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An Excellent Period Piece

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

Reviewed: 2021-03-06

This historical fiction novel is near complete. There is action, intrigue, romance, humor, and consistent entertainment. The pacing is a little off (slow to get going), but even the more plodding parts are praiseworthy. Patrick O'Brian writes accurate Naval fiction set in a rich 18th century setting. Characters and settings are startlingly real.. the reader feels like they are there.
O'Brian uses a notably lighthearted style to keep the plot moving. It works. In this episode, Aubrey and Maturin meet their future wives, Jack abandons his dream of promotion to Post Captaincy, flees England under threat of arrest for debts, and then returns to obtain command of the experimental HMS Polychrest, eventually losing her in a pulse-pounding battle - earning a no-longer-looked-for honor.

Ric Jerrom turns in an above-average performance. His style isn't perfect, but fits the characters in this series perfectly. His performance grows on me the more I listen to him. To his undying credit, Jerrom actually sings the period shanties in the text.

I bought this novel looking for quality historical fiction and I found it. The Aubrey/Maturin series is most enjoyable. This installment merits 4 stars out of 5.

Very Good Establishment Novel

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

Reviewed: 2021-03-02

This book is very little like the film treatment (the Russell Croee vehicle is fairly loosely based on this entire series). This one could be considered a "Prequel". It is quite slow to get going and spends the majority of time introducing and developing characters integral to the series. It relates how many in the crew came together, describes their first sloop (HM Sophie) in intimate detail, and provides very little else. There are a couple of naval battles - and they are harrowing, pulse-pounding, and loaded with clever strategies - but they feel somehow tacked-on. The book also introduces a bewildering variety of nautical terms and on-ship procedures. Unless you are very familiar with sailing in the 18th century (I am not), it could get awfully confusing. Fortunately, Patrick O'Brian is good at this (though he could have done better). He introduces Doctor Stephen Maturin as a struggling landlubber - convinced to join the crew of the Sophie - who asks question after question from Captain Jack Aubrey and other crew members - allowing the reader to be educated at the same time as the good doctor.
This novel is worth the investment of time, but is pretty confusing if you don’t already know the characters.

Ric Jerrom is an adequate reader at best - but a very good choice for this series. He reads clearly with a very judicious use of accents.. that makes characters instantly recognizable. His reading timbre is spot-on and nautical terms are pronounced accurately. Unfortunately, on occasion Jerrom chooses to use very strong accents for some characters - sometimes making the dialogue hard to follow.

If you start here, stick with it. Later books warrant 5 stars and this one enriches them considerably. Unfortunately, this one falls victim - as a standalone - to having little in the way of a coherent plot. It's rather a series of battles and encounters designed to introduce characters and setting. It may be better to start reading with book 2 ('Post Captain'). Altogether, this first novel in the Aubrey/Maturin chronicle is worthy of 3 stars out of 5.

Unique Biography

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

Reviewed: 2021-02-26

This life story reads like a screenplay. The important events in Ali's life are described in dramatic detail. Encounters and dialogue *reveal* the story rather than merely telling what the champ was thinking as jaw-dropping life episodes happened (e.g. throwing his Gold Medal into the Ohio river; defying the draft & exile; his conversion to Islam). The result is a thoroughly captivating chronicle. The book exudes realism as any good biography should, but by the end of it, the reader has not only been edified but entertained. I have read quite a few biographies and was somewhat surprised - despite the different approach in this book - that I had just listened to a drama... but now know who Muhammed Ali was - not stereotypically heroic but startlingly human - confident (+/- arrogant), principled (+/- inflexible), and steadfast (+/- obstinate).
The main drawback of the book is that it "ends" at the fight in Manilla. The later events in the man's life (Parkinsonism, global recognition, etc.) are equally incredible. I wish this fantastic book had kept going.

