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Blythe

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  • Some Girls

  • My Life in a Harem
  • Written by: Jillian Lauren
  • Narrated by: Tavia Gilbert
  • Length: 8 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 2
  • Story
    2.5 out of 5 stars 2

A jaw-dropping story of how a girl from the suburbs ends up in a prince's harem and emerges from the secret Xanadu both richer and wiser. At 18, Jillian Lauren was an NYU theater school dropout with a tip about an upcoming audition. The "casting director" told her that a rich businessman would pay pretty girls $20,000 if they stayed for two weeks to spice up his parties. Soon, Jillian was on a plane to Borneo, where she would spend the next 18 months in the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah....

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Like watching a dysfunctional guest on reality tv

  • By Blythe on 2019-07-13

Like watching a dysfunctional guest on reality tv

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

Reviewed: 2019-07-13

"My job description was elusive at best, but I fantasized that I might arrive and find a wild adventure, a pile of money, and an employer who was no less than Prince Charming. This was my opportunity to shake of my bohemian mantle and re-imagine myself as an enigmatic export, maybe a royal mistress or the heroine of a spy novel. More realistically, I suspected I had signed on to be an international quasi-prostitute. There are worse things I could do."

Picked this up in a sale because it sounded interesting. It's the true memoir of Jillian, an 18 year old in the early '90s who decides to accept an offer to fly to Brunei and join a group of other beautiful women gracing the parties of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, youngest brother of the Sultan of Brunei. For a period of just a couple weeks she's promised $20,000, but ends up staying longer and walking away with several hundred thousand dollars and a story she's turned into this autobiography.

It's a pretty fast read, nothing too deep here, but an interesting inside view of the life of the girls in the 'harem' of Prince Jefri. The dynamics of his inner circle, the ridiculous waste of wealth and corruption of power, and the lack of real friendship, support, or happiness anywhere at all - not among the girls, not among the prince and his friends, and certainly not between the prince and the girls at any time. He uses them as display objects, for example having them lie around the pool in bikinis just so he can have important visitors to meetings overlooking the pool.

The latter part of the book is more about Jillian's life and family; her abusive adoptive father and passively helpless mother go a long way to explain why she seems pretty dysfunctional and keeps making terrible decisions like dropping out of university to become a stripper. But was it a terrible decision to fly to Brunei and make a few hundred dollars for a few months' work and fairly occasional sex with the prince of Brunei? The book will make you think a bit about that; given what her other options at the time were, it's certainly not the worst decision she made, anyway.

Reading this book was a bit like watching a reality tv show where the guest is so awfully dysfunctional that it's hard to look away. But it also paints an interesting picture of the time and place, and a lifestyle almost all of us could only begin to imagine.

  • Head On (Narrated by Wil Wheaton)

  • Written by: John Scalzi
  • Narrated by: Wil Wheaton
  • Length: 7 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 244
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 226
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 223

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent's head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are "threeps", robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden's Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real, and the crowds love it. Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Good followup, not as great as the original

  • By Aidan on 2018-09-19

Solid sequel to Lock In

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

Reviewed: 2019-07-13

A solid sequel to "Lock In", rejoining Haden's Syndrome sufferer Chris as he or she (it's never stated) pilots their android "threep" body around investigating crime. Newly joined to the FBI, Chris accompanies snarky partner Vann as they investigate the possible murder of another Haden's victim and professional athlete in the Hilketa league (a violent sport in which androids attempt to decapitate each other to score goals).

Basically an easy-reading detective story set in a slightly future earth, you don't really need to have read the previous book "Lock In" but you'll definitely have a bit more background if you do. It's a light, amusing read that goes down like candy and probably won't stay in memory extremely long, but entertains while it lasts.

  • The Calculating Stars

  • A Lady Astronaut Novel
  • Written by: Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Narrated by: Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Length: 11 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 46
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 46
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 46

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the East Coast of the US, including Washington, DC. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the Earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space and requires a much-larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s drive to become the first lady astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Easy reading alternate history of space program

  • By Blythe on 2019-07-13

Easy reading alternate history of space program

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

Reviewed: 2019-07-13

In an alternate version of Earth's history, a meteorite strikes the USA in 1952, obliterating Washington and most of the US government. Pilot/mathematician Elma and her rocket scientist husband Nathaniel York escape immediate death by a combination of coincidence and intelligence, and make it to safety at a military base where their expertise leads them into an advisory position to the new acting president (former minister of agriculture). As Elma calculates the climate impact from the meteorite will be an initial cooling and then an escalating greenhouse effect that will be so severe the oceans will start to boil, both push for a desperate escalation of a space program to establish a colony on the moon before humanity is wiped out entirely.

In this alternate history, the story follows Elma and Nathaniel as Earth struggles to establish a moon colony on a vastly earlier timeline than ours, in an America where segregation is still very present, women are still in the "Mad Men" style roles of homemakers and decorations, yet are also the "Hidden Figures" style computers who are essential to spaceflight before actual electronic computers reliably exist. As a former WASP pilot, Elma struggles for the inclusion of women in the astronautics program.

I had an extremely low opinion of Kowal's first "Glamourist" book but decided to give this one a try as it's a completely different genre, and I enjoyed it a lot more. Part of this may be due to picking this one up as an audiobook - if she made as many terrible spelling choices, I wouldn't notice in audiobook form - but mainly as an American author I think the characters and setting of this book are just much more within her ability to write well (while pseudo Austin-esque last-century British characters are clearly NOT). The main character was enjoyable and, as a woman in a STEM field myself, it's always a joy to see a smart and capable heroine. Even though she seems to make some particularly stupid decisions, it was possible to frame those as a side effect of the era and attitudes towards women of the time.

The other characters were likeable enough but did seem rather stereotypical or tokenistic. Nathaniel is apparently the perfect feminist enlightened and supportive husband in every possible way, which seems more than a bit improbable given the era. The characters of other races and nationalities were good to have, but didn't really do much more for the plot than representing their race and/or nationality. The fact she's Jewish was brought up repeatedly but ultimately didn't seem to have any meaning or impact, even when she meets Wernher von Braun in person. While Kowal was clearly trying to bring up the topics of race and ethnicity and discrimination, it's done with a very shallow touch that doesn't really have any impact on anything. Elma is also a heroine with every possible advantage imaginable so that everything works out perfectly for her - rich family, perfect supportive husband, brilliant mind, brother who coincidentally happens to have exactly the right skills and job to help with her climate modelling, military father who protected her in her WASP days, etc etc. So yes, everything's just a bit easy for our heroine all the way through.

It's more of a joyful romp down alternate history while eating popcorn than a gripping novel of actual hardship, but read it eating a candy bar and it's still a fun story of an alternate history that might have been.

  • Terry Pratchett: BBC Radio Drama Collection

  • Seven BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatisations
  • Written by: Terry Pratchett
  • Narrated by: Martin Jarvis, Sheila Hancock, Anton Lesser, and others
  • Length: 13 hrs and 13 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13

Somewhere on the frontier between thought and reality exists the Discworld, a parallel time and place which might sound and smell very much like our own, but which looks completely different.... Collected together for the first time are seven full-cast BBC Radio dramatisations of Terry Pratchett’s novels, with star-studded casts including Martin Jarvis, Sheila Hancock, Anton Lesser, Philip Jackson, Alex Jennings and Mark Heap.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Fun for existing fans, too brief for new readers

  • By Blythe on 2019-06-30

Fun for existing fans, too brief for new readers

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

Reviewed: 2019-06-30

Lovely little radio plays of several Pratchett novels, beautifully voiced by a full cast. For fans already familiar with the books, these are great enactments that bring the characters to life. However, they've had to cut too much content out of the books for this to be a good introduction to folks unfamiliar with the books already. Most would be confusing, I think, and seriously lacking context (e.g. Eric, Night Watch). So if you're new to Pratchett, start with the full books.

  • Embassytown

  • Written by: China Mieville
  • Narrated by: Susan Duerden
  • Length: 12 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 3

China Miéville doesn’t follow trends, he sets them. Relentlessly pushing his own boundaries as a writer—and in the process expanding the boundaries of the entire field—with Embassytown, Miéville has crafted an extraordinary novel that is not only a moving personal drama but a gripping adventure of alien contact and war. In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak....

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Thought-provoking alien languages

  • By Blythe on 2019-06-30

Thought-provoking alien languages

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

Reviewed: 2019-06-30

A very thoughtful book about language and how aliens' language might be so truly alien from our own that we can't even begin to understand it.

Embassytown is a trading outpost on the world of the Ariekei (also known as The Hosts). The world is very foreign, but the Hosts have allowed the establishment of the town and attempts at communication and trade. The Ariekei language is impossible for normal humans to speak at all, however; their language must be spoken by two simultaneous voices and one single mind, all three working together to deliver the same message. As a result, only very specially trained sets of identical twins have been able to converse, and only very carefully. Also as a result, lying or even hypothetical imaginings are impossible among the Ariekei; they rely on examples as they can only refer to literal truths, and need to actually create real examples of a concept before they can understand and refer to it thereafter. Protagonist human Avice Benner Cho is an example of one of these living similes; as a child she performed a role in a scenario and is henceforth referred to by the Ariekei as "There was a girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given her."

As an adult, she returns to her home world again and encounters other living similes, as well as discovering some unsettling truths about the sacrifices that twin sets go through to qualify to be translators. But when a translator unintentionally exposes the Ariekei to a lie, something they are psychologically and physiologically incapable of comprehending, the impact changes them irrevocably, throwing the entire world into chaos. Avice is for the most part a fairly neutral protagonist, mainly existing to give us the human viewpoint and background of the story, but towards the end even she gets wrapped up in the chaos that follows.

It's not necessarily an easy book to read, like most of Miéville's writing it requires some deep thinking about unusual concepts. Probably not the best Miéville book to start with, but interesting as always.

  • Cosmos

  • Written by: Carl Sagan
  • Narrated by: LeVar Burton, Seth MacFarlane, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others
  • Length: 14 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 363
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 325
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 324

Cosmos is one of the best-selling science books of all time. In clear-eyed prose, Sagan reveals a jewel-like blue world inhabited by a life form that is just beginning to discover its own identity and to venture into the vast ocean of space.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • LeVar is like listening to a breathy James T. Kirk

  • By Robert on 2018-04-04

Excellent summary but fairly fundamental stuff

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

Reviewed: 2019-06-30

Despite being ~40 years old now, this book has held up very well, mainly because its topics are fairly general and for the most part not attempting to address cutting edge science. The optimistic chapters about how humanity is improving are possibly the most depressing, written as they were near the end of the cold war when the future looked brighter than I would say it does now. As a general introduction to scientific history, key discoveries, and key theories it's great and I would recommend. If you paid attention in high school science and especially if you've done any additional reading out of interest, there probably isn't anything new here though. So, a good and well-written (if occasionally flowery-prosed) summary of the basic facts, but probably nothing to be gained for anyone already particularly interested in science. Nice reading of the audiobook by Neil deGrasse Tyson, though.

  • The Night Circus

  • Written by: Erin Morgenstern
  • Narrated by: Jim Dale
  • Length: 13 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 164
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 156
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 156

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Must-Read for All those Craving a little Magic!

  • By Anonymous User on 2018-09-13

A tale of dreamy magic without a lot of logic

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

Reviewed: 2019-06-12

You will like this book if you like dreamy, fantastical scenes and mysterious carnival type settings and unexplained mystery and magic. If this is you, you will probably also like (and possibly better) books like Caraval, and The High House.

You will NOT like this book if you look for: solidly explained magic systems and worldbuilding; fast-moving plots; and watertight plots and character motivations.

I picked up this audiobook simply because my company's holiday party this year is themed after it, and I wanted to know more about the theme. Goal achieved; now I know to dress in black and white, and wear a red rose or red scarf. The rest of the book was entertaining but confusing to listen to in audio form, since the timeline jumps back and forth and it's very hard to keep track of which chapter is happening in which year when you can't flip back to check the way you can on paper.

Generally speaking, most of the cover blurb is at best exaggerated and at most an outright lie. The book is really about the circus, which isn't even a circus but more of a masquerade carnival type thing. It mysteriously appears overnight, opens only between dusk and dawn, and vanishes without warning. Visitors wander between different tents as they wish, each containing a different wonder.

In the back story, we learn that two rival magicians have each chosen a student to compete in some vague type of competition that is never clearly explained even to the students. These two very problematic teachers teach and abuse their students in various ways and bind them irrevocably to this competition for life. They agree the competition will take place in the circus, but don't tell their students anything useful about what's required, how to win, or how it's scored. Instead, the students grow up and even once they both join the circus, the story wanders around for 15 years or more with both completely unaware of what they need to do to win or lose, instead entertaining themselves by making more magical marvels in the circus until they're indispensible to its continuation. The previous competition between the previous students of these teachers lasted for something like 37 years and only ended because one of them killed herself, so ya know, this book is actually relatively brief.

Anyway, without getting into plot details, plot is rather rambling and the ending seems a little contrived. So if you enjoy magical rambling tales go for it, but if you're looking for reasons, motivations, and logical plot devices, this probably isn't a book for you.

  • Canadianity

  • Tales from the True North Strong and Freezing
  • Written by: Jeremy Taggart, Jonathan Torrens
  • Narrated by: Jonathan Torrens, Jeremy Taggart
  • Length: 7 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 124
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 114
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 114

Sprung from their hugely successful podcast Canadianity, Taggart (that guy from that band) and Torrens (that guy from that show) share a collection of showbiz tales from the road and relatable everyday anecdotes, all wrapped up in a nostalgic fondness for this great country. Canadianity takes listeners on a cross-country journey, shining the spotlight on notable local heroes (or bahds), the best places to crush food and the greasiest watering holes, coast to coast to coast.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • hilarious

  • By Lauren Bowman on 2018-09-14

Seems focused on fans of the podcast

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

Reviewed: 2019-06-12

Taggart and Torrens have a podcast called Canadianity and this book is essentially a companion piece to the podcast. They dedicate a chapter per province and go all across Canada with personal anecdotes, bar and restaurant recommendations, and other highlights. They also cover a lot of nostalgia that Canadians of a certain age (probably 30s and over) will appreciate - from Heritage Moments to the Friendly Giant and Mr Dressup. It's amusing but seemed aimed at fans of the podcast or the authors and not so much for a broader audience. Maybe as a bathroom book to flip through the anecdotes, but it's really more a set of sketches and lists than a coherent book. Will Ferguson probably did the "who are Canadians" type humour book better with "Why I Hate Canadians".

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • I Know How She Does It

  • How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time
  • Written by: Laura Vanderkam
  • Narrated by: Laura Vanderkam
  • Length: 7 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 9
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 8
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 8

Balancing work and family life is a constant struggle, especially for women with children and ambitious career goals. It's been the subject of countless books, articles, blog posts, and tweets in the last few years, and passions run high in all directions.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Interesting strategy for time management

  • By Blythe on 2019-06-12

Interesting strategy for time management

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

Reviewed: 2019-06-12

Instead of just a bunch of anecdotes about how to do it all, Vanderkam actually collected time logs rom women who earn at least $100,000 per year and got real data to analyze how these women spent their 168 hours per week. She looks at both what the data actually shows (such as, EVERYONE overestimates the amount of hours they work and how little sleep they get, so thinking you need to work 80 hour weeks and sleep 6 hour nights to "keep up" is factually wrong); and also looks at different strategies these women used to get their schedules to work towards what they found most valuable. Whether that is figuring out how to run a side business or how to spend time with family, there are various strategies they use to make time for that, and Vanderkam digs into the different strategies to show how to make similar decisions.

The author focused on getting her initial data from women who have a career AND children, simply because their lives have heavier time demands and therefore the time management challenges were bigger and clearer, but the data is relevant to everyone regardless of parenting status. I found it an interesting book, and her technique of doing a time log for a week or two definitely seems helpful if you feel your schedule is out of balance and want to start figuring out how to fix it. And whether or not you want to get that detailed personally, her data did bring up some interesting points and ideas about ways to think about and manage time.

  • Unaccustomed Earth

  • Stories
  • Written by: Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Narrated by: Sarita Choudhury, Ajay Naidu
  • Length: 10 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3

From the internationally best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a superbly crafted new work of fiction: eight stories that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand. In the stunning title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father, who carefully tends the earth of her garden, where he and his grandson form a special bond. But he's harboring a secret from his daughter, a love affair he's keeping all to himself.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Stories of Bengali/American immigrants

  • By Blythe on 2019-06-12

Stories of Bengali/American immigrants

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

Reviewed: 2019-06-12

I saw this book on several "best" lists from last year so I picked it up without any idea what it was about at all. Turns out it's a collection of short stories mainly featuring Bengali Indians and the Americans who interact with them. The stories are all focused around personal stories of changing relationships - between children and parents, between spouses, between families. The author has a descriptive and evocative but very readable writing style, bringing out little important details that make the feel of these lives and households seem very real. Most of the stories are stand-alones but the characters in the last three are interconnected and cover a passage of time from childhood to marriage through the eyes of two different characters. All of the stories are interesting to read but overall left me with a slightly bleak feeling as if the author is illustrating that nobody is ever completely happy and happiness is always fleeting - probably true, of course.

Overall it was an interesting read and the author is a good writer, but the themes were so narrow and repetitive in many ways (immigration, relationships, family, same races and classes of people usually even in the same settings) that I didn't find it as interesting as, say, a Margaret Atwood collection where you really never know what's going to happen next or where the next story will take you. (Also, probably since I am in neither Bengali or American, perhaps I didn't identify all that much with the settings.)