LISTENER

Clodhopper

Tucson, AZ, United States
  • 38
  • reviews
  • 309
  • helpful votes
  • 109
  • ratings
  • Animal Dreams

  • A Novel
  • By: Barbara Kingsolver
  • Narrated by: Barbara Kingsolver
  • Length: 11 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 386
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 360
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 356

Animal Dreams is a passionate and complex novel about love, forgiveness, and one woman's struggle to find her place in the world. At the end of her rope, Codi Noline returns to her Arizona home to face her ailing father, with whom she has a difficult, distant relationship. There she meets handsome Apache trainman Loyd Peregrina, who tells her, "If you want sweet dreams, you've got to live a sweet life."

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • She reads my heart

  • By Sue Spahr Hodges on 08-03-18

A self-delusional fairy tale

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

Reviewed: 09-04-18

This novel reads like an unwitting satire of a solipsistic, aging, white yuppie chick. All the clichés are there; the Warrenesque yearning for some kind of non-Caucasian ancestry, preferably native American but any other will do. The Sean-Penn-like Sandinista sycophancy, as if news stopped in 1985, as if by burning a little sandalwood you can ignore the fact that Daniel Ortega is currently gunning down protestors in the streets of Granada.

The predictable and comforting fiction about evil mining companies destroying ancient autochthonous communities (a fiction, by the way, that has never happened anywhere in Arizona). And Kingsolver’s essential hypocrisy of celebrating the proletariat railroad workers in the town of Grace, while ignoring the fact that railroads are perhaps civilization’s most obvious metallic invention, that the railroads would never exist without the mines she despises....

Sorry. I usually refrain from allowing political views to color my opinion about a work of art. But in this book, Kingsolver’s politics are so intrusive and simplistic and contradictory that I can’t abide.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • The House of Broken Angels

  • By: Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Narrated by: Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Length: 9 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 824
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 769
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 765

In his final days, beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz, affectionately called Big Angel, has summoned his entire clan for one last legendary birthday party. But as the party approaches, his mother, nearly 100, dies herself, leading to a farewell doubleheader in a single weekend. Among the guests is Big Angel's half-brother, known as Little Angel, who must reckon with the truth that although he shares a father with his siblings, he has not, as a half gringo, shared a life. Across two bittersweet days in their San Diego neighborhood, the revelers mingle.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Not death, and Not borders

  • By Clodhopper on 05-01-18

Not death, and Not borders

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

Reviewed: 05-01-18

“The House of Broken Angels” is the first Great San Diego novel. It is written in a language not classically literary, and yet exactly accurate and appropriate to the place, the time, and the people. It is the melting-pot amalgam of two cultures, and two languages, and too much history; about a family that encompasses all of this, a family that is real and believable because in fact this is what an increasing, perhaps preponderating, majority of families are like - in San Diego and all along the US – Mexico border.

The plot is simple. It is sort of an Aztlan “As I Lay Dying”: the ruminations of the terminally ill Angel de la Cruz at his final birthday party. But the ruminations of any human being open up a history with so many memories, regrets, accomplishments, subplots, fantasies – that they provide a portal through which to view the entire panorama of a life nearly finished. And beyond that, the entire world in which he lived.

And that entire world is displayed here: the origins in Mexican poverty, the “Children of Sanchez” machismo and misogyny, the strange gravitational field that keeps Hispanic families continually falling apart and bonding together, the older generation which immigrates to the US but never really leaves Mexico; the younger generation that lives in its own little gang-boundary barrio with its own culture neither Mexican nor American, the half-assimilated cousins that hardly know Spanish but still have quinceañeras, the weird gringo uncle who wears Hawaiian shirts. (And, yes, Cheech: there is probably a son-in-law named Jeff!) They are all there, and they are all real, and they are all what San Diego really is.

The language is simply brilliant. Only the author, Luis Alberto Urrea, whose ear has captured and whose pen has transcribed these borderland dialects with such verisimilitude, could have done justice to this book. The English narration is literary, the Mexican Spanish is authentic, the pocho amalgam of both is spot on. Even the occasional gringo-Spanglish bastardization rings true. This is the way the border speaks, and Urrea is the laureate who has captured it on the written page and in the spoken word.

There is simply NO WAY that reading this book could be as rewarding as listening to Urrea's narration.

81 of 82 people found this review helpful

  • The Sympathizer

  • A Novel
  • By: Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Narrated by: Francois Chau
  • Length: 13 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,893
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,490
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,466

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2016. It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Great Vietnamese Novel(Port)Nguyen's Complaint

  • By Joe Kraus on 03-31-16

A clinical eye for the hypochondria of exile

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

Reviewed: 07-15-17

This is a novel about the Vietnam War. But it is unique in that: a) there are no Americans in it, and b) the war is already over. For everybody except the Vietnamese, that is.

We have come to think of the Vietnam War as an American conflict. Donald Goldstein deemed it “the most traumatic experience for the United States in the twentieth century”). How much more must it be so for the Vietnamese themselves? We don’t think too much about that question. (Try Googling “Vietnam conflict”. You’ll get more references to 60’s protest music than to Vietnamese society.)

But the themes are even more profound than that. This is not just a novel about a shooting war in southeast Asia; it is about the conflict between the individual and the state. To what extent does the culture in which we are raised supply the social environment and physical habitat we require to flourish?

Viet Thanh Nguyen has mastered the art of writing fiction from the viewpoint of displaced persons. Some authors – Faulkner, Steinbeck – illuminate a region through the eyes of its denizens. Nguyen’s perspective is the opposite – he studies the individual by removing him from his natural habitat and analyzing what happens to him.

In “The Sympathizer”, Nguyen studies a varied population of Vietnamese displaced by the war. The largest cohort is composed of ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) officers and their families exiled to southern California after the fall of Saigon. But there are also individual specimens of alienated NVA/VLF partisans: one man estranged from family and friends by horrible disfigurement suffered during the war; another whose humanity has been replaced by political slogans; a woman ostracized by her own family for her affair with a French priest. All observed and reported by her biracial son who is also a sort of double political agent: the most stateless and equivocal character in the whole novel.

Nguyen has a clinical eye for the symptoms that beset the uprooted - the diminution of stature they suffer when removed from their community, the despondency that sets in when they lose their place in society. Chapter 6 has a poignant passage cataloguing the humble Orange County occupations of men who once wielded military might in Vietnam. Nguyen finishes with a brilliant riff about these men “moldering in the stale air of subsidized apartments, as their testes shrivel, day by day, consumed by the metastasizing cancer called assimilation…”

But the Sympathizer sees the other side of the war’s dislocation as well. Back in Vietnam, the victors suffer their own sorts of alienation. The community in which the Vietnamese people have flourished for centuries has been replaced by a sterile and inhuman ideology.

So, does the State nourish the individual, or crush his spirit? Which is to be preferred, Imperialism or Communism? Catholicism or Capitalism? In his isolation cell in a Vietnamese re-education camp, the narrator reaches his own, searing conclusions.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Lost City of the Monkey God

  • A True Story
  • By: Douglas Preston
  • Narrated by: Bill Mumy
  • Length: 10 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 3,724
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,376
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 3,375

Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and they warn that anyone who enters this sacred city will fall ill and die.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Danger and Discovery in the Jungle

  • By Jim N on 01-08-17

Archaeology reduced to reality show

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

Reviewed: 01-21-17

The story this book tells – about a high-tech search for pre-Columbian ruins in the Honduran jungle – is an interesting one. But the writing falls far below the high standard achieved by John Lloyd Stephens in his classic account of the exploration of Copan, and even below books in the second tier of this genre, like Hiram Bingham’s “Lost City of the Incas” or Sidney Kirkpatrick’s “Lords of Sipan”. Even the photos provided in the PDF file cannot hold a candle to Frederick Catherwood’s renderings of the Copan stelai.

