05/40: Fake Mustache (by Tom Angleberger)

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Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind

by Tom Angleberger

Published in April, 2012 by Amulet Books

Though the subtitle seems to say it all, 

WHO: Lenny Flem, Jr. and Jodie O’Rodeo…

WHAT: save “…the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind,”…

WHERE: a plot hatched in the fictional town of Hairsprinkle…

WHEN: during the 2012 election season…

WHY: so that Lenny’s erstwhile best friend could sieze power of the country…

HOW: by way of a clever disguise.

+ Fake Mustache is silly and fun with absolutely no grounding in the realm of possibilities whatsoever!

– Fake Mustache is silly and fun with absolutely no grounding in the realm of possibilities whatsoever!

Yep, that’a not a typo: The Plus and the Minus are the same! Fake Mustache is something of a tall tale wherein Tom Angleberger has taken elements as far flung as trolleys, a Wonder Horse, a child TV star, novelty toys and cell phones… and spun a fantastic and amusing story; but utterly unbelievable. There’s no device that transforms Fake Mustache into a plausible scenario which is not a bad thing, just makes this more of a book for pure entertainment value than anything else.

SEX/-UALITY, DRUGS, VIOLENCE: A little flirtation and a kiss between the protags; no drugs; no contact violence

OTHER: I borrowed a hardback edition of Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind (by Tom Angleberger) from the Jackson County Library System (Southern Oregon.)  I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post. 

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

04/40: Timeless (by Gail Carringer)

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Timeless

by Gail Carringer

Published in 2012 by Orbit/Hachette Book Group

WHO: Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Macon, a soulless woman whose touch can render any preternatural being (e.g. vampire, werewolf, ghost…) into its human dimensions…

WHAT: has been invited to visit Matakara, the ancient vampire queen…

WHERE: at Luxor, Egypt…

WHEN: in 1876 (Victorian Era)…

WHY: to introduce her daughter, Prudence (who has unique abilities herself) to the queen for undisclosed reasons.

This is the fifth  and final title in the steam punk series, The Parasol Protectorate and finishes the adventures of Lady Macon in the light and fun manner in which followers of the series have come to expect. Romance, thrills and cozy mystery, combined with the supernatural-cum-commonplace, and an unreliable narrator make this a perfect summer read. The style is reminiscent of Elizabeth Peters’ novel, Crocodile on a Sandbank, in itself a pastiche of H.R. Haggard novels. 

+ As in every Parasol Protectorate novel, just when you think the story is  moving along conventional lines, something truly surprising happens, jolting the reader out of complacency and eagerly racing ahead to read more.

Timeless alludes to former adventures in without summary; so if you come into this novel without having read or refreshed your memory in regard to the the preceding novels, you may find yourself skating through the constructs (Why is the Kingair Alpha upset again, exactly?) though the action lines are strong enough to keep the story moving along.

– Nothing new in regard to introducing Steam Punk elements and, in fact the prime mode of transportation is a balloon rather than a dirigible.

n.b. Soulless, Changeless, Blamesless and Heartless are the first four novels in the Parasol Protectorate series respectively.

SEX/-UALITY, DRUGS, VIOLENCE: References to sex, homosexuality and nudity; but no bestiality or erotica. One vague reference to a hoookah while in Egypt; Blood noted and attacks scenes described, but not graphically in regard to injury.

OTHER: I borrowed a paperback edition of Timeless (by Gail Carringer) from the Jackson County Library System (Southern Oregon.)  I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post. 

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

03/40: The Freedom Maze (by Delia Sherman; narrated by Robin Miles)

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The Freedom Maze

by Delia Sherman

Narrated by Robin Miles

Published in 2011 by Big Mouth House

Audiobook published in 2012 by Listening Library

WHO:  Thirteen-year old Sophie Fairchild Martineau, a white girl in the segregated and deeply racist South, and from an old Louisiana family to boot…

WHAT: is placed in the care of her aunts one summer…

WHERE: at the old Fairchild plantation, Oak River (in the Bayou country outside of New Orleans) where there is a maze…

WHEN: that becomes the portal between 1960 and 1860…

WHY: via the agency of a trickster, a sort of Voudoun familiar who fulfills Sophie’s wish, “I want to travel through time and have grand adventures and brothers and sisters and have everybody love me.” 

HOW: Owing to her summer tan and skimpy clothing, Sophie is mis-identified as a slave and experiences life as a a yard slave, a house slave and as a field slave. Blood relationships become complicated and the sense of family becomes more of a matter of friendship than blood. Not everybody ended up loving Sophie, so the trickster shafted her on that score; but Sophie did develop deep bonds and insight to race as a construct.

