Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts

Monday, July 15, 2019

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

Written by songwriter Meloy this ebook is very long and very slow-moving unfortunately. The 540-some page print version is illustrated by his wife, Ellis, but I saw none of that in the audio version, which was read by Amanda Plummer in such a sweet voice that I think I kept it going longer because of that. Had the voice been less pleasing, I would have ditched it a lot earlier than I did.

This book exemplifies one reason I don't like longer books: too many of them seem to take forever to get anywhere. When I was about a quarter the way through it, nothing had really happened other than that this girl saw her toddler brother carried away by crows into this wild wooded area, and she went into it to get the kid back and discovered that it was home to a bunch of weird characters including a regiment of military coyotes.

So it was a charming idea, but it was moving like a slug. It had moved along quite quickly to begin with, but once Prue, the main female character had got into the Wildwood area, everything seemed to have the brakes slammed on and it really started to drag. I kept going until about a third the way in and lost patience with it.

There was a battle described between the coyotes and the bandits in the forest, and it was so gory that I couldn't believe I was reading a book written for young children. While I get that children see this kind of thing more often in video games, movies, and on TV these days than their counterparts used to, this still struck me as a lot of unnecessary detail. It's possible in a children's book to describe death without going into into loving detail. Again this is a problem with an overly long book - too much time on the author's hands.

The only amusing thing, to me, about this is that it was at this point that I chose to skip to the last few tracks and despite the skip, I came back into it to discover equally gory detail! I couldn't believe it. We have enough violence in schools these days without needing to extoll it in literature. It was like I was still listening to the same part of the book. On top of this was a baby sacrifice, and I decided this book wasn't worth spending any more time on, and quit listening.

I can't commend something like this as a worthy read or a listen, not even with Amanda Plummer's voice.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yeager


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook that was written evidently for a much younger audience than I represent. The book was read by Kilmeade, and he did it in such a strident and breathless voice that I couldn't stand to listen to it. Worse than this though, the facts were presented in such a biased and fanciful fashion that I found myself having a hard time swallowing everything he said. It felt much more like listening to florid fiction than to historical fact.

The secret six were actually known as the Culpeper ring, named after a Virginia County. They were spies who fed information out of New York City to Washington about the activities, movements, and plans of British troops in NYC. The main two members were Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend. The best information they got was when they laid hands on a British naval Code handbook. That was less through spying than from luck, but it served the French Navy well.

While these guys (including women) did provide other valuable information, the value of some of their activities was debatable. It's arguable that the defeat of the Brits and surrender at Yorktown did more than any spies did, and this victory was brought about as much by the French and Spanish as it was by the US, if not more so. Cornwallis could well have withdrawn rather than surrendered had the port not been very effectively blockaded by the French.

The secret six were spies for the revolution forces, which side was consistently presented as upstanding, brilliant, heroic, and fine, whereas, of course, the British were evil villains. This was exploited most obviously in the report of the British prison ship HMS jersey, which was pretty brutal, but this was war and it was in the early 1780s, when people were hardly the most civilized and no Geneva convention existed. Additionally, the revolutionaries were considered traitors, so the Brits were not very much disposed to treating them kindly. Not that Washington had many prisoners to exchange anyway, since the British captured far more US forces than the other way around. That doesn't make what happened palatable, but it does provide some context that this helter-skelter account fails to do.

Another thing this story doesn't make clear was that Washington, who could have exchanged prisoners, was disinclined to do so because he didn't want to exchange professional British soldiers for civilian volunteers and conscripts! He didn't consider it a fair exchange. How brutal was that? Remember these were the guys who were fighting for the rich folk who didn't want to pay taxes. That's what today, we call Republicans.

The rich were the guys who claimed they wanted the vote, but none of the guys fighting on the front line ever had the vote! Only about 6% of the population were eligible to vote in 1789! In short, the pretext of the revolution was bullshit, yet those who were wealthy were not the ones dying en masse on the front lines or being interned (and interred) in the HMS Jersey! How long did it take for American Indians to get the vote? For African Americans? For women? This wasn't a fight for freedom - it was a fight for the rich, and the poor paid the price on both sides. When that emancipation was truly sought, it started a civil (read not-at-all-civil) war a century later.

So my take on this is that if you're looking for an historical account, don't look here. If you're looking for an hysterical account, then this is the audiobook for you!