There’s too much Discovery Channel-style exaggeration of the challenges to be overcome during the exploration stage, and not nearly enough information on what really matters, which are the ruins and artifacts. Too much focus on airborne technologies and not enough insight into a rediscovered culture. Even the title strains to oversell the subject matter.

One wishes that the book had been written by Chris Fisher, the archaeologist who accompanied the discovery team, rather than by Douglas Preston, a novelist most best known for his Pendergast mysteries. In fact, I recommend Fisher’s web site to readers who want to learn more about the real archaeology Mosquitia.

Bill Mumy’s narration is mediocre. I don’t mind his mis-pronunciation of Hispanic place- and surnames so much as his infomercial style, his Norman Vincent Peale tonality that reminds me of “Gold Rush” or “Alaskan Bush People” or other artificially dramatized reality programs on TV.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • The Trespasser

  • A Novel
  • By: Tana French
  • Narrated by: Hilda Fay
  • Length: 20 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,685
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,080
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,043

Being on the murder squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she's there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she's getting close to the breaking point. Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers' quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blond, pretty, groomed to a shine, and dead in her catalogue-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A literary mystery

  • By lesley on 10-08-16

This is how Joyce would have written murder..

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

Reviewed: 10-18-16

This is how James Joyce would have written murder mysteries. This is what it would have been like to be inside Stephen Dedalus’ head if he had been a Dublin homicide detective.

Murder reveals all pretense. Where did I read that? Probably in a Tana French mystery. The crime of murder turns a bright light of interrogation upon the community it victimizes. And in that light, at least momentarily, the essence of the community is laid bare.

This is why the genre's best works are linked intimately to a specific locale, a specific culture, a specific epoch. And a detective who is the product of his community. Sherlock Holmes and London. Phillip Marlowe’s Los Angeles. Henry Hole’s Oslo. And the Murder Squad’s Dublin.

French’s protagonist is a team of detectives – the Dublin Murder Squad. It includes a revolving cast of characters who braid in and out of each other’s lives, and each other’s cases. Each bringing their own personal passions, prejudices, and phobias to their cases.

In every case – this is a Tana French motif – there is some sort of resonance between the detective and the case to which he or she is assigned. In “In The Woods”, the survivor of a childhood abduction investigates the disappearance of another child at the same location. In “Faithful Place”, a detective investigates a cold case from his childhood neighborhood. In “Broken Harbor”, another detective investigates an apparent domestic murder near where his mother drowned herself when he was a boy.

So the search for truth inevitably forces the protagonist to scrutinize his or her own past, the secrets buried in their memories, the motives that they have inherited from long-ago traumas. The result is a tense, almost Joycian stream of consciousness with a feedback loop of Gaelic angst that builds into a frenzied moment of self-realization. And in the end, it is the investigator, as much as the suspect, who is condemned or exonerated.

Hilda Fay's Irish brogue gives perfect voice to Antoinette Conway's ruminations.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Barkskins

  • A Novel
  • By: Annie Proulx
  • Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
  • Length: 25 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,067
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 980
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 978

In the late 18th century, Rene Sel, an illiterate woodsman, makes his way from Northern France to New France to seek a living. Bound to a feudal lord, a seigneur, for three years in exchange for land, he suffers extraordinary hardship, always in awe of the forest he is charged with cleaning. Rene marries an Indian healer with children already, and they have more, mixing the blood of two cultures. Proulx tells the stories of the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of two lineages, the Sels and the Duquets.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Awe-Inspiring, Far-Reaching Epic

  • By W Perry Hall on 06-30-16

A bit like perusing the obituaries

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

Reviewed: 07-09-16

“Barkskins” is one of those sprawling epics that extends across generations and continents and families, and it fails for the reason such epics commonly do: the sheer quantity of narration required to tell the story leaves little space in which to develop personalities, conflicts, emotional tension. Characters appear and disappear in rapid succession. I read their condensed stories with the detached indifference I feel when perusing obituary notices. Yes, here was a notable person; he or she led a fascinating life – but I didn’t really know them, so it is hard to feel any human empathy.

Someone has said that this is Proulx’s “Moby Dick”. Apparently, that person was daunted by the length of both books, and read neither. Melville started with a self-contained story and used it as a point of departure for ruminations about life, nature, technology, and ultimately, the conflict between civilization and nature. Proulx is so preoccupied with getting her story told that she has no space left for rumination. She leaves us with a few not-too-subtle slogans. She is too busy telling a story to write a novel.

15 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • The Gene

  • An Intimate History
  • By: Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Narrated by: Dennis Boutsikaris
  • Length: 19 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,999
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,569
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,531

The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Scientific history blended with humanity

  • By S. Yates on 05-23-16

It's a Wonderful Book

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

Reviewed: 06-02-16

Siddhartha Mukherjee writes about the life sciences the way Stephen Jay Gould wrote about paleontology and I mean that as the highest sort of compliment. Mukherjee, like Gould, is a credentialed scientist who in spite of the intellectual discipline imposed by his career has retained the ability to mesmerize lay audiences with the complexity and beauty of his science.

Mukherjee has a unique way of explaining scientific concepts by recounting the history of their discovery, and the biographies of the scientists who discovered them. He humanizes abstract ideas with concrete case histories, events, even gossip about the controversies that raged between investigators who furthered the science.

Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies” was a monumental work, as staggering as Gould’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I found “The Gene” slightly less compelling for the simple reason that the early chapters of the story – Darwin’s theory of evolution, Mendel’s peas, Morgan’s fruit flies, Crick and Watson’s table top model of the DNA molecule – were already familiar to me. Mukherjee is building on work that has been reported in masterpieces of scientific exposition, and the first few chapters will be a sort of recapitulation for those who have read “The Origin of the Species” and “The Double Helix”, etc.

Once the book reaches the modern age of genetics, the period since Crick and Watson’s 1953 paper on the structure of DNA, the science is relatively unknown to me, and Mukherjee introduces a world of scientists, entrepreneurs, maladies and big ideas of which I previously had no inkling. He describes them with his typically engaging style and clarity. And - this is what makes Mukherjee a great science writer - his humanistic, philosophical take on what this new science means about who we humans are.

In sum – you gotta read this book. Not just to get up to speed on one of the fastest evolving fields in science, but to enjoy learning from one of the world’s best science writers.

31 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Dodgers

  • A Novel
  • By: Bill Beverly
  • Narrated by: J. D. Jackson
  • Length: 10 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 276
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 252
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 252

Dodgers is the story of a young man named East who works for an LA drug gang, sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys - including East's hotheaded younger brother - to kill a witness connected to a major case, who is hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he's never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, and over the course of his journey the book brings in elements from a diverse array of genres, ranging from crime fiction to road narrative to coming-of-age novel.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Dodgers leave L.A!! What's the world coming to?

  • By Clodhopper on 04-23-16

Dodgers leave L.A!! What's the world coming to?

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

Reviewed: 04-23-16

A “road trip” novel worth reading.

Like any classic road trip, this is a voyage of discovery, but one that follows a different route than normally taken in this genre. It’s not about a white youth heading west, which has been the classic narrative in most American road trip stories since Jack Kerouac – hell, since Frederick Jackson Turner.

Instead, it’s a road trip story for a modern, urban, American reality: a black youth heading East (the youth happens to be named East; the hero as the homonym). East heading east, fleeing from the past instead of journeying into the future, disappearing into the hinterland instead of arriving wide-eyed and innocent at the Pacific coast. Encountering personal limitation and responsibilities instead of liberation and possibilities.

