After the collapse of her marriage to an illustrious German prince, Baroness Eugenia Münster arrives in America with her brother, in search of wealthy New England relatives. The duo have an immediate impact on their American cousins, the Wentworths. The Baroness captures the eye of young Clifford Wentworth, and his girlfriend's older brother Robert; meanwhile, Felix falls for his American cousin Gertrude. The Wentworths are overawed by their European cousins and their frivolous lifestyle. What unfolds is a delightful comedy of manners.
I have a hard time getting into Henry James. This is my second try (the first was Washington Square); and so far, I’d have to say he’s a dreary writer, devoid of humor, writing about mostly uninteresting characters and incorporating the most vaporous of plots. This one involves not so much a love triangle as a love parallelogram: it works out for a couple of people and doesn’t work out for a couple of others. It could have been a lively story, but it isn’t. The changes in relationships could have come with deep self-reflection and emotional struggle, but they don’t.
Adam Sims is a good narrator and does the best he can with this dessicated crew of (mostly) New Englanders.
I’m not ready to give up on Henry James yet. When someone has a reputation like his, I tend to distrust my own responses: with all the critical praise of his work, there must be fire here somewhere. It wouldn’t be the first time that additional effort helped unlock the pleasures that an author has to offer. But I suspect one or two more novels by Henry James may be enough.
Relinquishing thoughts of a materially rewarding life, the respectably educated Felix Holt returns to his native village in North Loamshire and becomes an artisan. He is a forceful young man of honor, integrity, and idealism, burning to participate in political life so that he may improve the lot of his fellow artisans.
Although there’s an insanely complicated legal situation at the heart of this novel, I found it to be one of Eliot’s more agreeable and rewarding works. All characters (except the truly worst) are treated with a broad and humane sympathy, and there are touches of humor - something that her novels often lack. Despite the title, Felix Holt is not the most interesting character in the book. That would have to be Esther, daughter of the local curate, and someone who begins with a shallow love of appearances and ends with love and courage - and a delightful sense of flirtatiousness.
As always, Nadia May gives a sterling performance.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Waverley by Sir Walter Scott is an enthralling tale of love, war and divided loyalties. Taking place during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the novel tells the story of proud English officer Edward Waverley. After being posted to Dundee, Edward eventually befriends chieftain of the Highland Clan Mac-Ivor and falls in love with his beautiful sister Flora. He then renounces his former loyalties in order actively to support Scotland in open rebellion against the Union with England. The book depicts stunning, romantic panoramas of the Highlands.
I love Walter Scott as a writer, and I love David Rintoul as a narrator, so my reaction to this delightful recording was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Scott’s story is a swashbuckler with a conscience, and one whose mostly happy ending is tinged with sadness at the tremendous losses that have been sustained. Edward Waverley is a dashing hero with a tendency to dither and bumble, which only makes him that much more likable. Some background on the 1745 revolt of Bonnie Prince Charlie is helpful and readily available from Wikipedia and elsewhere.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
November 22, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the tragedy that has haunted America ever since. For the first time, this concise and compelling book pierces the veil of secrecy to fully document the small, tightly-held conspiracy that killed President John F. Kennedy. It explains why he was murdered, and how it was done in a way that forced many records to remain secret for almost 50 years. The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination draws on exclusive interviews with more than two dozen associates of John and Robert Kennedy.
The single-bullet theory can be criticized on many points. But it's really time to retire the old chestnut about the path being impossible because Connelly wasn't in the direct line of fire. Anybody who still brings that up, as Waldron does, immediately loses credibility.
Connelly was sitting in a small collapsible seat that was to the left of and quite a bit lower than Kennedy; a bullet that exited Kennedy's neck on a downward path could easily have entered Connelly's back at the point where his first wound occurred. (What the bullet supposedly did after that point, and where it ended up, are the points where the theory is vulnerable.) This has been demonstrated repeatedly in computer analyses of the assassination; Waldron dismisses them in a single sentence and never mentions the effect of the seating.
Debunking the single-bullet path was a memorable scene in Oliver Stone's film. But it's bogus: the stand-in for Connelly is sitting directly in front of the stand-in for Kennedy and at the same height. And that simply isn't how it happened.
And while debunking this theory makes the job of debunking the Warren Report easier, it isn't necessary. Oswald could have been the lone gunman AND there could have been a conspiracy. It's not an either/or situation.
For all that, Waldron may be right in his analysis of the motive, means, and opportunity. His argument supports the most recent official government conclusion (the House Assassinations Committee report): that Kennedy was probably killed as part of a conspiracy in which the Mafia figured heavily.
But when he started to argue that Oswald wasn't involved in the shooting at all, I lost interest and stopped listening. It should be noted that that same House report concludes that Oswald was the only gunman whose bullets actually found their target; and it presented considerable evidence as to his political motives in trying to kill Kennedy. I'll go back to Waldron's book someday, when I'm in the mood for a detective novel.
3 of 6 people found this review helpful
Riveting radio dramatisations of Charles Dickens' 15 full-length novels. Charles Dickens is one of the most renowned authors of all time, and this digital volume of the dramatised canon of his work includes 15 of his most popular novels.This collection includes the episodic adventure Nicholas Nickleby, comic tale The Pickwick Papers, poignant melodrama The Old Curiosity Shop and the much-loved Oliver Twist. Plus, the gripping historical novel Barnaby Rudge, picaresque comedy Martin Chuzzlewit and bittersweet tale of family relationships Dombey and Son. Also included is the epic masterpiece David Copperfield, described by Dickens as his ‘favourite child’; suspenseful mystery Bleak House; Dickens’ most openly political novel, Hard Times; and Little Dorrit, a sweeping tale of imprisonment, poverty and riches. Plus A Tale of Two Cities, set during the French Revolution; coming-of-age novel Great Expectations; sweeping satire of wealth and corruption Our Mutual Friend; and Dickens’ final, unfinished story, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
I'll start off by saying that I hope this review (written in early March 2018) becomes obsolete, and that the problems identified here are corrected in a revised release. If this happens, my overall rating will change from its initial one star. (Since Audible doesn't allow reviews to be modified, even after substantial changes are made to an audiobook, there is no other way to indicate the change.)
How can I give Performance and Story 5 stars and give an overall rating of 1 star? Because as brilliantly as these adaptations are written and acted, they have been assembled into one of the worst audiobook packages of all time.
The production is long enough to get broken into multiple files - in fact, it's almost as long as complete recordings of the Bible. But there is no correspondence - none - between book and file. Some files have multiple books and some books cross multiple files. I've included a breakdown at the end of this review that shows how bizarrely this is put together.
It doesn't end there. Only a couple of the books have a title segment. Within the same file, you can end one book and begin the next one with no indication - apart from a change in theme music - that you've started a different book. Along the same lines, most of the books are missing a narrated cast list. (This is actually a common sin in older BBC dramatizations.)
And to add insult to injury.... each file begins with a 30-second track announcing... The Pickwick Papers. When I first started browsing the files, I thought The Pickwick Papers extended through the first three files. Then I realized that the only way to find out where each book began and ended was to listen to the beginning and end of every track.
There is NO WAY to tell from the files (or anything else about the presentation or organization) which file contains the book you're looking for. I've seen badly organized audiobooks before, but nothing as atrocious as this. There is simply no excuse for it.
All complaints could be addressed with an accompanying PDF containing a track breakdown and cast list.
Breakdown (first number is the file, second number, after the period, is the track):
1.1-1.6: Pickwick Papers
1.7-1.12: Oliver Twist
1.13-2.11: Nicholas Nickleby
2.12-2.36: Curiosity Shop
2.37-3.2: Barnaby Rudge
3.3-3.12: Martin Chuzzlewit
4.2-4.21: Dombey & Son
4.22-4-41: David Copperfield
4.42-5.5: Bleak House
5.6-5.9: Hard Times
5.10-6.3: Little Dorrit
6.4-6.8: Tale of Two Cities
6.9-7.2: Great Expectations
7.3-7.22: Our Mutual Friend
7.23-7.27: Edwin Drood [completed]
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
Tracking a nexus point in time, the Doctor meets Dr. Evelyn Smythe, a history lecturer whose own history seems to be rapidly vanishing. The Doctor must travel back to Tudor times to stabilise the nexus and save Evelyn's life. But there he meets the Queen of England and uses all his skills of diplomacy to avoid ending up on the headman's block.... Written by: Jacqueline Rayner. Directed by: Gary Russell.
An interesting historical tale, and a good outing for Colin Baker. My only complaint is that like so many other audio dramas, the credits are missing or woefully incomplete. It would be nice if there were at least a downloadable PDF with more details. But otherwise it’s a good old 4-part serial.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Charming, vibrant, witty and edifying, The Life of Samuel Johnson is a work of great obsession and boundless reverence. The literary critic Samuel Johnson was 54 when he first encountered Boswell; the friendship that developed spawned one of the greatest biographies in the history of world literature. The book is full of humorous anecdote and rich characterization, and paints a vivid picture of 18th-century London, peopled by prominent personalities of the time.
I usually try to wait till I’ve finished listening to a book to write a review. I have to make an exception in this case. David Timson is the perfect narrator for Boswell’s Life of Johnson, and he carries it off with lightness and charm (and the slightest of Scottish accents). I took a point off on the story because I dislike Boswell - it’s irrational, but despite his charm and his devotion to Johnson, I can’t help feeling he’s not a very nice person. Fortunately the effect of the book is of spending many hours in Johnson’s company rather than Boswell’s.
There is one other recording of the complete Life available on Audible. While both are excellent, Timson’s delivery is more engaging and the sound quality of this recording is better.
Don’t think of it as a mammoth undertaking. Think of it as something to listen to for an hour a day - at that rate you’ll have gone through the whole thing in less than two months. You can even take weekends off.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful