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


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

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

The Complaints – Ian Rankin

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The ComplaintsThis was a great choice for audiobook, if only because I was severely missing hearing the Scottish accent on a daily basis.  Peter Forbes narrated, and did a fantastic job of infusing the various characters with different voices and personalities.  I also appreciated that he narrated in an Edinburgh accent (not sure where he’s from exactly, couldn’t figure it out).  While my ear isn’t very well trained, it would feel wrong to have Ian Rankin read by a Glaswegian, whose thicker accents are not heard in Edinburgh.

The Complaints introduces readers to Malcolm Fox, an Inspector in the Complaints department.  For American readers, that would mean Internal Affairs, the cops who investigate other cops.  Malcolm is perfect for the Complaints; he always follows the rules and does not care who he investigates if they are breaking the rules.  The book begins with Malcolm having wrapped an investigation into a corrupt DI named Glen Heaton, and getting an assignment to investigate young DS Jamie Breck.  Just after he begins his investigation, Malcom’s sister’s abusive partner turns up dead, and DS Breck is investigating the murder.  Throw in the apparent suicide of a prominent property developer, and Malcolm is left reeling from everything that seems so connected.

Let’s talk about Malcolm Fox himself.  I really liked him.  He was an interesting departure from the normal Tartan Noir character.  He had his moments, but for the most part was very likable.  He could maintain relationships and got on with others without much problem.  Well, perhaps not with those who were doing wrong, but Malcolm’s easy friendship with Breck was at the core of the conspiracy against both men.  Malcolm holds a good relationship with his father and tries to heal the strained one with his sister (strained mostly because he could not stand to watch her abused by her partner).  While he could sustain a romantic relationship, Malcolm seems well adjusted in many other ways.  This is a severe difference from Rebus, and since Fox looks to be the center of a series, should show Rankin’s diversity as an author.  In fact, I would say that with Malcolm comes a reinvention of crime fiction stereotypes, paving the way for other characters like him.  He worked the entire case with Breck at his side, something most crime fiction detectives would never do.

At the center of The Complaints is the theme of family and what one would do for them.  Malcolm abandons his rules and goes rogue in order to protect his sister.  Even after he’s put on probation, Malcolm continues to go for the answers that would help his sister heal.  Family is mentioned again and again, amongst several other characters.  When most crime fiction novels focus on the loners in the world, this book brought the families to the forefront.  I like the transition.  Of course, some of these families were criminals, but that’s beside the point.

With more experience, you can tell that Rankin has created a stronger start to this series than with Rebus.  I felt that The Complaints was technically better, written with a series in mind, and set up with a stronger character.  I’m not knocking Rebus by any means, but there is no denying that The Complaints was far more sophisticated than Knots and Crosses.

Only downside to an audiobook is that it’s harder to remember all of the tiny details.  Oh darn, I’ll just have to read it again.

Rating: 8.5/10
Audiobook: 9/10

Book of a Thousand Days – Shannon Hale

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Book of a Thousand DaysI listened to this particular novel on audiobook (thank you public library!), and I loved it.  I have read a few of Hale’s novels, and I knew that she went mostly for fairy-tale retellings, which are sort of my guilty pleasure.  Though I never feel that guilty for them.

Book of a Thousand Days is narrated by Dashti, a young girl who has lost her entire family.  In order to survive, she goes to the nearest city and finds herself pledged to the childish Lady Saren.  Before any time has passed in her work, Dashti and Lady Saren are being locked in a tower for seven years because Lady Saren refuses to marry a wicked leader named Khasar.  Dashti must try to keep them well, enclosed in the dark and their food being eaten by rats.  Perhaps most trying is Saren’s inability to cope at all even when her real beloved Tegus comes to see them.  Dashti must pretend to be Saren, and soon the girls are caught up in the lies of who they really are.

Being a Hale fairy tale, the novel has a happy ending, but I honestly had no idea how things were going to work out.  The initial trapped in the tower portion of the book was slightly grating, perhaps mostly because of Saren’s behavior.  Immature and whining constantly, I felt so bad for Dashti who was trapped with her and must obey her.  Written in journal form, Dashti’s calm voice of reason tells the readers everything of importance in their lives.

Though Lady Saren is the gentry (and the usual pick for narrator of a novel like this), Dashti holds our interest and exudes confidence in herself.  Perhaps not always, but enough that the reader will undoubtedly root for her, especially when she takes charge of Saren and helps the two girls to escape their prison.  Saren herself improves with the novel, and by the end you find it almost time to forgive her for her past behaviors.  Saren certainly helps to keep Dashti out of trouble, and her loyalty sways readers back to her side.

Book of a Thousand Days is set somewhere in the East.  It felt more Arabic to me, though Hale says the inspiration was partially born out of Mongolian tribes’ traditions.  The audiobook music certainly gave it more of a desert feel.

This was the first audiobook that I had listened to with more than one voice.  Different actors assumed the roles of the characters, almost as if it was a movie where you just could not see the screen.  It was captivating and I thought brought the book to life.  There are very few audiobooks with multiple narrators (The Help does it to great effect), and I had grown used to those who could do many voices like Jim Dale does for Harry Potter.  I’m not sure I want this trend to take over, but I felt it certainly worked here, especially since the book itself is geared towards younger readers.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and especially the audiobook.  It was a fun story and a great listen.  Most likely geared for the younger of the YA set, it still held this (sort-of) adult’s attention.

Rating: 8/10
Audiobook Rating: 9/10 (I’ll start to rate the audiobook narration as separate from the book itself)

Format: Audiobook