Posts tagged ‘Audiobook’

Discovery of Witches

Discovery of WitchesTitle: A Discovery of Witches
Series: All Souls trilogy #1
Author: Deborah Harkness
Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda
ISBN: 9781449823863 (audiobook), 9780670022410 (hardcover)
Pages: 579 pages
CDs/Discs: 20 CDs, 24 hours
Publisher/Date: Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2011.

“What is happening to me?” Every day I ran and rowed and did yoga, and my body did what I told it to. Now it was doing unimaginable things. I looked down to make sure my hands weren’t sparkling with electricity and my feet weren’t still being buffeted by winds. […]
“But I didn’t ask for it. Do these things just happen to witches–electrical fires and winds they didn’t summon?” I pushed the hair out of my eyes and swayed, exhausted. Too much had happened in the past twenty-four hours. (210-211)

Diana Bishop, a professor visiting and conducting research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, requests a manuscript called Ashmole 782, skims the contents, and then sends it back into the storage. But Diana, who never invested in studying the witchcraft that has flowed through her family’s blood for generations is quickly informed that Ashmole 782 contains secrets that other witches, vampires, and even daemons have been searching for over a century to find. Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist vampire also residing at Oxford, takes a special interest in protecting Diana as her dormant powers burst forth and refuse to be ignored. Although their growing relationship and interest in each other has long been deemed taboo, historical documents may be linking both of them to the manuscript. Loyalties are questioned and alliances are formed as it becomes a race against time to determine the manuscript’s origins and purpose and who should ultimately gain ownership.

A friend of mine has been trying to get me to read this for years. She loves the series, raves about the series, and thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread. And I’ve seen it mentioned in blogs and journals with increasing regularity as the series continued to be published and it became a New York Times bestseller. But I disappointingly can not join her on her fan-wagon, and I’m apparently not the only one. Jessica Day George reviewed on Goodreads that she was torn as to whether or not to read the second one, and I think she described it really well, so I’m going to direct you to her review and I’ll wait for you to come back.

Back?

Good, because I totally agree with everything she said. Two hundred pages into the book, Diana and Matthew have eaten dinner together, gone to a yoga class together, studied old manuscripts together, and discussed creatures together. Oh, and everyone, not just the vampires, have incredible noses and knowledge of scents. They smell cloves, cinnamon, flowers, carnations, nuts, and other ingredients that I had to Google to figure out what they were talking about (malmsey? say what? Oh it’s a grape, thank you Wikipedia). Something FINALLY happens that forces both of them into hiding, where it takes another 150 pages of talking and multiple info dumps of relevant back story and plot points before climatic event number two happens, lasting only 40 pages before they go into hiding again and talk some more.

Matthew constantly withholding information from Diana and everybody else, even after being asked point-blank. I was so tired of Diana’s naivety, which seemed more and more unrealistic as the story continued and we learned more about her past and her family history. Is it any wonder Diana is so naive when her own family cuts her out of teachable moments and neglects to give her relevant information? Matthew is cold, distant, removed, and overprotective to the extreme. I found myself comparing this book to a Twilight for grown-ups, with a moody, brooding, know-it all vampire “protecting” a naive woman who is being chased by other mythical/fantastical creatures while she may or may not have special powers that she doesn’t know how to use, can’t be taught, and is not bothered by the overbearing nature of her boyfriend.

The one thing that saved this overly long, excessively descriptive, audiobook was Jennifer Ikeda’s narration. She brings life to the characters, especially all the accents and inflections that the secondary characters require.

Boundless

BoundlessTitle: Boundless
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Jim Tierney
Narrator: Nick Podehl
ISBN: 9781480584143 (audiobook), 9781442472884 (hardcover)
Pages: 332 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours 12 minutes
Publisher/Date: Brillance Audio, c2014. (audiobook), Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2014. (hardback)

Amidst the greenery the silver keychain is easy to spot. Will bends to pick it up. It holds only a single key, unusually thick, with plenty of notches. At once he recognizes it as the key to the funeral car — same as his father’s. The guard must have dropped it. Will pockets it.
He is hurrying back toward the shantytown to catch up with the guard, when he hears a grumble off to his right. Likely the fellow has fallen down again. Will wonders if he should tell his father. The guard’s clearly unfit for his post. Will walks through the trees in the direction of the noise. Through the thick foliage he catches a glimpse of the guard’s jacket. […]
The guard is pushed back against a tree, his eyes wide with surprise. A second man has an elbow against the guard’s throat and is pulling the knife from between his ribs. Will can’t tear his eyes from the knife, darkly wet. He feels like he’s been touched with something searingly cold. The man with the knife turns. (87-88)

In the last three years, Will’s life has a had a dramatic change ever since he and his father were involved in the laying of the last spike connecting the Canadian Railway from one side of the country to the other. Will is riding with his father on the longest and biggest train ever built, the Boundless, and in addition to all the passengers and a circus, there is also a funeral car for the manager of the railroad, who is intent on spending the rest of his days, even after death, riding the rails. Rumors fly about the treasures contained in the funeral car, and when the guard is murdered, Will protects the key but ends up isolated in the back of the train. His efforts to make it back to his father and authorities are thwarted again and again, and just when he thinks he can trust the circus folk, he learns their ringmaster might have his own motives for keeping Will and the key close.

This is the first book of Kenneth Oppel’s I’ve read, having missed his previous bestsellers. His other books will be going on the to be read pile if they are anything like this. His world building is fantastic, including descriptions of the train and details of the furnishings. Elaborate information about how technology of that day work are included, and I noticed little details like how the clothing buttons instead of zippers closed. There’s also pieces of magical realism that connect effortlessly with the story, with Sasquatches being very real, in addition to the Muskeg hag that bewitches people and magic tricks where you wonder if real magic is happening.

Will is a multifaceted character, gullible in the beginning but also suspicious once he gets the key. Originally intent on mimicking his father’s exploits and having an adventure of his own to tell people, he sets off to prove his abilities, both to others and to himself. We see him grow as a character, and assume some control over his life. I totally expected Mr. Dorian’s plot to go in a different direction, but that wasn’t the case, and I’ll admit I was slightly disappointed. If you are familiar with the classics, you may draw the same conclusions when you hear what Mr. Dorian is after. When Will finds himself in trouble again and again, his rescues and solutions do not strain credulity, and you’re left with a tale that makes you wonder “Could that have really happened?” Maren is also a capable and self-assured young lady who knows what she wants and is not afraid to go to great lengths to get it. Both Will and Maren think fast on their feet and play off the other’s strengths in order to help each person get what they want most, and their interactions with each other were highly entertaining.

Nick Podehl is probably at his best here, as he incorporates the global nature of the travelers, including accents and even a few words of Hindi. Although I can’t vouch for their accuracy, they sound authentic enough. For fans of trains, fantastical creatures, or just readers who are looking for the next great adventure, they are in for one wild ride.

ALA Media Awards 2015

The ALA Media Awards were announced today. The Oscars of the children’s and teen literature world, here’s a break down of some the winners. The complete list can also be found on their website. I hesitate to include all of them because this post would be way too long, but these are the ones I think the majority of the readers have heard of and are interested in learning. But please do check the website, as all of the winners should be considered and I may include the winners of the other awards in a future post.

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
Newbery Slide 2015

WINNER

“The Crossover,” written by Kwame Alexander

Two Newbery Honor Books also were named:

“El Deafo” by Cece Bell, illustrated by Cece Bell
“Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson

You’re going to have a sense of de ja vue between the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Author Award, so let’s get that out of the way.Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:
Coretta Scott King Author Slide 2015

WINNER

“Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson

Three King Author Honor Books were selected:

Kwame Alexander for “The Crossover,”
Marilyn Nelson for “How I Discovered Poetry,”
Kekla Magoon for “How It Went Down,”

I had a weird since of coincidence as well when viewing the winners of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. I give you the trio of biographies on female African American artists.

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Slide 2015

WINNER

“Firebird,” illustrated by Christopher Myers and written by Misty Copeland

Two King Illustrator Honor Books were selected:
Christian Robinson for “Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” by Patricia Hruby Powell
Frank Morrison for “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” by Katheryn Russell-Brown

You’ll see some repeats from the above list to this next list as we move to the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children.
Sibert Slide 2015

WINNER

“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” written by Jen Bryant

Five Sibert Honor Books were named:

“Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson
“The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & the Fall of Imperial Russia,” written by Candace Fleming (Also recognized as a finalist for YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults)
“Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson
“Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands,” written and illustrated by Katherine Roy
“Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation,” written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

I don’t think anyone was as surprised by the list for the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:
Caldecott Slide 2015

WINNER

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend,” written and illustrated by Dan Santat

Six Caldecott Honor Books also were named:

“Nana in the City,” written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo
“The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art,” illustrated by Mary GrandPré and written by Barb Rosenstock
“Sam & Dave Dig a Hole,” illustrated by Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett
“Viva Frida,” written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant
“This One Summer,” illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki

SIX Honorees! Three picture book biographies! And the most shocking inclusion of all, is a young adult graphic novel!! While I applaud the diversity of the selections and the number of honorees is unprecedented (can anyone prove otherwise), I’m disconcerted at the range of ages that the selections are intended for. I need to gather my thoughts and reread the book before addressing this fully, so stay tuned.

This One Summer was also featured in the list of the Michael L. Printz Award books for excellence in literature written for young adults as an honoree. Am I the only one thinking “WHAT CRAZINESS IS THIS!?!?”
Printz Slide 2015

WINNER

“I’ll Give You the Sun,” written by Jandy Nelson

Four Printz Honor Books also were named:

“And We Stay,” by Jenny Hubbard
“The Carnival at Bray,” by Jessie Ann Foley
“Grasshopper Jungle,” by Andrew Smith
“This One Summer,” by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

A list that didn’t have a single repeat on any of the other lists was the Odyssey Awards, presented for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States:
Odyssey Slide 2015

WINNER

“H. O. R. S. E. A Game of Basketball and Imagination,” produced by Live Oak Media, is the 2015 Odyssey Award winner. The book is written by Christopher Myers and narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers.

Three Odyssey Honor Recordings also were selected:

“Five, Six, Seven, Nate!” produced by AUDIOWORKS (Children’s) an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc., written by Tim Federle, and narrated by Tim Federle;
“The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place,” produced by Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, written by Julie Berry, and narrated by Jayne Entwistle;
“A Snicker of Magic,” produced by Scholastic Audiobooks, written by Natalie Lloyd, and narrated by Cassandra Morris.

And since we’ve covered all the other age group specific awards, let’s finish this post with the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book (which in my opinion should just be renamed the Mo Willems Award):
Geisel Slide 2015

WINNER

You Are (Not) Small,” written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Two Geisel Honor Books were named:

Mr. Putter & Tabby Turn the Page,” written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
Waiting Is Not Easy!” written and illustrated by Mo Willems

What award or winner most surprised you?

Afterworlds

AfterworldsTitle: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Narrators: Heather Lind and Sheetal Sheth
ISBN: 9781442372467 (audiobook),
CDs/Discs: 12 CDs, 15 hours 16 minutes
Pages: 599 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, c2014.
Publication Date: Sept. 23, 2014

“The thing is, I want to defer college for a year.”
“What?” her mother asked. “Why on earth?”
“Because I have responsibilities.” This line had sounded better in her head. “I need to do the rewrites for Afterworlds, and write a sequel.”
“But. . .” Her mother paused, and the elder Patels shared a look.
“Working on books isn’t going to take all your time,” her father said. “You wrote your first one in a month, didn’t you? And that didn’t interfere with your studies.” (15)

This is the story of Darcy Patel, a newly graduated high school student who forgoes college in order to move to New York and focus on her publishing career. This is also the story of Elizabeth, a high school senior and the only survivor of a terrorist attack at an airport that leaves everyone else dead and Lizzie seeing ghosts, including a hunky Hindu god named Yamaraj. Elizabeth is the character in Darcy’s story, written over the course of a month-long writing challenge and then rewritten and revised over the next year. Each girl suffers from distractions of their first romance, life’s interference, and their own insecurities about their ability to handle their situations.

First, the negatives. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, which impedes the flow of each story. Elizabeth, or Lizzie, will be running away from a ghost at the end of one chapter, and then readers are flung back to Darcy’s substantially tamer life. If there were parallels between the plots it might have made more sense, but the transitions are disconcerting and seem arbitrary in nature. In one instance, a plot point is portrayed in Lizzie’s story before Darcy finishes the rewrite of it, which makes it all the more jarring when the subject is broached in Darcy’s because we already know what she decides.

I think this may be the first time that the audiobook quality negatively impacts my enjoyment of the book. Each chapter gets only one track, making the tracks close to 30 minutes long, and quite frequently running onto a second disc. That proves frustrating when you’re listening in your car and reach your destination before the track ends. There are also small clicks in one narrator’s enunciation for Darcy’s parts, which may have been included intentionally to emphasize her accent, but are occasionally distracting.

The parts I enjoyed the most are the exposition on the publishing process and the thought-provoking asides as a result. Darcy’s advance, rewrites, edits, marketing efforts, and fearful expectations are all covered, although we aren’t privy to the actual release of her book. There is a well-quoted portion where Darcy’s friend introduces the Angelina Jolie paradox, which forces your mind to really think about how much suspension of belief we have when reading or watching movies. Darcy is questioned about her appropriation of cultural figures for her novel, and she revisits those thoughts again and again. Darcy’s friend Imogen also reveals that some symbolism in a writer’s work may not be as intentional as you might think, pointing things out that Darcy never realized she was doing. There are beautiful turns of phrases throughout the novel that capture your attention.

“Their bodies fit perfectly like this, two continents pulled apart eons ago but now rejoined.” (264)
“The surface of the snow was frozen into glass. Wind-borne flurries uncoiled across it, the high sun casting halos in them, like gray rainbows.”(428)

But the dialogue in places seems stilted and the characters’ reflections make them seem wise beyond their years, even while you’re waiting for character development to happen. Westerfeld even addresses this, when Darcy realizes that her book characters can be boiled down to a few pithy adjectives. It also strikes me as odd that Darcy, on her own for the first time, receives so little parental supervision or inquisition, especially as she keeps stressing the strictness of her immigrant parents. One bright spot is we refreshingly see a character out of school who is forced to make her own decisions and mistakes about budget, including food and living arrangements, no matter how pie-in-the-sky that life may be after Darcy’s six figure advance is paid out.

Personally, I think Westerfeld should stick with the science fiction/fantasy genres. I’ve raved about his Leviathan trilogy several times on this blog, and this seemed like a disappointing departure from what he does well. However, it’s a “chicken and the egg” thought process, because any complaints about the writing style could be attributed to Westerfeld’s portrayal of Darcy’s inexperienced writing and faults, as when someone falls on the ice and claims they meant to do that to show other people the sidewalk is slippery. Tasha Robinson says it better in her NPR Review:

And Westerfeld has an easy out for any flaws in Lizzie’s side of the book: Darcy is a young, inexperienced author. For instance, her relationship with Yamaraj seems insubstantial and heavily romanticized because it’s being written by an 18-year-old who’s just learning about love herself.

If you’re interested in trying your own hand at the National Novel Writing Month challenge, which takes place in November, try visiting their website. For more fulfilling books with a writing themed plot, try Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

How to Save a Life

How to Save a LifeTitle: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Narrators: Ariadne Meyere and Cassandra Morris
ISBN: 9780316036061 (hardcover), 9780307968722 (audiobook)
CDs/Discs: 8 CDs, 9 hours 54 minutes
Pages: 341 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown, and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., c2011.

“Don’t, Dylan. Don’t ‘ever since your dad died’ me.” The ice scraper falls from my numb hands. I pick it up. “I haven’t changed. I’ve always been this way.”
“No, you haven’t.”
“Okay, well, I don’t remember that Jill.” I hold my hands to my face to warm them up, to press back tears. “I don’t remember. I’m sorry. And I can’t be her now, and I’m never going to be her again,” I say, my voice rising. I realize it, finally. This elusive old Jill I’ve been chasing isn’t someone who can be found. Short of my father coming back from the dead, it’s not happening. Which doesn’t mean I can’t change, just that I can’t change back. (302)

Jill is dealing with a lot of change. In the last year, her father died in a car accident, she’s lost her friends and on-again off-again boyfriend while trying to deal with her grief, and now her mom is adding a baby to the mix. Mandy is the pregnant, unmarried teen who has struck up a tenuous deal with Jill’s mother through emails and has come to live with them until delivering the baby. Their backgrounds are drastically different, but their fears all revolve around this unborn child and how the birth will impact their lives. But can these two girls learn from each other, or will their differences push them further apart from the love they both need?

I think depending on where readers are in their life, different people will get different things from this book. Both girls have their own attitudes, problems, and flaws, making them each extremely relatable in their own way. Mandy has led a hard life, dealing with neglectful mother whose ideas come from real-world experience rather than ideals. She comes across as naive because while she knows life is hard and that she wants a better life for her child, Mandy doesn’t plan very well for her own future because she’s never had that ability before. By contrast, Jill has a primarily sheltered idea of the world and comes across as spoiled, never questioning her ability to plan a gap year and follow her father’s nomadic footsteps. Isolating herself from her friends and family in an attempt to deal with her grief privately, Jill is starting to break out of her shell again and yearn for the time before her father’s death. But as the quote above (which I absolutely love) recognizes, it’s nearly impossible to go back.

Yes, I’ll admit that the self-reflection might get a little corny for some, but it isn’t overdone or too preachy, as this is an emotional book, and it’s beautifully written and read. Ariadne Meyers and Cassandra Morris make this book come alive, with inflection that makes you feel like you’re a fly on the wall listening to these conversations. There’s a reveal that’s alluded to that makes Mandy’s attitudes all the more realistic. Jill and Mandy’s opinions are understandably conveyed best, but the minor characters are in no way background. Jill’s mother has her reasons for doing what she’s doing, Jill’s boyfriend Dylan and Jill’s friends are frustrated, confused, and clueless on how to help her work through her grief. Someone from the past also enters the picture, slowly but surely becoming more and more involved in the present day events. Attitudes change gradually, regressing and advancing, ebbing and flowing as second and third thoughts continue to encroach upon everyone.

The Shadow Throne

Shadow ThroneTitle: The Shadow Throne
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy, book #3 (sequel to The Runaway King)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Map by: Kayley LeFaiver
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545284172 (hardcover), 9780545640060 (audiobook)
Pages: 317 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 hours, 4 minutes, 8 CDs
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2014 (Scholastic Audiobooks, c2014)

With an unsteady voice, she added, “Jaron, do you expect to die in this war?”
My thumb brushed over hers. Not for the first time, I wondered how her skin could be so soft. Then I said, “With the kind of threat we’re facing, I will fight to the death before I surrender. And I don’t see a path to victory.”
“But you’ll find a way. You always do.”
“Maybe Carthya will come through this. But mine has never been the kind of life that leads to old age.” (20-21)

Jaron has every reason to be defeated. After returning home from the pirates camp with a broken leg, he knows war is on the horizon, and receives word of its arrival at the same time he learns of Imogen’s capture. He saved her once, he can do it again, right? With his friends scattered, his country surrounded, and a possible spy in their midst, Jaron is flung into the deadliest battle yet. While he recognizes that he might not make it out alive, he refuses to admit or believe that fate might fall on one of his friends. But will his efforts force him to choose between his companions, his country, or his own freedom?

I posted reviews to the first and second books in the series earlier this year. I still recommend the audiobook versions as an enjoyable listening experience, with Charlie McWade literally providing a voice to Jaron. But with the amount of movement going on between towns and countries, readers might prefer having the map in the print version readily available as a reference of everyone’s destinations and locations. The other thing that I noticed this time around is that the Jennifer Nielsen presents conversations quite frequently as summaries from Jaron’s perspective. I don’t know if she does this to speed the plot or to avoid writing dialogue. I also don’t know if I noticed this more because I was listening to the audiobook rather than reading it. For instance, here are two examples of times I wish I could have “heard” the conversation:

To avoid any argument, I explained only what was necessary of my plans. Mott’s mouth was pinched in a think line of disapproval and Harlowe didn’t look much happier. Tobias clearly thought I had gone insane during my time in captivity, and as that wasn’t entirely impossible, I didn’t contradict him. In the end, they agreed to all that I asked, and Harlowe made Mott and Tobias Promise to keep me safe. Mott replied that he could protect me from everyone but myself, which I thought was a fair compromise. (122-123)

The more we talked about it, the more I was certain that something was very wrong. (194)

Listening to the audiobook, descriptions like the ones just quoted feel as if Jaron is breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the reader. Readers also get first hand analysis of Jaron’s physical and mental state, such as “I was neither the biggest nor the strongest in this battle. My only hope was to be the quickest.” (205) These comments might have read more fluidly if the book had been presented in the third person or if someone else had told Jaron, but from Jaron’s perspective such self-awareness can be slightly jarring.

At other times, these asides are some of the most beautiful and heart-felt portions of the book. I can’t quote any of them without giving away way too much of the plot. Suffice it to say, you’ll know what I mean when you encounter them. Swoon! Balancing the more heart-felt moments, Jaron’s biting sarcasm is a welcome constant in the series. For instance, after encountering a friend, Jaron claims “I need to smile. Tell me something not awful.” After hearing his companions were “miserable”, Jaron arches an eyebrow and says “This is the worst good story I’ve ever heard.” The story continues with an evening rain, making it “cold and so dark we could barely see our own fingers, and the night seemed to last forever.” Jaron responds “I’m beginning to wonder if you understand what ‘not awful’ means.” (94-95) That’s the Jaron we know and love, and those times always brought a smile to my face.

While the print copy benefited from the map, the one benefit of the audiobook was the inclusion of an “exclusive scene” that was not included in the print copy. This bonus scene transports readers to a mid-point in the story and shows an event which Jaron is not present to witness. It explains the actions of another character, and I find myself comparing it to the Harry Potter epilogue at the end of book seven. Some people might like it, but I would have rather been kept in the dark about this character’s motivations than receive this somewhat loose rational behind their actions. It definitely adds more intrigue to the situation. Just like the second book, Jaron paints himself into one corner after another, with no possibly way to get out (at least to everyone else) until some miraculous foresight is revealed that propels him to the next problem. You can’t help but admire his intense planning, but it is also hard to believe a plan this complicated and hinged on so many factors is going to succeed. Still a highly recommended series, this book is Inception meets Princess Bride, and I think fans of both would appreciate the complexities.

Counting By 7s

Counting by 7sTitle: Counting By 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Narrator: Robin Miles
ISBN: 978162406902 (audiobook)
Pages: 380 pages
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2013. (audiobook)
Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2013. (print book)

I’ve got some toddler memories, but my first sequence recall is kindergarten; no matter how hard I’ve tried to forget the experience. […]
I can still hear Mrs. King, spin straight and shrill voice booming:
“How does this book make you feel?”
She then made a few exaggerated yawns.
I recall looking around at my fellow inmates, thinking: Would someone, anyone, just shout out the word tired? […]
So when the teacher specifically said:
“Willow, how does this book make you feel?”
I had to tell the truth:
“It makes me feel really bad. The moon can’t hear someone say good night; it is two hundred thirty-five thousand miles away. And bunnies don’t life in houses. Also, I don’t think that the artwork is very interesting.” […]
That afternoon, I learned the word weirdo because that’s what I was called by the other kids.
When my mom came to pick me up, she found me crying behind the Dumpster. (16-18)

Willow Chance, adopted into a loving family, has an obsession with the number seven, medical conditions (particularly skin disorders), and plants. She is analytic, reserved, and highly gifted and lacks social skills, which makes it difficult to make friends but easy to memorize complex languages and scientific concepts. She finds an ally in older student Mai, who visits with her brother Quang Ha the same slacker school counselor that Willow is forced to see after being falsely accused of cheating on a test. These three unlikely companions, along with Mai’s mother and brother, are thrust together upon the sudden death of Willow’s parents. Forming a bond from secrets, everyone’s lives begin to change as they struggle to help Willow. What will come of quiet girl who has now lost her family for a second time?

Full disclosure: I have not yet read Wonder R.J. Palacio, which everyone I’ve talked to keeps comparing this book too. I will soon, I promise. I found myself comparing it to Rules by Cynthia Lord or Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. In any case, Willow is an instantly intriguing character. Narrated by Robin Miles, Willow’s voice is given the subtle nuances that it deserves. She is self-assured when dealing with numbers, details and scientific facts, but quiet and reserved when faced with making decisions affecting her own life and social interactions. Miles distinguishes between the characters well, even realistically portraying the counselor Dell Duke’s stutter, but it’s Willow who readers are understandably drawn to, as she tries to make sense of things.

Mai’s brother Quang Ha is understandably upset by the new living situation, as the family has few resources to begin with and they are essentially taking care of a stranger. There’s little explanation behind Mai and her mother’s immediate acceptance of Willow’s circumstances and instant claim to her, and I find Dell Duke’s passiveness and eventual involvement in the lies hard to reconcile, but the whole situation changes everyone for the better. This is a story of a whole community coming together to aid in a girl’s recovery, and becoming a very nontraditional family in the process. I don’t think this would be the outcome in real life, but if readers are willing to suspend belief they will be richly rewarded with this engrossing tale.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 112 other followers

%d bloggers like this: