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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-04-18

Five star beginning, disappointing conclusion

I rarely write reviews, but I knew after the first couple of chapters that I'd be writing one about this book. I fully expected it to give it five stars and to write nothing but praise. The first half or more was beautifully evocative of prep school life, the intensity of adolescent friendships, the first steps and missteps as boy meets girl. The shifting perspective between Matthias as student and Matthias as teacher ten years later was handled deftly and fluidly, each shift resonating in both worlds and illuminating details we might not otherwise have noticed. The writing is elegant and descriptive. The setting almost becomes a character in itself. The beauty of the story's first half is in its nuance.

And so I was disappointed when the last third's focus turned to an almost cartoonish villainy on various fronts. The resolution was over the top -- and yet it was dealt with only perfunctorily. After making a huge emotional investment in the first part of the book, I'd have liked to experience the characters' emotional resolutions. They aren't there. The very last minutes (I'd guess the last page in the print edition, though I don't have it to check) are pure exposition, explaining to the reader at least in part the emotional place Matthias finds himself in. We're told about it, though, rather than shown, and given the events immediately preceding the last scene, what we're told is unconvincing.

In all, Shadow of the Lions is almost like two books cobbled together, jarringly different in tone, style, in the dimensions of characters and events. The first part holds great promise for subsequent books Christopher Swann might write. I hope to see more, and I hope that he'll trust his gift for creating nuanced characters and relationships to drive his plots.

James Anderson Foster's narration is excellent. I hope to hear him narrate a growing body of literary fiction. His voice is well-suited to it.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-18-16

Mediocre book made terrible by a poor narrator

Memory is a fascinating topic, and given the author's credentials, this book seemed worth a listen. I'm going to stop where I left off, about five hours in.

I suspect that this book was self-published to begin with. There's a Kindle edition, which was released in June, apparently at the same time as this Audible edition. It won't be published as a physical book until next year.

The text per se needed the benefit of a good editor. And to this point, about two-thirds of the way through, I find the author's conclusions to be poorly supported -- broad generalizations about impossibilities, without sufficient evidence. I am not referring to debunking claimed memories of being in utero or of being born, but to more common memories from older childhood. For example, the physiology of the developing brain may make it rare for an adult to be able to recall day-to-day information from her grade school years, such as being able to identify elementary school classmates in a photo (this is, according to the author, useless information which is shed along the way to streamline the brain's function), but surely it isn't impossible. I can do it well past middle age. Those particular neurons are not universally shed, Dr. Shaw, however dogmatically you wish to present your theories. I'd suggest consistently using qualifiers, such as "often" or "rarely" or "few" or "unusual" to make your conclusions sound like the product of a lively and questioning and open mind.

Still, it would be worth finishing this book, if it weren't for an atrocious narrator. Siri Steinmo sounds like a high school student reading aloud in class without having prepared, getting lost in syntax and mispronouncing words. In the first 30 minutes alone, she mispronounced at least half a dozen words, some of them multiple times. When she read, ". . . some of the most fascinating, sometimes almost unbelievable errors, alterations, and misapprehensions our memories can be subject to," she pronounced "subject" with the stress on the second syllable, as if she began to say "subjected," and only then realized that the last syllable wasn't there. Surely that kind of flub would call for a second take in a carefully produced recording. She's apparently unfamiliar with the word "behemoth," but far worse in this context, she doesn't know how to pronounce "synapse."

Note to Audible Studios: For nonfiction, especially, please find narrators who are at minimum familiar with the subject matter. Otherwise, books lose credibility (and narrators only embarrass themselves). But it would be particularly nice for books such as this one, written in the first person, if the narrator's voice might be congruent with the author's voice. In this case, that would mean a more mature, British woman, not a very young American.

If I'd used a credit or paid full price for this book, I'd have returned it. However, I bought it as a daily deal, and it's worth $2.95 to warn others not to waste a credit on this one. If you're keenly interested in reading it, I'd suggest the Kindle edition. Better yet, wait until next August, and check your local library.