+ This book works well as a counter to the common perception and stereotypes of antebellum South as being one big lawn party out of the pages/screen of Gone with the Wind. The author has taken pains to portray slave-hood with a measure of accuracy and; also brought to the fore the blurriness of using skin color as a qualifier to indicate race. Race as a social construct is further though lightly reinforced in the modern prejudice against Sophie’s step-mother who is Jewish.

+ There is also the secondary story line involving Sophie’s own sense of freedom and independence as a young teen. Sophie’s part in the story in 1860 is over when she takes action that shows that she has changed from being a passive player in her own drama to a more dynamic one; and this in turn gives her the fortitude to take more risks in asserting herself in 1960. 

– I would have liked to have seen Sophie’s adventures in 1860 drawn out a little longer as it is not clear how the break (removal from 1860 action) was accounted for then. Somehow this seems important and something of a cop-out to have this gap. 

– There were a number of references to other books that I am not familiar with. I may have missed some double entendres as a result :-/

AUDIOBOOK NOTES:

+ Robin Miles provides a clear soothing voice that articulates the differences between the whites and the various castes of slaves well.

– Sibilance in some passages:  May be due to de-essing process or post-production compression

n.b. SEX/-UAL, DRUGS & VIOLENCE: There is the threat of rape in one scene; but no sex acts committed. There is a passage which talks about how the protag gets her first period and a description of feminine hygiene. Violence is threatened or alluded to (whipping; the punishment of one runaway slave having involved the slave being returned pole-bound and burnt ), but all off-camera. Sophie is struck hard in one scene. There is no drug usage.

OTHER: I purchased a digital dnload edition of The Freedom Maze (by Delia Sherman; narrated by Robin Miles) from iTunes.  I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post. 

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

02/40: Sarah, Plain and Tall (by Patricia MacLachlan)

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Sarah, Plain and Tall

by Patricia MacLachlan

Published in 1985 by The Trumpet Club

WHO: Anna and her brother Caleb…

WHAT: anticipate the arrival of a woman who responds to an ad placed by the children’s father for a wife and mother…

WHERE: which necessitates travel to the plains of America on the part of the respondent, Sarah, who describes herself as “plain and tall”…

WHEN: during what was probably the latter half of the19th century…

WHY: to be a helpmeet on the farm as well as provide a place for herself as her place at home in Maine will be ceded to her sister-in-law…

HOW: Through determination, Sarah will meet the challenges of plains life head on

+ A slim volume with easily accessible language as well as details featuring life on the Plains makes this appealing to the full range of chapter book readers from ages 8-12. The book has an overall tenor of hope and optimism, never descending into dark sentiment (e.g. resentment) or indulging in fear (even during the squall scene) which provides a nice counterpoint to some of the children’s fare (e.g. Coraline (by Neil Gaiman) and Splendors and Glooms (by Laura Amy Schlitz)) that is currently on offering. 

– There is not quite enough detail to pinpoint the time in which the story is set. Given that America’s expansion onto the Plains started in earnest on and after 1862, I’m extrapolating that the story takes place in the latter half of the 19th century.

n.b. – There is no sex, drugs, violence (to humans or animals), nor mention of religious life. 

OTHER: Daughter acquired paperback edition through Walker Elementary School’s Book Swap. Our new puppy chewed the copy my daughter had acquired and as I was repairing the damage, became interested in the book. I repaired the book, read it and returned it to my daughter’s bookshelf.  I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post. 

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

01/40: The Little Book (by Selden Edwards)

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The Little Book

by Selden Edwards

Published 08/14/2008 by Dutton/Penguin Group (USA)

WHO: Frank Standish Burden, III a.k.a. “Wheeler” Burden a.k.a. Harry Truman: Student at St. Gregory’s prep school, Harvard drop-out, Noted athlete, rock star, author/editor…

WHAT: Finds himself having traveled back in time…

WHERE: From an entryway at an apartment building in San Francisco to  the Ringstrasse in Vienna where he meets luminaries of Fin de Siecle thought and practice as well as certain ancestors…

WHEN: From 1988  to 1897… 

WHY: “We’ve had a chance to see what each of us is like”…  “We… thought we could change the world around us”… “We thought we were omnipotent.”

HOW: Speculatively, the shift in time/space was a matter of strong self-will; perhaps one of pre-determination; perhaps no more than a sub-conscious impulse made manifest as a coping mechanism or to make sense of things.

+ Tightly constructed novel on both a basic narrative level and on an allegorical level: The story is well crafted to tether moments, relationships and things from the past with those in the future; The psychological allegory along Freudian lines is masterful.

+ Descriptive passages are rich with detail that tantalize the reader into wishing s/he were there (interesting sort of uber meta experience in itself) 

– Impossible to describe and do the novel justice

OTHER: Purchased hardback edition from Elliot Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post. 

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

Armchair Audies: Best Audiobook for Children Ages 8-12: Wrap Up Post

Judging the Armchair Audies category of Audiobooks for Children ages 8-12 was an extremely interesting, revelatory and educational experience for me! I have no experience producing children’s audiobooks much less reviewing them; but I felt that I was more than up to taking on this challenge armed with my secret weapon: Actual Children Aged 8-12! That’s right, I conscripted my daughter and her friends to a series of audiobooks, samples and questions; prepped the listening experience months in advance by listening to other children’s audiobooks; and finally taking Heidi’s (Bunbury in the Stacks) and my own assessments in hand before making a call!

by Laura Amy Schlitz
narrated by Davina Porter
12 hours, 2 minutes

This was the first book that we listened to for the Armchair Audies and personally my favorite: the production quality is edge-to-edge and the narration irreproachable. I was, however taken aback by how dark the story is. I wondered if the Gothic feel of this book might be attributable to the influence of other successfully dark books like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline; if it might be a hearkening back to the rather frightening dark tenor of the of the original fairy tales or; if, as someone in a group thread mentioned, it might be a matter of manifesting fears in a way that children could face and cope with them (ref. Bruno Bettleheim The Uses of Enchantment.) Regardless, there is quite a bit of morbidly scary imagery that a sensitive child may not care for. Anyway, my own daughter’s take was that she like the narrator’s accent and the scenes with the puppets performing; but that she wasn’t quite clear what was going on in some parts. She would, however, recommend the book to her best friend who is a more advanced reader and likes stories with witches and magic and such.

by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs
  2011, Listening Library
4 hours, 16 minutes

I had extremely high hopes for this book, but it proved to be a bust. From the opening screech to the last, I found the pitch and pace annoying. I was hoping that the talking animals would appeal to my daughter but she tuned out from the start; and the many literary references and puns went over her head. To be fair, not many kids her age would be familiar with Dickens and The Tale of Two Cities, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and/or William Makepeace Thackeray and his pepper problems; but there is nothing in the story to indicate that these people should be of interest or even real-life characters. Eventually, my daughter tuned out the words like so many adult conversations and became increasingly interested in iPad app games and the radio 😦
written and narrated by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
  2012, Candlewick/Brilliance
5 hours, 47 minutes
One thing that I learned listening to this audiobook is that children do not care about the narrator matching the age of the character that the narrator is reading! Appropriate casting is very much a top priority with me; but of course the number of narrators aged 8-12 is pretty small and; kids seem to hear their own voices in the intent and delivery of the narrator, not in the pitch. So, while I found Silas House’s narration “too old” for the character of River Justice in Same Sun Here, my daughter could not have cared less. Another thing that I learned is that often books for this age group, even chapter books, contain illustrations that are part of the reading experience. Sometimes you notice and sometimes you don’t. If you don’t notice, that’s a pretty good sign of a well-written book and a better audio experience as there is no sense of having been bereft for having chosen the audio over the print. There are illustrations in the print edition of Same Sun Here, but I didn’t realize it until I went to go check on the spelling of “Masoorie” that the authors used! That said, even though my daughter was more engaged with this book than with Splendors and Gloom and The Cheshire Cheese Cat, when I realized that she thought “Dadi” and “Daddy” were the same person and “Masoorie” was the way she thought Neela Vaswani was pronouncing “Missouri,” I also realized how important visual cues can be with a story :-/



by R.J. Palacio
narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Rudd
 2012, Brilliance Audio, Inc.
8 hours, 6 minutes


Man, oh man! I cannot tell you how this audio experience broke my heart! The story is amazing, but it could have been, should have been a better audio production. Nick Podehl was great; but Diana Steele sounded like Marge Simpson, Kate Rudd didn’t pre-read the book (or didn’t pay attention if she did) and one or two minor editing issues drove this to the bottom of the favored-to-win the Audie list. My daughter was interested in the story; but will be reading it in print instead.

The Freedom Maze
by Delia Sherman
narrated by Robin Miles
  2012, Listening Library
8 hours, 34 minutes
I didn’t have to listen to this for very long before I had heard enough to rank it over  Wonder and The Cheshire Cheese Cat! Despite some sibilance issues which may have been a matter of bad de-essing or compression processes, Robin Miles’ soothing voice was very welcome. I then created a chart of “Pluses” and “Minuses” for each title in the category which effectively ruled out Splendors and Glooms. When it came down to the final two choices The Freedom Maze had a much more intriguing premise than Same Sun Here and, I suspect my daughter found the magic in The Freedom Maze more palatable than in Splendors and Glooms. Heidi, over at Bunbury in the Stacks had already come to the same conclusion as to the winning entry so we had a consensus decision as to the winner of the Armchair Audies Best Audiobook for Children Ages 8-12: The Freedom Maze
You can check out my reviews of the titles above by clicking on the title beneath each cover (except for The Freedom Maze for which I have not written a review yet) and, Heidi’s reviews over at Bunbury in the Stacks:

Wonder



Wonder
by R.J. Palacio
narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Rudd
 2012, Brilliance Audio, Inc.
8 hours, 6 minutes
Children, Ages 8-12

The world is a hard place. And people are bastards. And kids are cruel. Especially to kids like Auggie Pullman.

