love may fail2I was looking for an audiobook to listen to in the car when I came across Love May Fail by Matthew Quick.  I really enjoyed reading his previous novel, Silver Linings Playbook (and watching the movie adaptation) so I checked it out without bothering to look at what this book was about.  If you have kids in the car with you, then you do not want to listen to this book.  Read it instead.

Love May Fail starts by introducing us to Portia Kane, who is currently sitting in her clothes closet, drunk, waiting for her husband and his lover to arrive.  After a hilarious confrontation, Portia decides to leave and gets on a plane.  While she is intoxicated.  She stumbles to her seat and finds herself sitting next to a nun.  Sister Maeve is kind and listens to Portia tell her tale of woe.  Before they part, Sister Maeve gives her a note and her address, in case Portia would ever want to write to her in the future.  And it is a good thing that Portia writes to her.  It turns out that they are looking for the same thing.

The plane lands in Philadelphia, Portia’s hometown.  We quickly realize why Portia would want to escape this place after the first encounter with her mother.  Her mother is kind but clearly mentally unstable.  After dragging her mother to a nearby diner, Portia runs into a former classmate and learns that a beloved high school English teacher was forced to retire after a brutal attack.  This teacher was the only decent man that Portia Kane ever had in her life.  Determined to find him and bring him back to the classroom, Portia begins her quest.

Some people believe that God has a master plan that brings people together.  Other people call it destiny.  Whatever you call it, in Love May Fail, you will see how one chance encounter can lead you to the person that you are looking for.  Matthew Quick brings multiple characters together through chance encounters that lead Portia to her former teacher, Mr. Vernon.  But just because you find the person that you are looking for, it does not mean that there is always a happy ending.  Mr. Vernon is a broken man when Portia finds him.  Will she be able to convince him that life is worth living?

Love May Fail is full of dark subject matter, but it is a very funny book.  Portia Kane is a believable flawed middle aged woman that is trying to find the one person that she believes has goodness inside him.  Along her journey, Portia encounters other characters that help her on her quest.  And she may find that there are other people that are good along the way.

 

AtlantisMeet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City by Mark Adams

The Lost City of Atlantis.  One of the Western World’s most famous tales.  Many people dismiss the story as a myth.  But what is interesting about the story of Atlantis is that it was recorded by the great philosopher Plato and that he is the only written source on this story.  The debate over whether or not Atlantis is real or fiction stretches back to Plato’s death back in 347 BC!  Plato claimed that the story was true and the he heard the story from reputable sources.  However, even Plato’s famous student Aristotle expressed doubts about Atlantis being a real place with the quote, “He who invented Atlantis also destroyed it”.

Follow Mark Adams around the world as he interviews people that have studied the lost city of Atlantis.  Some people insist that Atlantis is a legitimate place and that they know the precise location of it.  Other people that speak with Mark Adams are scholars and are less inclined to believe that Atlantis was a real location.  Whether you personally believe in Atlantis or not, you cannot help but be fascinated by the theories that people come up with.

Mark Adams travels to various locations, being shown evidence and possibly proof, that Atlantis existed.  You may think this sounds tedious, but Adams is able to make his journey sound like an exciting adventure.  Much more exciting than Indiana Jones!  One of the first places that he visits is Ireland, home of the Atlantipedia.  The Atlantipedia is similar to Wikipedia, except in this case, the entire web site is devoted to information on Atlantis.  Of course, Mark eventually travels to the Mediterranean and to Greece, home of Plato.  On the way to Greece, he stops at the Straits of Gibraltar.  Many people believe that this is Plato’s site for the Pillars of Heracles.  And yet, some have placed the Pillars of Heracles in North America!

Even if the Lost City of Atlantis is not something that usually captures your attention, you will find yourself engrossed in this story.  After all, the city of Troy has been discovered.  PerhAtlantis2aps Atlantis really existed.  Maybe someone will uncover it.  Or, perhaps it has already been found but we need to find the evidence that links it to Plato’s story.  Anyone that loves the Classics, Greek Mythology, Archaeology, and/or adventure will enjoy this book.

Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City is available in print and in audiobook.

 

the girls in the spiders webThe Girl in the Spider’s Web is the fourth and latest installment in the Swedish Millennium series. Fans assumed that the series was finished as the series’ author, Stieg Larsson, had passed away with only writing the three books. But alas, the series has been revived by Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz. Let us rejoice!

Langercrantz does a fantastic job on many levels. He keeps the focus on Salander and her past, but develops the story into a plausible continuation for the series. Salander shines, finally living up to her full potential. She is a true heroine. More characters, unique in their own right, are introduced, and a slew of old ones are weaved in. Blomkvist is constantly on his game and devoted more than ever to helping Lisbeth. The story is fast paced and contains plenty of suspense, intrigue, computer hacking, and mathematical equations that only a handful of people in the world can understand. The best part is that it is clear that Langercrantz will not stop here. The door has been left wide open for the next Lisbeth Salander adventure.

If you are looking to start a new series, give this one a try. I have found it is more enjoyable and easier to follow the Swedish names and genius jargon when I listen to the audio books. Simon Vance is the reader of this series and really brings the story life. The first book in the series is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This book exploded and was even made into a movie in the United States in 2011 starring Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomvkist. Sweden has made the first three books into movies and those are all available on Netflix.

devil in the white cityA couple of months ago I heard on the radio that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were going to collaborate yet again on what will most definitely be another blockbuster hit. The two have previously collaborated on The Aviator, Shutter Island, Gangs of New York, The Departedand The Wolf of Wall StreetEach film was nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures for Arts and Sciences (aka the best award in film you can attain) for Best Film and Directing with DiCaprio getting the Best Actor nomination for 3 out of the 5 films. Scorsese won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Film of the Year for The Departed. When these two get together, everyone turns out to see what they have created, especially me! This film is 2 years away from its release, and I am already gearing up for it.

This time they are bringing you a film based on the 2003 book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Erik Larson’s work is the story of the true events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He tells this story in interweaving fashion, focusing on Architect Daniel Burnham and serial killer H.H. Holmes during the years leading up  to the World’s Fair. Both men shaped Chicago’s history in very different ways.

When I first heard about this novel, I wasn’t too excited to pick it up. My fear was that it would be too much about gruesome murders for me to enjoy. But it wasn’t. The book is about paramount history that happened just a few hours away from where we live. In fact, one of Holmes’ lovers and later victim was from Davenport, IA.

While there are a few murderous details, Holmes’ part of the book is more about how he was able to carry on his killings undetected for so long. Multiple accounts describe Holmes as an ideal individual that exuded charm and warmth. While I am eager to finish and read about Holmes’ inevitable demise, I have truly adored page after page of historical firsts. The World’s Fair was such a monumental occassion that everyone wanted to be part of it. Great inventions were first unveiled, historical figures rubbed elbows, heroes we have only read about preformed, and so..much..more.

I have no doubt that Scorsese will capture the essence of this time period and the innumerable historical particles sprinkled throughout the book. As for my all time favorite actor, Leonardo Dicaprio, I know he will deliver. It was a bit disheartening to learn that DiCaprio would encompass H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, but then I realized one cannot always play the hero. And in fact, many actors do their best work when playing the villain. I wouldn’t be surprised if DiCaprio gives his best performance ever with this new film.

Photos from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

More about the World’s Columbian Exposition.

monopolistsThe Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon

Monopoly. Everyone is familiar with the board game.  The odd little tokens and the fight over who gets to be the racecar. Plastic green houses and plastic red hotels. The person that always insisted on being the banker. The seemingly endless trips around the board, passing “Go” and collecting $200. The agony of landing on Boardwalk when it had multiple hotels on it.

Surprisingly, the board game Monopoly has a long and interesting background.  According to the manufacturers of the game, Parker Brothers, the Monopoly game was created by Charles Darrow.  Parker Brothers even printed the story of how Charles Darrow had created the game Monopoly in 1935 in the instruction booklet for the game:

In 1934, Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, presented a game called MONOPOLY to the executives of Parker Brothers. Mr. Darrow, like many other Americans, was unemployed at the time and often played this game to amuse himself and pass the time. It was the game’s exciting promise of fame and fortune that initially prompted Darrow to produce this game on his own. With help from a friend who was a printer, Darrow sold 5,000 sets of the MONOPOLY game to a Philadelphia department store. As the demand for the game grew, Darrow could not keep up with the orders and arranged for Parker Brothers to take over the game. Since 1935, when Parker Brothers acquired the rights to the game, it has become the leading proprietary game not only in the United States but throughout the Western World”. 

However, this story of the creation of Monopoly is not true.  The Monopoly game can be traced back to the early 1900s.  In 1906, Lizzie Magie applied for a patent on a game that she invented called, The Landlord’s Game.  Lizzie Magie was a follower of Henry George and she created the game in order to help explain George’s single tax theory. She played The Landlord’s Game with her friends, who in turn, copied the board so they would have their own copy of the game. Her friends played the game with other friends who copied the game and in turn, shared it with other friends.  The game spread. In 1924, Lizzie Magie renewed her patent for The Landlord’s Game.

This audiobook goes into more detail about the origins of the Monopoly game and how it became the game we all recognize today. People might have always thought the game was created by Charles Darrow if it had not been for a lawsuit in 1973.  Ralph Anspach, an economic professor, created a game that he called, Anti-Monopoly and he was sued by Parker Brothers. The truth of the origins of the Monopoly game were revealed during this time. A fascinating look at America during the turn of the century and through the Great Depression, corporate greed, and the discovery of the truth, this audiobook is one that you don’t want to miss!

hooeyYou may recognize Bob Odenkirk as the character Saul Goodman from the AMC drama, Breaking Bad and its spin-off, Better Call Saul.  But Odenkirk has been a comedy writer for a long time and he has written many things that have made you laugh over the years.  He got his start at Chicago’s Second City and went to write at Saturday Night Live alongside Robert Smigel and Conan O’Brien.  Odenkirk is the creator of beloved SNL character, motivational speaker Matt Foley, portrayed by Chris Farley.  He also wrote for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Ben Stiller Show, Get a Life, The Dennis Miller Show, and Mr. Show with Bob and David.  A Load of Hooey is Odenkirk’s first book of sketch comedy.

A Load of Hooey is in print and on audiobook.  I listened to the audiobook and I’m glad that I did.  Bob Odenkirk is one of the voice actors, along with David Cross, Jay Johnston, Jerry Minor, Megan Amram and Paul F. Tompkins.  Listening to these talented actors made an already funny book even more delightfully funny to listen to.  Who knew that you could laugh at Hitler?  Bob Odenkirk made that happen.  I laughed at Adolph Hitler thanks to the talented writing of Bob Odenkirk.  And it is not just hated people that Odenkirk writes sketches of.  Nope. He even goes after beloved former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.  And it’s funny.

So if you enjoy watching sketch comedy, need to listen to a book in the car, don’t have a lot of time, (this audiobook is 2.5 hours long) and you want to laugh, I recommend checking out the audiobook, A Load of Hooey by Bob Odenkirk.  Or you can read it.  But it’s funnier to listen to.  But you should check it out, either format.

live right and find happinessLive Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster) is read by the author, Dave Barry.  I used to read Dave Barry’s column in the newspaper and I always imagined as being this goofy guy with a squeaky voice.  I was pleasantly surprised at how nice his voice is to listen to.  This audiobook is three and a half hours long, so it is great to listen to for a short road trip or on your daily commute.  The book is full of different stories and musings by Barry that are easy to listen to and enjoy.

My favorite story in this book would have to be repairing things in your house.  Barry talks about how going to a hardware store is the most depressing experience.  Unlike commercials for Home Depot, people are not smiling and excited about the projects that they are going to do.  They walk around the store terrified and unsure of what to do.  And, no one is able to go home and magically transform their house in thirty seconds, looking proud and satisfied.  Instead, normal people have to hire contractors.  And contractors bring their headaches, even to a writer who works from home.

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster) is full of humorous stories from Dave Barry’s life.  He discusses travelling to Brazil for the World Cup of soccer with his wife and daughter.  It turns out that the tour guide books lied; not every person in Brazil will try to rob you.  Barry talks about his childhood, growing up in the “Mad Men” era, watching his parents have cocktail parties and then how his generation turned out to be hover parents.  Barry even has a pair of Google Glass and he talks about how ridiculous he looks wearing it.

These are just a few examples of the stories that are in Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster).  Barry will have you laughing out loud with his relatable yet ridiculous stories.

 

boys challenged hitlerOn April 9, 1940, German forces invaded Norway and Denmark.  Knud Pedersen and his family raced outside their house and looked at the sky.  Above them, German warplanes were flying low and pieces of green paper fluttered to the ground.  The German military alerted the citizens of Denmark that they arrived and were taking over the country in order to “protect them”.

King Christian X of Denmark, surrendered almost immediately, convinced that his country’s troops were unable to defeat the Nazi German forces.  Norway resisted with counterattacks with help from Allied Forces and with an underground resistance movement.

Knud Pedersen, his older brother Jens and their friends were ashamed of how their government had reacted.  Denmark had no army to stand up to the Nazis.  “One thing had become very clear: now any resistance in Denmark would have to come from ordinary citizens, not from trained soldiers” -Knud Pedersen.  After reading the newspapers and listening to radio reports from the BBC, Knud and his brother Jens decided that if the adults were not going to act, then they would.  So in the summer of 1940, the first resistance movement began in Denmark.

Knud Pedersen, Jens Pedersen and six of their friends made up the Churchill Club.  The club operated in Aalborg, Denmark for a little over a year.  But during that time, the boys managed to sabotage a lot of German operations.  The Churchill Club started small and with each success, their actions grew bolder.  They stole German weapons, destroyed train cars full of German artillery and machinery and left their mark wherever they went.  More people joined the Churchill Club.  Others assisted them as best as they could.  Of course the Nazis were angry about the attacks against them and sought to find the persons responsible.  The members of the Churchill Club were arrested in May, 1942.

The courage these young men had to defy the Nazi army amazes me.  Knud Pedersen recounts different acts of sabotage that he and his friends committed.  At times, the stories are tense and you fear for the boys safety.  And the book does not end at their arrest.  Pedersen and his friends were still defiant in jail.  Some of them were able to escape nightly and create havoc; sneaking into their jail cell early in the morning.  The Danish and German governments could not agree on what to do with the boys or how to punish them.  But the actions of the Churchill Club inspired more people to rise up and resist the Nazis.

This books is available in print and in audiobook.

Johnny HellerMarley and meHorrible Harry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local audiobook aficionados got an opportunity to hear a master narrator at work and to quiz him about his craft. Johnny Heller, award-winning narrator, actor and stand-up comic visited Bettendorf Public Library July 15th to read aloud and take questions from the audience.  A resident of Manhattan, he seemed genuinely interested in learning more about Iowa in general, and the Quad Cities specifically.

Heller is an interesting combination of  the highbrow (trained as a Shakespearean actor) and the low to middle brow (he delights in adolescent humor, which serves him well when narrating juvenile books). He read from several of his books (Marley and Me and  Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys).

He gave several insights into the process. Most fascinating was how he chooses someone (an actor or actress perhaps) to pair with a character, so he can instantly call up that persona. When asked how narrators can seamlessly and quickly move between male and female characters, he says, ideally, he’s in a zone where he doesn’t consciously have to make those decisions. He doesn’t try to do “female” voices. it’s more about their character. He softens his voice for females but doesn’t go several octaves higher.

Other tidbits, he gets paid by the hour – the finished hour of product, not what he puts into it, so as an experienced  narrator, he’s more efficient and the ratio of time spent and actual output is more equal.

His favorite part of the job, though, is to foster the love of books and reading. Mixing with the crowd before and after, Heller clearly enjoys the extensive traveling involved in the job, and doing whatever he can to promote the appreciation of story, in whatever format it may be.

 

 

 

Burning RoomThe audiobook of Michael Connelly’s latest (hopefully, not the last) Harry Bosch novel is brilliantly narrated by Titus Welliver. The Burning Room is enjoyable on multiple levels. First, there’s the evolving relationship between Harry and an assigned protegee, Detective Lucia Soto, as well as Harry’s internal monologues about the careerists in charge of the LAPD and the incredible talents of Welliver and, probably least of all, the actual plot.

Bosch grows into an ever more fascinating character; professional in that he cares first and foremost about solving cases, rather than the political implications of each and every action. He skewers the bureaucratic bluster in the guise of the bumptious Lieutenant Samuels, Bosch’s nemesis. As they investigate two entwined cold cases, Harry imparts his survival skills and hard-won knowledge to Lucy Soto, a smart and hard-working disciple. Will she carry the torch in future Connelly books?

There’s a fine balance in audiobooks when it comes to altering the reader’s voice between characters; they should be distinct enough that the listener can follow a conversation, but not so in-your-face that you’re brought out of the story. Welliver’s  gift is his ability to create, with consistent and subtle intonation, a conversation’s back and forth action. So much more efficient than “he said” and “Harry replied,” and “she shouted.”

His narrating work can be heard in several Robert B. Parker novels, while his acting can be seen in The Town, Gone Baby Gone, Twisted and Transformers. Age of Distinction. I’m sure acting is not easy, but reading aloud in such an intelligent and enjoyable manner must be even harder.