Dion Graham *performs* this book, rather than reading it. He presents the life episodes with admirable emotion - where the text is angry, Graham nearly shouts.. where the text is sorrowful, Graham nearly cries. His pacing is spot-on and his tone is nearly perfect. The main problem with the reading is that his Kentucky accent, while accurate, sometimes makes the dialogue hard to understand. I had to concentrate quite hard at times... but I didn’t have to repeat sections - as sometimes happens. This is an above-average reading.

Altogether, the great performance and unique approach to telling the story is incredibly effective. Ali did well to enlist the aid of Richard Durham in presenting his story. This book is dramatic, but also informative and enlightening. An epilogue would be amazing. This is a Five-star presentation of an incredible life story.

Formulaic. The few innovations fall flat

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

Reviewed: 2021-02-24

This is a fairly unoriginal take on the "Beauty and the Beast" fable. Harper, a plucky, poverty-stricken waif with a heart of gold is kidnapped into an enchanted castle with a Prince (Rhen) under an annual curse (wherein he turns into a terrifying monster unless he can find love). The main "twist" is that Harper is from the future (or our dimension) taking her cellphone with her as she is kidnapped into the tapestry-bedecked fantasy palace complete with musical instruments playing themselves. For some reason Harper is simultaneously furious/outraged at being kidnapped, attracted to Prince Rhen, and captivated by the shy, heroic, handsome captain of the guard (Grey).
The plot is largely unoriginal, the dialogue noticeably painful, and the character reactions nonsensical. To this, the author bizarrely adds international diplomacy, a social realignment plotline, and threats of war. Brigid Kemmerer is a competent but unspectacular writer... the descriptions of the environs and characters are fine but unimpressive.
To her credit, there *are* a couple of novel features to this glaringly standard Fairy Tale, but they either make little sense or feel tacked-on for effect (e.g. Harper's Cerebral Palsy, her gay brother Jake back home, the contrived love triangle thing).

The strongest aspect of the recording is the narrator team. The performance is emotive and well-paced. Kate Handford, Davis Brooks, and Matt Reeves read the book - each taking on a specific character's perspective in alternating chapters. It's a clever way to tell the tale and works really well (though the growling monster chapters are chuckle-worthy silliness). The sound quality is excellent and these readers are considerably above average.

The Beauty and the Beast fable is well-loved and told in dozens of languages for a reason: it has undeniably entertaining elements and timeless moral messages. If you can suspend logic, I suppose this version of it merits 2 stars out of 5. But if you enjoy this kind of fantasy (I don’t - and won't be continuing to explore the Emberfall setting), Sarah J. Maas's stuff (the 'Court of Thorns and Roses' series) is quite a bit more clever.

Great recording of a justifiable prize-winner

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

Reviewed: 2021-02-22

I've realized how brilliant the Spielberg adaptation is. This novel is in many ways *incredible*. Alice Walker deftly confronts genuinely disturbing themes (incest/rape, brutal racism, domestic abuse, family separation) with sober candor, and enshrouds it in laugh-out-loud humor and tearjerker pathos. Her dialogue is startlingly realistic and her characters are unforgettable. I found myself thinking about the book long after I shut it off.
The problem is the story structure. Walker presents the story as a series of first-person "Dear God" letters - essentially diary entries without dates. With such limited perspective, the end result is what sounds like a collection of anecdotes. While that may be intentional (it forces you to concentrate), it detracts somewhat from what is an undeniably enjoyable read. Spielberg's people turned it into a more coherent storyline.

Alice Walker does a remarkable job, but is an inferior reader. She knows the text intimately - which helps with tone and emotiveness - but reads at an annoyingly slow pace. I had to speed the recording to 1.10X to get the right timing. A professional reader would have been better (*Note: *Most* authors are poor readers, so I don’t fault Walker in particular.. but I can't give her a pass either).

With a different reader and a more linear storytelling approach, I would give this amazing, memorable novel Five stars. As it stands... I still give 4 stars for this recording (well worth a Credit - you won't be disappointed).

