Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts

Monday, September 2, 2019

Troublemaker by Andrew Clements


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a really short audiobook aimed at middle-graders and read pretty decently by Keith Nobbs.

Young Clayton Hensley was known for the rather mean gags he pulls at school and he was getting sent to the office a couple of times each month, but when his older brother gets out of jail, he lays it on the line that he wants Clay to reform and not end up like him. On Halloween though, someone eggs the school principal's house and spray paints a graffiti sketch on the door. The picture is of something that Clayton had drawn at school in art class, so now he's the prime suspect, especially since he supposedly spent that entire evening in his ground-floor bedroom in a huff. He could have easily slipped out of the window. But did he?

The story was a bit predictable and trite at times. I mean, it seems to me it would have been difficult for someone to do all of that to a house and not been seen by trick-or-treaters for one thing. For another having the school cut-up being also artsy was a bit much, but overall it wasn't too bad and it sends a message, so I feel I can commend this as a worthy read for the intended audience.


The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall


Rating: WARTY!

After really enjoying The Penderwicks at Point Mouette I made the mistake of trying another one! It was just the opposite: boring, no humor, silly, unimaginative, unrealistic, and thoroughly-lacking in entertainment value. If it had been written in the fifties then it might have made for a cute tale, but as it was, I was truly disappointed in it. On the upside, this does support my contention about series: you can't maintain that rush of the first volume! Not that the previous volume was the first, but....

From volume two onward, you're inevitably going into territory that's already a beaten path, so what can you bring to it that's truly new? A precious few authors have good answers to that question, but far too many do not. I blame publishers for selectively seeking-out authors who promise, for better or for worse, to bring them a lucrative series. I blame readers too, for reading on in quiet desperation despite the poor quality of the sequels, thereby propping up a failed regime.

Like the previous volume I listened to, I had no idea which volume this was in the series when I listened to it, since once again the idiot publisher failed to even so much as mention that it was a series on the cover, let alone identify which in the series this volume is. With these stories I guess it really doesn't matter at all, since it appears of little importance in what order they're read - at least as judged from my sample of two. The reading by Susan Denaker was again very good, but not good enough to make up for trite and uninteresting material as the four Penderwick sisters interfere with their father's dating experience which is initiated by an aunt.

Obviously these children, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and the unfortunately-named Batty, know better than the grown-ups. Not! While in a well-written story, these fictional kids might know their father better than he knows himself, the problem here is that the author fails to do the work to convince the reader that this same case holds here. Worse than this though, the author seems to fail to grasp that there's technology in our modern world! Despite all of these stories being written since 2005, there is no computer, television, or phone anywhere to be found in this story, which it turns out was the second in the series, written in 2008. Unbelievable! It's like the author set it in 1955, but forgot to change the scenery to match.

I can't commend this at all.


Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie


Rating: WORTHY!

After this I have about four more Agatha Christie novels I'm interested in reading because they had mentions that interested or intrigued me in the biographies I read, and then I'm done with her. I think I've done enough! LOL! This one was another attempt to listen to one of her stories, an effort which hasn't been going well lately, but I can hope that if they're read by David Suchet as this one was, they might engage more. He does a masterful job of reading this particular novel - really quite engaging. That may be why I enjoyed this story, although the story is one of her better ones, I think.

The mystery is of the death of Marlene Tucker, a young girl who is ironically playing the victim in a murder mystery enactment put on as a sort of treasure hunt for attendees at a fête held at Nasse House in Devon. I recently saw a novel advertised which essentially steals this plot for its own. The treasure hunt is being staged by Ariadne Oliver, a well-known writer of murder mysteries, who has contacted Poirot because she has become suspicious of an assortment of changes to her plot which have been requested by various people. Something feels wrong to her and she hopes Poirot can figure out what's up, but before he can do so, Marlene is dead, and Lady Stubbs, wife of Sir George Stubbs, the newish owner of Nasse House, is missing.

The murder investigation drags on over several weeks with neither the police nor Poirot making progress, until Poirot has an insight and finally solves it. I find it ridiculous that Poirot is never charged with obstructing justice since he frequently withholds so much information from the police, even when he has strong suspicions, if not a strong conviction of the murderer's identity! But that aside, this story was well-written and entertaining, and beautifully-read, so I commend it as a worthy listen.


Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

This one was not well read by Anna Massey, and the story wasn't engaging me at all so I DNF'd it. I had already seen this on TV but I couldn't recall the finale, so I thought it might make for an entertaining read, but in the end it was just annoying. Holmes once said to his companion, "Watson, you know my methods!" which was his polite way of saying 'figure it out for yourself' and so it's time, I think, to read a biography about Christie, and see if I can learn anything from that about what made her tick.

On the upside, this story is mercifully-free of that moron Captain Hastings who makes John Watson look like a scintillating paragon of incisiveness. On the other, it was a bit much to swallow. It features Amy Leatheran (a name to conjure with!) who is a nurse taking up her charge in the Iraq desert at an archaeological dig, caring for the ailing wife of the man in charge of the dig. This woman - the patient, not the nurse - seems to have experienced terrifying hallucinations, and in the end dies, and Hercule Poirot finds himself trying to unearth clues as to the perp. I can't commend this audiobook version based on the portion to which I listened.


By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

This was my first - and last - experience of Agatha Christie's Tuppence and Tommy Beresford stories. Tuppence, seriously? Does she have a sister half her age named Penny? Actually her name is prudence. I have no idea how she got labeled Tuppence. The plot was quite an engaging one: a painting goes missing and it turns out the painting reveals something really rather critical about a criminal enterprise. T&T begin an investigation and showing a complete lack of prudence, Tuppence goes off alone and disappears. Rather than call the police, Tommy takes up her disappearance as his primary investigation, and he ends up knocking on the door of this woman whose name I forget, but who inadvertently became my hero!

Instead of him grilling her in the hope of finding a lead to his wife's disappearance, she ends up interrogating him and he lets her take complete control! This went on, and on and on, and on, and...on. I'm serious. It went around in circles forever and I got so irritated with it that I quit listening to this summarily. You know it's bad when you'd rather listen to rubber on asphalt than to the actual audiobook you ahve in your car, especially during a somewhat tense long-distance drive where a mild distraction would have been very welcome.

I swear I don't give tuppence about this investigating team and I never will. In fact rather than shilling out for another such story I would pound on their heads so severely that they'd be left only half a crown....


Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue by Jeff Seymour


Rating: WARTY!

I did not get far with this at all. It sounded interesting from the blurb, but it was worst person voice and I usually find that annoying. I find it particularly annoying when it's happening in real time and the narrator's voice doesn't remotely reflect the terror of enduring a life-or-death experience, as this one failed dismally when Nadya fell from the airship and went plummeting down through the clouds - and her narrating voice remained unchanged! Worse, her description of it was boring!

The most serious problem here was not that Nadya actually had a sky-lung and was stupidly named after it, but that there's no suspense here whatsoever. By definition, there cannot be in first person stories because this girl is narrating the story - what, are they going to stop it 15% in because she died unexpectedly? No! I stopped it at 15% in though, because I couldn't take it seriously. I wasn't openly laughing at it, but it was a close-run thing. Gone is your immediacy. It was sad because the world the author had been building was moderately interesting, but the voice was just not getting me to suspend my disbelief, so I suspended my listening to it instead. I can't commend it based on this experience.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

Here's an example of Christie reusing old material. One the characters is named Bella like the one in her Dumb Witness story, and also we have an instance here of Poirot being summoned to help out someone whose life is on the line and he arrives too late - again, like in the Dumb Witness story. It's also in some ways a case of mistaken identity as in Dumb Witness. The story takes place in Merlinville-sur-Mer in France where Poirot arrives with all Hastings at the Villa Genevieve to discover that mister Renauld was stabbed in the back with a letter opener the previous night, and left in a newly-dug grave by the local golf course.

The worst part of this story for me was the appalling reading by Charles Armstrong, who has no idea how to pronounce French words and repeatedly mangles ones such as Sûreté and Genevieve. When he tries to imitate a female voice his own voice sounds like he's being strangled. It was horrible to listen to and I couldn't stand to hear any more after the first 15 percent or so. I DNF'd this and consider it a warty "read".

I got hold of the DVD for Murder on the Links as well as Dumb Witness. Of the two, the latter departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice.

Having DNF's this, I can't comment on whether the book was as bad, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than this though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them so this one is double-warty!


Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

This started out rather well, and was quite well read by Hugh Fraser, who played Poirot's companion Captain Hastings in the David Suchet TV series which covered very nearly all of Poirot's stories. The problem for me was that it descended into predictability and tedium in the last third or so, and the brilliant detective Poirot failed to see clues that even I could see, which tells me this story was badly-written.

I'm not a fna of detective stories which begin by telling us information the detective doesn't have. I much prefer the ones where we come in blind to the crime, just as the detective arrives. This one was not one of the latter, but the former, so we got an overly-lengthy introduction to the crime which to me was uninteresting and removed any suspense and excitement.

That said it wasn't too bad once the story began to move and Poirot arrived, but Hastings was a complete asshat with his endless whining along the lines of 'There's nothing to see here! Let's go home'. I'm truly surprised Poirot didn't slap him or kick him in the balls. I know this business of having a dumb-ass companion was set in stone by Arthur Doyle, but it's really too much.

The story is of the death of Emily Arundell, and aging and somewhat sickly woman of some modest wealth, at whom her relatives are pecking for crumbs before ever she's dead. After a fall down the stairs which she survives, Emily passes away at a later date, and after this, Poirot gets a letter form her which was somehow delayed in posting. It seems rather incoherent, but it does suggest she fears greatly for something. Poirot arrives to discover she died, and rather than turn around and go home, he poses as an interested buyer for a property that belonged to Emily so he can snoop around and ask questions. This part went on too long, too, for my taste.

Eventually Poirot's deception is exposed by Miss Peabody who for me was one of the two most interesting characters, and hands down the most amusing in the book. I really liked her. My other favorite was Theresa Arundell, whose initials, you will note, are TA, which have mirror symmetry. It's this that Poirot fails to grasp for the longest time after he learns that a person was identified by initials on a broach which was glimpsed in a mirror.

The problem though is that Christie fails to give us vital information that would have clearly identified the killer for anyone sharp enough to have picked up on this mirror image, so we're cruelly-robbed of the chance to nail down the actual killer, although some of the red herrings are disposed of with relative ease.

The final insult is Poirot's gathering of all the suspects together for the dénouement, and this is ridiculous for me. I know it's a big thing in these mysteries, but really it's laughable and spoils the story. It's so unrealistic and farcical especially since everyone, including the murderer, blithely agrees to gather for this exposure. How absurd! If the murderer had any sense, he or she would off Poirot before he had chance to expose the culprit, and thereby they would get off scot-free since Poirot is such an arrogant and persnickety old cove that he never reveals to anyone who the murder is until that last minute, thereby giving them ample opportunity to scarper!

I got hold of the DVD for this story from the library and watched it. I also watched Murder on the Links. Of the two, the former departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice. I can't comment on whether the book was as bad since I DNF'd it, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than all I've mentioned though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them.

So while there were some interesting and even fun bits to this audiobook, overall it was tedious, and I cannot commend it as a worthy listen.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty by Polly Horvath


Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and while there were some tame bits, for the most part it amused me highly. I'm not sure who it was aimed at. It seems a bit too mature for a middle-grade or earlier audience, and a bit too 'bunny' for older audiences, but none of that bothered someone like me who is completely insane.

It's read in fine style by the author, and she does a great job. She seems to take an unhealthy delight, it must be noted, in pronouncing bunny with an explosive beginning and a whimper of an ending. That word appears in almost every other sentence. 'Rabbit' not so much.

This is a sequel to Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! which I have neither read nor heard, but which deficit I intend to rectify at an early opportunity. Fortunately this one worked as a stand-alone so I didn't feel robbed at not having encountered the initial volume first. Once again it's a case of the publisher not having the decency to put something on the cover indicating it's a part of a series. This is why I self-publish. I do not trust Big Publishing™ one bit.

In this story the bunnies, Mr & Mrs, travel by ship to England to inherit a sweet shop, and hopefully a title - like Queen - along the way, and the story is about their travel across the ocean, their struggle to get to the shop, and get it up and running profitably, and endure assorted mishaps along the way including an unprovoked assault with acorns by squirrels along the way. I tell you, those squirrels. If I had an acorn for every time....never mind. I do.

I commend this as a funny bunny story and a worthy wabbit wead. Or wisten! Be advised: Do not let it get anywhere near marmots.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne la Fleur


Rating: WARTY!

Read indifferently by Christy Carlson Romano, this short novel started out slowly, but with intrigue, and it made me interested in what would happen, but then it seemed to hit a roadblock with the story-telling and it quickly backslid into boring.

Mathilde is a young girl who lives with her mother and father, and younger sister, and who attends school with her super-smart best friend Meg. The country, named Sofirende (spelling might be off, because audio!) is at war. I have to say I had a problem with the names of places in this novel.

I don't know how the name of the enemy country is spelled, but it was read like it was "Tease Ya" which sounded like a poor choice of name for a violent enemy, but even that wasn't as bad as the name of the city where Mathilde lives. The audiobook reader had about three different pronunciations for the city, and one of these sounded as though she were saying "Like a lick." The other pronunciation sounded like "Lick a Leg" neither of which was particularly appealing, especially not for a book for younger children.

When you bring children into an adventure, you need a legit reason to have them there - why they're exposed to this rather than grown-ups or trained professionals, and this author never did the work. There was a test, which was entirely predictable, because I knew as soon as I heard about the test that Mathilde and Megs would take it and the 'smarter' Megs would fail and the 'dumber' Mathilde would pass because this was never going to be a regular school test.

So off waltzes Mathilde (this is starting to sound like an Australian bush song, isn't it?) and finally we get to the worst part of the novel which is that when Mathilde arrives at this military intelligence place, From day one, she's never once given any orientation to what they're doing or how she can help. This place is the most lackadaisical, haphazard place you can possibly imagine with the kids just running wild and doing whatever they want whenever. Some of the kids seem to have a regular job trying to predict where ships are moving or where enemy planes will bomb next, but they're really not very good at it, and ultimately what they're doing is a waste of time, but some adult direction and some hints and tips would sure have helped, yet there were none. It was pure bullshit.

Worse, it failed to rationalize the kids being there. There was quite literally nothing that they were doing that an adult could not have done better - or a computer. But there's the rub! Were there even computers in this world? We have no idea because it was completely fictitious with no guide as to in what period of parallel Earth history this was taking place. There were airplanes, trains, phones, but that merely places it anywhere between somewhere around World War Two and the present.

There were other random elements in the story, too. At some point a prisoner is brought into the compound and Mathilde is tasked with talking to him, but she's told nothing about him or given any idea of how to approach this or what they want from him, and even had she been given this information it would have been worthless because this guy was almost as young as Mathilde - clearly a very low-level soldier who had no more clue what was going on in the "Tease Ya" military than Mathilde did herself. Maybe tease ya was right after all.

Continuing with the randomness theme, suddenly Meg shows up out of the blue without warning and with no apparent reason, and shortly after, and without whispering a word of early warning to the residents, the order to evacuate the camp is given and Mathilde is heading out to catch a train with the others, gets separated, and misses the train. Best friend Megs is nowhere to be seen and doesn't even wait for Mathilde. I guess that friendship's blown!

Mathilde manages to make it to the port and depart for safer shores - but not once does she think about her family whom she's supposedly been missing the entire time she's been in the intelligence compound! Never once does she have a thought for how they're doing or what will happen to them if Tease Ya wins this war. So in the end the Intelligence gathering was a joke because there was zero intelligence in this story! It sucked. I dis-commend it fiercely. It was garbage.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another audiobook, read sweetly by Susan Denaker, but once again I learned after I picked it up at the library that it's volume three in a series of five, which is an annoyance. It ticks me off that publishers do this without offering any indication on the cover that this is part of a series or what number it is in that series. I'm not a fan of series because they tend to be filled with fluff and matters of little or no consequence; however, going blind into this one, before I discovered it was one of several, it didn't feel like a sequel, so I was hearing it like it was a stand-alone and it sounded just fine to me. The novel has a charming old world style to it, although at that point I had no idea when it was supposed to have been set. It turns out it's contemporary.

The author didn't publish the first book in the series until she was 54, which might account for why the book seems a little 'out of time', but that holds out hope for us all doesn't it, that her first novel came relatively late in her life despite her apparently deciding she wanted to be a novelist at the age of ten? Never give up! Lesson learned! The book is quite short, so I quickly decided that if this one panned out, I'd see if I could get the audiobook version of the earlier - and later - volumes. I seem to have been doing this lately in the case of Courtney Crumrin, and Bad Machinery graphic novel series so it's almost a habit by now.

The series is about the Penderwick sisters, of whom there are four, and the OAP - which in Britain used to mean Old Age Pensioner, although there's probably a more politically correct term for it now - stands for Oldest Available Penderwick. Since the actual oldest sister Rosalind, is going to spend two weeks with a friend, the OAP role falls to Skye, the next oldest, who has to look after her younger sister Jane and youngest, who has the unfortunate name of Batty. Their parents are out of the country and the bulk of the Penderwicks are staying with an aunt who's unfortunately been disabled by an ankle injury and is hobbling around on crutched, so the Penderwicks are pretty much left to their own devices.

Skye is nervous about being in charge and trying to corral her wayward sisters, each of whom has her own distinct personality. Batyt is the cute and slightly crazy one who fedeveops fads for colelcitgn beach rocks, shells, and stray golf balls from the nearby gold course, which she then sells on the street, like with a lemonade stand but for these tiny dimpled and expensive balls that cause golfers so much unnecessary grief (when no one is looking, just throw the damned ball for goodness sakes. The hell with the club). Before all these events kick off, the sisters hold one of their secret councils, known as Mops, so Rosalind can pass down the last few nuggets of her wisdom and experience, although it's really not necessary since Skye appears to have it covered already despite her misgivings about performing her new role.

Mishaps and adventures ensue. Batty makes a friend. Jane - the aspiring novelist - falls into deeply romantic love with the older brother of Batty's new friend and tastes cold rejection after penning him an ode. Skye becomes possessed of a cleaning frenzy at one point. But the story is laugh out loud hilarious so often that I couldn't help but love it. There were parts that were less than enthralling for me, but for the most part the novel was highly entertaining. The author's incisive and witty observations make for a joyful read. I imagine she would be a charm to have a conversation with, and I'm definitely interested in pursuing the series, which is a novelty for me. I commend this as a worthy read.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

Written by songwriter Meloy this ebook is very long and very slow-moving unfortunately. The 540-some page print version is illustrated by his wife, Ellis, but I saw none of that in the audio version, which was read by Amanda Plummer in such a sweet voice that I think I kept it going longer because of that. Had the voice been less pleasing, I would have ditched it a lot earlier than I did.

This book exemplifies one reason I don't like longer books: too many of them seem to take forever to get anywhere. When I was about a quarter the way through it, nothing had really happened other than that this girl saw her toddler brother carried away by crows into this wild wooded area, and she went into it to get the kid back and discovered that it was home to a bunch of weird characters including a regiment of military coyotes.

So it was a charming idea, but it was moving like a slug. It had moved along quite quickly to begin with, but once Prue, the main female character had got into the Wildwood area, everything seemed to have the brakes slammed on and it really started to drag. I kept going until about a third the way in and lost patience with it.

There was a battle described between the coyotes and the bandits in the forest, and it was so gory that I couldn't believe I was reading a book written for young children. While I get that children see this kind of thing more often in video games, movies, and on TV these days than their counterparts used to, this still struck me as a lot of unnecessary detail. It's possible in a children's book to describe death without going into into loving detail. Again this is a problem with an overly long book - too much time on the author's hands.

The only amusing thing, to me, about this is that it was at this point that I chose to skip to the last few tracks and despite the skip, I came back into it to discover equally gory detail! I couldn't believe it. We have enough violence in schools these days without needing to extoll it in literature. It was like I was still listening to the same part of the book. On top of this was a baby sacrifice, and I decided this book wasn't worth spending any more time on, and quit listening.

I can't commend something like this as a worthy read or a listen, not even with Amanda Plummer's voice.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yeager


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook that was written evidently for a much younger audience than I represent. The book was read by Kilmeade, and he did it in such a strident and breathless voice that I couldn't stand to listen to it. Worse than this though, the facts were presented in such a biased and fanciful fashion that I found myself having a hard time swallowing everything he said. It felt much more like listening to florid fiction than to historical fact.

The secret six were actually known as the Culpeper ring, named after a Virginia County. They were spies who fed information out of New York City to Washington about the activities, movements, and plans of British troops in NYC. The main two members were Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend. The best information they got was when they laid hands on a British naval Code handbook. That was less through spying than from luck, but it served the French Navy well.

While these guys (including women) did provide other valuable information, the value of some of their activities was debatable. It's arguable that the defeat of the Brits and surrender at Yorktown did more than any spies did, and this victory was brought about as much by the French and Spanish as it was by the US, if not more so. Cornwallis could well have withdrawn rather than surrendered had the port not been very effectively blockaded by the French.

The secret six were spies for the revolution forces, which side was consistently presented as upstanding, brilliant, heroic, and fine, whereas, of course, the British were evil villains. This was exploited most obviously in the report of the British prison ship HMS jersey, which was pretty brutal, but this was war and it was in the early 1780s, when people were hardly the most civilized and no Geneva convention existed. Additionally, the revolutionaries were considered traitors, so the Brits were not very much disposed to treating them kindly. Not that Washington had many prisoners to exchange anyway, since the British captured far more US forces than the other way around. That doesn't make what happened palatable, but it does provide some context that this helter-skelter account fails to do.

Another thing this story doesn't make clear was that Washington, who could have exchanged prisoners, was disinclined to do so because he didn't want to exchange professional British soldiers for civilian volunteers and conscripts! He didn't consider it a fair exchange. How brutal was that? Remember these were the guys who were fighting for the rich folk who didn't want to pay taxes. That's what today, we call Republicans.

The rich were the guys who claimed they wanted the vote, but none of the guys fighting on the front line ever had the vote! Only about 6% of the population were eligible to vote in 1789! In short, the pretext of the revolution was bullshit, yet those who were wealthy were not the ones dying en masse on the front lines or being interned (and interred) in the HMS Jersey! How long did it take for American Indians to get the vote? For African Americans? For women? This wasn't a fight for freedom - it was a fight for the rich, and the poor paid the price on both sides. When that emancipation was truly sought, it started a civil (read not-at-all-civil) war a century later.

So my take on this is that if you're looking for an historical account, don't look here. If you're looking for an hysterical account, then this is the audiobook for you!


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bonk by Mary Roach


Rating: WORTHY!

I get through a number of audiobooks and I'm less picky about those than print or ebooks because I have this captive time while commuting so I may as well get experimental to avoid getting completely mental, so I go out on more of a limb with audiobooks. Not anything crazy. I mean I don't try sitting on the case while driving, or hanging CDs from my mirror to catch the sunlight, but I tend to listen to a wider variety of material than I read, and I read a pretty wide variety as it is. Anyway that's my excuse for this one, which turned out to be highly entertaining with a few LOLs and belly laughs along the way.

Mary Roach has an interesting take on life, her humor dry, sly, and wry, and she puts it to full use here in this survey of studies on human sexuality with some animal variants tossed in for good measure. This is an historical survey, so it goes way back - before even Kinsey Masters Johnson, so it covers some ground and gives an interesting perspective on how white men studied female sexuality back then and the bizarre ideas they had about it. Unfortunately we're still suffering from that kind of bias even in much more recent studies of many aspects of human health and bodily function - not just sexuality which routinely exclude women for no good reason and to the detriment of our understanding, particularly of when it comes to female health.

Anyway, without going into any details, I can commend this as an interesting, educational, and worthy read.


I survived the Joplin Tornado by Lauren Tarshis


Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know what made an old woman think she could write a novel about a little kid surviving a tornado but...I'M JOKING! Lauren Tarshis isn't old and even if she were it wouldn't matter. I don't subscribe to the 'write what you know' nonsense. The rule ought to be 'write what you can make a good story out of' (or maybe, in some cases, 'write what you can get away with', but let's not go there), and this author has almost made a career out of writing this "I survived" series. I say 'almost' because she's written other stuff and novel writing isn't all she does.

She started this series though, in 2010 with I Survived the Titanic (start big, right? Or write...), and has published a score or so of these. All these stories are based on real historical events, not all of them natural - or even human-caused - disasters, this particular one has its roots in the EF5 tornado which slammed Joplin, Missouri on Sunday, May 22, 2011. In addition to scores of deaths. It did almost three billion dollars in damage.

This was a mutant tornado, and as such was a good one to dramatize in this fiction based on the real disaster. I listened to the audiobook, and the main character is an eleven-year-old boy named Dex, whose father went to college with a guy who now makes a career out of chasing tornadoes and talking about them on his TV show, which is of course mandatory watching for Dex and his father. Why not his mother, I have no idea. Dex also has an older brother who is in the Navy Seals. I don't know why that was included because it's irrelevant to what happens in the story. His brother could have been a criminal or a younger brother, or a school teacher or anything. It made no difference to events.

Dex meets the tornado chaser by accident - literally, and gets invited to go chasing the next morning. They end up being caught in this monster tornado that precipitated rapidly and right outside Joplin. It was a cell of several tornadoes inside a shield of rain that was almost a mile across, and it hit Joplin right on, carving a path through there before heading off into the countryside and finally dissipating.

Dex's story is really very short, and the action in it is pretty violent at times, so you might want to exercise caution in who you let read this, but for most boys in middle grade it would probably be a worthy read. I don't know if girls would be likely to get into it in the same way, but maybe a few would. Certainly they ought to consider the educational value. It's read in fine style by Thérèse Plummer, and afterwards the author talks about the real tornado, how it formed, and the damage it did, so this makes for a really educational work. This isn't a series that I'm interested in pursuing, but maybe a child of appropriate age would, and I commend it as a worthy listen!


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple


Rating: WARTY!

The short answer to the question (despite it missing a question mark), posed in the title of this audiobook is 'Nowhere'! Seriously. Read okay by Kathleen Wilhoite, the book began as a series of Oh-so-cutting-edge emails and so on. In short, lazy story-telling. I don't like epistolary novels and I wasn't liking this one. It just annoyed me.

It's sad because I came to this from seeing a teaser-trailer of an upcoming movie starring Cate Blanchett, of whom I'm a fan. As it happened, the trailer didn't tease me, but after seeing it twice in front of different movies Ild gone to see, I decided I'd give the book a listen if I could find it on audiobook at the library and I did, so I did, but I wish now that I hadn't. So I'm done with this story, and with this author notwithstanding her dedication to the Global Amphibian Assessment. For anyone interested, the story starts out with a girl, Bee Branch, looking through old emails to try and figure out whence her irresponsible mother disappeared.

I don't know what the movie is like - at this point I've seen only the teaser and I won't see the movie (especially not now!) unless maybe I catch it at some point on TV, but from what I've heard of the novel, Bernadette is hardly the best person in the world. In fact she's a bit of a jerk, and the teaser revealed none of this, although it did reveal how irresponsible she was. I really don't care if someone has good reason to be a dick. If they're a dick, they're a dick, and I'm not about to make a hero out of such a person. The story sounded scatterbrained and stupid and I want nothing to do with it.


Hunting for Hidden Gold by Leslie McFarlane


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook read reasonably well by Bill Irwin. My problem with it was not only the antiquated story (this was written almost a century ago by Leslie McFarlane, writing as Franklin Dixon), but mostly the tinny accompanying music.

Leslie McFarlane was a journalist, not a musician, and while I have yet to confirm this officially, I remain pretty much sure that he never wrote any accompanying music for the story. Neither did Edward Stratemeyer who was the mover and shaker behind these books. So whence the impetus for the sad and annoying music in the audiobook edition? Is Bill Irwin not good enough to listen to without accompaniment? It really irritates me when audiobooks do this and I've had to listen to two or three lately which all have had music at least at the very beginning of the book. Why? Get a clue, publishers!

The Hardy brothers are evidently frequently put at risk of their lives by their thoroughly irresponsible father, by being tasked with helping him to solve mysteries. In this book, their own stupidity gets them into trouble, They're required to fly to Montana, to track down missing gold, and they have a three-hour layover en route. As soon as they reach the airport, they're accosted by a stranger who informs them that he has important papers from their father, but he has...wait for it...forgotten them, they're so important! He asks if the boys will accompany him to his home to get the papers. Rather than insist they have a flight to catch and cannot leave the airport, and request he brings the papers to them as he was tasked to do, they blindly go with him and end up tied up on a house! The Hardy Boys are morons. That's when I quit listening to this.

I get that the whole idea of the story is to bring the kids in because it's a kid's story, but the mark of competent writers is that they do this without having the kids look stupid or have them needlessly endangered by idiotic adults. Their involvement needs to be organic, and not blatantly incompetent or dumb. Leslie McFarlane simply wasn't up to it. And yeah, I know this story is antique and that sensibilities were different back then, but that doesn't mean I have to give it a bye today. Instead I give it a bye-bye. This story was garbage and it's warty, period.


The Body Snatchers by Robert Louis Stephenson


Rating: WARTY!

This was a very short audiobook story rooted no doubt in the true events of William Burke and William Hare, notorious for their not only laying their hands on dead bodies which they sold on for medical research, but also laying hands on a few of the living and changing their status so they could sell those bodies on too. Hare turned on Burke for immunity, and Burke was hanged. His skeleton lives on today in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh Medical School.

In this story, a man named Fettes, who works in a facility where bodies are made available to medical students for research, recognizes a body they have just bought as a woman he saw alive and well only the previous day. Naturally he becomes suspicious as to how this happened, but he's such a wuss that he does nothing about it, simply falling in line with his superiors regarding not asking questions as to where these corpses come from. This is actually realistic. People tend to be sheep-like rather than rock the boat even when skullduggery is involved.

The problem as that the story was very rigid and uninteresting. This isn't surprising given that it was written long ago, and in a way you have to expect this, but you also hope that the story will be interesting enough that it makes up for the antiquated story-telling style. In this case it did not, so no commendation from me for this one, only condemnation.


The Chimes by Charles Dickens


Rating: WARTY!

I have heard the chimes, but not at midnight, and they were shallow in this audiobook! This was a short story by Dickens and it sounded vaguely interesting from the blurb, since the story is about how this character gets advice from goblins on the plight of the impoverished in Dickens's London, but in practice it quickly became tiresome.

The main character was not interesting to me and was tedious to listen to, and I lost all interest in it about a third of the way through. Rather than use a 'bell' motif to divide up the story, here Dickens used a clock motif, dividing it into 'quarters' as in quarter hours. It was really more like reading an essay than a novel. Can't commend.


Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook which started out great, got a little lost in the middle section, but came out entertainingly enough at the end for me to rate it a worthy read for the middle-grade audience it's aimed at. It's in the 'Rick Riordan Presents' series, which apparently meant he offered some advice during her writing of it, but what that would have been, I do not know since shortening the middle section was what was required, and he either never suggested that, or she didn't listen if he did! I guess it's good of him to give a boost to other writers (depending on the motive behind it!), but I am not a fan of his writing at all, so seeing his name on something is more likely to turn me away from a book than onto it! Fortunately in this case I read the blurb before I ever saw the Riordan name on it, and I was interested enough not to put it back on the shelf.

I think the character names might have been better chosen! I'm sure that pandering to a western audience wasn't Lee's first thought in writing this, Indeed, in some ways the novel is bigoted in that it presents a sci-fi scenario where everything is Chinese which is just as bigoted as a writer who presents the future as American or any other nationality.

I'm sure the author felt the names were great, and objectively they probably were, but looked at from the point of view of a person listening, who may not be used to Chinese names, hearing something like 'Yune Me', especially while distracted by driving to one extent or another, made the name sound rather like 'You and Me', and so it went! One character was named Min, but it was pronounced like it read 'mean', so that didn't work too well for western ears. The final amusement was a character named Inspector Suk (not sure about the spellings since this was audiobook).

But maybe that's just me who loves playing with words. The story itself was quite interesting, being a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. The main character is Min, who is described as a 'fox spirit' who is also a shape-shifter, but she never changes into a fox (not that I recall, although I did skip some parts during the boring bits!). Her brother Joon, is in the military as a cadet on a spacecraft, but he has disappeared. When a government official arrives in Min's insignificant little village on an insignificant little half-terra-formed planet, Min's trouble-making ways are highlighted, and she's threatened with being shipped-off to stay with an auntie. She is not pleased by this.

Rather than let that happen she runs away, and eventually winds up - in a bit too much of a coincidence - on the same ship her brother was on. Since she can shape-shift and see ghosts, she makes a deal with the ghost of another cadet who had died during an encounter with pirates, to impersonate him. I somehow missed how it was that his body never gave her away. The idea was that in impersonating him, she could help him move on to the spirit world, and for herself, learn what happened to Joon. The ghost really is of no help to her, so I was at a loss as to why he was even included as a character in the story at all.

The biggest problem was that for me, this is where the story ground to a halt. Min spent far, far too much time dicking around on the ship learning how to be a cadet and learning nothing of what happened to Joon. Recall that this is a girl who can shape-shift and is good at it, so she could have impersonated anyone, gone anywhere and discovered anything, yet it was all cadet all the time, and it was boring.

I began skimming the story at that point until she finally got off the ship and went unsurprisingly to what was called a Lost Colony not because they didn't know where it was, but because they couldn't use the planet due to the prevalence of unfriendly ghosts there. That's where Min found the Dragon Pearl and became a hero.

That part was also much better and was highly amusing in parts, so this is why I gave this book a worthy rating, although it had problems. Those problems did nothing to win me back to thinking that Rick Riordan knows how to write! All he's ever done is steal Greek mythology, inexplicably move it to the USA and put a white savior in charge. That's not my kind of writing, but for this audiobook: a worthy read with the above caveats.