Audiobook Review: Beauty Queens

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Beauty Queens
Written and narrated by Libba Bray
Ⓟ 2011, Scholastic Audio
14 hrs and 37 mins
YOUNG ADULT / SATIRE

Beauty Queens is an amazing book: fun, satirical, and containing a lot of important messages about being a girl/young woman today, dealing with body image, impressions, sexuality, and relationships. A planeload of American teen-aged girls on their way to a beauty pageant crash and end up on a tropical island with its inherent dangers of a volcano, very large insects, lack of supermarkets or spas… The island itself serves as a crucible within which the girls must hone their instincts and prove their mettle in order to survive. In listening, The Lords of the Flies, Survivor, and Miss USA pageants all come to mind; but without the viciousness. Or talking pig’s head.

The narration was akin to a one-woman show. Libba Bray  does the entirety of the material and is obviously enjoying herself! It’s quite the parade of regional accents; but there are a couple of issues stemming from plosives at the beginning of the recording (“puh” sounds when the narrator gets too close to the mic and pronounces words beginning or ending with “p”); a couple of the characters lose their accents in a couple of places; and the narrator doesn’t take one of her own textual cues (e.g. One of the girls was to have a had a “slight” British accent that ended up being a full bore accent.) For all that though, you mostly know who is speaking during any given dialogue; and overall the performance is impressive.

It’s marketed to girls 11-13; but may find a better audience in a slightly older demographic (13-17) both for the content and writing level. There is an interesting interview with the author at the end of the audiobook; which is also relevant to the messages in the book and should not be missed.

OTHER:
 I listened to this audiobook on recommendation from @BethFishReads and you can read her review of Beauty Queens on her blog, BethFishReads.com.

I purchased Beauty Queens (written and narrated by Libba Bray) from audible.com. I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobook) 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.

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Audiobook Review: The Girl with All the Gifts

 

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The Girl with All the Gifts
By M.R. Carey
Narrated by Finty Williams
Ⓟ 2014, Hachette
13 hrs and 04 mins
SFF / HORROR

You make think that you’ve exhausted the zombie genre; but The Girl with All the Gifts  is something a bit different and even more compelling:  This is the story of a little girl named Melanie, a.k.a Test Subject #1, who is incarcerated at a military base in the UK. The world-as-we-know-it has been transformed into a zombie-infested landscape, and Melanie may very well hold the key to future human survival. All the standard zombie stuff is there: humans vs zombies, military vs survivalists, an escape scramble…; but Mike Carey (also known for the comic book run, ‘The Unwritten’) has elevated the ordinary to something interesting by avoiding the common tropes. The ending isn’t what I wanted, expected, or maybe even liked; but it did make sense and is original.

The choice of narrator is surprising as well: Finty Williams is an older British woman who sounds like Judi Dench (which makes a sort of sense as she is Dame Dench’s daughter!) Since the book opens from Melanie’s POV, the casting may seem bewildering as the only character who comes remotely close to the narrator in sensibility is a scientist; but it doesn’t matter, because Finty Williams is amazing! She rolls the story out without getting in the way of the story itself, doesn’t draw attention to herself, and serves as the perfect conduit for the experience.

Fellside (by M.R. Carey; and narrated by Finty Williams) is available for pre-order on Audible (release date 4/16/2016.) This is not a sequel or companion piece; but a writing-narration duo that’s sure to be as well received as The Girl with All the Gifts.

OTHER: I listened to this audiobook on recommendation from @BethFishReads and you can read her review of The Girl with All the Gifts on her blog, BethFishReads.com.

I purchased The Girl with All the Gifts (by M.R. Carey; narrated by Finty Williams) from audible.com. I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobook) 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.

Audioboook Review: The Fishermen

 

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The Fishermen: A Novel
By Chigozie Obioma
Narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji
Ⓟ 2015, Hachette
9 hrs and 51 mins
LITERARY FICTION

The Fishermen is a lif-fic novel set in Nigeria in the mid- to late 1990s, and features four brothers who decide to take up fishing at a nearby river… As innocuous as the premise sounds, that one decision sets off a series of events that underscore pride, loyalty, extreme and graphic violence, superstition, vengeance, and ideas of redemption. You don’t need to know anything about Nigeria to get the setting; but it may be helpful to know that during the time period of the novel, Nigerian politics were extremely corrupt and led to civil unrest.

The narrator is Nigerian and reads the text with native cadences, bringing the  various characters to life. Of particular note, are the voices given to the father and priest, characters whose voices are delivered with immediacy and heat that reflect the mood and personalities of the characters vividly. Iwuji also reads the textual cues expertly; so when the author writes that a word is stressed a certain way, the narrator actually takes it as direction instead of blowing it off. Iwuji gives a really great performance. There’s a smattering of Igbo (one of four official languages of Nigeria), and the English spoken is based on the Queen’s English (so there are some seemingly odd stresses to words to American ears like “tarpaulin”); but the authenticity of the narration cannot be denied.

OTHER: I purchased The Fishermen: A Novel (by Chigozie Obioma; narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji) from audible.com. I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobook) 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.


The Fishermen: A Novel
 (by Chigozie Obioma; narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji)is a finalist in the 2016 APA Audie Awards in the Classics & Literary Fiction category.

The Armchair Audies is an annual, unofficial event in which audiobook fans each pick a category from the APA Audies Finalists announcement, and listen to each of the 4-6 titles nominated. After listening, and reviewing each of the contenders, the listener(s) picks the winner for his/her selected category. This year, I’m listening to the finalists in the Classics & Literary Fiction category along with The Sleepless Reader. You can read her review of The Fishermen on her blog, The Sleepless Reader.com.

 

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EDIT:
03/28/2016: Added 2016 APA Audie line;
03/28/2016: Added Armchair Audies logo;
03/29/2016: Added Armchair Audies paragraph including links to The Armchair Audies, the APA Audies finalists announcement, and to The Sleepless Reader’s review of The Fishermen

 

 

Audiobook Review: The Library at Mount Char

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The Library at Mount Char
By Scott Hawkins
Narrated by Hillary Huber
Ⓟ 2015, HighBridge Audio, a Division of Recorded Books
16 hrs and 48 mins
SFF, DARK FANTASY

The Library at Mount Char is a dark fantasy novel about Carolyn, one of twelve children adopted by Father, and trained in one of twelve catalogues or disciplines of knowledge. And let’s just say, this girl is great on long-range planning; and that she has a truly ambitious agenda… The clues as to what exactly she’s scheming about, and what her ultimate goals are, are the metaphorical crack that keeps the listener hooked. The library itself is a vast repository of knowledge that exists on a separate plane of existence; and Mount Char, the home in suburban America where the children were raised, serves as the nexus or portal through which the library can be accessed. The world-building is truly original and fantastic; and the story has elements of psychopathy, darkness, explosions that glitter and fascinate the listener. But there are subplots and scenes that don’t seem to advance the plot; and seemingly arbitrary symbolism and details that litter the narrative as well. The pace seems slow and the tension awkward; and  while many settings are vividly described, many of the children are not well defined or developed at all. The book ends, not quite with a cliff-hanger; but with a not-unreasonable expectation that there will be a sequel.  It is something different, shiny, weird, and inviting in the fantasy genre which seems to have become increasingly “Tolkien-esque ” or “GRR-Martinish”

If  Hillary Huber seems a just a shade too knowing for the role of Carolyn, she does an outstanding  job of creating a diverse range of characters without dropping into absurd caricature or false ranges. She handles the material expertly, imbuing the scenes perfectly and appropriately with tension, wonder, exasperation, triumph, uncertainty… whatever the writing calls for. Hillary Huber’s performance is masterful. The only production issue to note is that are a lot of sibilances (where the “S”s spike) that can hurt ears and force a listener off of headsets :-/

OTHER: I purchased The Library at Mount Char  (by Scott Hawkins; narrated by Hillary Huber) from Downpour.com. I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobook) 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: Kidnapped

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Kidnapped
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Narrated by Kieron Elliott
Ⓟ 2015, Recorded Books
9 hrs and 7 mins
CLASSIC / ADVENTURE

Set in the eighteenth century, newly orphaned seventeen-year old David Balfour, discovers that he is of the wealthy House of Shaws and heads to Edinburgh to meet his relatives. Once in the city, however, he finds that his only extant relative is a squirrelly uncle who is clearly a threat to David’s own life. After a particularly close brush with death, David is tricked onboard a ship and whisked away on to a life of hardship and adventure including ship battles, ship wreck, mutiny, and running with outlaws. The story is everything you would want and expect for a tale of swashbuckling heroism, clever ruses, and breath taking scenes of danger! The only thing missing is a damsel in distress; but as a “boy’s tale” the lack of a romance isn’t surprising.

Kieron Elliot is a “Scottish actor, host, voice over artist and comedian” who narrats this classic tale, slowly and carefully; and with a full-on Scottish brogue. There is the temptation to speed up the recording; but the special (nautical), archaic, and idiomatic language of the novel demands a more considered approach, especially to American listeners’ ears.  However, as much  of a sucker for a Scottish accent that you may be  [Ahem, me], his deliberate pace and lack of narrative flow  mark him as a novice audiobook narrator. Indeed, it appears that he has only narrated one other audiobook, a romance for Harper Audio under the name Kieran Elliott, To Marry A Scottish Laird (by Lyndsey Sands). Still, I would have liked to have heard more from this narrator. There is the sense that once he “gets” narration as an admixture of voice over and performance, he would be a top tier narrator.



OTHER:
I received a CD Library edition of  Kidnapped (by Robert Louis Stevenson; narrated by Kieron Elliott) from Recorded Books in exchange for review. I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobook) 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.

Kidnapped (by Robert Louis Stevenson; narrated by Kieron Elliott) is a finalist in the 2016 APA Audie Awards in the Classics & Literary Fiction category.

The Armchair Audies is an annual, unofficial event in which audiobook fans each pick a category from the APA Audies Finalists announcement, and listen to each of the 4-6 titles nominated. After listening, and reviewing each of the contenders, the listener(s) picks the winner for his/her selected category. This year, I’m listening to the finalists in the Classics & Literary Fiction category along with The Sleepless Reader.

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Also, I’m just gonna leave this here:

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The Narrator, Kieron Elliott  – This is what happens what you let them out of the booth!

PHOTO SOURCE OF KIERON ELLIOTT:
(https://commercialhunks.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/kelloggs-scottish-genie/)

EDIT:
03/28/2016: Added  2016 APA Audie Award line;
03/28/2016: Added Armchair Audies logo;
03/28/2016: Added caption to picture of Kieron Elliott
03/28/2016: Added “PHOTO SOURCE” header
03/29/2016: Added Armchair Audies paragraph including links to The Armchair Audies, and to the APA Audies finalists announcement