Friday, September 30, 2011

Audio Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I've been hearing lots of great things about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern so snapped it up when I saw it on my library's Overdrive. The circus is amazing. The setting has a lot of imagination and originality, but other parts of the story aren't as developed. This may be a better book to read than to listen to.

Genre: Historical fantasy
Length: 13h 39m
Audio publisher: Random House Audio, 2011

Recap: In a world where magic is not believed, two true magicians agree to a duel. They each choose a student to train, and the young prodigies compete by creating elaborate displays at The Night Circus. Only the young illusionists don't know how they are being judged or when the competition will end.

Review: When The Night Circus is describing the circus, it does a fabulous job. Unfortunately, when it comes to characters and plot, the book falls flat. I found audio version of The Night Circus difficult to follow since each chapter jumps around in place and time. After the prologue, the circus doesn't make another appearance for about two hours, and these were two long hours.

The book is written in third person present tense which acts to puts the characters at a distance. The two older magicians are largely unsympathetic and their wards blank slates. For most of the story, I couldn't relate to the people or their situations. The real star of the book is the circus, and its descriptions are a lot of fun. However, I don't feel a setting is enough to carry a book. I want interesting characters and some kind of plot in addition to the dreamscape. This is the kind of book that I didn't really enjoy while I was listening to it, but like it much more now that I'm done and can re-live the fun parts.

Reading: Jim Dale is a rock star among audio readers. I loved his readings of the Harry Potter books and was psyched when I heard he was the reader. Since his voices are so memorable, some phrasings were reminiscent of Potter characters, but this happened infrequently and wasn't too distracting. Dale has a fabulous accent, but I'm still getting use to the British pronunciation of some words. Every time he said "bonfire" I heard "bomb-fire." Since this is fantasy, I thought maybe it was a new word.

Final thoughts: A must-read for fans of fantasy. The circus setting is too wonderful to be missed, but be prepared for confusing time-jumps, unsympathetic characters, and boring stretches when the circus is away.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

Monday, September 26, 2011

Audio Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I'd heard The Maze Runner by James Dashner was a must-read for YA dystopian fans, so when I saw it on my library's Overdrive, I had to give it a try. I wasn't disappointed.

Genre: Young adult dystopian science fiction
Length: 10h 50m
Audio publisher: Listening Library, 2009

Recap: Thomas wakes up with no memories of his past life. He's the latest arrival to the Glade, a farming community surrounded by a huge maze, populated entirely by teenage boys. Thomas doesn't know who he is or where he came from, but somehow the Maze is familiar, and he's determined to solve it. This is the first book in a finished trilogy: The Scorch Trials came out in 2010, The Death Cure comes out in October.

Review: I love stories where someone wakes up and has no ideal what's going on. They suck me in every time. The Maze Runner was no different, and I was immediately draw into Thomas' plight as the newest clueless arrival in the Glen. The plot kept me going, moving along at a nice clip. The maze is intriguing, and the strangeness of the setting adds to the fun. I was surprised by the level of violence, which upped the stakes but didn't seem to fit the premise. An explanation was provided, but it didn't ring true to me. I did like how the characters seemed like real people, each with their own weaknesses. One quibble I have is the lack of communication between characters. Sure the old hands need to haze the new guy, but many times he didn't even ask or thought something along the lines of "I wanted to ask, but knew they wouldn't tell me." Ask! We're wondering the same thing! In spite of this, it's a cool premise, well executed. I've got book two cued and ready to go on my playlist.

Reading: Mark Deakins brings The Maze Runner to life. He has the barest hint of a southern accent (Tennessee?) on certain words that lends character to Thomas. His deliberate way of speaking fits well with the methodical way they went about solving the maze.

Final thoughts: In spite of a couple of annoyances, The Maze Runner delivers with a fresh premise and interesting characters.

Grade: 4 out of 5

For: Dystopian lovers or anyone who likes a good YA action book.

Cover: Based on the cover, I somehow thought this book was much older and was surprised to learn it came out in 2009.

It's Monday! What am I reading? - 1

What are you reading? is from the fabulous Sheila at Book Journey. This is my first week sharing my plans.

Last week I listened to:
 The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
 Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

Last week I also drove a 20-hour road trip and listened to the book everyone's talking about, The Night Circus. This was a tough audio book for me. It was hard to give the story the focus it needed even when I wasn't driving. Review coming!

I'm currently listening to the latest Mary Russell from Laurie R. King, The Pirate King. This is interspersed with The Lies of Loche Lamora by Scott Lynch. Lies is another book that's a hard listen for me because of all its jumping around.

It will be mostly audio books for me this week since I have to drive the 20 hours back. On deck is The Scorch Trials by James Dashner, book two in the Maze Runner trilogy. My Maze Runner review is in the works. I liked it a lot but am having a hard time explaining why. I'm excited to read the second in the series.

If I have any time for paper reading, maybe when I stop for lunch, I brought with me How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. Looking forward to that one.

What are you reading?

Audio Review: The Return by Hakan Nesser

I am a big fan of Scandinavian detective stories, and Hakan Nesser's Van Veeteren series makes me happy with its solid plodding. The Return (English translation 2007) is the third Van Veeteren book and a great contribution.

Genre: detective, mystery
Length: 7h 18m
Audio publisher: HighBridge, 2011

RecapThe Return takes us back to the unnamed Scandinavian country a lot like Sweden where Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is on the case.

Review: What I particularly like about this series is it concentrates on the mystery. There's no FBI angling to take away the case, no conspiracy theories hinting on a cover-up. The case is the case and the detectives are on the case. This time Van Veeteren is sidelined with health problems, so one of his underlings does the legwork. This isn't the type of detective story the reader can solve before the reveal, but is more a showcase of Van Veeteren's skills and deductive leaps. Van Veeteren has three solid co-workers who try to match his genius and who add their dry humor to the everyday work of following up leads.

Reading: I can listen to Simon Vance all day. His voice is smooth and sophisticated, and he pulls off world-weary really well. He's one of my favorite readers. The one issue I had was in the writing. Several times misleading pronouns took me out of the story while I stopped to work out who was meant.

Final Thoughts: A solid entry into the Van Veeteren cannon. To jump on the Van Veeteren train, start with Mind's Eye or Borkmann's Point. Currently five books out of the ten in the series have been translated into English.

Grade 4

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Free download of The Night Circus from Starbucks

When I walked into Starbucks today I was shocked that their free download Pick of the Week is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Yeah! I've been wanting to listen to this one. I thought they only gave away free songs. I hope the download is not limited to just one chapter. That would be very disappointing.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The Leftovers is the first Tom Perrotta book I've tried. I saw it on the New table at the bookstore and heard good things, so when I came up in on the library's Overdrive, I had to give it a listen.

Genre: apocalyptic science fiction
Length: 10h 18m
Audio Publisher: Macmillan Audio, 2011

Recap: On October 14, thousands of people just disappear. No one knows where they went or why. The Leftovers follows one family who remains. Along with a few of their neighbors, they try to make sense of the world and what happened.

Review: The Leftovers is human drama with a sci fi set-up, and its strength is its characters. They are immensely believable, each with their quirks and coping strategies. The point-of-view changes from character to character, and this change in perspective makes up for a lack of action. For a book about grief and coping, it's pretty funny. I especially liked the cults that sprang up after the Disappearance, how each is distinct yet credible.

Reading/Production: I was surprised this book was read by a man since 3 of the 5 POV characters are women. Dennis Boutsikaris washed my fears away with his excellent reading. He gives the narrator just the right touch of snark and really seemed to be enjoying himself.

I loved the music that played at the beginning of the recording but was glad it wasn't repeated. There was a short author's interview at the end of the recording that was a little fuzzy.

Final Thoughts:  I liked this sci-fi story of the suburbs. It is well-written with interesting characters who act like real people in the face of unreal events.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5

For: People who like family dramas who want to stick a toe into sci fi.

Eating habits: I'm starting to keep track of books where vegetarianism is brought up. This one had a vegetarian character and a vegan restaurant.

Num: It was funny that so few of the characters had jobs since there would be a lot of vacancies.

