Sunday, April 22, 2012

Audiobook review: Tar—The Wandering by Helen Sea

Tár—The Wandering by Helen Sea
Genre: Fable
Length: 53m
Audio publisher: Books Are Loud, 2011
Read by: Julia Franklin
From: Review copy from Books Are Loud through Audiobook Jukebox

Story: Tár wanders the frozen world collecting tears. One day her friend Favnea the bird brings her a strange tear. Tár does not know who it came from, but it is not a human tear. This tear seems special. Tár decides to find out where the tear came from, but the journey is harder and more dangerous than she expects.

Thoughts: Tár is a very dense short story, less than an hour long. I listened to it several times and caught something new each time. Tár is an amazing character. She has an all-encompassing job, and her dedication is inspiring. To help with her tear-gathering, she has several unique tools. I'd love to hear more of Tár's family, adventures, and the other Wanderers. There is a lot going on around Tár outside of the story told here.

Reading: This is my first audiobook read by Julia Franklin, and I was very impressed with her professionalism. Her characters were each unique and the melody of her voice lent mystery to the tale. I really enjoyed her reading and will be sure to seek out other books narrated by her.

Music: I am very apprehensive about music in audiobooks. I don't want it to overpower or distract in any way. Tár contains original music composed by the author consisting of short snippets played on a wooden flute. The music was mostly calm and quiet and fit well with the story. The same few bars were used, and they eventually became repetitive, but only a few times did the music clash with the words. At those times the music was too light for the story's seriousness and the music undermined the developing tension. Aside from these few places, I felt the music added to the story and set a mood of calm determination.

Final thoughts: Tár—The Wandering is an impressive fable suitable for middle grades through adults.  Tár's determination is an inspiration to other wanderers.

Audiobook review: Chasing the Dragon by Nicholas Kaufman

Chasing the Dragon (2009) by Nicholas Kaufman
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
Length: 3h 31m
Audio publisher: Iambik Audiobooks, 2011
Read by: Alex Foster
From: Review copy from Iambik through Audiobok Jukebox

Story: Georgia is the world's last hope. Only she can defeat the ancient Dragon that has been stalking the Earth since the time of St. George. The Dragon is determined to destroyed Georgia and everything she has ever loved. With her guns at the ready, Georgia is resolved to follow the dragon's voice in her mind, that is, when she can fight off the cravings of her body.

Thoughts: There's a good story in here, but it's just too short. I would love a prequel following Georgia before the events in Chasing the Dragon. Some of it is provided in flashbacks, and it would be great to learn more about the person Georgia was before she became so numb. I love how the story starts in the middle of the action, and we learn about Georgia and her motives as it moves along. I was startled by the level of violence and gore, but it seems appropriate for the world Georgia is living in. Since there is so much crammed into such a short novella, I got a little confused by the mythology, but overall I'm glad I met Georgia and would like to see her again.

Reading: At first I thought it was odd to have a man narrating a story with a female protagonist, especially since most of the story consists of Georgia's thoughts. However, I was soon won over by Alex Foster's smooth British accent. He does a great job. His reading is very sympathetic, and his choices emphasize and reinforce Georgia's loneliness and isolation. I have to protest that a character from Detroit has a strange New York/Southern accent, but other than that, the reading is superb.

Final Thoughts:A violent, gory, and short novella in a world much like our own where no one is irremediable and mistakes just might lead to salvation.

Audiobook Jukebox

Been away a long time

Wow. I knew I had been gone for a long time, but didn't realize how long it's been.

A quick update on everything that's been happening. I got a new job. I moved across country. I found a place to live. I finally got internet installed yesterday. I am way behind on several reviews and will put those up. I've been listening to a lot of good books and reading some great graphic novels. The library here is fabulous. It has all the graphics I've been wanting to read but had trouble getting my hands on. I joined an all-female science fiction book club. I know. How perfect is that! Things are going great. I just don't have as much time to devote to blogging. So, we'll see how things go once life settles down a bit.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds

Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2008
From: Library

Read Tamara Drew on The Guardian's website

Story: A modern update of Far from the Madding Crowd, Tamara Drew tells the story of "incomers," people who come to the country for the views, versus locals who actually have to live there. London columnist and incomer Tamara returns to her childhood home with a new nose and new wardrobe after her mother's death. The writers at the retreat farm next door are all in love with her except Beth who runs the retreat and manages her famous writer husband's affairs. Told over the course of a year, the story shows the routines of farm life as the humans intentionally and unintentionally hurt one another.

Thoughts: Wow. Tamara Drewe is my perfect graphic novel. It's the story of jealousy, self-destruction, rural life, celebrity, writing, and cows. It follows the first-person account of several of the characters, so we really get to know Beth, Tamara, Andy, Glen and Casey. The dialogue is witty and the characterizations realistic as everyone says the wrong thing and annoys everyone else. Pages are set up so the interior thoughts of the characters are written in paragraphs and only the dialogue is framed out in graphics panels. This is a great way to get more of the complex story into the graphic form. Tamara Drewe is definitely for adults as there is quite a bit of nudity and adult situations. I found it funny that the occasional swear words are ****'d out. One character in particular has all of his speech bubbles *****'d. I appreciated this since it made him more pathetic than offensive. These touches really added a lot of meaning into the few things each character says.

Artwork: The art is fantastic, and I loved the washed-out colors. Most of the panels are in blues with only splashes of pink or yellow for emphasis. I particularly liked the inclusion of letters and tabloid articles to fill us in on events going on in London.

Final thoughts: A fabulous novel for anyone who likes Thomas Hardy, soap operas, farm life or writing. If you haven't read graphic novels before, Tamara Drew is an excellent place to start.

Extra note: Tamara Drewe was made into a 2010 movie starring Luke Evens.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Audiobook review: Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

Goldfinger (1959) by Ian Fleming
Series: 7th James Bond book, 3rd movie
Genre: Gentleman spy
Length: 8h 28m
Audio publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2000
Read by: Simon Vance
From: publisher

This review is full of spoilers, so be warned!

Story: Tired of killing people for a living, when his flight is delayed in Miami, James Bond takes some time for himself. At the airport he's recognized by a fellow player from Casino Royale who asks Bond for help in exchange for a night at a swank hotel. Bond is to find how a certain Auric Goldfinger always wins the daily canasta game. Back in England, Goldfinger's name comes up as a matter of national security and M wants Bond to track him down.

Thoughts: The James Bond at the beginning of Goldfinger is a complete departure from the James Bond at the beginning of Dr. No. In Dr. No, James was jumping at the bit and couldn't wait to get back in the action. Now he's been working for awhile, and he's sick of killing. He needs a vacation. He does have a martini, and again it's a vodka martini with lemon. There's even a bit about how vodka has less toxins than other spirits because it's filtered, but James doesn't really care. He just likes the taste.

The solution to the canasta cheating was quite obvious, so it was funny that Junius DuPont kept playing with Goldfinger and keeps losing. Just stop playing! I guess addiction is tough to fight. When James gets back to England, he tracks down Goldfinger at the golf course, resulting in the longest game of golf described in literature. I never thought it would end. I hope James tipped his caddie well.

The plot with the gold went over my head. I mean, Goldfinger buys used gold, so he's not stealing, then he sells the gold somewhere else to make money. Isn't this the basis of the stock market? The gold was in people's dressers before he got it, so how is this national security? I guess is he's not paying enough taxes or something. Anyway, James doesn't like Goldfinger because Goldfinger's short, so that's reason enough for James to track him down. I don't know what James is supposed to do when he finds Goldfinger. Kill him? For being rich? or short?

I really liked Tilly Masterton when she showed up. She doesn't like James and won't put up with his bull. He wrecks her car, but she gets him take her where she wants to go. She should have taken that shot at Goldfinger and not listened to anything James said. After they're captured, Tilly loses all agency and becomes a nothing character, which is unfortunate.

For the amount of exposure the gold woman gets, she never shows up in the book. It's mentioned that Goldfinger likes to paint his women and kills them this way, but it's all in the backstory. James never sees a gold woman.

I lost interest in the story after James was captured. I liked how James' personality came out then. He was prepared to die, and his job was to make it easier for 008 to avenge his death, but the plot became cartoonish, and we could only sit back and see how it played out.

In Dr No, I liked the names that described people, but Pussy Galore  is too much. She wasn't much of a character, and the stuff about James converting her with his manliness was over the top. I'll just pretend that James did die at Goldfinger's lair and everything after that was just a dream.

Reading: Simon Vance was professional as ever and made some of the more outlandish parts of this book palatable with his smooth delivery. My very favorite part was the extremely minor character of an American doctor. I think he has one line, but I loved Simon Vance's delivery of the nerdy American. I don't think I've heard Simon Vance do an American accent like that before. Usually the Americans in these books are Texas millionaires or military men. I kept waiting for the nerd to come back, but he never did. Now my goal in life is to find more books where Simon Vance voices a nerdy American male. It was brilliant!

Final thoughts: With Dr. No, I preferred the book to the movie, but with Goldfinger, I'm not so sure. I'm looking forward to watching the movie and seeing how it's different. And to hear the famous lines "Do you expect me to talk?" "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die."

Many thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing this copy of Goldfinger to review!

This post is part of the Shaken, Not Stirred challenge. We'll be watching Goldfinger starting at 9:30 pm Eastern US time on Saturday, January 21 and commenting on twitter at #shakennotstirred. Join us!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Audiobook review: If I Were You by L Ron Hubbard

If I Were You (1940) by L Ron Hubbard and L Sprague de Camp
Genre: Fantasy action
Length: 2h 6m
Audio publisher: Galaxy Press, 2008
Read by: Nancy Cartwright and full cast (Lynsey Bartilson, Corey Burton, Bob Caso, RF Daley, Jennifer Darling, John Mariano, Jim Meskimen, Phil Proctor and Tait Ruppert)
From: the publisher
More information at

Story: If I Were You contains two short stories: "If I Were You" is the story of the circus dwarf Little Tom Little who desperately wants to be the master of ceremonies. When he inherits a mysterious book from the fortune teller, his dreams may come true, in a different way than he thinks.

In "The Last Drop," Mac the bartender is on the search for the perfect drink. He thinks he has made it using a new liqueur from Borneo, only there are unfortunate side effects.

Thoughts: Originally published in the magazine Five-Novels Monthly, these stories are pure pulp: over the top, yet so much fun. "If I Were You" has a byline by L Ron Hubbard while "The Last Drop" was written by L Sprague de Camp and L Ron Hubbard. They both have mysterious forces, evil bad guys, and lots of running around. My favorite part is when the bar patrons are discussing the square-cube law, the fact that when something doubles in size, its volume is increased by 8 and weight is similarly affected. This is so often ignored in fiction and in this type of fiction specifically. But in this story they bring it out there, discuss it directly, and the events in the story follow the law. Priceless!

Reading: It was strange hearing Bart Simpson pop up as Little Tom Little in "If I Were You," but Nancy Cartwright and the other actors pull it all together. I normally don't like full-cast recordings since the acting often takes away from the story, but full-cast is how these stories are meant to be read. I especially loved the main narrator and am disappointed I can't tell who it is from the way the credits are listed. His voice is perfect for radio, and his introductions, along with the music, really set the stage and get the action moving.

Final thoughts: A great bit of pulp-fiction nostalgia with Bart Simpson thrown in.

Grade: 4 out of 5

I want to thank Galaxy Press for providing a copy of this book for review.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Foundation discussion continues

Foundation part 2 discussion is here. See the links to everyone's thoughts at Stainless Steel Droppings and sign up for the group read of Foundation and Empire. The starting questions provided by Carl are at the end of this post. This post contains many spoilers for Foundation but not for the other books in the series.

The whole goal of psychohistory is to reduce the "time of barbarism." The people from Foundation believe this will be achieved by keeping the Foundation intact, technology functioning, and expanding to take over the universe.  These aren't things that Hari Seldon told them to do. He told them to write an encyclopedia, and then admitted that the project was a ruse. So are they still writing the encyclopedia? It seems so. Are they doing the right things according to psychohistory? No one knows. It seems so, but in Hari Seldon's second appearance, he told them not to bother spreading their religion, and they went ahead and did just that. Hari didn't make a third appearance, so we don't know if this last was a Seldon crisis or if they are on track.

It makes sense that the power would shift from being religious to being economic & religious and then just economic. This seems to follow Earth's history. The Foundation planets look like they are already be coming out of the barbarism. They have plenty of durable goods and spaceships to get around. They only fight non-Foundation planets. It was hard to tell how many planets were in the Foundation. Half? More? It seemed like the non-Foundation planets were in the minority.

Mallow's plan of leaving technology that people become dependent on is a common practice. It reminded me again of development work. It's very easy to give a refrigerator to a clinic for vaccines, but in order for the vaccine to stay cold there has to be electricity, someone able to fix it when it breaks down, the availability of parts, money to buy parts and pay the technician, transportation to get the technician and parts to the broken machine, and on and on. I also liked the changes to the Foundation's technology over time. Because they had few resources, they made things smaller using limited metal. Their new innovations surpassed the original, older designs.

I did like the ending of the Salvador Hardin section, but it seemed to be an awful lot of planning and effort when psychohistory is supposed to function without these things. Mostly psychohistory seems to be a way to lull your opponent. You say you're not doing anything because you don't want to mess up the timeline, when in fact, you've got all kinds of plans and schemes in motion. Hardin and Mallow both functioned this way. Seldon is their religion and like all religions is being used for personal ends. So far these people have been able to convince us that following their interests is the same as following the Foundation's interests, but it could all be a lie.

I was struck by how vain and bitchy the one female character was, and I don't believe that she or anyone else would be so taken in by those new clothes. In the last post I was surprised by how quickly the Seldon religion was absorbed by the planet's population. Here again it seems that the fashions that were given to the planet were very quickly adopted. Just because something is new doesn't mean it's going to be in demand. Both religion and fashion are firmly placed in precedent. The things that are desirable as "innovation" are only slightly different than the current standard. Even if the President's wife or whatever his title is shows up in the new alien style, it doesn't mean it's going to catch on. I found it far more realistic that changes in the factories could be done quickly and lead to problems later on. The kitchen gadgets could be adopted faster than the fashion styles, but it would still take longer than it does in this book. It just seemed strange that a book that deals with millennia feels the need to accelerate the other slow ways that society changes.

This second half was even more difficult to do in audio. With all new settings and characters, it was hard to find something to hold on to through the reading.

Overall, I didn't remember much about this book, and I'm sure it will soon leave my memory again. Since each short section is heavy on plot and light on characters, Foundation is more of a thought exercise than a fun read.

Salvador Hardin was the first character in the book that we got to spend any significant time with.  What are your thoughts on the grande finale of his plotting, scheming and maneuvering to get the Foundation through to the next Seldon crisis?

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?

One of the interesting things about Seldon's psychohistory is how much one man can actually affect it.  In Foundation we see characters like Hardin and Mallow as key figures for positioning things just right to work towards Seldon's later predictions.   Do you see this as a contradiction to what Seldon said about psychohistory at the beginning of our story or part of an overall plan? Discuss.

Did you see similarities or differences between the way in which Salvador Hardin and Hober Mallow operated and what are your thoughts about this final section of Foundation?  Would you have been content as a reader back then with how everything played out?

Has your concept/thoughts of what Seldon was trying to do changed at all since the book began?

Any final thoughts on the story as a whole, its structure, what it did or did not accomplish, how it worked for you, etc?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Graphic Novel review: Jellaby by Kean Soo

Jellaby by Kean Soo
Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Publisher: Hyperion Books, 2008
From: Library

Read the first two chapters and Jellaby shorts on The Secret Friend Society

Story: Portia's bored. Her elementary school classes are too easy. Her mom's always working. There's nothing to do. Until one night Portia has a strange dream. She wakes up and sees something out in the woods. It's a monster! But the monster is more scared than she is, so she takes it home.

Thoughts: I loved this book. Portia is too smart for her own good. She has no friends. The teachers don't understand her. Only Jellaby and her mom accept her for who she is. Is Portia really good at hiding the huge, purple monster, or are Portia and her friend Jason, aka carrot boy, the only ones who can see him?

The comparison of Jellaby to Calvin and Hobbes can't be avoided. The art style is even similar. But having another person interact with Jellaby makes him much more real. In fact, there's no indication that he's imaginary. When Portia and Jellaby first meet and they are just having fun together, it made my day. But the story quickly progresses to the quest to find Jellaby's home. This is only the first book, so there's more to come.

Art: Jellaby's black and white drawings with purple shading lend a muted and surreal feeling to the panels, especially the scary ones at night. There are some splashes of carrot boy orange to provide a pop of color.

Final thoughts: Read it now! But make sure you have Jellaby: Monster in the City nearby because you won't want it to end.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Audiobook review: The Apothecary by Maile Maloy

The Apothecary by Maile Maloy
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Length: 7h 35m
Audio publisher: Penguin Audiobooks, 2011
Read by: Cristin Milioti
From: Library

Story: In 1952, Janie moves from Los Angeles to London. The cool guy at school, Benjamin, also happens to be the son of the neighborhood apothecary. When the Benjamin's dad is kidnapped, he and Janie must keep safe his ancient book, the Pharmacopoeia. That doesn't mean they can't try out some of its secrets...

