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Tad Davis

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  • Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite

  • By: Anthony Trollope
  • Narrated by: Tony Britton
  • Length: 7 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 51
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 37
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 37

On the death of his son, Sir Harry Hotspur had determined to give his property to his daughter Emily. She is beautiful and as strong-willed and high-principled as her father. Then she falls in love with the black-sheep of the family.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Sometimes a Great Fall

  • By Joseph R on 08-29-09

Sweet and sad and marred by prejudice

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

Reviewed: 10-27-18

One of the sweetest, saddest stories of Trollope that I've read. Cousin George, who is a bounder beyond redemption, convinces himself that he loves Emily, and convinces her too; but as her father Sir Harry suspects, he really just wants her money. The result destroys more than one person, emotionally if not physically. Tony Britton gives a wonderful reading.

One thing has to be said, though. One of the darkest crimes charged against George is that he’s in hock to the Jews. Were he in debt to good Anglicans, it wouldn't have been held against him, at least not to the same extent. Reading Trollope can be exasperating.

How could someone who writes such genial fiction, with such engaging characters, continually mar his writing with this ugly prejudice? It's not a question of Trollope simply being a man of his time. The same period gave birth to novels with deeply drawn, sympathetic Jewish characters: novels like Daniel Deronda and Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. Enjoying Trollope, as I do, can sometimes be a cringeworthy experience. I would have given the story 5 stars otherwise.

  • Daisy Miller

  • By: Henry James
  • Narrated by: Penelope Rawlins
  • Length: 2 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 2
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars 1

Daisy Miller is a young American girl travelling Europe with her mother and younger brother. While in Vevey, Switzerland, she becomes acquainted with Frederick Winterbourne, an idle expatriate, of well-to-do Americans. Winterbourne, who observes and critiques young Daisy through their brief acquaintanceship, is infatuated with her irreverent behavior. Daisy flaunts society's rules and uncompromising standards; she is charming, spontaneous, and unpretentious, and her audacity shocks the Europeans, who consider her an uncultivated flirt. The sophisticated Winterbourne remains smitten with Daisy, but his classical values stand in his way.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Odd story

  • By Tad Davis on 10-18-18

Odd story

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

Reviewed: 10-18-18

I’m not a great fan of Henry James, and this odd story didn’t do much to change my mind. Daisy Miller is a charming young flirt who seems oblivious to the disapproval her “reckless” behavior evokes in others. To Daisy, the worst insult you can offer is that someone is “stiff.” She is definitely not stiff.

The impression she creates depends a lot on how old you think she is. James never says. Late teens, probably; but even at that age the interest taken in her by the 27-year-old Winterbourne is creepy. She thinks nothing of going off to visit a castle with Winterbourne and without a chaperone; or of visiting the Colosseum in Rome at midnight with an Italian gentleman - and without a chaperone. James is a closet prude, and so naturally she comes to a bad end.

Penelope Rawlins does a convincing American accent. But her voice for Daisy makes her sound 12 or 13, which makes the interest other men take in her even creepier. I don’t think that was the intended effect.

The story is, mercifully, a short one. I give it four stars mainly because of the elegance of James’s prose.

  • P. D. James BBC Radio Drama Collection

  • Seven Full-Cast Dramatisations
  • By: P. D. James
  • Narrated by: Greta Scacchi, Hugh Grant, full cast, and others
  • Length: 16 hrs and 37 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 112
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 101
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 100

Seven BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatisations of P. D. James' acclaimed mysteries, plus P. D. James in Her Own Words. This collection includes: Cover Her Face, A Taste for Death, Devices and Desires, A Certain Justice, The Private Patient, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and The Skull Beneath the Skin.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Desert Island drama

  • By Zaubermond on 02-13-18

Classy

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

Reviewed: 10-16-18

These are classy, full-on adaptations of several PD James novels: mostly Dalgliesh stories, but there are two Cordelia Greys here as well. The collection includes the story I think of as James’s masterpiece, A Taste For Death. The adaptations follow the plots of the originals closely, though POV is often changed to better meet the requirements of the medium. (Most commonly, third-person narration is changed to first-person.)

I really have only one complaint: as with many recent BBC omnibus collections, there is no index of tracks, nor is there a comprehensive list of cast members. There really should be a PDF with this information.

  • The Mabinogion

  • By: Sioned Davies - Translator
  • Narrated by: James Cameron Stewart
  • Length: 11 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 2
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 2

Celtic mythology, Arthurian romance, and an intriguing interpretation of British history - these are just some of the themes embraced by the anonymous authors of the eleven tales that make up the Welsh medieval masterpiece known as The Mabinogion. They tell of Gwydion the shape-shifter, who can create a woman out of flowers; of Math the magician whose feet must lie in the lap of a virgin; of hanging a pregnant mouse and hunting a magical boar.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • The names and read-along

  • By Tad Davis on 10-10-18

The names and read-along

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

Reviewed: 10-10-18

To me, James Cameron Stewart’s reading was disappointingly flat. But the translation is a useful update to the older, more commonly available one by Charlotte Guest.