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14 of 17 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-31-15

Unlikable characters ruin this book

This book's premise and setting were promising. The characters, though, were not simply flawed, but profoundly unlikable. I felt the same way after reading Gone Girl - the plot kept me going, but without any character to make an emotional investment in, the resolution was deeply unsatisfying. I wish I could un-listen to The Ice Twins. The writing is vivid enough to make the book haunting, but what lingers is a queasy sense of sordidness and antipathy toward the characters.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-15-15

NOT a sequel - a rejected first draft

I so wish people would stop tarnishing Harper Lee's legacy by calling this book a sequel, as if she intended it to follow To Kill a Mockingbird -- as if she intended it to be published at all. Go Set a Watchman's theme and characters were only a starting point.

This was an initial draft, rejected by her publisher. With guidance from an editor, she reworked it and refined it into what ultimately became To Kill a Mockingbird. Thank heaven she did.

This book was deemed unpublishable when it was written. To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize. And rightfully so.

For people who enjoy studying a writer's process, reading or listening to Go Set a Watchman has value. You'll even recognize some longish passages which were used verbatim in To Kill a Mockingbird. That in itself should be a heads-up, though, about Harper Lee's intent regarding this early manuscript. This was raw material from which a gem emerged.

I should make it clear that it was not the racist ideas we hear from Atticus in Watchman that made this first effort unpublishable. His views are all intact in Mockingbird, but given far more subtle expression; Atticus in Mockingbird is just as staunch a guardian of Maycomb's social order, but Harper Lee found ways to show us rather than have him blurt his thoughts in a single scene. It was the writing, the craft that fell short.

Watchman was a fledgling effort. Relative to Mockingbird, its characters are two-dimensional. Its setting lacks the rich and languid detail that makes Maycomb a character in itself in Mockingbird. Watchman's plot is pedestrian, its structure simplistic. There's too much exposition. Remember the edict "show, don't tell"? Ms. Lee had yet to master it.

Appreciate this rare glimpse at an early draft of a classic. Don't mistake it for a more highly evolved book than To Kill a Mockingbird, though, just because Go Set a Watchman takes place a couple of decades later and its protagonist is older. Mockingbird evolved *from* Watchman. Harper Lee's growth as a writer during that process is breathtaking, and it's doing her a grave disservice to dismiss it, to laud her first attempt as superior to the masterpiece she gave us in the end.

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12 of 29 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-21-12

Disappointing

The family secret on which this plot hung was obvious after only a few minutes. Even the final twist on the secret was obvious early on. This would have been a far more interesting book if Joyce Maynard had revealed it all to the reader in a prologue and developed the characters within that framework.

That said, the plot was poignant, and the characters were generally likable through most of the book. It seemed a shame, though, to learn near the end that perhaps the most likable character was guilty of making a truly monstrous decision years before, rather than having been as much victim as everyone else. I was left feeling cheated by that revelation after investing too much in a character capable of something so awful. Again, had we known of this character's actions at the outset and seen the flaws, contradictions and complexities developed during the course of the book, I think it might have been possible to come away with affection for the character intact.

Maynard captures the setting and era well. Overall, I think The Good Daughters is worth a listen. I only wish the potential in its premise had been more fully realized.

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2 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-07-11

A Good Listen (except the music)

Unlike other reviewers, I can't say the music spoiled this book, but its mediocrity was embarrassing -- especially in light of the scene in which Vanessa calls Zoe "the next Sheryl Crow."

Other than that, for once I was not infuriated by the ending of a Picoult book. Her premises are invariably too tempting to resist, but her compulsion to kill off characters for no particular reason is something I've found disturbing. Here, at least, she finds a way to resolve a plot without tragedy.

I thought the main characters were reasonably well-drawn. Even Max, despite his many flaws, was not wholly unsympathetic.

Picoult's handling of the legal circus is reminiscent of Grisham's A Time to Kill, though not as deftly handled. The idea works here, though -- the characters' personal struggle lost in their very public exploitation by outsiders who care only about their own agendas. It would have rung a bit more true if there had been an equal amount of exploitation coming from those in Zoe's court. That side is where my own sympathies lie, but I harbor no illusions; in real life there would have been just as many high-profile lawyers and groups grabbing publicity as on the other side.

I'd have preferred fewer courtroom revelations coming out of the blue. They came and went too quickly to serve any real purpose in terms of either plot or character development, especially so late in the book, and they made Zoe's lawyer look extraordinarily inept. By contrast, the plot point on which Zoe's decision rested was wholly predictable. One only wonders why on earth Vanessa did not have sufficient information to foresee, at the very least, a conflict.

Nonetheless, I found this to be a book with an interesting idea at its heart, characters who were likable, and a satisfying resolution.

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9 of 12 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-25-11

Fast-paced and Satisfying

I tended to stay away from James Patterson's co-authored books until I happened to stumble over the first in his Michael Bennett series. I was instantly hooked. Bennett and his family are immensely engaging. I was delighted to see another in the series, and it didn't disappoint. I read the first two and opted to listen to the next two. These audio versions are extremely well done. Bobby Cannavale's narration captures Michael Bennett perfectly in a voice as likable as the written character. Highly recommended.

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10 of 10 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-19-11

An Entertaining Book

Then She Found Me is a charming book. It's funny, at times poignant, and its characters are vivid and complex. Elinor Lipman's writing sparkles. I highly recommend it if you're in the mood for something light and entertaining.

Mia Barron's narration is energetic and suits the book's tone, but I'd have liked the characters' voices to be a bit more nuanced and the pacing to be a little more varied. If I could have deducted only half a star for that, I would have.

Note to those who (as I did) found their way here after seeing Helen Hunt's movie adaptation and hoped to delve a little more deeply into some of the movie's themes: You won't find the movie here. The movie's broad premise is the same, Bernice is essentially the same, and the April of the book is vaguely recognizable on film, as if strayed into a parallel universe and driven by different motivations. The movie's plot is entirely different, with most of the other characters either absent, utterly changed, or newly-created for the screenplay. The insights at the end of the movie, which are perhaps what I value most about it, are not drawn from the book.

None of that is to say that the book suffers by comparison, no matter how much you loved the movie. In its own right, it's a lovely book with characters you'd miss if you read the book first and then saw the movie -- just as the movie is a lovely and deeply touching movie, with characters you miss if you see it first. If you're forewarned, if you approach the book as a different story, you won't be disappointed.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-08-11

For the first time, I couldn't finish listening

I had to stop listening to this book halfway through. It's the first time I've done that. I don't know what possessed Dick Hill to make the choices he did in his narration, but it was unbearably ponderous and articulated with a bizarre sameness, no matter which region a character was supposed to be from. Purdy sounds as if he ended up in Minnesota by way of New York. Poe's accent is simply a toned-down version of Purdy's. I don't know if Hill thinks this quirk of speech is characteristic of law enforcement generally (although he couldn't seem to break out of these speech patterns for any of the characters), but after over seven hours of it, I was ready to jump out of my skin.

I listened to clips of some of the other books Dick Hill narrates, and he's clearly capable of making entirely different choices.

I don't feel as if I've missed much. The book's premise has a lot of promise, but the first half meanders among the personal woes of angst-ridden cops, with little plot development.

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2 of 3 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-05-11

Derivative

Justin Cronin writes well. His post-apocalyptic world is well-imagined (especially life in the Colony), and the characters are well-realized. Scott Brick's narration is excellent.

What bothered me throughout The Passage is that far too many elements are derived from The Stand -- major plot devices, settings, characters (especially Auntie, but others in subtler ways), even the taunting voice of evil in dreams (certain phrases like "got a little bunski in the ovenski" struck me as a near parody of Stephen King).

King did it better, though. If you're one of his fans, I recommend holding out for an audio version of The Stand.

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1 of 4 people found this review helpful