Perfect for a road-trip with kids

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

Reviewed: 2021-02-22

This story (a novelization of a Marvel miniseries of comics) pitting Marvel Superheroes against Marvel Supervillains in a mysterious intergalactic setting is engrossing and entertaining. The unimagineably powerful Beyonder captures characters as diverse as the Wasp and Galactus to pit in a battle with the reward of colossal power and the fulfillment of dreams. Dozens of familiar characters - totally faithful to the personalities depicted in the comics - play out a vivid series of intriguing encounters. Arguments between characters are interspersed with personal crises and pulse-pounding battles. The writing is somewhat sophomoric (e.g. The Thing lamenting the lack of TV; superheroes flirting with each other), but what should we expect from an audio comic book? Alex Irvine clearly writes for fanboys (and packs his interpretation of the story with - perhaps - too many characters), but clearly knows both his audience and his subject matter.

The voice actors are admirable. Every voice is distinct and sounds precisely as one would imagine them... including mimicking the voices of characters presented in the MCU (the reader of Professor Xavier sounds almost exactly like Patrick Stewart). Listeners can immediately recognize Captain America, Spiderman, Wolverine, Hulk, Thor, Dr Doom, Dr Octopus, Magneto, etc. The script contains far too many grunts (e.g. after getting hit with an energy blast), but the dialogue is fun. Listeners can imagine speech bubbles over heads as conversations progress.
The main drawback is that this recording is overproduced. Sound effects and constant background music weaken the presentation somewhat (there are loudly chirping birds on the newly-formed Battleworld for some reason, for example). Additionally, the frequent use of voice modulation makes some performances hard to understand.

All things considered, this clever and exciting story incorporating Marvel's all-stars in a fascinating unprecedented scenario is easily worthy of four stars. A great listen for nerds and Marvel comics fans.

Brilliant Historical Chronicle

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

Reviewed: 2021-02-21

I am a White Canadian. I understand that this work is considered an epic citation of Black history, but I was simply looking for a good book. I found one.

Alex Haley writes quality work. The story is startlingly realistic... the author undoubtedly researched the heck out of it, and brings it to life with relatable characters, realistic dialogue, and unsurpassed emotion-provoking events. Fanatics consider this book a "document" while critics point out controversies (plagiarism, sloppy research, etc..)
..but considering whether this a "true" story or not is irrelevant to me. The events depicted are engrossing, the descriptions are vivid, and the characterization is unsurpassed. Additionally, the book has the most expansive setting I have ever encountered: the first ¼ set in late Colonial Africa, then proceeding to a harrowing cross-Atlantic journey and life for a captured man and his family on a series of Virginia and Carolina plantations. The last chapters depict the Civil War South, migrating to Tennessee, America through the World Wars, and finally the travels of Alex Haley documenting the trials of Kunta Kinte. This may be a socially-important archive, but it's also a legitimately awe-inspiring, straight-up enjoyable read.

Avery Brooks (forever Commander Cisco on Deep Space Nine to me) is a fantastic reader - emotive, expressive, and clear. He reads poor southern black folks as though he lived there. Despite his English accent being glaringly terrible, he should do more reading work.

This book was a worthy Pullitzer Prize winner and easily merits 5 stars. Spend the Credit.

Brilliant Fairy Tales for kids 8-12

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

Reviewed: 2021-02-17

C.S. Lewis wrote this incredible literature in the 1950's.  Despite their age, the stories are not dated in any way... and despite the themes (the author denies the Christian allusions, but the themes are unmistakable - it's allegory). the stories are not overpowering or preachy. This is the highest quality children's fantasy. The books relate whimsical events surrounding kids in a world populated with mythical creatures, talking animals, and figures of genuine good & evil. The character of Aslan is obviously a Christ figure - complete with self-sacrifice, incredible empathy, and altruistic ethics - but all of the other characters (human and otherwise) have very human flaws that resonate. The fantasy is necessarily sophomoric (it's a children's series, after all), but there are mature elements as well - conflict, battles, and death.
These books are rightfully beloved and qualify as true "classics" - readers of all ages can enjoy them (although I could see how  "misogyny" could be accused - some of the female characters are stereotypical - but it's not bad imo... my daughter would be fine with this).

