Posts tagged ‘audiobooks’

February 15, 2012

Review: Leviathan

by renata

I know Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is pretty popular, and I’d heard a lot of good things about it. But I simply didn’t think I was interested in it–a steampunk alt-history of WWI? Ugh, but I don’t really like steampunk or war stories. But I kept hearing such good things about it, and I remembered my initial resistance to the Uglies trilogy, and how much I ended up liking Uglies. And then I found out that the audiobooks are read by Alan Cumming, who I adore, and that sealed the deal. I’d have to check out this whole Leviathan thing.

Leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, read by Alan Cumming

Okay, you guys, I totally loved it. Scott Westerfeld is just great. Even if his books have summaries that sound completely unappealing to me, he can just pull them off like nobody’s business. Although, I have to be honest, I still don’t really care about ~steampunk~. And that’s okay–in this alternate WWI, the Axis powers are the “Clankers” and use steampunk kinds of walkers and weapons and whatnot. I’m far more interested in the “Darwinist” Allied powers, who have been busily genetically engineering giant flying whales and talking message lizards. It’s a seriously detailed universe, and I’m captivated by it. I think that’s one of Westerfeld’s trademarks–it’s why I thought Uglies was so much more compelling than Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. They both had the same sort of plot, but Westerfeld had the scientific research and details to make it all seem plausible.

Also, a reason why I tend not to like war stories is because they are always oh-so-masculine. Westerfeld’s got that covered too, with Ms. Deryn Sharp, one of my favorite YA characters of recent memory. Deryn’s father was an airman who died in a hot air balloon accident. But before he died, he taught Deryn an awful lot about flying. So Deryn changes her name to Dylan and enlists as a young midshipman in the British Air Services, where she ends up serving on the huge airship Leviathan.

Deryn Sharp

Deryn Sharp

Of course she’s terrified that someone will discover her secret, but she’s mostly too busy being super competent and savvy. Cheers for Deryn Sharp!

Then there’s our young Clanker protagonist, Alek. He’s the (fictional) son of the (real) assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and he and some of his household staff are on the run. They run right into… the Leviathan. I have to admit, I was initially frustrated with Alek and anxiously waited for the book to get back to Deryn’s chapters. He did grow on me, though I still prefer Deryn.

Alan Cumming, with his plethora of available accents, was a great choice for these audiobooks. You can hear a sample at Scott Westerfeld’s website. However, I couldn’t get the audiobook for Behemoth, the next book in the trilogy. And I discovered that the books are illustrated! (You can see one of the illustrations above.) So far Behemoth is great and I love the illustrations. And I’m still hearing the characters’ voices as Alan Cumming, so it’s a win-win situation.

fail whale
I rate Leviathan four flying whales out of a possible five.

August 25, 2011

Little House Fever (Way Better than Scarlet Fever)

by renata

So, my new semester of library school is up and running! I’m taking Children’s Literature, which I’m obviously stoked about. Our professor is really enthusiastic and awesome, and on the first day of class she excitedly told us about one of our assignments. It’s called, “I Never Got Around To…” and we are supposed to pick a classic children’s book that we never read as children and report back on it. She offhandedly said, “I do this assignment too. Last year I did Little House on the Prairie for the first time and hated it. I mean, the way she talks about Native Americans… it’s so dated! Why is this still on shelves?!” And I almost had a rage fit, even though she’s right.

I grew up with the Little House books. (Not the show. I’ve actually never seen the show. And I never will.) A family friend gave me a box set of the books, and they looked so grown-up and special on my shelf. I was a little afraid they’d be boring, since they were set in the past, but I was instantly hooked. To this day I have very clear memories of scenes like Laura and Mary roasting the pig’s tail, or Laura and Mary making designs on the frost on the window with Ma’s thimble.

Little House on the Prairie AudiobookSo, I decided to revisit a few of the Little House books on the way to De Smet, South Dakota. From the library, I got Little House on the Prairie and Little Town on the Prairie (that’s #2 and #7 in the Little House series, if you were wondering). On the trip, I learned that my traveling companion Anna had never read the Little House books!! Only watched the show!! It was like I didn’t even know her. Luckily, she was quickly captivated by the books, and so our friendship survived. First, I have to say that Cherry Jones is a great narrator for these books. She sounds both funny and wise. And Paul Woodiel’s fiddle playing is an excellent touch. Pa Ingalls would undoubtedly approve.

Anyway, the books themselves? As a reasonably well-educated adult, yes, they are a little troubling. The way Laura talks about Indians and their “glittering black eyes,” for example. Or her desire to kidnap a papoose. Weird, Laura.  So here’s the thing. If you, as an adult, read this book with a child–talk to that child about Native Americans, and the way they were treated by white settlers. Have a conversation about it.  I don’t hold Laura Ingalls Wilder accountable for the era she grew up in.

What makes these books racially problematic is also what makes them great: the honest, revealing tone. Laura Ingalls Wilder is incredibly frank about her perceived shortcomings, her secret petty desires, and her sheer delight in tiny pleasures. This is what makes her books timeless. These books will also make you feel like a big spoiled baby. When you hear how excited Laura gets about one piece of candy, or how Ma carries on even after getting a huge log dropped on her leg while helping build their cabin. These people are tough mother-effers. Your 12 hour trip from Illinois to South Dakota, from the comfort of a compact SUV with a huge bag full of snacks, will make you feel like the laziest people ever. You will think twice about purchasing a souvenir T-shirt when you hear Ma fretting about the price of calico. (It didn’t stop me from buying a $14 souvenir bonnet, however.)

Anyway, I took a ton of photos on this trip, which you are officially invited to view in this Flickr set. Here are a few highlights:


IMG_2615
Can you imagine living in this with four other people?!

IMG_2622
The tires make for a much more comfortable ride than wooden wheels.

IMG_2602
I look good in a bonnet if I do say so myself.

IMG_2629
View of the whole Ingalls Homestead.

June 7, 2011

Review: White Cat by Holly Black

by renata

White Cat by Holly Black was on my summer reading list. It’s the first one off the list I’ve read so far. And I didn’t even read it, I just listened to it. (It’s fine, it’s still the first week of June. I have time, right?) Anyway, it was so awesome, you guys! Normally I’m kind of ambivalent about audiobooks. I love the idea of them, especially for long trips. But in practice, I get fidgety. I usually end up listening to a disc and then changing to music for awhile, then putting in the next disc. I listened to White Cat all the way through, and I was mad when it was over. I already requested the sequel, Red Glove, from the library. (In audiobook form, of course, since it is also narrated by my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg.)

Partly I think this audiobook was successful because of its narrator (my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg). He was a perfect match for the book’s narrator, Cassel Sharp. Cassel’s a teenage con man attending an upper-crust private school. He’s often the smartest guy in the room, though he’s not always quite as smart as he thinks he is. I know not everyone loved The Social Network the way I did, but hopefully we can all admit that my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg is an excellent smartass.

JesseEisenberg

My celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg

I didn’t know much about the book. I might not have read it if it hadn’t been narrated by my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg. But I’m so glad I did! I knew it was a fantasy book, which isn’t usually my jam. But for some reason I thought it was an old timey fantasy book, which really isn’t my jam. But, it isn’t! It’s my favorite type of fantasy book, which is, of course, fantasy books set in modern day where everything is the same except for one magical difference. I also love it when the political ramifications of magical differences are explored in detail. (This is also why I love X-Men so much, though I guess that’s sci-fi, not fantasy. Whatevs. See also: the scene from Harry Potter when the Minister of Magic talks to the regular Prime Minister of England. Totally awesome. Is that book 5 or book 6? Uhh either way, totally awesome.)

Anyway, the one magical difference in the world of White Cat is that some people are born with a magical power. These people are called “curse workers” and they’re very rare. There are seven kinds of curse workers, and the most common type is luck workers. As the name implies, these people can change your luck. Mostly, people hire them to be present at weddings and baptisms and stuff. But there are other ones, like death workers (who… can kill you) and memory workers (who can erase your memories, or give you false memories). It’s illegal to ever use these abilities, so most people who have them end up as criminals.

Everyone in Cassel’s family is a curse worker, except for Cassel. He’s the youngest and he’s still in school while his two older brothers work their way up the hierarchy of one of the biggest crime families. His mother is in jail after one of her cons went bad on her. Cassel has learned a lot from her, though, and even though he’s not a worker, he’s still a talented con artist in his own right. But he tries to downplay his family life at school–he just wants to keep his head down and fit in. He especially doesn’t want anyone to find out that he accidentally killed his childhood best friend, Lila. Unfortunately, Cassel starts having strange dreams of Lila that cause him to sleepwalk, and he’s forced to leave boarding school when he almost sleepwalks off the roof and the school declares him an insurance liability.

Cassel starts to suspect that someone is working him, and he starts to discover that things in his family are not what they seem.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it’s all very exciting! I figured out some of the plot twists, but not all of them. I rate this book four Jesse Eisenbergs (out of a possible five Jesse Eisenbergs).

WhiteCat

White Cat by Holly Black