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Mary Fan

Princeton, NJ
  • 19
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All the Light We Cannot See audiobook cover art

Lovely writing, boring story

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-26-15

When it comes to the art of crafting pretty sentences, this book certainly gets all the point. The language has a lovely flow to it, full of evocative figures of speech. It does a great job of painting a picture of an era and makes for a very atmospheric read. However, the story itself was... boring. Maybe it's low-brow of me to think so, but whatever. Most of the time, I just did not care what was going on because frankly, nothing was happening. And since I was listening to the audiobook, I actually zoned out several times. Neither of the main characters has much personality. They're figures rather than actual people, and the author keeps them at arm's length. We're privy to a few of their thoughts, but for the most part, they drift like shadows through the book, memorable only because of what they are, and not who. Werner at least shows some sign of life, with his curiosity and touch of internal conflict. Marie-Laure is a Mary Sue through and through who only does what she's told or expected to do. Maybe her parts would have been more interesting if she'd had more of an opinion about... anything, really.

Anyway, this is one of those book-vegetables that I know objectively is good but that I didn't actively enjoy. But I liked it well enough to finish, and I can appreciate the craft that went into it. I'm just more into books with actual plots, and for this one, many of the scenes had me wondering, "What is the point of you other than to show off how pretty your sentences are?"

Three stars for the pretty sentences, well-researched setting, and evocative language, plus a bonus star for featuring kids who are interested in the sciences (I'm a nerd and have a soft spot for the science-talk) and a sympathetic Nazi. That was actually half the reason I wanted to read the book in the first place - to see how it handled World War II from the point of view of those history has universally demonized. Yes, the Nazis were awful as a group, and many of the individuals were horrible too, but I hate absolutes, and seeing them treated as convenient battle-bot-type villains in so much pop culture has gotten tiresome. So seeing how an innocent orphan boy was pulled into the world of Nazis - not entirely willingly but not kicking and screaming either - was a fascinating twist on a tired tale.

Fairest audiobook cover art

Fantastic depiction of a villain's rise

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-08-15

I've become a huge fan of the Lunar Chronicles. I didn't know what to expect from this story, which is for Queen Levana what the Star Wars prequels were for Darth Vader in that it shows how she turned from a sympathetic and well-meaning teen into a fearsome villain. And thankfully, Marissa Meyer handled the gradual twisting of her villain much more dexterously than George Lucas did. Watching Levana's gradual transformation into the terrifying force of evil she is in the first three Lunar Chronicle books is like watching a burning building. It's kind of horrible, yet perversely entertaining, and you just can't look away.

I'd recommend reading this story only after reading the first three Lunar Chronicles books, as there are many references to (and perhaps mild spoilers for) Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress. Reading Fairest after those three added a lot of color to the world Meyer has built. Whereas the first three take place mostly on Earth and offer only glimpses of Luna, Fairest shows us what's happening on the other side of the war.

Anyway, loved this book, love this series, and can't wait for the next installment!

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

Binds That Tie audiobook cover art

Gripping story

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-19-15

Binds That Tie is a gripping tale of two ordinary married people who find themselves in a heap of legal trouble after the wife, Maggie, kills an intruder and the husband, Chris, decides to hide the body instead of reporting it. Chris is an ex-convict whose once bright future was yanked from under him after a drunken bar fight in college that landed a classmate in a wheelchair. As such, he has little trust in the police or the justice system. Maggie, meanwhile, would rather do the obvious "right thing" and call in the authorities.

Audiobook cover

The book alternates between Chris and Maggie's points of view. I listened to the audiobook version, which had two narrators. As longtime audiobook listener knows, the narrator can make or break a character. Maggie's narrator did a good job of bringing the character to life. However, Chris's narrator was the real standout. Something about the way he imbued tension and emotion into the words made the character completely sympathetic, even though Chris is not a good person by any means. He cheated on his wife even as she was struggling through the emotional toil of miscarriages, and he strong-armed her into agreeing to lie to the police. So why the heck did I feel bad for this guy and want him to get away with his wrongness?

Apart from the brilliant narration, Moretti's subtle and well-constructed prose allows you to dig deep into the characters' thoughts and really see the world from their points of view. Maggie is no angel either. She's been through a lot, and so it's easy to feel bad for her, but she's not the nicest of people (especially with what she does at the end, though I won't spoil the twist here).

