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61WJgNOFHKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The enthusiasm in Mercedes’s video was so contagious that I immediately got this in audio. It’s a weird one.

I kept thinking about poetry slams, where aspiring poets declaim angry poetry in almost full darkness, with lots of anaphoras and hyper-realistic imagery (disclaimer: the narration might be to blame). There’s humor and satire, but not enough for it all not to feel a tad pretentious.

I love the premise and can’t put it better than Gavin: “What if the men of Duck Dynasty suddenly had two brain cells to rub together? What if they suddenly became filled with the immense, combined word-horde of all of Western Civilization?” Thinks Flowers for Algernon meets The Big Lebowski. Technically it’s sci-fi, but it only in an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds way.

I’m really attracted to the overall theme of how higher intelligence would affect our lives, personalities and choices (according to Elliott, not much). The problem is that she goes for language at the expense of believable characters and engaging plot. Even when we’re shown their background stories, it’s still the way they’re described that’s important, not the effect. Elliott focuses so much on hyper-reality (how many ways can you describe headaches and drug binges? Many!) that she ends up on the other side, where everything feels unreal. The way characters talk, especially after the brain enhancement, was so over the top, full of references to medieval literature and obscure philosophical theories (do genius really talk like that?), that everyone just becomes a caricature.

Also, the plot builds up a series of mysteries – evil company doing brain experiments! Hogzillas and other mutants roaming the forest! Mysterious woman in online group that knows too much! – but they all end up in lukewarm places. Don’t get me wrong, I love good gimmicky literature, but think Romie Futch wanted to do it all and lost focus.

Still, I gave it 3-stars. Mostly because it kept me intrigued and I respect an effort to create something different. It would be a great bookclub choice!

 

Aaaand that’s a wrap!

Listened to all the books in my category (well, Little Big Man was a DNF) and am now ready to place my bet. Had great fun with Literary Fiction & Classics, especially because for the first time I got to share the category, which makes it much more fun. In the end, Tanya and I agree that the winner should be:

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, read by Chukwudi Iwuji

In all my years doing the Armchair Audies I have yet to pick the winner 😛 so maybe this is the year!

Iwuji did the book justice (a native Nigerian accent helped). It’s a story full of emotions, I laughed and cried, got outraged, was sick to my stomach and filled with hope for humanity. Iwuji made this happen without me being constantly aware of his presence.

My 2016 Armchair Audies posts:

And here’s the Ballot for the other categories (thanks Jennifer for once again organizing!)

My first-ever book set in Trinidad and one of the few from the Caribbeans. Right now can only think of Wide Sargasso Sea and (partially) Captain Blood.

wellDon’t be fooled by the covers, that indicate a lighter type of story than this really is!

Went into the book without knowing anything except it’s nominated for the Audies 2016. It turned out to be a great surprise and one of those reading experiences enhanced by the audiobook.

The story begins in the 40s and mostly follows Marcia Garcia (can still hear the narrator in my mind saying  Má-cia-a Gá-cia), that at sixteen meets Farouk Karam, a Trinidadian policeman of Indian background. They set of on a stormy relationship that we follow throughout many years.

There’s a lot of topics running through book – social and racial status, matriarchal families, immigration – but it doesn’t feel crowded or overwhelming. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in Marcia and her family, and the two narrators (Bahni Turpin and Ron Butler) play a huge role in that. Their colorful narration perfectly fits the story and adds something to it. For a while I was talking to myself in their accents.

The main reason why I didn’t give it a 5/5 was that the second part was mostly an illegal immigration story set in the USA. I wish the author had just focused on Trinidad. It’s learning about the island, it’s people, culture, food and history that makes the book so unusual and special. Strangely enough, the strong sense of place is lost when we jump to the much more familiar Manhattan.

If you know of any more good books set in the Caribbean please let me know!

 

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Other thoughts: BookNAround, (yours?)

armchairaudiesRead for Armchair Audies 2016
Literary Fiction & Classics category

It’s that time of the year again! Since the first edition, the Armchair Audies has been one of my favorite book blogging events. I’ve discovered lots of great reads but unfortunately, have yet to put my money in the winner – maybe this year? I’ve also noticed that this time around all books I searched for were available to me on Audible.com, while in previous years there were lots of annoying country restrictions.

I was really torn between categories. History, Female Narrator, Male Narrator, Fiction, and Sci-fi looked really interesting, but I’ll go with Literary Fiction & Classics. (Still a bit confused about the difference between fiction and literary fiction.)

Several reasons for the choice: a couple of them were already under my radar, there’s a nice diversity in the writers, narrators, topics and geographical setting, and none are sequels.

So these are the books I’ll listen to by mid-May:

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  • The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, read by Chukwudi Iwuji
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, read by Kieron Elliot
  • Little Big Man by Thomas Berger, read by Scott Sowers, David Aaron Baker, and Henry Strozier
  • Sweetland by Michael Crummey, read by John Lee
  • ‘Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma, read by Ron Butler and Bahni Turpin

Are you joining?

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October is Sherlockian Month at Book Bloggers International and to celebrate it I listened to Benedict Cumberbatch read Sherlock Holmes: the Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories by John Taylor using Canon Doyle’s style.

Come over and join the fun!

x

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I’d love to remember who got me to add Fair and Tender Ladies to my wish list, so I could give her/him a heartfelt thank you. It really struck a chord and has been the best surprise of the year so far.

I think this book is not as popular as it deserves because it’s stuck in a “romance”/“women’s lit” positioning (see the covers?), which puts so many people off with its usual associations with everything soft, guilty-pleasure-y and… womanly. To break free of these constrains would do the book and us a world of good. I was reading an interview with Smith and she says that, although she’s proud to be a “Southern writer” and a “woman writer”, she’s more accurately an “Appalachian writer”. I agree – if anything, it’s the sense of place that really stands out.

Fair and Tender Ladies is an epistolary novel of letters written by Ivy Rowe, a member of a large family of mountain farmers in the Appalachians. We follow her since she’s a precocious 10 year-old in the late 19th century, until she becomes a plain-speaking, feisty old woman.

Her life is not what you’d call extraordinary, but her smart observations of heartbreak, loss, hard farm labor and child-raising, make everything incredibly meaningful and engaging. Ivy has a great sense of humor, loves telling and listening to stories and feels strongly about her heritage – it’s impossible not to love her. It was also really interesting to see Ivy’s language evolve throughout the years.

I’ve recently read a string of novels that where really well written, but didn’t manage to connect me to the characters (Cutting for Stone, The Sunne in Splendor). Ivy got me from letter one and by the end I was crying like a baby, which also hasn’t happened in a while.

One more reason to try it: it was on the books challenged, restricted, removed or banned!

I don’t know how much of my fascination with this (audio)book is due to Kate Forbes’ most excellent narration. One thing is to listen to an Appalachian accent, the other to read it, so if you can, try it on audio.

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Other thoughts: The Introverted ReaderLiterati Mom, Like Me Too, It’s All Ali’s Fault, Books Under the Covers, Underground Nashville (yours?)

Previous mini-reviews in the mystery category: Malice (Kyoichiro Kaga #4) by Keigo Higashino, narrated by Jeff Woodman and Hounded (Andy Carpenter #12) by David Rosenfelt, narrated by Grover Gardner 

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The Dead Will Tell (Kate Burkholder, #6) by Linda Castillo, narrated by Kathleen McInerney

An Amish family is murdered after a botched robbery, but no one is brought to justice. Thirty-five years later, a series of mysterious murders all have in common a connection to that almost forgotten horror. Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is chosen to investigated and the case will strike a chord with her: many years ago she was also part of the Amish community before deciding to leave.

The story was interesting, mostly because of what I learned about the Amish. Castillo really captures the tension between them and the “English” community in what (I thought) was a realistic way. The book also had good pacing and characterization, especially for a relatively short mystery, but the actual plot was less catching (whodunnit easy to figure out). Don’t have much to say about it – it’s one of those books that get a solid three-star because it was good but don’t produce any strong feelings. I’m afraid I’ll forget all about it in a year or two…

When books are told in the first person a good narrator is essential, and in this case Kathleen McInerney discreetly but confidently became Chief Burkholder. She was a good choice for this book – her voice is expressive but calm, which suited the Amish theme, but could also handle the action scenes. Also, she was comfortable with German words and sentences. I’ve added a couple of books to my Audible wish-list because of her, so that’s a good sign!

MissingYou_Coben_lgMissing You by Harlan Coben, narrated by January LaVoy

Yes, that rarest of things: a stand-alone mystery book. But one that was not my cuppa. The story revolves around Detective Kat Donovan, who’s persuaded by a friend to enter an online dating site. On her first time browsing profiles she comes across one with the photo of her first love, but under a different name.

This triggers a plot that involves kidnapping, live burials, mafia, prostitution, closeted parents, mental illness and I don’t know else all wrapped in coincidences that should be confined to Dickens. And don’t get me started on the romance *eyes rolling to the back of my head* Sorry to be this blunt but it’s a short post and it’s that kind of day and that kind of book.

I know Miss Susie, my fellow mystery category armchair judge, disagrees with me, but I felt that LaVoy’s narration was often over the top – she positively purred at some points (see her interpretation of a drunk guy trying to pick up women at a bar). On the positive side, LaVoy’s narration style really matched the book, so she was a good casting choice. I guess?

17910157Providence Rag (Liam Mulligan #3) by Bruce DeSilva, narrated by Jeff Woodman

A bit like Malice, Providence Rag puts a twist on the typical sequence of a mystery plot, which made him stand our from the other books.

During the start of his career as an investigative reporter, Liam Mulligan helps police arrest one of the youngest serial killers in recorded history. The community wants him in jail for life, but a loop-hole in Rhode Island’s law dictates he must be free at 21. Through a series of fabricated charges the killer has been kept in jail, but now one of Liam’s colleagues decides to report on these illegalities, igniting the anger of the justice system and general citizens against the newspaper. While Liam’s colleague pursues a story that will likely release the killer, Liam goes after a legal way to keep him behind bars.

It’s an interesting premise and ethical dilemma that actually sparked a good debate at my dinner table one night. I had fun with the different characters and the way the story was told, with different POVs and with interludes, although I wouldn’t mind a more fleshier characterization of the main people.

Providence Rags probably has the biggest number of speaking parts of all the books in this category and Woodman really does an amazing job in distinguishing each one of them. Often it’s a very subtle different, but just enough for the listener to easily follow a dialogue without getting confused about who’s talking. He managers several different accents, intonations and pitches, which is a hard thing to pull off and a sure indication of the narration’s quality. My first audiobook by him, but definitely not the last.

18214414The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith, narrated by Robert Glanister

The only book in the list that I listened to before Armchair Audies started, and by far the story that gave me more pleasure to follow. I like to think I’d feel the same if it wasn’t so famous, but who knows? The fact is: JK Rowling is an amazing story-teller and her characterization is on a different level from any other on the mystery list.

This second novel sealed the deal and I’m now completely engaged in the lives of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacot (and shipping them hard!). It’s also one of those books where you can tell the author is having fun in writing about the publishing business, exposing its dirty little secrets.

As an narrator, Glanister started off with an advantage because I can’t resist a British accent 😉 He doesn’t get as many opportunities to shine as Woodman (see above), but for such a deep voice, it’s pretty impressive the range Glasnister managers to pull off. He doesn’t make women sound too whinny or childish and is the perfect voice for Cormoran (rough with teddy-bearish glimpses). There were some characters that could easily come out as stereotypes if read by a less professional narrator, but Glanister keeps them well under control.

My perdition for the 2015 Armchair Audies mystery category

I’d say it’s a call between Jeff Woodman and Robert Glanister, but since I have to chose one, I’ll go with Woodman. Mostly for his flexibility and creativity in creating so many distinct characters in Providence Rag.

The best of luck to all nominees!

20604350I was a fan of Alan Cumming even before he become a household name with The Good Wife, but this memoir make me respect him even more a person and an artist.

If it was a physical book, it’d be a page turner, but I’m almost sure it’s even better in audio. He narrates this himself and just how good he was didn’t surprise me – I’d already listed him as a favorite narrator after listening to the Leviathan series.

Don’t expect Not My Father’s Son to be lighthearted. It does have its hilarious moments (his ode to Eurovision was perfection), but mostly it’s about growing up with a physically and emotionally abusive father. Half of the book is about his childhood and the other half about him dealing with his past as an adult. This last part of the story is divided between an episode portraying his father’s ability to still disrupt his family and the other follows Cumming’s cathartic participation in the Who Do You Think You Are show. I don’t usually watching it, but by chance caught his episode when it first aired on the BBC and clearly remember how emotional it was (see it here, have the Kleenexes handy).

Some scenes were really hard to hear and made me hug my son extra hard. They weren’t overly dramatized, but the child’s voice was clearly there, all frightened and confused. Not My Father’s Son was really a roller-coaster ride of emotions we take along with Cumming. It’s impossible not to share his joy, amazement, pain, hope. This not only testifies to his writing and narration skills, but also his willingness to be open and genuine.

If Not My Father’s Son was a piece of fiction it would probably end with redemption or vindication. But it’s real life and I must be satisfied with admiration for human courage and our capacity to overcome adversity and make it a strength.

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Other thoughts: Books in the City, That’s What She Read, Boston Bibliophile, A Musing Reviews, Bookfolery, bookchickdiScuffed Slippers and wormy books (yours?)

The first two of the six books I’m reviewing for Armchair Audies’ Mystery category.

20613611Malice (Kyoichiro Kaga #4) by Keigo Higashino, narrated by Jeff Woodman 

The best thing about Malice is the way it moves away from the classic mystery novel timeline. The audiobook is about 7 hours-long and the mystery was solve less than 2 hours in. The rest of the story is all about the motive and peeling layers of backstories until the whole truth is uncovered. Malice is not about whodummit, but why. The pace is gentle, with no major action, but there were a couple of creepy scenes, made creepier by the narrator (good thing!).

It’s the fourth in the Keigo Higashino series, but the first to be published in English, so I suspect that’s why Detective Kaga does’t get as much character development as I’d like. A shame. I got really curious about him.

About the narration, I felt Jeff Woodman’s strength (sample) is to be able to make each character unique. I’ve still to decide if this always is a good thing, because it can work like book covers with faces: it plants images in your mind instead of letting you create them. For instance, Detective Kaga sounded meticulous, rational, introverted and Nonoguchi sounded old and frail. These were things I got more from their voices than what they were saying. Woodman also faltered a bit on the Japanese names, especially at the beginning.

I’m sorry to report that Malice still wasn’t the first Japanese book I’ve read with an interesting female character. I don’t want to generalize because I haven’t read Japanese literature that much, but this is starting to bug me: I need RECOMMENDATIONS! Help me break the spell!

51SYGEOC6xL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hounded (Andy Carpenter #12) by David Rosenfelt, narrated by Grover Gardner

Hounded’s is about policeman Pete Stanton being accused of murder and asking lawyer Andy Carpenter to defend him – clearly I should be more impressed by this, because these two have History, but I’m starting at the series’ 12th book…

But to be honest, I don’t think this was the reason why I didn’t enjoy Hounded. The plot was completely over the top: Mafia, FBI, a contracted assassin, euthanasia pills for dogs gone missing, a new dead person in every chapter (or so it felt), a tech wiz that can find out anything (such a plot cop-out), a lovable orphan boy happily going to sport events a few days after his father is murdered in their home, a lawyer that conducts the worst witness interviews I’ve ever read about,…

BUT! I really liked the narration 🙂 For some reason, Grover Gardner’s voice reminded me of Sheriff Amos in Murder, She Wrote. Haven’t seen an episode in ages, but Gardner immediately brought Cabot Cove to mind, in a sort of genial, look-at-us-happily-solving-murders-among-friends kind of way. Listen to the sample to see what I mean. He brought to life a book I’d have dropped after a couple of chapters. My only tiny quibble was his struggle with Latino accents.

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A community lives in an underground silo for generations and its origins are lost in time. People are told the silo protects them from a toxic outside world, a world they can only see through a single TV screen. The air outside is unbreathable and far away the skyline of a destroyed city is visible.

This is the premise of Wool, the first of the Silo series. It’s marketed as an adult dystopia, but apart from the characters’ age, it’s not much different from the Divergents and Maze Runners of this world: an unexplained post-apocalyptic world, human curiosity disrupting the system, an elite struggling to preserve the status quo.

In general I enjoyed the book. The first chapters triggered my need-to-know obsession and the ending was full of the promise of revelations to come. Jules was a strong and realistic female character and I cared for her right from the start. I understand the commercial success formula requires a romance (this was a self-published book, so likely Howey was more attuned to it), but Jules’ interest, Lucas, was far less interesting and I could have done without that relationship altogether.

Howey clearly put a lot of thought into the world-building and that was the most interesting part of the whole story: the silo’s different levels, nativity control, food production, disposal of human cadavers, electricity production – fascinating stuff.

If you’ve read the book, I’d be really curious to know your thoughts on (still no spoilers):

  • Why it’s considered an adult book and not YA? Is it just the hero/heroine’s age? There’s no sexual content, and definitely less violence or social commentary than, for instance, The Hunger Games. Is it because it focuses less on romance?
  • Considering the need to preserve the situation in the silo, and that there’s a mention of an organized religion, shouldn’t religion play a much bigger role in the story? Wouldn’t it be an obvious ally of IT?
  • I listened to it in audiobook and the narrator gave the villain a nasal voice that was the embodiment of the Evil Doer. (Seriously, I expected an evil laughter – MUAHAHAHAH! – at several moments). However, when I finished the book I wondered if this caricature was just due to the voice or if he could’ve been better developed. What say you?

So in summary, I had fun and at moments was completely engrossed in the story. I’m also looking forward to the future movie adaptation. On the other hand, I wished it pushed the boundaries of the genre, to become something I’d never read before. But the strongest feeling of all was the need to talk about it, and that’s always a good sign!

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Other thoughts: Rhapsody in Books, SF and Fantasy Book Reviews, Leeswammes, The Guilded Earlobe, Book Den, Collateral Bloggage, Stainless Steal Droppings, Speculative Book Review, Book Monkey, Don’t be Afraid of the Dork, a book a week, A Garden Carried in the Pocket (yours?)