July 20, 2014

10 Great Audiobooks

For quite a few years, I've gone to the library and picked out a few (sometimes upwards to a dozen) audiobooks to choose from as alternatives to music or movies in the car. This time, we got to talking about books we've listened to (and liked) over the years, and that prompted me to come up with a list of our favorite audiobooks. I've added a few of my personal favorites as well.

1. The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex; read by Bahni Turpin. This is one we still rave about; it's absolutely captivating and Turpin is fantastic as a narrator. In fact, we love it so much, we're kind of worried about the changes that they're making with the movie. Though we agree that Jim Parsons is perfect at J. Lo.

2. The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne; read by a whole cast. As I was going back through my records, it turns out we listened to this one before. Doesn't matter; we were still captivated by the voices (particularly Geoffry Palmer as Eeyore) and you can't go wrong with the Pooh bear stories.

3. The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander; read by James Langton. I think hubby and I enjoyed this one more than the girls did. They complained there were too many characters and it was confusing. Perhaps, they were just too young. Langton, however, was a perfect narrator.

4. Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man by Donald J. Sobol; read by Greg Steinbruner. Another one we rave about, still. The girls have asked, on multiple occasions, if we can get more of these, but I haven't found any yet. We loved listening to the stories and trying to solve along. And Steinbruner was excellent.

5. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis; read by Michael York. If you haven't noticed yet, we tend to pick classics to listen to while we road trip. Partially that's because we want to expose our kids to them, but also because I think they're more interesting when read by a good reader. This is certainly true for Lewis's books. The ones we've listened to have been fantastic.

6. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman; read by the author. The only thing I have to say is that if you've never heard Gaiman read one of his books, you're missing out. I'd listen to him read a tech manual and be hanging on every word. It helps, of course, that he's a great writer and storyteller as well.

7. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor; read by Khristine Hvam. Taylor's a beautiful writer, and Hvam captures her characters perfectly. Especially Brimstone. It was one that I just listened to on my own, but she had me hanging on every word.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; read by Sissy Spacek. It's one of those that everyone should read, and Sissy Spacek's perfect southern drawl compliments Lee's words quite nicely.

9. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson; read by Peter Altschuler. Often, when listening to an audio book, the reader makes or breaks the experience. In this case, the reader made it. He captured everything perfectly, and I had a better experience than I think I would have if I had just read the book.

10. One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson; read by the author. Much like Neil Gaiman, Bryson's books are better listened to. He's got an incredibly dry sense of humor, and that suits his writing quite well. They're chock full of information, though, so don't be surprised if you end up checking out the print book as well.

What have been some of your favorite audio books?

July 18, 2014

Loot: How to Steal a Fortune

by Jude Watson
First sentence: "No thief likes a full moon."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: The only think I can think of is that it's a bit intense, action-wise. Probably on par with the Percy Jackson books. There's no swearing, no romance. It's happily in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This book -- combined with The Great Greene Heist (it's a trend! Does two books make a trend?) -- has gotten me thinking about the implausible versus the impossible. It is implausible that Jackson Green could have thrown together a crew to scam less-than-intelligent adults into exposing a blackmailing scheme. It is highly impossible, however, that 12-year-old March McQuin could have gotten together a crew in order to steal back 7 Moonstones that his illustrious thief father, Alfie, stole 12 years before. (Granted, the premise behind the Heist Society books by Ally Carter is also impossible.)

Impossible, however, doesn't mean "bad".

In fact, Watson has put together quite a ripping tale. After Alfie's death during a heist in Amsterdam, March discovers he has a 12-year-old twin sister, Julia, that he didn't know about. And then, at Alfie's funeral, March and Julia are confronted by the woman from whom the moonstones were stolen. She's offered them $7 million in order to steal them back. In a week. They're up against incredible odds: Alfie's old partner, who has just recently gotten out of jail, are after the stones as well.

Even though the premise is impossible, Watson does a fantastic job keeping up the pace. The chapters are short, the pacing quick, making it a perfect read for reluctant readers. Plus, it's action-packed with chases (both in the car and on foot) and rooftop falls as well as planning and executing some pretty amazing heists.

No, it's not a story that could actually "happen". But it was still a lot of fun.

July 16, 2014

Cleopatra in Space

Book One: Target Practice
by Mike Maihack
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's some violence, but nothing terribly graphic. What struck me is that there is a lot of exposition (with long words) in this one. I'm not sure if K understood everything that went on, but she got the gist of it. Which is what graphic novels are great at.

It's her 15th birthday, Cleopatra (yes, that Cleopatra) doesn't want to go through with her party. The ceremony, the pomp, the everything. So, she sneaks away from her tutor, and discovers a portal to a future time and place that is being besieged by a tyrannical dictator. The prophecies declare that she will be the Savior of the world, but first: she has to go to academy to figure things out.

It's essentially a fish-out-of-water story; BCE girl meets futuristic technology. I liked how she found everything boring, until she got to combat training. She took to that immediately. She's a girl of action, and she's smart and tough -- when it comes to combat. She's not a scholar and that's okay. The only thing that was a bit disconcerting was the whole talking cats. Cats in this world have evolved to the point where they kind of run things. And it's a bit weird. But that just may be me.

In the end, it reminded me a lot of Zita the Spacegirl -- both in the content as well as the artistic style -- which is a good thing. And I'm curious to see where Maihack goes next.

July 14, 2014

Audiobook: Keeping the Castle

by Patricia Kindl
Read by Biana Amato
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's nothing objectionable, but my 8-year-old was quite confused while listening to it. So, it's probably not for the younger set, just because of intricate plot lines and needing at least a working knowledge of Regency England. It's in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Althea Crawley has always known that she needed to marry well. Her father died shortly before her younger brother (and her father's heir), Alexander, was born. The castle -- in the north of England, on a cliff, and their home -- her great-grandfather built is slowly falling apart (well, maybe not so slowly). And so when Lord Boring (yes, that really is his name) shows up in the neighborhood, Althea knows what she must do: get him to marry her. Unfortunately, his crass, merchant, cousin, Mr. Fredericks, keeps getting in the way.

The jacket compared this one to I Capture the Castle and Pride and Prejudice. The Capture the Castle part of it is silly: the only things those two books have in common is a young heroine and a castle. However, the book read like a spin on all of Austen's books. There were elements of Emma and Sense and Sensibility as well as P&P. It's a more practical Austen, however: Kindl gives us a more confident and curious and modern heroine than Austen ever did. And Kindl gives us more blatant class divisions than Austen did, as well. The love interest is a merchant, and falling in love with a merchant, even a  wealthy one, is something which a landed gentry in Austen's world just wouldn't do. In fact, there's quite a few interesting elements that probably existed in Austen's time but didn't overtly make it into her books. As we were listening to it (Hubby quite liked it, too), it occurred to me that this is Jane Austen-lite: an Austenesque books for kids who are curious but can't quite make it through Pride and Prejudice.

The back did have this right: it is frothy and light as a champagne cocktail. It's not deep -- we were discussing all the ways in which Kindl could have made it more complex and darker than it was -- but it sure is fun.

July 11, 2014

The Summer Prince

by Alaya Dawn Johnson
First sentence: "When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: I was initially thinking that this would be good for those who like Uglies; there's about the same amount of swearing. But the reason it's in the Teen section (grades 9+) is because there's a lot of allusions to sex, including a couple (tasteful) sex scenes.

June Costa is the best artist in Palmeres TrĂªs. Or so she thinks; she just hasn't had a chance to prove it yet. And in this, a moon year in which her futuristic, matriarchal society chooses a one-year Summer King to "rule", she will have that chance. It starts innocently: her best friend, Gil, falls in love with the summer king, Enki. And she does, too, though she tells herself that it's mostly about the art. And what art June and Enki create. Ever more elaborate, they end up sparking a revolution of sorts between the technophiles and the isolationists; the government, made up of women they call "Aunties", has placed strict regulations on what kind of tech can be in the city.

It was this tech element that reminded me so much of Uglies. But, I think Johnson was pointing out the value of art and the power of love, even in a futuristic (and while not dystopian, certainly not perfect) society. It's a very thought-provoking novel, one that winds and unfurls instead of proceeding in a linear fashion. And it was this winding that kept me most interested. Johnson chose to build her futuristic Brazilian society in bits and chunks throughout the entire book, dropping hints and clues about what happened to get the world to this point along the way. And the society she built was equally as fascinating, with all its machinations and political scheming.

But, ultimately, it was June and Enki and Gil (and June's competition/friend, Bebel) that kept me reading in the end. I cared about what happened to them, how this year played out for the summer king and his newfound friends. I found myself moved by the ending, and thinking about the book long after I turned the last page.