The plot itself seems simple on the surface, starting with a depiction of Maggie and Chris's crumbling marriage and then moving into a legal/courtroom drama as the police and lawyers get involved. The police form a convenient theory that Chris murdered the intruder in cold blood, further complicating matters. We the readers know what Chris and Maggie do – yes, crimes were committed, but there were extenuating circumstances. Maggie was defending herself. Chris was trying to protect himself and his wife from what he believed to be a corrupt system. Something about the way the story is told makes each moment tense and left me wondering, "Oh my God, what's going to happen next? Are they going to get away with it? Is Chris going to be wrongfully convicted of murder?" after every chapter. In fact, Moretti's writing held my interest so well, I actually missed my exit once (I listen to audiobooks during long drives) because of it.

Kate Moretti may be the new kid on the block for women's fiction, but I have a feeling that's going to change soon. She's a real force to be reckoned with, between crafting complex emotions and weaving tense plots that leave you flipping the pages even though no one's holding a gun to anyone's head. I really, really enjoyed Binds That Tie, even more than I did her previous novel, Though I Knew You (which is also excellent, by the way!). And I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo audiobook cover art

Intriguing

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-07-14

This is one of those books that really benefits from a talented narrator. I've read Larsson on paper as well as listened to this audiobook, and his writing is quite dry (this may be because of the translation). However, Simon Vance successfully breathes life into the prose. The story itself is very intriguing. There's a good reason this book became such a sensation.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire audiobook cover art
  • Star Wars: Heir to the Empire
  • (20th Anniversary Edition), The Thrawn Trilogy, Book 1
  • By: Timothy Zahn
  • Narrated by: Marc Thompson

Awesome sequel for Star Wars fans

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-07-14

This book is very entertaining for those of us who love Star Wars. Marc Thompson is spot-on with the voices he puts on for the male characters (there's only so much he can do for Leia, being not a female), especially Han and Lando. And the sound effects were lots of fun... I felt like I was listening to a movie. The story itself had a few flaws - primarily the lack of Leia (she just kind of floats in the background) - but was enjoyable nonetheless.

The Help audiobook cover art

Entertaining, with excellent narrators

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-07-14

This book is really all about the characers, and they really come to life through the talented narrators. Especially Octavia Spencer as Minnie... and I wasn't surprised when she won the Oscar for portraying the same role on film!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Streets of Payne audiobook cover art

Awesome cyberpunk mystery

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-07-14

Well, fuggle me blue! This book was everything it promised to be—and more. I was lucky enough to receive an audiobook version of Streets of Payne, narrated by Joy Nash. The only downside to this is that I have no idea how anything is spelled, so apologies in advance if I get things wrong.

In a future in which law enforcement has been privatized, street-smart Amber Payne is a detective with Securi-Tech, partnered with hacker extraordinaire Kevin Glass. The first thing people notice about her are always her eyes—or rather, the cybernetic implants that replaced her eyes, after she lost hers when street bangers attacked her.

When Amber and Kevin are hired by the powerful Alta Corp to investigate the theft of valuable data, they stumble upon something, much, much bigger than corporate espionage. They find themselves in the crosshairs of a powerful enemy, one who will stop at nothing to end them.

Where to start the gushing? This book has everything a good sci-fi adventure ought to have: intriguing characters, awesome tech, snappy dialogue, thrilling action, and even a touch of philosophy… And the street slang Amber employs is infectious. Brackett really brings his world to life.

The first thing that came to mind when I read (or rather, was listening to) this book was Gibson. And then as the book progressed, I felt shades of Philip K. Dick. Brackett seems like a natural heir to these sci-fi greats. His novel explores the possibilities of cyberspace and artificial intelligence, as well as the possible future of cosmetic surgery. In this world, people can get enhancements of all kinds—muscles, limbs, and more all have artificial counterparts that are more powerful than the real thing.

Pretty much every character in this book counts as a cyborg—part human and part machine. For Amber, it’s her cybernetic eyes. For Kevin, it’s his virtual alter-ego, K2. And then there are the street bangers and mercenaries they run into, who are so jacked up with tech, you start to wonder if they still count as human.

The plot of takes the stories on twists and turns, leading the characters in unexpected directions. I found myself more than once yelling, “What!” The mystery turns out to be far more complex than Amber anticipated, and there were times when I found myself wondering, “What is going on here?!” But the threads all come together in the end, leaving the reader with a satisfying resolution.

As a character, Amber is a familiar figure—the haunted, tough-as-nails detective who will stop at nothing to solve her case. But Brackett also brings her human side to the surface—the compassionate woman who cares about her partner and who isn’t without her faults.

Overall, this book was a very enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a healthy dose of sci-fi. And if you’re too busy to curl up with a book (like I am these days), the audiobook is phenomenal. Joy Nash’s narration really makes the characters and action come alive, giving each person his or her own voice.

