Audiobook Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens
By Alan Dean Foster
Narrated by Marc Thompson
Ⓟ 2015, Random House Audio
10 Hours, 21 Minutes
SCIENCE FICTION | SPACE OPERA

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” the fates and destinies of Poe, a brash young pilot carrying a spherical droid named BB8; Rey, a scavenger on the desert planet, Jakku; and a disillusioned Stormtrooper named FN-2187, would cross to create a story of adventure, loyalty, danger and intrigue. The movie would return the iconic space opera franchise to its original core values in storytelling, picking up the story a generation after  Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) left off. Alan Dean Foster has written the official novelization of the movie; and given that the audio was a simultaneous release with the film, it stands to reason that he was privy to a working script and/or an advance screening to insure the storylines would match. As such, if you have seen the movie, there are no surprises or Easter eggs here; But if you were unclear as to what happened in the movie at any point (e.g. Did Finn die? Or was he just gravely injured?) the (audio-)book will answer those questions.

The audiobook is a hybrid of an audio drama (sound f/x and music) and straight narration (single narrator reading all the text and dialogue.) The sound effects can help with the immersive experience, and also help trigger recall to the movie scenes when the the action lines or settings are not clear in the writing. However, the sound effects can also be distracting to varying degrees from mildly irritating to  getting in the way of the story itself.

The demands of a Star Wars audiobook narrator are a little different than from an audiobook narrator of a regular novel: The narrator works from a Foley script (but with no actual sound effects being played during the recording); has very little input from Disney/LucasFilm and/or the author in regard to characterizations; and must deliver in a style that can seem over-the-top. As a result, the narrator’s performance  is spliced with sound f/x and at times has an odd chopped quality to it; some of the characterizations might seems a bit “off” from what you recall from the movie; and the melodramatic tone, while serving intense scenes, can verge on the comical when more subtlety might have been expected. Nonetheless, it must be noted that Marc Thompson did extremely well in handling the script and the unique demands required of him. His voice characterization for the now-older Han Solo was particularly well-done; though General Leia Organa, not so much.

This is a fun, family friendly audiobook that will appeal to listeners who enjoy radio and/or audio dramas, and Star Wars fans.

 

OTHER: I listened to a CD copy of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (by Alan Dean Foster; narrated by Marc Thompson) that I borrowed from the Jackson County Library Services (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.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (by Alan Dean Foster; narrated by Marc Thompson) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Science Fiction category.

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2017 Armchair Audies

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The 2017 finalists for the Audiobook Publishers Association’s Audie Awards have been announced! There are thirty categories with approximately five titles in each that the APA judges have deemed the best of the entries submitted. ON June 1, 2017, in NYC the winner of each category will be announced.

Jennifer Conner (a.k.a. @lithousewife and the APA Audiobook Blogger of the Year 2015) hosts the Armchair Audies in which YOU can be a judge! Listeners each pick a category, listen to the nominees, and decide which entry they think deserves to be the winner in the category. If you would like to play, check out the Armchair Audies blog… This is not affiliated with the APA, and decisions of the Armchair Audies have no bearing on the official Audie Award decisions.

I’ve participated for all five years, picking a different category or categories each year. This year, I’ve picked Science Fiction:

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I’ll listen to each of the title listed above, write a review, and post my pick before June 1, 2017!

March 8, 2017: I have decided to take on another category!

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March 28, 2017: I’ve decided to take on yet another category!

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EDIT: 08MAR2017
* Added word in italics: “I’ve participated for all five years, picking a different category or categories each year”:
* Added another category, Original Work, image
EDIT: 28MAR2017
* Added another category, Audio Drama, image

Print Reviews: The Vegetarian AND Human Acts

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The Vegetarian
By Han Kang
Penguin Random House | Hogarth
Release Date (Paperback): February 02, 2016
ISBN-13: 978-0553448184
LITERARY FICTION

This is a lit-fic novella which won the author the ManBooker International Prize. Set in South Korea, the story features a married woman who suddenly decides to become a vegetarian. This sets up a chain reaction of strange, and dramatic responses from her husband, father, brother-in-law, and sister. At first, the story feels alien and weird even given the foreign setting; but once the reader becomes acclimated to the style and tone, the material is thought provoking. This is somewhat of a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” (And no surprise, it is published by Hogarth!)

Human Acts
By Han Kang
Penguin Random House | Hogarth
Release Date (Paperback): January 17, 2017
ISBN-13: 978-1101906729
LITERARY FICTION

In 1980, in a Southern Korean province, a democratic uprising against the tyrannical government was brutally quashed by soldiers. Known as the Gawngju Uprising, its violence and toll in human lives was shocking: An estimated 2,000 people were summarily executed. Amongst the casualties was a fifteen-year old boy named Dong-Ho; and his death is the centerpiece of Han Kang’s sophomore effort. The author utilizes the Roshomon Effect in driving the plot forward though the years, revealing events though six sections told from various POVs: That of Dong-Ho himself; Dong-Ho’s friend; An editor; A prisoner; A factory girl; and Dong-Ho’s mother. There is an Epilogue, which is not part of the story; but an actual statement form the author regarding her connection to the fictionalized account that she has written. The events recounted are unflinchingly savage, its effects scarring the survivors mentally and physically for years after the uprising itself. Han Kang’s writing is tighter and more grounded than it is in The Vegetarian, perhaps owing to a more concrete set of events at hand (history) as opposed to the performance-piece-like style of her debut novel in the West. That said, there were a few places where the translation or style felt a little awkward: The shift from third-person omniscient to first-person accusatory was disconcerting; and replacing South Korean vernacular with Yorkshire idiomacy was jarring. Overall, however, the novel was powerful; and intentional or not, relevant in today’s political climate in asking the question, “How far would you go to be on the right side of history?”

OTHER: I purchased a hardback copy of The Vegetarian (by Han Kang) from Barnes & Noble in Medford, OR and; I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Human Acts (by Han Kang) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. 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.

Print Review: Shylock is My Name

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Shylock is My Name
By Howard Jacobson
Penguin Random House | Hogarth
Release Date (Paperback): October 11, 2016
ISBN-13: 978-0804141345
LITERARY FICTION

Shylock is My Name starts off with a sort of colloquy between Simon Strulovitch and Shylock as they discuss Jewish identity, humor, and families (especially the relationships between fathers and daughters.) Then the story kicks into gear as Simon lives out the 16th century play, The Merchant of Venice against the backdrop of an upscale neighborhood in 21st century England.

It is not clear whether Shylock is a literary revenant incarnate and/or an alter ego made manifest under the pressure Simon is under. The initialism of the novel’s title, “SIMN” serves as a possible allusion to the schizophrenic nature of the heroic element; but the double-protagonist scheme does not break down so it is possible that Howard Jacobson simply created a contemporary Shylock, complete with fedora. The conversations tend to be excessively neurotic and introspective, often encumbering the overall story line even as the action line surfaces. The comic elements feel a bit forced; and the humor dry and subtle.

Highly recommend reading William Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice beforehand. Those with an affinity for Jewish literature may also find this more rewarding than those who do not.

OTHER: I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Shylock is My Name  (by Howard Jacobson) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. 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.

Print Review: Hag-Seed

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Hag-Seed
By Margaret Atwwod
Penguin Random House | Hogarth
Release Date: October 11, 2016
ISBN-13: 9780804141291
LITERARY FICTION

The Tempest is a play about a man producing a play – one that comes out of his own head…”; and ‘Hag-Seed’ is a novel about Felix Phillips, the former artistic director of the Makeshewig Theater Festival, who finally gets to mount a production ofThe Tempest, albeit with the Fletcher Correctional Players instead of a professional acting company. Felix is also using the play to enact his own real-life drama of revenge. Atwood constructs an interesting meta form: The novel is the re-telling of The Tempest; The director has the players re-write Shakespeare’s Comedy; and the director himself is living out an alternate version… Depending on how involved the reader is in the novel, it could be argued that Atwood has added another layer into the story by capturing the reader as the audience.

Atwood uses this re-telling as exposition of her own understanding of the play; and cleverly up-cycles the Bard’s material both in structure and content. Felix becomes the avatar for Atwood’s research, teaching a class about the play to the would-be actors and the readers of the novel too. The FCP’s re-constructed Tempest raps out lines from the play and re-interprets the figures into modern understanding. The book itself is set up into five parts, mirroring the five acts of Shakespeare’s play.

If there is to be any quibble, it is only this: There is no magic. The original play contains mostly unlikable characters. With the exception of Ariel and Gonzalo, they are best described as manipulative, incredibly naive, homicidal, rapacious, scheming, lying… The appeal of much of the play are the spells that Prospero casts, casting illusions on epic scale. With ‘Hag-Seed’, that magic is reduced to special effects, which shears off the glamour of the story.

The novel is well executed and deserving of study alongside the Classic play, especially in discussions about modern or contemporary relevance and revisionist Shakespeare.

OTHER: I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Hag-Seed  (by Margaret Atwood) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. 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.

Print Review: Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt

 

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Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt
By Yasmone El Rashidi
Penguin Random House | Tim Duggan Books
Release Date: July 28, 2016
ISBN-13: 9780770437299
LITERARY FICTION

  • Elegant, almost elegiac prose paradoxically reflects the disquietude of three summers of revolution in Cairo, Egypt: 1984, 1998, and 2014.

This lit-fic novel reads like a memoir owing to its powerful, spare and introspective language. We meet the unnamed-protagonist as a little girl in 1984. The household still echoes with the mother’s and grandmother’s monarchist sentiments; while the father has disappeared under mysterious circumstances under the newly elected Mubarek’s presidency. Six-years old and a student at a British school, she seeks to define the immediate world around her. In the second section, the first-person narrative continues as the now-film student bears witness to a cityscape around which the Nile, literally and metaphorically the life line of Cairo, is cut off and obscured. At a time when political dissension or compliance was self-defining, the young woman searches for her voice and identity. In the last section, The Spring Uprising has seen the resignation of Mubarek after a thirty-year reign.The protests have sparked a new sense of change, that of a dynamic and invigorating force. Coming to terms with the past, the now-fully realized adult looks to the future. Rich with descriptive and symbolic language while at the same time simple and straightforward in delivery, the internal rhythm carries the reader to another time and place, making one’s world a little bit bigger than it was before starting this remarkable debut novel.

OTHER: I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Chronicle of a Last Summer (by Yasmine el Rashidi) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. However, the book was released on June 28, and I received the ARC three weeks later, so I went ahead and purchased a hard copy of the book to read and review. 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.

Armchair Audies: Lit-Fiction and Classics

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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) pick(s) the winner for his/her selected category. This year, I listened to the finalists in the Classics & Literary Fiction category along with The Sleepless Reader. You can click on the titles for each of the audiobooks listed below to check out my full reviews (with the exception of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry.) At the end of the list, is “My Pick” 🙂

The five finalists in the Classics and Literary Fiction category year are:

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The Fishermen (by Chigozie Obioma; narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji; published by Hachette Audio )
+ Excellent Story of pride, loyalty, extreme and graphic violence, superstition, vengeance, and ideas of redemption. Don’t let the premise of “four boys who decide to go fishing one day” lull you into thinking this is some sleepy, exotic tale; or a navel-gazing lit-fic piece.
+ Excellent Narration: The narrator is Nigerian and reads the text with native cadences, bringing the  various characters to life; and reads the textual cues (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.)
+ Excellent Production Values, meaning no discernible issues that I could detect.

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Kidnapped (by Robert Louis Stevenson; narrated by Kieron Elliott; published by Recorded Books)
+ Classic Tale of swashbuckling heroism, clever ruses, and breath taking scenes of danger!
+ Decent Narration – Native Scotsman reads carefully, preserving the special (nautical), archaic, and idiomatic language of the novel
Perhaps the narration could have been a wee bit faster in delivery. The pace was rather slow, counter to the tempos in the story
+ Excellent Production Values, meaning no discernible issues that I could detect
+ Bonus: The narrator looks like a young Sean Connery. Not really a consideration when evaluating the audiobook; but it certainly doesn’t hurt!

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Little Big Man (by Thomas Berger, narrated by Scott Sowers, cameo by David Aaron Baker; with an essay by Larry McMurty narrated by Henry Strozier;  published by Recorded Books)
+ Well Researched American Classic serving as a satire of America’s Old West
+ Essay at the end of the story works as a nice summary of the books’s approach
+ Narrators nail their respective characters or roles
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.

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Sweetland (by Michael Crummey; narrated by John Lee; published by HighBridge Audio/Recorded Books
“OK”premise for a story: A man whose ancestors founded a Canadian Island, is one of the holdouts when the government seeks to resettle the inhabitants. But, there is an emotional disconnectedness between the text and the story, and the story and the listener. The author also manages to spoil his own plot, diffusing the tensions within. The overall story seems to borrow a bit from other books I have read too, which makes it feel not altogether original.
John Lee barreled though the text; and kept mispronouncing some place names, most notably, “Newfoundland” (which should have been native to the protagonist.)  Though John Lee is not a Newfie, this could have been avoided with just a little bit of research.
+ Excellent Production Values, meaning no discernible issues that I could detect.

 

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‘Til the Well Runs Dry (by Lauren Francis-Sharma, narrated by Ron Butler and Bahni Turpin; published by Tantor Media)
+ Some great dramatic scenes
No inherent narrative tension: Whatever momentum the dramatic scenes carry is dissipated in the next section.
After a while, the story feels like rummaging through other people’s dirty laundry.
+ Narrators are clear in their delivery
But neither narrators are native to Trinidad. Accents/rhythms sound forced. Despite their efforts in adding a bit of regional color, in a category where you have excellent native narrators (A Nigerian, a Scotsman, and an American each reading material set in their respective countries,) this is  a minus.
Ultimately, I could not finish listening to this audiobook. Just shy of the half-way mark, I started avoiding my iPhone. For two weeks I tried to force myself to finish, but I realized that the audio experience just wasn’t working for me.
* You can read Alex’s review of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry on her blog, The Sleepless Reader.com

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆MY PICK☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

The Fishermen (by Chigozie Obioma; narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji; published by Hachette Audio)
☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

* You can read Alex’s prediction for the winner on her blog, The Sleepless Reader 🙂

OTHER:
I purchased The Fishermen: A Novel (by Chigozie Obioma; narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji) from audible.com;
I received a CD Library edition of  Kidnapped (by Robert Louis Stevenson; narrated by Kieron Elliott) from Recorded Books in exchange for review;
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 listened to a digital copy of Sweetland (by Michael Crummey; narrated by John Lee) from Scribd.com;
I listened to a digital copy of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry (by Lauren Francis-Sharma; narrated by Ron Butler and Bahni Turpin) from Scribd.com.

I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobooks) or services in exchange for reviewing the products and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

EDIT:
11MAY2016 – Added line about Alex’s review of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry; Added link
11MAY2016 – Added line abour Alex’s prediction; Added link