Thursday, October 25, 2007

First impressions ...

So I just started If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko (who didn't like Al Capone Does My Shirts?) and I know I need to give it more of a chance, but so far it's not sending me. It's another two-hander (as they say in the theatre biz) that might be suffering in my mind by comparison to Thirteen Reasons Why.

Rich, chubby Kirsten meets scholarship student Walk [semi] "cute" on the first day of seventh (?) grade: her mother seems to chase his mother out of the parking lot (I think it's fairly easy to predict what that's about). Kirsten appears to have a unhappy home life (mostly absent father, overly involved mother), and her best friend seems to have moved on.

(As an aside, this has been a recurring theme in the books I've read this week: A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Candyfloss [with my eyes] both feature this situation. It's getting old.)

Walk is black, and most definitely in the minority at their exclusive private school. Determined to keep his head low and his grades high, Walk somehow stands up for Kirsten when she's accused of stealing her teacher's wallet. (The mean girls [including former BF] have planted the evidence in Kirsten's backpack.) Obviously, some "unusual" friendship is going to result from these encounters.

The two readers are fine. There's something very odd, though -- Kirsten's narration is in the first person, while Walk's is in the third. So every time Walk starts reading (which he does by saying 'Walk' -- also very annoying, but I understand that the publisher needs to read every part of the book for an unabridged version), you expect to hear 'I' and are jarred by hearing 'he.'

Of course, that's not enough to pass any judgement ... these are just thoughts at the end of the first disk.

Alas, no treasure on this island

I decided not to nominate Treasure Island for those reasons I said in my earlier post. While I enjoyed listening, I disagreed with Molina's interpretation: He seemed to see Jim Hawkins as a quiet observer of events, when I think the story is Jim's for the taking. Show some excitement, please!

This audiobook concluded with an essay by David Cordingly, who, according to Wikipedia, is considered the "leading authority" on pirates! (At least, I think this is the same David Cordingly.) Could I just say that he's not the greatest essay writer, because the one included with Treasure Island was pretty much a dull, blow-by-blow telling of Stevenson's writings.

Now, I like it when audiobook publishers add some extras to augment the literary experience, but this was not the best choice. It kind of ended the whole book with a whimper.

On the other hand, there was delightful "pirate" music throughout the audiobook. Can't beat that! It was not this pirate music, but these guys are very big here in Portland, Oregon. Early next year, a stage version of Treasure Island by a local children's theatre group will feature their original music. Wild and wacky?

And they lived happily ...

I dawdled through A Countess Below Stairs, finally listening to the last half hour late last night. The evil fiancee is routed by the servants, who convince her that the Earl of Westerholme has "defectives" in his family tree. The eponymous Russian countess' family jewels are returned to her -- through a series of somewhat preposterous events -- so she can save the Westerholme estate and marry her true love. I hope I haven't given anything away. This is the second of Eva Ibbotson's "teen" romances that I've encountered (the other being A Company of Swans); I actually think her little girl romances (Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan) are better. Of course, the latter are more recent, and maybe she's just become a better writer with experience.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this story. But, I don't think I'm going to nominate it, just because the story is so ordinary, old-fashioned even. It certainly is a nice, safe romance; the story is well told by the narrator -- with a somewhat sprawling cast of characters easy to keep track of. But there's something kind of tired about the whole thing -- no new ground was explored either in the story or in the audio version.

On the other hand, all six copies of the audiobook and 18 copies of the book are checked out, so she's clearly filling some need.

Finally, Recorded Books has done it again: the audiobook cover depicts a child, not an older teen who's old enough to fall in love. Here's the cover of the reissued paperback (which doesn't look right either), I couldn't find a copy of the cover of the audiobook (even Recorded Books uses the paperback cover). What's up with that?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Unlucky number 13

The second book I finished was Thirteen Reasons Why (nicely designed on the cover as Th1rteen R3asons Why). I bought this title for my library based on the reviews because it sounded like the perfect audiobook: One of the characters is speaking to us on tape. I like any audiobook that reflects its medium so accurately.

Clay Jensen receives a package of seven cassette tapes anonymously in the mail. It takes him a little while to find the correct hardware to play the tapes, but once he starts listening he can't stop: Hannah Baker -- the girl he'd been crushing on most of the summer and school year; the girl who took too many pills just a few weeks ago -- has left him a message. A message for Clay and the other people who made her life so unbearable that she felt she had no choice but to end it. Each side of the cassettes tells the story of what one person did to her. And each person described on the cassettes will receive the package in turn so they will understand what they did to Hannah.

Now, on the surface, this sounds absolutely absurd, doesn't it? And I admit, at the beginning I was somewhat skeptical. Who's forcing these people to listen to the tapes (and mail them on)? Surely, in the scheme of high school gossip, others know about the tapes and what's on them? Why were no adults asking questions about Hannah's suicide? But soon, these questions become irrelevant, because -- like Clay -- you can't stop listening. You can't stop from moving on to the next cassette to understand what happened to Hannah. And -- most effectively in this story, I thought -- like Clay, you can't help hoping that someone is going to help Hannah, rather than harm her. But at the same time, you know that Hannah is dead, and that you are hoping in vain. It's powerful stuff.

Clay is read by a narrator I've heard a couple times already this year, Joel Johnstone. This is his best work I think (although I did like Wednesday Wars). He reads with such emotion and it all sounds completely genuine in his interpretation. His grief and loss are palpable. And Listening Library did the right thing and hired another reader for Hannah: Debra Wiseman. She, too, reads with pathos and feeling. You can so easily imagine Clay's need to hear her voice again.

Small complaint: Hannah's tapes include a conversation (that Hannah taped surreptitiously) between her and her guidance counselor. I so wish that Listening Library had sprung for a third reader. But at this point in the story, you are galloping towards the end and so the slightly stiff and amateur-sounding voice Wiseman offers for the guidance counselor is only a minor bump in the road.

I think this is probably a better audiobook than book.

Slightly imperfect

I did some power listening over the weekend and finished two titles (that must be because my car's alternator died ... and so did my car, briefly). One was too young for us -- and I knew it -- but my bookgroup is discussing it and it was only a little over three hours, so I slipped it in. It is A Crooked Kind of Perfect, which I think of as one of those slice of (slightly exotic) life "realistic" novel where a young person copes with some small thing in her life and comes out a better person because of it. In this book, Zoe Elias has dreams of being a concert pianist, a la Vladimir Horowitz. Instead, her agoraphobic father and workaholic mother purchase the Perfectone D-60 electronic organ and she begins reproducing TV theme songs and hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s under the tutelage of Maybelline Person (pronounced Per-Sohn). Her best friend isn't any longer, and the weird boy at school has started following her home. But then, Maybelline decides that maybe Zoe should compete at the annual Perfectone Perform-O-Rama ... you can finish up the plot. I kept thinking that the 4th graders in my book discussion group would lap this one up.

The audiobook is alright. Nothing spectacular, just like the book. The reader has a nice husky voice that seemed perfectly alright for young Zoe, since it afforded a slight sense of jadedness in her character.

Just too young for our teen listeners.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Familiarity breeds ... content

I retrieved another book on cassette from a nearby library system and started A Countess Below Stairs in the car last night. This is an old title (1981) from Eva Ibbotson, whose Little Princess-inspired stories (Journey to the River Sea, The Star of Kazan) I have very much enjoyed. (And now that I check our catalog, I see that she has written a bunch of [what I'm assuming are] tame romances for adults.) Fleeing the Russian Revolution, Anna Gruzinsky [sp?] takes up a post as parlormaid in the house of a young English lord who has just gotten himself engaged to a wealthy young woman who is a fan of the eugenics movement but whose money is spiffing up the ancestral pile. The Earl of Westerholme has just witnessed Anna taking a discreet bath in the lake (because there isn't any place for the servants to take baths), so I foresee romantic entanglement in the future, that will, of course, all work out most satisfactorily in the end. I just loved this kind of book when I was a young teenager (see previous posting about Jane Eyre).

Davina Porter is narrating, and she does that English historical stuff so well. She can make all the social status accents distinguishable, and tells the story in an engaging and sprightly fashion. I can tell that these nine and a half hours are going to be pleasurable in that familiar way. I mean, I know exactly what is going to happen, but I'm glad to listen to it all anyway. Such a relief after Homeboyz and Such a Pretty Girl.

15 men on a dead man's chest

So, is that an original poem (rhyme?) by Robert Louis Stevenson? Considering that Treasure Island was written in 1883 (I checked Wikipedia), it seems entirely reasonable to think that he made the "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" stuff up. With pirate mania at a peak right now (although maybe that's died down now that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have run their course), Listening Library opted to re-record this classic (our library also has a 1984 version narrated by David Buck), read by Alfred Molina (an actor I've liked long before Spiderman). And since I'd never read the book, I was looking forward to listening.

I wonder about kids reading/listening to something like this today; do they realize (do they care?) that this is the original? That all pirate/buried treasure/swashbuckling started with this story? Maybe if they do get that, they'll understand what makes a classic. When I read Jane Eyre for the first time, I finally understood where all those romance novels got their plot from as well. It was a real 'ah ha!' moment for me. I think that audiobooks go a long way in making classics accessible, of course. There's no denying that literary language was a lot more dense 100 years ago, so to have someone else read through it can be exceedingly helpful.

Still, despite the language, Stevenson does know how to write an adventure story. (Although I find myself mentally skipping over all the sailing details that I don't understand, just as I did when I forced myself to finish a Patrick O'Brien novel ... ugh.) And I like that Jim is a teenaged boy showing the characteristics of more modern teenaged boys in adventure stories -- going off without adult supervision/permission and, ultimately, saving the day. I haven't gotten that far, I'm just assuming that he saves the day. So, I think a well-narrated version of this would make a good addition to a notable and/or selected list.

In case you don't know the story, young Jim Hawkins finds a map previously owned by a famous pirate, and is included in a mission to locate the treasure indicated on the map. Unfortunately, the local squire bankrolling the expedition happens to hire a bunch of pirates (masquerading as regular sailors) to sail his ship. Jim happens to hear of the plot to mutiny and take over the ship , but despite this, he and those few loyal to the captain and the squire end up in some trouble once the island is reached. And that's where I am in the tale

The novel is narrated in the first person -- mostly by Jim, but occasionally by Doctor Livesey -- and Molina is trying for innocence and adventure. He gives the various pirates suitable "argh" qualities, and even brings the parrot to life ("Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!) But, he seems to be reading with an awful lot of low-voiced restraint; with this story, I think I'm craving a little more audio adventure here.

I only have about a disk and a half to go; I still may nominate it. One of my colleagues listened and voted no. I may have to make a strong case!

Weekend listener

I always feel so good when I wrap up two titles over the weekend -- that way, when I get to work on Tuesday I can quickly post two sets of comments to our listserv. Makes me feel like I'm really accomplishing something! So on Sunday, I finished both Alex and the Ironic Gentlemen and Homeboyz ... and am now listening to two much more interesting titles ... but that's the next post.

And, no surprises at the ends of either ... each actually just got more so! More childish and twee for Alex, and more lectures and gang violence in Homeboyz. I was delighted to relegate both of them to the listened pile. Last night, Laurie Halse Anderson said that she gives every book she opens three chapters and then sticks with it or not. You'll never get those hours back, she said. Well, sometimes you have to finish up -- that's what librarian/committee member responsibility is all about! (See my halo?) And how would she feel if the Printz and BBYA committees didn't finish her books, hmmm?

All this is in aid of the fact that I have nothing more to say about either of these books.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Offing The Off Season

Yikes! I was finishing up the Homeboyz post, when I realized that I'd completely forgotten about The Off Season, the follow-up to our committee's beloved Dairy Queen; a book that I'd nominated! Jeesh! I say beloved, because DQ was the only title that all nine of us voted yes on last year. What's not to like about D.J. Schwenk, I ask you?

For those you who don't know D.J., she's the only girl in her Wisconsin dairy-farming family, but she doesn't let that stop her from participating in the family's favorite sport: football. D.J.'s two older brothers are off on college scholarships, while she is currently kicking ass on the Red Bend, WI varsity. At the same time, she's having a somewhat secret romance with the quarterback on Red Bend's biggest rival -- a boy she trained all last summer (in Dairy Queen). Things are looking pretty good for D.J. when she pulls a ligament in her shoulder and has to go on the disabled list. But that's only the beginning of the "whole herd of trouble" that's headed her way.

And considering I finished this more than three weeks ago (ouch!), I'll just have to pull the annotation from my nomination: Narrator Natalie Moore is D.J., with her sweet voice, upbeat delivery, and that Midwestern accent. Giving voice to D.J. makes this a special novel: The listener is just sitting down with D.J. and letting her tell her story, it's so natural and confiding that you can't help but become her friend and care deeply about what happens to her.

I don't do much handselling/booktalking to teens, but I wonder if anyone has any luck giving these books to high school football-playing boys?

... And now I am truly caught up!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fiction as lesson - yawn!

So, having dissed the readers of The Freedom Writers' Diary for not being "authentic" enough for its location, I am now listening to a novel that takes place in the identified "'hood," Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer. Evidently, this is the third in a trilogy (Hoopster) about a Los Angeles family with four children. Each book is devoted to one of the children, except this one -- because the youngest child is gunned down in a drive-by shooting, and her next oldest brother, Teddy, vows revenge. Thus far, I'm thinking that Teddy is as smart as his older brother and sister portrayed in the earlier novels, but considerably less socialized. Until he broke the law, he was headed for a computer hacking career at the NSA. Now, though, he's on parole, supervised by the very hot Parole Officer, Mariana Diaz, while mentoring a middle schooler who seems destined for juvenile hall himself.

If you can get around the frequent lectures, as well as the descriptions of perfect bodies and super-intelligent brains, this is a mildly entertaining story. It's the kind that, I think, white kids from the suburbs want to read in order to find out the "truth" of what goes on in the inner city; as opposed to a book that kids in the inner city would want to read about their lives. It seems like high-school fantasy (like It Girls or Gossip Girls [never read either] or that one called Haters I read a few months ago).

The reader, JD Jackson, reads the preposterous story well, infusing it with a bit of reality. He reads with the same precision that the male reader did in Freedom Writers', but he sounds like a resident of the area. He also does a good job with girls -- which are sometimes a problem for male readers (as boys are for female ones). As I was listening last night and this morning, though, the author's interruptions to the story -- to lecture me on the evils of school bureaucracy, the fact that government spends more on jails than it does on schools, and more on suburban schools than inner city schools, etc. etc. etc. -- were just getting to be a real pain. Get on with the story of Teddy and Micah, I plead to my tape player! It may not be great literature, but at least it's interesting!

Advance copies

So my library can get Harry Potter out on the day it's published, but with some other titles, we can be a bit poky. (Right now, we've got a teen desperate for the audio version of Eclipse [which evidently was shipped to the committee this week -- and, thank god! has not been assigned to me for listening] who writes our email reference service pretty regularly begging us to process the book and send it to her.) That thought is apropos of nothing (except that I'm amused at that patron's eagerness and embarrassed that we can't process it a little faster for her), because what I really wanted to say is that the Selected Audiobooks Committee usually gets its titles when everyone else does. No mountains of ARCs (or would they be ALCs?) for us!

It seems to me, though, that someone at Brilliance Audio is picking the titles up right off the assembly line to send to us, because we've been receiving the audios before the books are officially published. We've already received the new Peter Pan prequel: Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (to be published on October 23) and the one I've got in my CD player: Alex and the Ironic Gentlemen (published September 18). It makes me feel very special. (Now that I've complimented them, do you think they'll refrain from making 60+ minutes of audio into 99 tracks per disk?)

Well, receiving the early copies makes me feel special; Alex and the Ironic Gentlemen just makes me feel OK. This was nominated by a colleague, so I'm being a good committee member. Mostly I'm wondering why she considers this a good book for middle school readers. It seems very childish to me.

Orphaned (natch!) and bookish (natch again!) Alex Morningstar lives with a beloved uncle above his doorknob shop in a funny small town where she feels odd and out-of-place (natch III). Going into sixth grade, she meets her new teacher, Mr. Underwood, and believes she has found her (intellectual) soul mate. It turns out that Mr. Underwood is the descendent of her little town's most prominent citizen, who once found and secreted a treasure somewhere. Unfortunately, others (who happen to be pirates from the good ship Ironic Gentlemen [I think ... I'm not there yet!]) in search of the treasure have followed him to his new home, and -- all too soon -- kidnap him, killing Alex's uncle in the process. Alex is, fortunately, not home at the time; in fact, she was obtaining the map that identifies the location of the treasure. She vows to follow the kidnappers, rescue Mr. Underwood, and find the treasure.

At the moment, though, she is having a bit of difficulty getting to the port (called -- I'm assuming the break in the word -- Port Cullis) from where the Gentlemen and their captive will embark. First she was trapped in a vacuum (a train full of big band entertainment and glittery society), and right now she's trying to talk an octopus (whose moniker is the Extremely Ginormous Octopus) into completing a promised movie role (wearing those electronic thingys so that the moviemakers can film a "motion capture."

As you can see, it's all very twee. Evidently, according to the PW review posted on Amazon, there are many capitalizations and clever (or not) asides to the reader. It is mildly entertaining, but I think a little on the youngish side. The reader, Christopher Lane, is good; he's reading professionally with a nice variety in pace and volume and he's created a number of characters (including the inebriated E.G. Octopus) with lots of consistent voicings. The story seems more suited to the elementary school set, although we all know that fantasy attracts a broad age range. And, one of my nominations, Larklight, could definitely be enjoyed by elementary schoolers. As a matter of fact, I'm suggesting it to my 4th-5th grade book group.

Top 10

And Mimus just kept getting better. When I last wrote about this book, Prince Florin had just learned that plans were afoot to free him and his father from the evil King Theodo. Well ... no surprise ... the plans went forward and the ending was extremely satisfying. There was even a bit of a commentary on the nature of peace -- which in this case was brought about by the jester himself, Mimus.

There's not much more to add about the great narration by Maxwell Caulfield. He sustained his many characters through to the ending, adding a few more along the way. The last few chapters were positively riveting as his narration built suspense and excitement.

Last year (my first year on the committee), we closed nominations on December 1, and then each of us compiled and shared a Top 10 list (not to be made public). My list of great titles isn't anywhere near ten ... but, with the addition of Mimus, I know I have at least five now!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Starts and finishes

Just briefly about City of Bones (finished 18 days ago). No surprises at the end, although -- in addition to the inevitable Buffy comparisons, you could add a little Star Wars Luke/Leia thing as well ... if you catch my drift. Mom's in a coma and Dad has his mitts on the cup, so everything's right for the next installment (which is due out next March according to Amazon.com -- City of Ashes).

I'm also nearly finished with another title, Such a Pretty Girl. This is the kind of book that just makes you want to take a bath. Meredith's father raped her three years ago, and -- instead of staying in prison for nine years -- he's returned to the loving arms of his slightly repellent wife because of time off for good behavior. Mom seems determined to act as if nothing has changed, while Meredith knows that he will offend again. And for some reason, she thinks that she must submit to him again so that he will go back to prison and be unable to hurt any other girls and boys. I'm on the last side of the last cassette, which finds Meredith home alone with her father, and ... well, I just want to get it over with. (Would a mother really insist that her 15-year-old daughter -- who testified against her father -- let bygones be bygones?)

The narrator is reading in a kind of white trashy way that doesn't seem to fit the story -- where she and her family appear to be living in (upper?) middle class circumstances in a town on the Jersey shore. Meredith's grandmother is the mayor of this town. The narration makes me think the story is taking place in some trailer park in Mississippi. But I can see how the narrator would have been influenced by the characters' behaviors into thinking that the story takes place there. This is trash fiction, no doubt. There ain't nothin' select about it, to me.

Samurai Shortstop redux

The number of nominated titles is down considerably from the number we were working on last year. At 28 by the end of September, we don't even have enough to make a list of 30 titles. I worry about these things. Is the quality down, am I a more sophisticated listener than last year, are we being too picky? I actually think the answer to all three questions is 'yes.' Yet, with a month left for publishers to send us their material, I'm thinking we won't have nearly the quantity that we were working from last year (when there were over 70 nominated titles).

So, it's time to start re-examining those maybes and get them off the fence. So, I went back and listened to Samurai Shortstop again (happily, I could get it on cassette). I enjoyed the story, again. I hear the narrator's voice, again. Yet, I was still hesitant. What put me over the fence (on the nomination side) was comparing it to some of the other titles that have been nominated. And, for me, it was clearly superior to several of them: Defining Dulcie, The Loud Silence of Francine Green, and Princess on the Brink. So, it seemed to be something that I needed to get my committee colleagues to hear, and so I nominated it (number 29).

I have only been swept away a few times this year, and I'm still waiting for the one I'll still be talking about next year. Which makes me think about the Odyssey Committee. Are they having trouble too ... or will next year's medal (is it a medal?) go to Harry Potter?

Remembering the twists and turns

One of the hazards of not being an everyday blogger is not remembering what I wanted to say about a book I finished listening to ... oh, 12 days ago. So, thoughts on Twisted aren't going to be that thorough. I didn't find the book to be all that compelling -- certainly not like Speak -- and there wasn't anything memorable about the audiobook. But there wasn't anything particularly unmemorable either.

Through the medium of a summer's community service, Tyler Miller has turned himself from a skinny nerd into a serious hard body, and attracted the attention of his high school's "It" girl, Bethany Milbury. Tyler has long worshipped Bethany from afar, so he's not quite sure how to handle her sudden interest. As a result, when things turn bad, Tyler is blamed for something he didn't do; but -- because of his prior run-in with the law -- everyone believes he did. The pressures building up in Tyler threaten to boil over, and he's not sure he has the resources to handle them.

I didn't think the narrator was very good. For me, he didn't capture that snarky, know-it-all, bored-to-tears-by-everything-around-me tone that embodied Tyler. He didn't seem particularly pissed off either, which seems to me to be critical in shaping Tyler's character. Did he make a deliberate choice to read neutrally? If so, I think it was the wrong choice. This story was crying out for creative interpretation. It has no power if you can't connect with Tyler.

Laurie Halse Anderson is coming to speak at my library this month, so I'm hopeful she'll get some questions from teens about this title.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

But did you like the movie version?

When an old (ish) book becomes a movie, interest in the title perks up again, and things like audio versions appear. (Speaking of old books and new movies, is anyone else really afraid of The Dark is Rising? Susan Cooper is.) Thus it is with The Freedom Writers Diary. An audio version appeared in one of my deliveries, one of my colleagues listened to it and nominated it, and I started listening to it when I lost the Fanboy and Goth Girl disks last summer, but abandoned it for Harry Potter about a week later. Nothing, and I mean nothing, of the story stayed with me in the interim. When I was flailing about for books on cassette to listen to, I located this title on World Cat and placed an Interlibrary Loan. Amazingly (considering the increased interest in the book -- 56 holds at my library [how many of those people think they've placed a hold on the movie?]), the book on tape arrived in my hot little hand last week. Because I really didn't want to listen to this, I decided to power through it by listening to it in both formats. This strategy worked because I finished this in less than a week -- hooray!

I think a book like this has a lot of appeal for teens, so I'm glad the publisher decided to send it to us (so many audiobook publishers don't send us any adult titles), but this just did not work for me in audio. There are three narrators: one reads the entries of the teacher, Erin Gruwell (there's one for each of eight semesters); and the other two read the male and female students' entries. The diary entries are anonymous, and are presented chronologically. Thus, you hear a series of entries about the same events. And if I understand the format of the book, there is one entry for each of 150 students (but I don't think this was the case, because occasionally a couple of the entries sounded like someone you had heard from before). As a result of this approach, all of the girls sound the same, as do all of the boys. The individuality of the students is completely lost, and ultimately all you are listening to is a series of brief ruminations on a particular event they all experienced -- interspersed with more personal stories of loss, triumph, or something in between. It's repetitive, and -- since you're hearing the same reader -- pretty much indistinguishable. All the power of the individual experiences is lost.

I also had some serious objection to the male reader, whose perfect pronunciation and rounded even tones certainly didn't make any of the male characters sound like they came from the 'hood of Long Beach, California. I felt like I was listening to some entitled Princetonion with three last names read. On the other hand, the female students came alive with some character and personality. But the reader interpreting Erin Gruwell simply sounded bored.

How was the movie, anyway?

Tears of a clown

So, September was not a good month for blogging, as it turns out I only posted on two days, and it's October now. I wonder what I was up to? (Actually, I think it was a heck of a lot of training ... me training other people.) Anyway, today I started a staff exchange with a colleague -- we are working one day every two weeks at each other's library location -- and, while Belmont is a crazy, busy branch (much busier than the Children's Library downtown), I'm not sure how much of my work is portable enough to do while I'm here. So, hopefully, I'll at least be able to catch up on my blogging while I'm here (perhaps the Belmont staff won't be so appreciative of that!).

In the nearly three weeks since I posted, I've finished four titles, none of which sent me, but am now midway through a really GREAT one: Mimus. This is a German novel that was just translated into English, which invites Cornelia Funke comparison. (For those of you wishing information on the author in the original German, here's Wikipedia.) Although the story is nothing like the Ink... series, it is another beautifully crafted adventure story that if I were reading it, I'm pretty sure I'd be racing through ... but having to go at the pace of the narrator isn't necessarily a bad thing, particularly since the narrator is so good.

The kingdoms of Moltovia and Vinland have been at war for generations, but now a peace treaty has been signed, and young Prince Florin of Moltovia has been invited by his father to attend the ceremonies taking place in Vinland. When the prince arrives, he learns that all the representatives of Moltovia have been killed or captured. The captives, including his father, have been thrown in the dungeons and left to the tender mercies of Antonius the torturer. Florin -- who shows some wit to his captors -- is apprenticed to the Court Jester, Mimus (pronounced Mee-muss). In this society, however, jesters are just another form of animal life: Florin (now called Little Mimus) and Mimus live in the stables and are fed slop by the bestiarius, Rollo. Florin is told that should he try to escape, his father will be killed. His suffering is profound and very real, but he is starting to forge something akin to a friendship with Mimus. And ... just as I stopped listening this morning, hopes of a possible rescue have been raised.

The narrator is Maxwell Caulfield (sexy TV star? ... well, I guess if you watched Dynasty) and he is just splendid. He reads with a kind of raw innocence that perfectly depicts young Florin, and then offers wonderful interpretations of some of the other characters -- most particularly Mimus (who is unpleasant, bitter and yet extremely sympathetic) and the terrifying sadist, King Theodo of Vinland. While I'm fairly certain that all is going to end well, and the telling of this story is wonderful, I'm still pretty much dying to know how it will end.