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Laurel Hostak

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  • The Last Palace

  • Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House
  • By: Norman Eisen
  • Narrated by: Jeff Goldblum
  • Length: 15 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 76
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 73
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 72

When Norman Eisen moved into the US ambassador’s residence in Prague, returning to the land his mother had fled after the Holocaust, he was startled to discover swastikas hidden beneath the furniture in his new home. These symbols of Nazi Germany were remnants of the residence’s forgotten history, and evidence that we never live far from the past. From that discovery unspooled the twisting, captivating tale of four of the remarkable people who had called this palace home. Their story is Europe’s....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The arc of history in a great curve...

  • By Laurel Hostak on 01-02-19

The arc of history in a great curve...

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

Reviewed: 01-02-19

Norman Eisen's epic, intimate opus follows the inhabitants of one extraordinary villa in Prague through a century of tremendous change for the Czech people and for the world. He weaves the story of his own mother, a Holocaust survivor and a formidable woman, into a complex historical tapestry full of coincidence, wonder, and tiny miracles. Portraits of decent leaders, of madmen, of resistance both quiet and deafening. The story of the 20th century, with its slow and constant arc toward better liberal democracies, is a welcome dose of hope for the future.

Jeff Goldblum's performance is a treat for the listener. He swells with emotion and discovery, reading every page as though he's learning the information for the first time. Magnificent.

And Eisen, reconstructing the most personal moments of his subjects--from Otto Petschek to Shirley Temple Black--suffuses his nonfiction with a sweeping artistry. It's a historical volume treated with a novelist's voice. Best of all, for us readers who count themselves among the 'watchers of Prague' Eisen describes, The Last Palace brilliantly captures the impression of the great city and its people. The vibrations, the energy, the myths and the magic. The unbreakable spirit.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Rabbit Back Literature Society

  • By: Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
  • Narrated by: Kate Rawson
  • Length: 10 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 78
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 75
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 75

Only very special people are chosen by children's author Laura White to join 'The Society', an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a 10th member has been selected: Ella, literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips. But soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual, 'The Game'? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura's winter party, in a whirlwind of snow? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves?

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • doesn't live up to the hype

  • By Beth Anne on 11-19-14

Had some promise, came up short

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

Reviewed: 10-12-16

This has to have one of the best book jackets I've ever seen-- I skimmed the blurb and bought it immediately based on that summary and the cultural references. Yes, it does bring the surrealism of something like Twin Peaks, but in a very casual way that gets it off to a great start. But there's something about the lightness of the mystery here that never quite digs below the surface, leaving the whole story to feel a little flippant.

I also can't help feeling like there are some weird gender things at play here. The epilogue--and I'll avoid spoilers as best I can--came off as very out of character for our protagonist and a little squicky. The book, as a whole, left me feeling unsatisfied and a little uncomfortable.

  • The Casual Vacancy

  • By: J.K. Rowling
  • Narrated by: Tom Hollander
  • Length: 17 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 5,828
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 5,197
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 5,237

When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early 40s, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils.... Pagford is not what it at first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town's council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • I was surprised by how much I liked it

  • By cristina on 01-14-14

Quiet and compelling tragedy

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

Reviewed: 09-21-16

Rowling's first book for adults paints nuanced and elegant portraits of a panoply of characters, shedding light on the ugly and untold corners of the human mind, while invoking a universal empathy for even the most seemingly unpleasant characters. Her uncanny ability to capture the angst and anguish of teenagers is most memorable--she flexes her Harry Potter muscles in this way, but with more freedom to explore body images issues, sexual awakenings, and adolescent self-loathing.

The whole thing feels at times Dickensian--with small-town intimacy, Rowling's distinctly-drawn characters meet their daily lives and disappointments. The death of one man on the parish council sends ripples that amplify throughout the community. But it also resembles a classic Greek tragedy, as our unexpected heroes and loathsome villains crawl forward on an unbreakable, pre-determined path, bound by destiny, unable to wiggle free from the constraints of race, class, and social status.

It's not an uplifting book, but it's fine storytelling, and Rowling's picture of an English town and its immensely complex inhabitants is a hard one to put down. Perhaps because Rowling's attempt to unearth the shame they all carry deep within is so poignant and easy to identify with. Tom Hollander's performance is lovely. Overall, magical in its own way.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful