Posts tagged ‘Audiobook’

The Rithmatist

RithmatistTitle: The Rithmatist
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Illustrator: Ben McSweeney
Narrator: Michael Kramer
ISBN: 9781427237439 (audiobook), 9780765320322 (hardcover)
Pages: 378 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 CDs, 10 hours
Publisher/Date: TOR Books, a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. c2013.

The door stopped rattling. All was still for just a moment, then the door burst open.
Lilly tried to scream, but found her voice caught in her throat. A figure stood framed in moonlight, a bowler hat on his head, a short cape covering his shoulders. He stood with his hand on a cane to his side.
She could not see his face, backlit as he was, but there was something horribly sinister about that slightly tipped head and those shadowed features. A hint of a nose and chin, reflecting moonlight. Eyes that watched her from within the inky blackness.
The things flooded into the room around him. Angry, squirming over floor, walls, ceiling. Their bone-white forms almost seemed to glow in the moonlight.
Each was as flat as a piece of paper.
Each was made of chalk.
They were each unique, tiny picture like monsters with fangs, claws. They made no noise at all as they flooded into the hallway, hundreds of them, shaking and vibrating silently as they came for her.
Lilly finally found her voice and screamed. (12-13)

Joel missed his chance to become a Rithmatist when he was younger, but he still gets to observe Rithmatists practice at school. His father was a master chalk maker, but died in an accident and now his mother works non-stop at school in order to pay his debts. Changes and challenges are in the air, as a new professor joins the staff and shakes up the school. When students start disappearing, Joel and a remedial Rithmatist student aid an aging professor in investigating where they went. With no way of protecting himself, Joel isn’t the only one who fears he is in over his head.

I was surprised by how well described the chalk drawings were on the audiobook, and thought the details had been added for listeners benefit. Turns out not only are there drawings, but also descriptions of what they look like and how they function included at the beginning of each chapter. The descriptions test your memory for geometry terms from way back when, but they still make sense. I was also grateful for the map at the beginning of the book that detailed where these places were on an altered map of the United States. What happened to the country, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the full details of, but the names and placements of the communities make sense in an almost post-apocalyptic manner.

I also appreciated the turn of events that occur throughout the novel. The tension is drawn out (pardon the pun) slowly, with first one then multiple students going missing, and the trouble escalating. It’s similar to the trouble facing Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, as parents either pull their students from the university or are encouraged by the authorities to leave them there under the protection of the guards. But Joel is not the fated wizard who will save the world. In fact, he is powerless against the chalklings – creatures made of chalk that can attack both chalk defenses and living beings — instead using his analytic brain to overcome what he sees as a handicap. Melody is the loquacious, wise-cracking side-kick in this story, whose curiosity and optimism get the better of her and repeatedly put her in danger. But Joel needs her Rithmatist skills, however remedial, and their dynamics and budding friendship evolve and appear very naturally as they interact with increasing frequency through their studies with Professor Fitch. I also liked Professor Fitch, who seems best suited to mentor both Melody and Joel. As the principal of the school at one point tells Joel, “Professor Fitch likes to be bothered [...] particularly by students. He’s one of the few true teachers we have at this school.” (83) Professor Fitch emphasizes strategy over showmanship, and really encourages reason from the pair.

The problems that Joel and Melody encounter are neatly tied up by the end of the book, only to have author Brandon Sanderson throw a twist into the mix, so the last few chapters open a whole new can of worms. Readers will have to wait for the sequel to truly discover where Joel, Melody, and the person responsible for the disappearances are headed. And unfortunately, the sequel is not expected to see the light of day until 2015. Plenty of time for readers to practice their own rithmatist skills.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & ParkTitle: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrators: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra
ISBN: 9780385368261 (book on cd), 9781250012579 (hardcover)
Pages: 328 pages
Discs/CDs: 9 hours, 7 CDs
Publisher/Date: St. Martin’s Griffin, c2013. (audio from Listening Library)

“You can’t sit there. That’s Mikayla’s seat.” [...]
“I have to sit somewhere,” The girl said to Tina in a firm, calm voice.
“Not my problem,” Tina snapped. The bus lurched, and the girl rocked back to keep from falling. Park tried to turn the volume up on his Walkman, but it was already all the way up. He looked back at the girl; it looked like she was starting to cry.
Before he’d even decided to do it, Park scooted toward the window.
“Sit down,” he said. It cam out angrily. The girl turned to him, like she couldn’t tell whether he was another jerk or what. “Jesus-fuck,” Park said softly, nodding to the space next to him, “just sit down.”
The girl sat down. She didn’t say anything–thank God, she didn’t thank him–and she left six inches of space on the seat between them.
Park turned toward the Plexiglas window and waited for a world of suck to hit the fan. (8-9)

This is how Eleanor and Park meet. Eleanor, described by Park as “big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like. . . like she wanted people to look at her.” (8) Eleanor, when comparing Park to the other, meaner classmates on the bus, “couldn’t tell if the Asian kid who finally let her sit down was one of them, or whether he was just really stupid. (But not stupid-stupid- he was in two of Eleanor’s honors classes.)” (11) But then Park notices Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder, so he lends her some more. And he realizes that they like some of the same bands and music, so he lends her some cassette tapes. And then batteries. It’s when Park invites Eleanor home with him that they both realize two things: they are becoming more than just two teens who share the same bus seat, and their lives couldn’t be more different. It is those differences that ultimately put their relationship to the test, and Eleanor asks Park to give her something he truly doesn’t want to give up on.

What is it about books lately that are making me see the world so differently? Obviously books are supposed to make you view the world through a window or a light that isn’t your own. But I have never heard Eleanor’s analysis of Romeo and Juliet before, and I loved how contrary she was to the teacher. It’s also a little eye-opening and a little unnerving to have a historical fiction title that takes place during a time (1986) I was alive! Finally, after reading about the censorship scandal last September, I guess I should give fair warning that there are a multitude of swear words and some sexual content, although they don’t make it to home plate.

The relationship between Park and Eleanor I initially thought of as cliché, with two people who originally hate each other slowly falling in love. Really though, they didn’t hate each other in the beginning, they just had to get to know each other better and overcome this huge space between them. The bus seat and their body language while riding to and from school becomes symbolic of their feelings, as they start out avoiding each other, but then slowly migrate closer and closer, first ducking down so no one can see and then not caring what anyone on the bus thinks of them. Park starts off being this stereotypical Asian boy, smart, small, and silent, but then there’s that scene between him and Steve (if you have read the book, you KNOW which one I’m talking about), and it just smashes your entire opinion of Park. It also smashes your entire impression of Eleanor, as her response is just… wow.
Eleanor is getting teased by the kids on the bus. Park gets upset, and Eleanor tells him:

“It’s not worth it.”
“You are,” he said fiercely, looking at her. “You’re worth it.”
“This isn’t for me,” she said. She wanted to pull at him, but she didn’t feel like he was hers to hold back. “I don’t want this.”
“I’m tired of them embarrassing you.” [...]
“Embarrassing me?” she said. “Or embarrassing you?” (130)

You realize how mature she is and it’s sad that her abusive home life is what caused that maturity. Your heart hurts for Park that he gives so much and asks so little, but Eleanor isn’t really in a position to offer any more than she does, and she is forced to keep her guard up around everyone.

Speaking of families, Park’s is the polar opposite of Eleanor’s family. While yes we have the stereotypical absent and/or abusive parents in Eleanor’s case, we also have Park’s involved, loving, and caring parents. Park’s parents can empathize with the spot he finds himself, and while they are not perfect, they play off each other beautifully. They are willing to change when circumstances change, and they are overall some cool parents to have who support and mentor Park with his tough decisions.

Another opinion altering moment comes at the end. That is NOT how I expected this book to end. Not in a million years. But it works, and it makes sense. The book’s ending is so gut-wrenching yet hopeful, all at once, that you may just find yourself smiling even as a tear or two runs down your cheek. Whether you listen to the excellent audio or curl up next to the fire for a cover-to-cover binge reading, be prepared to have your heart stretched.

Odessa Again

Odessa AgainTitle: Odessa Again
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Narrator: Lisa Breitman
CDs/Hours: 3 CDs, 3 hours 42 minutes
ISBN: 9780449015308 (audiobook),
Pages: 196 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Wendy Lamb Books, c2013.

Odessa flipped back a page in her journal and found the entry. She flipped to a fresh page and began to scribble furiously.
The first fall through the attic floorboards had taken her back exactly one day.
Twenty-four hours. [...]
The second fall took place on the same day as the first. [...]
And this time, her math told her, she’d landed twenty-three hours earlier. (21-22)

Odessa has just determined that the attic in the house her mither is renting has the ability to take her back in time. As a fourth grader with divorced parents and a toad for a younger brother, Odessa is excited about the opportunities this presents, such as getting out to trouble, studying for a test, and avoiding a bad haircut. But there are limits, as each time she jumps it takes her back fewer and fewer hours. What happens when Odessa runs out of time to fix the one thing she wishes she could do over?

Originally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, and I can’t really put my finger on why. Then I realized that I am used to active tales as opposed to more introspective novels. It encourages readers to think about what they could or would change about their day. Because of the limited and ever-shortening capability to go back, there is a lot for Odessa to consider. And because of her age, there is no possibility of changing the entire world, but rather how can we improve our own circumstances. This book would probably work better being read as opposed to listened to as an audiobook because of that self-reflection it encourages.

While the characters are vaguely developed, I enjoyed the feelings that the story evoked. Odessa’s parents respond in a realistic manner to Odessa’s antics as she tries to correct history. Odessa’s growth in the story is also admirable, as she begins to evaluate how and when she should use this temporary new-found power. For kids who like to question what-if, this would be a sci-fi light introduction to the concept of time-travel.

Crow

CrowTitle: Crow
Author: Barbara Wright
Narrator: J. D. Jackson
ISBN: 9780804123952 (hardcover: 9780375969287)
Discs/CDs: 7 hours, 25 minutes, 6 CDs
Pages: 297 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, c2012. (audio: Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2013.)

I crept along the stone wall and slipped down into one of the basement window wells. From there, no one could see me, but I had a clear view of the man standing at the top of the steps between two massive columns. He was thin and had shaggy eyebrows and a full silver beard that glinted in the sun. I recognized him but couldn’t remember his name. [...] Today he wore a suit and tie and looked like a refined gentleman, but when he spoke, he looked crazier than Crazy Drake. Spit spewed from his mouth and his face turned red as he shouted, “You are Anglo-Saxons! You are armed and prepared, and you will do your duty. Be ready at a moment’s notice. If you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls, and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win this election, even if we have to do it with guns.” (183-184)

It’s 1898 and has been years since the slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Moses’s father is a respected alderman and reporter in their Wilmington, North Carolina community, and after saving for a year they were able to buy Moses’s mother an organ. But grandmother Boo Nanny is fearful of the changes in the air and the crows circling house, sure that it’s a sign of bad times to come. White folks in the neighboring towns are getting restless and resentful of African Americans succeeding. Red Shirts can be seen throughout the neighborhoods, claiming to be protecting and policing but really working towards taking over the government and intimidating others. Moses’s father won’t tolerate such abuses, but will Moses and his family end up paying for his father’s beliefs? What will happen in a town where simply standing up for what is right is seen as wrong?

The book was a slow start, and J.D. Jackson’s slow drawl, while possibly accurate to the setting and time period, did not improve upon the pace of the book. Short vignettes made up the first part, and you didn’t have anything to pull you along except the superstitions of Boo Nanny until almost half way through the book. Then conflict erupts in a big way, and Moses’s city changes drastically. It’s almost unbelievable the speed of which events and emotions escalate, and maybe that’s intentional as a sleepy story becomes a pressure cooker of confrontations and readers are faced with the improbability of events that are based on actual history. As Barbara Wright reveals in her historical note, “In the twentieth century, the story of what happened in 1898 was largely forgotten by the white community and barely mentioned in history books. That changed when the North Carolina General Assembly created the Wilmington Race Riot Commission to look into the incident. The commission’s 2006 report, which includes photographs, maps, and charts, can be found at http://www.history.ncdcr.gov/1898-wrrc.”; (296) This presentation gives a whole new perspective of racial tensions, and it reminded me of my reaction to the American Girl series featuring Marie-Grace and Cecile, when I learned of pre-Civil War affluent African Americans.

While it probably deserves a place in African American and Black History Month bibliographies, I keep coming back to the almost laborious pacing. Give this book to patient readers, and reassure them that action happens if only they stick with it.

Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke UpTitle: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
Illustrator: Maira Kalman
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
ISBN: 9781611132960 (hardcover: 9780316127257)
Pages: 354 pages
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs (5 narration, 1 of illustrations), 6.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Hachette Audio, Little, Brown and Company, c2011.
Awards: Printz Honor Book (2012)

The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I am leaving you. [...] Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb. I’m dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me. I’m dumping this box on your porch, Ed, but it is you, Ed, who is getting dumped. (3-4)

They came from different cliques; Ed was the co-captain of the basketball team with ex-girlfriends at every turn while Min was the film aficionado, whom everyone called arty but she denied vehemently. Everyone questioned what they saw in each other, but they thought it would last, they thought it was different. And it was, until just over a month into their quick flare up of a relationship, when it no longer was enough, and they separated. Now, after some reflection, Min is returning Ed’s stuff. Not just the stuff he gave her, or he left behind, but all the little mementos that meant so much when they were tied to someone she loved. Told in flashbacks, this is the story of why they broke up.

I listened to this story after a break up (of sorts) of my own, and found it extremely cathartic. Khristine Hvam’s narration, provides an emotionally driven reading of this emotionally driven story. Her inflections are spot on, as Min vacillates from outrage and hurt to tender reminisces of the time they spent together, regardless of how brief it was. You might lose one or two details with the items that warrant a shorter description and go unnamed, but a disc is included for your benefit with PDFs of the illustrations. I grabbed a physical copy of the book instead, and the drawings are bright, bold, and beautiful, although the book is heavier than I anticipated it to be. Is it symbolic? Are they commenting on the weight of someone’s feelings, or did they just want it to clunk when you set it down like so many of the objects do when dropped in the box? One will never know.

Told entirely from Min’s perspective as she spills her soul in a letter to Ed that will accompany the box of stuff, Ed realistically comes across as a mystery to readers although he does have his moments. (The “I’m sorry” scene pulled at my heart-strings just a little, even though I questioned his sincerity through the whole thing.) I wanted to hug Min throughout the entire book, as she experienced heartache for the first time.

I loved the realism of the relationships, not just Min and Ed, but Min with her friends, who at first claim “no opinion” of Ed but then she learns they do in fact have their own opinions of this outsider joining their group. I’m reminded for some reason of Katy Perry’s song Hot n’ Cold, and if I made a soundtrack for this book I’d probably include it as we witness Min and Ed at all stages of their boyfriend/girlfriend status. With no mention of social media (at least not that I can remember), that little fact distorts how realistic this might seem, but without it this book might just stand the test of time. The other distorted fact is how LONG it would have really taken someone to hand write all 300+ pages of the story of their relationship, but it’s something that you really don’t dwell on. Give it to anyone suffering a broken heart and is either past or trying to get past the weepy stage. Also good for anyone who is fed up with the Nicholas Spark and Nora Roberts love stories. Bravo!

Time Between Us

Time Between UsTitle: Time Between Us
Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Narrator: Amy Rubinate
ISBN: 9780307967862 (hardcover 9781423159568)
Discs/CDs: 8 CDs, 9 hours
Pages: 368 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperiod, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2012.

And while the thief is distracted by the contents of the safe, three things happen, so fast and overlapping that they seem to take place simultaneously. Bennet disappears completely, and suddenly he’s kneeling next to me on the floor. He grabs my hands and closes his eyes, and I must follow suit, because when I open them, the store is gone. The robber and his knife are gone. And Bennett and I are in the exact same positions–him kneeling, me sitting, still holding each other’s hands–only now we’re next to a tree in the park around the corner, the wind throwing snow violently around us. (99)

Anna sees a teenage boy she’s never met watching her as she does her morning run. Upon meeting her observer at school and identifying him as new student Bennett, she confronts him and he denies the incident. Against the advice of her friends and her gut instincts she is attracted to Bennett, but Anna can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right about Bennett. During a robbery attempt, Bennett finally reveals that he is hiding a huge secret and is actually a time traveler from 17 years in the future. Pulled inexplicably to each other, Anna relishes the opportunity to fulfill her life long dreams of travel. But as their relationship prompts them to continually break rules that Bennett has established, Bennett’s prolonged presence might be causing consequences that he cannot fix.

More mild-romance than mind-bender or mystery, if you combine Twilight with The Time Traveler’s Wife, you get this book, but in both cases I would go to those other books first. While this book also has a time traveling couple, The Time Traveler’s Wife had depth and substance and emotional draw that this book seems to lack. However, you still having the brooding teenage girl in a relationship that everyone cautions her against yet she feels that unexplainable and instantaneous attraction/attention towards him. I guess that’s actually the problem, because while we see the relationship in Time Traveler’s Wife grow and evolve, I didn’t get that sense here. It feels like their relationship grows out of intrigue rather than love, with all of the long, lingering looks and none of the emotional sparks that are supposed to materialize.

Anna’s friendships, including her relationship with Bennett, are less than appealing. It seems like she’s using Bennett because of the promise of travel opportunities, which she absolutely is intent on taking advantage of. Bennett himself strikes me and Anna’s friends as slightly creepy, what with his popping in and out of Anna’s life. Anna’s friend Justin, whom she has known since she was five, plays a very minor part in the book, and also seems to be used by Anna for music, whether in the form of personalized mixes she can run to or tickets to the hottest concerts. His possible attraction to her is mentioned ever so slightly and then ignored for most of the rest of the story, only to be thrust in our face suddenly towards the end. Even her friend Emma doesn’t seem fully fleshed out, playing the role of comedic side-kick more than a true friend. When the characters fight, which they do sporadically, they all seem to solve their problems by ignoring each other until one or the other gives in for no reason.

This is especially true when applied to Bennett’s rules regarding time travel, which he broke once with disastrous consequences yet that doesn’t stop him from considering breaking the rules for Anna, a girl he’s just met. The time travel portion of the plot is also marginally explained. While Bennett subconsciously/inexplicably realizes that he can’t travel to a time before he was born or into his future, the ending climatic separation between Bennett and Anna has no explanation. I don’t want to reveal too much here, but I wonder if answers will be more readily available in October with the upcoming sequel, which will be told from Bennett’s perspective. Also, as a reviewer pointed out on Goodreads, at one point in the story there are three Bennett’s in the same time line, which was loosely explained as possible because they weren’t “within range of our other selves” and therefore won’t “disappear”, which seems like a flimsy reason.

And don’t get me started on the ending, which I’m sure to spoil for readers who get that far. Let’s say the problem is solved but with no satisfactory explanation to decipher what caused the problem or how it was solved. I honestly wish it had ended differently. Amy Rubinate did a passible job at narrating the material she was given, but the plot left a lot to be desired in my opinion. Goodreads reviews are full of star-struck readers swooning over what I see is a lackluster love story. Maybe it just wasn’t meant for me.

The Raven Boys

Raven BoysTitle: The Raven Boys
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Narrator: Will Patton
ISBN: 9780545465939
Pages: 409 pages
CDs/Discs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 9 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press (Scholastic Audiobooks), c2012.

He fell to his knees — a soundless gesture for a boy with no real body. One hand splayed in the dirt, fingers pressed to the ground. Blue saw the blackness of the church more clearly than the curved shape of his shoulder.
“Neeve,” Blue said. “Neeve, he’s — dying.”
Neeve had come to stand just behind her. She replied, “Not yet.”
Gansey was nearly gone now, fading into the church, or the church fading into him.
Blue’s voice was breathier than she would have liked. “Why — why can I see him?” [...]
“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue. Either you’re his true love,” Neeve said, “or you killed him.” (15-16)

Blue Sargent has been told that she will kill her true love with a kiss, and therefore has sworn off men entirely. But when she sees a spirit in a graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve, there’s only two reasons she would see him: either she’s his true love or she killed him. Neither bodes well for Blue, so when she runs into the boy, named Gansey, when he visits her psychic relatives, she’s curious about him. It turns out he and his friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah have been searching for the hidden burial-place of an ancient king that will grant a wish to his discoverer. But little do they know that their group isn’t the only ones searching for the lost king, and their competition will stop at nothing to reach the tomb first.

Initial thoughts were that I didn’t enjoy this audiobook as much as I had hoped to. Loyal readers might remember that I was surprised by how much I found myself enjoying Shiver and raved about Scorpio Races. Looking back at my Waiting on Wednesday post when I had first heard The Raven Boys was being published, I expressed some confusion about the plot and characters. Unfortunately, my suspicions turned true, and I had a hard time connecting with the characters in this story. There were a lot of unexplained phenomenon that I’m assuming will be explained in the upcoming sequel, but I wish I we had been rewarded with some of those answers at the end of this book.

For people who like gothic mysteries, this might be a good book to try. There are lots of spooky descriptions, unexplained physic phenomenon, and brooding boys. The romance is a little gothic too, since I found myself comparing Adam to the guy from Corpse Bride, even though he and Blue are both very much alive. Blue starts off dating Adam, but is inexplicably “drawn” to Gansey, the leader of the pack of boys that also includes perpetually sullen Ronan and the perpetually silent Noah. I thought Adam was the most flushed out of all the boys, and we get a really good sense of his motivations and feelings, more so than anyone else. It’s got some mysticism too as Gansey’s obsession with finding lay lines and an ancient king who may (or may not) be buried nearby dominates his thoughts and actions.

But in order to get to the romance (which is a predictable love triangle unlike what we find in Scorpio Races) we have to slog through the first third of the book, which is a slow recount of back story after back story, first with Blue, than with they boys, then finally Gansey’s quest. The action is almost nonexsistent until the final chapters, where it then becomes so rushed (maybe making up for lost time?) that you have difficulty following what’s happening. It’s not so much that there are unexplained coincidences, but things are so intertwined that it’s difficult to accept that these five teens would get along with each other so well in real life. It’s Gansey’s search that holds them all together, but no one appears as interested in it as he is until the very end. We see very little of anyone’s life separate from each other, which makes me wonder if that’s why I found it so difficult to relate with them. I spoke with another librarian who also really liked Scorpio Races but couldn’t get into The Raven Boys so if you fall in this category I would probably say skip the inevitable let down and go reread Scorpio Races for the umpteenth time.

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons WhyTitle: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Narrator: Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman
ISBN: 9780739356500 (book on CD)
Pages: 288 pages
Discs/CDs: 5 CDs, 6 hours, 25 minutes
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2007.
Awards: Named to the Best Books for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, and Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults lists by YALSA 2008

Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo.
I don’t believe it.
No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests.
No. I can’t believe it. Hannah Baker killed herself.
I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically; why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.
What? No!
I’m not saying which tape brings you into the story. But fear not, if you received this lovely box, your name will pop up . . . I promise. (7)

Clay Jensen returns from school to find a box addressed to him. Inside are seven tapes and a map of town. When he plays the tape labelled “1″ with bright nail polish, he hears the voice of his secret crush Hannah Baker, who had killed herself just two weeks prior. She starts the tapes with a word of caution that each of the people listening to the tapes are one of the reasons she killed herself. Clay, studious and sweet, can’t imagine what he did that might have contributed to Hannah’s death. But he spends the rest of the night following the voice of Hannah as she directs him through town and through her last moments of life.

Wow. Just … WOW. If you haven’t listened to this audiobook, you need to. There’s a reason it’s included in YALSA’s 2008 list of Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults. The connections and experience of listening to a book that is primarily narrated by a set of audiotapes is so different from either reading the words or listening to an audiobook that is narrated the more traditional way. The production team was fantastic in timing a lot of the ends of a tape in the story to coincide with the end of the CD that you’re listening to, so you’re going through the motions of changing out the tape at the same time the narrator is doing the same action you are. It’s a level of involvement that you don’t traditionally experience, and it gave me goosebumps on occasion. Fabulously done.

Bravo also to narrators Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman, and again kudos to the production team for recognizing and respecting the fact that they needed two narrators, one female and one male, to do the book justice. I can’t pick a favorite because their skills were equally admirable. At times gut wrenching and dejected, snarky and sarcastic, hopeful and hopeless, the emotions run the gamut and readers/listeners are dragged along whether they want to be or not. But I found myself appreciating the manhandling because it makes you think and consider life in a whole new way, especially when considering the reasons that she has for killing herself, since some of them might seem minimal until taken into context as a whole.

Jay Asher’s story is haunting. It’s like a train wreck, where we know what’s going to happen and we recognize the upcoming disaster, but we’re captivated by the realistic dialogue, the pain and heartbreak, and the inability to change the outcome. While you might not remember every detail of every story as well as Hannah does, you’ll remember the emotions that the story evokes. It’s a cautionary and eye-opening tale of what little jabs and snide remarks can accumulate and escalate into becoming so much more to a person. I’m reminded of a story that I read, I think in a Reader’s Digest magazine or Chicken Soup for the Soul book. A student sees a loner walking home from school weighed down with books, and invites that person to a party. At graduation, that book-burdened student, no longer a loner, reveals to the whole class that he/she was planning on committing suicide that weekend. The backpack was so overloaded so that the parents wouldn’t have to clean out the student’s locker after the funeral, but that invitation changed everything. We see that missed opportunity in the story, where just one action, on the part of so many people, would have changed Hannah’s mind. She was unable to ask for help outright, but as we see in the tapes the warning signs were there, if only anyone had seen them. I readily look forward to reading whatever Jay Asher writes next. Along with Hate List by Jennifer Brown, I feel like this should be required reading for high school or college freshmen.

A must read, or better yet a must listen to, story for everyone.

Seraphina

SeraphinaTitle: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Narrator: Mandy Williams with Justine Eyre
ISBN: 9780307968920 (audiobook), 9780375866562 (hardcover)
Pages: 465 pages
CDs/Discs: 11 CDs, 13.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, Random House Children’s Books, c2012.
Publication Date: July 10, 2012

“We find your security inadequate, Captain Kiggs. This is the third attack in three weeks, and the second where a saar was injured.”
“An attack you set up shouldn’t count. You know this is atypical. People are on edge. General Comonot arrives in ten days–”
“Precisely why you need to do a better job,” she said coolly.
“–and Prince Rufus was just murdered in a suspiciously draconian manner.”
“There’s no evidence that a dragon did it,” she said.
“His head is missing!” The prince gestured vehemently toward his own head, his clenched teeth and windblown hair lending a mad ferocity to the pose.
Eskar raised an eyebrow. “No human could have accomplished such a thing?” (25-26)

Forty years after a treaty was drafted and agreed upon, relationships between the dragon and human populations are strained at best. When the human Prince Rufus is murdered in a draconian manner, all eyes turn to the dragons. Dragons, who can assume the physical appearance of humans in order to interact with them, are being taunted, attacked, and held under suspicion. With the treaty anniversary approaching and official dignitaries from both sides meeting, Seraphina is kept busy as the newly hired music assistant. But her close, long-time friendship with a dragon puts her in a unique position to understand their analytical, emotionally detached way of thinking, and Seraphina quickly finds herself aiding Captain/Prince Kiggs in his investigation. They’d better act fast though, as the dragons and humans are meeting soon, and there may be a murderer in their midst with plans for more mayhem.

What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? I’ve tried really hard to avoid all the praise that has been heaped on this debut novel, but it’s almost unavoidable. Even the cover is stamped with praise from such big names as Christopher Paolini, Tamora Pierce, and Alison Goodman. I truly fell in love with this book, and the audio was excellent from start to finish. Yes, the dragons might be the stereotypical unemotional beings, but Hartman does manage to add depth to the dragon characters’ rationality, even though feelings are treated like the plague for their kind. If I remember correctly, I compared the story to someone as if Star Trek Vulcans could fly and were plopped down in Renaissance court, something of a Spock meets Shakespeare.

The language is beautiful, the setting has depth and breath and, since Seraphina is a music teacher, sights and sounds come alive. Hartman has created a world with social and cultural background, from a full pantheon of diety-like saints and court etiquette to navigating political turmoil and espionage. Mandy Williams does an excellent job with her voices and has the inflection spot on, in turn emphasizing the emotion of the humans and the reserved nature of the dragons. I really appreciated the choice to have Justine Eyre contribute (I won’t say in what way) because it clearly separated those two narrators and indicated the shift to readers. I have to feel sympathetic towards Kiggs because you know by the end of the book he has some of this figured out and he’s just trying really hard to ignore the obvious inconsistencies of Seraphina’s personality. What a personality Seraphina has though, it’s no wonder she makes friends so easily. She’s very likable in her naive sort of way, which aids her in convincingly lying when necessary to aid her in treading that fine line between navigating and mediating for the two distinct worlds. She’s got a quick mind that is showcased throughout the book, something we don’t really see in strong female protagonists very often who are usually too busy trying to save their own skin or getting involved in some sort of love triangle. Seraphina does both at some point throughout the story, but it’s not the whiz-bang action but more a thinker novel. If you’ve seen the newest version of True Grit, I view her as very comparable to Mattie Ross (the little girl) in regards to her wits, intuition, and tenacity.

There were two things that I do have to complain about though. At the very end with the scene between Kiggs and Seraphina, I kind of wish that had gone differently, just because they have an amazing friendship that is built over their mutual collaboration and admiration for each other. Seraphina’s humanity and her struggle to find her place in the world really ring true, with the author exploring some topics that some teenage girls are faced with in terms of self-acceptance. The other thing that fell flat for me was Seraphina’s “mental imaginings” (what would you call them without giving them away) until you figured out what they actually were. Then they just struck me as massively convenient. As in “REALLY? You just did that because you’d backed yourself into a corner and needed somewhere to go with this, so you added this stuff to make it work.” I think the story would have been much more interesting and Seraphina much more relatable if she didn’t have this mental block hanging over her head and she didn’t have all these clues to fall back on. Isn’t one distinguishing aspect of her enough, now she’s a freak of nature? I hope this makes sense to people who have read the book.

Both of those things played a very small role in the book, and while I think they’ll later have a larger impact on my appreciation of the series, it should by no means detract from anyone’s enjoyment of this book. I’d heard good things about this book, but the real reason I finally made an effort to snag a copy was that it was named a finalist for the Morris Award, YALSA’s award for a work of young adult fiction by a debut author. YALSA’s blog The Hub has issued a challenge to readers everywhere to finish the finalists before the award is announced next week. Go check out the Hub’s interview with Rachel Hartman that they just recently posted, along with information about the challenge itself. It’s also a Cybils finalist for the Teen Science Fiction and Fantasy category. At least take a look at this book before the sequel, titled Drachomachia, is released this fall.

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