Audiobooks

Audiobook – Some Kind of Fairy Tale

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Twenty years ago, Tara Martin disappeared.  Her parents, brother, and boyfriend all had to deal with the different consequences of her disappearance, and know that she cannot be alive.  But on Christmas Eve, Tara’s father answers the door to find his daughter home again.  Only Tara looks just as she did when she was sixteen, and tells her family a strange story that they cannot believe.  Her brother, Peter, and her ex-boyfriend Richie react differently to her return, but each person in her life struggles with the truth behind her disappearance.

Graham Joyce has mastered enchanting language with Some Kind of Fairy Tale.  The basic writing pulls you into the story, leaving you intrigued and wanting to know more about the people in the story.  His characters are multilayered, and each approaches Tara’s fairy excuse with different layers of belief and skepticism.  This keeps the story very much grounded in the real world while still playing in the fringes of fantasy.  It is a great approach for an adult novel.

That being said, while the technical writing is strong, Joyce makes the unfortunate mistake of telling the bulk of his story instead of showing it.  Through long narrative flashbacks, Tara’s visits with a psychiatrist, and even the psychiatrist’s notes, we can piece together the events of Tara’s disappearance, the fallout for Richie and for Patrick, and the reaction to her sudden reappearance.  However, we rarely get to see these events as they unfold.  Instead, we are told them, and had I been reading the book instead of listening to it, I would have more quickly tired of the pages of straight quotes.  There are better ways to tell of events that happened in the past, but Joyce seems unable to do anything other than have one character tell it to another.

While the book is intriguing and unique, I found it hard to put up with some of its shortfalls.  I am sure there are those of you who would find this book enchanting and refreshing for the fantasy world, but for me it struggled on too many levels.

Rating: 5/10

Audibook Rating: 7/10

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Audiobook – Ender’s Game

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Ender’s Game was originally written as a novella, then expanded as a novel to allow Orson Scott Card to introduce his Speaker of the Dead books.  Ender Wiggin is a six year-old genius shipped off to Battle School, where he and other children are trained in anticipation for the next attack by aliens known as Buggers.  Ender garners the attention of his new teachers quickly and soon outshines the other children in Battle School.  Ender’s Game follows him as he moves up in Battle School and learns to be a young commander, with the action culminating at Ender’s tender age of twelve.

I made no secret that it was hard for me to finish Ender’s Game.  I only picked up the book in the first place because of the upcoming movie, and I wanted to read the book before I were to go see the film (reading the book first, however late to the game I am, allows me to be unjustly upset when they change key plot points.  I have faults.  I know).  The book sat unfinished on my iPod for several months, as I worked up the courage to continue with the onslaught of hopelessness and witnessing a young child beaten down by responsibilities far beyond his years.

I cannot deny that Orson Scott Card really is a masterful writer; you care about Ender and Valentine from the beginning, and you feel so against all that happens to both of them because Card makes you care.  That being said, it is incredibly difficult, knowing that the children are so very young, to read how many hardships each face.  I kept asking myself if Col. Graff would ever allow Ender to just be a child, if the torture was going to end any time soon. The fact that Ender just never spoke like a child either was more than a bit disconcerting for a girl that believes in children being children.

One of the responses I got from a friend about finishing the book was that she felt more adult at a young age because she was intelligent.  While I can see that Ender, burdened with great intelligence, would not feel like a child either, the book does make you wonder how far we should push our true prodigies just to gain an end.  Think of those in history like Mozart, a boy denied a childhood by his father because of his gift and who suffered greatly for that loss.  Ender himself ends the book by telling Valentine he would like to move on from the world they have built with the colonists simply because he has not known a life without pain.  That he was so used to pain he had to now seek it out.  There is perhaps no line more tragic than that.  When you couple that with the fact that *SPOILER* the buggers never planned on attacking Earth again, and Ender’s entire mission was therefore unnecessary, what does Card want us to take away from the story?  (This is a major portion of the plot that if they remove from the movie will make the entire main question collapse, in my opinion.)