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bonk by Mary Roach


Rating: WORTHY!

I get through a number of audiobooks and I'm less picky about those than print or ebooks because I have this captive time while commuting so I may as well get experimental to avoid getting completely mental, so I go out on more of a limb with audiobooks. Not anything crazy. I mean I don't try sitting on the case while driving, or hanging CDs from my mirror to catch the sunlight, but I tend to listen to a wider variety of material than I read, and I read a pretty wide variety as it is. Anyway that's my excuse for this one, which turned out to be highly entertaining with a few LOLs and belly laughs along the way.

Mary Roach has an interesting take on life, her humor dry, sly, and wry, and she puts it to full use here in this survey of studies on human sexuality with some animal variants tossed in for good measure. This is an historical survey, so it goes way back - before even Kinsey Masters Johnson, so it covers some ground and gives an interesting perspective on how white men studied female sexuality back then and the bizarre ideas they had about it. Unfortunately we're still suffering from that kind of bias even in much more recent studies of many aspects of human health and bodily function - not just sexuality which routinely exclude women for no good reason and to the detriment of our understanding, particularly of when it comes to female health.

Anyway, without going into any details, I can commend this as an interesting, educational, and worthy read.


I survived the Joplin Tornado by Lauren Tarshis


Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know what made an old woman think she could write a novel about a little kid surviving a tornado but...I'M JOKING! Lauren Tarshis isn't old and even if she were it wouldn't matter. I don't subscribe to the 'write what you know' nonsense. The rule ought to be 'write what you can make a good story out of' (or maybe, in some cases, 'write what you can get away with', but let's not go there), and this author has almost made a career out of writing this "I survived" series. I say 'almost' because she's written other stuff and novel writing isn't all she does.

She started this series though, in 2010 with I Survived the Titanic (start big, right? Or write...), and has published a score or so of these. All these stories are based on real historical events, not all of them natural - or even human-caused - disasters, this particular one has its roots in the EF5 tornado which slammed Joplin, Missouri on Sunday, May 22, 2011. In addition to scores of deaths. It did almost three billion dollars in damage.

This was a mutant tornado, and as such was a good one to dramatize in this fiction based on the real disaster. I listened to the audiobook, and the main character is an eleven-year-old boy named Dex, whose father went to college with a guy who now makes a career out of chasing tornadoes and talking about them on his TV show, which is of course mandatory watching for Dex and his father. Why not his mother, I have no idea. Dex also has an older brother who is in the Navy Seals. I don't know why that was included because it's irrelevant to what happens in the story. His brother could have been a criminal or a younger brother, or a school teacher or anything. It made no difference to events.

Dex meets the tornado chaser by accident - literally, and gets invited to go chasing the next morning. They end up being caught in this monster tornado that precipitated rapidly and right outside Joplin. It was a cell of several tornadoes inside a shield of rain that was almost a mile across, and it hit Joplin right on, carving a path through there before heading off into the countryside and finally dissipating.

Dex's story is really very short, and the action in it is pretty violent at times, so you might want to exercise caution in who you let read this, but for most boys in middle grade it would probably be a worthy read. I don't know if girls would be likely to get into it in the same way, but maybe a few would. Certainly they ought to consider the educational value. It's read in fine style by Thérèse Plummer, and afterwards the author talks about the real tornado, how it formed, and the damage it did, so this makes for a really educational work. This isn't a series that I'm interested in pursuing, but maybe a child of appropriate age would, and I commend it as a worthy listen!


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple


Rating: WARTY!

The short answer to the question (despite it missing a question mark), posed in the title of this audiobook is 'Nowhere'! Seriously. Read okay by Kathleen Wilhoite, the book began as a series of Oh-so-cutting-edge emails and so on. In short, lazy story-telling. I don't like epistolary novels and I wasn't liking this one. It just annoyed me.

It's sad because I came to this from seeing a teaser-trailer of an upcoming movie starring Cate Blanchett, of whom I'm a fan. As it happened, the trailer didn't tease me, but after seeing it twice in front of different movies Ild gone to see, I decided I'd give the book a listen if I could find it on audiobook at the library and I did, so I did, but I wish now that I hadn't. So I'm done with this story, and with this author notwithstanding her dedication to the Global Amphibian Assessment. For anyone interested, the story starts out with a girl, Bee Branch, looking through old emails to try and figure out whence her irresponsible mother disappeared.

I don't know what the movie is like - at this point I've seen only the teaser and I won't see the movie (especially not now!) unless maybe I catch it at some point on TV, but from what I've heard of the novel, Bernadette is hardly the best person in the world. In fact she's a bit of a jerk, and the teaser revealed none of this, although it did reveal how irresponsible she was. I really don't care if someone has good reason to be a dick. If they're a dick, they're a dick, and I'm not about to make a hero out of such a person. The story sounded scatterbrained and stupid and I want nothing to do with it.


Hunting for Hidden Gold by Leslie McFarlane


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook read reasonably well by Bill Irwin. My problem with it was not only the antiquated story (this was written almost a century ago by Leslie McFarlane, writing as Franklin Dixon), but mostly the tinny accompanying music.

Leslie McFarlane was a journalist, not a musician, and while I have yet to confirm this officially, I remain pretty much sure that he never wrote any accompanying music for the story. Neither did Edward Stratemeyer who was the mover and shaker behind these books. So whence the impetus for the sad and annoying music in the audiobook edition? Is Bill Irwin not good enough to listen to without accompaniment? It really irritates me when audiobooks do this and I've had to listen to two or three lately which all have had music at least at the very beginning of the book. Why? Get a clue, publishers!

The Hardy brothers are evidently frequently put at risk of their lives by their thoroughly irresponsible father, by being tasked with helping him to solve mysteries. In this book, their own stupidity gets them into trouble, They're required to fly to Montana, to track down missing gold, and they have a three-hour layover en route. As soon as they reach the airport, they're accosted by a stranger who informs them that he has important papers from their father, but he has...wait for it...forgotten them, they're so important! He asks if the boys will accompany him to his home to get the papers. Rather than insist they have a flight to catch and cannot leave the airport, and request he brings the papers to them as he was tasked to do, they blindly go with him and end up tied up on a house! The Hardy Boys are morons. That's when I quit listening to this.

I get that the whole idea of the story is to bring the kids in because it's a kid's story, but the mark of competent writers is that they do this without having the kids look stupid or have them needlessly endangered by idiotic adults. Their involvement needs to be organic, and not blatantly incompetent or dumb. Leslie McFarlane simply wasn't up to it. And yeah, I know this story is antique and that sensibilities were different back then, but that doesn't mean I have to give it a bye today. Instead I give it a bye-bye. This story was garbage and it's warty, period.


The Body Snatchers by Robert Louis Stephenson


Rating: WARTY!

This was a very short audiobook story rooted no doubt in the true events of William Burke and William Hare, notorious for their not only laying their hands on dead bodies which they sold on for medical research, but also laying hands on a few of the living and changing their status so they could sell those bodies on too. Hare turned on Burke for immunity, and Burke was hanged. His skeleton lives on today in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh Medical School.

In this story, a man named Fettes, who works in a facility where bodies are made available to medical students for research, recognizes a body they have just bought as a woman he saw alive and well only the previous day. Naturally he becomes suspicious as to how this happened, but he's such a wuss that he does nothing about it, simply falling in line with his superiors regarding not asking questions as to where these corpses come from. This is actually realistic. People tend to be sheep-like rather than rock the boat even when skullduggery is involved.

The problem as that the story was very rigid and uninteresting. This isn't surprising given that it was written long ago, and in a way you have to expect this, but you also hope that the story will be interesting enough that it makes up for the antiquated story-telling style. In this case it did not, so no commendation from me for this one, only condemnation.


The Chimes by Charles Dickens


Rating: WARTY!

I have heard the chimes, but not at midnight, and they were shallow in this audiobook! This was a short story by Dickens and it sounded vaguely interesting from the blurb, since the story is about how this character gets advice from goblins on the plight of the impoverished in Dickens's London, but in practice it quickly became tiresome.

The main character was not interesting to me and was tedious to listen to, and I lost all interest in it about a third of the way through. Rather than use a 'bell' motif to divide up the story, here Dickens used a clock motif, dividing it into 'quarters' as in quarter hours. It was really more like reading an essay than a novel. Can't commend.


Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook which started out great, got a little lost in the middle section, but came out entertainingly enough at the end for me to rate it a worthy read for the middle-grade audience it's aimed at. It's in the 'Rick Riordan Presents' series, which apparently meant he offered some advice during her writing of it, but what that would have been, I do not know since shortening the middle section was what was required, and he either never suggested that, or she didn't listen if he did! I guess it's good of him to give a boost to other writers (depending on the motive behind it!), but I am not a fan of his writing at all, so seeing his name on something is more likely to turn me away from a book than onto it! Fortunately in this case I read the blurb before I ever saw the Riordan name on it, and I was interested enough not to put it back on the shelf.

I think the character names might have been better chosen! I'm sure that pandering to a western audience wasn't Lee's first thought in writing this, Indeed, in some ways the novel is bigoted in that it presents a sci-fi scenario where everything is Chinese which is just as bigoted as a writer who presents the future as American or any other nationality.

I'm sure the author felt the names were great, and objectively they probably were, but looked at from the point of view of a person listening, who may not be used to Chinese names, hearing something like 'Yune Me', especially while distracted by driving to one extent or another, made the name sound rather like 'You and Me', and so it went! One character was named Min, but it was pronounced like it read 'mean', so that didn't work too well for western ears. The final amusement was a character named Inspector Suk (not sure about the spellings since this was audiobook).

But maybe that's just me who loves playing with words. The story itself was quite interesting, being a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. The main character is Min, who is described as a 'fox spirit' who is also a shape-shifter, but she never changes into a fox (not that I recall, although I did skip some parts during the boring bits!). Her brother Joon, is in the military as a cadet on a spacecraft, but he has disappeared. When a government official arrives in Min's insignificant little village on an insignificant little half-terra-formed planet, Min's trouble-making ways are highlighted, and she's threatened with being shipped-off to stay with an auntie. She is not pleased by this.

Rather than let that happen she runs away, and eventually winds up - in a bit too much of a coincidence - on the same ship her brother was on. Since she can shape-shift and see ghosts, she makes a deal with the ghost of another cadet who had died during an encounter with pirates, to impersonate him. I somehow missed how it was that his body never gave her away. The idea was that in impersonating him, she could help him move on to the spirit world, and for herself, learn what happened to Joon. The ghost really is of no help to her, so I was at a loss as to why he was even included as a character in the story at all.

The biggest problem was that for me, this is where the story ground to a halt. Min spent far, far too much time dicking around on the ship learning how to be a cadet and learning nothing of what happened to Joon. Recall that this is a girl who can shape-shift and is good at it, so she could have impersonated anyone, gone anywhere and discovered anything, yet it was all cadet all the time, and it was boring.

I began skimming the story at that point until she finally got off the ship and went unsurprisingly to what was called a Lost Colony not because they didn't know where it was, but because they couldn't use the planet due to the prevalence of unfriendly ghosts there. That's where Min found the Dragon Pearl and became a hero.

That part was also much better and was highly amusing in parts, so this is why I gave this book a worthy rating, although it had problems. Those problems did nothing to win me back to thinking that Rick Riordan knows how to write! All he's ever done is steal Greek mythology, inexplicably move it to the USA and put a white savior in charge. That's not my kind of writing, but for this audiobook: a worthy read with the above caveats.


Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell


Rating: WORTHY!

This is something of a Cinderella story and it was also another of those audiobooks I seem to have been listening to lately which gets off to a great start, falls flat in the middle, but picks up again towards the end, so overall I consider it a worthy listen, but it had an issue or two here and there along the way. It was read by Bianca Amato who did a good job.

Wilhelmina Silver has had an amazing childhood in Zimbabwe, despite losing her mother at an early age. Her father was still around and she was allowed to run wild, learning all she needed to from her daily adventures and from the extensive library her father had in their ranch. But when he dies unexpectedly and his nurse movies in on the family and starts taking over, Wil suddenly finds herself on the outs and is eventually and summarily packed-off alone to an English boarding school while her home is sold.

To Wil, the people in her school are as cold as the weather and her spirits as dampened as the climate. Wil runs away from school and lives on her own on the streets (and in a zoo!) for a while before finally returning to the school and finding a place there. The novel tells a good and interesting story when it finds its pace, but there are times when it rather drags and you're wanting something to happen which doesn't. I'm not a big fan of school bully and cruelty stories, so I disliked that part. It wasn't so bad, but it was a bit overdone and too black and white for my taste. I found it hard to believe that girls of breeding who attended this school would have been so relentlessly, uniformly, and openly cruel as depicted here. It didn't seem realistic to me.

The worst part about this story is that Wil is presented in the early chapters as fearless, feisty, and indomitable, but in England she seems completely the opposite. Yes, she has some grit and some inventiveness, but she seems like a different character from the one we'd been introduced to earlier, and while I get that being torn from a comfortable and happy home and dropped unkindly into a new life for which they're completely unprepared can knock the stuffing out of a person, it felt a bit like a betrayal of Wil that she was so consistently and so interminably presented as weak and lost. It felt wrong and inauthentic, and did the character a disservice.

That said, she took charge and bounced back and that's where the story improved for me, so while it has its faults, it's not too bad of a story for an age-appropriate audience.


Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook was read decently by Susan Duerden, with whom I've had largely a good experience over three audiobooks now, but the novel was overly long and rambling, and in the end this insistence on going endlessly on about things which were uninteresting to me and worse, which contributed little to moving the story along, was what lost me. I started skipping parts, which is never a good sign, and then I skipped the whole second half or so of the story, moving to the closing section to see if anything interesting had happened by then, and the answer to that was a short, sharp, "No!"

I share a first name with the main character, Ian Wigby, who is an orphan newly-moved in to Delphi Keep in the 1930s - literally a castle keep which has been given over by its owner, an Earl (this is set in Britain) for use as an orphanage. Ian is punished for a transgression by being put in charge of a new addition to the orphanage - a very young child who gets named Theo, and who becomes essentially a younger sister to Ian as the two grow up together. She's not his actual sister as the idiot blurb misleading asserts. I thought this was a really interesting premise and ought to have been put to better use in a story than this one had it.

Time passes in the story, and despite having matured somewhat, Ian still shows no sign of growing! He recklessly takes his "sister" exploring the chalk caves on the coast near the orphanage - a place he knows that the residents of the orphanage are expressly banned from visiting. The trip almost ends tragically as some supernatural and ferocious animal tries to kill them. They escape by squeezing through tunnels too narrow for the animal to follow, but it tracks them back to the orphanage and breaks in, putting everyone at risk. Meanwhile Ian gets into more trouble starting a fight with the clichéd school bully over ownership of a little casket he found while in the tunnels.

Ian consistently struck me as a jerk and a dickhead, with poor impulse control and a dishonest streak. He's hardly an exemplar I'd want children to read about, and yet this book was the first in a series (not that, once again, the publisher will ever tell you this on the book cover, which is again, dishonest). For me the book was boring and it seems like it would be quite horrific for some of the intended age group who might read this, but I can't commend it primarily because of the poor, rambling writing.


The Guineveres by Sarah Domet


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook, read a bit like a chant by by Erin Bennet, started out well, but quickly became bogged down with pedantic definitions of saints and their purported achievements (which, based on the one I looked up, were somewhat fancifully rendered here, to say the least), and with hum-drum uninteresting activities which had already been described earlier in the story, instead of getting on with the story. I ended up becoming annoyed with it. It didn't help that it was one long flashback told in perfect recollection by one of the girls as an older woman, who can apparently recall minute details and conversation verbatim.

Set in the years of World War One (or so I believe - it was never specified), the story is of four girls named Guinevere, but who all very conveniently go by completely different nicknames, not one of them electing to go by her full name, so we have: Ginny, Gwen, Vere, and Win. They are also the same age, give or take, and all arrive at the Catholic school within a relatively short time period, and naturally gravitate together. This felt a bit unlikely not to say unnatural, but I was willing to allow that for a good story. It started out well, with the four planning a breakout from the convent, but getting caught. They were sentenced to work in the 'hospital' which is where the next thing came up.

Several severely-wounded soldiers are brought in, all of whom are not much given to doing anything other than laying there. After seeing a more senior student 'escape' the convent by being sent out along with the soldier she was caring for, to continue his care at his home, the four Guineveres all adopt one of the remaining four, and start spending time with them, praying for them and talking to them in the hope of getting the same break. It doesn't work and things start to go south.

There were some moments of hilarity, and I always felt like "The Guineveres" might do anything to entertain me at any given time. I loved the collective name for these girls and kept hoping for good things, but the problem is they almost never were delivered. The story was slow and pedantic, and The Guineveres failed to live up to my hopes, much less my expectations. I ended up skipping the parts whenever a saint was mentioned because they quickly became tedious, and then this led to skipping the boring parts and finally I realized I was skipping and skipping, and not for joy(!), and I gave up on it altogether. The book had a lot more potential than it ever delivered and left me sorely disappointed.


Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood


Rating: WARTY!

Narrated by someone with the highly-appropriate name of Kate Reading, but who ought to be named Kate Droning since she does an unfortunately monotonous job of it, this audiobook, which I had initially (and mistakenly) thought was a biography, turned out to be a tedious and pretentious fiction that tells us nothing whatsoever since it's the purest invention of the author. It turns out that Kate Reading is actually a fake name which I'm sure she thinks is hilarious.

Naturally it's rooted in the reality of Hemingway being unable to commit to a woman and holding the misogynistic and highly abusive idea that he ought to be entitled to a wife and a mistress at the same time and under the same roof, regardless of their wishes, but for me, this book did nothing to tell the real story of the women involved. It was far more about Hemingway and his four wives than ever it was about four women who happened at one point or another to be married to Ernest Hemingway.

The book felt like one of those where the title is along the lines of "The __________'s Daughter" or in this case, "The Iceberg Author's Wives" - it renders the women an appendage of someone else: a guy, rather than their own autonomous selves. I don't like that. I'm recently read such a work by Kate Moss and it was boring. It's going to be the last such book I read because the title is problematic for me from the off, before you even get to the story. The thing is though, that when I got to the story in this case, the author did precisely the same thing to these four women that such titles do to the female subjects of such novels. It's not appreciated and female writers in particular should be ashamed of writing things like that.

But I digress! So the first story is Hadley Hemingway going on about her competitive position with regard to Pauline Pfeiffer, but we really learn far less about these two women than we do about Hemingway, and it was disappointing. At that point I skipped to the one which interested me most, which was Martha Gellhorn, and after that, I quit listening altogether, because she wasn't in the story at all except as a story told by Hadley which even further removed her as a subject than Hadley had been! Go figure. I decided to go directly to the author's mouth and have reviewed - positively! - a couple of books that Martha Gellhorn actually wrote herself. Meanwhile I am done with this author. This book is bad writing, period.


Motherhood by Sheila Heti


Rating: WARTY!

Author Sheila Heti is very reminiscent in her features of actor Cate Blanchett, but while I like the latter, I am not a fan of the former after listening to the opening portion of this. I really have very little to say about this one since I listened to so little of it, but the style really rubbed me up the wrong way from the off. The New Yorker has a review by Alexandra Schwartz which describes this as "sometimes exasperating." I beg to disagree. It was entirely exasperating.

It was first person to begin with which, with few exceptions, is nearly always a mistake as a voice, and while I commend authors who read their own work in the audiobook, I cannot commend this one in this case, because her voice wasn't easy on my ears. It was rather strident and domineering and felt like I was being lectured about something I'd done wrong! Well sorry, I'm a guy! Fatherhood is my thing. Motherhood isn't even possible for me! Do please forgive me!

This was one of the most egregious examples of the first person - what I'd call a #MeOnly style - and it was truly tedious to listen to. It was rambling and uninteresting, and I simply couldn't get into it. I gave up on it in short order and returned it to the library where hopefully someone, somewhere, somehow will find it to their taste.

The blurb claims that "Motherhood treats one of the most consequential decisions of early adulthood - whether or not to have children - with the intelligence, wit and originality" but this is patent bullshit - or perhaps in this case, baby shit. The blurb promised that the novel would follow her internal debate about whether to get pregnant "Over the course of several years, under the influence of her partner, body, family, friends, mysticism and chance" and I couldn't stand the thought of having to listen to this droning self-indulgence for that long.


I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas by Lewis Black


Rating: WARTY!

This was a comedian's take on Christmas and it was therefore supposed to be funny, but it was entirely the opposite: tedious, obvious, and not remotely funny. I skipped the middle completely and listened to a bit on the end while I was on the way back to the library to drop it off, and the guy seems to have majored in name-dropping in comedy school, because he was talking about a USO tour and he made no attempt at humor. All he did was drop names, so I dropped him - back into the library return box.

I love my library, but it recently lost yet another audiobook I dropped off in the box. As with the previous three occasions, I was the one who found it - for the fourth time on the library shelf, evidently put back there without being checked back in. Now I wish it had been this one they lost. I would not have gone looking for it!