Thoughts: The Apothecary is a fun story of kids trying fit in and learning about a mysterious magic world right under their nose. Set in 1952, it takes place in a very realistic London where there are no sock hops or poodle skirts but instead food shortages and ration cards. Everything is backwards and grey in London after sunny Los Angeles, and I really felt for Janie as she adjusted to her new school and life. Then Benjamin catches her eye with his non-conformist ways and the story takes off with kidnappings, chases, murder, and magic.

Reading: Cristin Milioti's young-sounding voice works well for 14 year-old Janie. I liked all of the British accents she was able to put into the story, especially dreamy Benjamin.

Final thoughts: The Apothecary is a fun story of magic and growing up that stands well on its own while still leaving some room for sequels.

Grade: 4 out of 5

Monday, January 9, 2012

Foundation Group Read part 1

Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings is kindly hosting a groupread of Isaac Asimov's Foundation. You can still join!

Here are my spoiler-filled thoughts on the first half of Foundation (parts I, II, and III chapters 1-4). I've included Carl's groupread questions at the end of the post.

This is my second time reading Foundation. The first was when I was in the Peace Corps. I'd brought a stack of books with me that I'd heard about but never read including Lord of the Rings and Northanger Abbey. I had always thought reading Isaac Asimov was like reading Albert Einstein: esoteric and way over my head, so when I read Foundation I was glad it was neither. I had to laugh when I went in search of a copy for this read and found it shelved in the Young Adult section of the library. Ouch!

This time I listened to an audio version read by the fabulous Scott Brick and have the paper version for reference. I remember almost nothing about the book from my first read: Hari Seldon, psychohistory, and that's about it. Foundation is hard to follow on audio because there's not much to hold on to. It's more a description of psychohistory than a cohesive story. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, and we don't stay on any character long enough to build up a rapport.

I still don't understand psychohistory. It's neither psychology nor history but a type of statistics to predict the future. I thought it strange that the Emperor was so upset about Seldon's prediction. If the Empire will fall in 500 years, that means it will last for 500 years. That's long enough for this Emperor. Or just ignore Seldon. Bringing Seldon to trial just gives creditably to his predictions. The point of psychohistory seems to be that most people have no power so can be removed from the equation. There are only certain points in time when action makes a difference in the long view, and the people who will be in power at those times tend to be predictable.

I'm having a hard time engaging with Foundation because no one has any agency. Hari Seldon set up his chessboard before the book started and now the galaxy is just playing the game out. Hari's dead, so he can't affect anything. He purposefully didn't teach anyone psychohistory, so they can't affect anything. Salvor Hardin's job is to do nothing. And no one will know if Seldon was right until 1,500+ years in the future. By then no one will have any idea who he was, so who cares?

My favorite part of the book is the religion that controls science. This is such a fabulous idea and so incredibly patronizing. It keeps the copyright on science for trade to neighboring planets, and also keeps science secure during the Years of Barbarism to come. Limiting access to science is preventing new inventions, but since the neighbor planets live in medieval times, they don't have the technology to invent. It highlights one of the key issues in development work. Do you give people the most up-to-date, best technology you have or do you give them something that fits with their culture that can be sustained with local resources? Here the religion is changing and taking over the culture. Fascinating. I'm surprised the religion has caught on so quickly. It's only been two generations that it's been in existence. Didn't the planets have their own religions before this? And what about technology? All of these planets were settled and have spaceships. Why are they so afraid of nuclear power?  It is strange that one government could control so many planets. They must have a vast army or some rare material that the other planets need.

What's keeping me reading now is I've forgotten how this one ends, and I want to get to the Mule in the next book. What are your thoughts?

Group read starting questions:
- For the purpose of satisfying curiosity, is this your first time reading Foundation or have you read it before?
- For those who have read it before, how has it held up to your memory/feelings about previous reads?
- For those reading Foundation for the first time, what expectations did you have going in and has it met them or surprised you in any way?
- What are your thoughts about the structure of the novel thus far? (I am referring to the brief glimpses of different parts of the history of the Foundation with big time gaps between events in the novel)
- What are your initial thoughts on the field of psychohistory?
- What, if anything, is holding your interest thus far, what are you enjoying about Foundation?
- What, if anything, are you not enjoying about Foundation?
- You may have covered this in answering the other questions, but if not, what are your thoughts/feelings about the Galactic Empire.  Is it a practical thing to have a galaxy spanning government? Can you imagine such a thing and do  you think it would work?
- What are your thoughts on Hardin's creation of a religious system in which to house scientific ideas and technology while keeping the users of that science and technology in the dark?