Some critics have compared East with Holden Caulfield, narrator of The Catcher in the Rye. Others with Raskalnikov in Crime and Punishment. Perhaps a better comparison would be to Huckleberry Finn. (East’s uncle, by the way, is named Fin. This cannot be by accident. Beverly's symbolism is very purposeful, if not always subtle). In many ways this novel is a photo negative of that original American road story, with East = Huck (and Michael Wilson + Walter + Perry = Jim?).

But I kept referring back to “Easy Rider”, the cult-classic Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper film. (East's nickname is Easy....) Here we have the same aimless meandering toward the same inevitable conclusion. The same admonitions: “America is burning” says the final image in the movie. “America is strung out”, says the book. Everybody is addicted to something: heroin, money, guns, paintball, donuts.

In both the movie and the novel, we are left with a future that looks very bleak, a future that seems stacked against us. Stacked against a black youth from the inner city, to be sure. But maybe stacked against us all. Can our GPS calculate an escape from mortality?

A very worthwhile novel with a good story and a serious purpose. A novel as metaphor for the State of the Nation. You ain't in the conversation if you haven't read it. Narration competent but not memorable.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Beautiful Ruins

  • By: Jess Walter
  • Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini
  • Length: 12 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 10,978
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9,686
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 9,679

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying. And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot - searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • My mind wandered

  • By Ella on 11-25-12

"Our lovely, ruined lives"

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

Reviewed: 03-20-16

“Beautiful Ruins” has been on best book lists for several years now, and another review is probably pointless. But I will persist, because it is enjoyable to recognize a fine American novel. And also because my reflections on “Ruins” have some relevance to a novel that is more au courant: Jonathen Franzen’s “Purity”.

Both novels have a similar hipness; both stories are addicted to the latest pop culture (reality TV, internet hackers) and yet reach back in time and find an origin to today’s indulgences in the serious conflicts of the past (WWII, the Cold War). Both weave multiple story lines together with improbable artifice to bring insouciant American youth (Generation X, Millenials) face to face with the old world drama in their personal histories. Both novels do all this with accomplished narrative skills and great writing.

But “Beautiful Ruins” is the more rewarding work. Why? Because in “Purity”, the smartness is everything; insight is lacking. “Purity” is an impressive display of facile storytelling and adroit writing, but it lacks epiphany.

Whereas epiphany blossoms from every chapter of “Ruins”. One of the main characters is even accused being an “epiphany addict”. As could be author Jess Walters. Walters has a teeming backlog of epiphanies that he could not even fit into the main narrative. In the final chapter they tumble out in a spilled cornucopia of insight and inspiration; he piles up minor epiphanies one upon another in a frenetic collage until we understand that all of life, even its most mundane events, is part of one great epiphany, the only great epiphany:

That we all live “lovely, ruined lives”. That our excesses, that our moments of madness, that the catastrophes and crack-ups in our lives are the great artistic crises that provide meaning and poetry. That these moments of dramatic if artificial insight are our only defense against the profligacy of overwhelming, all powerful nature, the universe that wastes our lives one after another and tosses them into the rubbish heap of forgotten biography.

“Purity” does not have a message that comes close to this in terms of affirmative power. Or am I missing something? Maybe Franzen’s next novel should be entitled “Epiphany”…..

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Purity

  • A Novel
  • By: Jonathan Franzen
  • Narrated by: Jenna Lamia, Dylan Baker, Robert Petkoff
  • Length: 25 hrs
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,828
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,660
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1,659

Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother - her only family - is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she'll ever have a normal life.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Another excellent novel from Franzen

  • By j phillips on 01-02-18

Art that entertains but but does not edify

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

Reviewed: 12-02-15

Clever but not profound. Prurient but not sensual. Sex without love. Love Without sex. Mothers without daughters; daughters without fathers. Obsession without inspiration. Questions with no answers. Answers without epiphanies. Facts devoid of truth. In sum: art that entertains but does not edify.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful