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Margaret

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  • The Mars Room

  • A Novel
  • By: Rachel Kushner
  • Narrated by: Rachel Kushner
  • Length: 9 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 396
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 364
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 364

Featuring original music by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon! It's 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women's Correctional Facility, deep in California's Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Amazing novel !

  • By Amazon Customer on 06-08-18

Too bleak for me; well-written

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

Reviewed: 08-09-18

I have mixed feelings about this "immersive" novel. Kushner has done her research, sharing some vivid details about life inside the California women's prison system, life as a sex worker, doing drugs and mostly living on the streets at a tender age. She shares those vivid details in the straightforward, unsentimental voice of her main character, Romy Hall, sentenced to two life sentences for killing her stalker. Kushner makes Romy's voice strong and sure, with no self-pity, and a fatalism that breaks the reader's heart from time to time. There are richly painted portraits of the other inmates and their feisty - or sad - ways. When one teenager gives birth in prison intake, the way she and her child are treated stain the United States with shame.

There are a couple of devices Kushner uses that don't work so well. One character has an obsession with the UniBomber, so excerpts from his diary appear. It breaks up the narrative, but for no good reason. Toward the end of the book, the murder victim tells his side of the story, but we have no attachment to him, and the placement is awkward.

My biggest challenge was that I almost gave up on the novel, it was so bleak. Being born poor, to a drug addict in the most expensive city in the U.S. is indeed bleak, so what was I thinking? I stuck with it because once inside the prison, the other characters and their life forces balanced the bleak portrayals of a rain-drenched, hungry childhood. But the Guardian got it right when it said: "This may not be an enjoyable novel, but it marks you like a tattoo." I'm just not sure I wanted to be marked.

Kushner herself narrates, and her tone and voice are pitch-perfect for Romy, who doesn't expect much from the world. The production would have been improved if there had been men reading the male voices.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Death of Mrs. Westaway

  • By: Ruth Ware
  • Narrated by: Imogen Church
  • Length: 14 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,396
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,204
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,187

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person - but also that the cold-reading skills she's honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money. Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased...where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it. Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware's signature suspenseful style, an addictive thriller.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Death of Mrs. Westaway

  • By Debbie De on 06-03-18

Gawdawful Gothic

Overall
1 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-01-18

This could have been a good book. Scrappy orphan makes her living reading Tarot cards for tourists at the Brighton seaside, hounded by loan sharks, receives letter in mail telling her she's received an inheritance from a grandmother of whom she's never heard, please come to the manor house after the funeral. Gloomy manor house, complete with screeching magpies, crazy mean old housekeeper, various new uncles, a missing auntie - the recipie for a good book is there. In fact, this construct kept me with the story till the bitter end, which turned out to be an endurance test. What's to endure, you ask?

First, this book is 51 chapters long, which is about 25 chapters too many. It's as if Ruth Ware were being paid by the word. The story could have been told with half as many words, which would have increased the drama with REAL tension, rather than reminding the reader every fourth word that it is tense because of someone's heart beating in her throat, because her cell phone is upstairs, because she woke up after a nap, because it's raining, because she skipped breakfast, because there's a photo album on the table.

And oh, the words. Ruth Ware is addicted to the adverb. This book is all tell and no show. Every mood, feeling and action is modified by an adverb, usuall in an internal monologue instead of through action, and if there's no appropriate adverb, then by all means, tack "ly" onto any old adjective and smack it in there. Where, I wanted to know, was the editor? Who in hell allowed all these adverbs in? Overall the poor editing makes the book repetitive, obvious and interminable in the extreme.

Poor character development also plagues this book. The orphan Tarot reader at the center is not believable - she has no friends because her mother died three years ago, yet it's clear she works as part of a teeming boardwalk scene with regulars who look out for her. She is scrappy and independent, except that she spends the entire book unable to say boo to a goose, and repeats the word "sorry" 10,000 times. She is a hustler, except she's not, because she feels guilty for getting out of bed in the morning. And we never learn anything else about her other than that she's skinny.

After enduring a bunch of stock characters from a Perils of Pauline setpiece because I hung on, hoping the ending might be clever, I found the ending a serious letdown. The murderer is a murderer for no real reason. The secrets upon secrets are not relevant to the 1990-2010's timeframe, but to some early Victorian period at the latest. The resolution of the plot twists is contrived and awkward.