August “Auggie” Pullman was born with a severely mal-formed face and raised in the relative shelter of his home and neighborhood environs – which is not to say that he has been shielded from public scrutiny or the visceral reactions he provokes upon those who chance on him. From outright screams of horror to glances stolen peripherally, Auggie is all too aware that he is a freak show and an outcast. But after years of home schooling, Auggie’s parents decide to send their son to a private school in Manhattan. Entering fifth grade as a new kid is a challenge anywhere at anytime for anyone, but for Auggie, without proven social skills and a history of ostracism, the prospect is particularly daunting. Wonder tracks Auggie’s first year in school from several perspectives: from Auggie himself; his sister, Olivia (“Via”); his best friend Jack; Via’s boyfriend, Justin; and from Via’s best friend, Miranda. What follows is a chronicle of the failings and triumphs of Auggie and the people close to him as he struggles with the transition to a wider world and proves that while “the universe has not been kind to Auggie,” the scales are not irredemptively tilted against him either:

 “…it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see. like with parents who adore you blindly. and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.”

Wonder is a poignant story that well illustrates personal triumphs as well as a sort of karmic justice in play. Issues are all resolved as a testament to adversity-forged character, direct action or good fortune. If anything, perhaps Wonder is a little bit overly optimistic, reaching for that feel-good moment at the expense of reality; but then again, to a middle-grader it may prove to be a vaccine inoculating against the worldly cynicism and darkness that has crept into our common culture. Auggie’s case is extreme and rare so it may take a mentor to make the correlation for the young listener between Auggie and other “outsiders” that are more commonplace.
Wonder is an amazing story and should have been well served by an audio edition; but unfortunately, it wasn’t. While casting women in the roles of young boys in audio/voice-over is not uncommon, the purpose of doing so is to match the soprano voice of the unchanged male voice. Diana Steele’s voice may have matched the range and been delivered in with the raspiness that the text mandated; but she could not let go of her feminine sensibilities enough to deliver the narrative convincingly enough as that of a young boy. One felt that these sections were being read by Marge Simpson – an idea that, once you’ve heard it, you can’t “unhear” it. Kate Rudd, on the other hand, delivered the story’s sections from Olivia and Miranda’s point of view with earnestness, though she often rendered Auggie has having a voice of a mentally handicapped person rather than one with a damaged/repaired oropharnyx. As the text takes pains to indicate that Auggie not slow and that he has a raspy voice, Ms Rudd’s choice was unfortunate and all the more glaring. Nick Podehl, while not the voice of a fifth grader, delivered his sections (Jack and Justin) truthfully and well. There aren’t may textual cues to define Justin, so the challenge was in distinguishing Jack, a boy from the “other” side of Broadway. While initially, Nick Podehl’s choice of an old-school New York accent for Jack was disconcerting, he does dial back after the first impression and the tone is effectively set.

The only other issues with the audio were minor production quibbles: the processing on Diana Steele’s voice for the quotes before her sections sounded oddly “metallic;” during one of Kate Rudd’s sections as Olivia there was an egregious edit (end of one word/beginning of next word had zero interstitial space) and, in the same (Olivia’s) section there seems to be silences inserted in between some sentences which made for an odd cyclical wave sound. [To be fair though, I won’t discount that there was something awry with my listening set-up. Even though I chased down cables and checked for sources of interference, I could not determine the source of what might have been a bizarre grounding issue.]

Other Stuff: I purchased a digital dnload edition of Wonder (by R.J.Palacio; narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Ruddfrom iTunes. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

This is an Armchair Audies review 🙂


See Also:
Heidi’s review of Wonder (by R.J. Palacio; narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Rudd) at Bunbury in the Stacks!

My review of Same Sun Here (written and narrated by Silas House and Neela Vaswani) and Heidi’s review at Bunbury in the Stacks 🙂

My review of  The Cheshire Cheese Cat (by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright; narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs) and
Heidi’s review at Bunbury in the Stacks!

My review of Splendors and Glooms (by Laura Amy Schlitz; narrated by Davina Porter) and Heidi’s Review of the same at Bunbury in the Stacks 🙂