I am  no fan of SciFi, but I found that Card does not overload his story with the nuts and bolts.  Instead Card gives you just enough to grasp the futuristic pieces of his world, but not enough to overload those in his audience who could care less about the details.  This combined with the more hopeful nature of how Ender’s Game ends makes me almost want to read more in the series.  Almost.  While he might torture his main characters, Card sure does know how to pull you in and make you invested in his creations.

Overall, technically a great book, but not my particular cup of tea.

Rating: 7/10

Audibook: 8/10

Audiobook – Bossypants

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Yes, I realize that Bossypants is not technically fiction.  It is also no secret that I love Tina Fey.  She’s a woman writer’s idol – funny, smart, talented, and successful.  When I was looking for a new audiobook to listen to, Bossypants came up and I decided it would be a great quick listen.  Composed of a selection of essays, Fey’s autobiographical book gives you a look into her career and her role as a working woman.  And, as she so poignantly states, teaches parents how to raise nerdy daughters just like her (see quote):

“Let’s review the cost-free techniques that we’ve learned so far for raising an achievement-oriented, obedient, drug-free, virgin adult: Calamity, Praise, Local Theater, and flat feet. Another key element is ‘Strong Father Figure/ Fear Thereof.’”

I do not read a lot of memoirs, because they are mostly sad portraits of lives that have been filled with far too much pain.  Or the author paints them that way so that they appear more interesting.  What I liked about Fey’s essays is that they were in no real chronological order, and while her life may have involved some social awkwardness, she has always looked on that with humor.  At least in the book.  One of the anecdotes that stuck out to me in particular was her recount of her disastrous honeymoon.  She and her husband opted to go for a cruise, as he is afraid of flying.  So they boarded a Caribbean cruise in New York and headed south.  Except the cruise ship caught fire somewhere amongst the islands and they ended up having to fly home.  She points out that while she and her husband were in the women-first, men-behind set-up with life jackets, all she could feel was how terrible it would be to leave him behind.  He later tells her that he knew she would choose to stay with him.  This is followed by Fey explaining (to her brand-new husband) that if Rose had just gotten on to that lifeboat in “Titanic”, Jack could have had the scrap board all to himself and survived.  Thus it makes perfect sense that yes, she would have gotten in that life boat without her husband with her.  This kind of intelligent wit is why I love listening to Fey.

For those that are “30 Rock” fans, you get to learn about the beginnings of the show, how it got made in the first place (Alec Baldwin) and how it’s still on the air (Alec Baldwin).  Her honesty about the business of television and the behind-the-scenes information is extremely interesting.  If you appreciate Fey more for her on-cue Sarah Palin impression, there is a lot on how that came about in there, too.

Every piece is hilarious enough that I was, quite literally, laughing out loud in my car listening.  Fey’s full-acknowledgement of her short-comings and lucky breaks are also refreshing.  You don’t feel like this is someone who is lying to you or who really cares if you hate her for what she says.  She just wants to say it and be honest about it.  In today’s show business industry, that is a really uncommon find.

All in all, a great listen but it goes by far too quickly.  I got to the end thinking, “Wait, why isn’t there more?”  If you love a laugh and are particularly a fan of Fey’s brand of comedy, this is an excellent choice.  Even better, if you listen to the audiobook it’s narrated by Fey herself and includes the audio of her first sketch as Sarah Palin.  It’s still funny several years later.

Fey’s book does have some colorful language, so bear that in mind before you read.

Rating: 8/10
Audiobook Rating: 9/10

Audiobook – Inheritance Series

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Beginning with Eragon, the Inheritance series encompasses four books by Christopher Paolini.  Told mainly from young Eragon’s perspective, we are introduced to Alagaësia’s hardships that stem from a tyrannical dictator.  A dragon-rider, Galbatorix will live an impossibly long life.  He was the one responsible for the fall of the riders and for the near-extinction of the dragons.  When a mistake puts a dragon egg in the hands of farmboy Eragon, it hatches and his bond with Sephira begins.  As Eragon goes through the series, he must grow as a person and as a dragon rider if he wishes to overthrow Galbatorix.

I want to start by saying that I enjoyed the Inheritance Cycle, even with its obvious similarities to other works (Lord of the Rings, I’m looking at you).  Paolini’s writing skills improve throughout the series, and his characters become sharper as well.  Many of his characters are richly drawn, with Eragon ironically being the weakest one.  Eragon’s cousin, Roran, was actually my favorite character.  Strong and stubborn, he wants only to look out for his family.  His pains at his father’s death and anger at Eragon are real, believable reactions.  Though we don’t really get to know Roran until Eldest (book 2), we are definitely shown a hero we can get behind.

I understand that Eragon is not supposed to be older than fifteen in the first novel, but I found him rather whiny and almost insufferable at times.  He progressed a bit too fast with magic and other skills to make you care about his struggles.  Or for him to really have struggles.  While Eragon grew on me throughout the last three books, it was really his selfless desire to defeat Galbatorix that makes him appealing.  Eragon has no desire for power or to take over the kingdom; he merely wants to save it from the insane man who currently sits upon the throne.

Having listened to all four books back to back, I was able to not forget the smaller plot points.  Christopher Paolini might have taken a note out of my book and reread what he wrote.  I was discussing the books with my friend today, and we both felt that he had forgotten a few things that he had written in Eragon and was not consistent with it through the rest of the series.  The biggest instance that stuck out to me was the portrayal of Nasuada.  Nasuada is the daughter of Ajihad, the leader of the Varden, a group whose sole purpose is to resist and bring down Galbatorix.  In Eragon, we get a small introduction to Nasuada and that introduction left me (and my friend) thinking she was younger than Eragon, kind of silly, but brave.  She does stay to fight alongside other archers at the book-end battle.  Ajihad is killed at the end of Eragon, and the first of Eldest revolves around his successor.  Nasuada is chosen, and she is then stated to be closer to 19 or 20.  And she proves herself to be very strong, capable, and not at all silly.  I honestly wonder if Paolini forgot how he originally wrote her or just wanted to correct her character to suit the rest of the series better.  For someone who enjoyed the tightly-woven interconnected stories of Harry Potter a great deal, the messiness of the Inheritance Cycle was a bit bothersome.

The Inheritance Cycle survives mainly on action.  And that’s not to say that the books are any less for it.  They are enjoyable.  I would often find myself unplugging my iPod from my car and sticking it near my ear to listen as I walked into the house. You want to know what happens next, and Paolini does a good job of keeping the story moving along.  Frankly, that’s the largest reason my younger brother got into the series.  He is not the biggest reader, but books like Inheritance with fast-paced plots and little downtime suit his sensibilities.  (This attitude might explain why he is in the Air Force.)

Overall, I would recommend the books if you are a fan of fantasy series.  It was an ambitious undertaking by a kid who was only 16 when he first started the books, and they definitely improve with each offering.  If you have finished the series, I would be curious to hear what you think of the ending.  *SLIGHT SPOILERS* Myself, not a fan.  The unrelenting slavery to fate that Eragon forces himself to be is nothing less than ridiculous.  Especially after every miracle he has witnessed along the way, his steadfast belief he must follow Angela’s earlier prophecy is a lazy excuse on Eragon and Paolini’s part.  But hey, there are rumors Paolini may write more, so maybe he’ll address that bit of crazy. *END SPOILERS*

As far as audiobooks go, this was a great listen.  Excellent narrator who isn’t afraid to voice dragons, say weird words, and give voice to some pretty strange sound effects.

Rating: 7/10
Audiobook Rating: 9/10

Enchantment – Orson Scott Card

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Enchantment titleTen year-old Ivan and his parents are trying to leave their native Ukraine.  While they wait for exit visas to come through, they visit their cousin Marek in the country.  While there, Ivan runs through a neighboring forest and comes to a clearing where a beautiful young woman sleeps upon a stone bed in the middle of a pit.  Ivan feels something for the woman, but cannot see how to cross the pit and leaves to return to Marek’s house.  The next day, he and his parents make the long journey to America, where Ivan grows up and follows his father into Russian literature academia, including learning an ancient Russian dialect.  Ivan gets engaged to a girl named Ruth, but then travels to Ukraine for an extended research trip.  While there, he decides to visit cousin Marek and once again finds the clearing.  He manages to jump across the pit, best a bear, and kiss the maiden awake.  That’s when his adventures begin.