Cell 8 by Anders Roslund, Börge Hellström, Kari Dickson


Rating: WARTY!

Talking of crime, this was one more casualty in an increasing number of failed audiobook experiments. I have a modest commute to and from work, and I like to catch up on reading on the trip, so...audiobooks! This is why I tend to experiment a lot more with audiobooks than other formats, and why I have more fails. This novel was one from a rising tide of Scandinavian crime fiction which is curious because there's very little homicide there compared with other nations.

The USA, for example, is almost at the top of the list for sheer numbers of murders (although in the middling lower half for murder rate) whereas northern Europe is low on the list. Iceland had precisely one murder in 2016, for example, the same year the USA had over 17,000. Norway had 27, Denmark 56. The purportedly easy-going Sweden had over one hundred, but by comparison, the supposedly highly civil UK had almost 800. That said, the murder rates in these countries are very roughly the same and only about a fifth of the rate in the USA. So not a lot of murders to work with in Scandinavia, and nowhere near in proportion to the slew of novels about them, hence my comment about it being curious.

I've had some success with other Scandinavian crime books, but I couldn't get with this audiobook translated from the foreign by Kari Dickson. It began with a guy in jail and then went to a flashback the length, presumably, of the entire novel. I don't do flashbacks. This flashback involved the singer in a band on a cruise ship taking exception to a man who was fondling the women he was dancing with. The singer gets arrested and turns out to be someone else. Yawn.

Why this guy thought he ought to be policing these women who were in a public place on a dance floor and perfectly capable of deciding for themselves what they wanted is a mystery that wasn't gone into in the portion I could stand to listen to. I could not get into this, it wasn't interesting at all to me. Life is too short to waste on a book that doesn't grab you from the start.


Eye to I by Rolf Nelson


Rating: WARTY!

Rolf Nelson is a Professor of Psychology and Dorothy Reed Williams Professor in the Social Sciences at Wheaton College (the one in Massachusetts, not the idiotic creation-preaching one in Illinois), and the only thing I can say is that I pity anyone who has to sit through one of his lectures, unfortunately. These are a series of lectures which I thought might be interesting in view of the topic of the next book in my The Little Rattuses™ children's picture book series, but I'm sorry to report that there was little to nothing to see here, so I moved along.

The idea was to discuss how we see things and how our brain interprets what we see, but the lectures were dry, humorless, rambling and repetitive, and it was truly tedious to listen to them. I kept skipping tracks to move on to more interesting bits, but those were sadly very few and quite far between. I know it's a big academic thing to get a book out there on whatever topic it is that you teach, but I really think it's better not to put one out rather than publish one this bad. You'll learn more from reading Wikipedia on the topic of sight and color vision, even if it's tough-going, than you will from these lectures and stay awake in the process. This was awful.


If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook is supposedly about a hit and run in a stolen car, but it moved so slowly that I got the impression it was far more about a single mom detective policing two problematic kids than ever it would be about solving a crime, so I gave up on it. I think I'm going to quit even thinking of reading books with titles of this nature - the "If blah blah blah" kind of title.

This author also wrote a novel titled "What Remains of Me" which is a no-no and pretentious kind of a title for me. If I'd know about the previous title, I would never have picked this one up, and it would have been a wise decision. So it's a hackneyed story that the author evidently isn't interested in getting to, with a fake bad guy. On top of that, I later discovered that Kirkus loved this book, which is another reason to avoid it like the plague.


Kick Kennedy by Barbara Leaming


Rating: WORTHY!

Kathleen Kennedy was nicknamed "Kick" which sounds stupid to us today, but which was right in line with kids for the era in which she grew up. She was a part of a very large Catholic family, sister to John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy. This audiobook tells of her time from her first trip to Britain in the late 1930's and her eventual marriage to the Marquess of Hartington, heir apparent to the 10th Duke of Devonshire. She lost her husband to the war in Belgium in 1944, not long after the marriage, and died in Europe herself just a few years later, at the age of 28 in a plane crash.

This book which sports, I have to say, some rather fanciful story-telling here and there it seems to me, recounts her life and death, surround by Lords and Dukes and Grand Dukes and Viscounts, and Marquises. It's really quite shameful how spoiled-rotten these people were, and how easy their life was, drifting from one event to another, from one function to another, from one party to another, never doing a lick of work because they were so rich, they didn't have to. Now that doesn't make it right that she died so young, but it does make it hard to sympathize with her when she lived a life most people who live into their eighties can't even imagine.