I am surprised to read so many listeners found the narrator compelling. While the narrator does an ok job with the simpering, whimpering main character, she reads the male voices as if she's on PeeWee Herman's show from the 1990's. It ruined what little dialogue there was.

Overall, just an interminable slog through the rain to find weak, lukewarm tea at the end.

  • Educated

  • A Memoir
  • By: Tara Westover
  • Narrated by: Julia Whelan
  • Length: 12 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 15,079
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 13,761
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 13,692

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard. Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Exceptional

  • By Haley on 05-27-18

Remarkable victory for self-determination

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

If you’ve read the publishing world’s coverage of this remarkable memoir, you’ve heard enough headlines to be interested. Here’s one: girl who does not attend school of any kind – including home schooling - until she enters college at age 16 attends Cambridge, Harvard, earns PhD. Here’s another: Child of Mormon extremist prepper grows up in a family without doctors or birth certificates, canning peaches and hoarding ammunition for the End Times, imagining her only friend in the crosshairs of a bazooka should he come to steal their supplies when the government crumbles. The first third of Tara Westover’s book is packed with the kinds of details that keeps the reader turning pages, precise and well-chosen images of a childhood most people can’t imagine. That story alone is reason enough to read Educated.

Two things elevate this book from an interesting story about unusual circumstances to a true literary memoir. The first is Tara Westover’s internal transformation from age 16 to 27, as she battles inside herself for the right to create her own mind, separate from the deprivation and dominance of her father’s alternate reality. She fights the physical abuse of a brother who breaks her bones. She fights extreme poverty and betrayal by most of her family members – including her mother – while struggling to catch up on basic skills like personal hygiene and how to use a text book. She has no idea how to connect with people as she has spent most of her life isolated on a mountain in Idaho, taught to fear behaviors like wearing a tank top and grocery shopping on Sunday. The mental toughness and resilience Westover demonstrates in winning this battle – all while earning a PhD and struggling to earn a subsistence living – makes this a powerful recovery story. It is also a classic coming of age story but with more vivid contrasts than most. It is also a grief memoir, with Westover’s loneliness and isolation, her fear and abandonment set forth in plain language as the book slowly says goodbye to her father and his world.

The second element that elevates this book to literary status is the quality of Westover’s writing. Underneath an interesting story is her craft – the architecture of the book in three parts, each with their own crescendos, climaxes and releases. She selects every detail with care – whether it is an Apache parable about the choices women make, or the catastrophic injuries for which her family refuses medical treatment at the direction of her father, or a brother blending and drinking tacos because of the teeth he’d smashed after an accident caused by her father’s impulsive decisions. The details lead the reader through what is largely an internal journey in a way that feels like an action novel. And while Westover’s language is plan and direct, she has a way with a phrase: of her father: “charismatic gale of a man that he was;” her father’s junkyard “a lake of debris;” of her mother’s transformation from community midwife to brain-injured accident victim: “she had been an expert, an uncontested power; now she had to ask her 10-year old daughter whether she’d eaten lunch.” There are many places throughout the book where a lover of language itches to get out the highlighter.

Finally, I hope Westover writes another memoir – in a decade or two. Because this is a memoir clearly written by a person in their 20’s, with all the violence of separation from family that adolescence and young adulthood requires; more, perhaps, because Westover is separating from a family that refuses to allow her a personhood separate from the limited role her father’s views allow. I wonder if the absolutism it takes to hold her newfound independence will need to be so fierce when she’s in her 40’s, if her parents are still alive then. As their powers diminish and hers grow with use, she probably has more story left in her to create.

  • Calypso

  • By: David Sedaris
  • Narrated by: David Sedaris
  • Length: 6 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,669
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 6,967
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,901

If you've ever laughed your way through David Sedaris's cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you're getting with Calypso. You'd be wrong. When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And it's as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it's impossible to take a vacation from yourself. With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation - and dark humor - toward middle age and mortality.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Dark and funny

  • By dana k sherwood on 06-05-18

Flawless mix of pathos, humor and curiosity

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

This book is an anthem for those of us facing the indignities of middle age with malice and dark humor. Sedaris bites off the physical trials of middle age with his usual gusto, but his real genius lies in how he approaches the emotional challenges. How loved ones die. How endings are abrupt and untidy. How we watch our parents age, how they make bad decisions, and how we fight with ourselves to balance their safety and their autonomy. How we're never as gracious and patient with these old people as we imagine ourselves to be. How we yearn for them to be, well, our parents again without those vulnerable, frail moments. How we know that when they WERE our parents at full strength, we didn't like them very much.

