Audiobook Review: The Shadow in the North

The Smoke in the North
Sally Lockhart Mystery, Book #2
By Philip Pullman
Narrated by Anton Lesser
Ⓟ 2004, Listening Library
8 hours, 44 minutes

Sally is six years older than she was in The Ruby in the Smoke and now a twenty-two year old financial consultant in London. One of her clients, however, as been wiped out of her life’s savings by taking Sally’s advice in investing in a shipping interest, and Sally is determined to find out what happened to make a previously going concern fold. Her inquiries soon lead to a much larger scenario involving murder, romantic intrigue, and corporate conspiracies. Set against a backdrop of spiritualism and “the woman question” (The Married Women’s Property Act, the marriage market, women in the work force…,) The Shadow in the North is rather brutal emotionally and doesn’t shy away from the vicissitudes of the Victorian Age. Pullman doesn’t pull any punches and shows the reader/listener a time and place of ruthless ambitions, greed, and violence visited upon those who have little or no defense against such social and moral inequities. Philip Pullman builds a world with seeming veracity and Anton Lesser brings it to life with superb characterizations and a classic British accent.

n.b. – Extreme violence directed against men, women, and a dog; Limited violence against a child.

OTHER: I dnloaded a digital copy of The Shadow in the North (Sally Lockhart mystery, Book #2; by Philip Pullman; narrated by Anton Lesser) from 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. 

Audiobook Review: The Martian


The Martian
By Andy Weir
Narrated by R.C. Bray
Ⓟ 2013, Podium Publishing
10 hrs, 53 minutes

Mark Watney is an American astronaut who is left for dead after a destructive sandstorm forces the evacuation of the third manned Mars mission, Ares III. Unfortunately, he wasn’t dead; and now he is confronted with the enormous challenges of figuring out how to survive in a hostile environment with the odds against his rescue. Relying on his ingenuity, sense of humor, salvage from the base camp, and the efforts of the world’s space bureaucracies, Watney needs to figure out out to sustain himself with air, water, food, clothing and shelter – in the face of miscalculations, equipment failure, and adverse weather. The enormous amount of exposition required to set up each challenge, however remarkable for its seeming veracity in regards to technical issues and resolutions, is often boring and tedious; but the payoff for the tenacious listener is being able to fully share in Watney’s triumphs and setbacks – his experience as if we were there with him.

The narrative follows Watney’s point-of-view, some action on Earth, onboard the spaceship Ares III, and every once in a while from a point-of-view dispossessed of any personality (recounting an action in which there are no plausible witnesses.) The narrator, R.C. Bray performs the role of the Mark Watney extremely well, lending credible voice to a character in an incredible situation. Bray also does well with the different genders and ages, though he does a little less well in rendering the foreign accents demanded of him; but the characters come to life and  are well delineated. The story told clearly and with sensitivity to the characters’ personalities.

On a personal note, I almost gave up on this audiobook halfway through; but I’m glad I didn’t. Despite things happening in the story, it wasn’t clear that the story was actually going anywhere; And I wasn’t sure that the constant grind of having science & technology explained to me was worth the one-liners and/or the end result of each challenge. But I ended up being emotionally vested in the fate of Mark Watney, and consider the hours spent listening to his story well spent.

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.

Audiobook Review: Anansi Boys


Anansi Boys
By Neil Gaiman
Narrated by Lenny Henry
Ⓟ 2005, Harper Audio
10.1 hours

“Fat Charlie” Nancy is a rather unprepossessing guy. He’s an accountant. He has a fiancée that he hasn’t slept with yet. He suffers from stage fright when confronted with a karaoke mic. When things get rough there’s nothing more than he’s like to do than find succor with a bit of goat curry and a cup of tea. But when his unrepentantly flamboyant father passes away, Charlie travels from his home in England back to Florida for the funeral. From there on out, Fat Charlie discovers things about his family, his brother in particular, and especially himself that are harrowingly frightening, funny and amazing all at the same time. This story is Afro-Caribbean in nature and feels very different from Gaiman’s usual style of weird, drippy, wet London. The story dazzles with bright sunshine, flashes with slick and clever dialogue, and echoes with the rhythms of ancient drum beats from West Africa. But Gaiman’s trademark other-world-that-is-nowhere, a land where reality has a rather tenuous grip and is fascinating for its strangeness is still here in the form of a dreamlike place where the world begins and ancient folkloric figures inhabit. 

Lenny Henry (Dawn French’s now ex-husband) is the British narrator who reflects the world beats of the story with relative facility: The English accents (natch) of Fat Charlie and other UK characters, and the smooth American voice of Fat Charlie’s brother in particular. While I wouldn’t say all his character voices (i.e. the older figures in the story) were on the mark, the rest of the cast, men and women alike, were well delineated without resorting to overly/extreme comic interpretations. There were a couple places where I didn’t catch a word; but overall, well paced, clear, and entertaining.

OTHER: I borrowed a CD edition of Anansi Boys (by Neil Gaiman; narrated by Lenny Henry) from the Jackson County Library System (Southern Oregon.) This title was #297 on my personal library index with an entry date of 06/23/2012. 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. 

Album Review: Lazaretto


Jack White
Third Man Records, 2014 (TMR 271)

I think Jack White is very strange and I’m not as convinced of his guitar godhead has he appears to think he is; but there’s no denying that he has a high level of musicanship and, his willingness to experiment and blend different types of musical influences into something intriguing are bold. I was a little wary of buying this album, for all the bells and whistles touted, including but not limited to, reverse tracking, lock tracks, hidden tracks, holographic angels… – all of which made me ask “But what about the music?! But I took the risk and it paid off. The album, title track aside, actually has more of a Western influence to it: Hillbilly, 70s Country, a little honky tonk… cut with razor sharp electric guitar riffs and an occasional trill from a moog. Eclectic, but well worth it for those so inclined 🙂

The gimmicks don’t detract from the music; but the gimmicks can prevent you from getting to the music. In addition to the the issues of linear turntables being unable to play reverse tracking; some turntables may not have the ability to play at 45 and/or 78 rpms (the hidden tracks.) You have to be careful where you drop the needle on Side A or else it will track toward the center and the hidden track. The hidden tracks are supposed to be played through the paper, which isn’t for the faint of heart. Having to change speeds for the hidden tracks, or having to drop the needle in a special place (on Side A to get the side “going,” or Side B depending on which intro track you want for “Just One Drink”) is an inconvenience . It’s really no big deal; but if it’s a hot sticky night after a stupidly long day, your patience is running thin, and you want to just sit back and enjoy the music, it’s a PITA. I have the Ultra LP (which actually also includes the code for a digital dnload) – and while I’m not sorry that I got it, I can definitely sympathize with those who would prefer to wait for the standard issue.

The video for the title track, Lazarreto:

Video talking about the “tricks and chicanery” in the Ultra LP:

Audiobook Review: Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11)

Turn Coat

The Dresden Files, Book #11
By Jim Butcher
Narrated by James Marsters
Ⓟ 2009, Penguin Audio
14 hours, 40 minutes

Warden Morgan comes to Harry Dresden, famed Chicagoan wizard detective and fellow warden, for sanctuary and help. It appears that Morgan has been framed for the murder of a senior White Council wizard. The act could create a schism within the Council and further fuel an ongoing war with other supernatural factions. Though Morgan has been historically Harry’s enemy within the Council, Harry decides to take up the cause in the name of truth, justice, and the discovery who might be behind this treacherous double act of homicide and treason. The hook into the story was excellent and the plot tracks very well. Butcher’s writing seems to have evened out and gotten better since Blood Rites (the nadir of Butcher’s writing skills in The Dresden Files) though there are a few cut-and-paste phrases that are used multiple times within the story, and Butcher is addicted to his movies and cliched physical prototypes. Marsters, as always, inhabits the character of Harry completely, though there are moments where the narrative flow seems to jump in logic, maybe from the way Marsters interprets the lines. Characters are clearly delineated and Spike fans get to hear a bit of Marsters’ British clip in the character of Binder 🙂

 I dnloaded a digital copy of Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11; by Jim Butcher; narrated by James Marsters) form the now defunct  on 11/23/2011. 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.