Posts tagged ‘Audiobook’

Clementine, Friend of the Week

Clementine Friend of the Week.jpgTitle: Clementine, Friend of the Week
Series: Clementine #4
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Narrator: Jessica Almasy
ISBN: 9781440777929 (audiobook), 9780545283076 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 2 CDs, 2 hours
Pages: 161 pages
Publisher/Date: Recorded Books, LLC, c2010. (Scholastic Inc, by arrangement with Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, LLC.)

“It’s time to give us your presentation. That’s quite a smile. I’m glad to see you’re so happy about it. Come on up.”
I looked through my backpack in case I had forgotten that I remembered to make some notes last night, but nope.
“That’s all right,” my teacher said. “Just come up and tell us about your life.”
“So I went up to the front of the class. “I was born,” I began. And then nothing else came out, because it is very hard to think when you are standing at the front of the class with all those eyes on you. (40)

Clementine has been chosen as Friend of the Week, an honor that bestows upon her the ability to be line leader, feed the fish, collect the milk money, and tell the class her autobiography. At the end of the week, she will receive a book from her classmates detailing all her positive attributes. But Clementine doesn’t feel like a very good friend, as she doesn’t understand why Margaret is mad at her. She starts granting compliments, tattoos, names, and decorations for the upcoming bike rally. But when her kitten Moisturizer goes missing and that’s all she can focus on, will Clementine loose the friends she’s worked so hard to gain?

I written before how much I love and am charmed by Clementine. She’s got a personality that is impossible to not love. Marla Frazee’s pictures convey the emotions of the entire family, and it’s a shame that they aren’t included in the audiobook format. But Almasy continues her narration of the series, conveying these same emotions through her inflections. Clementine’s distress when her kitten goes missing is authentic to a third grader who looses a pet. She is intent on finding her, at whatever the cost (and it does cost, as more than a few wanted posters are printed by her parents). The outcome realistically solves all the problems. Pennypacker smartly restricts the action to a week in the life, letting everything play out naturally, and I’m excited to see what everyday adventures Clementine gets into next.

Calamity

Calamity.jpgTitle: Calamity
Series: Reckoners #3
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781511311748 (audiobook) 9780385743600 (hardcover)
Pages: 421 pages
CDs/Discs: 10 CDs, 12 hours
Publisher/Date: Audible Inc., and distributed by Audible, Inc. and Brilliance Audio. c2015. (audiobook) Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016 (by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC) (hardcover)

“I’m fine,” I said. “But they spotted me.”
“Get out.”
I hesitated.
“David?”
“There’s something in there, Mizzy. A room that was under lock and key, guarded by drones–I’ll bet they moved in there as soon as our original attack happened. Either that, or that room is always guarded. Which mean . . . ”
“Oh, Calamity. You’re going to be you, aren’t you?”
“You did just tell me to, and I quote, ’embrace my nature.'” I fired another salvo as I caught motion at the end of the corridor. “Let Abraham and the others know I’ve been spotted. Pull everyone out and be ready to retreat.”
“And you?”
“I’m going to find out what’s in that room.” I hesitated. “I might have to get shot to do it.” (27)

David is now the defacto leader of the Reckoners, or at least what is left of them. Their fight against Regalia in Babylon Restored did not go expected. Then again, when do David’s plans ever go as expected? After breaking into the Knighthawk Foundry to get supplies, they follow a lead to Ildithia, an ever shifting city made of salt. Their bare bones basic plan is to find out how to defeat Calamity while recovering one of their own team members. But the powers of the Epics are not what they seem, and as David fights to save people who were once allies, he may put in jeopardy the team members who have always stayed loyal.

Sparks, it is hard to talk about this third book, the conclusion to the trilogy, without giving away anything that has happened in the first two books. So forgive my vagueness. Beginning about two months after the end of Firefight, David has truly evolved into a leader, running team missions and being looked to by other team members for guidance and instruction. His bad similes/metaphors are back, and they seem to have leaked into the rest of his team. While that may be true to real life (speech patterns evolving based on who you hang out with most), it was less amusing when more and more people started spewing bad similes. I still have two really great favorites. The first one is David trying to describe his nerdiness/obsession about Epics:

“I’d call him obsessed, but that doesn’t do it justice.” […]
“I’m like . . . well, I’m like a room-sized, steam-powered, robotic toenail-clipping machine.” […]
“I can basically do only one thing,” I explained, “but damn it, I’m going to do that one thing really, really well.” (57,61)

The fact that person actually allows him to finish his metaphor so many minutes/pages later proves how much they have grown on each other. You really see David’s romantic side in this next quote. I wish I had someone to describe me like this.

“You,” I said, tipping her chin up to look her in the eye, “are a sunrise.” […]
“I would watch the sun rise, and wish I could capture the moment. I never could. Pictures didn’t work–the sunrises never looked as spectacular on film. And eventually I realized, a sunrise isn’t a moment. It’s an event. You can’t capture a sunrise because it changes constantly–between eyeblinks the sun moves, the clouds swirl. It’s continually something new.
“We’re not moments [redacted]. We’re events. You say you might not be the same person you were a year ago? Well, who is? I’m sure not. We change, like swirling clouds and a rising sun. The cells in me have died, and new ones were born. My mind has changed, and I don’t feel the thrill of killing Epics I once did. I’m not the same David. Yet I am.”
“I met her eyes and shrugged. “I’m glad you’re not the same [redacted] I don’t want you to be the same. My [redacted] is a sunrise, always changing, but beautiful the entire time.” (137-138)

However, David also develops a distracted internal monologue as a result of his more pronounced love interest that proved unnecessary and seemed out of character, especially with these happening in the heat of battle.

“I imagined her cursing softly, sweating while she sighted at a passing drone, her aim perfect, her face . . .
. . . Uh, right. I should probably stay focused. (16)

One of the things I admired about this book was Sanderson’s handling of the fight scenes. The team does take damage. While with the technology existing in the book not everything they undergo in the sense of physical injuries is permanent, there is a character death that I didn’t see coming and that seriously affects the team, not only emotionally but also in their ability to run future missions. Other readers/reviewers have mentioned the drawn out nature of the planning and the fighting, but I’m glad that time passes. Fights aren’t won in an instant, wars take time, and the exhaustion that the characters suffer as a result is mentioned repeatedly. We also see the aftermath of a battle, with bodies lying around, and David actually considers taking action to prevent a repercussion of war, before being convinced otherwise by his team that it would be too risky. His world view has expanded to not just consider his own goals, but also what sort of implications the end result would have on the citizens of this new city, which his focused way of thinking in Newcago would have never considered.

The book also showed that people have their own weaknesses and motivations, regardless of whether they are an Epic or a regular human. By the end, we definitely see that some people will never change, while others, especially David, have evolved over the course of the series, sometimes out of necessity but other times due to their own inevitable growth.

It’s the last about 20% of the book where the plot starts to fall apart. Sanderson has backed himself into a corner, with Reckoners falling back, falling down, and falling out of the fight. There is an epic (pardon the pun) showdown between David and the book’s major Epic (who for…. reasons I can’t name). Several new Epics are introduced, and one resurfaces from a previous book. From the beginning I felt like there was more to one of the new Epics than meets the eye, and his role/reveal in the final fight felt VERY convenient. The team’s interactions with him felt out of character, and this is where things start to get muddled. Then David has a last minute Hail Mary opportunity (literally, the last 50 pages of a 400 page book) to take out Calamity, which was never the primary goal of the entire plot of the book even though the book is named after him.

I love how Jessica from Rabid Reads posted on Goodreads that the problem is solved “just like that”, which is literally the words Sanderson uses.I went back to check, page 411. REALLY? Less than 10 pages to the end of the book and “just like that” problem solved. There’s no other way to describe it, that’s just lame Sanderson. You spend three books setting up this epic battle and circuitous rationale behind the powers, the weaknesses… everything. And then you go and pull (really great turn of phrase omitted because of spoilers) fake-out on us and refuse to answer any of the questions that result. It’s the epitome of “and then they woke up, and realized it was all a dream”.

Regardless of my anger towards Sanderson over his inability to provide closure or a straight answer to close off this series, Macleod Andrews continues his phenomenal job at voicing the series. I found myself by the end of this third book comparing his voice for David to a young Michael J. Fox, overly ambitious but still cautious about what’s to come. Meanwhile, the altered Epic they face off against seemed like the newest incarnation of Batman, where the voice gets gravely when assuming his alter ego. Seriously, listen to the audiobooks for these, but be prepared to be scratching your head and throwing the discs across the room by the end.

Firefight

Firefight.jpgTitle: Firefight
Series: Reckoners #2
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781501278099 (audiobook), 9780385743587 (hardcover)
Pages: 416 pages
Discs/CDs: 9 CDs, 11 hours 41 minutes
Publisher/Date: Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC c2014. (Audible, Inc. and distributed by Audible, Inc. and Brilliance Audio)

I pass through the crowd and knelt beside the corpse. She’d been a rabid dog, as Prof had put it. Killing her had been a mercy.
She came for us, I thought. And this is the third one who avoided engaging Prof. Mitosis had come to the city while Prof had been away. Instabam had tried to lose Prof in the chase, gunning for Abraham. Now Sourcefield had captured Prof, then left him behind to chase me.
Prof was right. Something was going on. (31-32)

David and the Reckoners have fought off three new Epics successfully, but something isn’t adding up as to why they are making the effort to travel to Newcago and engage a team of Epic assassins. All clues point to Babylon Restored, formerly known as Manhattan but currently ruled by a mysterious High Epic named Regalia, who flooded the city in order to maintain control. David, Tia, and Prof leave the rest of the team behind and join up with a new team that has become entrenched in the city. Their plan involves taking out Regalia before she takes out them, but with Regalia seemingly one step ahead of them at every turn and secrets being kept on all sides, David’s famous improvisational skills may be put to the test.

If you enjoyed Steelheart, you’re going to love Firefight. MacLeod Andrews is back as narrator, and the one scene that swept me away was when David is getting choked to within an inch of his life by an Epic. You hear the distress, you hear the rasping, frantic breath leaving his body, and you hear the fear. We leave behind in Newcago Cody and Andrew, and get Mizzy, a manic pixie like character who is a new recruit training to be sniper and point who also does equipment repairs, operations leader Val who is just as close mouthed and serious as Jonathan, and Exel, an ex-mortician giant of a man who is half gregarious infiltrator/reconnaissance  and half big man of muscle. Each new character and Epic are given equally appropriate voices. Mizzy is delightful in terms of comic relief. In one of my favorite scenes early in the story, she is given “scribe duties” during a meeting, and her notes include:

Reckoner Super Plan for Killing Regalia at the top of the sheet. Each i was doted with a heart. […]
Really important, and we totally need to do it on the paper, with three big arrows pointing at the heading above. Then after a moment, she added Boy, it’s on now in smaller letters beside that one. […]
Regalia totally needs to get with the business. […]
Excel needs to pay better attention to his job […]
Step One: find Regalia, then totally explode her. Lots and lots. […]
Step Two: put Val on decaf. […]
Step Three: Mizzy gets a cookie. […] (131-135)

She plays off David extremely well, maybe because they are both the newest ones to their teams, or maybe because they are closest in age to each other.

“Well, trust me,” I said. “I’m more intense than I look. I’m intense like a lion is orange.”
“So, like . . . medium intense? Since a lion is kind of a tannish color?”
“No, they’re orange.” I frowned. “Aren’t they? I’ve never actually seen one.”
“I think tigers are the orange ones,” Mizzy said. “But they’re still only half orange, since they have black stripes. Maybe you should be intense like an orange is orange.”
“Too obvious,” I said. “I’m intense like a lion is tannish.” Did that work? Didn’t exactly slip off the tongue.
Mizzy cocked her head, looking at me. “You’re kinda weird.” (115)

And yes, David’s bad metaphors are back, but it seemed like they were less frequent than in the first book, which is okay by me. Although as someone determines near the end of the book “You’re not actually bad at metaphors […] because most the things you say are similes. Those are really what you’re bad at.” (414) It, among other things, shows David’s growth from the last book. The intensity of the Reckoners’ situation has also changed, as they fight not just one but two Epics that are intertwined in a long term goal that no one sees coming. David starts questioning what they are doing as more information about Epics comes to light and he starts to wonder what makes Epics go bad and if there is a way to prevent them from being consumed by their powers. We see David in true assassin mode, questioning his motives and beliefs as he tries, usually unsuccessfully, to come to grips with his feelings and hatred towards most Epics but with an ever growing list of exceptions.

We get way more information about the creation of Epics then I ever expected. All the pieces of the puzzle start coming together, and the ending simultaneously wraps up the problems found and creates whole new ones that we need to face in the recently published third and final book in the trilogy. We may have lost some friends in the process (shhhh, no spoilers here), but knowing David, he’ll figure something out, and being in a tight spot just makes him try harder to succeed.

Steelheart

SteelheartTitle: Steelheart
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Reckoners #1
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781480569133 (audiobook), 9780385743563 (hardcover)
Pages: 386 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 12 hours 20 minutes
Publication: Brilliance Audio, c2013. (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. c2013.)

Eventually the Reckoners led me around a corner that looked like every other one–only this time it led to a small room cut into the steel. There were a lot of these places in the catacombs. […]
I took a hesitant step backward, realizing I was cornered. I’d begun to think that I was on my way toward being accepted into their team. But looking into Prof’s eyes, I realized that was not the case. He saw me as a threat. I hadn’t been brought along because I’d been helpful; I’d been brought along because he hadn’t wanted me wandering free.
I was a captive. And this deep in the steel catacombs, nobody would notice a scream or a gunshot. (48-49)

Ever since his father was killed by the Epic Steelheart, David has been spending the last decade studying these super powered people who inevitably battle each other for control over the cities and populations of the dystopian United States. They all have a weakness, and David knows he holds the key to Steelheart’s, if he could only figure it out. David’s not the only one fighting the Epics, and he’s been following the Reckoner’s efforts for years. After intentionally stumbling into an assassination attempt and helping (sort of) he’s able to convince the team of Reckoners to let him join them on their quest. But convincing them to go up against the most powerful Epic ever is going to take a lot more than hunches and guesswork. It’s going to take stealth and strategy, neither of which David is particularly good at imbuing.

Think of the X-Men world, but only with the Magneto team and not Professor Xavier’s humanity; then add Superman’s obscure weakness, only it’s different for every Epic, and you’ll have a good approximation of the world Brandon Sanderson has created for his Reckoners series. And what a world it is, with adaptations to the culture while still maintaining enough recognizable references to modern day to orient readers. It’s a bloody existence being a Reckoner, surrounded by war and death. The opening scene of David’s father’s death is also gritty and gruesome in it’s realism, which might turn off some more sensitive readers. I was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t see more of the day-to-day life during an Epic’s reign, but what we do glimpse is impressive. With only one or two chapters of info-dumping back story, readers are submerged into David’s internal monologue.

David’s life after his father’s death is like those of kids during the Industrial Revolution, working grunt jobs due to his size and ability to be exploited, although he doesn’t mind as it guarantees him a roof and food. Much has been said about David’s horrible yet humorous metaphors, and they definitely are memorable and add to his personality.

I tried not to stare, but that was like trying not to blink. Only . . . well, kind of the opposite. (48)
Megan’s eyes could have drilled holes through . . . well, anything, I guess. I mean, eyes can’t normally drill holes through things, so the metaphor works regardless, right? Megan’s eyes could have drilled holes through butter. (103)
“It’s like . . . a banana farm for guns.”(142)
They looked so dangerous, like alligators. Really fast alligators wearing black. Ninja alligators. (149)

But there is also depth and incredible insight from David. He objects to being called a nerd because not only does he make a distinction between smarts and persistence, but he also realized that the smartest students lost their freedoms by being scrutinized and under surveillance working for an Epic. He recognizes he’s been living a life motivated by revenge and death, but isn’t quite sure how to focus on anything else.

Not just David, but all the characters are multidimensional, and readers focus on what little information they can gleam from the narrative about everyone. MacLeod Andrews has been added to my list of top narrators. David’s youthful and playful but committed demeanor, Cody and Abraham’s back-and-forth banter, the more serious and solemn tones of Prof, the skeptical and scholarly Tia, and Megan’s sarcastic quips are all captured with precision and excellence. Cody is the spot of humor, with his southern accent, Scottish vocabulary, and intentionally insane side-comments. He throws you off guard leaving both readers and David wondering just how much of this is an act and how much of what Cody says does he actually believe, but rest assured he is much more than the village idiot. Abraham is a mystery, with Andrews alluding to a James Bond character with his clipped accent, but Abraham’s personality is probably the most predictable and stable out of all of them. Megan is the stereotypical unrequited love interest for David, who hasn’t had much past experience with girls. But Megan is anything but stereotypical, as David realizes when she turns out to be an extremely capable point-man with an astonishing knowledge of weapons. She challenges him, which is good for both of them. Rounding out the team is Tia, the typical brains of the bunch who holds information and her cards close to her chest, and the esoteric and reclusive leader Prof, who leads with equal parts discipline and democracy. The whole cast is memorable, not just because of Sanderson’s writing but Andrews’ portrayal of them.

Like the movie Saving Private Ryan, team members share only the basics about their life in an effort to avoiding tipping off the Epics if one of them ever gets captured. Prof actually asks David how old he is and if he would have anyone who would come looking for him if he were to disappear. By the end of the book, we’ve realized not everyone is as they appear, and it’s questionable where and how the story will continue. We know more about all the members of the team then we did when we started, but there is one big question that needs answering, and hopefully will be resolved in the sequel.

Egg & Spoon

Egg & Spoon.jpgTitle: Egg & Spoon
Author: Gregory Maguire
Narrator: Michael Page
ISBN: 9781491502167 (audiobook)
Discs/CDs: 11 CDs, 12 hours 51 minutes
Pages: 475 pages
Publisher/Date: Brilliance Audio, c2014. (audiobook) Candlewick Press, c2014 (hardcover)

She is an insane old woman, though Cat, but at least I’m safe in the warmth, and she knows ho to cook. The old woman was ladling pink broth into a bowl whose sides were etched with obscure runes. “Drink up, my dear. I find borscht a wonderful marinade when applied from the inside.” […]
Cat demurred and said, “Who are you really?”
“I’m Queen Victoria. I’m Nellie Bly. I’m Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean — what difference does it make? I’m hungry and I want to eat, so do my bidding.”
“I couldn’t dare take your supper. I have nothing to pay you with.”
“You’re not taking my supper, you’re supplying it.” (141-142)

Gregory Maguire creates a tale reminiscent to the Prince and the Pauper. Even though Ekaterina isn’t a princess, she has many more advantages than Elena, who is essentially starving to death as she tries her best to care for her sick mother after her father has died and her two brothers taken away from home. A lightning strike forces their unlikely meeting, and Elena finds herself in an enviable position when the Ekaterina’s train takes her away from the poverty and towards the Tsar’s palace. She hopes to use that opportunity to reclaim her brother from army conscription, but she doesn’t know that Ekaterina is hot on her trail with her own transportation. In their travels, they realize that Russia might be in more trouble than either girl, and are recruited by the fabled folkloric witch Baba Yaga to solve the problem of melting ice and disappearing magic.

Michael Page’s voice is properly moderated between the high pitched, stereotypical screech of Baba Yaga and the clipped tones of the prince (although he does sound vaguely English and not Russian). Even the two younger girls have slight differences that easily distinguish between the educated Ekaterina and the more rurally raised Elena. The sweeping landscape is described beautifully, and Elena’s situation is especially heart-wrenching when readers realize the troubles behind her meager existence.

Maguire’s tale is less impressive, for if readers are familiar with the story of the prince and the pauper, then they essentially have the plot of the first part of the book. The second half pairs the girls on an adventure to save Russia. It’s discovered that the floodwaters and dampened winter and magic are connected, involving the firebird and ice dragon. I was unfamiliar with the ice dragon legacy, and was intrigued by my introduction to this Russian myth. By the end of the novel, the twist, feel good resolution revealing the cause of the trouble is somewhat moralistic and preachy, encouraging the human race to whine and want less and focus more on reducing the wants of others. It’s an unexpected altruistic message, and while anti-materialists might appreciate the thought, I was disappointed that such a long journey yielded so little action in the conflict.

The magic in the story is supplied by the magic that the girls encounter through their association with Baba Yaga, who has multiple distinguished and unique traits including her unpredictability, attitudinal house which reminds me of Howl’s Moving Castle, sarcastic shape-shifting familiar, and pattern of speech which allude to time travels or future premonitions. She is by far my favorite character in the whole story. I can only imagine the fun Maguire must have had in writing her scenes considering the fun I had reading them. Her nontraditional exclamation “Honey Buckets!” became a term of endearment towards her guests, who while certainly unpredicted are not entirely unwanted, regardless of what she alludes. I find that same sort of unexpected endearment towards her in what ultimately is a overly long, predictable plot. Extreme fantasy and fairy tale/folklore fans might appreciate this exposure of not-often portrayed Russian mythology, but most will probably loose interest before the quest even begins.

Slade House

Warning: This review contains things that some may consider minor spoilers.

Slade House.jpgTitle: Slade House
Author: David Mitchell
Narrators: Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues
ISBN: 9781101923672 (audiobook), 9780812998689 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs, 7 hours
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015.

Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door. Down the road from a working-class pub, along a narrow brick alley, you just might find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the residents of Slade House extend an invitation to someone who’s different or lonely; a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside? For those who find out, it’s already too late… (back cover)

I don’t think I could have more efficiently summarized the plot or the tone of this novel which is why I quoted the back cover rather than reveal any of the details that are slowly spooled out. David Mitchell’s story is masterful and I need to add him to authors that I need to read more often. The suspense and intrigue are palatable, as readers slowly gain knowledge of how Slade House works. In the first chapter, we meet Nathan Bishop and his mother, and every subsequent story builds on the first. That I think is the first mistake, as the connections between the events every nine years spiral outward.

Narrators Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues invoke an appropriately eerie mood and captures the unique personalities with equal skill. Judd’s younger Nathan Bishop has the naiveté of a young man, possibly with Asperger’s, who doesn’t understand social cues and probably makes him the most humorous character:

“The next three windows have net curtain, but then I see a TV with wrestling […] Eight house later I see Godzilla on BBC2. He knocks down a pylon just by blundering into it and a Japanese fireman with a sweaty face is shouting into a radio. Now Godzilla’s picked up a train, which makes no sense because amphibians don’t have thumbs. Maybe Godzilla’s thumb’s like a panda’s so-called thumb, which is really an evolved claw.” (5)

Detective Inspector Gordon Edmunds is the stereotypical English “copper”, with clipped, no-nonsense, jaded sarcasm who takes his job seriously, even if it’s just to avoid his boss. Chloe Chetwynd’s voice is also appropriately whispery and tentative. Rodrigues’ is tasked to provide not only the majority of the book, but also has her voice slightly modulated to provide voice to electronic recordings. Between Sally’s confusion, Freya’s trepidation, and the cautious professionalism of Marinus, she showcases an impressive range. The shift in narrators for each chapter is understandable but the choice in narrator for the last chapter is jarring and questionable until the chapter progresses, and especially when you get to the last page and fresh goosebumps arise at the ending’s implications.

The only quibble I have is that the nature of Slade House necessitates huge revelations of information in the guise of investigations, by both amateurs and professionals. It’s like watching a spider weave its web around the prey, and then gloating about how easy it was to catch the fly in the sprung trap. The reason these summaries don’t grow boring is that new information is always provided, leading readers to a nesting dolls affect where each layer is unveiled. Readers are yelling at the victims the entire time to get out, watch out, and just when you think you have it figured out, the next layer is revealed. While I was slightly disappointed by how that last chapter progressed and the new information that explained everything seemed slightly contrived, that previously mentioned last page almost makes up for the easy out. When you get to the end, you realize just how much foreshadowing has been sprinkled like breadcrumbs through the entire novel, and you want to go back and identify the clues. I predict this might end up on Adult Books for Teen Readers lists. There’s definitely appeal for those intrigued by the mysterious, spooky, and unexplained horror found in the plot.

Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun.jpgTitle: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Narrator: Katharine McEwan
ISBN: 9780307989925 (audiobook)
Pages: 366 pages
Discs/CDs: 12.5 hours, 10 CDs
Publisher/Date: Books on Tape, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2015. (Penguin Random House, LLC, c2015.)

I closed my eyes and tried to scream, but only released a puff of air. I felt Paddy’s mouth again and knew I had no chance at all. He would eat me here or drag me off to a glade or valley only he knew of, a place from which I’d never return. The last thought I remember having was This is how it feels, then. This is what it means to be eaten by a lion. […]
The doctor gave me laudanum, and then stitched me up with a hooked needle and thick black thread. […]
“He must have been ready to let you go. Or perhaps you weren’t ever meant for him.”
I felt the tug of the needle, a pushing and pulling, as if just that part of my body were caught in a small current. His words were another kind of current. “What am I meant for then?”
“How wonderful that question is, Beru.” He smiled mysteriously. “And as you did not die on this day, you have more time in which to answer it.” (39-41)

Ironically enough, she did spend the rest of her life trying to find her place in the world. A fictionalized account of a real woman I have never heard of, author Paula McLain elaborates on the details of Beryl Markham. Beryl is a modern woman living in the turn of the century, in an English colony in Africa. Her father moves the family to a farm, even though he’s not a farmer. Her mother leaves with her brother Dickie after only two years, and Beryl is left with her father. She thrives in the bush with a native Kipsigis tribe and a particular young boy Kibi who becomes a life-long companion. But as she grows, she realizes that her upbringing was anything but conventional, and she balks at becoming a cultured woman with nothing to do except tend the hearth and home. From horse training to eventually learning how to fly, Beryl charts her own course, looking all the while for a man whom she can trust with her heart and high hopes.

Provided with engaging story-telling, which sounds quite frequently like you are gathered around a campfire in the safari leaning in to hear the speaker’s words, Katharine McEwan’s narration complements McLain’s descriptive prose. It drops to a whisper when she’s sneaking outside as a child after dark, and has a sense of urgency when faced with dangers and decisions. Beryl’s dialogue is higher pitched and more attitudinal when she is younger, separating it from her older experiences and the “looking back” narration that the rest of the book takes. While I have no idea how accurately the foreign words are pronounced or the people are portrayed, having never visited the country much less the continent, her pronunciations are beautiful. Distinctions between the African residents and those from the English areas are clear. With a novel that spans decades and two continents, it’s an impressive accomplishment.

Readers should read the author’s note at the end, which is where McEwan provides insight on the inspiration for her novel. Drawing information from Beryl’s autobiography West with the Night, McEwan elaborates on this unknown aviator’s accomplishments. First soloing in 1931, she was one of the first women to receive a pilot’s license. She pioneered the practice of scouting ahead for animal herds for safari groups. In 1936, she flew across the Atlantic and made headlines in the United States, but garnered barely a mention in the English papers. Earnest Hemingway recognized her writing skills, which was ultimately what resulted in a reprint of the manuscript 50 years later when Beryl was 80 years old. It’s a book that other readers intrigued by this fictional account may want to search out for the original inspiration.

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