And those names! They’re hard to decipher in audio, at least for me. What I did was purchase the Kindle version of the book and use the read-along feature to read and listen at the same time. I got at least an idea of how the spelling and pronunciation of Welsh names go together.

The tales themselves are fantastic and fantastical. There are kings large enough to wade across the Irish Sea and wives created from flowers; enchanted castles and magician kings. Several tales echo the Arthurian tales of Chretien de Troyes.

I had avoided the Mabinogion for years because I thought the stories would be complex. The names are, but the stories aren’t. They’re not tightly plotted, but they have the energy of folktales.

  • Doctor Who: The Macra Terror

  • By: Ian Stuart Black
  • Narrated by: Colin Baker
  • Length: 1 hr and 34 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 20
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 20

When the Doctor, Polly, and Ben visit a human colony that appears to be one big holiday camp they think they have come across a truly happy place. But a shadowy presence soon makes them realise that the surface contentment is carefully controlled. The colony's inhabitants have been brainwashed by giant crab-like creatures - the Macra. Insidious propaganda, broadcast by the Controller, forces the humans to mine a gas that is essential for the Macra to survive - but fatal to them. The colony must be saved - but how?

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Not Coilin Baker but the wonderful Anneke Wills

  • By Leanne Carkeet on 02-19-15

Giant insects

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

Reviewed: 09-14-18

Not being especially fond of insects, I was perfectly happy to listen to this one rather than watching it. (Good thing, since the video has been lost.) The more I see and hear Patrick Troughton, the more impressed I am by the subtle depth he brings to the role of the second Doctor.

  • Doctor Who - The Spectre of Lanyon Moor

  • By: Nicholas Pegg
  • Narrated by: Colin Baker, Nicholas Courtney, Maggie Stables
  • Length: 2 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 11
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10

In a desolate Cornish landscape littered with relics of prehistoric man, the Doctor and Evelyn uncover a catalogue of mysteries. What is the secret of the fog? Can the moor be haunted by a demonic host of imps? And what is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart doing in Pengriffen? Teaming up with his old friend, the Doctor realises that an ancient conflict is nearing its conclusion - and Lanyon Moor is set to be the final battleground. Written and directed by Nicholas Pegg.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • All this, and Alastair too

  • By Tad Davis on 08-29-18

All this, and Alastair too

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

Reviewed: 08-29-18

It’s a pleasure to see how audio has given a new lease on life to the sixth Doctor. Colin Baker’s Doctor remains abrasive and sometimes downright rude, but he is also passionately concerned about the inhabitants of earth. Great and sometimes terrifying sound effects; plus the Brig!

  • The Diary of a Madman and Other Stories

  • By: Nikolai Gogol
  • Narrated by: Nicholas Boulton
  • Length: 17 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6

The Diary of a Madman and Other Stories is a bizarre and colorful collection containing the finest short stories by the iconic Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. From the witty and Kafkaesque "The Nose", where a civil servant wakes up one day to find his nose missing, to the moving and evocative "The Overcoat", about a reclusive man whose only ambition is to replace his old, threadbare coat, Gogol gives us a unique take on the absurd. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Delightful start to finish

  • By Tad Davis on 08-21-18

Delightful start to finish

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

Reviewed: 08-21-18

I can’t imagine a better narrator than Nicholas Boulton for this delightful collection of stories. Every character gets his due, every lyrical description of nature its music.

I’d read The Nose and The Overcoat but had never dipped far into Gogol’s stories. They are grouped into Petersburg Tales (6 stories) and Ukrainian Tales (7 stories), and the two sets of stories are quite different. The Nose and The Overcoat belong to the first group, and while the stories are urban and mostly realistic, there are (obviously) flights of fancy and absurdity. The second group, mostly populated by Cossack soldiers and villagers, occasionally takes a darker turn: there are witches, devils, and wizards weaving in and out of these stories: there are dead men who rise from their graves and moan about being stifled.

One of them, Viy, is the scariest ghost story I’ve ever read. Another one, Christmas Eve, pictures a world where witches and devils show up in a small village to wreak havoc. A blacksmith loves a young woman, but she sets him an almost impossible task: to give her a pair of shoes worthy of the Tsaritsa. But the story hardly follows a straight line. It reads like an improvisation, a story told by a master storyteller who had no idea how his story would end when he started telling it. I mean that in a good way: the story is always surprising and ultimately very satisfying.

A great collection and a treat to listen to. It left me hungering for more Gogol.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • The Beast in Man

  • By: Emile Zola
  • Narrated by: Peter Newcombe Joyce
  • Length: 15 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 4
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 4
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 4

Sex, betrayal, murder and corruption form the basis of this sensational novel by one of the leading French authors of the 19th century. Jacques Lantier is a man with a hereditary homicidal lust. When he sees Roubaud and his wife Severine slit the throat of a wealthy nobleman, it is the catalyst for a string of murders in a convoluted plot full of horror and suspense.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Furious pace

  • By Tad Davis on 08-10-18

Furious pace

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

Reviewed: 08-10-18

Zola’s novels, at least the ones I’ve read, seem to be focused on everything that is worst about human beings: greed, violence, promiscuous sex, putrefaction, and squalor. Yet his plots are exciting - if at times melodramatic - and his characters thoroughly developed. So as unpleasant as they may be, they make compelling reading.

The Beast in Man (or, as I believe it could be translated, The Human Beast) is about trains: sort of. It's really about the people who make the trains go, but there are times when the great hulking machines themselves seem alive. A wrecked engine is pronounced "dying" and then "dead." An engine being driven for the first time is having its "virginity taken." The engines are given names by their engineers and caressed like lovers.

Zola has mastered his subject and presents it to us with a wealth of circumstantial and convincing detail; and it takes the form of a novel-sized metaphor, with the fate of the characters hurtling down the tracks like a train with no driver. His description of a train derailment in one chapter - with Peter Joyce’s passionate narration - has a visceral impact light years beyond train wrecks in films like The Fugitive and Under Siege 2. Only when the deafening scream of escaping steam recedes can the screams of the survivors be heard. I don’t often shudder when reading a book, but I shuddered repeatedly while listening to this passage.

The mainspring of the plot is a murder - the murder of a railroad official who'd imposed himself on Severine when she was only 15; the murder is carried out by her husband, a decade of more after the fact. It almost takes place off stage. We know Severine and Roubaud are planning it, but the only glimpse we get of it is a fleeting one - the flash of the knife, a throat being cut - seen through a train window by a third character, Jacques. He thinks it was Roubaud. He thinks a hulking mass he saw in a corner of the window was Severine. But he can't be sure; the train was hurtling by at 80 kilometers an hour.

Zola hides the details of the crime until much later in the book, when Severine confesses her involvement to Jacques, who has become her lover. (Zola's treatment of sex - his willingness to talk about passion and naked bodies - is never more than R-rated but is still shocking to anyone who thinks of 19th century fiction as "Victorian.") The confession scene could be simple exposition, but it isn't: it becomes the chief cause of the climactic action. Severine doesn’t know it, but Jacques himself has long harbored homicidal impulses, and her confession has an unexpected effect: it whets his appetite for making his own fantasies a reality.

Throughout the book, Zola’s writing is powerful and naked, almost tortured. There are so many lost souls here, so many broken people. I’ve read that Zola was a determinist and a fatalist. Unlike the curses laid on families by the ancient gods, the families of Zola suffer from genetic defects. Whole families are infected, from generation to generation, by alcoholism, violence, greed, and lust. You might call it the Bad Seed school of destiny. I haven’t found that so obvious in the books I’ve read, where individuals seem to be cursed by no more than our common fate, that of being human beings with bewildering and contradictory motives, in a hostile universe. Despite the intensity of Jacques’ bloodlust, Zola treats him sympathetically: he struggles against the role fate has assigned him, and his downfall is pitiable.

As I said, Joyce gives a passionate reading. He is by far the brightest star among narrators who mostly record for their own company. The one odd thing about this recording is that there are no chapter breaks. Certainly the audiobook is divided into chapters, but the divisions are arbitrary, coming almost anywhere, sometimes (it seems) even in the middle of a paragraph. What I mean is that Zola’s chapter breaks are never announced. The book is read as if it were a single long narrative. It wasn't a problem as far as the pace is concerned, because the narrative races along like that out-of-control train. It was just a problem sometimes knowing where to stop and take a break. I always did that reluctantly.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Beatles '66

  • The Revolutionary Year
  • By: Steve Turner
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 43
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 41
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 43

The year that changed everything for the Beatles was 1966 - the year of their last concert and of Revolver, their first album created to be listened to rather than performed. This was the year the Beatles risked their popularity by retiring from live performances, recording songs that explored alternative states of consciousness, experimenting with avant-garde ideas, and speaking their minds on issues of politics, war, and religion. Music journalist and Beatles expert Steve Turner investigates the enormous changes that took place in the Beatles' lives and work during 1966.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • New information on a pivotal year in Beatles music

  • By tru britty on 03-29-18

Great listen

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

What a treat - my favorite group and my favorite narrator, together at last!

Steve Turner’s book focuses on a single year in the Beatles’ career: 1966, when they recorded the album “Revolver” - one that many people feel was a more significant innovation than “Sgt Pepper.” It’s the album of Eleanor Rigby and Taxman: the album of floating downstream with the help of Indian music and psychelic drugs and a doctor who hands out amphetamines like candy. It was the album where the Beatles made a full-time commitment to developing songs in the studio rather than on the road.

1966 was also the year of touring - Japan, the Philippines, Shea Stadium, Candlestick Park - when the Beatles discovered that large numbers of people not only disliked them but actively wished them harm. The Philippines were especially scary: they were seen as having insulted Imelda Marcos, and had to make their way to the airport without the customary police escort. The US provided its own backdrop of threats: this was the year when John’s comment about Jesus led to bonfires that burned Beatles records and memorabilia, and the United Klans of America picketed their concerts. They were threatened with assassination on stage.

And it was the year when Yoko Ono first appeared in the Beatles’ orbit. She and John Lennon locked eyes at an exhibition of her work and instantly realized that they “got” each other.

The actual recording of Revolver takes up most of April and May. By the end of the year, they have recorded Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, and Paul is mapping out his concept for Sgt Pepper. But the music is only part of the story. Turner quotes generously from the interviews each Beatle had with Maureen Cleave. And he quotes from his own interviews: he was there, and he talked to many of the principals like George Martin. Each Beatle appears in this narrative as an individual, someone with a life that existed independently of their participation in the group. Although John and Paul dominate the narrative, George and Ringo are for once given their due as more than sidemen; George’s growing interest in Indian culture and religion is given particular attention.

I think the book will be interesting and entertaining even for people who have only a cursory knowledge of the Beatles. It helps to know who Brian Epstein and George Martin are, and the roles they played in the Beatles’ evolution. But it isn’t necessary to have read Philip Norman or Mark Lewisohn to appreciate Turner’s detailed account of this important stage in their career.

While much of the information is already known to Beatles fans, there were some surprises, at least for me. I had never heard of the singer Alma Cogan before, but it appears that she and John had a significant relationship, and he was devastated by her death in late 1966.

Simon Vance can do a hundred different voices without batting an eye, which makes him an especially appealing narrator of fiction. For nonfiction books like this, his approach is more subtle. He doesn’t try to imitate the voices of the Beatles directly, but by slight variations in tone and rhythm,he captures the distinctive speech patterns of each.

Great listen. Highly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Nana

  • By: Émile Zola
  • Narrated by: Leighton Pugh
  • Length: 17 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 6
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 6

Nana Coupeau is a beautiful woman, able to attract men of enormous wealth with the crook of her finger. Part-time prostitute, part-time actress, she makes her debut in a mediocre operetta The Blonde Venus at the bustling Paris World’s Fair of 1867. She can’t sing, act, or dance, yet she is stunning. Nana soon rockets through elite Parisian society, and, blinded by desire, men crawl to her feet, yielding to her every demand. Affections are manipulated, hearts are broken; fortunes are gutted and inheritances squandered. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Beautiful and devastating

  • By Tad Davis on 07-23-18

Beautiful and devastating

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

Reviewed: 07-23-18

With this production of “Nana,” Naxos provides another excellent entry in its series of 19th century classics. I hope there are more Zola novels to come, especially with Leighton Pugh as narrator.

“Nana” is a tragic story, beautifully written. Zola has the curious ability to write about things he finds detestable - like drunkenness and prostitution - with great compassion and a brilliant eye for the telling detail. The characters are individuals, not just by virtue of external mannerisms and speech, but through a deep perception of their motives and failings.

Nana, although she takes great joy in life, has little awareness or concern for the effect she has on others. She is a prostitute with an almost hypnotic beauty. She tries to parlay this into a career as an actress, but though her physical form enchants Parisian audiences, her acting and singing are somewhat lacking (to put it mildly). Though she spends most of the novel in the keeping of Count Muffat, she strings a number of other men along, leaving behind her a trail of suicidal and financially ruined former lovers.

Zola is never explicit about sex, but it leaves unmistakable traces in every chapter. For example, Nana needs 400 francs to pay a debt; she leaves for two hours; she returns with 400 francs in an envelope. There’s no question how she earned it. A visit to a dive turns out to be an introduction to same-sex relationships - again without ever saying so in quite so many words. The relentless focus on Nana’s beauty leads to the devastating final paragraphs of the novel.

“Nana” can be a tough listen for someone (like me) who doesn’t have the hang of French pronunciation. Many chapters are crowded set-pieces with dozens of people, and I often found it hard to distinguish the names. My solution was to download the text of the novel - there are plenty available, both free and paid - and look up the names while listening to the first few chapters until I became familiar with them.

Zola is a compelling novelist, although it must be said there’s little humor in his dire view of Parisian society. I loved it and hope to listen to it again soon.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful