Posts tagged ‘Audiobook’

Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone.jpgTitle: Children of Blood and Bone
Series: Legacy of Orïsha #1
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
ISBN: 9781250295446 (hardcover), 9781427295514 (audiobook)
Pages: 531 pages
Discs/CDs: 14 CDs, 17 hours 44 minutes
Publisher/Date: Macmillan Young Listeners Audiobook from Henry Holt and Company, c2018 by Macmillan Audio

“What did you do?” I ask. “Why were the king’s men chasing you?”
“Don’t tell us.” He shakes his head and jabs his finger toward Lagos. “Go back. Turn yourself in. It’s the only chance we have to–”
She removes her cloak, silencing us both. […]
“Oh my gods,” I breathe.
The princess.
Amari.
I kidnapped Orïsha’s princess. (75)

Zélie and her brother Tzain are hoping for a good day at the market, selling a fish their father caught. That is their one goal, until Zélie is frantically approached by a hooded girl, pleading for help in getting out of the city. As a member of the diviner race, Zélie has no love for the ruling class, or slaughtered her people, specifically her mother, and killed magic forever. Or so she and everyone else thought, until the girl produces a scroll and reveals herself as Amari, the princess and newly created sympathizer of the diviners. The scroll is the first part of a process that could bring magic back, but Amari’s tyrannical father will do anything from preventing that from happening. It’s a race against time and the pursuing army, led by Amari’s brother, to renew magic before the slaughter from a decade ago resumes.

While I cannot speak to the accuracy of her accents, Bahni Turpin is a joy to listen to, as the different languages roll off her tongue and provide a very authentic listening experience. She sobs, she screams, and she gasps in turn to accentuate the expression and emotion of the narration. Capably carrying the conversations between the cast of characters, I look forward to listening to other audiobooks by her.

The story has been raved about. It was chosen by Jimmy Fallon (really by a majority of his fans) as the inaugural selection for his book club. NPR reviewer Caitlyn Paxson exclaimed that “Adeyemi already writes like an author who is ten books deep into her career, so I can only imagine how strong her writing will become.” It was a Kirkus Prize Nominee for Young Readers’ Literature.

However, I can’t wholeheartedly throw my support behind it. I loved the unashamedly African American cast, setting, and story. Pulling from Nigerian deities and mythology/religion, and incorporating vocabulary and languages, cultures, clothing, and food, readers are immersed in the world of Orïsha. Just foreign enough to provide a sense of wonder, but still familiar enough for readers to recognize (lionares, snow leopanaires, and black panthernaires big enough to ride on?), readers are captivated by the details. That same amount of time was regrettably not spent on the overall plot and character development.

Of the four main characters who share narration duties, Amari seems to be most developed. Living a sheltered life until a horror she witnesses in her own home encourages her to flee with a stolen item, she has reasons for first seeking refuge and then rebellion. Zélie, one of two reluctant rebels, is the stereotypical “chosen one,” picked by the gods (or so everyone else says) to lead the pursuit and restore magic to the lands. I’m not picking on the premise, but I am disappointed in the generic but very obvious love story that engulfs her. Tzain, Zélie’s brother, is the other reluctant participant, literally along for the ride to protect his sister and keep her out of trouble as she stumbles through this quest. Both Tzain and Zélie are on guilt trips, as Zélie blames herself for the trouble that has arisen from her new found “savior status” and Tzain vacillates between blaming her for their predicament and feeling guilty that he harbors these feelings. The fourth narrator, Inan, it the most difficult to both relate to and understand. I can’t say too much without giving away the story, but I’m seriously perplexed by how many times he changes his mind on what side he should be on and how he both condones and condemns his actions and the actions of others. In my mind,  he gets what he deserves at the end. I know that’s slightly harsh to say and we’re not quite sure how/if his part in the story ends since the last page is a mighty cliffhanger, left intentionally as a set-up for the second book.

Now, the magic of the magic is that there is no sense to it. The history of the magic, how it’s distributed, the gods involved in each iteration, is all relayed repeatedly throughout the book. Maybe it’s because there is so little screen time for the magical acts, the author was worried that readers would forget it existed. Maybe it’s the convenience that it disappears, reappears, and bends to the whims of the story. Again, I can’t say too much without spoilers, but there are hints that this history is falling apart as first one and then a second character show different colors of their abilities than what everyone expects, and then gives no explanation for why that is the case.

The story succeeds slightly better as a political commentary/satire. While we primarily think of satire as humorous comic strips or sarcastic Onion articles, Children of Blood and Bone is quite obviously a commentary and criticism of racial prejudice and politics in modern society (and intentionally so, as detailed in the ending author’s note). The brutality of the guards and government officials is directed solely against a race of people physically different from themselves. The magic and power that the oppressed have challenges the authority of the ruling class, and those in power are scared because of the tenuous hold they know they have on the suppression of the downtrodden, literally and figuratively. The dissension in families as younger generations begin to question the “way it’s always been” and the reasons behind the upheaval, the accuracy of the historical stories, and the disparity between the citizens. It’s all there, and while I appreciate the symbolism, I recognize I’m coming from a somewhat sheltered viewpoint as a white, working/middle class, native born female. Allusions have successfully been made in other stories, and I think when they are not the primary focus of the book they are able to lead more people to them without fear of being seen as radical in nature. I’m interested to see where the magic, the story, and the characters end up.

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All That’s Left of Me

All That's Left of Me.jpgTitle: All That’s Left of Me
Author: Janis Thomas
Narrator: Angela Dawe
Pages: 328 pages
Discs/CDs: 9 CDs, 11 hours 9 minutes
Publisher/Date: Lake Union Publishing, c2018.
ISBN: 9781503901148 (paperback), 9781543674484 (audiobook)

No. It was a dream.
And the tree? Was that a dream? And the existence of a horrible, sadistic man, was that also a dream?
I take a step back, then another and bump into something soft. I whip around to see the little woman–what was her name?–from the next shop down.
But if yesterday was a dream, then how do I recognize this old woman?  (79)

The life of Emma Davies was not especially a happy one, containing a lackluster marriage, a disabled son, a disconnected daughter, and a disastrous work situation. But then that all changes, starting with a dog. A barking, yappy dog next door that won’t shut up. Emma wishes the neighbors had never gotten that dog. The next morning, they never had. No one except Emma remembers the dog ever existing. With no rhyme, reason, or explanation, Emma has to figure out the rules herself. She wishes away the tree in the front yard, the sadistic boss, her daughter’s boyfriend. It’s a game of subtraction in order to add to her mundane and stressful life. But then Emma’s wishes become less carefully considered and start to manifest in unpredictable ways, ways that lead to more troubles and heartache that Emma’s not sure can ever be undone.

This review will start with the narrator, because that was the easiest thing for me to like. Angela Dawe had good pacing, great emotion, and really committed to getting things right. There were a surprising number of accents, a stutterer, and Josh, Emma’s disabled son to voice, and she does them all extremely well, each person with their own inflection. I thought Josh’s voice was especially well done, at least to my untrained ear. Additionally, when things change for the family, the voices change to match their circumstances and experiences. She’s been narrating for 10 years now, and I highly recommend her for future audiobook enjoyment (she’s originally from my home state, hey!)

This book is not what I expected. I expected a feel good kids movies, only for adults, where absurd situations leave them feeling like they really had it better before the wishes and wish things back to normal. It’s unlikely a spoiler to reveal that things do work themselves out in the end, but not the way you think. Parts of Emma’s life are truly awful, and there is at least one trigger warning scene of sexual assault that comes out of left field and is horrible in its violence and cruelness. It’s like I’m reading the description of a bad porno, a phrase I never thought I’d type in this blog. I wanted to skip over that scene so badly, but listening to the audiobook meant I didn’t. There’s a second scene of sex and a third scene of implied sexual contact with a minor that I’ll simply describe as not as bad as the first one. That first one though is graphic enough to leave you reeling, I should say as it’s intended to do.