Nit: The one part that didn't ring true was the substantial survivor's benefit provided by the government. With this large of a pool of people who vanished, the pay-out would have to be relatively small. But maybe the number of people who disappeared in the US wasn't that large. I don't think a number was provided. It seemed like thousands.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

I was drawn to the CD of Ashes, Ashes (2011) by Jo Treggiari in the library based on its cover. Pandemics, tsunamis, living perfect book! The story has a lot of potential, Unfortunately it does not live up to its promise.

Genre: Young adult apocalyptic science fiction
Length: 9h 48m
Audio publisher: Oasis Audio, 2011

Recap: Lucy is surviving on her own: hunting and gathering for food, fixing her shelter, fending off wild animals. Gradually, the story of what happened to the world and how she got to this point is revealed. When a mysterious boy shows up, Lucy has to decide if she's ready or willing to trust a stranger and change her hard-won life.

Review: I love dystopian young adult fiction and pandemic/apocalypse stories. I am ecstatic about the recent surge of new titles in this genre and have enjoyed reading some excellent examples lately. Since Ashes, Ashes has a great cover, my expectations for it were pretty high.

I was drawn into Lucy's efforts at survival in the first part of the book. She was heroic in her tenacity and her trials were well described. I felt like I was right down with her in the mud. This section shows instead of tells. I wish the whole book had been like this.

The story follows Lucy in the third person, so we do not get many of her thoughts. I found this refreshing. However, the lack of a direct conduit into Lucy's mind also denies us her motivations, which was a problem as the book went on. After all of the action in the survivor section, the story loses its momentum. Lucy started acting against character, and I didn't understand or believe her choices. When a love triangle was introduced, Lucy lost all of the strength and power she showed in the beginning. She became insecure and indecisive. She lost my sympathy, and I had a hard time continuing. The story became less realistic and more cartoonish as it continued until it finally ended with the hook for the next in the series.

The book has an interesting world with plagues, floods, droughts. and tsunamis. There's a message of anti-global warming, but also anti-science and anti-medicine which wasn't well explained.  Lucy was an interesting character at the beginning, but she loses her self as the story progresses. She became an actor for the plot instead of being her own person. A poorly defined supporting cast and cartoonish motivations didn't help.

Grade: 2 out of 5

Reading/production: The CD starts with an interview with the author. I skipped over this, but was surprised it was placed at the beginning instead of the end of the recording. I enjoyed Cassandra Campbell's narration. She has a young-sounding voice suitable for 16-year-old Lucy.

Final thoughts: Although I enjoyed the first couple of chapters, I don't recommend this book. The cartoonish plot took over and smothered the good book that was started. There are much better dystoping/apocolyptic YA SF stories out there.

Nits: I was confused about the statement that one person out of one million survived. If that was true, there would be 8 people left in New York City. Lucy meets or mentions 20 to 50 people. How could they even know the death rate? If that many people died that quickly, all infrastructure for collecting death data from hospitals and health departments would collapse. It was strange that this was portrayed as such a firm fact.

Nums: It is a nice cover.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In my mailbox - 2

Thanks to Kristi at The Story Siren for the In My Mailbox meme.

I got a great haul from the library book sale this week!

A French book that looks really good, Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan.

A book that takes place in France, Incidents in the Rue Laugier by Anita Brookner.

A book that I tried in audio and didn't get through, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud. Maybe the visual version will work better.

Some classics: Anne of Avonlea by LM Montomery and Wizard and Glass by Steven King. I've read The Gunslinger up to Wizard and Glass. Now I'm waiting for the read-a-long to catch up.

And two choose your own adventures. Well, a Find Your Own Adventure and a Which Way book. Score!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler

I saw Vegan Virgin Valentine (2004) in the YA section of the library and picked it up because it has"vegan" in the title. What a fun book!

Grade: 4.5

Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler takes Mara Valentine through her last year of high school. She's on the fast track to becoming valedictorian until her same-age niece moves in and havoc ensues.

I'm always curious about how eating is portrayed in books. Not eating meat is usually symbolic for someone who is poor, repressed, or showing off. Here Mara's veganism represents her repression and need for control, but it's not her whole life. Luckily, her family is supportive of whatever food choices she makes. There are interesting characters and other fun plots. A quick read.

More books with vegans - Fat Cat by Robin Brande, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness (Volume 3) by Brian Lee O'Malley

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker

I hadn't heard about In the Garden of Iden (1997) by Kage Baker, the first of The Company series, until I saw it on Overdrive. I found it a very original, intelligent book with clever concepts and a lot of period detail.

Audio publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2011
Length: 11h 29m; Grade: 4

A historical science fiction romance, In the Garden of Iden is a book of The Company, a group of scientists who use time travel to recruit children in past eras and develop them into agents. In the Garden of Iden follows one of The Company's agents as she is recruited from the Spanish Inquisition at age four, completes The Company training, and goes on her first field assignment to England during the Protestant Reformation and Bloody Mary's reign.

 In the Garden of Iden is primarily a 16th century romance. The main character is 17 and acts annoyingly young at times, but with themes of free will vs duty, zealotry vs conviction, and slavery vs death, In the Garden of Iden is not a light book. Comparisons to The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis cannot be avoided. Both deal with limited time travel by a select group of people. Both have rules that travelers should remain aloof from locals, and both deal with the complications that arise when they don't. In the Garden of Iden is more grounded in history since agents live through the past in real time instead of jumping back and forth.

I loved the time-travel premise of this series and am looking forward to reading other books that follow different agents through different time periods and provide more details on the shady practices of The Company.

Reading - Janan Raouf puts a lot into what has to be a difficult book to read. It was certainly a difficult book to listen to due to all of the accents. The main character is from Spain and thinks in unaccented English but speaks with a heavy Spanish accent. The other travelers also speak in Spanish accents while the locals use Elizabethan English. Occasionally characters use Latin or Greek. I found these sections easier since they were read as unaccented English.

Nums - The boredom the travelers felt in their down time and lengths they went to sneak their anachronistic magazines and holo-cubes was spot on, taking me back to my Peace Corps days.

Nits - The time travelers cannot change "recorded history," but what does that mean? Do diary entries count?
The reader pronounced the word "pasty" wrong, which happens all the times in audio books, and makes me laugh every time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From movie to book - Contagion

I haven't seen the movie Contagion, but a good (fictional) pandemic always gets me excited. When I heard about Contagion, I was reminded of some of my favorite pandemic books.

After reading Peeps by Scott Westerfield, I could never look at a marshmallow chick the same. A sexually-transmitted parasite is spreading across the US. People with this parasite (aka peeps) hate everything they used to love and eat their friends. Cal is an asymptomatic carrier. His job, to track down other Peeps and contain the spread. The best part of the book is the alternating chapters filled with scientific facts on real parasites from Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer.

A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier also has alternating chapters, between people in the City, the place some people go when they die, and Antarctica, where Laura Byrd is not dead yet. What caused this pandemic? Where do people go when they disappear from the City? And is Laura the only person left alive?

I never did finish The Passage by Justin Cronin, bu the part I got to has stock with me. A virus found in the remote jungle turns people into grotesque blood-suckers. Those infected are being observed in a remote, high-security facility. What happens next? I don't know. I've got to take another stab at this one.

Five webcomics that make me smile

I love the world of graphic novels on the web. With a page coming out every day or two, they're a lot of fun. My favorites are long stories updated at least weekly. Here are some of the ones I'm following now.

Tune by Derek Kirk Kim with art by Les McClaine is the most recent addition to my faves, and it keeps me laughing. An art school drop-out finally gets a job, but it's not what he expected. Very funny.

Trying Human by Emy Bitner is about an alien abductee falling in love with her captor. That's the nutshell, but it's so much more. I love the colors in the flashback scenes.

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell is where my love of webcomics started. I first read it in book form, then found out it's easier to read on the web. And I don't have to wait years for the next one to come out.

My Sister, the Freak by Dani Jones just came out in paper form, congratulations Dani! The story is on a bit of a break, but there's great guest art posted each week.

Gronk by Katie Cook isn't a seralized drama like the other comic mentioned. It's the misadventures of monster Gronk and her family. She's just so cute, I had to add her in.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In my mailbox

IMM is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. She's got some good books this week!

I am still reveling over the fact that back I'm in a country with English-language bookstores. And don't get me started on Goodwill. Many books found their way into my house this week.

From Books-A-Million I filled some holes in my Scott Westerfield shelf with Pretties and Behemoth. Goliath comes out soon, and I'm not caught up! Pretties and Peeps are my favorite Westerfelds, so when I saw Pretties on sale, I had to scoop it up. I got Uglies from the thrift store last week. is my go-to place for books not in the library. This week I am the proud recipient of Code name Cassandra by Meg Cabot, the second in the 1-800-Where-R-You series. I read it in one night. A classic. So good! I also got A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James. This is a retelling of Cinderella. I really liked When Beauty Tamed the Beast, the second in the series, and can't wait to start this.

Excellent scores from Goodwill. The Shadow of the Wind from Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This one looks really good. And my personal favorite, Saturn: The Ringed Beauty by Isaac Asimov. This book makes me happy every time I see it. I want the whole set.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

All of Jasper Fforde's books are intelligent and funny, but I think I enjoyed Shades of Grey (2009) the most given its dystopian leanings.

Length: 13h 34m; Grade: 4.5
Audio publisher: Penguin Audio, 2009

Shades of Grey follows Eddie Russet through the four days prior to his being eaten by a carnivorous plant. This is the first book in a planned trilogy and spends a lot of time setting up the world, which needs a lot of set-up since it is so different from our own. The introduction is both jarring and slow because the reader is thrown in to this crazy place that takes a while to describe. Shades of Grey has a lot going on and is carefully plotted, so it's not as frenetic and slapdash as other Fforde titles. I found I enjoyed the book much more on my second reading when I could put into context all of the items I didn't understand the first time around. Once things start moving the book was hard to put down. This is one of those stories where it's painful to wait for the next one. Unfortunately, Painting by Numbers isn't expected out until 2013.

Reading - With all of its plays on words, Shades of Grey was a difficult book to listen to. I found that I really needed to pay attention and several times had to backtrack to try and comprehend what was said. John Lee is one of my favorite readers with his smooth voice and huge range. The main character of this book is a bumbling idiot, and Lee's reading was almost too smooth and too competent. It didn't quite match up.

Final thoughts - Shades of Grey might be one of those books that's better to read than to listen to. With its invented language and plays on words, the audio version required all of my concentration, and I still missed a lot of what was going on.

More - Shades of Grey reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos, another apocalyptic farce.

Audible sale

They're having a great sale at Audible until Sept 20, with books less than $5! Scanning the list, it's surprising how many of them are favorites of mine.

Soulless by Gail Carriger is the first in a steampunk series with vampires and werewolves. Emily Grey's reading lends just the right touch of Victorian ennui.

Kitty in the Midnight Hour by Carry Vaughn is the first in a present-day series with Kitty as a late-night talk show dj fielding calls from newly outed supernaturals. Marquerite Gavin's reading is a lot of fun.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bjould is also the first of a series, but it can be read on its own. It's the story of one man returning to the place of his youth as he gradually reveals where he's been and what he's learned. Lois McMaster Bjould is often compared to Jane Austen because her characters are so nuanced. Lloyd James gives an excellent performance.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The classic time travel love story of Claire and Jamie smoothly read by Davina Porter.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King matches the wits of Sherlock Holmes with a 15 year old girl. Jenny Sterlin's gravely voice is perfect for no-nonsense Mary Russell.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Swedish detective stories are hot and Henning Mankell is one of the best. Faceless Killers (English translation 1997) is the first outing for Detective Wallanger.

Length: 8h 57m; Grade 4
Audio publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2006

Detective Kurt Wallanger is acting Chief of Police in the small town of Ystad, on the extreme southern coast of Sweden. I liked the back-to-the basics detective work in this book. The story concentrates on the mystery and refreshingly stays away from politics or conspiracies. Wallanger isn't the world's best detective by a long shot, but he's tenacious, and his police department, though mostly incompetent, works together as a team. I liked the dry humor of the book. At one point they're after a "foreign" suspect, so they start looking for Danes and Finns. I also learned about the geography of Sweden. I didn't know you could take a ferry from Sweden to Germany. Wallanger's home life is less sympathetic. I was actively put off by his efforts at romance. The isolation and monotony of small-town Sweden is clearly displayed as everyone's primary occupation is wondering when it will snow.