That said it makes for an interesting read, even if parts of it are so far from one's personal experience that it seems like reading fiction even when it's true. Having started to fall for the guy, she found herself torn away from him by her father's insistence that his entire family return to the USA as hostilities between Britain and Germany, via France and Czechoslovakia's travails. The Kennedys had been welcomed and even somewhat revered in Britain, and Kick was very popular with her own set, but when Joe Kennedy started talking, back in the USA, about leaving Britain to it when it came to fighting this war, his popularity plummeted in the UK and he saw this starkly on his return.

Meanwhile all Kick wanted to do was return to see Billy. She eventually got her wish and they married to opposition from her Catholic, but far from catholic parents, and this was despite her not giving up on Catholicism herself. All she had to do was agree to the children being raised Protestant, and she didn't protest about that at all. The thing was that her husband stuck his head up, either unaware that he was being fired on by a German machinegun, or not realizing it was dangerous, and was shot in that same head. It was a whole week before Kick learned her husband of only four months had died - only one month after Kick's own brother, Joe Kennedy Junior, also died in a plane crash.

The book moves a lot more quickly after this and it would seem that Kick had changed her view of life by then, so instead of seeking out someone she truly loved, now she was little more than a gold digger. Having lost her status since her husband's death and seeing the dukedom go then to his younger brother (who was married to one of the feisty Mitford sisters), it wasn't so very long before she began chasing after the married 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, who was even richer and had higher status than her late husband had.

Prior to reading this I had little idea of Kick Kennedy other than being intrigued that she was JFK's sister and had died young and was tied to the area of Britain where I had grown up (she's buried in my home county). Now I've read this (listened to it, more accurately) and learned plenty about her, and while I commend this book as a worthy read, I can't imagine I would ever have actually liked Kick Kennedy had I been alive in the era which she lived. In fact, our social circles would have been so divorced from one another that I would never have even met her at all, and that would have been fine with me because she disgusts me.


In Pieces by Sally Field


Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook started out great, but went downhill quickly once Burt Reynolds came on the scene, and everything from that point on was annoying. I'd skipped almost nothing for the entire eighty percent or whatever prior to that point, but I skipped almost everything after it. That said, however, I consider this a worthy listen because it was heartfelt, informative, and beautifully read by the author, who has one of the best reading voices I've ever listened to.

The story is delicately told, but pulls no punches and hides no secrets. Of course it's one voice and no one the author talks about gets a chance to respond, but they can always write their own biography and address it that way. Talking of which, I'm really not a great fan of biographies, but I do read or listen to one now and then, and I like Sally Field as an actor.

I enjoyed her playing Spider-Man's aunt in The Amazing Spider-Man and the sequel, but prior to that I had seen her in Stay Hungry many years ago, and in Soapdish which I thought was hilarious and in which I really fell in love with her (along with Kevin Kline and several of the other cast members) as a comedy actor. I also loved her voice acting in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. She was great in Mrs Doubtfire and in Legally Blonde 2 too!

I have never seen her supposed masterpieces, Norma Rae or Places in the Heart for which she won academy awards so I cannot comment on those. They're not my kind of movie. I did take a look at Gidget and at The Flying Nun and was not at all impressed with those - not so much with her personally, but with the whole dumb-ass, tame, uninventive, unadventurous, moronic sit-com shtick, which frankly makes me barf, and which I suspect she might well feel the same way about, but at least it got her face and acting known. It did lead me to read Frederick Kohner's 1957 original novel, Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas which he wrote based on his own daughter's anecdotes, and I found that really entertaining and which I also review positively, today.

This biography begins with Field's early and difficult childhood, her molestation by her stepfather, and her various unsatisfactory relationships. She doesn't blame everyone but herself when things went wrong, either, shouldering her fair share. I found the insights she gave into actors, and directors and into her own lifelong learning of her craft quite fascinating and this was the major reason I wanted to listen to this, but there are also disturbing and moving moments, and amazing descriptions of her giving birth to her first two children, which makes me think she would have made a great comedy writer had she chosen to do that instead of act. What impressed me most though was how whole and sane she has managed to stay despite what she went through.

So overall, I commend this as a worthy read and I'm glad I listened to it (except for that last 20%!).