The sexual assault and it’s aftermath is certainly what sends Emma’s life in a tailspin. The yapping dog is nothing in comparison, which I think is why it’s so jolting in it’s placement for readers, but it does set up the unsteady footing that Emma must experience perpetually. Emma’s emotions regarding her life are understandable, stressing the ups and downs and conflicted emotions that she has with each of her relationships. We don’t really see the other characters though, as they are stereotypes and caricatures of themselves; the disabled yet highly intelligent and perceptive teenage son, the moody and boy crazy teenage girl, the resentful and unfulfilled husband sparking those same feelings in his wife. The turns in fortune that ultimately result in subsequent wishes are over the top, with cases involving pregnancy, an animal attack and a car accident. While Emma might have thought her original life was devoid of happiness, these new lives repeatedly stress the fact that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

There’s an inconsistency in how the worlds collide that bothered me repeatedly during the reading, but that also keeps Emma second guessing what is happening. Things that Emma bought or received during alternate time lines are sometimes still in her life while other things don’t maintain their presence. I wish there had been more explanation as to why Emma received this “opportunity”, what the rules were, and what the heck was that ending all about. A weird acid trip of a realistic fantasy story, where everything appears horrible, and then it gets much, much worse. As I said, not what I expected, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it.

Obsidio

Obsidio.jpgTitle: Obsidio
Series: The Illuminae Files #3 (sequel to Gemina)
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Full Cast, including Olivia Taylor Dudley, Johnathan McClain, Carla Corvo, MacLeod Andrews, Erin Spencer, Andrew Eiden, Lisa Cordileone, and Lincoln Hoppe, with Matthew Frow, Olivia Mackenzie-Smith, and Ryan Gessel
Illustrators: Start Wade (ship insignia illustrations), Meinert Hansen (military map and ship blueprint and schematics), Marie Lu (select journal illustrations), Lisa Weber (select journal illustrations)
ISBN: 9781101916728 (audiobook),
Discs/CDs: 11 CDs, 13 hours 1 minute
Pages: 618 pages
Publisher/Date: LaRoux Industries Pty Ltd and Neverafter Pty Ltd., Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2018 (audiobook), LaRoux Industries Pty Ltd. and Neverafter Pty Ltd. (text), Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2018.

“Ladies and gentleman,” Boll interjects. “The facts are these: Hypatia‘s current damage levels mean she’d take at least seven months to return to Kerenza IV, even if she had the fuel to get there. The Mao‘s engines appear entirely intact, so it seems we have no choice but to leave Hypatia behind. Once we transfer her population to the Mao, we’re going to have nearly thirty-four hundred people aboard a freighter designed for what I suspect is a thousand at best. Our life support will be working overtime; we’ll have limited H2O, limited food. Presumbing we even make it back to Kerenza IV, we have no idea what’s gone on planetside while we’ve been away. The best we can hope for is the colony is still somehow intact, and that we don’t starve to death or suffocate on our way back there. Do I need to go on?”
It’s enough for Garver to forget his outrage, and he’s quieter when he speaks again. “Is there any good news at all, Captain?”
Hanna pipes up from by the wall. “BeiTech thinks we’re all dead?”
“Hooooraayyyyy,” Kady adds helpfully, shooting Hanna a wink. (63-64)

Survivors from the attacked colony Kerenza IV and the collateral damage Jump Station Heimdall have finally opened formal lines of communication. While reunions and introductions should be happy occasions, as you can see by the quote there’s the pressing need of supplies and a way home for both stranded ships and their passengers since the jump station has been destroyed. Captain Boll’s plan to board and commandeer the Mau (over Chief Garver’s objections) and head back to Kerenza IV to save themselves, but then an intercepted transmission makes the mission more vital; there are people still planetside, but some of them aren’t going to be friendly to their arrival. Among the remaining colonists is Kady’s cousin Asha, who’s resistance group is getting desperate as word spreads that the BeiTech “goons” are going to leave no survivors, once they harvest enough fuel. Enter Asha’s ex-boyfriend Rhys, a BeiTech tech who wasn’t involved in the original invasion team but has been called planetside because someone keeps messing up the invader’s equipment. They haven’t spoken in over a year, and miracles aren’t the only thing in short supply, but will any of these characters ever find their way safely home?

The groups previously introduced in the first two installments of Amie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s sprawling space odyssey have now met in real life. And at over 1800 pages, a day and a half worth of audio narration, and over seven months of action in the story, not counting the two years of elapsed time between the “now” and “flashbacks” that make up the majority of the story, it definitely feels like an odyssey. The production team behind the audiobooks continues to excel at their translation of a very visual creation into an audible one. Other audiobook companies, take note, this is a ******** radio drama! The first one won the Audie for Multi-Voice Performance, and the second one was a finalist in the Young Adult Category (remember those slight errors I mentioned in my review? I wonder if that played a factor in their loosing out on the gold.) I see this one being recognized as well. From sound affects to modulations, to the number of people involved, they pulled out all the stops. There was one pivotal scene where I think at the end of the chapter they should have held the pause between tracks just a little longer in order to allow readers time to process what they just heard, but that is minor compared to everything else they did right. I recognize that some people prefer the visual experience of reading the books and seeing the ephemera portrayed, but I started this series as an audiobook and there was no way I was going to end it any other way. Do check out the book, if only to flip through it and see the illustrations contributed by Marie Lu (famed author in her own right) and Lisa Weber.

I thought Asha and Rhys deserved more screen time and more development, but considering we only had access to them for a short, limited time, I understand that things were probably cut. Their involvement with each other felt inevitable, and I would have liked to have seen the evolution of their feelings just a bit more, especially Asha’s. The quick-quipping conversations between the returning characters are just as I remembered, with back and forth banter that shows just how well they know each other and also how much they have been through. I burst out laughing at some of the comments, like Nik messing with Ella making her think the language file was corrupted by quoting random bits of Latin and other languages, or when AIDAN (yes he’s back) tells Ella “My systems still have difficulty interpreting certain human mannerisms. If you could avoid speech modes involving false ambivalence and irony, that would decrease the risk of terminal failure of my synaptic network.” Ella’s response is “ur saying i could literally kill you with sarcasm” [sic]. In fact, the most humorous bits of conversation feature either Ella or Nik as participants, probably due to their upbringing. When Niklas finds himself trying to work a part of the ship (all hands on deck during this time of need), he relays over the coms “Um . . . yeah, all the lights are green back here, too. Wait, no … [thump thump] Yep, there it goes.” (615) Oh, and as an added bonus, we learn the identity of the Analyst ID who has been narrating the entire story thus far.

Kady, Hanna, and Ezra all grow in their character development. Hanna learns her father has died, and she struggles with how to process but also hide her grief as she is called on to help. Ezra has to deal with authority, both assuming it and accepting it, and we all realize that he might not ever fully achieve either. Kady has a pivotal scene where you really get to see her strength in character. Ian Grant (her father) makes a lovely gesture that lets you know where she gets her strength from. New characters or those we haven’t had much contact with emphasize these are still teenagers who are essentially taking control of the situation and doing most of the planning. In quieter moments, which are so rare in their world of everything falling apart around them, and in heart-wrenching and shocking scenes that we see how invested these characters, especially Kady, are in saving not only their lives but the lives of everyone else. Everyone has been changed completely by this experience, and we see a little glimpse at the very end of how they try to handle, cope, and recuperate. As they remember their fallen, I will remember this story for a while.

Overall, I’m looking forward to their next series by this pair. Aurora Cycle, the first one titled Aurora Rising is slated for release in April of 2019.

Little Brother

Little Brother.jpgTitle: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
ISBN: 9780307711540 (audiobook), 9780765323118 (paperback)
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 54 minutes
Pages: 382 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008.

I lost it. “Dad! Are you listening to yourself? They’re talking about investigating practically every person in the city of San Francisco!”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s right. They’ll catch every alimony cheat, every dope dealer, every dirtbag and every terrorist. You just wait. This could be the best thing that ever happened to this country.”
“Tell me you’re joking,” I said. “I beg you. You think that that’s what they intended when they wrote the Constitution? What about the Bill of Rights?”
“The Bill of Rights was written before data-mining,” he said. He was awesomely serene, convinced of his rightness. “The right to freedom of association is fine, but why shouldn’t the cops be allowed to mine your social network to figure out if you’re hanging out with gangbangers and terrorists?”
“Because is’t an invasion of my privacy!” I said.
“What’s the big deal? Would you rather have privacy or terrorists?” (137-138)

Marcus is a computer nerd living in San Francisco. He’s cut out of school early with his friends to pursue a clue as part of an online scavenger hunt, when the impossible happens. A terrorist attack leaves them one man down after the Department of Homeland Security apprehends them and holds them for secret questioning. When Marcus gets out, the city is in a semi-militarized state as the government hunts down the perpetrators. That’s what they claim they are doing, but as their surveillance methods increase, Marcus isn’t the only one who begins to wonder who these people are and what or who they are really collecting and pursuing.

I don’t want to turn this into a rant about technology, surveillance, privacy, and how they intersect all too often these days. However, reading this book gave me the same creepy crawly feeling that Robopocalypse did almost 5 years ago. Written before Robopocalypse, nothing has really changed since Cory Doctorow wrote this a decade ago. The general public still blindly accepts that surveillance is happening, that information about them is being collected about their movements and habits and activities, and nobody questions where that information is going or how it is being used. We grant access to huge quantities of information because companies require it in order to use their services, and now these publicly owned companies have the ability to control that information, including selling it to third parties, analyzing it for their own purposes, and deciding whether or not the authorities can gain access to that stored information.

It’s hard to imagine any of this happening in real life, and that’s Doctorow’s point. It might be hard to imagine, but it could happen, and we have the technology already where it could. Obviously advocating for a more involved and informed society when it comes to technical privacy, the book ends with Marcus advocating in what feels like a public service announcement for “signing up voters and getting them to the polls.” It includes afterwards by a security technologist and the MIT student who hacked the XBox, both of whom encourage readers to evaluate the world. “Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even more stupid” says the security technologist Bruce Schneier, while Andrew Huang ends his essay with “Be like M1k3y [Marcus’ screen name in the book]: step out the door and dare to be free.”

As a result of the technical nature of the story, there are huge sections of info dumps, where action is forwarded and details are revealed in professorial paragraphs mimicking a classroom lecture. This means that readers might get more out of it when they read it over listening to it. While the background is necessary to understand the story and appreciated by this reader, I do wish there had been a better way to incorporate it into the narrative. Obviously Marcus, the main character, is going to surround himself with people who can aid in his digital exploits and who are already more knowledgeable than readers about hacking concepts, so explaining it in character to a character wouldn’t ring true to the story. But they do have an opportunity when they finally have to involve a less-tech savvy but no less paranoid character (I won’t reveal who) about two-thirds into the story. And five pages on key-encryption or an even longer passage on Marcus’ history of LARPing, while appreciated, seemed a little wordy.

The story is insular in nature, with the close-up focus of Marcus and his movements and point of view. As a result, we don’t get a detailed feel for any of his classmates, friends, or fellow hackers who aid in his attempted take down of the government overreach. There is a romance, and they do have protected sex off screen which might prevent recommending it to some audiences. In fact, I feel like we get more information and character development from Marcus and his parents then from any of his friends, most of them falling to the sidelines due to objections of Marcus’s activities.

It’s an important book to recommend in these times of digital sharing and oversight, and hopefully one that not only sparked discussion when it was published but will continue to encourage debate and free thinking, along with caution and thorough analysis of the world, both virtual and real.

Gemina

Gemina.jpgTitle: Gemina
Series: The Illuminae Files #2
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Carla Corvo, MacLeod Andrews, and Steve West, with a full cast
ISBN: 9781101916667 (audiobook), 9780553499155 (hardcover)
CDs/Discs: 11 sound discs (12 hr., 30 min.)
Pages: 659 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016 by LaRoux Industries Pty Ltd. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is Acting Captain Syra Boll of the WUC science vessel Hypatia calling Jump Station Heimdall, please respond.
Please respond. Heimdall over. […]
On the off chance we are not receiving your transmissions, or you are unable to reply, Hypatia is still en route to the Heimdall waypoint with Alexander survivors and refugees from the original Kerenza assault aboard. We’re hoping like hell it’s not just a smoking pile of debris when we get there. Estimate our arrival in fifteen days.
If you guys can roll out any kind of cavalry, now’s the goddam time.
Hypatia out.

Little does the crew and passengers of the Hypatia know that Jump Station Heimdall is having their own problems at the moment, and could use some cavalry assistance of their own. The same people who blew up the illegal mining colony of Kerenza and is pursuing the Hypatia is intent on cleaning up this botched effort, through any means necessary. And those means just might include making sure no one from Hypatia or Heimdall can report back on the mass murder that has taken place. A celebratory event turns into a hostage situation, with the captain’s daughter Hanna pairing up with the Nik, the reluctant member of the crime family secretly transporting illegal materials on-board the ship. But those materials may prove more trouble than the hostage takers.

With an almost entirely new cast of characters, the audiobook for this second in the series is almost as good as the first. Although some time has passed since I listened to the story, I remember there were two snags in the production of the early discs where the sound quality didn’t quite stay consistent. However, they were easily forgettable by the time you got to the final scenes. A notoriously impartial and unapologetic Surveillance Footage Analyst from the first book makes a welcome reappearance. Towards the end, overlapping narratives portrayed side by side in double-page spreads in the book are read consecutively, so as to maintain the intended connections.

This second outing in the saga gets slightly more fantastical than the purely scientific first book, especially involving the climatic solution to a problem that seems unsolvable. The death scenes are also more graphically rendered, partially as a result of the cargo being stowed on ship. That’s really all I can say about either event without giving too much away. While I enjoyed the continued use of transcripts, typed analysis, and other written communications to convey the story, the commentary provided during some of the more intense scenes stretched credibility. When trying to deter a hacker, would Nik’s cousin Ella, a skilled hacker in her own right, really take the time to type exclamations like “I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU NOT TO DISTRACT MEEEEEE AAAAAAAHDB#OWALEKVNLAKENLQWENVLQKENV”KQENV”LQENV”LAV ” while trying to save her cousin’s life? In my experience, it might have been more of a vocalization as opposed to an actual typed response, especially when your fingers are otherwise occupied. Ella’s disability is touched upon in a matter-of-fact manner, but never belabored.

Having read the first book, readers will be not be surprised by the blooming romance between two of the characters, but like the first one it is relatively tame and PG compared to the violence and death of the numerous assaults on the characters. In that respect their attention is appropriately focused on staying alive rather than developing a relationship, although there are some tender moments between the two. Nik and Ella’s back and forth rapport also brings some lighter moments to the gripping suspense of when they are going to die.  There is some drug use that might not be appropriate for younger readers, but all of the frequently used swear words have been censored out of both the written and audio versions. Overall, an excellent addition to the sci-fi series, and I’m eagerly anticipating the third and final book in the trilogy.

Illuminae

Illuminae.jpgTitle: Illuminae
Series: Illuminae Files (#1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, and Jonathan McClain, with a full cast
Book Design: Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff
ISBN: 9781101916629 (book on cd), 9780553499117 (hardcover)
Pages: 599 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Borzoe Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015 by LaRoux Industries Pty LTD. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Interviewer: Tell me about yesterday.
Kady Grant: I was in class when it started. This is going to sound stupid, but I broke up with my boyfriend that morning, and he was right there on the other side of the room. I’m staring out the window and coming up with all the things I should say to the jerk, when these ships fly right overhead and all the windows start shaking.
Interviewer: Did you know something was up?
Kady Grant: No. You don’t jump straight to an invasion. […]
Interviewer: You evacuated at that stage?
Kady Grant: You make it sound way more organized than it was.
Interviewer: How was it?
Kady Grant: All kittens and rainbows. Apart from the screaming and explosions. (2-3)

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two teenagers who have just broken up, when their illegal mining colony is attacked by a competing mining corporation. Their hasty evacuation puts them on different ships, with a warship following close behind their tiny, limping fleet intent on finishing the job. But a virus has found its way onto one of the ships, and command is not sharing information in an attempt to stop rumors and panic. Hacking into the system, Kady is more knowledgeable than most, but even she is still in the dark about just how much trouble they are in. Forced to work with Ezra in order to piece together this puzzle, Kady has a hard time trusting anyone, including the supposedly unalterable AI system aboard the ship that seems to be updating itself with a mind of its own. And she’s unfortunately not the only one, as command  is conflicted regarding their course of action. With the odds clearly stacked against them, it’s anyone’s guess if they will make it out alive, and if they don’t what will finish them off first.

First, let’s talk design and production. In listening to the audiobook, you get a full cast narration, in which listeners can experience what it must have been like for people when War of the Worlds radio broadcast was first released. There are sound effects, there are harried voices talking over each other, there is the robotic monotone of the AI and other electronic system alerts. When a tremendous explosion rocks through the story, there is a pregnant pause in the audio of silence. Reminiscent of the Death Star explosion scene in Star Wars the audiobook stops completely and allows you to attempt to come to terms with desperately trying to overcome the shocking turn of events. You’re continually scrambling to figure out what is happening, and the audio allows you that time in its unhurried spooling of the story.

This brick of a book is designed beautifully, and some librarians were surprised to hear my raving reviews of the audio that it translated so well into an audio presentation. There are censored words throughout the book, blacked out with heavy marker. There’s paraphernalia paper clipped to reports. There are logos and letterhead for each of the ships involved, and spiraling script that conveys the chaotic events. I didn’t miss any of it, and in looking at the print version I am more thoroughly impressed with the quality of the audiobook. They took into account every detail and it shows.

The story itself reads like the Star Wars epic space opera/drama that it is. While there is a romance involved, for most of the story the two main characters are separated by space so there is very little PDA. Because the story is told in transcripts of verbal and textual conversations and summaries of surveillance footage, there is also surprisingly little technological jargon. The two primary characters, Ezra and Kady, don’t start out as soldiers or scientists or computer specialists, and that allows a very different story to take place than compared to other science fiction thrillers, like The Martian. The dialogue is riddled with censored swear words, incomplete sentences, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Kady is already sarcastic and suspicious, and her blatant disregard for authority is only amplified as the lies and secrets are uncovered. Ezra is slightly less skeptical than his ex, and is willing to go along with orders, until even he can’t ignore the writing on the wall. They play off each other extremely well, and their growing concern for each other evolves naturally as they cling to whoever they can as feelings of trust begin to dwindle. The other characters are fully realized, and everyone is struggling to reorient themselves in this ever-changing, perilous situation.

There is so little true science fiction available for teens, regardless of the quality this title would have been included on reader’s advisory lists. But because it exceeds all expectations that I had, I’m placing it as one of my favorites. The sequel Gemina is already available, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series and finishing the trilogy when the third one arrives at the end of the year. Highly recommended.

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.

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