Reading - Dick Hill lends a gravity and weariness to the reading that really fits Wallangar's character. Fortunately, most of the book focuses on Wallanger since the other police detectives don't come off as well. Instead of distinct voices, they have strange speech impediments.

More - Mankell's books have been adapted a BBC TV series with Faceless Killers an episode in season 2.

I also enjoyed the Scandinavia detectives Inspector Van Veeteren in Mind's Eye by Haken Nesser and Harry Hole in The Snowman by Jo Nesbo.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I hope dystopian YA is a trend that stays around for a long time. I love all the updates of Brave New World and 1984 for the under-20 crowd. Delirium (2011) by Lauren Oliver is a good addition to the list.

Length: 11h 41m; Grade: 3.5
Audio publisher: Harper Audio (2011)

Delirium is what happens when people fall in love, and it is to be carefully avoided by anyone who hasn't yet been given the Cure. The book follows Lena in the months before her Cure, focusing on the relationships between Lena and her friends. The book is very slow-moving, which is kind of refreshing. Lena goes to school. She comes home. I had hoped the book would give more about the world and the society, but instead it is very tightly focused on Lena. Unfortunately, she's very conventional and acts much younger than her nearly 18 years. Delirium is the first book in a series, and there are indications that Lena will branch out in the next book. Time will tell.

Reading - Sara Drew has a very young voice with a bit of a lisp which lends itself well to the main character. There are very few speaking parts in the book, so they are easy to discern. I like the voice she gives to the main boy. He sounds like he's still half asleep.

More - Matched by Ally Condie or Uglies by Scott Westerfield show how other (more outgoing) young women handle themselves in similar situations.

Nits - The book takes place in Portland, Maine, so I found it funny that the characters were always complaining about how hot it is. Good thing you're not in Texas, chicas.

Audiobook challenges

Since I love audiobooks, these two challenges are right up my alley.

Bewitched Bookworms is hosting the Whisper Stories in My Ear challenge while the fabulous Teresa of Teresa's Reading Corner is hosting the 2011 Audio Book Challenge.

I'm a little late off the mark for these challenges, but with my constant audio book listening, I'm sure I can catch up in no time. And I'm looking forward to getting some excellent recommendations from the other participants.

Thanks to both!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Spy in the House by YS Lee

A Spy in the House (2010) is the first book in The Agency series by YS Lee. I saw this audiobook on the shelf in the local library and loved the cover so had to try it out. I was not disappointed!

Length: 7h 29m; Grade: 5
Audio publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2010

A Spy in the House sets up the premise for The Agency series. After being arrested for stealing, Mary Quinn is saved from the gallows by Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. After graduating, Mary learns the school also serves as a training ground for The Agency, a spy organization of women. Mary's first case has her pose as a lady's companion in the house of a smuggling suspect.

I love Mary. She's smart, daring, and has all-important thief skills. She also has questions about her father. The story is divided between spying for her job and her search for her past. YS Lee has a PhD in Victorian literature and adds interesting historical content. The smell of the Thames, attitudes toward foreigners, and class tensions make the setting nuanced and historically accurate. There are even some long glances across a drawing room floor to heat things up a bit.

Reading - I had listed to Justine Eyre before with Fallen by Lauren Kate, but didn't recognize her because she pulls out a British accent for this book. I can't tell one British accent from another so can't judge if this one is geographically or historically accurate. Eyre's reading is very precise and suitable.

Final thoughts - I'm looking forward to more in the series.

For - anyone who wants intelligent Victorian YA
More - try the Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer, another fabulous Victorian strong-willed female YA sleuth

Nums - I love the cover for the French version of the book and the fact that it has a completely different title, The Jade Pendant.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) is a children's book from Terry Pratchett, master of humor fantasy. This book is a little different from his usual fare, being neither fantasy nor very humorous. I'm still not sure what to make of it.

Length: 4h 11m; Grade: 2.5
Random House Audio, 2007

Johnny Maxwell spends his free time playing video games, but what should he do when the game's aliens want to surrender? I had high expectations for this book based on its author but was disappointed. I can't decide if it was the book or my expectations that are to blame. I think a little of both. The characters are well-defined and interesting. I liked Johnny and his friends, especially their nicknames for each other. The premise is similar to Ender's Game and The Last Starfighter, but both of those properties handled the story better. I have special objections to some of the sci-fi logistics which probably wouldn't bother an actual child but drove me crazy. I also expected the book to be a lot funnier than it is. There's nothing offensive, and there are a few chuckles, but it's not laugh out loud funny. The second and third Johnny Maxwell books bring Johnny back to Earth, so I'll give them a shot and see if the trilogy gets any better.

Reading - I wasn't familiar with Richard Mitchley before listening to this book, and I found him a very energetic reader. I like his British Welsh (!) accent. He does an especially good job with the video game sound effects.

Final thoughts - Not a bad kid's book, but adult listeners of children's fiction might want something better.

For - kids who have no experience with the video-games-save-the-world genre
Otherwise - listen to Ender's Game or Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series staring with Wee Free Men

Nums - those video game sound effects really were very well done
Nits - was it all a dream?

First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie


The Blade Itself (2006), Before They are Hanged (2007), and Last Argument of Kings (2008) form Joe Abercrombie's dark fantasy First Law Trilogy. This oppressive, violent sword and sorcery is sometimes difficult to stomach, but there's a lot to like. The books are intelligently written and the world clearly portrayed as several point of view characters follow their bloody, brutal, but necessary paths of destruction.

Length and grade: The Blade Itself [22h 18m] - 5, Before They are Hanged [22h 37m] - 5, Last Argument of Kings [27h 1m] - 4
Orion Publishing Group, 2010

The Blade Itself introduces Logen Ninefingers, barbarian; Sand dan Glokta, torturer; and Jezal dan Luthar, fop, as they meet up and get down to business in a violent and brutal world. These books had been recommended to me by several people, but I had a hard time starting the trilogy since I did not want to go anywhere near a torturer character. Once I got into the first book, I loved it. Glokta is well fleshed-out with specific reasons for his actions and even became somewhat sympathetic, for a time. I especially liked when characters met each other and each person's weaknesses were shown through the others' eyes.

The story was often difficult to take because of the neverending oppressive violence and also because people did not do what I expected. No one is good and most are barely sympathetic. I found myself yelling at the characters more than once and often hoping for their deaths. That said, the story is fast-paced with a lot of action. I enjoyed the second book the most since there were some new POV characters who I found more interesting and sympathetic than the original three. The third book dragged a bit as big battles were fought and loose ends tied up. I took a star off book three since the denouement lasted over two hours in the audio version and just seemed to go on forever. Now that I'm finished with the series, I find I can appreciate it more than when I was actively listening. These books take awhile to digest and to come to terms with everything that happens. They are very good books for discussion and bring up a lot of questions on good vs evil vs bureaucracy and how reader expectations influence the reading experience.

Reading - Listening to the audio version, I had difficulties with Steven Pacey's reading at first. I think this was tied to my apprehension over the torturer character, Glokta. The character has several teeth missing so Pacey reads him with a lisp which took some concentration to understand. After listening for awhile, I was able to follow him more easily and really enjoyed Pacey's reading. I especially loved his different takes on "What?!" which every character yells out multiple times.

Final thoughts - I'm glad I listened to the trilogy even though the books made me very uncomfortable and didn't go where I wanted them to. They made me think, which made the last book tedious at times, but which I appreciate more the further I get from the reading. When I started The Blade Itself, I was ready to recommend these books to everyone, but now that I've gone through them, I only recommend this series to people who enjoy violent nihilism, or are ready for it. You've been warned (This really should be the title of the last book).

For - those who like battles and desperation
Not - anyone who wants a happy ending

Nums - appreciated the female POV, too bad she didn't get to talk to any other women in the world
Nits -  backcountry stew, while trying to secretly outmarch an army? How about some nice jerky instead?