Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rant

I have nothing more to say about this piece of crap. I really ranted about it on our listserv, probably alienating the two colleagues who liked it.

I can't recommend this to anyone, but I'm willing to concede that some people might like books that end with an axe-wielding maniac channeling Lizzie Borden. (Perhaps someone could explain why?) I found the audiobook below par, but that's because I think that poor writing shows up particularly well when read aloud. This had a lot of creaky prose.

Nomination strategizing

Well, The Icebound Land finished up with a conflict in the lists between Halt and a nasty French knight who had been holding Halt and Horace captive. Will got himself addicted to something called wormweed (warmweed?), so Evanlyn (with the help of the Skandian Erak who you just know is going to turn out to be a good guy) had to help him escape. The book ends without the two parties meeting up, but I guess that'll happen early on in Book 4, which is called The Battle for Skandia. It looks like Will and Halt are going to spend some additional time outside of Araluen. So, if it didn't end in an entirely satisfactory way, it was still a pleasant way to spend eight hours: listening to John Keating tell this story.

I'm finagling the nomination of this title: Since I don't think it stands alone very well, I'm going to wait and nominate it next year (when we'll be able to consider Book 4 as well) to see if they'll fare better as a duo. I went back to check on some other series books to see if whole groups of them end up on Selected lists over the course of a few years, and -- to my surprise -- they don't! Lirael isn't on any list, although Sabriel and Abhorsen are. Only the fourth Artemis Fowl title made it, and just the first two of The Keys to the Kingdom. While we all enjoyed the sequel to Dairy Queen (The Off Season), those who read the subsequent Stephenie Meyers' novels didn't nominate them (we do have Twilight on the 2007 list). So, there's no rhyme or reason to the series books, but I felt pretty confident that this episode of The Ranger's Apprentice wasn't going to pass muster with my colleagues.

The most shocking news of all: I'm going to be on the committee for a third year ... chairing it even! I'm not sure I'm ready for management. Since I started blogging for YALSA, I've managed to incur the ... let's not say wrath, rather, disappointment of the powers that be over my entries, twice!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wintering in Scandinavia (Skandia)

Fortunately, while I am slogging through the bloodbath that is the John Saul novel, I am also listening to the most recent installment of a favorite series of mine: The Ranger's Apprentice. The US version of the series is only up to Book 3, even though Australian readers are awaiting Book 7. Why is the US publisher dragging this out? Book 3 is The Icebound Land, and -- while it makes for extremely enjoyable listening (particularly in relief from the horror) -- it definitely can only be described as one of those let's-get-the-pieces-in-place-so-we-can-tell-the-rest-of-the-story installments. I'm not sure this title will stand alone very well: It starts immediately at the conclusion of the previous book, and, I understand, ends in a cliffhanging way. This makes it a problematic nomination, I think. We did put the earlier books on our list last year, so I wonder if we select it this year, if we will need to make some reference to the earlier titles.

At the end of The Burning Bridge, apprentice Will and princess-in-disguise Evanlyn had been captured by the mercenary Skandians. They will be sold as slaves once the Skandian Wolfship arrives home. Back in Araluen, Ranger Halt gets himself banished from the kingdom so he can head off to rescue them. Will's best friend, the warrior apprentice Horace, makes the journey with him. Currently, they are trekking across Gallica (a thinly disguised France -- Horace and Halt just enjoyed a baguette) at what seems to be a leisurely pace, but I'm sure they are moving as fast as they can.

What I enjoy about these books is the completely sympathetic characters the author has created. What young readers like (I think), in addition to the characters, is there's plenty of action and adventures. And, I have to say that this book is somewhat lacking in the latter. But, if you have read Will's adventures from the beginning, you feel deeply invested in the characters to want to power through this episode. And, according to Amazon, you'll only have to wait four months to get to the next one! Look, though -- they changed the title from the Australian version. Plus, I kinda like those photographic covers that come from Down Under.

[Here's what inquiring minds really want to know: Is there an Aussie version of the audiobooks, published -- perhaps -- by Bolinda? I'm checking right now ... No!]

Listening to this story, though, isn't a problem. And I think that's because John Keating is as attached to the characters as I am. He reads so warmly and compassionately that it almost feels like you're sitting around the fire and listening to him relate the tales of the Ranger's apprentice. Perhaps he is the Ranger's apprentice and he's telling his story to his grandchildren. Keating knows these people, and he wants you to know them too. He knows how to build tension (although there isn't a whole lot of that so far in The Icebound Land), and he creates nicely delineated characters. And while he does have a few reader tics (audible intakes of breath, a tendency to get a little sing-songy), I find I just don't mind them in these books.

