Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bloody good adventure

My cri de coeur for a standalone book has not yet been answered (although I think I'm going for Twisted next because Laurie Halse Anderson is coming soon to our library), but the title I'm almost done with was a standalone when it was first published in 2002 ... but she proved popular, and so now there are four. I'm talking about Bloody Jack, Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy, now out in audio. After the tortured listening (both poor audios and ghastly stories) of the past month or so, it is pure pleasure to just zip through this book -- I'm getting through a disk a day, which is fast-paced for me.

Mary Faber is an orphan on the streets of 18th century London when she takes a job (in disguise) as Ship's Boy on the HMS Dolphin, an actual Royal Navy vessel. She's an apt study, and works hard -- both as a sailor and at The Deception (even creating a little codpiece that she sews to the inside front of her pants). This morning, as the disk ended, I left her dangling from a kite in the sky as she was sent aloft to help her shipwrecked crew find the closest inhabited island in the Caribbean. I fear she is soon to be found out, and then what will happen (the end of the book, I guess!)?

This title has been nominated and I can see why. The book is written in a Cockney dialect, and the talented Katherine Kellgren is making a fine go of it. She easily slips into American, Irish, and more "proper" English to portray some other sailors (her Jamaican doesn't roll quite as easily off her tongue, but she is consistent). Jacky is prone to hysterics when the occasion warrants it and Kellgren isn't afraid to ramp the volume up and produce tears and a runny nose. The story is highly entertaining and Kellgren's portrayal more so. I think I shall go buy it for my library right now!

Marvelous ... or not

I just finished a book this weekend that featured the yin/yang, good/bad universes of the Ilone and the Enoli (sp?). Two alternative universes (time dimensions) to Earth -- one determined to subjugate the human race and take over Earth for ...? (didn't get that part) ... the other intervening to save humanity. Who was which: Ilone = bad/Enoli = good? I'm still not sure. And then there's our hero, Louis Proof, a young human (but also from one of those dimensions?), who must step in to stop the evil entities. It's all battles and superhuman feats from this point on.

This is the situation in (ah yes, another first in a series ... god help me, I want a freaking standalone title, is that too much to ask?) The Marvelous Effect, Book 1 of Marvelous World (which has something to do with E. Orange, NJ). Originally self-published by a young African American who wanted to see people from his world in a series like Harry Potter, the folks at Scholastic snapped it up for full-fledged publication (hoping for the Eragon effect, perhaps?), and then Listening Library grabbed it for audio.

So I'll say two things: the book is sorely in need of a good editor, and it's really appropriate for audio -- yet it isn't.

Troy CLE (that's pronounced Cee El Eee -- and stands for Celestial Light (like?) Entity -- of which there are many in the Marvelous World) just needed someone to say: You know, you don't have to put everything in your book -- adjectives and adverbs fly about indiscriminately and are often (in my opinion) used inappropriately.

Yet, he does write in a jivey, hiphoppy way that goes well with the streetwise, videogame tenor of the story. And Malcolm-Jamal Warner has a cheerful, innocent way of reading that also captured Louis' amazement at himself and his world. And, of course, he sounded like the urban black teens that populate this story. I certainly never would have made it through this book listening to the little white girl voice that's inside my head! But all the made-up stuff just got on my nerves -- the odd names (two characters named Prolif and Glitch, but always pronounced together -- prolifinglitch), the invented beings and machines. It's so hard to keep track of these things in audio, when you can't go back to doublecheck: Are the Ilone the good guys or the bad ones? The whole thing with Ilone/Enoli really didn't work in audio -- say them out loud to yourself: it was some time before I even realized that they were two different things.

Everyone's looking for the next Potter cash cow ... I don't think this is it.


Actually, I don't know if that's one word or two ... one of the many pleasures/pains of audiobooks is that some spelling is a mystery (more on that in the post I'm planning after this one). City of Bones (Volume one in a planned trilogy Mortal Instruments) features some young, very handsome, kick-ass Shadowhunters trying to save us from the demons (vampires, werewolves, ravers and many other entities I can't remember) that threaten New York City.

Our heroine, Clary Fray, is a Shadowhunter -- but, of course, she didn't know it, until her shadowhunter mother disappears and a very nasty creature (that raver) shows up in her apartment. Evidently, her mother has been kidnapped by a guy that everyone thought was dead because he's planning to start up some war between good shadowhunters and those who have gone bad. Everyone appears to be afraid of this guy, named Valentine (who is so obviously Clary's unknown [to her] father, but I haven't gotten there yet ... can you say Star Wars?), who needs the three Mortal Instruments in order to become all powerful.

And, in the meantime, Clary and the other teen Shadowhunters she meets up with, are cruising around New York City encountering silent brothers, warlocks, vampires, werewolves, etc.; in an effort to unlock her brain so they can figure out where Valentine might have taken her mother. Because he must be stopped. least I think that's what's going on ...

This is one of those books that's just wa-a-a-ay too involved for audio. It's long (14 hours) and full of trilogy-type exposition that attempts to get you up to speed on the backstory (who are the shadowhunters, what do they do, what is their code, who are these characters, etc.) that make for easy-to-drift-away-from-and-think-about-your-shopping-list listening. Wait, do I really have to know about the truce between the vampires and the werewolves?

Plus, I am afraid that there is a certain amount of descriptions of the hard, beautiful bodies of these young crusaders, along with recitations of cool clothing, various modes of transportation, and food.

Unfortunately, at this point (a little more than halfway through), I'm not sure where we are in the story, but we have ascertained that Shadowhunter Jace is sexy, handy on a motorcycle, and deeply conflicted about his future.

Finally, could I just say that I think Recorded Books is just a bit prudish. The cover of the book (at least the copy visible to me here) features a bare-chested, blond hottie (note blonde without the e = male ... did I have to explain that?), while the staid RB cover (which I've only been able to locate here [arrow down to the bottom] which I suspect is not a persistent url ... I really ought to figure out how to load pictures!) features a head. Don't they know which cover is going to get checked out of the library?


Ultimately, I just don't think I'm all that good at blogging if I've gone 10 days between posts; however, I'm hopeful that this will prove a useful tool (if I can figure out how to access it at without a laptop ... hmmm) at Midwinter; so I shall keep posting.

First, an update on What is the What. I asked for another committee member to listen to this, and our chair heroically volunteered. (I don't know where she finds the time to get in all the audiobooks she's managed to listen to during the past two years, but she is amazing!). She agreed that it was a great book, and encouraged me to nominate it ... so I have!

I also finished Half-Moon Investigations, which I mildly enjoyed, but still contend it's a book for younger readers/listeners. The characters are all so extreme in their motivations and actions -- for comedic purposes or otherwise -- that I think only younger listeners would tolerate them without feeling talked down to. Even the Irish accent was a little bit cariacturish -- too over the top. I'm wondering that Artemis Fowl fans (although it has been awhile since I've read one of those) would think that the author was writing for younger kids. Well, hopefully we'll have a lively discussion about it in January.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Character studies

So, it's two-ish weeks later, and I used the long weekend to power through the last five disks of What is the What, finishing it on my walk this morning. Even thought I don't like to spend two weeks reading anything (I also spent this weekend reading the oh-so-fun The Thirteenth Tale in its entirety), I have to say that listening to Valentino's story was always compelling, and that the time spent never felt like 20 hours. The reading by Dion Graham was excellent -- well delineated characters, lots of varied pacing, an accurate (to me) portrayal of a foreign culture. Certainly, I learned a lot about Sudan and its diaspora -- things I simply haven't learned by listening to the aforementioned National Public Radio (since I don't give NPR the almost-undivided attention I give to audiobooks).

It is among the better audiobooks I've listened to this year, but I'm thinking that it's more a good book than a good audiobook (I felt this way about The Book Thief last year). I think its length does present problems -- often long, thoughtful (as opposed to action-filled) books don't make a good audiobook because the end is so very long in coming.

And, Valentino's story is a lengthy journey -- he was in essence a refugee for about 15 years. Much of the time, he was in mortal danger, but the nature of his journey ... walking, walking, walking, waiting, waiting, waiting ... makes for listening where, for example, distinguishing between the refugee camp in Ethiopia and the one in Kenya often difficult. The compelling part of Valentino's story, I think, is the people that he meets and loses along the way. They are beautifully drawn characters -- each is clearly identifiable -- and they are distinctly portrayed by the narrator.

So, good book, outstanding characters, expertly narrated, why am I hesitating?

Is this a book for teens? Often, it seems we struggle with books on the young end of teendom; I can safely say that this is not a book for 12 year olds! I also have no doubt that high schoolers can read, relate to, and enjoy (well, not exactly enjoy ... this book is often unbearably sad) Valentino's story. But, does it belong on our list? Is it -- as our charge requires -- "significant to young adults?"

There are an awful lot of questions here.