The seven books in the series are read by seven different readers - all well-known. All performances are excellent at the very least - Kenneth Brannagh, Michael York, Patrick Stewart... It includes straight-up brilliant performances from Alex Jennings and Jeremy Northam.

Altogether, this is a great value. Seven classic stories in one collection with 5-star readings. I broke it up - listening to other books between the Narnia tales - and it worked well. Coming back to this collection after reading something else was like coming back to a beloved familiar home. Having listened to a couple hundred Audiobooks (click on my profile), I can highly recommend that you buy this one. It's easily worth 4.5 stars out of 5.

Great Film. Better Novel.

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

Reviewed: 2021-02-16

The awarding of the Pullitzer Prize in 1937 was appropriate (it isn't always). This epic story of love and loss, set in the Civil War and Reconstruction-era Georgia, is incredible. The novel deals with legitimately troubling themes (ill-conceived and unjustified secession, societal patriarchy, slavery, even the rise of the KKK) a little too matter-of-factly - and the protagonists are straight-up unlikable - but Margaret Mitchell also populates her book with well-placed humor and elements of genuine pathos. She is not perfect, but an admirable author. The dialogue is realistic, the plot immersive, and the characterization unparalleled.
I was initially daunted by the sheer length of the novel, but it actually flew by and left me wanting *more* (I know, crazy right?)

Linda Stephens is a marvellous reader. Her character accents (Southern drawl, Irish brogue) are spot-on, she actually sings the songs mentioned, and she lends emotiveness to the text. Her pacing is off - I sped the recording to 1.25X to make up for frequent awkward pauses to good effect (I recommend this strategy) - but I would listen to work from Stephens again.

Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable were brilliant breathing life into these characters on the screen - they play the roles of these mercenaries with redeeming characteristics (Mitchell calls them "opportunists") perfectly... but as is often the case, the book is better. This prize-winning novel rates 5 stars and is well worth a Credit.

Exemplary Historical Fiction. Great Novel

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

Reviewed: 2021-02-11

This book is exhaustively researched, well-planned, and brilliantly executed. Clavell relates an epic tale of the life of a Gaijin (Barbarian) in feudal Japan. The book incorporates romance, war, new languages & cultures, swashbuckling, and absorbing political maneuvering. There are battles, storms at sea, shipwrecks, and earthquakes. It is truly Epic in scope.

There are some major flaws:

First, Clavell writes as though presenting a screenplay - he makes frequent use of 'flashbacks' without warning. If the reader isn't paying attention, it's easy to get lost.

Second, there is also an enormous number of characters - it can get hard to follow.

Third, the plot is overly involved (political and religious maneuvering on a global scale)

Fourth, the dialogue is strained and the characters are invariably angry.

Lastly, the ending is incredibly unsatisfying. There is no recognizable climax. After an incredibly complex and detailed 51 hour buildup, the ending is basically - I'm not kidding - "And then there was a War. The End."

. .but the world-building is peerless. The realism is astounding... the reader feels like they are immersed in 17th century Japan - complete with feudal lords, emperors, samurai/ronin/ninja, honor codes (the mindblowing bushido), and shocking class distinctions (peasants are considered figurative garbage and life has virtually no value).
Despite the inadequacies, James Clavell aspired for the pantheon of great authors with this effort - demonstrating that incredible research can yield an incredible book.

Ralph Lister does an amazing job. He constantly sounds like he needs to suck in the saliva at the corners of his mouth, but the accents sound accurate, his Japanese is excellent, and his pacing and emotiveness is unsurpassed. Speeding the reading to 1.25X on the app resolved some of Lister's drawbacks while preserving the strengths of the performance.

This recording rates 4 out of 5 stars. It is well worth a Credit.