But what is going on between chapters here? The recordings have l-o-n-g pauses (as many as 10 seconds which can seem like forever if you think your batteries are running low) between chapters. Could it be because the form of the novel alternates chapters: first we're with Will and Evanlyn, then with Halt and Horace and the publisher wanted us to be VERY clear that we were relocating? It doesn't work, and in fact, it's somewhat detrimental.

Horrors!

God, I so hate the book I have in the tape player right now: In the Dark of the Night by John Saul. Never in a million years would I ever be reading or listening to this stuff, unless assigned. Already there's been a disemboweled cat, and as I turned off the player last night, I could easily foresee the grisly death (probably by hacksaw) of a secondary character. A committee colleague nominated this, so I'm listening. Very large ick!

A Evanston, Illinois family is renting an old Victorian mansion up in the north woods of Wisconsin. The mansion was owned by a psychiatrist [I have blanked on his name] who specialized in serial killers and who mysteriously disappeared seven years ago. The family has a teenaged boy, Eric, who will now be able to spend the summer with his two best buds from home, whose families also rent houses in this resort community. Eric's mom has some kind of anxiety disorder that makes her fear pretty much everything (do I need to spell out the irony that she finally has something to be afraid of here?), and there's a cutesy younger sister who is now pretty broken up over the dead cat.

Eric and his friends have been exploring the mansion's carriage house, which seems to be the storage place for all the doctor's things. He appears to have been a buyer of things used by serial killers (Jack the Ripper's scalpels, Jeffrey Daumer's hacksaw). But when the boys enter the carriage house, something comes over them and they lose all track of time. And the night the cat died, each of them dreamed that they were Jack the Ripper, murdering a prostitute.

And then there's an old guy in a boat that has a cross standing in one end. He seems to be connected to the doctor in some way. (Cue the eerie music that begins and ends each side of the tape).

I'm so utterly freaked out by the story that it's hard to pay attention to the listener. He's providing plenty of atmosphere -- intoning "in the dark of the night" where appropriate. He's made the younger sister a little whiny, and the townie boys (who are tormenting the Evanston boys when they aren't inside the carriage house) are nasty in a cariactured kind of way. The adults all sound normal, but the boys seem a little gee-whiz to me. Several of my colleagues have complained about the voicing of the boys, but that doesn't bother me the way the bad writing does.

All I can say is thank god for young adult writers who know how young adults talk and act. John Saul just doesn't. For god sake, he had Eric pull a handkerchief out of his pocket -- what teenager carries a handkerchief? Every time the boys are in the carriage house, they marvel at how the time passes. Their conversations sound awkward and stilted.

I think the nominator of this book thinks it's important that we have a horror title to broaden or round out our list, but I think our list needs to be great audiobooks, period. And -- as I think I've said before -- a great audiobook can be a so-so book well read, but I am not finding this title to be an example of that.

Chinese food

We are on the home stretch! Since I finished my assigned books (On the Road and the Konigsberg title), I've been trying to get to some titles where others voted "maybe" (i.e., maybe this should be nominated, but I'd like another's opinion) just before our nomination deadline of December 1. So, I finished Revolution is Not a Dinner Party last weekend; I've currently got a fave series in the CD player now (The Ranger's Apprentice Book 3), and I should be able to squeak in Peak to wrap up.

I thought Revolution is Not a Dinner Party would make a nice companion to Mao's Last Dancer. They take place during the same time period, and feature two young people who share Chinese heritage, but little else. Revolution is fiction, but based on the author's own experiences. Ling Chang is the daughter of two doctors (one Western-trained, one Chinese) living in Wuhan on the Yangtze River (I think I passed through Wuhan on my cruise this summer) in the early 1970s. The Cultural Revolution has been underway for a few years, but hasn't reached her family until now. She and her father study English together and listen to the Voice of America. A picture of the Golden Gate Bridge has a prominent place in their home.

Ling is nine years old when a party functionary moves into her family's apartment, and her life changes forever. Soon, her upstairs neighbors are taken away for re-education, and their son is forced to "draw a class line" between himself and his parents. Ling's father is jailed for Western sympathies, although the party members and Red Guards still want him to perform any medical procedures, rather than the "barefoot doctors" who now staff the hospital. At school, Ling is forced to spend her afternoons in political education, where the classroom is taken over by her peers -- those peers who have drawn the class line between themselves and their parents.

This is a good story; like Mao's Last Dancer, it is authentically focused on young people who have experienced historical events. Those events were effortlessly made personal, which makes for great history lessons. However, over the course of the novel, Ling seemed to attain superhero status: She survived the Cultural Revolution with her standards intact -- never understanding why another child might cave to the political pressure, and becoming both physically and emotionally stronger than her mother. All at the tender age of 13. By the end, it felt a little self-aggrandizing.

The reader made some odd choices: Ling (who narrated) and her father spoke with no accent at all. Some of the other characters, most notably Ling's mother, were voiced in Chinese-accented English. And some were not. There didn't seem to be any reason to make that choice (for example, could the accented speakers have all come from the country, or not been educated), and it was distinctly noticeable (both I and the other committee member who listened noted -- and noted our dislike -- this choice). At the same time, I very much enjoyed her interpretation of Ling -- impetuous, spoiled, smart, triumphant. In the end, I remained as divided as my colleague. Fortunately, Selected Audiobooks considers titles from two years, which means that the committee may still be considering this title for its 2009 list.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Coincidentally ...

So E.L. Konigsburg wrote one of the great books for children ever, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and she's still writing 40 years later. But, from the totally child-centered story that is Mixed-Up Files, she seems to be getting farther and farther away from actual children in her writing. Example A is the book I just finished listening to this morning: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World. In the final analysis, I found this book to be about three women; the two boys it's ostensibly about merely play the role of deus ex machina (hey! I was an English major!)

Amadeo Kaplan and William Wilcox are helping William's mother, who works as an estate sale agent (after leaving her abusive husband). Mrs. Wilcox is currently at work at the house of former opera singer Aida Zender, a big woman with a bigger ego and big tastes. Mrs. Zender spent her professional years in Europe and her house is full of treasures. Amadeo -- who we know to be a boy who longs to find something undiscovered -- finds something amazing among her things: a drawing by Modigliani.

Now, life is a lot of coincidences, but the ones here strain belief: Amadeo's godfather is the director of the Sheboygan Museum of Art and is preparing the opening of an exhibit of Degenerate Art. Did you know the Nazis found Modigliani to be degenerate? (He was also a Jew, not a good combo ... but at least he was dead by the 1940s.) Amadeo does know this and contacts his godfather about the drawing that he's found. Just before the opening of the exhibit, Peter's father dies and his mother sends him a box of his father's writings, a memoir of how he made it out of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in 1942. Amazing! Peter's father's brother owned an art gallery in Amsterdam ... and owned the Modigliani. He traded the Modigliani to the Nazis in exchange for Peter's father's safe passage from Amsterdam. The brother ended up in a Nazi work camp wearing the pink triangle and was never heard from again. But it's Peter's mother -- not Peter -- who confronts Mrs. Zender to find out how the drawing came into her possession.

You could learn a lot in this slight book, but it all feels like a lecture. Certainly if your discussion of a title requires three links to Wikipedia, maybe there's just too much going on, so you have to edit by giving lectures instead of telling a story.

The audiobook isn't bad. Since there's so much detail in the plot, you really have to pay attention and there were times when I clearly hadn't been. William is constantly whispering to the "angel on his shoulder," so there must have been a reference to this early on, but I couldn't remember it. And to clarify in my own mind the details of the denouement, I confess: I took a look at the print version.

The actor Edward Herrman does the reading. He's pretty good ... in a lecture-y sort of way. He reads Amadeo with a bit too much wide-eyed innocence, but he handles those three adult women with aplomb. He's at his best, though, when reading Peter's father's memoir -- he reads with a plausible (to me) German (Dutch?) accent and invests real emotion in the telling. Recorded Books -- which generally adds no bells and/or whistles to its titles -- does a little fancy thing here: Amadeo reads the memoir out loud, but shortly after he begins, a little voice over creeps in and the narrator becomes Mr. Vanderwaal himself. It's a nice touch.

And here's a fun fact: In listening to both this and On the Road, mention of Beethoven's opera Fidelio (hey, here's another opportunity to Wikipedia!) comes up. How weird is that?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Howl!

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness ..." says Allan Ginsberg in his poem Howl. But I think that the mind of one particular acquaintance was already quite screwed up before he met Ginsberg. That would be Neal Cassady -- who seemed to be (for no reason that I can determine) the person about who all the other Beats revolved. Cassady didn't do anything -- well, not much beyond drinking, whoring, stealing and brawling -- while all those around him were writing and making a more permanent mark. (Citing my sources here: Wikipedia.)

And frankly, I would have no interest whatsoever in Neal Cassady and Allan Ginsberg were it not that my current listening assignment is Jack Kerouac's On the Road (that's where the howl comes from -- it was my plaintive cry of Nooooooo when I learned that I was going to have to listen to it). On the Road is told from the view of Sal Paradise (Kerouac) and features his four cross-country road trips traveling with or seeking out one magnetic figure: Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) in the late 1940s.

Let me tell you: I was dreading this. Eleven hours of self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness boys-will-be-boys listening. I did not go into this with much of an open mind.

I'm now about two-thirds through, and I have to say that the journey has grown on me. The episodes all have a tendency to blur together -- did Sal dally with the "Mexican girl" on his first trip, or the second? Did they go via New Orleans on the second trip or the third? Why are we in Denver, again? But -- in this story -- the journey is everything, it doesn't really matter what happens along the way.

The narrator is Will Patton, who I think I've seen in a movie, somewhere ... ah, yes, Desperately Seeking Susan! Gosh, that takes me back! (He also narrated one of my favorite books: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.) Anyway, he's doing yeoman's work here: He must have had to read through the book first to figure out when to take a pause because he's paced himself very well: Some of the sentences/phrases/thoughts can go on and on. He's interpreting Sal as awfully boyish, but he's created Dean as a total ADD, crazy, impulsive id with a growly manic delivery. Women (or girls, as Kerouac refers to them) are all kind of soft-spoken and wimpy ... but you could certainly argue that that's how the author views them. It's a good performance.

But, despite how history has shaped this book into a representing a generation of disaffected young adults (and here I do mean adults that are young -- 20-somethings), I can't see this title being of much interest to 21st century teens. Sal and Dean are searching for something ... most certainly (well Sal is, I'm not so sure that Dean wants to do much more than feed his impulses), which could resonate with teens, but their lives and concerns seem those of adults. The book also feels dated to me, and its approach to women and minorities would offend many (myself included).

I am fascinated about one thing that Sal mentions over and over again: the Travel Bureau. According to a biography of Kerouac in Google Books, this was a place where you could go and get paid to drive someone's car to a specific destination. Evidently, you could also hang out to be a passenger in one of these cars. This set up happens frequently in On the Road, with Dean doing most of the driving. And with the way Dean drives, it's a wonder any of them survived their 20s.

I'm not going to nominate this, but I'm not resentful of the time this book is taking away from the other titles I want to get through. After I finish this, I figure I've got two more books on CD I can finish before our nomination deadline of December 1, plus two more books on cassette (after the one I'll finish one tonight, I think).

Oh, and why quote Allan Ginsberg? He makes several appearances in On the Road, as the poet Carlo Marx.

And then there were five ...

It turns out that Jamie had travelled back in time to replace an earlier version of himself in the final battle of the first war with the Old Ones. Matt (or the earlier version of him) explains it all to him after the battle (where the Old Ones were initially defeated ... except now, of course, they are back). Matt kept talking about how time was a circle and that's why he and the other four can travel back and forth (I think ... I'm never completely clear on those time travel explanations). In this time period, we meet the fifth of the five -- a girl named Scarlet whose father -- it turns out -- works for the Nightrise Corporation (gasp!).

Anyway, finishing up this book didn't change my mind about Prebble's narration. While I understand the whole point of having the same narrator for an entire series, this just didn't work here. The whole book had an American perspective that Prebble just couldn't manage. When he did use an American accent (seemingly for all the bad guys), he just made them sound like gangsters. And he didn't use an American accent for Jamie or the other young characters that appeared in the novel, which made them essentially indistinguishable from Matt, when he finally showed up.

We put both of the earlier Gatekeeper novels on our list last year, but -- when I went back to review my notes on Evil Star (Book 2) -- I hadn't been impressed. Ultimately, Nightrise was even less memorable.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

American English

So, Anthony Horowitz writes trash fiction ... no doubt about it. He spits books out with alarming regularity, and they do tend to be the same story, over and over again. Yet, they are somewhat addictive (although I think I'm over Alex Rider) and one must continue to read them to avoid withdrawal. There's nothing wrong with a bag of Cheetos every now and then, I say.

Plus, we send kudos to him for writing so successfully for boys -- those pesky reluctant readers.

Yes, I traveled to Washington County (about 10 miles from my house, but this time my car broke down on the highway ... dead alternator) for another book on cassette. I went to retrieve Nightrise, the third in the Gatekeeper pentalogy/quintology/quintet (do I get points for that?), which is called The Power of Five in England. Perhaps you remember in the earlier adventures of Matt Freeman that he had that mystical experience in Peru where he met twin boys in a ... was it a boat? Well, Nightrise is the story of the twin boys, Scott and Jamie Tyler. They are telepathic and can read each others' minds and are -- at the beginning of the story -- part of a nightclub act in Reno. However, evil is afoot -- in the form of the vast corporation called Nightrise (were they mentioned in Evil Star, I can't remember) -- which appears to be a front for the Old Ones. Nightrise has been kidnapping children who show any telepathic ability and now they are after Scott and Jamie.

The kidnappers only manage to snag Scott, but Jamie -- with the help of the mother of one of the kidnapped children -- figures out a way to find and rescue him. Where I am in the story, Jamie is having a near-death experience: according to the plot, he has been pronounced dead, but he's in some mysterious landscape and meets some people who know him. He travels with them (on horseback) and is preparing for battle.

Simon Prebble is reading this. He seems to do all of Horowitz's books, as I listened to him read an Alex Rider novel last year. He's a very good reader, but he's not particularly suited to this title, which doesn't need his Englishness. He's inconsistent with his character voices -- some of his Americans have an American accent (or Prebble's version of an American accent, which sounds very back-of-the-throat to me), but some of them don't. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to his choices. He must be waiting for Matt Freeman to reappear so he can sink comfortably into his own voice for awhile.

So, while I'm wrapped up in the inexorable forward motion of this story, but wonder if it might be better in print. I don't see any need to nominate this one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tessa's pissed off ... with reason

I take a walk on the mornings that I don't have to be at work, about four miles through my beautiful neighborhood, Irvington. Its beautiful tree-lined streets and varied houses and gardens make for a very pleasant hour, particularly since the weather has been so lovely lately -- yes ... temperate sunny days in November! But this morning on my walk, I was pretty much sobbing the entire time. That's because I was listening to the sixth and final disk of Before I Die. I guess you know how it turned out.

Tessa has terminal leukemia. She lives with her father and younger brother Cal somewhere in England. She's been fighting the cancer since she was 12, but her diagnosis four years later is that everything has been done that can be done. Tessa makes a list of the things she wants to do before she dies. Her list isn't much of a surprise: fall in love, have sex, drive, take drugs. One, I loved in particular: Say yes to everything. Yet despite the ordinariness of Tessa's list, you are on an extraordinary journey with her. Kind of like Thirteen Reasons Why, you know you are headed towards an unhappy end, but you can't stop yourself from reading/listening on.

I've had a very hard two weeks: Dealing with aging parents and the death of a colleague have just about wrung me out. I don't think I would have been nearly as susceptible to Tessa's story at another time, but my state of mind doesn't affect the underlying power of this book. Tessa is angry, she's frightened, she's fragile, she's utterly frustrating to those around her, she's completely mesmerizing. So is the reader, Charlotte Parry -- she's not afraid to voice all of Tessa's emotions.

In an attempt to give myself some distance from this story today I was thinking about listening v. reading. In a book like this -- where you know the outcome is going to be (and you know that it's not going to be good) -- I think audio adds both distance and intimacy to the story. Its paradoxical: the distance is because it's not your voice telling the story; the intimacy stems from the same thing (someone else is whispering her story in your ear). I wonder if it's that paradox that makes for the lasting power of all storytelling ... hmmm.

We are closing ... I've got elections stuff keeping me busy tonight and I want to get this posted before I forget. Perhaps I'll have more to say tomorrow.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Don't look back!

Another recently nominated title is The Night Tourist -- at a little more than four hours an entirely pleasurable listen. This story uses the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as its inspiration, as -- following a near-fatal accident -- young Jack Perdu finds himself able to see and interact with the ghosts of the New York Underworld. He's guided on his visit by Euri, who quickly joins him in his quest to locate his long-dead mother, in the hope that she hasn't yet made peace with her life and moved on to Elysium (located in the Hamptons, according to Euri). Needless to say, Jack -- living -- isn't supposed to be in the Underworld, and he has just three days to find his mother and get out of there ... otherwise, he becomes a ghost as well.

This is what I call a New York-centric book. There's a lot of "insider" stuff that might not mean much to your average teen in Oregon. In addition, Jack speaks Latin and a number of historical adult figures play small parts in the story. None of this detracts from this very enjoyable and satisfying story. It's funny, suspenseful, smart, leavened with the right amount of sentiment. Jack and Euri are 14-year-olds, but this is a book for upper elementary school readers as well.

