If you remember, some time ago we committed ourselves to listening and evaluating 2012 Audie nominees for the Mystery category
. The official results will be announced next week, and we are finally ready to make our own predictions.To summarize our experience with the nominees this year, let's say it was
interesting in an educational way. Although the three of us are fans of mysteries, none of the nominees captured us completely. It must have been a rather slow year for mysteries. Luckily, Audies are awarded for "excellence in narration, direction, engineering, mix, and abridgment,"
which leaves out evaluating the plot itself. (None of the nominees this year were abridged.)Here are our thoughts about the nominees:
The first three audio books, in my opinion, were nominated primarily for the narrators' ability (successful or not) to channel regional accents, because, frankly, I didn't find these stories truly engaging.
Rogue Island is set in Providence, Rhode Island, and is about an old school journalist who investigates a series of arsons. Not having lived in RI, I can't vouch for the propriety of delivery of the accents by Jeff Woodman, but overall I found his way of reading the novel pretty dull, I didn't think this particular accent came naturally to him.
Feast Day of Fools is a more ambitious work. This mystery's location is in a small town on a border between Mexico and Texas. The local sheriff is on a mission to investigate a torture in the desert witnessed by a local alcoholic. Will Patton is an engaging and affected reader who can perform very well, and I was impressed by his ability to give voices to Texan, Mexican and even Chinese characters.
One Dog Night is another arson related mystery and by far the poorest audio in this bunch of nominees. Just doing one accent (New Jersey) and reading every character in exactly the same way is not enough to be noted for this rather prestigious award.
Do full-cast audio productions become automatic winners, I wonder, because how do you resist the sounds of banjo, squeaking doors, banging glasses and departing barges in Return to Marshall's Bayou? But I did, however. As it often happens with full cast audios, the dialog felt disjointed, as if pieced together and not read by actors in a group, during an organic interaction.
And last, but not least, Naughty in Nice read by Katherine Kellgren. Oh, this narrator can do anything! French, Russian, British, American, German accent, male or female, a person of nobility or a scullery maid. You name it, Katherine Kellgren can do any voice. Even though Naughty in Nice is book 5 in the Royal Spyness series, I was well entertained by this Agatha Christie-like charming mystery.
My pick: Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen and narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Jeff Woodman, the narrator for Rogue Island
did a good job with the large amount of dialogue in the book and I do like his overall voice performance. However, I lived in Providence and Boston for almost eight years and didn't really buy into some of the characters' accents. At points, the intonation sounded unnatural in its up and down cadence. It is honestly the first instance in my audiobook-listening history where I actually thought about how a voice actor probably reads each section several times and an editing team pieces together the best bits of it. I would definitely listen to something by Jeff Woodman again (he's narrated over 300 books and been nominated for 7 Audies (1 win), but I don't think will be Rogue Island
's year. (side note: this interview
with the narrator (unrelated to this year's nomination) is so interesting)Feast Day of Fools
immediately drops you down into the atmosphere of the setting. I was reminded of movies like Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men
and the scenes at the wedding chapel in Kill Bill
. The narration actually sounded a lot like David Carradine, which can be a great thing if you are into his voice. Patton's narration is mostly consistent and I think this book will be a contender. (another side note: Patton narrates a 2007 audiobook version of On The Road
that I have a feeling might be something amazing. Has anyone listened to it?)One Dog Night
was unintentionally funny to me from the beginning of the production because it starts with very 80s music. My co-bloggers both didn't enjoy Grover Gardner's voice narration but I really did. I suppose I've listened to many books with the same type of narration and I find his voice natural and conversational. He's been nominated several times for Audies in the Mystery category and won in 2010.
Gosh, I am kind of a sucker for full cast audio narrations and the inclusion of music. I know it can be distracting for some listeners but generally, it helps me with the tone of the book and aids my imagination in regards to the setting. Return to Marshall's Bayou
is more of a production overall than the other nominees and it feels more like listening to a movie without the visual element. Definitely a feat for the editing and production teams.Naughty in Nice
is narrated by this year's only female narrator, Katherine Kellgren. Honestly, in the first ONE minute of the book, she does several different accents and she captured me immediately. I really love her narration but the sound quality doesn't sound as clear as some of the other nominees. After listening to this one, I know I want to listen to more Katherine Kellgren narrations, but I'm not sure if this one will win the prize.My Pick:
Though I really like Kellgren's narration and skill and I thought all the nominees were worthy contenders, I think Return to Marshall's Bayou by S.H. Baker
is going to win. The work that went into the production--multiple narrators, music, sound effects, just the entirety of the audiobook is very well put together. I am so insanely curious who will come out on top this weekend.
The narration for One Dog Night
was probably my least favorite. The narrator just sounds completely robotic to me. Also, New Jersey accents? What New Jersey accents?
For the most part I really enjoyed Feast Day of Fools.
The narrator has a very deep, raspy, movie theater announcer type voice. He does very well with Texas/Southwest accents but unfortunately, he really doesn’t
do well with Spanish. And there are a few scenes actually in
Spanish so that would seem to be a crucial skill. He also has a tendency to be really over-dramatic (also much like a movie theater announcer).
The narrator for Rogue Island
has a very nice voice that I could easily listen to. Plus, he uses a Rhode Island accent (sounds sort of Boston-y if you’re more familiar with that) which I find endlessly interesting. Still, there was nothing truly special about his delivery or characterization. His characters all sound basically the same, with very slight differences in pitch. Return to Marshall’s Bayou
is a “bells and whistles” type audiobook: full cast, sound effects, music in the background. Some readers love that sort of thing and some find it distracting. For some reason, it’s always harder for me to focus when the dialogue is switching back and forth between narrators (and even more so with sound effects and music going on in the background), so this audiobook was definitely not for me. However, I have to give it credit for being very well-produced.
My favorite narration by far
is Katherine Kellgren’s work in Naughty in Nice.
She’s already earned a place on my list of all-time favorite audiobook narrators (based on her work in the Jacky Faber
series). Her delivery is just dramatic enough, her characters feel distinct, and her wide array of accents are always spot-on. I could listen to her forever. My pick: Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen and narrated by Katherine Kellgren
So, looks like we are a little torn here. But, statistically, we, as a trio, are predicting a victory of Naughty in Nice
. Only a week before we find out if our prediction is a correct one...
Be sure to visit The Literate Housewife
for links to the other blogs participating in the 2012 Armchair Audies
Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)
Author: Jenny Lawson
Publication Date: 4/17/12
Publisher: Penguin Audio
[Goodreads | Amazon | Audible]Blurb (GR): When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father (a professional taxidermist who created dead-animal hand puppets) and a childhood of wearing winter shoes made out of used bread sacks. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.
Lawson's long-suffering husband and sweet daughter are the perfect comedic foils to her absurdities, and help her to uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments-the ones we want to pretend never happened-are the very same moments that make us the people we are today.
Let's Pretend This Never Happened is a poignantly disturbing, yet darkly hysterical tome for every intellectual misfit who thought they were the only ones to think the things that Lawson dares to say out loud. Like laughing at a funeral, this book is both irreverent and impossible to hold back once you get startedReview:
Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)
is a collection of stories from the life of Jenny Lawson, who is also known as The Bloggess
on her blog of the same name. I was somewhat familiar with Lawson from reading bits of her often irreverent blog posts and laughing my ass off. She talks about a whole range of topics from childbirth all the way to squirrel puppets. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good story. I love telling them and I especially love hearing them. The more awkward or unbelievable the better. With the caveat that some of these stories are not about me, I tell random stories about puking on the Hoover Dam, making wax casts of vulvas, blacking out and waking up in the bed of a truck with no pants on, peeing in a sleeping bag, naming and caring for a bottle of mold, letting a homeless man sleep in the basement, and accosting people in a deviled egg costume. And you know what? People enjoy these stories. But you have to play to your audience, so a lot of the time I'm just sitting there, making small talk and shooting the breeze. This book is mostly a collection of the kinds of stories I love, but there are definitely moments, nay, entire chapters of more seriousness that reminded me that I was listening to a memoir and not an entirely humorous book.
Lawson's book was actually our book club pick of the month and it received varied reactions. One of the most interesting points that a friend of mine brought up was that the book rubbed her the wrong way because it perpetuated society's promotion of the "neurotic woman." She cited a lot of reality television participants and their over-the-top personalities and how our need for entertainment has created the idea that doing seemingly outrageous things is now commonplace and acceptable. I'm not sure I agree with her wholly, but I do know that it may not apply to Lawson, as she discusses in the book her multiple psychological and physical diagnoses and how they affect her everyday life. However, the book does definitely straddle the line of funny and... I'm having a hard time picking a word here. Listen, we all have our things. We all have our pain, our loves, our worries, dreams, hopes, past, nightmares, (insert whatever here). Everyone's life is their own and no one can actually experience someone else's every thought. But at the same time, we are all human and no one is totally unlike every other person alive. We have commonalities with other people, even in terms of thought processes, so it annoys me when people make it seem like they are so unlike everybody else. Unique snowflakes? No. But it must be hard to try to write stories in the funniest way possible without sounding like a try-hard. A few times Lawson fails at this but she overwhelmingly succeeded for this particular reader.
I am certain that many of Lawson's stories will stick with me for a long time and there are definitely some mental images that I wish
I could erase from my mind. For example, she tells a story about turning around and walking straight inside a deer carcass by accident. Another about how her vagina felt after childbirth. And several dead animal stories. I'm not offended by most things, but I can see how this book would be too much for some people. However, Lawson addresses that in the very beginning of the book. You'll know after just a few pages whether or not you are on the same page as she is in terms of humor, and if you are, the book is consistently funny. You can check out her blog
, her YouTube channel
, or listen to a quick sound bite from NPR here
to form your own opinion. (there is also an excerpt from the book on the NPR page)
As I listened to the audiobook, which Lawson narrates, it was fun to hear her talk about the pictures in the book, but I did
feel like I was missing out to an extent. Luckily for me (and you!), the official book trailer includes some of the pictures, including a raccoon in pajamas and an alligator on an airplane!
As a narrator, I thought she was engaging and she is a natural storyteller. The audiobook is absolutely conversational, in a way that I haven't experienced before but which I enjoyed. (Flash to Home Alone when Macauley Culkin talks about washing inside his belly button.) She occasionally diverged from the book for a moment or two, but I think it added to the experience because she was forced to describe the omitted pictures and elaborate on what we were missing in audiobook format. A huge bonus to listening to the book is the bonus story and bloopers which are included at the end. Lawson recounts her first job at a sno-cone shack during the sweltering Texas summer and that awkward moment when someone touches a body part to ice and it gets stuck. And no, it isn't something as funny as the tongue scene in A Christmas Story. I told a guy the punchline of that story and his eyebrows almost shot up off his forehead. Jenny Lawson jokes about how she saved tons of stories for book two and I have no idea if she was joking or not, but I really hope she wasn't. I'd read that. I'd read it in a second. (or listen to it, as it were.)
I was lucky enough to win a copy of the audiobook from Lucy at The Reading Date
, so I figure I should continue the good karma and pass it on to another person who can listen to and laugh. So if you live in the US and want to enter to win, just fill out this form. (CONTEST CLOSED, WINNER FORTHCOMING)
During the last week in April, I read a bunch of Beverly Cleary books with Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden
. Despite reading tons of Beverly Cleary books when I was a child, I remembered very little about all of them and in some cases (The Ralph S. Mouse
books and the Ramona
books), what I did remember was based mostly on the television series or movies that our teachers used to show us when they didn't have something planned. I loved the Mouse and the Motorcycle
movie so much as a kid that I actually bought it on VHS with money I made from babysitting. So it was with great excitement that I set out to read lots of Beverly Cleary books in one week and after doing it, I can say that I definitely recommend the week-long challenge for this author in particular, and I look forward to trying it with a few other authors. The only other author I've devoted a week of reading to was Nora Roberts last year with another friend (Vinaya from Chasing The Unicorn
) and we hope to do that again in the next few weeks. In the case of children's books, however, it is plausible that you could read the entire oeuvre of an author who writes for children in a week or two, even if you read a few other books simultaneously. I am already daydreaming about the other children's authors to whom I am going to dedicate weeks to in the upcoming months. (E.L. Konigsburg
, Louis Sachar
, and Lois Lowry
, I've got my eyes on you!) And I will finish the rest of Cleary's books next year, when I try this challenge again. I read nine of her books this time, and here's what I thought of them:
Dear Mr. Henshaw (1984):
This book won the Newbery in 1984 and it was one of the biggest surprises of the week for me. I had no clue what the plot was about so I just dove into it. As it turns out, it is a juvenile epistolary story about a young boy who writes letters to an author he idolizes. Every once in a while, Mr. Henshaw (the author) writes back and it was delightful to hear how both Leigh (the boy) and Mr. Henshaw were realistic about their correspondence. What starts as a school exercise turns into a journaling exercise wherein Leigh discusses what is going on in his life. And life isn't perfect for Leigh--his trucker father left Leigh and his mother, his mom isn't making very much money so they live in a run-down house, and Leigh spends a good portion of his time alone. Plus, someone is stealing food from his lunchbox! (Woe is Leigh!) I was happily turning the pages in this super quick read because it dealt with issues I wasn't expecting and it didn't sugarcoat anything. 4/5 stars.Fifteen (1958):
Did you know that Beverly Cleary has been writing books since the 1950s? Did you know she wrote YA and not just juvenile fiction? If you answered yes to those questions, you are much more informed on Cleary's body of work than I was before my immersion week. That said, the first thing I will always think about when I think of Fifteen
? Horse meat. Jane Purdy is just a regular girl, babysitting, chatting with her best friend, and hoping to get a beau like the cool cardigan-wearing, convertible-riding girls in her class. What follows is a story of first love between Jane and the new boy in town, Stan, who happens to have a job delivering horse meat for pet food all around town. It will make you wish people were more up front in relationships and at least in my case, wish you could live in the 1950s. So adorable. 4/5 stars.Two Dog Biscuits (1986): I really didn't like this picture book at all. Twins, a boy and a girl, are given two milkbone dog biscuits. They leave them in various places around the house until they decide to give them to dogs. They then go around town seeing all sorts of dogs with their biscuits in their pockets and VETO EACH ONE for reasons like the size of the dog or the fact that the dog barked. They go home and feed both bones to their cat. Their parents didn't think a cat would eat them, but it did. Lesson everyone is supposed to learn: Sometimes parents don't know everything. Lesson I learned: These twins are monsters. Who teases dogs like that? And what parent would let their kids tease dogs like that? 1/5 stars.Muggie Maggie (1990): This is a very short juvenile fiction book--it probably took me about 20 minutes to read it, probably less than that. Maggie is an obstinate girl who refuses to learn cursive. Despite the efforts of her parents and teachers, Maggie doesn't see why she should learn it, even though she is very intelligent and things seem to come very easily to her. Maggie's teacher figures out a way to work with others in the school to trick Maggie into realizing she should learn. I thought Maggie was really frustrating, though I bet it has something to do with the bit of smartass elementary-aged me that I saw in the character. I read recently that many schools are phasing out cursive in their curriculum and I couldn't/can't stop thinking about how odd it would be to have everything written in regular handwriting. What about signatures?! 3/5 stars.Beezus and Ramona (1955): It was written in the fifties! Mind blown. Of course I remembered some of Ramona's antics before I started reading, but again, it was mostly because I watched the made-for-TV movies in elementary school. (and I'll admit that I've also seen the newish movie with Ginnifer Goodwin, John Corbett, and Selena Gomez...several times) Ramona is entertaining in the same was as Amelia Bedelia is--she does things and doesn't always realize the ramifications of her actions or that what she is doing is wrong. The sibling relationship is actually really believable because Cleary doesn't try to make it sound like siblings get along all the time. In fact, Beezus is often embarrassed of Ramona or just absolutely annoyed by Ramona's actions. I do really enjoy the series but it gets a bit repetitive. Ramona does something outrageous, her family finds a way to downplay it, or they don't, but then everyone comes to realize that Ramona's uniqueness is what makes her personality, and that everyone loves everyone, amen. I still totally liked it, but I can only handle one at a time. 4/5 stars.
Ellen Tebbits (1951): This is the first in the Ellen and Otis series, which I'd heard of but never read as a child. Of all the books I read just a few weeks ago, this is the one I remember the least which I suppose is telling, overall. Ellen has a secret that she is embarrassed about in ballet class, but she doesn't think anyone can understand. That is, until she makes friends with a new girl in town who shares the very same secret. The two of them become great friends, and the book centers on the ups and downs of their friendship. Similar to the Ramona books, Ellen Tebbits is filled with hijinks and misunderstandings, but underneath both is a current of positivity that makes Cleary's books a breeze to read. 3.5/5 stars.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965): So, so adorable. A sprawling family of mice lives in a small, older hotel. The naturally curious Ralph gets himself in trouble when he spies the car collection of a young boy who is staying at the hotel with his family. Ralph and the boy develop a friendship after the boy sees him and then offers to let Ralph use his toy motorcycle at night. I loved that the mouse family operated similarly to a human family, not that that particular idea is groundbreaking, but Beverly Cleary created a cute mother-son relationship with Ralph and his mom, and I loved that he knew he shouldn't be doing a lot of the things he did with the motorcycle and exploring. I also did not remember the plot of this book, beyond Ralph just borrowing the motorcycle and riding around the hotel, but there is a great storyline that surrounds the boy getting sick and having no access to any medications and Ralph's mission to retrieve the fabled aspirin hidden somewhere in the hotel that was the subject of mouse cautionary tales. 4.5/5 stars.
The Real Hole (1996): The Real Hole features those aforementioned monster twins from Two Dog Biscuits, only this time the boy twin doesn't want to play anything "imaginary" with his sister and prefers instead to do only "real" things. So his parents give him a child-size shovel (a trench digger, actually) and he proceeds to dig a big hole in the yard. What I found interesting about this book was the fact that it doesn't really encourage imagination. The boy's sister suggests all of these fanciful ways they could utilize a hole but the boy is not interested. For safety's sake (thank goodness for that!), their parents won't let them just keep a deep hole in the yard, so they come up with a very practical use for it. (SPOILER ALERT: They plant a tree.) This is a very short picture book--probably a five minute readalong with children. 3/5 stars.
The Luckiest Girl (1958): The Luckiest Girl was my favorite read of the week. It was the second YA romance of Cleary's I read and though I liked the first one (Fifteen), I truly enjoyed this one even more. There seems to be such a practicality about the way Cleary's characters interact in her young adult books, and I wonder how much of it is due to the author's choice and how much is the time period in which the book was written. Imagine what YA books would be like now if characters gave each other the chance to explain their actions to prevent misunderstandings and if people were jealous of others but not catty about it. Another aspect I loved about this book was the running theme that what you wish for might not be as great as what you have and that different is not necessarily better or worse, it's just different. Shelley Latham moves from rainy Portland down to California for a school year, to live with her mother's best friend and her family. She's never been to California and it's a totally different world for her, with orange groves, a sprawling house, tons of sun, and a large and open family who do everything differently than she is used to. She pines for the hotshot player on the basketball team with his good looks and surprises herself when she snags him, but maybe it isn't all it's cracked up to be? It was so nice to read about a girl who thought about how a guy acted towards other people in school, how seriously he took his studies, how he acted around children, etc. instead of reading about endless attraction to bad boys. (I really hate using the term "bad boys." And now I have the COPS theme song stuck in my head.) Beverly Cleary did a great job of making the book and its characters seem morally upright but not chaste and definitely not overtly sending a message. I think it is just a perfect example of high school romance in the fifties. 5/5 stars.
Of all the books I read during my Clearly Beverly Cleary week, I'd most highly recommend reading The Luckiest Girl, Dear Mr. Henshaw, and Fifteen, though I would totally recommend the Ellen, Ramona, and Ralph S. Mouse series. If you'd like to read a week of children's books with me, let me know! I definitely want to do a week of the authors I mentioned about, but I'm open to trying a few others. Have you ever tried a week of just one author? Or read every single book by an author who has written more than ten books?
Author: Kirsty Eagar
Publication Date: 4/26/12
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Blurb(GR): Imagine there is someone you like so much that just thinking about them leaves you desperate and reckless. You crave them in a way that's not rational, not right, and you're becoming somebody you don't recognise, and certainly don't respect, but you don't even care.
And this person you like is unattainable. Except for one thing...
He lives downstairs.
Abbie has three obsessions. Art. The ocean. And Kane.
But since Kane's been back, he's changed. There's a darkness shadowing him that only Abbie can see. And it wants her in its world.
A gothic story about the very dark things that feed the creative process.Review:Night Beach
is not a neat story. It’s tangled and confusing, maybe even heavy-handed. Kirsty Eagar’s ideas for this book were clearly very ambitious, but I’m not sure that they ever completely crystallized into a distinct picture. However, what really elevated this book for me was a sort of fearless display of emotion. That same emotional honesty that she showed me in Raw Blue
was here and this time I felt like it was even more exposed, even more visceral. In the end she left me wondering if the lack of cohesion even mattered. Maybe this book isn’t neat, but can anything this emotionally honest ever be neat? Kirsty Eagar had big ideas, and she went for them without holding anything back. There’s a certain beauty in the disorganized but honest result. I may not have understood everything about this book, but I feel like I got
The main character Abbie is absolutely nothing like me, but Kirsty Eagar’s talent for descriptive writing made me feel everything right along with her. She’s an artist and a day-dreamer; she’s indecisive, unsure, and anxious; she’s ashamed of her imperfect family and she doesn’t know how to escape it. She’s a very authentic teenage girl, filled with a desperate longing for something
to happen, to sweep her up – even if it’s something scary or overwhelming. Her feelings for her step-cousin Kane are exhilarating and frightening all at once. She knows that they’re not smart or healthy, but that’s not the point. Their sheer magnitude is enough.
When Kane returns from a mysterious surfing trip, he brings a dark shadowy presence with him. The shadow seems to exacerbate the posturing, misogynistic, sometimes violent behavior of the local surf culture in Kane. He becomes cagey and quick to anger. He sleeps for days on end. Soon Abbie feels the shadow in herself too, and begins to experience nightmares that bleed into and out of her waking life.
This landscape of this book is surreal and disturbing. A few of the scenes could actually qualify as horror film material (artsy horror film material, but still – this book scared me more than many actual horror books). But how much of Abbie’s experience is real and how much is just a dream? In my opinion, Kirsty Eagar leaves it very open. For Abbie
, it’s very real. For Abbie, the experiences are an avenue that she uses to cope with the sometimes frightening culture she lives in, to work through the grief that she buried after her grandfather’s death. They are a way for her to acknowledge and honor the childish hopes that will never come true, and then let them go. They are a lens through which she can see what is real and what is only mirage. But there’s a dark side to them as well – an empty, desolate place where she could easily become lost. This book is about the power of art and imagination, to lead us to our darkest places and back out again.
In childhood, we are gifted with a near limitless supply of wonder and faith and creativity. We can see demons and know that they’re real. We can feel a hope and believe completely that it will lead us to better things. But then as we grow, wonder, faith, and imagination are tempered or lost. There’s a major tragedy in that, but also a triumph, because we gain so much in their passing: perspective, resilience, dimension, shadow. Everything has a shadow; every loss is also a gain. And maybe if we hold on tightly enough, we can keep a small amount of the wonder, faith, and imagination – enough to light a single candle, maybe.
I obviously loved
this book, but it’s not for everyone. If you enjoy wondering but not knowing, exploring highly visual and imaginative landscapes, and descriptive prose then I would give this one a try. Perfect Musical Pairing
Sigur Rós - Ekki múkk (moving art)
Sometime I want to spend several hours wandering through a surrealist art exhibit while listening to Sigur Rós because it would be awesome. I won’t lie – I have no idea what he’s saying in this song. But his sort of comforting, ethereal, yet slightly creepy voice is just about perfect for this book.
We all loved last month’s picks so there’s a lot to live up to with this round. And now the tables have turned! The challengers become the…challengees! Throwing a monkey wrench into the whole affair is the fact that all three of us are currently in varying stages of the dreaded YA slump. Can anything possibly break us out of it? Without further ado, here are this month’s selections:
Catie's Recommendations for Tatiana
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Feed by M.T. Anderson
What it's about: a dark commentary on consumerism, set in a not-so-distant future. Titus is an ordinary teen, who spends all day with the feed implanted into his brain - buying stuff, chatting with his friends, and getting high. Until he meets rebel Violet (definite shades of John Green here) who starts to open his mind.
Why I think she'd like it: It's a very smart, sophisticated teen sci-fi. Also, the audiobook is fantastic. I know that Tatiana loves audios and I think she'd really enjoy listening to this one.
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As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann
What it's about: An incredibly dark historical novel with a very unreliable narrator, plus lots of sex, betrayal, and misery.
Why I think she'd like it: Simply put, this is one of the darkest, most depressing books I've ever read. Which is why I think Tatiana will love it. Reading Jacob's account is like being him for a little while, and experiencing all of his noble, sweet, deranged, violent feelings. This reminds me of other dark psychological stories that she's loved, like In The Woods or Sharp Objects but it has the added bonuses of being a very accurate and well-researched historical novel AND did I mention lots of sex?
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True Grit by Charles Portis
What it's about: Mattie is fourteen when her father is murdered and being the practical, determined girl that she is, she sets out to hire a U.S. Marshall to help her track down his killer.
Why I think she'd like it: Before there was Ree Dolly or Katniss, there was Mattie Ross. Mattie is a tough, opinionated, no-nonsense girl with a strict moral code. I think Tatiana will love Mattie. This book is also a very fast-paced, exciting read and is only about 150 pages long. Take that, book slump!
The Verdict: Feed has been in the back of my mind for a very long time. My library has the audio available right now, so I am listening to it for sure. Catie has recommended As Meat Loves Salt to me so many times, that I think I owe it to her to at least give it a try:) The new movie adaptation of True Grit was marvelous (even though I understood maybe half of what Rooster was saying), will the books surpass it? We shall see...
Flannery's Recommendations for Catie
| |The End of the Affair by Graham GreeneWhat it's about:
Love, obsession, private detectives, marriage, religion, fidelity, war, contemplation. Or, in a sentence, a broken-hearted man rekindles a romance with a former flame.Why I think she'd like it:
This book packs a punch into less than 200 pages. As far as classics go, it is very easy to read but Greene doesn't sacrifice thoughtful language, which I know Catie enjoys. I think this book can be very divisive and I'd love to see where Catie falls. Parts of it might enrage her and a little bit of my recommendation is selfish interest on my part--I'm just really curious about what she'll think of it. Plus, it's on her 110+ Books list
and it would be super easy to cross it off! (and there's a movie!)
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Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
What it's about: A deaf girl becomes the manager of a high school band.
Why I think she'd like it: Since we've all been in a YA slump lately, this is a pleasant departure from the typical voice of the genre. There is a nerdy chess-playing love interest, and I know that Catie and I both love the nerdy high school students. *cough* No love triangle either, so major bonus!
| |Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny LawsonWhat it's about: The Bloggess
recounts stories from her childhood and adult life, including stories about what her life was like with a taxidermist father, how she lives with a social anxiety disorder, what childbirth was like, and blogging. Why I think she'll like it:
I listened to the audiobook of this one and it is one of those books that Catie will actually laugh out loud to, and I'm willing to wager she'd laugh several times. This is the perfect audiobook to listen to while she's working out, driving, cleaning, or doing anything else. Jenny Lawson narrates the book herself and her stories are filled with so many nearly
unbelievable moments that it is impossible not to talk about it while listening.
The Verdict: The End of the Affair and Five Flavors of Dumb have both been on my to-read list for a while, and are both very easy for me to get (The End of the Affair is sitting on my shelf about ten feet away from me right now) so those two are very convenient picks! The End of the Affair sounds like something I'd love, but I think I would need to be in the mood for all of that intense heartbreak. Five Flavors of Dumb sounds like a lot of fun and will probably appeal to my lighter side (LOVE the nerdy romance). I'm not sure about the third pick, because I rarely read memoirs, BUT I know that Flannery has an amazing sense of humor and if she thinks it's funny, then it's probably worth checking out. I do rely quite a bit on engaging audiobooks to make exercise more palatable. Great picks Flannery!
Tatiana's Recommendations for Flannery
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A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
What it's about: Set in 1906, this is a historical novel about a girl who is torn between her dreams of becoming a writer and her family responsibilities and wishes that push her towards settling for being a farmer's wife.
Why I think she'd like it: Flannery seems to like historical YA, and this book is definitely one of the best one in the genre - Printz Honor is a pretty good indicator of it.
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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
What it's about: Women being oppressed in various horrifying ways.
Why I think she'd like it: Not sure how Flannery managed to not have read any Margaret Atwood yet, but it's definitely time to check her out. This book is a big time downer, but Flann doesn't shy away from bleak, depressing dystopias.
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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
What it's about: A young woman on a verge of a nervous breakdown.
Why I think she'd like it: Well, I know Flannery likes books about mentally unstable people, so The Bell Jar should be right up her alley. This novel also has the bloodiest de-flowering scenes I've ever read. I hope she is intrigued enough to pick this up:)
The Verdict: This is going to be a hard choice for me. I've been meaning to read The Bell Jar and The Handmaid's Tale for so long--probably since high school. They are favorites of many trusted reader friends and I always get a little nervous that I won't see what is so wonderful about books that people love so much. Tatiana is right that I really enjoy historical YA. I don't read a ton of it but it is a great get-out-of-jail genre for me to break through a book slump. I'm going to try all three to see if one sticks with my mood right now.
Okay For Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Publication Date: 4/5/11
Publisher: Clarion Books[Goodreads | Amazon]
Midwesterner Gary D. Schmidt won Newbery Honor awards for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys
and The Wednesday Wars
, two coming-of-age novels about unlikely friends finding a bond. Okay For Now
, his latest novel, explores another seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam. Review:
Gary Schmidt’s earlier work, The Wednesday Wars
, introduced readers to Doug Swieteck as a secondary character, but Doug takes front stage in Okay For Now
, its 2011 companion novel. While they are both quirky, Okay For Now is riddled with darkness that its predecessor didn’t have, and that kind of heaviness usually appeals to me, at least when it is well done. After reading both of these books, Gary Schmidt has shot himself in the foot going forward; From here on out, I’ll be expecting perfection. I know he can do it, considering both The Wednesday Wars
and Okay For Now
are pretty darn close to achieving that feat. Before last week, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to like the second book more than the first but here I am, telling you that I liked it just as much, if not more.
Seventh-grade Doug moves with his family to the small town of Marysville after his father loses his job. While their family may not have fit in perfectly in their prior Long Island town, it is a rough transition considering all these new people don’t yet know about the Swieteck family’s notoriety—namely Doug’s bully brother and their father’s drinking problem and fast hands
. That last topic was particularly well-done in Okay For Now
, disregarding a section of the ending. I felt the tension hanging in the air and feared for the characters in certain scenes. It was absolutely a book I spoke to aloud, but that’s nothing new for me. The scenes that are always the worst for me are the ones when people are doing wonderful things, inspiring things, but I know a shadow is coming because of it.
Each chapter of the book is prefaced by the inclusion of a black and white copy of a print from John James Audubon’s Birds of America
. Before I started reading, I stared at each bird, analyzing what was going on in the picture and what Doug would think of it. When Doug gets to Marysville, he ends up getting a job delivering groceries to all the townspeople from the local deli (run by the father of Doug’s new crush, Lil Spicer) and he finds a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America
in the empty second floor of the local library, which is only open on Saturdays. (Check out that link to see the sheer size of the book.) Over time, Doug’s fascination with the prints is encouraged by one of the librarians and the two of them have weekly discussions about the intentions of the artist and how Doug can improve his own artwork. Because Okay For Now
is written in first person narrative style, Doug’s voice comes through crystal clear and just looking at the pictures added to the expectations, good and bad, of what was to come.
John James Audubon's Arctic Tern
Here are the thoughts Doug shares about the first picture he sees from the book, The Arctic Tern:
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He was all alone, and he looked like he was falling out of the sky and into this cold green sea. His wings were back, his tail feathers were back, and his neck was pulled around as if he were trying to turn but couldn’t. His eye was round and bright and afraid, and his beak was open a little bit, probably because he was trying to suck in some air before he crashed into the water. The sky around him was dark, like the air was too heavy to fly in.
This bird was falling and there wasn’t a single thing in the world that cared at all.
It was the most terrifying picture I had ever seen.
The most beautiful.
I leaned down onto the glass, close to the bird. I think I started to breathe a little bit more quickly, since the glass fogged up and I had to wipe the wet away. But I couldn’t help it. Dang, he was so alone. He was so scared. (p. 19 of hardcover edition)
It’s been awhile since I’ve spent significant time with a seventh grader so I’m not sure how realistic his astute observations were, but I know how much we read our lives into everything we experience. I know that every time I hear Bach’s Suite No. 3
, my entire body will relax. I know that Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber
is almost unbearably sad. If you read the Wikipedia article on it
, I love the story about how the famous conductor Toscanini returned the music without any notes/comments to the composer’s annoyance, but it turns out that Toscanini had memorized the entire thing.) Every time I see Kandinsky’s work
, I think of college because I often used it as my desktop background. Even though Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks
shows a couple late at night together as the central element of the painting, I always concentrate on the man who is alone at the counter. Anyway, while it might have been a bit overreaching to make Doug so contemplative of the artwork, I did not find his voice unbelievable. The backbone and temporal anchors that working through the prints in the Audobon book gave Okay For Now
created a structure that was perfect and a steady pace.
As with a lot of middle grade books (and a lot of books in general), so much of the novel concentrated on what it means to be a good person. Some of the characters exist seemingly to provide consistent rays of hope to Doug (his mother, Mr. Ballard and Mr. Powell), while others are constant trials. Some reviewers have mentioned their problems with one character in particular, and that is Doug’s father. I want to comment on the ending of this book so just skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled. I didn’t have a problem with the ending of this book. Mr. Swieteck is a disgusting character and I certainly don’t believe that he would stop being so and then the entire family will forget his years of systematic abuse. The ending presents Mr. Swieteck with the platter of problems he has created, all coming back to him. He’s stolen from one son, treated another like garbage, and yet another is facing a trail and potential jail time for his father’s actions. It is entirely realistic to me that someone in that position might have a moment of clarity—What have I done to myself and my family, who all hate me? I actually like where the book leaves off that part of the story because it is in a place of optimism. For a younger audience of readers, it might be a sign of hope that people can change. The reality of the situation actually made the ending sad for me. It is just a snapshot of a calm moment and the real change, if it ever comes, will be gradual.
There is so much more to this book—Doug and Lil’s relationship, the ups and downs of the townspeople’s treatment of Doug based on local hearsay, Doug’s reading adventures through Jane Eyre
, Mrs. Windermere and a theatrical debut, Doug’s brother returning from the Vietnam war, the gym teacher harassing Doug to no end and several other plot points that would be absolute spoilers if I included them. But if I went on any longer, I’d probably go on forever. And that is the best indicator of things, isn’t it? I’d recommend this to basically anyone, but specifically to librarians who want a reminder of what they can do for even one person, to teachers for the same reason, to anyone who likes to think about what the artist or author was thinking about while creating their work, and to anyone who likes to put their heart through the wringer once in a while.
Catie challenged me to read this book for our She Made Me Do It
feature and she unsurprisingly knew I would adore it. Thanks, Catie.5/5 stars
The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Publication Date: 9/1/02
Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested.
His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium--a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt's first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster--except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.
As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón's power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect.Review: Flannery made me do it
and I am pleased that she did. I have no idea why I've been avoiding The House of the Scorpion
for so long. Just look at its accolades - National Book Award Winner, Printz Honoree, Newbery Honoree. It practically has my name written on it.But, is The House of the Scorpion
worth such an overwhelming acclaim though?
I'd say, its first 215 pages and the last 20 are (ebook edition
The first two thirds of the book are riveting. This story is not just
a clone story. (For some reason, the majority of stories about clones focus on exactly the same things.) Yes, it is horrifying in how it examines the (familiar) debate about a clone's humanity and soulless(ful)ness. Matt is a clone and is defined by people around him as livestock, a source of body parts, and not a human being. (How can he be human if he was grown in and harvested from a cow?) Nancy Farmer takes Matt's character on a journey of self-discovery and self-awareness that allows him to accept that he is not what he is told he is, that he is as much of a human being as any person around him. It is a compelling journey, even though its sentiment isn't particularly new to me - I've read Never Let Me Go
and watched The Island. But, thankfully,
there is more to distinguish The House of the Scorpion
from similar stories.
First, the novel is set in Mexico (well, a future version of it). This country's life is written richly and authentically and never feels like just an exotic backdrop. I am no expert on Mexican culture though, so I might have felt that in awe of it as portrayed in The House of the Scorpion
because of the narrator of the audio, who infused Mexican flavor into the story most organically.
Second, this is a story of a drug lord and his enslaved family. El Patrón feels he is owed a few generations worth of life, and he will stop at nothing to get what he thinks he is entitled to. Cloning is a part of his plan for immortality. It's in Matt's relationship with his master and owner where the story shines the most. How would a clone feel about the person who is identical to him, the source of his life? Would he be able to hate him, essentially hating himself? If a clone's genetic make-up is similar to that of a ruthless criminal, does it mean that this clone is destined to follow the same path and become the same vicious person? Or is there a way to break away from the prototype? And how would a master feel about his own clone? Would it be possible for him to treat this younger version of himself as an organ bank, or there exists a connection that is closer than even that between a father and a child? These questions had my brain working, and this part of the book was 5-star material for me.
But then came the escape part, in the last third of the book, and I found myself struggling with it. I was bored, I didn't feel like those pages (3-months of Matt's life worth) connected well thematically with the overreaching story arc, I didn't think they were necessary, I didn't think that a whole set of new characters (including villains) needed to be introduced so late in the story, and I surely didn't think that anti-socialist rants needed to come into play. (How did they relate to Matt's journey?) I thought, those pages only occupied time with no real bearing on the rest of the novel. To me, those 80 pages could have been completely cut out.Thankfully, the ending did save The House of the Scorpion
. It happens so infrequently in books, but it did bring the story full circle to El Patrón, and it was satisfying. But that big chunk of the novel, unfortunately, made me much less willing to recommend it, even though during the first part of the book I kept thinking this novel would be a great fit for fans of Unwind
. I might reread The House of the Scorpion
in future, but I'll be sure to skip over a big part of it.4/5 stars
Blackout (Newsflesh Trilogy, #3)Author: Mira GrantPublication Date: 5/22/12Publisher: OrbitBlurb: Rise up while you can. - Georgia Mason
The year was 2014. The year we cured cancer. The year we cured the common cold. And the year the dead started to walk. The year of the Rising.
The year was 2039. The world didn't end when the zombies came, it just got worse. Georgia and Shaun Mason set out on the biggest story of their generation. The uncovered the biggest conspiracy since the Rising and realized that to tell the truth, sacrifices have to be made.
Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies-and if there's one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it's this:
Things can always get worse.
Blackout is the conclusion to the epic trilogy that began in the Hugo-nominated Feed and the sequel, Deadline.Review:
I was over the top excited to read this final installment, but I admit that I was also nervous. I loved Deadline,
but I found myself balking a bit at what Alaric would call the “Mad Science.” I have no flipping clue how to review this and remain spoiler free but I am going to try my hardest!
And I guess that means that I can’t even really summarize anything that’s happened in the previous two books. Ummm… there were conspiracies and deaths (oh so many deaths!), high-stakes journalism and heroic bloggers, twists that we never saw coming, and a few zombies thrown in for good measure. I laughed, I cried, I shook my fist in frustration.
Here’s what I absolutely loved about this installment: I had so many doubts, but Mira Grant made me forget every single one. I got so swept up in the first two thirds of this book. For the first two thirds, I couldn’t care less just how out-there the science was, or how random the plot, or how convenient some of the scenarios. Grant really knows how to keep the pace moving and her characters are each so unique and full of personality. I loved the entire ensemble.
Still… something was missing in this book for me. I just didn’t feel the emotional gut-wrench that I’d become accustomed to with the previous two books. The first two books in this series made my cry real tears –
not just a few little prickles but full on crying.
And, just to put things in perspective – this book has just as much death as the previous two. But no tears. Even in the climactic, endgame scene involving my favorite character – I just didn’t feel it.
I think the forward momentum in this book really stalled out for the last third. Things started to feel repetitive: run, fight, use witty banter as a coping mechanism, describe a posh hotel in intricate detail, run, fight, use witty banter as a coping mechanism, describe a posh hospital in intricate detail, run, fight, use witty banter as a coping mechanism, describe a posh laboratory in intricate detail... and so on. And the reasoning behind all of this running felt shaky at best. The witty banter, which I previously found funny, really started to wear on me by the end. I just wanted someone
to show an honest emotion! Stop joking about it for like a second! Then, feel free to resume.
However, all of these things were more like niggling doubts I had. The major thing that prevented me from really loving this book was something very very spoilerific, so you’ll all have to excuse me if this gets really confusing.
Remember at the end of Feed?
When Mira Grant did one of the most courageous, bold things I’ve ever seen in fiction and just blew all of our hearts to smithereens? I felt like I actually grieved. But then, in this book… it really felt to me like all of that courage and bravery was just being undone. It felt like a major
cop-out on her part. And I did love the scenes where she attempted to remind us all of that certain event, and that it had happened, and that it could never be changed. BUT, for all of this verbal reminding, I never felt like she showed us
that it hadn’t been magically undone. If a hypothetical “development” walks, talks, and goes by the name of a duck, isn’t it essentially a duck? And I really didn’t want it to be a duck, at least not all of the time. I wanted it to have issues acting like a duck some of the time. I wanted it to forget how to quack or waddle or swim. I wanted its little duckie friends not to recognize it immediately. Otherwise, it just feels so shallow. It doesn’t feel real. It feels like a magic fairy tale solution.
Are you all confused yet? Time to wrap this up then. In short, I still really liked this series. It’s fun; it’s fast-paced; it’s much better and more inventive than most. I had my issues with it but I think they’re more about personal preference. These books are well worth reading.Perfect Musical Pairing
Temple of the Dog - Say Hello to Heaven
I have no idea why these books remind me of my favorite 90's grunge bands, but there it is. Of course, I used a Pearl Jam song for George and a Soundgarden song for Shaun so... the only natural thing to do for this book is Temple of the Dog. *wink*
This song really isn't for either of them though. This was written by the remaining members of Mother Love Bone, after their lead singer Andrew Wood died. This is my song for the wall - for all the brilliant characters I mourned during the course of this series.
brought up the issue of YA cover whitewashing a couple of times in their recent reviews. Is it possible that whitewashing is actually a good thing, in terms of promoting diversity? Apparently it is, at least according to a recent Salon article 'Can you identify?
' A study shows that white readers are more inclined to identify with minority (race, sexuality, ethnicity) characters if their "diversity" is concealed from the readers until later in a book. A disheartening, but interesting theory. However, Leila over at bookshelves of doom disagrees,
using a racist Hunger Games
tweets scandal as an example of how this theory doesn't work.
There were a couple of articles this week written by authors whose novels are regularly mistaken for some other books due to title similarities.In a very a funny post Ruta Sepetys, the author of a historical YA novel Between Shades of Gray, which is often mistaken for a
famous title that doesn't require naming anymore, says that even the opening line of her book "They took me in my nightgown"
to a wrong reader can have a completely different meaning, foreshadowing titillation instead of intended totalitarianism.
Over at Pub(lishing) Crawl Leigh Bardugo, whose debut Shadow And Bone
is coming out this June, talks about how it feels to be the author of a book with a title that sounds almost exactly like a few other popular titles in the same genre
If you are interested in the publishing process, the same Pub(lishing) Crawl had a great article this week about how projects are picked for publication
(with gifs!). Apparently, it's a rather lengthy, time consuming and financially-motivated process.
At our alma mater Goodreads Patrick Rothfuss leaves a cute note to his overzealous fans who gave his yet unfinished novel 5 stars
. We like that he chose not to fixate on his not-so-generous preemptive raters and start a petition to Goodreads to remove them, so unlike some other misguided writers who did this in the past. Maybe Rothfuss read this article in Guardian about the importance of respect for one's fandom
We wish Charlaine Harris had listened to her fandom though. This week she officially announced that the 13th book in her Sookie Stackhouse series titled Dead Ever After will be the last
, and it will be "a total closure. I don’t go back to things once I’ve finished them. That’s kind of what I do. I don’t want to write Sookie after I get stale.
” If you remember, we spoke about this series just the other week
and we agreed that the series got stale years ago. So, too little too late?
And, to wrap things up, here is a post written by Anna at Literary Exploration
on a topic near and dear to our hearts - Book Borrowing Etiquette
. Don't we all just hate getting back our precious books in a battered and overall disrespected state? What can we do about it?
That's all for this week's Odds & Ends. Have a great weekend!