This was another audiobook, and my first Orson Scott Card novel. My friend Heather actually suggested it as a gateway to Card, and it was a wonderful entrant.  The book was so, ahem, enchanting that I would have a hard time switching it off when I arrived at my destinations.  The book is narrated from a variety of viewpoints, though mostly from Ivan and Princess Katerina.  Their hesitant love was touching and believable, and especially frustrating when you as a reader could see how much they cared even if they were too stubborn to admit it.

As far as fairy tales go, this was my favorite retelling so far.  There were modern and historic elements to the novel, and remarkably they all tied together wonderfully.  (I used a lot of adjectives there, don’t kill me!)

The audiobook itself was narrated by both a male and female narrator, to account for the switching viewpoints’ genders.  It was a little weird to hear the same actor used for the villain (Baba Yaga), Ivan’s mom, and Katerina, but the voice actress did a good job making them sound a bit distinct.  Mostly I loved that the actors were either Russian or at least sounded Russian.  It brought a lot of realism to the narrators, and it provides that ambiance that you wouldn’t find with an American voice actor.

If you’re looking for a fairy tale re-telling or simply an enchanting story, I honestly could not recommend this more highly.  I will most definitely be reading/listening to it again.

Rating: 10/10
Audiobook Rating: 10/10

Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson

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WintergirlsLia has just discovered that her former best friend died.  Alone.  In a hotel room.  She knows it is a result of Cassie’s bulimia, but does not know how much the disorder itself is to blame.  Lia is anorexic, a cutter, and battles the voices in her head that every day tell her she is too fat, that five more pounds will make her the prettiest, skinniest girl.  Her divorced parents (Professor Overbrook and Dr. Marrigan) know that Lia has a problem, but her mother reacts too much and her father not enough.  Her stepsister Emma is the only one Lia really cares about.  Though Cassie is dead, Lia is haunted by her ghost.  Not only by visions of Cassie, but by the competitive game the girls played that led to their eating disorders.  As Lia deals with her friend’s death and her own mental anguish, she spirals out of control and further into her self-described borderlands between life and death.

I’m going to say right now, this book is not for the faint at heart.  Wintergirls was haunting and disturbing, but gripping and moving.  Lia’s descent into madness was real, perfectly depicted.  The issues she dealt with are important to every girl.  I’m not saying that every girl suffers from eating disorders, but we all suffer from some crisis of body issue throughout our lives.  It is impossible to be a girl and not have body issue problems.  Though we’re unsure of where Lia’s problems began, we know that she can no longer really explain why she starves herself except to get her body weight down to that “magic number”.  It is later in the book when she admits that no number would be small enough until she has shrunk down to 0, to where she has ceased to exist.  She struggles with her disgust at her habits (wanting to eat, to stuff herself of cupcakes, pizza, or other goodies), but feels unable to change.  At first she thinks that by not eating she is strong, but she grows weaker and weaker throughout her starvation.

Laurie Halse Anderson lines her pages with rich metaphors.  While some of them worked, I’m afraid that a lot of them felt overdone.  As you get to know Lia, I think they make a little more sense, but still it was hard for me to not be taken out of the writing with the stretches some of these metaphors attempted to take.  As I listened to the book, I can’t point to a specific line, but there was one about being dragged down by spider webs that was lost on me.  Others worked, so it was perhaps a trope that Halse Anderson should have used more sparingly.  Too many and they are no longer effective.

I really did get pulled in by the book, but by chapter 44, I was expecting it to be almost over.  I felt that she had worked her way to a resolution, to Lia’s realization and a doorway for her to go through where she would want the help her family were trying to give her.  Instead, when I looked down at my iPod, I saw there was nearly two hours left of the audiobook.  Again, the book was beautiful, but perhaps overlong.  I felt much like Lia.  Beaten down by the message in the book, by the words in Lia’s head, by the pain she was feeling.  I, like Lia, wanted to escape that pain and be lifted back up.  But Wintergirls wanted a little bit more of my time and my sanity.

I did love the audiobook narration.  Lia sounded like a teen, her voice seeped with anxiety and fear of the unknown.  When I found out that the narrator, Jeannie Stith, looked more late-20s than late-teens, I was actually shocked.  This is how a YA novel should be narrated.  The listener should think she is listening to a 17 year-old telling her story, rather than a mature middle-aged woman reading lines.  There were points in the book when I thought my iPod was malfunctioning; beeps and noises coming out of it that I could not place.  It took me a while to realize that these were the noises that Lia heard in her head.  The effect, once I realized my speakers were ok, was extremely well-done.  It took me that much further into Lia’s story, which is probably why I wanted to escape.  I could escape easily; Lia could not.

This was my first Laurie Halse Anderson book, but Wintergirls impressed me enough to say that I will be reading more of Halse Anderson’s works.  I just have to work up the courage.

Rating: 8/10
Audiobook Rating: 9/10

 

If I Stay – Gayle Forman

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If I Stay coverMia is seventeen and full of promise.  Recently auditioned for Julliard as a cellist, two parents that love her, an adorable seven-year old brother, and a boyfriend and best friend who enrich her life.  When her family gets into a car wreck because of snow, Mia’s spirit is thrust from her body and she walks around separated from her broken body.  From the start, she knows that her parents are gone, but she doesn’t know about her brother Teddy.  Mia must decide whether she will fight to stay alive or whether she will go.

I had been recommended this book a couple of years ago, and it has been at the back of my mind for a long time.  Mia is in a coma, but her ability to walk around and see what is happening around her is a fascinating idea.  And it’s beautifully done.  The immediate aftereffects of such a tragedy could be rich fodder for a book, but it would provide certain limitations to character development.  After all, how do you care about a family if you barely know them?  However, Forman tackles this issue with remarkable talent.  The book is interspersed with memories of Mia’s life, things she remembers throughout the day as she watches her extended family grieve for her.  None of the memories feel out of place, and they easily meld to the story.

One thing that really touched me in If I Stay was the depiction of music’s absorption.  Mia is a classical cellist, her boyfriend Adam is in an up-and-coming punk band, and her father was also a rocker.  Though their tastes are different, she and Adam share their love of music  and fall in love through the medium.  Music weaves throughout the story to connect Mia to her life and to her loved ones.  I love how important it is to Mia, and how the car radio plays even after the crash, making the scene less horrible for her.  Music brings comfort to her throughout her life.  There are many authors who try to show the power music can have, but many fail.  Forman does a superb job.  You feel Mia’s feelings, without Forman having to tell you (My Memories of a Future Life also did a good job with the same concept.)

I listened to this book on audio, but I think I’d rather read it.  Don’t get me wrong, the narrator did a marvelous job being heartfelt and conveying Mia’s story, but she was the wrong age.  Kirsten Potter has a deep, mature voice, one that sounds like a woman in her 30s instead of a 17 year-old girl.  One thing I loved about Book of a Thousand Days or Ella Enchanted was that the narrators sounded the appropriate age.  Seventeen is not so young, but it’s young enough that a young woman’s voice would have a little less confidence, a little more vulnerability.  If I were reading the book, Mia’s voice would be spot on.  Mature for her age, but entirely believable as a girl.  But when you listen to a book, it is important that the narrator fits with the protagonist’s voice.  In this case, because the chosen narrator didn’t fit, it made Mia seem older.  If you listen to the audiobook, feel free to disagree with me.

If I Stay was a beautiful story, and one that left you unsure of what you wanted in the end.  Forman presents both choices – Mia’s staying or dying – with so many reasons to support the other.  By leaving, she would be with her family.  By staying, she would have to live without them and with the pain of their loss, but she would get to experience the rest of her life.  Certainly you want her to live; it would feel wrong to want her to leave.  And yet, your heart aches for her loss and you want only what will make her happy.  If I Stay will capture you heart and pull you in to Mia’s mind.  Forman makes you feel and hurt almost as if you were Mia yourself.

Rating: 9/10
Audiobook Rating: 7/10