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Avalon

California USA
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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-12-18

Fascinating story and performance

This Alcatraz prison narrative is completely fascinating. Starting with the details of several failed escape attempts over the years, the author moves on to the meticulously researched account of the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris, who together crafted perhaps the only successful escape ever from The Rock, as Alcatraz was known.

Alcatraz prison, no longer housing inmates, is located on a rocky scrap of an island in San Francisco Bay. As a prison, it was rumored to be so isolated as to thwart any escape attempt. It was the final destination for the worst of the worst, convicts who had attempted escapes from other U.S. prisons. Yet the tantalizing view of the city of San Franciso across the bay was tempting, continually inspiring escape plans.

The Anglin/Morris escape is officially considered a failure, preserving the prison's "no escape" record. Although the three prisoners were considered to have drowned in the attempt, none of their bodies were ever found, and Esslinger provides details that make you question the official version. This true story was irresistible and unputdownable. The narration was smooth, with subtle differentiation for characters' voices, just a bit southern for the Anglins, and rough for the truly brutal prison characters. The book contained isolated descriptions of violence that were more than I wanted to hear; I just skipped those bits. I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for my unbiased review.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-16-18

Late Victorian Mayhem

Concordia Wells is observant and intuitive. She stretches the boundaries of what is expected of a female professor at Hartford Women's College in the late Victorian 1890's through her sleuthing and pursuit of mysterious clues. Smart, kind, and loyal, she pursues her leads in ladylike fashion while solving complex conundrums. The narrator brought this story alive through subtle voice differentiation, adding to the story and the listening experience. I received a free review copy of Unseemly Ambition in exchange for an honest review, and honestly, I liked this book, and especially liked Concordia. I'll be looking forward to following her future exploits.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-05-18

Unforgettable

This well-written but unpretentious ethnography of a rural Iraqi village is the most authentic view you will ever find into the lives of women in the middle east. Author Elizabeth Fernea, a young newlywed, follows her husband on his middle eastern doctoral research, settling in a mud hut in Al Nahra in 1956, the first western woman ever to live in the village.

Like the village women, Elizabeth dons the full-length black veil and becomes immersed in the culture, secluded from the men, but making friends with the sheikh's wives in the harem. At first, she is pitied by the women (skinny, short hair, no children), but gradually improves her Arabic and learns to navigate the culture, becoming part of the social tapestry of the village. Eventually, she is embraced by the women, who treat her as one of their own family.

Her observations and insights into the daily lives of the village women provide a unique and invaluable snapshot into the sheltered lives of work, childbearing, religious observances, and plural marriage experienced by Iraqi women in that time and place.

Like Elizabeth, you will be puzzled by the customs, develop empathy for the women, come to love the life, and feel her heartbreak when she has to leave. The stories are unforgettable. Both Fernea and her husband, after more than a decade in the middle east, returned to the US as college professors, and Elizabeth, also an author and filmmaker, created multiple works about her time in the middle east. Her other books include "A Street in Marrakesh" and "A View of the Nile." After leaving Al Nahra in 1958, she had a rare opportunity to catch up with some of her old village friends in 1997, the details of which you can read in "The Arab World," a book she co-wrote with her husband.

Don't miss this extraordinary and unforgettable book, a seminal work about the lives of Iraqi village women in the 1950's. Although it has become a college text, it reads like a heartwarming memoir of a very special time. Thank you, Professor Fernea, for this illuminating work, and thank you, Audible, for producing the long-awaited audiobook.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-05-18

Exciting! Complex! Loved it!

Old crimes cast long shadows, as Del learns the hard way. When his date Izzy ends up murdered, Del is forced to recall the grandfather he never met, and try to make the connection. With Izzy's sister Sabrina, he tracks down the clues on the trail of his grandfather's art heist, of which, he comes to realize, his own father was aware. The trail, over 80 years old, is obscured by time but reaches into the present day. Many twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat till the end. The ride is smooth but surprising as the denouement is resolved.

I received a free review copy of this audiobook and truly enjoyed it. Both writing and narration are excellent and highly recommended. I'll be purchasing more from this duo.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-27-15

Cozy, well read

A cozy period romance, this is a perfect read to curl up with on a rainy day. Julia is marginalized in her own home, continually reminded of her shortcomings, real or imagined. She plans a brave bid for freedom, not an easy aspiration for an unmarried woman in the 1880's, escaping from her stuffy Boston home to the expansive prairie frontier. Complications challenge her to embrace her core beliefs. Will she be crushed or empowered? The narrator enhanced the story. Subtle voice differentiation, from the haughty mother to the foppish brother in law, helped me be there, or feel like I was. A sweet tale well told.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-21-15

So close

The historical facts could have been fascinating, but the point of view was too distracting.

