Review of 1222, by Anne Holt

1222

by Anne Holt
read by Kate Reading

Blackstone Audio, 2011. Originally published in Norway in 2007. 9 CDs.
Starred Review

I’ve always loved a locked-room mystery. This one is a snowed-in mystery. And we’ve got even more classic feel with a train wreck starting it all and a paralyzed detective who thinks she is done with police work. But then one of the train passengers is murdered.

At first, I didn’t like the narration. She was reading the lines like a computer. But then I realized that former police detective Hanne Wilhelmson would talk like that. She’s withdrawn almost completely from people since the day when she got shot, the day that ended her career. And once I realized that was intentional, I enjoyed the narrator very much. I definitely wouldn’t have pronounced the Norwegian names correctly if left to my own devices, for a start.

The story is very atmospheric and brilliantly written. Hanne was traveling through the mountains to see a specialist about some additional difficulties. Due to ice, the train went off the tracks. Only the engineer was killed, and she describes the crowd’s reaction to the accident and how they are all brought to a hotel in the mountains and hunker down after the storm builds to hurricane force and they are surrounded by snow. That first night, one of them is murdered. Hanne is recognized as a former police officer, so against her wishes, she is asked to help solve the crime.

One thing I particularly liked: Hanne comments on how the hotel owner grows during the disaster, and the reader can’t help but realize how dramatically Hanne has grown, going from not wanting to speak to anyone to taking charge and solving the crime.

This book is gripping and fascinating and gives modern twists to classic mystery themes. I was listening to the last CD on the way to work and absolutely hated having to shut it off in order to be on time. That evening, I took the audiobook inside so I could finish without any further waiting.

This would have been fun to read during a winter storm — though perhaps that would have made me paranoid, since the book made you almost feel you were experiencing the blizzard yourself. If you want to cool off, this would be good summer reading! Chilling in more than one sense of the word. But with characters you enjoy watching rise to the occasion.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/1222.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Wilder Life, by Wendy McClure

The Wilder Life

My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

by Wendy McClure

Performed by Teri Clark Linden

Brilliance Audio, 2011. 9 discs, 10 hours, 43 minutes.

This audiobook was a fun one to listen to while driving to work and back. It felt a little on the long side, but I handled that by giving myself breaks of a few days in between discs. The narrator sounded a little too much like a teenager to me, actually sounding a whole lot like Natalie Moore, who narrated Dairy Queen. However, I got used to her voice and rationalized that the author was indeed a lot younger than me, so it was okay.

The book is about Wendy McClure’s childhood passion for the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her quest to revisit the world of the books by seeing all the Little House sites peppered over America.

Now, I’ll confess right up front that I never read the Little House books myself. I think I read the first one, Little House in the Big Woods, on the urging of Karen Iwata, my best friend in second and third grades, but I thought it was frightfully boring. Those pioneer books didn’t grab me. I remember I also gave up on Caddie Woodlawn.

However, when my sons were growing up, my husband read them all the Little House books, which he had read and loved when he was a child, and I listened in and found them not so bad at all. What’s more, we had visited the home in Missouri where Laura lived as an adult and wrote the books.

And I certainly know about loving childhood books! Some day, some day, I will visit Prince Edward Island, where Lucy Maud Montgomery set her books. Hmm. Maybe I should write a book about it when I do. Though at least Laura Ingalls Wilder had many, many home sites, so Wendy McClure did have a book-length story to tell.

I found the book all the more fascinating because right now I’m in the middle of researching my family history. I keep thinking of the old picture I saw of my grandma as a baby with her brothers in front of their sod house. I remember her telling me, “Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder!” She and my grandpa were actually born in Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma — so quite near the original Little House on the Prairie. What’s more, lots and lots of my ancestors were pioneers and farmers, moving steadily west, so the world of the Little House books is really quite close to the story of my own roots — and that made Wendy McClure’s visiting the home sites all the more interesting to me.

And I have to admit, Wendy McClure knows how to make the tale interesting. She tells about each place she visits, the people she sees, and what she felt to see them. She explores lots of her feelings about the books and about the places, many of which any book lover can easily relate to. She also throws in facts about Laura and her family, but sprinkles them nicely so we don’t get bored.

In short, I recommend this book for anyone who loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, or just anyone who loves going back to the children’s books they cherished as a child. The story doesn’t have a lot of tension or a driving plot, but that actually makes it nice listening for a commute. And, hey, anyone who gets a chance to do a Little House road trip, following the steps of Laura Ingalls Wilder (and Wendy McClure), will definitely want to have this for the ride.

www.terriclarkvoiceover.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/wilder_life.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Okay for Now Audiobook

Okay for Now

by Gary D. Schmidt
read by Lincoln Hoppe

Random House, Listening Library, 2011. 9 hours 30 minutes on 8 compact discs.
Starred Review
2012 Odyssey Honor Winner
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Audio Rereads

From the time I read Okay for Now early in 2011, I was hoping it would win the 2012 Newbery Medal. However, I was in several discussions about the book, and found that many others didn’t like the ending and thought too much was thrown into the book at the end and felt it lost believability. Personally, I thought the book completely overcame any flaws, but I feared it wasn’t such a shoo-in for the award as I had hoped.

One of the discussions was at the Morris Seminar, which is a training for award committees. I decided to reread the book in audio form.

Listening to this production of Okay for Now made me fall in love with the book all over again. A key characteristic of the book is the voice of the narrator, Doug Swietek, and reader Lincoln Hoppe gets his voice just right. One of the things I like about the book are the repeated words that are used throughout the book, and Mr. Hoppe read them in a way that you notice the subtle differences in the ways the words are used. For example, when Doug says “Terrific” at the start, it’s always sarcastic. But he uses the word at the end to mean genuinely terrific. There are several other repetitions like that, and Lincoln Hoppe nails them all.

Another thing listening to the audio version pointed out to me was the structure of the book. There are eight CDs, and the fourth CD is full of dramatic turning points. I didn’t notice when I was barreling through reading it to myself, but right in the middle the plot makes some important turns.

So I was indeed disappointed that Okay for Now didn’t get any Newbery Honor, but I was delighted when the audio production won an Odyssey Honor. (The Odyssey awards are for children’s and young adult audiobooks.) The Odyssey Awards do not have to worry about believability of plot. They simply focus on the quality of the production. This one is excellent.

I’ve already talked two of my co-workers into listening to this audiobook. The one catch is that you won’t see the reproductions of the Audubon prints Doug works on. But you will pay much more attention to the descriptions of the birds.

Happy Listening.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/okay_for_now_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 audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Audiobook Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

Enchantress From the Stars

by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

performed by Jennifer Ikeda

Recorded Books, 2006. 9 compact discs, 10.5 hours.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Audio Rereads

I already reviewed Enchantress from the Stars on Sonderbooks back in 2001, back when it was an e-mail newsletter. I’m finding that listening to audiobooks is a good way to reread and savor truly great books like this one. For one thing, I “read” more slowly than I ever can stand to do with print. And it’s a whole new way to enjoy it.

Enchantress from the Stars is particularly suited for audiobook form, because it’s supposedly the narration of Elana, a space traveller from a highly advanced society, giving a report of what happened on Andrecia. When she talks from the perspective of the other two main characters, she changes tone, but Elana is the voice telling the story, and Jennifer Ikeda does a good job of becoming the actual voice of Elana.

This book is so brilliant because it provides a perfectly plausible explanation for many traditional fairy tales. A Space Empire, less advanced than Elana’s society, is trying to take over Andrecia, which still has a medieval society. The Andrecians are so primitive, the Imperials don’t even think they’re human. They bring machines to clear the ground for a colony, and the Andrecians believe it is a fearsome dragon.

Elana’s people can’t reveal themselves to the Imperials, but she can reveal herself to the Andrecians, posing as an Enchantress. She is able to give them gifts of magic (awaken latent powers) to fight the dragon — and send away the Imperials. But none of this is simple.

I loved experiencing this book again in audio form. I love the way the story works from all three perspectives, and I love all the food for thought it provides. It’s fun that any one of the three cultures could actually be Earth, in the past or in the future.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/enchantress_from_the_stars_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 audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

2011 Sonderbooks Standouts: Audio Rereads

This is a strange category. But I had four books that I’d “reread” by listening to the audio version, and were definitely standouts. However, they were all already standouts in the print version, in whatever year I read them, so it didn’t seem at all fair to rank them against the books I read this year (except the one I read this year, which is already a standout).

So here are some Sonderbooks Standouts that are still fabulous on audio:
1. Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Louise Engdahl
2. A Conspiracy of Kings, by Megan Whalen Turner
3. Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt
4. White Cat, by Holly Black

Happy Listening!

Review of Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge

Fly By Night

by Frances Hardinge
performed by Jill Turner

Recorded Books, 2006. 14 hours, 12 compact discs.
Starred Review

I’d been meaning to read Fly By Night for quite some time, and listening to the recorded book ended up being a delightful way to do it. I always enjoy British narrators, and Jill Turner’s exquisite voice was the perfect way to highlight the extraordinary language contained in this book.

Frances Hardinge has an imagination not quite like anyone else’s. In the world she’s created for Fly By Night there are many different “Beloved” the people worship, and your name is given depending on the time when you are born, and the Beloved who is honored on that day. In the Prelude to this book, Mosca Mye has just been born after dusk, at the time sacred to Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns.

To give you just a taste of Frances Hardinge’s imagination, these are a few of the other Beloved:

Goodlady Cramflick, She Who Keeps the Vegetables of the Garden Crisp;
Goodlady Prill, Protector of Pigs;
Goodman Grayglory, He Who Guides the Sword in Battle;
Goodlady Agragap, She Who Frightens the Harelip Fairy from the Childbed;
and Goodman Blackwhistle of the Favorable Wind.

Her language is completely delightful to listen to. This book is full of similes that are both unique and wonderfully apt. A few examples of those:

As the story opens, she talks about the sleeping villagers:

“On this particular night their dreams were a little ruffled by the unusual excitement of the day, but already the water that seeped into every soul was smoothing their minds back into placidity, like a duck’s bill glossing its plumage.”

Describing the village:
“There was no escaping the sound of water. It had many voices. The clearest sounded like someone shaking glass beads in a sieve. The waterfall spray beat the leaves with a noise like paper children applauding. From the ravines rose a sound like the chuckle of granite-throated goblins.”

As it opens, Mosca wants to get out of the village where she lives with her uncle. She decides to free Eponymous Clent, who won over the town, but was then exposed as a fraud. She finds him hanging upside-down on the Chiding Stone, and tells him she’ll let him out if he gives her a job.

“‘I want to travel,’ Mosca declared. ‘The sooner the better,’ she added, with an apprehensive look over her shoulder.

“‘Do you even have the first idea of what my profession entails?’

“‘Yes,’ said Mosca. ‘You tell lies for money.’

“‘Ah. Aha. My child, you have a flawed grasp of the nature of myth-making. I am a poet and storyteller, a creator of ballads and sagas. Pray do not confuse the exercise of the imagination with mere mendacity. I am a master of the mysteries of words, their meanings and music and mellifluous magic.'”

And so the tale begins. Mosca goes off with Eponymous Clent and her pet goose Saracen, who attacks (and defeats) anyone but Mosca. They head for the city of Mandelion, and on the way, in one of my favorite scenes, they come across a coach being attacked by a bedraggled band of highwaymen. Clent recognizes the duchess inside the carriage and asks her for a job if he can keep the highwayman from robbing her.

Clent tells the highwayman, named Blythe, that a young lady inside is very ill and needs her money to get to a doctor. Blythe plans to steal from her anyway, but then asks what he stands to lose.

“After a moment’s dramatic pause, Clent let his arms drop.

“‘I am a writer of ballads — I value gestures. I understand them. I know what I can do with them. Let us suppose, for example, that you allowed this young woman to stay in her carriage, handed her back her money, and wished her and her people godspeed back to Mandelion so that she could find a physician who might save her life — ah, what I could do with that!’

“Blythe’s eyes asked silently what Clent could do with that.

“‘I could write a ballad that would make proverbial the chivalry of Clamoring Captain Blythe. When you rode the cold cobbles of a midnight street, you would hear it sung in the taverns you passed, to give you more warmth than that thin coat of yours. When you were hunted across the moors by the constables, hundreds would lie sleepless, hoping that brave Captain Blythe still ran free.

“‘And when at night you lay on your bed of earth under your dripping roof of bracken, with no company but the wind and your horse champing moss near your head, you would know that in a glittering banquet hall somewhere, some young lady of birth would be thinking of you.

“‘That is what you stand to lose.'”

The wild adventure that follows is not a simple case of good versus evil, because it’s hard to tell who is good and who is bad, though we know all along that we’re rooting for Mosca. Yes, we see Captain Blythe again, and yes, the ballad has consequences. In fact, all kinds of things from early in the book are woven together later in the book. The plot is imaginative, intricate, and most enjoyable.

I didn’t find this book particularly heart-warming. But I did find it delightful intellectual fun. The language is rich and melodious, the world-building is imaginative and funny, and the plotting is clever and well-woven.

In the words of Mosca’s father, Quillam Mye:

“There is only one thing that is more dangerous than Truth. Those who would try to silence Truth’s voice are more destructive by far.”

I like the Disclaimer at the end:

“This is not a historical novel. It is a yarn. Although the Realm is based roughly on England at the start of the eighteenth century, I have taken appalling liberties with historical authenticity and, when I felt like it, the laws of physics.”

This is a good yarn that kids of all ages will enjoy. The audiobook would make a fantastic family listen-along for a wide span of ages.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/fly_by_night.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly

Revolution

by Jennifer Donnelly
read by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering

Listening Library, 2010. 12 CDs. 15 hours, 4 minutes.
Starred Review
2011 Odyssey Honor Winner

This book is incredible. One of those audiobooks that had me thinking about it all day long and eventually bringing the CDs into the house to finish listening.

I almost didn’t make it through the first two CDs, since the book starts out very depressing. Andi Alpers’ little brother Truman died two years ago, and Andi is convinced it’s her fault. Her mother can’t cope, but spends her time painting pictures of Truman. Her father walked out on them. The only thing that keeps the sadness at bay is Andi’s antidepressants, but if she takes too many, she starts having hallucinations. Even her music can’t keep the depression away for long.

Then Andi’s Dad comes in and takes charge. He puts her mother in a psychiatric ward and makes Andi accompany him on a trip to Paris. He’s a world-renowned geneticist, and his job is to find out if a preserved child’s heart belonged to the Dauphin of France who was locked in a tower during the French Revolution.

While in Paris, in an old guitar case, Andi finds a hidden compartment and a diary written during the French Revolution by a girl who was companion to the Dauphin. The details of Andi’s life are intricately parallel to the story in the diary. Meanwhile, she meets a French musician who seems to really care about her. But even weirder things begin to happen.

The plotting in this book is exquisite. There are resonances between the two plotlines on so many levels. It also doesn’t hurt that the diary is read by another voice, with a beautiful French accent!

The reader only slowly discovers the full story of Truman’s death and all that Andi is dealing with. Despite her prickly exterior, we come to care about her deeply.

This book is amazing. The craftsmanship is astonishing, in the weaving of the two plotlines alone. If you add to the mix how much research the author must have done, it’s an incredible achievement. An interesting thing for me is that I had just seen an article on the Catacombs of Paris in National Geographic. The article talked about cataphiles who explore the tunnels and showed a picture of “The Beach,” where parties happen. The article came out after the book, just a month before I read it. But the French musician Andi meets is a cataphile, and he takes Andi to a party at The Beach in the catacombs, described exactly like the picture. I was impressed that the author took such care with contemporary details, and have no doubt she was also careful about historical details.

Hmm. Now that I’m posting this review, I don’t know where to put it. The diary is historical, but Andi’s story is contemporary. There’s a small paranormal element. It almost should be put in a class by itself as “Masterpieces.” I think I’ll put it in the “Contemporary” category, but be aware that there is much more to this book.

The whole time I was listening to this book, not only did it stick with me all day long, but I was telling everyone I worked with how incredible it was. I do recommend it in audio form, since listening to the French accent added a level of enjoyment for me. Teens and adults alike will find this book a work of art.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/revolution.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of audiobook White Cat, by Holly Black

White Cat

by Holly Black

read by Jesse Eisenberg

Listening Library, 2010. 6 CDs. 6 hours, 41 minutes.
Starred Review

I already reviewed the print form of White Cat, but listening to the audiobook was the perfect way to refresh my memory of what happened in the first book before I got a chance to read the sequel, Red Glove.

My review still stands — this is an impressively plotted, suspenseful, and fascinating book — but I want to add a couple comments about the audiobook.

First, like so many books with a first-person narrator, this book is perfect for the audio form. Jesse Eisenberg gives Cassel a voice that sounds completely authentic. He’s a teenage guy trying to fit in, but he’s also the only non-curseworker in a family of curseworkers, a kid who’s been trained in the con since he was small, and someone who thinks he killed the girl he loves.

Second, I’d almost forgotten how good this book is! Even though I’d read it before, I was completely absorbed with the story, not wanting to shut off the audio when I arrived at work. I also found that, like Megan Whalen Turner’s writings, this book is even better the second time around. Because hints are dropped that you don’t appreciate or notice the first time.

You do know that Cassel is working on a con at the end, but when you reread it, you realize all the little things he is doing in preparation. One of the lines I appreciated more the second time was something like: “I’m the best kind of thief, who leaves something of equal value.” I don’t think it’s a spoiler to point out that line, but you do enjoy it more after you know what Cassel’s talking about.

Another good thing about an audiobook is that it slows me down. This particular book is too hard to stop reading once you start, so it was one of the many that kept me from a good night’s sleep. When I listen to the audiobook, I have to spread it out over many more days, which means I can live in that world longer and notice more details of Holly Black’s genius.

If you haven’t started this trilogy yet, there are now two books out, ready to devour. May the third book come soon!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/white_cat_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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of A Conspiracy of Kings audiobook, by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings

by Megan Whalen Turner
narrated by Jeff Woodman

Recorded Books, 2010. 7 CDs. 8.5 hours.
Starred Review
School Library Journal’s 2011 Battle of the Kids’ Books Undead Poll Winner
2010 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book

Yes, I’ve already reviewed A Conspiracy of Kings, and named it my #1 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out for Teen Fantasy Fiction.

But our library just got the audiobook version, so of course I had to “read” it again, on audio. In honor of School Library Journal’s 2011 Battle of the Kids’ Books, this is the perfect time to present a review of the audio version of A Conspiracy of Kings, another finalist.

The interesting thing in the Battle of the Kids’ Books, was that, despite being the best new book I read in 2010, A Conspiracy of Kings didn’t win a single round. Still, the judges admitted that this is a well-crafted book:

In the first round, judge Dana Reinhardt freely admitted that this isn’t her usual type of reading. She said:

“As I mentioned, A Conspiracy of Kings isn’t generally the kind of book I reach for, but Turner abruptly whisked me out of my comfort zone, (not an easy feat, as I’m quite comfortable in my comfort zone), and for this I’m truly grateful, because I did so enjoy spending time with Sophos. I found him companionable and clever. Decent and thoughtful. If times were different, and I lived in a fantastical monarchy, I’d surely want him as my king.

“A Conspiracy of Kings asks the big questions. The questions I want to grapple with as a reader. Questions about honor and duty and responsibility and friendship and loyalty.”

In the Big Kahuna Round, Richard Peck gave each book plenty of space. He said about A Conspiracy of Kings:

“Of the three A Conspiracy of Kings addresses the most adult concerns and makes the greatest demand upon the reader. It is about the altering alliances and dark diplomacy of power politics: palace pacts forged and broken. Betrayal. Betrothal.

“This chronicle of spilt blood, flying arrows and barons, and a stabbed horse makes resonant reading in the same season as “across the Middle Sea” the forces of Cyrenaica and Tripliana clash across actual geography. But this will ring no bells with the intended readers who don’t know where Libya is, and won’t be hearing about it at school.

“Megan Whalen Turner’s book is about the making of kings. Embedded in its many layers is a boy, Sophos/Sounis, coming of age parentless, abducted, enslaved, and that all-time favorite, misunderstood. Throughout, the ages of the characters are muffled. But there is the clash and passion of adolescent friendship, between Sophos and that major figure from earlier volumes: “He would have given Eugenides his heart on a toothpick if asked.””

Neither judge had read the earlier books, and neither judge felt that this one really stands alone.

But that brings me to a little pet peeve. So what if it doesn’t stand alone?

Many don’t realize that there is NOTHING in the criteria for the Newbery Award that says the book has to stand alone. Yes, it should only receive the award based on strengths in that particular book, but there’s nothing that says it can’t be part of a series or that all loose ends have to be tied up or that it can’t reference earlier books.

And of course, in this tournament, there was no criteria at all except the preference of the judges.

So, I’m concluding that it was simply unfortunate that the judges this book faced were ones who hadn’t happened to have read the earlier books.

No, the book doesn’t have to stand alone to win an award, but you can’t really expect a judge to read three additional books in order to give the one book they are judging the consideration it deserves. So by getting judges who hadn’t already read the earlier books, I didn’t really expect them to appreciate the true genius behind this book.

And, please, readers of my reviews, DO NOT read this book without reading the other three books first! All four books are exquisitely plotted. Why, oh why, would you want to risk ruining the surprises in the earlier books by reading them out of order? Start with The Thief and meet Eugenides and Sophos. Then move on to The Queen of Attolia, my favorite of all of them, with incredible plot twists and beautiful romance. Then read The King of Attolia, and finally you’ll be eager to read A Conspiracy of Kings.

Though A Conspiracy of Kings did not win a judged round, it was the clear, far-and-away winner of the Undead Poll. I found that interesting. So far, the Undead Poll seems to be about web presence. And Megan Whalen Turner’s books have a thriving fan site on livejournal. Now, I wasn’t absolutely sure that John Green’s book Will Grayson, Will Grayson, wouldn’t pull off the victory, since he has a huge online presence. However, John Green’s fan base is about his and his brother’s clever and amazing web videos. Whereas Megan Whalen Turner’s fan site is about her books. And since the books were what the poll was about, I wasn’t at all surprised that A Conspiracy of Kings won.

I’ve noticed that there are plenty of people for whom the books in this series are not “their type” of book. They don’t really like it, and aren’t interested in reading the series. But those for whom this is their type of book, well, we LOVE them all. The Sounis fan site shows that I am definitely not the only rabid fan.

And what type of book is it? Well, it’s generally classified as fantasy, but the only real touch of “magic” is a varying amount of involvement from the gods that the author has invented. It’s pseudo-historical, with a setting mirroring Greece just after the invention of gunpowder. I’ve filed the books under “Historical,” even knowing that’s not technically correct, just because they feel a bit more historical to me than fantasy books. Since the biggest issues are more about leading kingdoms than about using magic.

All I have to say is, try out The Thief. Read all the way to the surprising ending. If you like it at all, you are in for a treat, because you have three more books to read!

I should say that these books are my very favorite type of series book. I like each book in a series to have its own plot arc, and to have a definite ending of this episode. But I also like the books to build to a powerful whole. I just finished The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s a lyrically written, magnificent work of fantasy. But it’s the first book of a trilogy, and I don’t think the author ties up one single solitary plot thread. Yes, it’s a good book, a truly great book. And yes, I will DEFINITELY be buying and reading the next two books. But I wish it weren’t just Part One of a continuing story. The same is true of Pegasus, by Robin McKinley. It’s only Part One. (This is probably a big part of why I haven’t heard it’s won any awards.)

And yes, there’s a place for long sagas like that. But I do have a fond and appreciative spot for series like The Queen’s Thief and The Bartimaeus Trilogy, where each book is a complete story that contributes to an even greater whole. You still should read them in order, and you’ll still want to hear more, but at least each book leaves you satisfied and happy, and with some plot threads resolved nicely.

And now I should say something about the audio version. Jeff Woodman has again done an outstanding job of reading this book. I like that he used the same voices for returning characters, so I could recognize the Magus, for example, by his voice.

One thing I love about listening to the book is that it slows me down. There’s no way I can spread out reading the book over more than a few nights, but listening, I am forced to take more time — and thus I can savor the book, and be delighted with what I am “reading” for quite a long time. Now, I did bring in the last CD to listen at home, when I couldn’t stand to wait any longer. But still, I spent much more time listening to the book than I spent either one of the two times I read it to myself.

And, like all of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, there’s so much to see and appreciate on later readings. You can more appreciate and delight in her plot-crafting. This time through, I especially noticed Sophos’ growth. He starts out the self-doubting kid we saw in The Thief, and we see him grow, realistically, through facing incredible challenges. We see and feel his real temptation to just settle down and enjoy life as a slave, without having to face the difficulties of trying to become a king. And then we see the consequences of his choice.

I love the way she plants clues to later surprises in full view of the reader. I think I can even mention one of them, without giving it away. She says that he doesn’t do a full bow, so the barons won’t notice a lump in his robe. Just beautiful to catch what that means on the rereading! And there are many of those little mentions, in each one of the books. Delightful to notice when reading it again! And it’s not just a gimmick or a trick — it actually reflects what Sophos was thinking about, how he was focusing on every detail…. I will say no more except to reiterate that I never get tired of rereading Megan Whalen Turner’s books.

So, I was sad that A Conspiracy of Kings didn’t win the 2011 Battle of the Kids’ Books, but I was proud that it won the popularity contest, the Undead Poll. And very glad that maybe these books will gain some more readers. But I hope they will listen to the judges saying that it doesn’t stand alone, and start with the very first book.

When I was following the links to the Sounis Livejournal site, I learned that Megan Whalen Turner is speaking, along with Jonathan Stroud, Rick Yancey, and Cindy Dobrez, at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival on the USC Campus. Although I can’t go myself, my youngest sister, Melanie Hatch, is a student at USC (in fact, she’ll be graduating soon and winning the Biegler Award for the graduating Electrical Engineering student with the highest GPA — Go, Melanie!), so I made sure she knew about it. Melanie was quick to point out that the event is actually happening on her birthday! So she’s looking forward to the best birthday ever! I’m so pleased for her! And I’m considering her my representative, so I can enjoy the event vicariously through her!

What’s more, it turns out that A Conspiracy of Kings is a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize for Young Adult Literature. It’s up against two other books that were in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, including the winner of SLJBoB, The Ring of Solomon, by Jonathan Stroud, and the also excellent How Sugar Changed the World, by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos. Two other finalists are Wicked Girls, by Stephanie Hemphill, and The Curse of the Wendigo, by Rick Yancey.

Will Ring of Solomon pull off the victory again? Will the judges appreciate Megan Whalen Turner’s true genius? We shall see, but however it turns out, these are some excellent finalists, and I’m really looking forward to my sister getting to hear these people speak — and telling me all about it!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/conspiracy_of_kings_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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Off Season, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Off Season

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
read by Natalie Moore

Listening Library, 2007. 5 CDs. 6 hours
Starred Review

After listening to Dairy Queen, I simply had to find out what happened next. I very much liked the narrator, Natalie Moore, and I could easily imagine her voice as DJ’s voice. (I was disappointed when the library didn’t have the third book in audiobook version.)

In The Off Season, DJ gets injured badly enough that she decides she’d better stop playing football in order to stay healthy for her true sport, basketball. But that’s only the beginning. She breaks up with Brian. Her brother Win has a devastating injury.

In the middle of this book, it seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong was going wrong for DJ and her family. I almost didn’t want to keep listening, because I was hurting for DJ.

Later, when I heard the author speak, I learned that she used to be a screenwriter, so she purposely used the three-act structure where everything looks black in the second act. And believe me, everything looks black in the middle of this book.

However, the author really pulls off a happy ending. DJ tackles her problems with the same fighting spirit that motivated her to play football in the first book — only now the stakes are much higher. By the end, you’re definitely cheering for her.

I have to say that, even though I didn’t like it when DJ broke up with Brian, because I liked him and had fallen for him with DJ — I was very proud of her. She broke up with him because he was ashamed to be seen with her. He never introduced her to his friends or his parents. And DJ figured out that she wanted to be with someone who was proud of her, who wanted the world to know that they were together. I loved it that she did that. I loved it that she figured out that was a dealbreaker. How often do you see that in books for teens? It was one more thing that made this book great — as well as heart-wrenching.

This review may be unnecessary. Those who read the first book, will, like me, be sure to want to read the second and third. But writing it gives me an excuse to again loudly cheer for DJ Schenk. She’s a high school girl with weaknesses and world-sized problems — but she ends up as an inspiration.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/off_season.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.