A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: Humanity has conquered all those things and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life - and they are commanded to do so in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe - a role that neither wants. These teens must master the "art" of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
"Right?" Citra bristled at the very idea. "There's a right way to glean?"
"Well," he answered, "there are certainly wrong ways," and said nothing more about it.
When I pressed my finger to the "play" icon on my Audible app, my expectations were quite low, but cautiously optimistic. I had previously read (and enjoyed) Bruiser by Neal Shusterman, but . . . the cover. The cover didn't give me hope. But I was hooked from the first chapter. Despite the fact that this book is easily shelved with YA dystopian lit (not that I dislike the genre, though I sometimes grow a little weary of Hunger Games knock-offs), I was immediately captured by the deeper issues it examined.
What if you could live forever? Would you want to? What gives life, and society (and the entirety of the human race, for that matter) purpose? What purpose does death serve? If we were to conquer the aging process as Neutrogena wishes we could, should we? What makes something precious? Worthwhile? Worth striving for?
Do stories – books, movies, etc., lose meaning when death is taken out of the equation? I reflected on some of the enduring works from history up to the the current decade's bestsellers: Had Hamlet's father been gleaned, can you even imagine the last Act? What would it consist of--everyone resetting themselves to younger years, or perhaps some splatting with some excellent ice cream in the horizon? That sort of ending lacks the powerful oomph we're all seeking when we read great literature (or even not-so-lofty page-turners).
When I even briefly consider some of the movies I've seen in the last month--Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Murder on the Orient Express--well . . . the quest to return the jaguar's eye, the fight against Jedi annihilation, and sleuthing about to solve who committed the minor infraction of making someone . . . dead-ish? Meh.
And yet, the book ALSO succeeds on a totally entertaining level. Great pacing, wry humor, super-toned-down teen crush drama, one great line after another, a "bad guy" who is incredibly slippery and persuasive, a noble mentor (and a practical one), and two terrific lead characters. GOOD TIMES. I'm not saying nearly enough about how much I enjoyed Rowan and Citra, but I know I wouldn't be able to write eloquently about what appealed to me about them, so suffice to say that they are . . . nope. Dang it, can't summarize.
One of my favorite passages in this novel is a rather minor scene involving Apprentice Citra, Scythe Curie, a 2nd-grade nemesis, and a bus. Pages 194-198 in the paperback version. Read it.
There were some plot points that were a bit weak, and moments where logic made me argue in my head against what I was reading, but I enjoyed the story too much to really let it get under my skin. (Except . . . really? The world changed THAT QUICKLY (and seemingly harmoniously) in that short amount of time a mere 25-ish years from now? Hmmmmmm . . . though I see why Shusterman probably wanted to make the story not so out of distant from today's society. Still. Too fast.)
I originally listened to the audiobook in the fall of 2017, immediately bought the nookbook, and preordered the paperback. It seems, given my propensity to own multiple copies of books I like and want to lend out, that I now have three copies. More to share! I reread it this week for my Book Club, and was relieved to find my affection for the characters and interest in the story unchanged. The timing was perfect, too--book 2 just came out a few days ago. Though I may delay starting it so I don't have to wait even longer in case there is another installment. That's right--I'm the type of person who eats my least-favorite flavors first from a handful of jelly beans.
The narrator does a good job--I'm not going to search out his other narrations, but I won't avoid him, either. Good narrator, just nothing to get excited about.
Since its publication over forty years ago, this heartwarming tale of a boy and his dogs has touched millions. A tale of adventure, special friendship and coming-of-age, Where the Red Fern Grows makes for delightful listening. This unabridged production, featuring a moving performance by Anthony Heald, brings this enduring classic to life and makes a powerful story even more unforgettable.
As has happened many times in my life as a twin, I found myself yelling, "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" at full volume at her into my phone. This instance was worse than other times because I had my bluetooth adapter plugged in and her voice was coming at me from all directions through my car's speakers. Why I didn't think to just turn down the stereo volume, I don't know. I was trying to drown her out in the only way my frantic mind could figure out to solve the problem.
See, I had been listening to Where the Red Fern Grows on audio (Audible had a great kids' books sale awhile ago and I have quite a few kid lit titles now peppering my library), revisiting it after perhaps nearly 30 years. Understandably, my memory of the book had faded. I remembered the heartfelt camaraderie of the two dogs, A LOT of hunting, and a tragedy at the end (it's a book about dogs--the ending shouldn't have surprised me), but not much about the details. Glimmers of memories flashed through my mind as I progressed, however. Lots of premonitions and predictions that (mostly) turned out to be spot on kept me in a contented state of mind, pleasantly anesthetizing me from some of the more startlingly vivid hunting descriptions.
Chandra, my twin, shared the reminiscing with me, but then took it a step too far and started describing what she remembered of the ending. Her re-read of this classic was more recent than mine and I remember her describing reading it aloud to her kids with all her little listeners sobbing at the end of the book.
After she finally quieted and I ended my exhausting hollering, she asked me what the big deal was. "Why do you care if I talk about the ending? You've read it before." Well, yes, but many, many, many, many, many years ago, and I was trying to keep the story as fresh as possible.
Reading the tale as an adult definitely gave me a new perspective on this childhood classic. I wonder how well it goes over in today's kid culture? Life used to be lived much more outdoors--wild and real. Though old-school doesn't categorically mean "better," of course.
A few things I noticed, reading with 21st century adult eyes.
*The role of women: I know I should be righteously affronted down to my XX chromosomes, but as much as anything could really crack me up in this poignant tale, the background prop nature of the anonymous sisters made me shake my head and chuckle. This is so truly a book about an obsessed boy and his hounds. Some of the other characters--the ones who could help him in his quest to own, train, and hunt with the hounds of his dream--were named and developed some, but his sisters never earned a moniker beyond "the oldest" or "the littlest." I don't think I noticed this the first time around.
*The psychological advice of the day: Tragedy? Just forget about it. "Put it out of your mind, don't think about it again." What? A boy dies on your ax blade and the best advice you get is to never think about it again. Death happens again and the same advice is repeated--nothing good can happen from thinking about such a terrible event, move along now, move along. Sounds super-healthy.
*The harshly realistic/gory descriptions: Gore is everywhere--entrails getting caught on bushes, raccoon paws being pierced, blood burbling out of a dying boy's mouth . . . hefty stuff. It didn't bother me as a kid, but I cringe more easily as an adult. Still pretty glad it's included, though. It's definitely a powerful book.
If you read it as a child . . . it's time for a re-read. (You'll enjoy it the second time around as well.)
If you've never read it at all . . . what elementary librarian failed you?
The narrator was perfect for this book.
National Public Radio's Beijing correspondent Rob Gifford recounts his travels along Route 312, the Chinese Mother Road, the longest route in the world's most populous nation. Based on his successful NPR radio series, China Road draws on Gifford's 20 years of observing first-hand this rapidly transforming country, as he travels east to west, from Shanghai to China's border with Kazakhstan. As he takes listeners on this journey, he also takes them through China's past and present while he tries to make sense of this complex nation's potential future.
Upon finishing traveling Route 312 with the droll and perceptive Rob Gifford, all I am is sad to call it an end. I immediately searched for more titles from him, but have been disheartened not to find any other books by him available. Not shocking, I suppose, as he is a reporter/journalist, not a novelist/writer. But still. I’ll have to keep looking.
With traditionally dry British wit, and a canny eye that understands the culture, Gifford effortlessly switches from using a wide lens to encompass the vast empire, then zooming in, region by region, weaving in and out between informative historical background and pertinent modern day observations and concerns.
Broad of scope and broadly appealing, this book really brought China into the 21st century for me. If you read one book on China this year (or decade), read this one.
Wonderful, wonderful narration (as always) by one of my favorite narrators, Simon Vance. I came across this book "serendipitously" because I was paging through books he narrated, looking for another of his. The man's got good taste!
