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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-04-14

Candid, Critical, and Compassionate

For years I have been deeply critical of Israel as I have slowly awoken to the plight of the Palestinian people. Knowing that my understanding of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was superficial, I welcomed Shavit's first hand account as an Israeli journalist affiliated with the Israeli peace movement.

Although Shavit's book is way too long and at times repetitive, I found his accounting to be remarkably candid and critical - while it was also engaging, insightful, and compassionate. He presents the historical context for Zionism (the persecution and annihilation of European Jews), but makes it clear that the Jews saved themselves at the expense of the Palestinians. His description of the catastrophe that befell the Palestinian people is deeply touching and profoundly sad.

Shavit does an excellent job of illuminating the evolving nature of Zionism and the State of Israel over the decades and helps to explain why Israeli politics is so dysfunctional and Israeli society so polarized. Consider, for example, that the founders of Israel were Eastern European, largely secular, Jews, while successive waves of immigrants, who did not fight in the war that established Israel, came from countries with a very different historical and religious context ( e.g., in the 1950's Jews from Muslim majority countries or in the 1990's Jews from the former Soviet Union).

Shavit makes it clear that the settlements in the West Bank are another catastrophe and that the future of Israel, the Palestinians, and all who are allied with these two people (most of the world, that is) depends on a just resolution. He has no prescription for resolving this intractable mess, but he helps his readers to understand the mutually incompatible truths that these two ancient people hold that maintain the conflict.

For the life of me I can't understand why other reviews were critical of the narration. Boehmer did an excellent job.

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8 of 9 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-26-14

Appealing characters in an improbable story.

This was my first Sparks story. Beautifully written, the story is very well developed with characters who have remarkable depth of character. Although most of the story follows the day to day life of a sorority girl and a bull riding guy (highly unlikely but warmly developed), the story alternates with sections devoted to Ira, a very old man in a fight for his life whose life becomes forever intertwined with the improbable lovers. Overall a very good story.

McLarty did an excellent job as Ira. LaVoy is outstanding as well but she struggles to effectively speak for male voices.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-26-14

Quite a disappointment.......

I am a big fan of Dawkins. His book the God Delusion has been one of the most influential in my life and the Selfish Gene was ground breaking in the 70's and is still relevant today. So it was with great enthusiasm that I dove into his autobiography.

Although most authors shouldn't read their own works, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Dawkins. He is charming and funny. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed hearing about his ancestors, his childhood in Africa, and the sad life he endured as a little boy sent away to boarding school. I was also able to get a sense of his budding intelligence and his "appetite for wonder."

But that is the only good news in this book. For reasons only he knows, as he moves into his early adult years and begins to teach at university, he becomes bogged down in very detailed and pedantic discussions about some of his research. My god, it was tedious and uninteresting. Then the book is over and he has yet to get to the 70's when he wrote the Selfish Gene - the part of his life that I was most interested in and for which he is best known. I was fed up and disappointed by the end of the book. Unless you have an unquenchable interest in all things Dawkins, use your time more wisely and listen to one of his other books and hope that his next installment is more interesting.

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4 of 5 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-26-14

Is this the work of a young, evolving writer?

I love stories of immigrants and people moving between cultures and I was attracted to find out more about Africans in America and their efforts to adapt to America while retaining their ties back home. Although some of these stories were able to accomplish just that, many of these short stories were not well developed and all ended abruptly. Many of the stories were also very pretentious and the author seemed preoccupied with characters attending prestigious colleges. Ultimately, I wondered if these were early works by an evolving writer that were published after some of her more mature works found success.

Maddingly,there was absolutely no break between stories and it could take several minutes to realize a new story had started!

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-26-14

Inventive, Engaging, & Surprising

Lee has created a new world where charter villages, facilities, and counties people try to cope with a post apocalyptic world that has forced them to adapt and to find meaning. Each of these different groups must also struggle to survive (easily if you are a charter person, with a lot of hard work if you live in a facility, and with great difficulty if you live in the counties).

Lee's story follows the life of Fan, a young woman who lives in a facility, BMore (formerly Baltimore). Due to events that are never totally clear, she leaves home and travels through the counties and eventually a charter village. Very engaging and repeatedly surprising - right up to the end- Fan - and the reader - are confronted by the struggle to survive, life and death decisions of who to trust, and the existential need to define a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

I highly recommend this very original work. I was never bored and I always looked forward to listening. Although it is never clear who the narrator is and there is very little first person dialog, I hope Lee will follow up with more work that explores what it means to be fully human while facing an uncertain future.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-26-14

What a Hoot!

I had never heard of Harrison or Brown Dog before this collection came out. I am so glad I took a chance on something new! Brown Dog is a rascal who drinks too much, womanizes too much, and works too little. Although not politically correct, I identified with him and laughed out loud as he found a way to make ends meet in the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan).

Although many will be turned off by this simple and self centered man, he is also thoughtful, soulful, and loyal. He takes care of and helps out those he comes in contact with and doesn't exploit those who are down on their luck. Happy and content to fish, and able to survive on very little, I delighted in his full on hedonism and acceptance of life as he found it.

What a hoot!

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-06-13

Outstanding - Insightful - Transformative.

I will never think of blacks, the South, or race relations between whites and blacks in the same way. Wilkerson has done an outstanding job of bringing to life what it was like for blacks living in the South and what motivated millions of blacks to leave the South for the North, Northeast, and West over a period of decades starting around the time of WWI.

Her story closely follows three individuals, along with short stories of other people and her family, mixed in with a lot of sociological research. Although not a page turner, I was never bored and I learned so much about American History that I never knew well or understood at all. At its heart, this is a story about the impact of 400 years of slavery, abuse, oppression, and discrimination on a group of people. Wilkerson goes way beyond the sorrow, however, to focus on the strength, determination, and grit it took for blacks to survive and to make it out of the South. She is an excellent writer and she never sensationalizes the story nor does she lecture or sermonize.

This is the first time I have listened to Robin Miles narrate a story. She did a top notch job. Her Southern accents for men and women seemed spot on.

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12 of 13 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-10-13

Love in the Time of Cancer

Young, in love, and sick with cancer. This is the story of Hazel and Gus - two adolescents with different types of cancer who meet in a support group. I was so ready to not like this book and I did not think I would have any trouble fending off the strong emotion and sentimentality that can accompany stories about young people dying. I was wrong on both accounts - I really liked this story and there were times when the story earned the strong emotions I felt.

But this isn't a story about dying - it is a story about being young and in love - and sick with cancer. The story doesn't focus on the cancer or dying, but doesn't hide these issues either. Equal parts thoughtful, touching, and funny, Green has created very credible characters going through extraordinary life circumstances.

Rudd does an excellent job. Her voice for Hazel is spot on - edgy, defensive, self-conscious, scared, sarcastic, and funny.

This book is very much worth the listen.

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2 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-25-13

Great Start - Weak Finish

Benacquista can write! This is a well written story that introduces us to the "Blake" family living in Normandy, France. The Blakes are ordinary in every sense but one - they are in the witness protection program because Fred Blake was a Mafioso king pin who ratted out his peers and now must hide because the entire Cosa Nostra is looking for him.

The book seems like it is in three parts. Part one introduces us to each of the four Blakes and the FBI agents who must watch them. This section is interesting and funny as we get to know the characters and learn what life is like in France for a bunch of Newark, NJ, transplants. The Blake children, in particular, are well developed, quirky, and interesting. Part two is a closer look at life in the Cosa Nostra and the life that Fred lived before he testified. This part might be interesting to you if you like stories about the Mafia. The third part looks at the disintegration of the Blake family and how the past catches up with them. Considering how well developed and plausible everything had been before this section, it is very disappointing to have an ending that is not as carefully developed and that never has a credible ring.

Ballerini is an outstanding narrator. This is the second book I have listened to that he narrated (cf: The Beautiful Ruins). He is one of the best and reason alone to listen to this book.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-22-13

A Who Dunnit Set in Pre-WWII Moscow

Not a great story, but a good story set in pre-WWII Moscow. Although not a page turner, I never lost interest and I enjoyed the novel setting and cast - a police detective investigating a murder caught between warring factions of the secret police. Ryan does a good job of portraying life in pre-WWII Moscow and he creates a sense of tension while helping to illuminate what it was like to fear the state and its informers.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful