Audiobook Review: Sweetland

Sweetland

Sweetland
By Michael Crummey
Narrated by John Lee
Ⓟ 2015, HighBridge Audio, A Division of Recorded Books
9 hours, 12 minutes
LIT-FIC

A seventy-year old man, Moses Sweetland, has lived most of his entire life on a Newfoundland island his forefathers founded (and named “Sweetland”) many generations ago. Faced with the prospect of resettlement by the government, he lives with his memories and ghosts. Sweetland is a bittersweet tale about a man trying to survive his past and outrace his present; but the future is coming for him whether he’s prepared for it or not…

Present-day scenes merge nicely with the flashbacks (and back again); but overall, the story is less than the sum of its parts. The novel is packed with scenes of tension, sadness, even comedy; but it fails to actually deliver tension, sadness or comedy – which leads to an emotional disconnect between the text and the story, the story and the listener. This may be in part due to the way the events are ordered within the novel  – which kills the suspense; the author providing obvious hints which tips the hand as to the events about to unfold  – which leeches any sort of emotional tension; and eccentricity being too self-aware to be actual humorous or even quirky.   We, the Drowned (by Carsten Jensen) and The Solitude of Thomas Cave (by Georgina Harding; coincidentally narrated by John Lee as well) immediately come to mind in terms of the tie-in between land, sea, and man; and there are some stylistic points that the three books share as well which makes the novel feel familiar, but not particularly special.

John Lee’s narration was rather surprisingly brisk. Over the years, the careful, sometimes overly-enunciated performances have given way to this faster approach. This can prevent the listener from getting bogged down in lit-fic prose; but it can also get in the way of the listener savoring the language, or even understanding what a scene entails. The only other note, though perhaps small beer for many listeners, is that Lee is  British-American narrator who was cast to read a POV1 story about a Canadian; but there was no attempt imitate the regional accent, or even pronounce “Newfoundland” as a Newfie would.

 

OTHER: I listened to a digital copy of Sweetland (by Michael Crummey; narrated by John Lee) from Scribd.com. 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.
Sweetland (by Michael Crummey; narrated by John Lee)  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 Sweetland on her blog, TheSleeplessrEader.com

armchairaudies

EDIT: 11MAY2016 – Added line about The Sleepless Reader’s review; Added link

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Audiobook Review: Little Big Man

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Little Big Man

By Thomas Berger
Narrated by David Aaron Baker and Scott Sowers;
with an Essay by Larry McMurty narrated by Henry Strozier
Ⓟ 2014, Recorded Books
20 hours, 30 minutes
WESTERN / SATIRE / AMERICAN CLASSIC

This American Classic is a satire  which exposes the falseness of the American Old West narrative. The main body of the work is a POV1- narrative from Jack Crabbe, a Zelig-like character who lives alternately amongst white people and the Cheyenne in the 1850s-1870s, a time when the landscape of the country was changing as rapidly as the steam engines could push in and the the government could push the Native Americans out. The story begins with Snell, a mannered and intellectually pretentious man going to see the 111-year old Crabbe in a nursing home. Crabbe, in turn, begins his account when he himself was a young boy and Redskins wipe out the party of pioneers (his family included) he is traveling with. In the course of the his recounting,  outrageous claims are made, i.e. Crabbe manages to witness many key events and interact with a number of notable figures of the time; but Berger balances the tongue-in-cheek narrative with keen insight into the nature of man and the events of the time to give the story plausibility, if not in the sum of its parts, and least in the individual happenings. Berger researched this time period, and using original source material such as letters and diaries, constructed this novel to debunk the myth of the era, and to a certain extent he succeeded by incorporating the elements of avarice, filth, and moral equivocation that prevailed. On the other hand, rather than tarnish, the acuteness of the author’s barbs lends a sort of patina to the story by making it more realistic. Analogously, it would be like taking down a statue to discover there are cracks in the base; but nonetheless, the statue is still strong enough to stand.

The narrators were spot-on: David Aaron Baker starts the audiobook off as the effete and gullible interviewer Ralph Fielding Snell; Scott Sowers nails it as Jack Crabbe, undereducated but sharp, performing with a “cowboy” accent throughout his section; And finally, Henry Strozier caps the audiobook with a reading of Larry McMurty’s short essay, a laudatory missive read warmly and convincingly as if McMurty were reading it himself.

BUT, and this is a big “but” the production values were terrible: On Sowers’ section, there were page turns, mouth noises, booth noises, at least one repeating sentence, a couple sections out of order, and overall it didn’t sound as clean as the parts narrated by David Aaron Baker or Henry Strozier.

OTHER: I dnloaded a CD digital copy of  Little Big Man (by Thomas Berger
narrated by David Aaron Baker and Scott Sowers; with an Essay by Larry McMurty narrated by Henry Strozier) 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.

Little Big Man (by Thomas Berger; narrated by David Aaron Baker and Scott Sowers; with an Essay by Larry McMurty narrated by Henry Strozier) 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.

armchairaudies

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.

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: Godbomb!

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GodBomb!
By Kit Power
Narrated by
 Chris Barnes
Ⓟ 2015, Kit Power
5 hrs and 56 mins
PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER

This is a short but rather intense novel about a young man who walks into a religious revival/faith healing service with a block of explosive in hand, and his thumb on the release trigger. His demand? He wants to hear the voice of God speak to him, or else he is going to blow himself up and take everyone with him. The tension of the scenes, the palpable fears and concerns of the congregation in the face of an erratic stranger as well as the seemingly deaf God to whom they pray, lend this horror story some lit-fic bones, giving it weight against pulpy tales of the macabre. There are horrific things that happen, and with graphic detail; but they are grounded in reality and not gratuitous in nature.

The structure/shape of the novel  itself allows the listener a Rashomon-style take of the scenes within the story; and the overall body of the story has a play-like feel – from the list of characters at the beginning, to the altar area cum stage that serves as the focus for the unfolding drama. This is Kit Power’s debut novel, and while perhaps some changes regarding the development/presentation of one or two of the key characters could have been made earlier or clearer, the point is moot as the author nevertheless  portrays emotional complexity and tension deftly. An  additional accolade to the writer’s skill is that the listener cannot know how the story ends until the last minutes, keeping the listener riveted for the outcome.

Chris Barnes  tells the story with sure pacing and confidence with the material, and doesn’t stand in the way of the story or use it as a showcase for character work (however tempting that might have been!) He does have a very thick Scottish accent, and coupled with some idiomatically UK expressions, may make the first few minutes difficult to acclimate to;  but if the writing is not particularly lyrical, there is a flow to the narrative à la Barnes that places the reader at the scene very effectively and quickly. That said, it’s probably helpful to have a passing knowledge of evangelical preaching and faith healing services; and  that “tenobare” is actually a “tin of beer” (a can of beer.)

I’m really looking forward to more by this author and narrator respectively; and admittedly, would love to see this performed as a play onstage.

OTHER: I purchased GodBomb! (by Kit Power; narrated by Chris Barnes) 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.  I am FB friends with the narrator; but he didn’t ask me to listen to the audiobook, and doesn’t know I have – unless he’s reading this right now 🙂

EDIT: 04/14/2016 – Added SoundCloud audio track (Dynamic Ram Audio Productions)