Audiobook Review: It Happened in Boston?

It Happened in Boston?

It Happened in Boston?
By Russell H. Greenan
Introduction by Jonathan Letham
Narrated by Robert Fass
Ⓟ 2014, Blackstone Audio
11.00 hours
PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER

By many accounts, the story of what happened in Boston falls into the genre of Speculative Fiction. After all, very early on in the book, it is revealed that the protagonist of the narrative is a time traveler! Yet, it is equally apparent as the story unfolds that time travel is not the main thrust of the story; nor are the crime, horror, or philosophical elements, so the book is disqualified from being catalogued into those genres as well. Why not just label it as “Fiction” and leave it at that? Because it is much more than an imagined story of what happens to a painter as he rises in his career arc before he is shattered by a tragic event. It is the story about his acute perceptions as an artist as he shifts his focus to the surreal even as his corporeal world falls apart.

The unnamed artist tells his story from the first person POV, luring the listener into his tale: How his DaVinci-like skills brought him lucrative commissions, and how his best friends from the academy fared as well; How a tragic event started to unravel his reality as he searched out God Himself for a showdown; and the occult things he did in this quest…

The style of the narrative has its precedents in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and in Patricia Highsmith’s short story collection, Eleven. The narrator, absolute in his convictions and reasonable in tone, starts becoming unreliable in credibility; and the things he does become a matter of morbid fascination. The listener is swept up into the intimacy of the artist’s world as it narrows in scope down to a park bench in the Commons or his now-seedy apartment with its menacing pigeons on the window ledge.

Written in 1968 and contemporary to its time, the listener might expect it to feel dated. While there is a decided old-fashioned sense to the scenes, like diners with sugar bowls, and a lack of twenty-first century technology like smartphones, the story is so richly and realistically depicted that the listener is “present” as much as the artist.

Robert Fass is the audiobook narrator for “Boston.” His style is very mannered, but not affected and serves the language intelligently. The book warrants no less. It is not a slapdash adventure with vocabulary of middle grade complexity; but a rich and sophisticated feast of words that paints pictures, even as the artist in the story paints his portraits. Fass’ style is complimentary to the novel’s voice, clear and direct even as the protag’s vision becomes less so.

Final notes about the overall production: There is an Introduction written by Jonathan Letham extolling Greenan’s ability to conjure the beauty of a fictional painting; but which also includes a major spoiler to the story. I would highly recommend skipping the Introduction (the first 7 minutes, 13 seconds of the audio after the opening credits) and listening to it after the story is over. There is also an Afterword by the author which talks about the difficulty in classifying the novel, and how it came to be written and received. Between the end of the story and the Afterword, I really wished there had been more of a pause, or an indication that the narrative was at an end so I could have savored the listening experience. The ending is powerful and deserves a moment or two to soak it all in before being hurled back into the real world.

It Happened in Boston? deserves more than to be relegated to the obscurity of a backlist. It’s a classic in its own right.

MORE:

EDIT: 22FEB2015: Added link to Publishers Weekly review

OTHER: I dnloaded a digital copy of It Happened in Boston? (by Robert H. Greenan, with an Introduction by Jonathan Letham; narrated by Robert Fass) from Blackstone Audio/downpour.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.

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Audiobook Review: Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus

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Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus
By Tom Angleberger
Narrated by Mark Turetsky, Tom Angleberger, Ali Ahn, Julia Todd Gibson, Jennifer Ikeda, Jonathan Ross, and Greg Steinbruner
Ⓟ 2014, Recorded Books
3.6 hours
CHILDREN 8-12/MIDDLE GRADE/GENERAL FICTION

The final installment in Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda series, sees kids from McQuarrie Middle School go on a field trip to Washington, DC. For those unfamiliar with the series, it centers around a loser named Dwight who folds a paper Yoda figure that dispenses wisdom and advice to his classmates. Seemingly divorced from Dwight himself, the paper figure achieves a certain mystic aura among most students, suspicion to some (’cause there’s always at least one person like that,) and frustration for all of the teachers. As the series goes on, more paper figures are introduced, all from the Star Wars cast of characters. It’s fun, and while the print books are heavily illustrated, the audio works surprisingly well on its own. The production value across the series is a little uneven (splicing the different narrators’ sessions together seems to be a recurring issue resulting in some extra long pauses in some of the titles); but “Emperor Pickletine” seems to have had a better post engineering on it than the other titles.

Tommy, the principal chronicler of the series is voiced by Mark Turetsky, who, as always, turns in a performance great for capturing the tone of a middle-grader (as opposed to sounding like an adult mimicking a child.) He does an awesome Chewbacca impression (check out The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee), which sadly wasn’t called for this time; but to make up for it, Dwight actually speaks in this book, and he is perfectly rendered by Tom Angleberger himself!

Even if you haven’t listened to the others in the series, the book is entertaining and fun; and I’m sad to see it end.

Great for family listening 🙂


OrigamiYoda
10:44am (February 3, 2015)
@dogearedcopy Thanks!!! I’ve been afraid to listen to it!

mturetsky
10:47am (February 3, 2015)
@dogearedcopy @OrigamiYoda Have you heard our interview @recordedbooks? You can rlly tell Tom does more interviews!

Recorded Books’ Interview with Tom Angleberger and Mark Turestsky:
Tom and Mark talk about the fun of narrating an audiobook, the imagination sparked by the Origami Yoda series, and of course, we geek out on some Star Wars trivia.

OTHER: I received a CD library edition of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus (by Tom Angleberger; narrated by Mark Turetsky et al) from Recorded Books in exchange for a 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. I have donated my copy of the audiobook to Ashland Middle School in Ashland, OR which is currently rebuilding their audio collection. If you have a middle grade audiobook (CD edition(s)) in good or better condition that you would like to donate, please contact me at dogearedcopy@gmail.com

EDIT: 02/03/2015 – To add Tweets from Mark Turetsky and Tom Angleberger; To add Sound Cloud link to Recorded Books’ Interview

Audiobook and Print Review: Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools: The Red Queen’s War, Book 1
By Mark Lawrence
Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Ⓟ 2014, Recorded Books
14.6 hours
SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY

I burned through the insanely brilliant Broken Empire Trilogy in 72 hours. I became delirious with lack of sleep wrought by potent imagery, and keen anticipation of what the sociopathic protagonist, Jorg of Ancrath would do next. When the trilogy was finished I actually threw a temper tantrum, because I didn’t want it to be over. The stories weren’t perfect (The revelation about the setting was too long in coming in Prince of Thorns; the forces battling with Jorg weren’t as clearly delineated as one might have wished in King of Thorns; and I wasn’t thrilled at the pacing at the end of the Emperor of Thorns…); but all this palls with just how thrilling it all is; and I will admit that maybe the “flaws” may be ironed out on re-reading at a more sane rate.

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I started Prince of Fools.  Could I have started with Prince of Fools without having taken the time to read the Broken Empire trilogy?  Could Prince of Fools be as good as its contemporaneous book, Prince of Thorns?  If I couldn’t have more adventures with Jorg of Ancrath though, I would take whatever else I could get about The Broken Empire and I dove in…

And YES!

  • YES, as in Yes, you do need to read the Broken Empire trilogy before you head into Prince of Fools. There is just no other way around it. The Broken Empire trilogy creates the world and perspective that the reader needs in order to get the humor and understand some of the issues at play beyond the pages of Prince of Fools that have bearing on the plot.
  • YES, as in “Yes, it is different from the Broken Empire in significant ways.” You need to adjust your expectations, but you won’t really be disappointed. The different POV enriches the Broken Empire:
    • Mark Lawrence gives more play to humor in Prince of Fools. Another anti-hero, Prince Jalen of Kendreth, tenth in line to the Red Queen’s throne, is a self-professed liar, cheat and coward, not to mention a profligate who is always trying to stay one step ahead of enraged  husbands, protective brothers and bookies. An unapologetic, short-sighted opportunist who nonetheless lacks a bone of malevolence, he is very aware of his shortcomings, though it does little to keep him out of mischief. We know Jalen primarily through what he tells us of himself via a lens of self-deprecating humor. His self-assessments inform his actions (cf Jorg of Ancrath whose actions tell the reader more of who he is than his internal musings.)
    • In Prince of Fools, Jalen finds himself ensnared  in a spell and bound to a viking named Snorri. The two make their way North from the Red March (analogous to Southern Eastern France/Western Italy) into Scandinavian territories where they seek to break the spell and exact vengeance against the the Dead and dark forces that have cast them together. There is no lack of action or violence in “POF,” but it is not nearly as dark as in The Broken Empire trilogy. Because  Jalen is  not  an aggressor or a risk taker, and in fact reactionary, his schemes are defensive in  nature.
  • YES, as in “Yes, if you have read the Broken Empire Trilogy and need a little Jorg fix, it is here when Jalen and Jorg cross paths at an inn.”  This whole section works as a companion piece to the Broken Empire Trilogy. There is so much I love about this section, but talking about it would spoil the fun…

And now a word about the narration:

I can see why Tim Gerard Reynolds was cast as the narrator for Prince of Fools: He is Irish like the author; He has had success with the the humorous and fantastical tale of The Infernals (by John Connolly) and the Science Fiction epic fantasy, Red Rising (by Pierce Brown) which would indicate comedic timing and a sensibility for SFF respectively. All that said,  I don’t think the book was best served by this choice of a narrator. Jalan hails from the Red March on the Mediterranean Coast, not from the Drowned Isles (which would correspond to what we know as England.) So, even given that there is a (Broken) Empire accent in play, it’s hard to imagine an Irish accent given dominance for the narrative. It’s disconcerting, but not a deal-breaker. But then there’s the fact the Jalan is a twenty-two-year old; and well, Tim Gerard Reynolds is not, either in fact or sensibility. Again, not a deal-breaker, as Reynolds is a middle-aged Irish man and there’s just no getting around that. But then there’s the poor female characterization, poor character delineation, and overall failure of direction in the first chapters that launch the the book. Then, there’s the whole tone of the book, which is fast and slick (think Eddy Izzard or Ben Aaronovitch); but for which we get John Cleese a la 2014. Alright, I think I could have borne it all, and maybe you could too; but then, there was this, very early on in the book:

“I didn’t stop to reply but vaulted down into the bushes, which were thankfully the fragrant rather than the thorny variety. Dropping into a thorn bush can lead to no end of grief.”

The narrator threw away the line, like he had no idea of why it was written or why it would be important, so there was no irony in the interpretation. And this, yes, this was the deal breaker for me. Perhaps all my quibbling prior to this last peeve listed was a result of my not being able to recover from what I consider an egregious oversight, so he was damned nearly from the start. That being a given, I will still be willing to listen to Red Rising (by Pierce Brown, and upon the strength of which Reynolds earned the accolade of an AudioFile Magazine Best Voice of 2014; but I will be reading The Liar’s Key, the second book in the Red Queen’s War trilogy (to be released in June 2015) in print.

EDIT: 01/16/2015 – Mark Lawrence is not Irish.
EDIT: 01/26/2016 – Reformat Mark Lawrence’s tweet and add date stamp; Added Tim Gerard Reynolds’ tweet


Mark__Lawrence Jan 16, 8:42am via Twitter Web Client
@dogearedcopy Many thanks!
(I’m not Irish by the way 🙂 )

KanShoReynolds Jan 24, 6:54am via Twitter for iPad
@dogearedcopy @recordedbooks@Mark__Lawrence …
Thanks too! Sorry that thorn bush lead to no end of grief … Enjoy #RedRising!

 

OTHER: I received a CD library edition of Prince of Fools: The Red Queen’s War, Book 1 (By Mark Lawrence; Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds) from Recorded Books in exchange for a 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.

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
YA/HISTORICAL FICTION/MYSTERY/THRILLER

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 downpour.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. 

Audiobook Review: The Martian

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

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.


OTHER:
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: 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
URBAN FANTASY

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 🙂


OTHER:
 I dnloaded a digital copy of Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11; by Jim Butcher; narrated by James Marsters) form the now defunct WeReadForYou.com  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.

Audiobook Review: Still Foolin’ ‘Em

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Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys?
Written and narrated by Billy Crystal 
Ⓟ 2013, Macmillan Audio
8.10 hours
HUMOR

Still Foolin’ ‘Em is an autobiography of  Billy Crystal’s career to date as told from the perspective of the 65 year old veteran comic, actor, writer and, producer. Crystal recognized as he was writing the book that some sections would be better presented live for the audiobook edition, so there are chapters which have been recorded in front of an audience. Whether live or from a studio, Crystal’s delivery is fast and his timing well-honed.

This isn’t really a comic album per se. It’s a memoir of a comic who delivers Borscht Belt or Matzoh Ball humor as a part of his personality. It’s interesting and engaging; but if you’re looking for jokes and routines, you’re better off checking out his old performances on television and film.

OTHER: I borrowed a CD edition of Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys? (Written and narrated by Billy Crystal) from the Jackson County Library System in 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 participating in the Armchair Audies 2014, judging the category of Humor. 

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