What more can I say? If you’re a fan of Gibson, the TV show “Almost Human”, Bladerunner, or anything else by Philip K. Dick, I highly recommend you give this book a try.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Graceling audiobook cover art

Excellent actors, story somewhat disappointing

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-16-14

Liked it for the most part. It was definitely nice to read a good ole high fantasy, with medieval swords and fast horses and even a touch of magic, starring a strong young woman who doesn't need to be swept off her feet or rescued. The first third or so of the book was very promising, with royal intrigue and high-stakes dilemma. But I feel like the story didn't live up to its potential. The world didn't interest me that much; it's a pretty cut-and-dry renaissance-style kingdom, with no clear magic system to define the Graces. Also didn't like how super-powered Katsa and Po were... their super-Graces made things a little too easy for them, so despite the danger they were supposed to be in, I never bought the tension (because it's demonstrated over and over that Katsa is UNBEATABLE and so I know she'll win, thereby killing any suspense). And, of course, there were the Endless Walking Scenes, where the plot just comes to a standstill as the characters march through the woods for ages and ages and ages. Oh, and because I was listening to an audiobook, writing foibles I might have glanced over on the page became glaringly obvious (the most irritating of which was how Po couldn't stop saying Katsa's name, and how repetitive Cashore's writing gets... she repeats words within the same sentence!).

One last issue: The royal intrigue set up by the first third fell flat on its face, with solutions and answers coming far too easily. And I feel like an opportunity to explore the villain's motivations was squandered and written off, even though the question of what he wanted was what kept me hooked initially (I was very disappointed by how quickly his plotline ended).

That being said, I did like the book overall. Most of my quibbles are pet peeves, and what I liked about the story is harder to define than a handful of nitpicky complaints. Katsa is a kick-ass heroine who defies expectations and won't take crap from anyone, which is great to see in a genre too often populated by wilting damsels or cartoonish witches and whores (when they're present at all). I do wish her character had a little more dimension, but she's an enjoyable character to follow. I liked Po and Raffin a lot (I was so bummed that he wasn't in it more!), though my favorite character, Captain Faun, only had about 3 scenes (she rocked those scenes!).

I was listening to the full cast audio version, which had different voice actors for the dialogue, and they were all excellent. Especially Raffin and Po (maybe that's why I liked their characters so much!). The musical cues were an interesting touch, giving the book an old radio drama type of feel. And the narrator did an excellent job of bringing the words to life (even when Cashore was needlessly repeating them).

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

Steelheart audiobook cover art

Decent plot, good narrator, wooden characters

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-26-14

This book was rocky for me. I picked it up on a whim and liked the prologue because it read like a comic book, which for me is a major plus. But 75% of what came after that was difficult for me to get through. The premise is decent - plucky underground heroes against superpowered villains, who doesn't love a classic good-versus-evil tail? - and the world-building is nice.

But I'm the kind of reader who can't give a damn about the "world" unless I care about the characters. And Steelheart's characters were as flat as a pancake. A pancake with some quirks sprinkled on top to try to give them more personality, but still a pancake. It seemed like Sanderson was trying very hard to give his characters dimensions, but it just wasn't working. And this was even with a dynamic and talented narrator doing his darndest to breathe life into these cardboard cutouts.

Still, the plot was decent enough for me to keep slogging through, although the main reason I didn't throw up my hands and give up is because I hate quitting on books. But it was painful. I listen to audiobooks on long drives and commutes, but there were several occasions in which I opted to listen to my trashy iPod playlist because I just didn't care enough to go back to this book.

Then, about 75% of the way through, things turned around. David, the main character (whose name I kept forgetting because he's a pretty forgettable guy, and who is never described in the whole book) finally went from wooden as Pinocchio to a real boy. I finally learned something about the obligatory Hot Badass Love Interest Girl that made her interesting. And the payoff with the plot was worth waiting for.

So, essentially, up until the last hour and a half of this audiobook, I was all set to give it 3 stars. But it earned its 4th with a killer ending. And dammit, I kind of want the sequel.

7 of 13 people found this review helpful

Arrows of the Queen audiobook cover art

Great world

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-22-14

First of all, I can see why this book is so famous. The world Mercedes Lackey creates really is fantastic. Now, this could be the editor in my head, but I wasn't such a fan of her storytelling style. It was all tell-tell-tell-tell-tell. Of course, this book was also published in a different era, and I'm accustomed to the show-show-show-show-show style of today.

The opening, before Talia (or however you spell her name - I was listening to the audiobook) finds out she's a herald, totally drew me in. After she got to the Collegium, though, things came to a bit of a halt. Even though there were conspiracies afoot and whatnot, the tension just wasn't there.

Nevertheless, A+ for imagination.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful