Archive for the ‘Audiobooks’ Category

Review of The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Miranda Raison

Friday, September 4th, 2015

screaming_staircase_audio_largeLockwood & Co.

The Screaming Staircase

by Jonathan Stroud

read by Miranda Raison

Listening Library, 2013. 10 hours on 8 compact discs.
2013 Cybils Winner: Speculative Fiction, Elementary and Middle Grades
2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Children’s Fiction
Starred Review

Normally, I won’t listen to a book I’ve already read. In the case of The Screaming Staircase, I’d already read it twice: Once when it came out, and once for the Cybils Award. (It won.) I also named it my favorite children’s book read in 2013. (I don’t allow rereads to count as Sonderbooks Stand-outs any more, so that way I won’t be tempted to give it to this book again in 2015.) So you won’t be surprised that I loved this audiobook (which our library finally purchased). Apparently, I don’t get tired of this story at all!

I’ll refer you to my original review, but point out a few things I noticed.

As a straight mystery (Who killed Annabelle Ward?), this book is wonderfully well-crafted. There are clues and red herrings as well as a life-endangering denouement accompanying some clever deductions from our heroes.

This book is scarier than I remembered it. The Red Room – with blood dripping down from the ceiling threatening to flood them (and they’ll die if it touches them) is incredibly sinister, not to mention the Screaming Staircase, where long-ago monks were led to their deaths and today you can hear their screams in your head. So that’s the only caveat when giving this book to children or suggesting it for family listening (It would be great!) – they have to be able to handle Scary.

As I suspected, though, the only thing better than reading this book is having it read to you with a British accent. The narrator is utterly wonderful! When I got to the part I used to read aloud at schools when booktalking last summer – I could recite the words along with the narrator, but they sounded so much better with a British accent! This narrator also captured the different voices with excellence.

As I mentioned in my first review, there’s so much going on with this book. We’ve got ghosts, swordplay, a deadline which must be met to keep their business, banter between colleagues, an interesting alternate world with great detail as to the different types of ghosts, kids in charge (because only they can see ghosts), and our heroes setting out to show the world that they are excellent at what they do – without the supervision of adults.

If your kids are old enough to handle Scary, this would make phenomenal family listening, because I guarantee the adults will be as mesmerized as the kids. I certainly was. And this was a book I successfully recommended to several adult coworkers. I am having fun listening to the audio version of the first two books in the series in preparation for Book Three coming out soon. I can hardly wait!

jonathanstroud.com
lockwoodandco.com
Listeninglibrary.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/screaming_staircase_audio.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, by Alan Bradley

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

as_chimney_sweepers_come_to_dust_largeAs Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

by Alan Bradley
read by Jayne Entwistle

Random House Audio, 2015. 11 hours on 9 compact discs.
Starred Review

I decided to listen to the next installment of the Flavia de Luce books, after learning it’s read by Jayne Entwistle, whom I heard read The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place and heard in person at the 2015 Odyssey Award reception. This added to the fun, though I think I would have enjoyed this book anyway. I was afraid it would degenerate into a standard school story — but Flavia is anything but standard.

Flavia has, however, been sent off to school in Canada. But the very night she arrives, a body falls out of the chimney in her room. The body is wrapped in a Union Jack and has been there awhile. It is clearly a murder, since the head is not attached.

Flavia has no relationship with the police in Canada, so she has little access to clues, beyond what she saw that first night. But she does have access to the school’s chemistry lab, and I was happy when her knowledge of poisons did come into play.

I wasn’t thrilled with the hints that the school was training ground for a league of espionage. That seemed a little far-fetched. However, it did make for some nice red herrings along the way. Because there are secrets everywhere at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy.

Basically, Flavia has a nice classic murder to solve. Who was killed, and how? And she’s not in her native element. Can she pull it off? Flavia is still her unique manipulative self, with a knack for uncovering secrets and an uncanny knowledge of poisons.

alanbradleyauthor.com
randomhouseaudio.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/as_chimney_sweepers_come_to_dust.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, by Julie Berry

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

scandalous_sisterhood_largeThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

by Julie Berry
read by Jayne Entwistle

Listening Library, 2014. 9.5 hours on 8 CDs.
Starred Review
2015 Odyssey Honor Audiobook

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place are the students at a girls’ Victorian boarding school in Ely, England, St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies.

Right at the start of the book, the girls’ awful headmistress suddenly dies, as does her odious brother. The girls don’t want to be sent home! Smooth Kitty forms a plan. They will carry on as if nothing has happened. Stout Alice is an aspiring actress, so she can impersonate Mrs. Plackett when visitors come to the door. Pocked Louise is a budding scientist, so she can determine if poison was used. Dour Eleanor can be in charge of burying the bodies in the vegetable garden, and Disgraceful Mary Jane can distract any men who come around. Dear Roberta and Dull Martha have parts to play as well.

There’s one problem: What will the murderer do if their plan didn’t work the first time? Will they be convinced Stout Alice is in fact Mrs. Plackett and try again to kill her?

This is a delightful book about girls caught in a difficult situation who come up with questionable ideas for dealing with it.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of Ely with the cathedral looming, as I have been there and that’s what I remember.

Naturally enough, it reminded me of Summer of the Gypsy Moths in that both books begin with girls burying a body and trying to convince others that nothing has happened. The Sisters of Prickwillow Place have the advantage of there being seven of them. Can they work together to be able to stay together?

This is a murder mystery with a Victorian atmosphere. I listened to the book, and the narrator is wonderful, using a distinct voice for each character, and all with an English accent which of course makes for delightful listening.

The trailer is wonderful and gives you the flavor of the book.

julieberrybooks.com
listeninglibrary.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/scandalous_sisterhood.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Friday, May 15th, 2015

girl_on_the_train_largeThe Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins
read by Claire Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher

Penguin Audio, 2015. 11 hours on 9 compact discs.
Starred Review

Warning to potential listeners: If you have ever been cheated on, this book contains some triggers which will remind you of that time. However, it’s also somewhat therapeutic. It will make you feel that your own reactions were incredibly calm. You were not a crazy woman! (Who knew?)

Rachel Watson rides the train into London every morning and goes home every evening – so her flatmate won’t know that she lost her job months ago for turning up drunk. Every day, the train stops as it passes the house where Rachel used to live – and where her ex-husband Tom lives with his new wife and child – the woman who replaced Rachel and the child she longed to have.

To avoid looking at her home, right next to the tracks, naturally enough Rachel watches the people a few houses down. They are the perfect couple. As in love as Rachel used to be. Rachel gives them names, Jess and Jason, and she imagines their perfect lives.

Then, one day, Rachel sees Jess kissing a man who is not Jason. Jess is ruining Jason’s life, just as Tom ruined hers! That evening, having thought about it all day, in her drunken agitation, she gets off the train at her old stop. She knows something bad happened when she wakes up at home the next morning with a cut on her forehead, but she doesn’t remember at all what it was. And the newspapers say that Jess – actually named Megan – has gone missing.

Gradually, we learn about Rachel’s past, about Megan’s history, and about Anna, the woman who replaced Rachel with Tom. Rachel has not been doing well since Tom left her. And she doesn’t blame Tom – she was already a drunk before he left, depressed because she wasn’t having a baby. Now she calls him at odd hours, even turns up at the house.

But after Megan’s disappearance, Rachel is sure Megan’s husband will be suspected. The police need to know about the man Megan kissed. The husband needs to know. Maybe Rachel has to lie a little bit to get them to listen to her, but it’s all trying to help….

I have to admit, the people in this book are not very nice. The situations are sordid. There’s a whole lot of cheating going on. But ultimately, I found I couldn’t stop listening (and this was another audiobook which had me bringing the final CD into the house to finish listening). The audio production is very well done. The three different narrators for the three women – Rachel, Anna, and Megan – make it clear who is speaking at any given time.

I think the character of Rachel is what had me hooked. I remembered the world-shattering pain of learning my husband was cheating. It would have been so very easy to turn to alcohol. To call him and beg him to take me back. If he had married the mistress and moved into our home with his new wife and baby? Well, her pain was all too easy to imagine.

And the mystery is a tangled and interesting one. There are compelling twists along the way. Let me just say that some of the cheaters get a satisfying comeuppance. But best of all is that by the end of the book we feel that Rachel, who has believed many lies about herself, is on her way to healing.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/girl_on_the_train.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Café, by Alexander McCall Smith

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

handsome_mans_deluxe_cafe_largeThe Handsome Man’s Deluxe Café

by Alexander McCall Smith
performed by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2014. 9 hours 45 minutes on 9 discs.

This is the first of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books which I listened to instead of reading. It’s pleasant listening, though in some ways it emphasized the rambling nature of the books. I did enjoy the reader’s African accent, which seemed appropriate, and now am completely sure I know how to properly pronounce “Mma” and “Rra.”

This book has one main puzzle for the detective agency, which seemed a bit easily solved, but was at least an interesting case. Most of the book was about Mma Makutsi’s new endeavor – opening a restaurant, called The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Café.

On top of that, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni has to let Charlie go. He doesn’t have enough work at Speedy Motors. But Mma Ramotswe feels sorry for Charlie and takes him on at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. But does Charlie have what it takes to become a detective? And can he and Mma Makutsi actually work together?

Reading these books is always like spending time with philosophical, cheerful old friends. Listening to one is a nice way to spend time winding down from a day at work.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/handsome_mans_deluxe_cafe.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Very Good, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

very_good_jeeves_largeVery Good, Jeeves

by P. G. Wodehouse

*and*

Jeeves and the Old School Chum
and Other Stories

by P. G. Wodehouse
Performed by Alexander Spencer

The Overlook Press. First published in 1930. 297 pages.
Recorded Books, 1985. 3 compact discs.
Starred Review

The reason I’m still reviewing P. G. Wodehouse books is simply to keep track of which books I’ve read. I can’t possibly tell by reading the books! In fact, I listened to the audiobook first, Jeeves and the Old School Chum, which said it was “selected” stories from Very Good, Jeeves, but I can’t tell you for sure which stories I heard on CD first.

You might think this is a criticism? It is not at all! Yes, the stories are similar, so hard to keep straight. But I enjoy them every single time. I may have a general sense that I know how Jeeves is going to solve a particular imbroglio — but that only fills me with delighted anticipation.

This is a book of short stories, as opposed to one of the books where one big complicated entanglement fills the pages from start to finish. There are 11 chapters, 11 short situations where Bertie needs Jeeves’ help to get out of a situation or to help out a friend.

These stories are also represented in the BBC video series “Jeeves and Wooster,” which makes them all the more familiar.

As always, we’ve got Bertie’s amusing use of language and general cluelessness, along with Jeeves’ brilliant insight into the psychology of the individual. It is completely apparent that I will never get tired of hearing these stories.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/very_good_jeeves.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Martian, by Andy Weir

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

martian_largeThe Martian

by Andy Weir
performed by R. C. Bray

Brilliance Audio, 2014. 11 hours on 9 discs.
2015 Alex Award Winner
Starred Review

This audiobook was too good. Every time I stopped my car, I didn’t want to turn off the CD player and get out. Finally, when it was down to the last half-hour, I brought the final CD into my house to finish listening – even though I was already coming home late after playing games after work. The entire book was tough to shut off at any time, but a half-hour from the end, it was impossible.

This book is set in the near future, on NASA’s third mission to Mars. A freak accident has happened, and Mark Watney was left behind, since all his crewmates thought he was dead.

The book is about his struggle to survive. Using what he has (their mission was cut short), he works to figure out how to survive long enough to last four years until the next scheduled mission to Mars.

And that’s not easy. He doesn’t have enough food. He doesn’t have enough water. He has no way to contact earth. He is miles away from the planned landing of the next Mars mission.

Mark is a botanist and an engineer – and his ingenuity and resourcefulness are incredible. Everything he does to survive – to make plants grow in Mars, to make water out of rocket fuel, for example – at least sounds like plausible science. And enough things go wrong to be completely believable. Just when you think he’s finally got it made, something new almost kills him, and new plans must be made. The description of the mission to Mars and the equipment sent is told in such a way, I caught myself thinking it’s already been done.

A friend complained that the book doesn’t really explore the psychological aspects of being thousands of miles from any other human. You do have to enjoy hearing about someone messing around with science and solving one life-or-death problem after another. I was so absorbed in this, I’m disappointed when the book is done to realize none of it is real. (And I’m used to reading – this doesn’t happen to me often.)

The tension is gripping, and the science is fascinating, and you grow to really like this guy who doesn’t give up even when abandoned on Mars.

If NASA ever does send humans to Mars, I think they should read this book first. Just in case.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/martian.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer

Friday, April 10th, 2015

belzhar_largeBelzhar

by Meg Wolitzer
read by Jorjeana Marie

Listening Library, 2014. 8 hours on 7 compact discs.
Starred Review

Jam Gallahue has been sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school in Vermont for “highly intelligent but emotionally fragile” teens. After she lost her boyfriend, Reeve, she’s withdrawn from everything and everyone.

On her first day of classes, her roommate is jealous when they discover that Jam’s been put into Special Topics in English. No one knows why everyone claims the class is life-changing. There are only four other students, and a teacher who will retire at the end of the term. They will be studying Sylvia Plath. The teacher, Mrs. Quinnell, gives them each a red leather journal and tells them to write in it twice a week. She’ll be collecting them at the end of the term.

When Jam writes in the journal, she’s transported to another place, a place outside time, and she is together with Reeve again. She can’t do anything new with him in that place, but she can actually feel him and see him and talk with him. When she comes back, five more pages of her journal are filled in with her own handwriting.

The other members of Special Topics in English have their own traumas to deal with. Before long, the class members all figure out that each one is being transported to another place, where things are right again, every time they write in their journals.

But the journals will be completely full by the end of the term.

This story could have been trite and problem novel-ish. But the author has crafted the story well, revealing information a little bit at a time. Each student in the class has a compelling story, and we also learn more and more about what Jam went through, and how she interacts with her fellow-students.

There’s a fine overarching message about dealing with trauma and being able to get on with life. But the book is good because the story is told in a compelling way.

It’s also a tribute to the healing power of words – both written yourself and written by others.

This book has some healing power of its own.

listeninglibrary.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/belzhar.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

gilead_largeGilead

by Marilynne Robinson

read by Tim Jerome

BBC Audiobooks America, 2004. 7 CDs.

My co-worker Lynne Imre recommended these books, and I’ve long been meaning to read Housekeeping, so I grabbed an audiobook, which is my way of reading books I’ve long been meaning to read.

This reminded me of the Marilynne Robinson nonfiction I’ve read, When I Was a Child, I Read Books. The fictional story is narrated by an old preacher in 1956, writing a letter to his young son. The preacher, John Ames, has a heart problem, and doesn’t think he will live to see his son reach adulthood.

The book is gentle and philosophical, and has some Scriptural insights thrown in throughout, since, after all, a preacher is narrating.

Reverend Ames tells about his father and grandfather, both preachers before him. His grandfather was an abolitionist and a character.

In many ways, the book is a meditation on fathers and sons, and blessings handed down from one generation to the next. Besides John Ames’ own family, his dear friend and fellow preacher has a wayward son who was named after John Ames. Young Jack comes back to town and he and the preacher embark on a journey of understanding, forgiveness and blessing.

This is a slow moving novel, but a rich one. I didn’t always hurry to put in the next CD when one ran out, and it’s not the kind of book that it’s hard to stop the car and shut off the sound when you arrive at your destination. But sometimes that’s the best kind of audiobook — something to mull over on your commute, which will stick in your thoughts.

The reader has a deep, rich, friendly, thoughtful voice. He made it easy to imagine an old preacher speaking these words.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/gilead.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The End of the Suburbs, by Leigh Gallagher

Friday, January 30th, 2015

end_of_the_suburbs_largeThe End of the Suburbs

Where the American Dream Is Moving

by Leigh Gallagher
read by Jessica Geffen

Gildan Media, 2013. 7 ½ hours on 7 compact discs.

I checked out this book because I’ve been interested in the topic ever since I read Suburban Nation, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. That book was more about how America should change – this book is more about how America is changing.

And it’s mostly good news, I think. Cities are attracting young people, and even outside the city, new construction is designed to be more walkable, more urbanized.

I thought my own 26-year-old son was the only young person in the country living without a driver’s license, but it turns out that’s a trend. He lives near the center of Portland and rides public transportation. And more and more Millennials are opting for car-free living.

Baby Boomers are ageing, and don’t necessarily want to own a house and yard any more, and the next generation doesn’t necessarily want to buy what they’re leaving. Long commutes have lost their luster, and more and more people are looking for lifestyle changes that don’t necessarily fit with the suburbs.

The book is somewhat repetitive and seemed a bit longer than it needed to be. The narrator has a voice that sounds like a teenager, which seemed a little bit of an odd choice. Most of all, it felt ironic to listen to it as I drove through construction, taking almost an hour to get home from work.

The author did convince me that times are changing, that more people are moving to the cities, and that new construction is going to be designed to be walkable.

But she honestly didn’t convince me that the suburbs are really ending any time soon. When I was looking to buy in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I found it’s still true that the most affordable properties are further out. Places like Gainesville, Virginia, are now centers of new construction.

But I do think they’re building that new construction to a different model than the one that went before. They are going to look very different from what Baby Boomers think of when you use the word “suburb.” There are lots of townhomes and condominiums available. As stated in the book, developers brag that they are building walkable neighborhoods. So they’re outside the big city, but you’ll still find urbanized neighborhoods, places with a community feel and a town center. Can that be a bad thing?

It will be interesting to see how these trends play out.

BlackstoneAudio.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/end_of_the_suburbs.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.