The sun rides high over the British Empire and the light still sparkles brightly in Amelia Peabody's eye as she returns for her second adventure in archaeology and romantic mystery as recounted in her lively journal, The Curse of the Pharaohs.
Good heavens! There are twenty books in this series? I unwittingly started a series with nearly an alphabet’s number of titles?! My word. That’s a commitment I wasn’t prepared for. I wonder . . . how to put this delicately . . . If the author is, ummmmmm, “safely dead”? Well, I’m certainly not reading them straight through. I know that much for sure. Palate cleansers are needed, even with the best of series and reading jags.
The repartee between Amelia and Emerson has greatly improved in this second book of the series. Rather than gritting my teeth at their interactions, I found the interplay—whether it expressed tender concern, competitive speculation, parental pride, or bickering exasperation—quite a highlight of the novel.
Ramses (Walter II) was a touch too precocious, I missed the wonderful Evelyn and Walter, and I mistakenly thought I had sussed out that two characters were brother and sister (they weren’t), but overall it was a fun romp of a tale, generously infused with humor (as all the best stories in any genre are), and the characters showed fair and decent respect for the lands they were excavating as well as the Egyptian population that helped them.
Sigh. I’d better start checking out the used bookstores for further volumes.
As always, Barbara Rosenblat's performance was superb.
Amelia Peabody inherited two things from her father: a considerable fortune and an unbendable will. The first allowed her to indulge in her life's passion. Without the second, the mummy's curse would have made corpses of them all.
I remember the first time I used the phrase, "Twenty years ago . . . " and could relate a coherent memory. It gave me pause. My reaction to the love stories in this book again caused me to realize my age. As a young woman/teen, I think I would've been quite the "shipper" for Amelia and Emerson's antagonistic . . . courtship? Now, however, that part of the story distracted me and made me roll my eyes. I quite preferred the quiet, sincere, steady and brave Walter over his enigmatic and growly older brother, whose preferred communication method of courting seems to be by directing constant belittling and acerbic barbs at the poor woman who has suffered the misfortune to have become interesting to him.
Mostly, though, I was a fan of the intrepid Amelia Peabody who, despite suffering the flaw so common in literary "bluestocking-ish" female characters of being "too curvy for fashion--woe is me," lets her common sense, grit, and enthusiasm for adventure shine through every situation. She commands a room/dig site with enviable aplomb. Her "sidekick" of sorts, Evelyn, is exactly the personality needed to counteract Amelia's weaknesses and to bring humanity and winsome appeal to the story.
I enjoyed the trip back to the 1880's with the group of Egyptian and British adventurers. The author gives acknowledging nods to the prejudices of the European explorers in their day, but--written in 1975--some colonialism pride seems to have lingered and I wished the group was rounded out a little more with the "local" characters having a bigger storylines and further development as players on the stage with the white foreigners. Had the story included Walter and a non-love-interest-yet-abruptly-mannered brother, I would have enjoyed it even more.
On to the next novel! I bought both volume 1 and volume 2 in the same Audible sale, never having read/listened to a word previously (beyond the titles as I shelved them as a bookseller), hoping I'd like the series enough to want to continue reading. I think I'm glad I did. (Fingers crossed for book 2.)
P.S. I wonder if there is anyone else out there who, reading this book, would not have been surprised had the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine van come squealing up at the end to reveal the true identity of the _____? Just me? Probably my age again--I'm a child of the 80's, truly.
P.P.S. Barbara Rosenblat's performance, per usual, was FABULOUS.
When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn't Disneyland but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long, dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries. What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born or made?
I quite enjoyed the author’s tone, writing style, and self-effacing humanity. I now feel like I know a ton about Denmark and the Danes, and learned it all in quite a palliative and entertaining fashion. Her fish-out-of-water status was quite a unique position to be placed in as a Londoner. Now she was part of the foreigners-taking-the-jobs-from-locals contingent, instead of being a part of the comfortable majority.
I wish, however, that she approached the various subjects with more thought and consideration from more than just the angle she was fed.
For example, when explaining a part of the Danish school system and how a student stays with a class of the same 20 kids throughout their school life (it’s supposed to breed feelings of trust, unity and safety), all she can say is, How wonderful!, and all I could think was, Holy smokes, that sounds terrible, claustrophobic, and very limiting.
When addressing the staggeringly high divorce rate in Denmark, she lauds it as a wonderful escape from being shackled to the same sexual partner for life. Ah, marriage. And those poor fools who place belief in God - how fabulous is it that the state takes such great care of the Danish people? They no longer HAVE to believe in a deity, unlike those poor saps in poorer countries (and - breaking the mold - the wealthy US).
She does what we all do, of course - delight in what reinforces our own beliefs. It’s a natural inclination, but I’m used to writers of sociological studies acting critically, observing, analyzing within a greater context, and presenting the information for their readers instead of simply echoing the visitor’s bureau lines at face value. This is, of course, not a serious text, and it does succeed enormously on an entertainment scale.
After addressing some of the national concerns (lack of diversity, the highest usage of anti-depressants of any European nation, extremely high divorce rates, etc.), I wonder why she never seems to question if all the happy people she meets are actually happy?
I seriously did enjoy this book, though! I just had to get my grrrrrrs out there. Denmark is a wonderful example of a nation of people who trust their government, have pride in their country, are encouraged to follow their interests and find their most fulfilling professional career, and have a really splendid work-life balance incentives offered to those who work.
The narration was spot-on. I very much enjoyed it and really felt like she captured the humor and nuance of the work.
A coming-of-age tale for the young and naïve 17-year-old Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey takes a decidedly comical look at themes of class, family, love and literature. Revelling in the sensationalist - and extremely popular - Gothic fiction of her day, the story follows Catherine out of Bath to the lofty manor of the Tilneys, where her overactive imagination gets to work constructing an absurd and melodramatic explanation for the death of Mrs Tilney, which threatens to jeopardise her newly forged friendships.
I went into this audiobook production thinking Haven't I read this before? Isn't it kind of a ghost story? I couldn't remember a thing about the text, so it seemed like a perfect time to revisit one of the lesser-read Jane Austen novels.
Halfway through, I marveled that I didn't remember more about this delightful, charming, and humorous novel. So meta! And a fun and funny Austen hero? That's just crazy. No dark and brooding Mr. Darcy here (though certainly he has his time and place). The characters are a treat, and the running commentary by the author is priceless. Unfortunately, my enchantment didn't carry much beyond Bath. While I thoroughly enjoyed every moment until the Northanger interlude, the story didn't quite capture me in the same way from their journey through the end of the novel.
Still! This novel of Austen's ranks in my top 3 favorites of hers, I think. Possibly, in the top 2.
5 stars on the production--each voice was perfect, and perfectly played. The richness of the actors' portrayals really brought this novel to life for me.
In 1973, Secretariat, the greatest champion in horse-racing history, won the Triple Crown. The only horse to ever grace the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated in the same week, he also still holds the record for the fastest times in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. He was also the only non-human chosen as one of ESPN's "50 Greatest Athletes of the Century".
This is by far the most uninspiring horse book I’ve ever read. And yet it’s not that I disliked it. It was more Moneyball than The Natural. Lots of numbers, lots of detail, lots of research . . . but not a lot of heart.
My overall reaction?
My advice is this: If you skip to the actual running of the Triple Crown races—heck, if you even start at the Belmont (near the end of the book), and also make sure to read the 22-page article* “Pure Heart” included after the epilogue (but before the two appendices—this book takes awhile to ebb to a close--about 2 hours), you’ll have covered the best parts of the book.
*Funny-but-true: All the way through the included article, I kept thinking, “Too bad this guy didn’t write the book. He’s got passion and I finally feel some emotional investment! He could teach the author a thing or two.” Imagine my surprise to find, when checking on details while typing up my thoughts, that THE SAME GUY WROTE BOTH! Perhaps the article was more accessible because the writer injected himself into the piece. Ah, well. I now like him (and his book) more.
P.S. Grover Gardner, as always, was fantastic. If only he had been given more than facts to read . . .
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"Marley was dead to begin with...." These chillingly familiar words begin the classic Christmas tale of remorse and redemption in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Now R. William Bennett rewinds the story and focuses the spotlight on Scrooge’s miserly business partner, Jacob T. Marley, who was allowed to return as a ghost to warn Scrooge away from his ill-fated path. Why was Marley allowed to return? And why hadn’t he been given the same chance as Ebenezer Scrooge? Or had he?
Loved it, from start to finish! Though written in our day, it seamlessly fits in with the time period it represents, without feeling stodgy or like thw author was trying too hard. Really well written, and had a perfect narrarator who made the book come alive!
En route to London from New York, Flight 305 suddenly loses power and crash-lands in the English countryside, plunging a group of strangers into a mysterious adventure that will have repercussions for all of humankind. Struggling to stay alive, the survivors soon realize that the world they've crashed in is very different from the one they left. But where are they? Why are they here? And how will they get back home?
Oh my goodness, I just busted through that book just to have it over and off my "currently reading" shelf. It very nearly became an intentional DNF. It should have become a "Did Not Finish" except that I just can't stand not finishing a book I've started. It eats at me. DNF's do technically exist in my life, but since I still have the intention of finishing them someday, I don't count them. ;o) I read the negative reviews going in, but didn't believe them. Whoops.
I can't quite decide what would help this atrocious book, but here are some ideas:
1) Length--The plot/character development was so simplistic/undeveloped that I think it would've done better as a short story, or, strangely enough, more thoroughly fleshed out as a much longer book (though I shudder to think of reading more about these insipid characters).
2) Characters--I've almost never met such an unlikeable "hero"/protagonist. I went into the book thinking he'd be more like Jack on the TV show LOST (the lineup and actions of the first third of the novel seem like a one-dimensional rip-off of the LOST cast--might as well rip off the best parts about them, right?), but within the first moments of his introduction, I knew that was a pipe dream. The character of Nick Stone made me want to throw things at him to knock the chip off his shoulder and sense into his head. Holy smokes, I've already forgotten the main female character's name. Regardless, her starry-eyed, instant adoration of the idiot ruined an otherwise palatable character. The rest of the characters were extremely one-note as well, with wild arcs of their basic demeanor--Gracen, anyone?
3) The narration drove me crazy. I have listened to (and enjoyed) many books with multiple narrators, but REALLY disliked what they did with this one. As the chapters flipped back and forth, one narrator would read ALMOST the entire chapter, except--jarringly--the other narrator would insert whenever their particular character was speaking. So, you didn't have the male narrator do all the male parts and vice versa for the female narrator, and you didn't just have each chapter narrated through one point of view/voice, but you'd randomly get another voice inserting a line here and there. It bugged me. Also, I liked the female narrator fine, but the male narrator took pretty poor material and didn't improve on it AT ALL, which at least the other narrator did.
4) Huh. I had other thoughts about the book, but I suddenly find myself not being able to care enough to write them down . . . so glad I'm done with this listen. Oh! Except! The me-bubble-headed-simpering-flight-attendant-who-couldn't-possibly-lead/think-in-a-crisis-and-me-doctor-who-has-to-have-triage-explained-to-her-by-condescending-non-medical-macho-man scenarios? Grrrrrr . . .
BAD WRITING. TERRIBLE CHARACTERS. WAY TOO LONG SPENT ON HOW MANY STEPS EVERY PERSON TOOK UP AND DOWN THE AIRPLANE AISLES. TOO MUCH HERO-WORSHIP OF AN IDIOT. BAD PACING.
In essence, it could've been an interesting idea/story, given better characters, more sophisticated/mature writing, and a different length. If you shave the story back to basics, change a bunch of stuff and had someone else write it, I might have liked it?