We were pregnant, we shopped at the commissary, we wore overalls, we loved our husbands. Our husbands couldn't tell us about their work. We hoped they weren't making weapons. We called it the gadget. We weren't allowed to talk about it. Some of us were angry.

What? No story, just bits strung together, told by nobody, or everybody. I came for the history. It was there, but too hard to disentangle from the tortuous point of view.

I'm still looking for a great book about Los Alamos. If you're interested in women, WWII or the Manhattan project, try The Girls of Atomic City, a book as good as I wish this one was.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-23-13

Thought-provoking, riveting, memorable

This powerfully insightful first novel is Joan Didion's finest work. A finely-drawn meditation, it focuses on Lily, a shy and melancholy young matron who yearns for love, but struggles with the challenges of everyday life. Thoughtful but unemotional, Lily and Everett are quintessential Central Valley Californians, strong as the rich soil they till, but unable to confront their personal demons. Leading unexamined lives, they are filled with emotions they cannot express, forever reaching, like their gold-seeking forebears, for the real Eldorado that lies still further on, a mirage just beyond their grasp.

The narrator has a pleasant voice while reading descriptive passages of the book, but her character voices are a disaster. Depressed people are not best represented through high, squeaky, baby voices, like every female character in this audiobook had - Sarah, Martha, Edith, even Lily. The midwestern senator inexplicably had a southern accent. Male voices were unrealistic, exaggeratedly low, without nuance. Lily sings off-key, but the narrator merely recites the lyrics in a stiff monotone, failing the author's purpose of adding authentic layers to the setting and character they were so carefully chosen to reflect. However, while the disappointing narration distracts, it cannot diminish the compelling characters and strong storyline of this fine work.

Thought-provoking, riveting, and memorable, Didion's "Run River" is a quiet masterpiece.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-19-13

Twisted

Probably the most exciting book I have ever read. The build-up is gradual and precise. Just when you think you've finally got it worked out, you find yourself in the most terrifying scene of all. And the ride is still not over. I'm new to Nelson De Mille, but will be downloading another of his books, in a hurry, which I doubt will be my last.

John Corey is a comfortably anti-social anti-hero. The NYPD detective is staying at his uncle's Long Island summer home while recuperating from the bullets he took in the line of duty. Hard-edged with few social graces, he's a beer-swilling, wise-cracking, hard-loving guy, a bit like Raymond Chandler's Marlowe, but with a personality all his own.

This book will lead you through multiple mazes of intrigue. The number of glittering clues, red herrings, and dead ends is amazing. I think I solved the mystery four different times before I finally did.

The plot is twisted with switch-backs and blind alleys. Every one is so promising, you're sure you've got it. But there's a game-changing new lead around every corner.. The romance is ever-present and equally complicated. Don't get too attached to any outcome. It will change, repeatedly, before you are safely home.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-19-13

A Swashbuckling Boyhood

This adventure has everything: Pirates, robbers, orphans, mysterious strangers, buried treasure, a swimming hole, a ghostly graveyard, a deserted island, a spooky cavern, a sensational murder and more sensational trial, even a brutal and evil villain.

Tom is brash, brave, adventurous, and smart. His mischievous ways are troublesome but endearing. Whether snitching donuts from Aunt Polly's pantry, playing hooky to go swimming, or running away with his friends to Jackson's Island, Tom always has the upper hand. He tricks the Sunday school superintendent, fools his aunt, pranks the schoolmaster, taunts his half-brother, charms the new girl, and teaches his friends an important lesson about whitewashing--and human nature.

Tom is alternately the village darling or the town pariah in this ultimate boyhood tale. His scrapes are sometimes scary, even life-threatening, but he always pulls it off. He is irresistible, and you'll be cheering for him long before he emerges the hero, as you know he will.

Dick Hill's narration is absolutely perfect. He enhances every character through his skillful differentiation, and his accents are authentic to the time and place setting. The shy schoolgirl, the town drunk, the grizzled judge, the "Spaniard," and the kindly widow all come to life through his talented narration.

This is a tale you won't want to end! Just don't be surprised if you find yourself feeling a bit wistful that you didn't grow up on the banks of the Mississippi River in the 1840's, like Tom (and Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain) did.

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2 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-18-13

Well Written & Highly Enjoyable

Complex and fascinating characters, layered back story, irresistible setting, and a tightly woven plot make Whiskey Beach one of Ms. Roberts' best. The setting is evocative. Bluff House has a characterization of its own. From Barbie to the beach, every element adds to the beauty of this suspenseful tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat, eager to discover the protagonist, but reluctant for the story to end.

The narrator is awesome. Full differentiation of voices, great resonance, one of the best. His Boston accents are just right, realistic but not overdone. The matriarch's voice reminds me of Rose Kennedy, a quintessential Boston Irish accent.

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