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Gretchen SLP

Sacramento, California
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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-13-18

Worth It Despite Author’s Haughty Pretentiousness

Like previous reviewers Janet and Anthony, I’ve had an instinctive aversion to Dick Cavett ever since childhood due to what (even to my youthful, inexperienced eye) appeared to be his incredibly inflated ego and pompous, name-dropping, wittier-than-thou style. That didn’t prevent this from being at least a four-star listen for me, however, because so many of the tales (of Cavett’s own experiences, many with authors, actors, musicians and other celebrities) are so interesting. I actually bought the Kindle version of the book too, just so I could keep reading even when listening would have been inconvenient. But listening was its own pleasure because Cavett has great comic timing and reads so smoothly it’s as if he’s just ad-libbing. This could almost have been a five-star listen across the board, except for a few unfortunate facts:

1.) This is a compilation of Cavett’s NYT columns from about 2007-2011; it’s not a new work.

2.) As other reviewers have noted, inclusion of columns related to a particular political campaign dramatically shorten the shelf-life of a book. No one still cares about (even if they still dimly remember) any particular speech delivered by John McCain or Sarah Palin, or by Hillary Clinton when she was running against Obama for the Democratic nomination. All of the political columns and columns relating to one specific, relatively minor current event should have been omitted from this collection. Ditto the column that is solely devoted to raving about how The Sopranos represents the zenith of television and how Cavett feels sorry for anyone who doesn’t recognize this.

3.) If you’re going to be an overt grammar snob, at least bother to be correct! I noticed at least one instance of misuse of the word “incidence” to mean incident or instance, as in “there were several incidences” of something, and occasional other errors of grammar, syntax and usage. Even as an English teacher married to an English professor, I wouldn’t normally care, but... Mr. Cavett, if you’re going to throw stones, maybe move out of your glass house first.

4.) Cavett often uses the most roundabout, wordy-for-the-sake-of-being-wordy language possible when the sentence would have been 10x clearer, simpler and more effective if written in straightforward prose. For example, a heart attack becomes, in Cavettspeak, “acute discomfort in the cardiac region.” (This from a man who faults physicians for “euphemizing” cancer as CA, clearly unaware that this is just medical shorthand like any other, eg HTN/hypertension, ABO/antibiotic, Pt/patient, or PNA/pneumonia.) A typical example of a Cavett sentence run amok: Instead of just saying “Younger readers may need to Google Walter Winchell to understand this story,” Cavett writes, “Readers who’ve achieved a number of years toward the minimal end of the age scale might feel the need of a dose of Wikipedia upon hearing the moniker Walter Winchell.”

Verdict: A-

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-10-18

Best for YA Readers 🐒 🐒🐵🐵🐱🐀🐀🦍

I really, really liked this book at the start, and predicted I would love it. By halfway through the book, I liked it okay. By the final chapters, I was speed-reading only so I could say I finished (it was our book club selection). The incompletely drawn characters never fully came to life; the story was simplistic and disjointed (many, many chapters in the middle had no point, and could have easily been omitted); the writing style was a strange combination of immature and didactic (verging on preachy); and there were no twists after the predictable reveals concerning the fates of the protagonist’s brother and (alleged) sister. Also, books focusing almost exclusively on the main character’s childhood and young adulthood are almost NEVER done so well that they are interesting to adults. This book is no Advenures of Huckleberry Finn or To Kill A Mockingbird, and this author is light-years away from being another Mark Twain or Harper Lee. All in all, I can say that teenagers and young adults might love it, but I wouldn’t recommend it for serious adult readers, unless you have a special interest in animal rights issues or just need a light, mildly amusing read.

Grade: C+
Bechdel test: Pass

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-04-18

Like Potato Chips, You Can’t Read Just One

I usually dislike and avoid short stories, so this book (which I happened upon only thanks to Reese Witherspoon’s book club) came as a total surprise. This was literally the first book of short stories I have found to be addictive and a true page-turner. I finished it only days after starting it, and felt compelled to buy the Kindle version also, just to increase my opportunities to read it. In themes, tone and content, it comes closest to Sam the Cat, by Matthew Klam (who, I noticed, the author thanks in the Acknowledgments section at the end of the book). In fact, the review title I kept imagining while reading/listening was The Thinking Woman’s Sam the Cat. The stories written from the point of view of a man are just as good as those with female protagonists, however, and the first story is by no means the best; these stories get better as they go along. My favorites were two near the very end: The Prairie Wife and Do-Over. I disagree with the reviewer who said that these characters are all loathesome, damaged, unlikeable people. I found them to be extremely varied, like human beings generally; ALL types of people are represented here, and many of the stories are uplifting, laugh-out-loud funny, or both. The fact that some stories explicitly take place during the Trump era was an unexpected bonus for me,

Grade: A. Bechdel test: Pass.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-10-18

🐱 Oldest Picture Book Still in Print 🐈 🐾

This book may not have been the first children’s picture book ever, but it’s the oldest still in print, and was one of the first to be awarded a Newbery Medal, in 1929. This version is terrific; the slide show, which is VERY well done, keeps our kindergartener entertained. The narrator is fine, and the background sound effects are not intrusive as in some other children’s books. It’s true that the illustrations are not full color, but they are the original 1928 illustrations, and pretty great for a book so old that the original text was hand-lettered by the author’s brother! Grade: A

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-09-18

Kept Me Awake Reading Until 3 AM

I found this to be a riveting read, ultimately, after a slightly slow and dragging first half. By the end, I was speed-reading on my Kindle just to see what would happen. I know other readers found the ending anticlimactic, but I liked it. I didn’t mind that a lot of the fate of the villain happened off-camera, so to speak; I would have found it to be an eye-rollingly cheesy ending if the villain had pursued the heroine in person up to the final pages. And the villain was NOT any of the people I was suspecting; almost every plot twist took me completely by surprise. I love when a suspenseful book is truly suspenseful and not predictable.

Only a few drawbacks kept this from being a five-star listen across the board for me:

1. Narrator Imogen Church is great, but reads a tad slowly. I sped up to 1.25x speed, which was perfect for most chapters.

2. I know that ever since Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, unreliable, deeply flawed, anxious, depressive, whiny or complaining alcoholic female protagonists are all the rage...but enough already! Yes, many women are unreliable. Some women drink too much. Some take medication for anxiety or depression. Some have insomnia or other sleep issues. But we aren’t usually all of those things at once. Can we please bring back normal, relatable female characters?

3. A few key questions remained unanswered at the end of the novel. For example, was it just a total COINCIDENCE that two would-be passengers on the Aurora were burglarized in the 1-2 days before the ship left on its maiden voyage? Or was the villain responsible for BOTH those robberies?

Grade: A-
Bechdel Test: Pass.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-01-18

People Who Live in Glass Houses

This story pulled me in completely and I finished the entire book in three days, binge-reading toward the end to get to the big reveals. When the end came, however, it was so cheesy, campy, predictable, melodramatic and over-the-top—as well as so lacking in coherent resolutions to several glaring questions that remained unanswered—that I immediately mentally downgraded the story from five stars to three.

Nonetheless, the book deserves four stars overall for two reasons:

1. The narration by Imogen Church is superb.

2. The melodramatic elements of the story are perhaps excusable considering that the author likely intended them at least partly as a combination of satire and tribute to the conventions of the genre. Multiple overt references are made to drama within the narrative. The house is repeatedly compared to a stage, the characters to actors, and the trees to an audience. There are explicit comparisons to classic claustrophobic suspense stories such as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. And upon first seeing the gun displayed above the mantelpiece in the Glass House, one character makes reference to Chekhov’s asserion that if a gun appears in the first act, it is bound to be used in the third.

Overall, I really enjoyed it, and plan to purchase the author’s next book. Grade: B. Bechdel test: Pass.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-27-18

Perfect Summer Thriller

This book is gripping, tense, almost TOO tense! There were many times when I had to pause the book and listen to music or something lighter, or humorous, just to lessen my sense of dread at what I thought must be coming next. It’s about the slippery slope that suddenly appears/exists between one “harmless” omission, failure to act, impulsive act, or little white lie ....and full-blown deception, edging into ethically questionable, near-illegal, illegal, or outright criminal behavior. Opening the novel with a scene in which the main character, a woman, is burying a body alone in the middle of nowhere was a GREAT way to draw the reader in. I almost completely loved it, and remained completely engaged until the last words. I even liked the ending, which is rare for me with thrillers. My only quibbles are minor and have to do with poor decisions on the part of the protagonist. I wasn’t positive a woman in her position would do some of the things she did, would take such enormous risks. But other than that I have no real complaints (except the audio producers’ decision to use one (and only one) sound effect: an echoey tin-can-telephone sound for whenever the protagonist is on the phone. That was just odd).

Catherine Steadman was excellent as narrator of her own novel. At first, when I thought the narrative was unfolding a little too slowly, I listened at 1.25x speed. Later, I listened at normal speed just because I didn’t want to miss anything.

Kudos to such a young and multitalented author! I’ll definitely be eager to read her next novel.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-06-18

Thoroughly Engrossing, Highly Recommended Memoir

Wow! This sure was a serendipitous find. I grew up not exactly idolizing Meredith Baxter Birney, but definitely looking upon her as the quintessential Golden Girl with the perfect life. How very wrong I was. This book will be a liberating revelation for any woman who’s ever felt hopelessly trapped in an abusive marriage, but it will also strike a chord with anyone who has ever known and loved an alcoholic, as well. There are heart-wrenching moments, there are laugh-out-loud moments, there’s celebrity gossip, and there are touching anecdotes of motherhood in abundance. The coming-out story toward the end of the book is a bonus. Meredith, your many fans and admirers celebrate your liberation (from EVERY unhealthy tie that once bound you), and thank you so, so much for summoning the courage to tell your story. It’s well told (I bought the Kindle version too, just so I could read in every setting), smart, funny, fast-paced, and riveting. Your narration is perfect, too. Grade: A

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-24-18

All-Time Top Ten Favorite 📚 Book

Yay!!! A shout of pure joy. That was my reaction, literally, when I learned that this book was finally on Audible. I first discovered Schuyler’s Monster in hardback shortly after its publication about a decade ago. Way back in 2008, there were still some independent bookstores, and the best ones put out little “Staff Picks” cards in front of certain titles to advertise staff members’ favorite selections. These little blurbs were usually in the employee’s own handwriting, and consisted of a few sentences explaining why they especially recommended this particular book.

Black Oak Books on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, California, is our setting. It was a gorgeous fall day, and I was in the city for some rare alone time without the kids after having lunch with an old friend in the Gourmet Grotto’s Epicurious Garden next door. The book’s gorgeous cover design (Schuyler, hands over her mouth as if stifling a laugh, surrounded by cascading alphabet letters) drew my attention, but so did the Staff’s Picks recommendation promising “a journey unlike any other” that would be sure to become an instant favorite of any reader who had “ever had a child, ever known a child, or ever been a child.” I picked up the book, read the unforgettable introduction, and was hooked. (The author had me at “Tyrannosaurus Rex.”) I bought the book, took it home, read it in two days, handed it off to my husband so he could read it, ordered five copies for friends and family and immediately began giving them away. Every friend who read it finished it within two or three days, as I had. Over the years I ordered many more copies and I always make sure to keep at least one copy at home and one or two copies at work to lend out to parents, friends, and other SLPs. I’ve made sure to keep up with the latest exploits of the author and his stellar daughter on Facebook and on the author’s fabulous blog, Fighting Monsters With Rubber Swords. Once I became an Audible member, I wrote to Audible periodically, requesting that the book be produced in audiobook format. The only time I wrote to Rob himself to ask when an audiobook might be expected, he wrote back saying something along the lines of “I think that ship has sailed,” but still, I never gave up hope.

And now I’ve been able, finally, to experience this journey again in audiobook format. I only wish I had known just a month or two sooner (way back when you could follow other reviewers on Audible, to see what people were reading) that it was here, so this review I’m writing now would have been emailed automatically to each of my 600 followers! Then more people could have discovered a new favorite. The writing is excellent, the story riveting and suspenseful, the author fully relatable, and the book just generally unlike any other. If I had to compare it to any other book, I’d say it comes closest to Lion/A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierly...but a way jazzier, faster read, and with jokes. The narrator of this audio version is fan-frigging-tastic, absolutely first-rate, almost Sedarisian in his delivery, and a perfect match for Rummel-Hudson’s wry humor. I laughed out loud in my car many times; I cried along with Rob and Julie toward the end, during the Box Class chapter. Kudos to Rob, Schuyler, and everyone involved in the making of this book, and now, ten years later, this audiobook. If Audible ever restores the option of sending a particular book to one’s friends and family, I’ll send it to everyone I know and love.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-20-18

Funny First World Problems for Pre-K and Kinders

This is a hilarious listen, partly due to the unconventional story (which begins with Spinky’s fit of sulking; the reader never gets to see/know exactly what caused it). The real treat, however, is Meryl Streep, whose can’t-miss narration makes this a delight for preschoolers, kindergarteners and adults alike. My only caveat would be that Spinky will be viewed by some parents as a spoiled kid, over-indulged and almost encouraged in his sulking by his doting, well-meaning but clearly very privileged family.

Still, it’s a winner. Worth the cost of a dollar or two.

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