Sedaris mixes those melancholoy snapshopts with hilarious descriptions of vacationing with his sisters and brother. The Sedaris siblings share their love of the beach, Sedaris' beach house named The Sea Section, a very nearly unseemly love of long talks with strangers, and a penchant for dreadful clothing and wild shopping sprees.

I find it very diffucult to describe Sedaris' unique mix of aggression, compassion and sharp humor, so I recommend this book to everyone so that they can experience it for themselves. The audio book is particularly good because Sedaris himself reads it, and his performance skills are of the highest quality.

  • The Elephant Whisperer

  • My Life with the Herd in the African Wild
  • By: Lawrence Anthony, Thea Feldman, Graham Spence
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 5 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 64
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 60
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 60

When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of "rogue" wild elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd's last chance of survival: they would be killed if he wouldn't take them. In order to save their lives, Anthony took them in. In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • “To know them is to love them”

  • By Amazon Customer on 08-14-18

The power of inter-species compssion

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

A well-told story of empathy between species, and how that empathy can make a difference between life and death for vulnerable creatures. A reminder that humans can be gobsmackingly stupid at the expense of other lives, but that we still have free will to choose another path.

Many mysteries of elephant life and family culture come to life in this book, with many mysteries left unsolved as we have so much more to learn about this incredbile, intelligent species.

  • There There

  • By: Tommy Orange
  • Narrated by: Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Ceurvo, and others
  • Length: 8 hrs
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 752
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 687
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 681

Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle's death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle's memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Highly recommend.

  • By Rachel Subido on 07-09-18

Some powerful characters; abrupt, unfinished end

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

Tommy Orange's debut novel is strongest when the interior voices of its main characters lead us through the challenges of addiction, poverty and identity filtered through generations of Native American oppression and rich - but fragmented and incomplete - cultural and spiritual heritage. The urban Oakland boy whose Great Aunt does not share Indian culture with him, but who dances the sacred dances as a toddler and prepares for his first pow-wow in secret, watching You Tube. The only-a-few-days sober woman who came of age on Alcatraz during the native occupation and is looking for the daughter she gave up for adoption. The internet-addicted young man whose way out of his dark bedroom is in planning the Big Oakland Pow-Wow.

Orange's language is quite beautiful in many places, full of lyric and often mystical. He shows the reader the world of big-city urban Indians, an undertold American perspective. Some of the characters - in particular those connected to two main women in the book - are beautifully drawn.

Orange is less successful with the plotting of a crime to be committed at the Big Oakland Pow-Wow. In my view, the characters connected to the crime were less successfully articulated and often confused me as a reader. The real climax of this book happens at the pow-wow when many family members are reunited, not when the crime is committed. In focusing too much on the crime, I felt Orange left key details of the pow-wow under developed.

The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying, with many plot lines unresolved. The book felt unfinished.

Based on the lyricism and much of the character development, I would read another book by Tommy Orange.

  • The Italian Party

  • A Novel
  • By: Christina Lynch
  • Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini
  • Length: 10 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 56
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 52
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 52

Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany's famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America, and each other. When Scottie’s Italian teacher - a teenager with secrets of his own - disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband, and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A gripping and unexpected romantic thriller!

  • By P.S.BooksRule on 09-19-18

Beautiful people, beautiful Tuscany . . . secrets

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

A lovely summer read, with more depth than you imagine in the beginning.

Michael and Scottie, handsome newlyweds, set off across the sun-dappled Atlantic to start their new life adventure in Siena, Italy. Lynch spends the first half of the novel peeling back the onion layers of secrets and lies the two of them have witheld from each other, at the same time the gender roles and entitlement of the 1950's U.S. is sanding down Scottie and Michael. By the time everything is out in the open, Michael and Scottie have only their character and integrity left to build a new life - will they make decent choices?

This intriguing plot is set against a backdrop of sleepy post-war Italian village life, communist activism and gorgeous Tuscan settings - with a lurking undercurrent of ex-pat decadance and cold-war paranoia.

  • Firestorm

  • By: Nevada Barr
  • Narrated by: Barbara Rosenblat
  • Length: 8 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 391
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 263
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 258

Accomplished storyteller Nevada Barr captivates fans with her tightly-woven plots, vibrant descriptions, and believable characters. In this thrilling mystery, her resourceful sleuth, middle-aged park ranger Anna Pigeon, travels to northern California where she joins the forces battling an out-of-control forest fire.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Firestorm (unabridged)

  • By Patti on 08-25-04

Nature can kick your @%#

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

Nothing can stop Anna Pigeon – not even a raging wildfire. Anna and a motley crew of good guys and bad guys emerge from their “shake and bake” fire shelters to a world where all the food and water has been burned up and the weather has cut off all help. They have to build a little community and survive for a few days, injured and traumatized – with a murderer in their midst. In a parallel story, Fred the Fed is back, nerding methodically along to help Anna solve her mystery before the murderer takes her out, too.

I missed Barr’s usual descriptions of the healing beauty of nature, but she gives us instead its unbridled power to kick our asses.

  • The Last Black Unicorn

  • By: Tiffany Haddish
  • Narrated by: Tiffany Haddish
  • Length: 6 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 24,590
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 22,059
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21,967

Tiffany can't avoid being funny: it's just who she is. But The Last Black Unicorn is so much more than a side-splittingly hilarious collection of essays - it's a memoir of the struggles of one woman who came from nothing and nowhere. A woman who was able to achieve her dreams by reveling in her pain and awkwardness, showing the world who she really is, and inspiring others through the power of laughter.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Interesting...

  • By The2ndhorseman on 12-24-17

A joyous ride of resilience

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

I cannot imagine READING this book. It’s not so much written as it is a profane, sometimes hilarious, always honest monologue by Tiffany Haddish, complete with her energy and candor. She reads the audio book, and only a fool would try to plow through written stories of her ability to heal through sex, her career as a school mascot, her survival of the foster care system without the joyful company of her voice. Many reviewers describe this book as “raw,” and I guess it is, but perhaps what’s raw about it is Haddish’s fearless way of telling the story straight. Whether it’s her mother beating her in the Wal-Mart parking lot because she’s too brain-injured to stop herself or how Haddish makes sure she gets treated with respect by producers, Haddish tells even the most heartbreaking details with a steady grounding in resilience and joy. She’s a self-made person, all right, with a great story to tell that makes the reader/listener want to see more of her in the future.

  • Ill Wind

  • Anna Pigeon Mysteries, Book 3
  • By: Nevada Barr
  • Narrated by: Barbara Rosenblat
  • Length: 9 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 98
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 89
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 89

Separated from friends and family and haunted by personal demons, park ranger Anna Pigeon finds solace in the quiet ruins of the Anasazi civilization of Colorado's Mesa Verde. But the rugged beauty of the park and the mystery of the Anasazi are cruelly overshadowed by danger and death. Lately, visitors to Mesa Verde have been bringing home more than photos - they're also carrying a strange, deadly disease, and once it strikes, Anna Pigeon must find the very human source of the evil wind.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Terrible Production - couldn't finish

  • By Louise on 01-03-18

Same great characterization, weaker story

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

Reviewed: 07-28-18

This book is worth the read, but I liked it less than the first two in the series, largely because the crime that causes the deaths in the book seems a little bit of a stretch for credulity. However, Barr’s Anna Pigeon returns with the same wise-cracking attitude, curiosity, loneliness and hard drinking to charm the reader. There is a very compelling 6 year old and her Aunt Hattie, a colorful earth mother with a dramatic flair. Anna’s two roommates in the employee dormitory are an interesting duo – one who believes she can speak for the spirits of the dead in the park, and a southern belle who is perfectly happy to shoot bad guys in between dates. Characters we’ve come to depend on – sister Molly as the Greek Chorus, Piedmont the cat stuck living in a colleague’s house – are also included, and Fred the Fed makes a comeback, this time as a real partner to Anna.