Friday, December 30, 2011

Graphic novel review: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2006
Awards: Many, including the Locus Award for best art book (2008)
From: Local library

Story: Told without words, The Arrival is the story of a father who leaves his family to find work in a new country. The language and customs of his new home are strange and hard to comprehend, but with the help of his adopted animal, the man learns to communicate and discovers how his neighbors came to this place.

Thoughts: This book is beautiful. It's huge, with each page a full 8 1/2 x 11. The art is in brown pencil, like the drawing on the cover, and the designs are fancifully amazing. I especially liked the strange alphabet. The images are so moving, I cried throughout most of the book. The man has a lot of difficulties finding his way around and understanding how things are done, but he is determined to succeed and keeps at it no matter how many mistakes he makes. He never gets disheartened and eventually meets others who help him and share their enjoyment of life.

Final thoughts:  This is such an inspiring book for the start of a new year. Although things can be difficult, if we help others and persevere, we all become stronger.

Happy New Year Giveaway!

Happy New Year! Thanks to I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Babs Book Bistro for hosting this hop with 200+ stops.

I wasn't going to do another giveaway so soon, but I received these great items I wanted to share.

For readers in the US, I have an ARC of Cinder by Marissa Meyer from MacMillan. Cinder comes out on January 3, so I'll get this in the mail ASAP so you can read it fast. I really liked the beginning of Cinder. It reminded me of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, only in a future shantytown of Beijing. They even speak Chinese with the tones and everything. And making Cinderella a robot mechanic? Priceless. This giveaway is for US mailing addresses only.

For both US and international readers, I have a 3-month membership to How surprised I was when I got an e-mail from Audible with a free gift membership. It's one credit per month that you can use on any of the many, many Audible audiobooks. And they have free e-mail and phone help to get you set-up. I've e-mailed them several times, and they're always very quick to respond. Due to copyright, some books might not be available in some countries. When I was in China, my membership was under my US address, and I was able to download books with no problems.

To enter, just fill out this form. You don't need to be a follower of Nerfreader to participate. Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Farthing by Jo Walton

Farthing (2006) by Jo Walton
Series: First in the Small Change trilogy
Genre: alternate reality mystery
Length: 9h 46m
Audio publisher: Audible, Inc, 2011
Read by: John Keating and Bianca Amato

Story: In a 1949 where Hitler retains control of Europe and England has withdrawn from the war, the Farthings are the well-connected family who orchestrated this "Peace with Honor." When one of the Farthings is found dead at their country estate, Scotland Yard inspector Peter Carmichael is on the case. Who did it? Was it Jews? Bolsheviks? Or someone more connected to the family?

Thoughts: Wow. In addition to being a fun cozy mystery worthy of Ms. Christie, Farthing shows life in a world where democracy is eroding and  persecution is tolerated. The point of view alternates from daughter of the house Lucy to Inspector Carmichael, and this dichotomy is inspired. Farthing is the first mystery I've read to use this convention, and it allows the reader to get an inside view into the family machinations and prejudices while also learning about events back at Scotland Yard. Does anyone want to solve this mystery, or do they only want use it for their political advantage? You don't need to like science fiction to love this book. It's real and chilling on a personal level in a setting that could be our history.

Reading: I haven't listened to either Bianca Amato or John Keating before, and I really enjoyed their interpretations. Ms. Amato has a very light, refined voice that perfectly captured the naive young wife, while Mr. Keating lent a world-weariness to Inspector Carmichael as his illusions are removed one by one the further he gets into the case.

Final thoughts: I started Farthing not knowing what to expect and left amazed. I'm so glad this book is out in audio.

Grade: 5 out of 5. One of my best 5 audiobooks of 2011!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

TimeSplash winners!

Mid Winters Hop
Thanks to everyone who participated the Mid-Winter's Eve Blog Hop!

100 people entered to win a copy of Graham Storrs' time travel audiobook TimeSplash and short story "Party Time."
The winners, chosen by, are: Irene, Krysta and Paula. They have all been notified and responded.

For those of us who didn't win, TimeSplash is still available from and

Thanks again to Graham Storrs for his book and Iambik for providing these great prizes.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Top Five AudioBooks of 2011

I've had a great time listening and writing reviews since starting Nerfreader in September. I can't believe I've listened to 42 audiobooks and read 9 graphic novels so far. And those are just the reviews I posted. My goal in 2012 is to keep track of everything I read and listen to, even the ones that don't get reviewed.

Here are my favorite audiobooks released in 2011:

Ready Player One Farthing Imortality Inc Zoo City The Land of Laughs

I haven't posted my review of Farthing yet, so that image doesn't link anywhere, but I was so excited to get my list up I couldn't wait. Farthing is a fabulous alternate-reality cozy mystery. Review coming soon!

HerevilleMost of the graphic novels I read weren't published in 2011, so I want to give a shout out to Hereville, (2010) for introducing me to Mirka, an Orthodox girl who both sword fights and knits.

What were your favorites this year?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Blogger Exchange arrived!

This year I participated in two Book Blogger swaps and had a blast! I recently received my package from the Winter Holiday Book Blogger Exchange hosted by Gwenyth at Rants n Scribbles.

My swap partner is the fabulous Maria at Flair. Maria sent me a copy of Abandon by Meg Cabot.

Meg Cabot is one of my favorite writers, and I've been looking longingly at this book for some time. I can't wait to read it. I just found out it's the first of a trilogy. Yeah! Thanks so much, Maria!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Audiobook review: Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost

Music to my tympanic membrane. - Otto, Space Captain Smith

Space Captain Smith (2008) by Toby Frost
Series: First in the Chronicles of Isambard Smith series
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 7h 6m
Audio publisher: Iambik Audio, 2011
Read by: Clive Catterall

Story: In the 25th century, the British Space Empire is threatened by evil aliens. bungling Captain Isambard Smith is keen to be sent on his first mission, ferrying a secret envoy from the hippy colony of New Francisco. However, his ship is falling apart, his pilot is still reading the manual, and Smith doesn't seem to have any crew. With a stiff upper lip and plenty of tea, Space Captain Smith takes on androids, flying sharks, Martins, and headhunters in an effort to to fulfill his mission.

Thoughts: A pastiche of Hitchhikers Guide to the GalaxyStar WarsMoby DickBlade RunnerCasablancaWar of the Worlds, and many more, Space Captain Smith is a space farce like no other. While listening, I had to throw out all expectations and just go along for the ride. There are a lot of funny moments as Captain Smith races into the fray with no skill or forethought. Although I felt some parts tried a little too hard with body function jokes and innuendos. The story is set in the distant future, but the characters are taken from historical eras or books. Captain Smith is a purely Victorian explorer who gets off at the sight of an ankle, his friend is a headhunter alien in the vein of Queequeg from Moby Dick, the hippies of New Francisco are living in the 60's with sex and drugs, while the Martins are from HG Wells' War of the Worlds. The narration follows several of the characters as each pursues a different agenda, and the vastly different points of view add a lot of unexpected tangents to the story. My favorite was Rick Drecket who, in a send up of Blade Runner, tries to determine if his companion is an android. I'll be sure to try those questions on my next date.

Reading: Clive Catterall's smooth, limber voice was sent through its paces in Space Captain Smith, and he delivered. Each character was energetic and distinct. It sounded like he was having a lot of fun, and his enjoyment was infectious.

Final thoughts:  A space farce to out-farce the rest, Space Captain Smith has a lot of good sections loosely tied together.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

This audiobook was provided by Iambik Audio through the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Graham Storrs Answers

Graham Storrs is the author of the time travel adventure TimeSplash, which I reviewed back in November. He's recently put out a short story prequel to TimeSplash called "Party Time" describing events leading to the discovery of time travel, and even better, he narrates it himself.

You can enter to win a copy of TimeSplash and the short story "Party Time" through December 27 at my Midwinter's Eve Blog Hop stop.

Graham was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions about TimeSplash and his new short story "Party Time."

Chris: I enjoyed your reading of “Party Time.” How did you decide to record it yourself? What did you find to be the hardest part of the recording process?

Graham: Thanks, I'm very glad you liked it. I wrote the story because the idea came to me while I was writing the novel and I thought it didn't really fit there. Then I wondered what to do with it! It didn't seem like the kind of thing a magazine would be interested in - it really only comes alive if you've read the book, I think. Then the idea of an audiobook was mooted. My friend, Emma Newman, who narrated the novel is always recording her own stories and it inspired me to have a go. Technically, it turned out to be very easy, but I'm not a great speaker (like Emma) and I tend to stumble over words. So the hardest part by far was reading it all the way through without tripping over my own tongue. I almost, almost managed it, and the kind folks at Iambik Audiobooks edited out the last few stammers.

“Party Time” reminds us that side effects can be more important than the original action. While listening, I thought of the movie Primer, which also follows brilliantly destructive PhD students. Can any good come from time travel or is it something students should be dissuaded from pursuing? Its discovery doesn't seem to have improved the TimeSplash world.

In film and literature, there is hardly a single instance where time travel actually turns out well. You'd think that would be a warning to us all, yet people keep on trying to make it happen! There are physicists who believe that the Universe must somehow forbid paradoxes from happening, even if time travel was allowed (no matter how hard you try, when you pull that gun on your grandmother, something will stop you). I'm sure there is a great comedy novel in there somewhere. But, even if Stephen Hawking now believes that time travel might just be possible, the mind-bending technologies and staggering energies involved mean it won't be happening any time soon - unless somebody comes back and shows us how. The thing is, humankind has explored just about everything within reach and we crave that next big adventure. The only places left to go now are Time and Space. And I don't think any amount of dissuading will stop people trying to go there.

In most time travel stories, the ability to travel is either a fluke or part of the military-industrial complex. However, in TimeSplash, it is a relatively simple underground activity. What about the Timesplash world do you find most fascinating?

When that idea first struck me - that time travelling could be an underground movement and the basis of a worldwide party scene - I was bowled over by it. I love time travel stories myself but, you're right, it's almost always in the hands of The Man. The world of TimeSplash is one struggling back to its feet after these decades of endless growth we've been living through have come to a shuddering halt. Big science is gone, the military-industrial complex has disintegrated across most of the globe, but, just before the end, there was a breakthrough... I really love the idea that the inventors of something as monumentally important as time travel feel the need to exploit it in the most mundane way because they're sick of poverty and scared they don't have the money for the dentist.

I was glad to hear Doctor Who mentioned in both TimeSplash and “Party Time.” Who is your favorite Doctor?

I grew up on Doctor Who. I still watch it avidly. I must say, though, I'm not keen on the latest crop of Doctors. I liked the second, third and fourth Doctors (Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, and Tom Baker). More than that, I liked the way the show emphasised the triumph of intelligence and reason over brute force and superstition. I remember one show (can't remember which Doctor) where, to save the day, the Doctor had to solve the Towers of Hanoi problem. This might be considered a little dull for modern audiences, but it really impressed me and has stayed with me for decades! And that's what I call good television. I'm such a fan-boy I once wrote a Doctor Who screenplay - for my own amusement.

You are very active online with your blogs and Twitter account. How has participating in social media influenced your writing?

You know, I don't think it's influenced my writing at all. However, I've had a lot of fun, met some great people, and had some intense discussions on subjects I love. The thing that I think has most influenced my writing is reading. I read a lot of sci-fi, from H. G. Wells through Asimov, Windham, Aldiss, le Guin, Vonnegut, all the Bs (Bradbury, Ballard, Bear, Bova, Brin, Baxter, Benford), Egan, McAuley, Tepper, Gibson, Reynolds, and a hundred more. And I also read the classics (I'm a big Jane Austen fan), crime fiction, thrillers, and even a little fantasy. I like to think I soak up a little from this ocean of goodness. I like to read popular science books too - especially physics and cosmology. It is just so inspiring. I think a lot of writers - even sci-fi writers - find real science either too daunting or too restrictive. I just find it all awe-inspiring.

Having said that, while social media has not necessarily influenced my writing, it has definitely influenced the direction my career has taken. For example, I met Emma Newman through her blog and it was through her that I became involved with Iambik Audiobooks. I met Jodi Cleghorn and eMergent Press online, and they will be bringing out the print edition of TimeSplash next year. It's not the only influence - I meet people in the flesh too, sometimes! - but it has been a big one.

In the movie version of Timesplash, where would you put your cameo appearance?

Ha! Like XXX you mean? Oh there are so many cool places! Maybe the waiter that Sniper and the team spook at that cafe in Ommen. Or how about the one-time brick, who has rebadged himself as a small-time gangster who Sandra tracks down while hunting for Sniper? Holbrook himself is too big a part (although I can do the accent) but maybe one of the SAS guys in the team that goes back to try to stop the London splash would be about right. I can look cold.

What can we expect to see from you next?

Good question. I recently found myself a literary agency, and my agent has a number of books of mine which she is using to approach a number of publishers. One is a near-future thriller in which the unlucky hero is trying to stop a terrorist virus that might enslave the world, while at the same time fighting a powerful and ruthless group of transhumans who want the virus for their own ends. Another is a present-day story about a group of information-based alien parasites who live in the brains of other creatures and have come to colonise the Earth. The hero in this story is one of the parasites who finds his people have been deceived and that there is something very fishy about the colonisation. The third is a comedy - also about an alien invasion - but a very inept one. The invaders crash-land here, knowing nothing about the place, but decide to conquer it anyway in the name of their goddess. But humans all look alike to them so they choose a body-form at random from the Internet and all end up looking like a famous movie star. The fourth is another time-travel book about a guy with a lot a problems who is visited by an immoral jerk from the distant future who says he wants to study our hero. Sadly, although the visitor seems to be helping at first, it all goes very badly wrong. Bad things start happening and then escalating towards a complete catastrophe.

I have no idea which might sell first - if any of them do. Thankfully, I don't have to do the selling part myself any more.

Thank you very much for your time. I’m looking forward to your next work.

Thank you, Chris. It's been great fun chatting. Anyone who wants to keep in touch can follow my blog or talk to me on Twitter

Timesplash has it's own website. It's available at through Iambik or

Giveaway: TimeSplash by Graham Storrs!

The Mid-Winter's Eve Blog Hop is hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Oasis for YA. Check out all 200+ hop blogs.

Happy mid-winter!

I am very excited to be giving away three copies of the audiobook Timesplash by Graham Storrs, each with a bonus download of the prequel short story, "Party Time," read by the author, courtesy of Iambik. This giveaway is open internationally.

Here's my review of TimeSplash. It's a great action story with an interesting and different view of time and time travel.

Here's an interview I just had with Graham Storrs where he talks about TimeSplash and Party Time.

From the publisher: Once, timesplashing was an extreme sport and an excuse for a big party. Then Sniper took it too far. People started dying. Sandra and Jay are two people whose lives were shattered in a timesplash that went badly wrong in 2047. Now, each in their own way, they are hunting the timesplashers. And if they don't find them, millions could die.

TimeSplash is read by the talented Emma Newman, but the short story "Party Time" is read by the author, Graham Storrs. I'm skeptical when authors narrate their own work since they're usually not professional voice artists. Luckily, Graham Storrs has a great voice. His British accent reminds me of Stephen Briggs, who narrates the Terry Pratchett Discworld books and is one of the top audiobook narrators out there. I was suitably impressed. I hope the winners enjoy the "Party Time" as much as I did!

To enter, fill out the form below. Giveaway terms are here. The audobooks can be downloaded in either mp3 or m4b (for ithings) format through the Iambik site from anywhere in the world. Thanks to Iambik for these copies to giveaway!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
Series: First in the Hereville series
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy
Publisher: Amulet Books, 2010
From: Local library
Here's a 15-page preview from Barry Deutsch

Story: Mirka's goal in life is to fight dragons, but instead her stepmother makes her learn "womanly arts" like knitting. One day while outsmarting bullies, Mirka finds a strange house in the forest. Afterwards, an evil pig starts following Mirka and won't go away. How can she find a sword when she can't even keep her homework safe?

Thoughts: I picked up this book because of its cover, and I'm glad I did! Mirka is an excellent heroine who's smart and brave yet still has things to learn. I especially liked Mirka's step-mother who's a little wicked, but in a good way. The action stops a couple of times to describe Mirka's Orthadox school, her classmates, and the Saturday Shabbos celebration. These parts got a little teachy as the narrator talks directly to the reader, but the action soon picks up again. My favorite part was the visual description of Mirka's word problems, and Mirka's solutions. Mirka's so fun I could have read a whole book just of her doing math!

The art is grayscale on an orange background. I love this style. The mostly black and white drawings let the action jump right out, while the addition of one color allows for unexpected touches. I especially liked Mirka's striped socks. When it turns to night, the background switches to blue, giving the perfect midnight feel. It's such a great effect, the perfect compromise between the visual interest of color and clarity of black and white.

Final thoughts: A great girl adventure with a window into Orthodox Jewish life for middle grade readers or anyone who had to resort to their brain because they didn't have a sword handy. The second book in the series is in the works. Can't wait!

Grade: 5 out of 5

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Monday - 10

It's Monday is hosted by the lovely and talented Sheila from Book Journey.

I've taken a bit of a blogging break for most of December. I've been listening to middle books of series  and other things that I want to catch up on but don't need a review. I've also been thinking about the blog for next year and putting books on my challenge lists. It's been very productive for me, but doesn't show up as much here. This is my first It's Monday I've done in December, so a little update.

In December I read three excellent graphic novels from Minx:

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci,
kimmie66 by Aaron Alexovich and
Re-Gifters by Mike Carey.
And best of all, I got to meet most of these authors and illustrators on twitter, an extra treat.

I listened to some great audiobooks, although some I didn't care for as much:
Envy by Gregg Olson
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Reversing Over Liberace by Jane Lovering

I received a fabulous Blogger Swap package from Danielle at Mercurial Musings. And I tried to help out a fellow blogger on where to start with audiobooks.

This week I'm catching up on old Dresden Files, listening to Space Captain Smith, and I found this amazing graphic novel at the library: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. She's an orthodox Jewish Girl who fights dragons. Perfect for Christmas! What are you reading?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Audiobook review: Reversing Over Liberace by Jane Lovering

My grandfather's left me his nose. It's in a matchbox. -Willow Cayton

Reversing Over Liberace (2008) by Jane Lovering
Genre: contemporary romance
Length: 8h 38m
Audio publisher: Iambik Audio, 2011
Read by: Cori Samuel
From: Iambik Audio

Listen to the first chapter on Cori Samuel's blog.

Story: Willow's beloved grandfather has died, and all he left her was his nose. The mummified body part fits in a matchbox, but it could have been worse. Her brother inherited 12 pairs of rubber boots. Even without the nose, Willow's life hasn't amounted to much. She's 32, has never been married, and works a lousy job in the town where she was born. Then Luke shows up. Willow had a huge crush on him at university, but back then he wouldn't give her the time of day. Maybe this time things will be different...

Thoughts: I was in the mood for a lighthearted comedy, and Reversing Over Liberace hit the spot. Willow is a 30-something singleton who spends her spare time in the pub with her mates, but she's more than a sex-starved Bridget Jones. She cares about people, especially her three older brothers and sister, even though they drive her insane with their strange obsessions. The story has a lot of unexpected goings-on as everyone bangs about their business leaving Willow to get Luke's attention and make peace with her grandfather's passing as well as his strange inheritance.

I loved Willow's dysfunctional family. It's great to see siblings who are realistically self-centered without being mean. They "hate, resent, and adore" one another, and show it through clever insults. I especially enjoyed Ash, Willow's hot gay twin. It would be great to have a story following Ash and his motorcycle, and another one following big brother Bree who never speaks but binds books. The beginning of the story had some clunky pop culture allusions, but the witty dialogue soon smoothed everything over, and by the time the Jasper Fford references came out, I was hooked. I couldn't wait to see how it all turned out.

Reading: A lot of my fondness for Willow's family rests squarely on the shoulders of Cori Samuel. I thoroughly enjoyed her excellent narration. Her young voice is perfect for Willow, and the other characters were spot-on with their Irish, Welsh, and other British accents which I can never identify but love to hear. I especially fancied the male voices. Each was distinct in tone and style and added to the character's feel. I want to hear more adventures of Ash mostly because of his suave voice, even though I know he's gay. And fictional.

I have a pronunciation fetish over the word "pastie," and I learned Jane Loverling has one over the word "scone." I didn't even know there were other ways to pronounce that one! Luckily, all scones were pronounced correctly and no pasties made appearances in this book.

Cover: I have to say, the audio version of this book has one of the worst covers ever. I can't even tell what it is. A big nose and a cat in a goal post? The paperback cover is better but implies the story takes place in New York instead of the other York and makes Willow look like a ditz. The book is better than either cover or even the title implies. Take a listen and judge for yourself.

Final thoughts: A super fun romance with witty, entertaining characters who love to rag on each other because they care.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Thanks to Iambik Audio for providing this review copy of Reversing over Liberace through the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Blogger Swap Received

I've had such a fun time with the Book Blogger Holiday Swap this year.

My package came from Danielle at Mercurial Musings. She gifted me with the fun new Meg Cabot book, Abandon, and a super sweet gift card to Barnes and Noble. The best part is an amazing pop-up snowflake card which has impressed everyone who's seen it. This picture doesn't do it justice. It's 3-D! I also love the wrapping paper she chose with robots dressed as snowmen, trees, elves, packages, and reindeer. It's the perfect holiday paper.

Thanks so much, Danielle! I hope your holiday swap package has given you as much pleasure as mine has. Be sure to check our her book reviews at her great site.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Audiobooks: Where to start?

I had a great question from Anna of - dooliterature - on my Swordspoint review. She hasn't listened to audiobooks before and was wondering if I had any recommendations for good books to start with.

Why yes, yes I do.

First of all, congratulations for jumping into audiobooks. It's an amazing world! This question has come up before on Twitter, and the answer from several people was Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. That's an excellent place to start, but it's a pretty short answer.

The long answer is audiobooks can be tricky things. I want a good story, a good narrator, and a story that works in audio. Good audio production has become more common as technology has improved and more people are listening to audiobooks. I'm more wary of older audiobooks where there production quality can range greatly. I've been disappointed many times in the past by books I just couldn't listen to. When this happened I had to give up and move on to a different book.

Some fine books have excellent audio production but are harder to listen to because the story is more complicated. For example, The Night Circus is a good story, Jim Dale is a fabulous narrator, but the time jumps made it hard for me to follow along. If I was reading the book, I could flip back to figure out the dates, but it's much harder to flip around in audio.

For someone starting out with audiobooks I'd say,
- Try books you've already read and enjoyed
- When you find a narrator you enjoy, try other books read by that person
- If you're listening to a book that's not going well, don't suffer through. Stop and try a different book. Listening is supposed to be fun!
- Try lots of books. It might take awhile to find the kind you like best

There are so many excellent audiobooks. Here's a very small sample of some I've enjoyed that could be a place to start.

Urban Paranormal
Magic Bites series by Ilona Andrews read by Renee Raudman
Kitty and the Midnight Hour series by Carrie Vaughn read by Marguerite Gavin

Wee Free Men series by Terry Pratchett read by Stephen Briggs
Terrier series by Tamora Pierce read by Susan Denaker
Sabriel series by Garth Nix read by Tim Curry
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale read by Chelsea Mixon
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling read by Jim Dale

Science Fiction
The Warrior's Apprentice series by Lois McMaster Bujold read by Grover Gardner
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline read by Wil Wheaton
Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld read by Alan Cumming

Secret of the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig read by Kate Reading

One for the Money series by Janet Evanovich read by CJ Critt

anything read by Kate Reading, Rosaylin Landor, Simon Vance, or Scott Brick

Anna, I hope this helps. For everyone else, what do you recommend for someone starting out with audiobooks?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Audiobook review: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

" an eerily nasty way."  - Richard St Vier, Swordspoint

Swordspoint (1987) by Ellen Kushner
Series: Book one of the Riverside series
Genre: fiction
Length: 10h 54m
Audio publisher: Neil Gaiman Presents, 2011
Read by: Ellen Kushner, Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Nick Sullivan, Simon Jones, and full cast

Story: Richard St. Vier is the greatest swordsman in Riverside. He is constantly in demand for nobles' parties and to settle points of honor, but he doesn't do weddings. St. Vier puts his life on the line each job he takes, but life is cheap. Everyone dies. Honor and reputation are what's precious. Now Richard is a pawn in the power games played by the city's bored nobility. Can he keep his honor, reputation, and life intact?

Thoughts: Swordspoint is described as "if Jane Austen wrote fantasy," but it's closer to Les Liaisons Dangereuses than Sense and Sensibility. The story follows several points of view from the slums of Riverside to the nobles' Hill as each person sets up their games of power using other people's lives. The book is subtitled "a melodrama of manners," and there is a lot of chocolate drinking. There are also Machiavellian politics, swordplay, theater, and revenge. The characters are compelling but hard to fathom as each has their own hidden motivations. Everyone uses everyone else, and only the quick survive. While Swordspoint's action takes place in a country that uses swords, there is no magic or fantastical elements in the book. It's fantasy because it takes place in a country with different laws and customs. And swords.

Production: I've had bad experiences with author-narrated audiobooks and with full-cast audiobooks, so when I found out Swordspoint was an author-narrated, full-cast audiobook, I was very apprehensive. Happily, my fears were unfounded. Ellen Kushner reads clearly and with grace, and it really sounds like she's having fun. She reads most of the book. The full cast is only brought in when there are larger group scenes. Occasional sound effects are added (doors opening, footfalls), and the full-cast sections has background sounds and music. I would think having a narrator read the voices of the main characters for most of the book and then switching to other people reading them for the group scenes would be confusing, but it works very well. Having the consistent narrator allowed me to sink into the story, and the infrequent group scenes were a fun diversion.

Final thoughts: If you've already read Swordspoint, the full-cast version is well done, and an excellent introduction to audiobooks. Swordspoint is also a good book if you enjoy stories of political intrigue or duels. No interest in fantasy needed.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

Bonus fact: Ellen Kushner wrote five choose your own adventure books including #56 The Enchanted Kingdom. This makes me happy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Re-Gifters by Mike Carey

Dixie. Korean dwarf fighting frog. 

Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, Marc Hempel
Genre: contemporary romance fight story
Publisher: DC Minx, 2007
From: local library

Story: High schooler Dixie only cares about two things: the martial art hapkido and Adam in her class. But obsessing over Adam is interfering with her focus, her "ki." If she can get Adam the perfect gift for his birthday, she'll be able to focus and everything will turn out all right. Right?

Thoughts: What a fun story! I loved Dixie and her crazy family. As one who has been tempted to re-gift, this story shows the dangers of the practice. What goes around, comes around.

Re-Gifters starts off strong and keeps it up as Dixie and her friends are introduced right in the middle of the action. Dixie is clumsy and scattered. She's strong but not sure how to use her strength except to beat people up. Dixie's friend Avril, with her cheerful openness, is a great counterbalance to Dixie's spiky moods, and the other secondary characters are realistic teens with their own problems and obsessions. One of the things I like best about graphic novels is their refreshing brevity. Re-Gifters tells its story with no extra padding. It's fun but focused. Balanced.

The Re-Gifters' artwork is black and white. The drawing is loose with a freestyle, sketch-like appearance that adds a lot of energy to the hapkido fighting scenes. I was confused in one place where thugs tell Dixie to get back to Koreatown, but the buildings right next to them all have Korean signs. Maybe the Korean businesses are encroaching the punk's territory and that's why they're upset. Since I'm illiterate in Korean, I missed all of the hidden jokes, but I did like how the black guy was wearing a shirt with the Chinese character for black (黑).

Final thoughts: The Karate Kid meets Pretty in Pink, Re-Gifters is another excellent Minx title. I'm going to be sad when I've read them all.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Audiobook review: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Series: First in the Art of Death series
Genre: historical mystery
Length: 13h 12m
Audio publisher: Penguin Audiobooks, 2007
Read by: Rosalyn Landor
From: local library

Story: Cambridge, 1171. A child has been murdered, and the town blames the local Jews. Since the Jewish population is locked in the local castle, they're not generating revenue. This doesn't sit well with King Henry II. In an effort to exonerate the Jews and get the taxes flowing, he sends for a "Master in the Art of Death."

Adelia is a physician and pathologist in progressive Sicily, but she could get herself killed in backwater England where women who know too much are called witches. Adelia needs to learn as much as she can about Cambridge's farmers, crusaders, tax collectors and clergy quickly and without giving offence, not her strong suit. She's not sure if she can trust anyone, but she has to find the killer before another child dies.

Thoughts: After a slow start with too much introduction (three preambles) the narrative takes off. Adelia is a fabulous, strong female character. I'm not sure if her difficulties relating to people are because she's Sicilian and doesn't understand English culture, because she's dedicated to her work so not picking up social cues, or if she just didn't care. She reminds me of the TV version of Bones, so she may have Asperger's syndrome. Of course, most of her issues are people saying "women don't do that," which she doesn't stand for. Instead, she fills us in on the state of medieval doctoring. I never know if washing one's hands in brandy is something one person of that time might think of or if it's all imposed on the characters from our modern perspective, but it's fun to see what goes on and what Adelia thinks about it. I especially liked her asking for vegetables and everyone else groaning about how she's such a picky eater.

Reading: Rosalyn Landor is an audiobook superstar. Her voices in Mistress of the Art of Death are spot-on, from the king to the sheep herder. I especially loved the little kids. She also aced my person audio hurdle by pronouncing "pastie" correctly. Not everyone does. Well done!

Final thoughts: A great medieval medical mystery. I'm looking forward to the next in the series!

Grade: 4.5 out of 5

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Audiobook Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Genre: Fantasy Horror
Length: 46h 50m
Audio publisher: Audible, Inc (2011)
Translated by: Philip Gabriel
Read by: Allison Hiroto, Marc Vietor, Mark Boyett
From: purchased from Audible

Story: Tokyo, 1984. Aomame hears some music in a taxi, and ever since things have been different. When did the police change guns and uniforms? How does she not remember the building of an observatory on the moon? She concludes she's in a parallel universe and calls it 1Q84.

Tengo is presented an offer he can't refuse: rewrite a moving fantasy story written by a 17 year-old girl to enter in a writing competition. But as Tengo learns more about Fukaeri, he begins to wonder how much of her story is true, and what that means for both of them.

Thoughts: The connection between 1Q84 and to George Orwell's 1984 is in name only. 1984 has Big Brother while 1Q84 has the Little People, sinister sprites with no clear goals or agenda. 1Q84 ostensibly takes place in Tokyo, but the setting could be anywhere. There are few references to Japan and none to Japanese 80's pop culture. 1Q84 mostly takes place in a vacuum of place and time with no clear goals or agenda.

The first third of 1Q84 has a lot going for it. Aomame is serious, calm and in control. Nothing rattles her, but she still wonders if she's doing the right thing in her job as a contract killer. She cares about the results of her actions. When she discovers the differences between the world she knows and the world she's in, she doesn't even consider that she's going crazy. She decides it's not her, it's the world that's wrong. And she stands by her convictions. Tengo is a mess, still fixated on his mother's breasts, but he loves to write and is slowly getting himself together. Unfortunately, as the book progresses, the fun action from the beginning stagnates and is replaced by repetition and horror. The Little Men are seriously creepy, the characters affectless, and I haven't been able to look at the moon the same since. Most disturbing is the defense and support of child molestation and pedophilia.

If someone asked me to abridge 1Q84, I would have no problem. This book needs some serious editing. There are many sections that are merely repeated as the point of view goes back and forth between Aomame to Tengo, and late in the book a completely unnecessary third point of view is added. I'm sure I could take off 20 hours and not lose any of the small amount of story. Long, boring books are particularly hard to listen on audio. When you're reading the print version, it's much easier to skip over or skim the boring bits.

Reading: Allison Hiroto reads in a soft, lightly accented voice. Some words were too heavily enunciated while others were difficult to distinguish, but overall she gave the feeling that Aomame is a fun-loving person despite her voluntary isolation.
Marc Vietor starts out reading Tengo's point of view enunciating every word, like a robot, but as the story goes on he loosens up and reads in a more relaxed manner.
Mark Boyett has a small part at the end of the book, but adds a lot with his reading. He uses an almost gangster accent, contributing a noir feeling to his sections. Even though this part of the book is completely superfluous, I enjoyed his reading the most of the three narrators.

Final thoughts: The cover is the best part of this book.

Grade: 2 out of 5 - I enjoyed the first third, but after that it falls apart.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Graphic novel review: kimmie66 by Aaron Alexovich

" it real?"

kimmie66 by Aaron Alexovich
Genre: YA SF mystery
Publisher: DC Minx, 2007

Story: Telly is a normal 23rd century goth teen. She lives most of her life in the virtual world, and who wouldn't? But she's worried about her friend, kimmie66. Kimmie sent Telly a suicide note that couldn't be real, could it? People are still seeing Kimmie all over the net. Telly has never met Kimmie in real life and doesn't know her real name, so she can't find out for sure. Unless she breaks the law.

Thoughts: kimmy66 is much darker than the other Minx titles I've read, both in its theme of suicide and from the black backgrounds used in most of the panels. The artwork is edgy and distorted, fitting with the virtual reality setting. I usually prefer clear and open artwork, but the darker images work to set the bleak tone. The story reminds me of Serial Experiments Lain, one of my favorite animes. Both titles have a sad and eerie feeling, but the scary clowns add an extra creep factor to kimmie66.  I like Telly. She figures things out and questions the status quo. She also has fab messy hair. The everyday use of virtual reality put me in mind of Ready Player One. In fact, both of these books could take place in the same world. The only difference is in Telly's world virtual travel is illegal while for Player One it's just expensive.

Aaron Alexovich contributed character designs to Nickelodeon's Invader Zim, and I recognized his unique drawing style from that show. He also did the art for Minx's Confessions of a Blabbermouth and has his own story, Serenity Rose, from SLG.

Final thoughts: I liked this creepy gothic cyber-mystery. It's a fast read but fun if you don't mind scary clowns.

Grade: 4 out of 5

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Audiobook review: Envy by Gregg Olsen

Envy by Gregg Olsen
Genre: YA paranormal mystery
Length: 9h 29m
Read by: Julia Whelan
Audio publisher: Brillance Audio, 2011
From: local library

Story: Kaitlin feels like her life is over. When she unexpectedly dies in the bath, the secrets come out about her, her family, and her neighbors. Kaitlin's classmates, the Ryan twins, Hayley and Taylor, are determined to find out the truth about Kaitlin's death, and they don't mind using their special powers to do it. In their search, they discover more about the mysterious accident they all survived years ago.

Thoughts: I love the cover image for this book but didn't know what to expect from the story. It did start out a little rough. Some of the wording was awkward, and it felt like it was trying hard to be young, using words like Smashbox and fugly. Luckily, the realistic, non-whiny characters and improved writing style as the story progressed made up for the rocky start. It didn't hurt that the story gets darker and more complicated as it goes on. Following the points of view of both teenagers and adults, the book is primarily a mystery, with just the slightest bit of unexplained around the edges. The paranormal is unique, though a little confusing. I kept forgetting which twin had what power. I did cheer when they used Scrabble tiles instead of a Ouija board. Perfect! Ouija boards always seemed so useless. I also liked how the story stands well on its own but has enough questions left to expand upon in the sequel.

Reading:  Julia Whelan has a clear, young voice that fits perfectly with the teenagers in Envy. Her reading is nicely expressive without going over the top.

Final thoughts: Have a green Christmas with Envy, a dark and clever teenage mystery.

Grade: 4 out of 5
Purchase audio version from Audible    Purchase paper version from Amazon