Reviews

Audiobook Review: I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive

img011

I really enjoyed the audiobook version of “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive”; it was well written and had an interesting story from a period-location that I rarely read about (Early-1960’s San Antonio). The story follows the path of Doc, a dope addict ex-physician who earns money to support his habit by providing health care to the underworld of San Antonio. The main body of his practice focuses on providing illegal abortions to the prostitutes of the city. He is haunted by the memory and ghost of Hank Williams, the famous country music singer who died from an overdose. As the story progresses, Hank follows Doc as he navigates his illicit trade.

I really enjoyed the reading of the audiobook, and I was pleasantly surprised to  find out that the author himself performed the reading. His country drawl put a nice spin to the novel and made the story feel rich, and his pronunciations of the spanish words also seemed to be on point. Overall a very enjoyable audiobook that Iwould highly recommend.

Advertisements

Audiobook Review: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

img009

I really and truly love David Sedaris novels. Witty, self-abasing, and laugh-until-my-guts-hurt funny, his novels explore his life at all stages: his childhood growing up in newly-integrated North Carolina, his misadventures in college, and his recognition and acceptance of his homosexuality. His novels are often self-critical and circular, with seemingly unconnected events rolling back around to bite him in the ass. Many of his audiobooks are read by himself, often in front of a live audience. In his most recent edition, David Sedaris focuses on his present-day life with his husband Hugh. While the novel does have a chapter that features owls, the title of the book draws from an odd inscription he gave to a fan at a book signing. While I really like ‘Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls’, I felt like he has had better collections. As he has become richer from his works, his stories become less relatable. At one point, he decides on a whim to move from his summer home in Brittany region of France to a cottage in the Somerset region of England. However, despite his fame and fortune, he still faces many of the same problems as ordinary people: mean customs officials, deterioration of his health as he ages, pre-occupation with strange hobbies, and theft of a computer. His novels often focus heavily on his family. While his parents always came across as stingy, this novel made them seem unnecessarily cruel. He describes never being good enough in his father’s eyes, and it really felt like it hurt. While I really liked “Owls”, if you are new to David Sedaris, I would suggest checking out another one of his collections first. I think my favorite collection was “Me Talk Pretty One Day”, which did a nice job of sampling stories from all stages of his life.

Audiobook Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

img010

A week ago I listened to the audiobook for J.K. Rowling’s newest book, “The Cuckoo’s Calling”. She wrote the book under the alias “Robert Galbraith”, an ex-military man. She has stated that she found the use of the pseudonym to be useful to her writing process, to separate her writing from her fame. I will admit that I was drawn to the book specifically because it was written by J.K.R., but I appreciate the need for anonymity and the usefulness of a pen name. So while I realize that she was the one who wrote the book, I want to honor “Robert Galbraith” as the persona who drew out the fine writing.

Robert Glenister did a really nice job with the voices for the audiobook. I will not pretend to know much about regional differences between British accents, but it did seem like he hit every character spot on. His voicework meshed really well with the text, making the audiobook really enjoyable.

The story follows a down-on-his-luck ex-military private investigator Cormorant Strike as he investigates the 3-month-old suicide death of a famous model. It’s kind of a classic locked-door mystery, with the woman falling to her death from a 3rd floor balcony, with no witnesses beyond a cocaine-addled neighbor who claims to have heard voices arguing moments before the fatal fall. With few remaining physical clues, Strike has to rely on interviews with unreliable sources, stonewalling police, disinterested family, and drug addicted friends. To his benefit, he has one solid ally in the chase: his new secretary, Robin Elacott. As Strike investigates, he finds that the case is hardly closed, and that the killer may be close at hand.

I really liked the writing in the book. Galbraith did a good job emphasizing the small details that make any book great. Probably my favorite moment was the detective walking near a grizzled homeless man on the street who slowly opens his mouth and extends his tongue. It was such a strange and non-sequitur visualization, but it makes perfect sense given the odd things that happen in cities. The event was completely unrelated to anything else in the plot, but it added to the richness of the environment and made the novel feel realistic. While I loved the attention to detail, I did not like the structure of the book. The ending was a surprise, but I felt like it was written so that it could have been any of a number of possible suspects. I also did not like some details of the book that seemed cliché and out of place in such rich writing. I felt like the name ‘Cormorant Strike’ itself is a really cheap attempt at making the character feel more interesting from the beginning. Overall, I really enjoyed the audiobook and I am looking forward to the sequel, ‘The Silkworm’.

Audiobook Review: A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

Image

A Possible Life follows five stories across time and space and explores the lives that each of us live in our heads, our problems, triumphs and failures. The audiobook has five different narrators for each of the different protagonists, which adds a life to the brilliantly worded prose. The book is broken up into 2 “novellas”, flanking three short stories. Each of the stories follow a character through their lives and the lives of those around them. Faulks does an amazing job of capturing each and every character that the stories touch by introducing small but intimate details of their lives: an injury while working, a mother with diabetes, a scar from an unknown attacker, an unrequited love. My favorite story is ‘Anya’, following a young musician as he discovers a beautiful singer and helps her break into the music industry.  The most revealing moment of the story is near the end, when the man, now old and watching the singer as she plays her final concert, realizes that he was just a side story in her life, rather than the main character. 

Faulks does not tie the stories together through any definite means, although some details, like a statue of the virgin Mary or a side character named Ched, are present in more than one. My only criticisms of the book would be that Faulks chose mostly Western protagonists (3 Englishmen, 1 French woman, and 1 Italian woman), and it would have been nice to hear from an Eastern character. Its easy to see our world strongly divided East and West, but I think one of the main themes of the book was that no matter the individual life we have, we all lead the same lives in our heads, with dreams, hopes, and fears. I think having an Eastern character would have been nice to see. I also would have liked to have seen a bit of a darker character. While one of the Englishmen, Billy, is a bit of a rough character, stealing and fighting his way through the story, he is relatively fair to those around him. It would have been interesting to see a character as they manipulate their way through life, and use the people around them poorly. I suppose that every character is a jerk to someone, but none of them came across as being a truly wretched human being. All in all, I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.

 

Audiobook Review: Sh*t My Dad Says

Image

On my drive to Salinas last Thursday, I got to hear “Sh*t My Dad Says”, which recounts Justin Halpern’s interactions with his father as he navigated life as a young adult.

First off, if you are sensitive about strong language, this book is not for you. Its a wonderful, warm-hearted book, but if you feel offended about frequent use of four-letter words, this book will probably not be enjoyable. Anyone who knows me knows that I myself have a (really bad) habit of always using strong language, even in mixed company and professional settings. Its gotten to the point where it is very disruptive. I would not even begin to blame this habit on anyone other than myself: my parents pretty much NEVER swore, my friends all think its weird and obnoxious, and I have had two bosses comment it.

The book opens with Justin Halpern moving back in with his parents. His friends, having either heard stories or experienced his dad’s witticisms themselves suggest to Halpern to start a Twitter account where he can record some of the more colorful phrases from his dad. The account languishes for about a month, then begins to pick up followers, until one day it has thousands of followers and Halpern is offered book deals. Halpern is worried about his fathers reaction to the news, but his father brushes it aside with a LIGAF nonchalance. The book is structured with short stories illustrating Halperns young life and his father’s words of wisdom as he progressed into adulthood. This was the first audiobook that I have heard that was read by Sean Schemmel, who did a fantastic job voicing Halpern’s father.

I enjoyed this book a lot and I found it very easy to relate to. Halpern’s father seems like a gruff figure, and an easy assumption is that he is a blue-collar worker. It is revealed midway through the book that his father is actually a well-respected professor of nuclear medicine at UCSD, who attends meetings, gives lectures, and does science all day long. Growing up in DC, everyone’s dad is someone: FBI/CIA/NSA agents, congressmen, professors, bureaucrats of every level. And they were all insane! As insane as any parent. You’d go over as a kid and they’d be walking around in tidy whities, or trying to do home repair on their own (often without success), or forgetting their kids at soccer practice. My own father was a NASA physicist, to this day (after 20+ years of schooling) I still have no idea what goes on in the papers that he writes, and he was very well respected in his field. But he was crazy! He refused to spend more than $1 on any piece of clothing, which led to a very eclectic wardrobe. He refused to throw away any papers that he printed out, so he had stacks and stacks of scientific journal articles that reached the ceiling. He (a NASA physicist) once spent 45 minutes helping me with an introductory physics problem, and came to the conclusion that the problem was not only unsolvable, but somehow proved the constant for gravity was wrong. So while my dad rarely swore, I found myself recalling fond memories from childhood all thoughout the drive while listening to the audiobook. Halpern’s father offers insights on why you should feel confident and do your best without caring what other people think of you. While he was sometimes very severe, he came across as a very loving and caring figure who wanted the best for his family. Overall, the book is simultaneously warm and funny and dark, and navigates the readers though the tricky waters of adolescence with a sarcastic and blunt edge. Very nicely organized and truly one of the funniest books I have read in a long time.

Movie Review: The Hobbit, the Desolation of Smaug (spoilers)

Image

(I did not steal any images or copyrights, please oh please do not sue me…)

I really enjoyed watching the original Lord of the Ring series when they first came out. My sisters and I would wait out front of the Uptown Cinema 1 in Cleveland Park in DC and get in for the midnight showing every time. While I absolutely loved the Fellowship of the Rings, I felt that the Two Towers and Return of the King had poor pacing and seemed to reek of studio interventions, especially in certain scenes (Legolas riding a shield down a stairway comes to mind). That aside, I really and truly enjoyed the Lord of the Rings.

When I heard the Hobbit was coming out, I got very excited, followed swiftly by nerd rage. Three movies? The book is 300 pages long! But, of course, I went to the first movie, and found myself bouncing along as Gandalf and Bilbo crossed mountains and deep caves. Hiring Martin Freeman was a stroke of genius, and he really shines as Bilbo Baggins.

The second installment, The Desolation of Smaug, suffers the same fate as many sequels, requiring viewers to know the opening story while still giving enough of an exposition to draw in new audiences. I felt disoriented for several moments in the beginning, trying to remember exactly how the first movie had ended. The movie makers wisely decided to remove some of the more onerous portions of the book, like the bargaining required to get into the house of Beorn and the month (!) that Bilbo spent in the Wood Elves realm before finding the keys, and expanded the more adventurous scenes, like the barrel ride and Bilbo’s interview with Smaug. I really enjoyed Smaug, Benedict Cumberbatch matched the character perfectly, and the graphical rendering of Smaug was flawless. Martin Freeman brought life to the movie, and several scenes that would have felt wooden or stale felt interactive, as if you were standing in his (big fuzzy hobbit feet)–shoes. I liked the darker appearance and mannerisms of Legolas (even if it isn’t canon), and I thought that his character had much more depth in this film than in any of the Lord of the Rings. I really and truly did not like Evangeline Lilly’s acting, which felt theatrical and amateurish compared with those around her. I felt like the choice to introduce a love triangle with her was sloppy, and felt like a very last-minute add-on.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, with Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch stealing the show. I am excited for the third installment, although I hope they give Smaug plenty of screen time before the end.