I thought the narration was a little overdone. Andrew Rannels, the narrator, read with a kind of breathless enthusiasm that became slightly exhausting over the short course of the story. This enthusiasm also skewed the book to a younger audience, I thought. It all became very gee whiz in quality. He created some good voices (some New Yorkers, an obscure Scots poet), but his Dylan Thomas wasn't very Welsh. He also occasionally sustained the speakers' character into the "he saids" part of the text (if you understand what I mean), as well as the reverse: Not starting the character's voice until after reaching the "he said" portion of a piece of dialogue.

Finally, the reading aloud may have brought some unwanted attention to phrases of somewhat purple prose and some clunky writing -- every so often inducing a cringe while listening.

It's so funny about taste, isn't it? This title was nominated by the same person who nominated Mimus, which I loved. But I'm not crazy about this title. It's a good thing there's nine of us!

Deep cleansing breaths

Next up in this week of Iowa power listening: Breathe by Penni Russon. This is an Australian title, published by Bolinda, and is the sequel to a book called Undine. Oh, it says here, there's a third one out (in Australia) -- thank god! because I just did not get the ending of Breathe. Anyway, I did the bad thing and read Undine just before listening to Breathe (I believe I've owned up to this before), and it's my belief that one would be quite at sea (I've made a pun) if one didn't have Undine's backstory when reading/listening to Breathe.

So, Undine learns in Undine that she has magical powers. In Undine, she saves her best friend and neighbor Trout, but now Trout is pretty much unable to cope with the fact that she saved his life. He's also not dealing with the fact that his love for Undine seems destined to be unrequited, so Trout is now roaming the streets of Hobart, Tasmania is search of the answer to capital-C Chaos. Meanwhile, Undine has made a promise not to use her magic, but it's calling to her. And that's just about as simple as I can make it ... and you still really have no idea what is going on, do you? Trout gets in a whole lot of trouble, and Undine disappears entirely ... or does she?

I like listening to the Aussies read their books -- it makes for such a pleasant change. This narrator sounded 100% authentic, so much so that occasionally I had to think twice about what she was -- in fact -- saying. The setting of the book seemed so rooted in Hobart and the ocean that (although atmospheric music was included) you really had a physical sense of where the book takes place.

Still, I didn't much care for it. Nothing in particular (beyond the sequel issue), it just didn't stand out for me -- either as a story or as a listening experience. The ending was most peculiar, although that appears to be explained if you read the brief bit about Drift (the third book) at Russon's website. I can certainly see how teens might like it, though, so I think I'll order the audios for my library.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Intelligent designs

Well, any audiobooks we receive in the mail now will not be considered by our committee for its 2008 list. Whew! We have quite enough on our plates, as we got a raft of titles from Random House, Listening Library, Recorded Books and even Scholastic in the past two weeks. You may recall that I've expressed worry that are nominations list isn't very long, but I think that's about to change. Thus far, the Listening Library batch has resulted in four nominations: Thirteen Reasons Why (mine), Before I Die, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, and Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature. (There were also two other titles from other publishers nominated ... yikes, must get listening.)

So, this post is about Evolution, Me .... Which I didn't like. I mean, I did like the story, very much actually. A devout Christian teen named Mena has incurred the ire of her church by supporting a young gay parishioner, and she has been ostracized by her church friends -- all of whom attend her school. She is searching for new friends (does this plot sound familiar?), and fortunately finds one in her new lab partner, Casey. Casey (male) comes from a very enlightened family, who quickly sweep Mena up and put her to work in supporting her science teacher, Ms. Shepherd -- who is being pressured to teach intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution. Mena is not sure how she feels being the spokesperson -- even anonymously -- for people of faith who believe in the theory of evolution, but she definitely falling in like with Casey, so she becomes biblegrrrl and stands up on the side of right (well, at least on my side of right!).

But I didn't like the narrator. To me, she sounded too old, she read too deliberately, and she really needed a drink of water. (I'm listening to the last disk right now since yesterday when I began this post I couldn't remember what I didn't like about her.) It seemed like she was trying really hard to "be" a teenager, and I think she really slowed down the pace of this charming story.

The audio version finished up with an interview between the author and (I am waiting to get to this part on the disk) Kenneth Miller, who is a Brown professor who professes both Christian faith and belief in evolution. This was very interesting; again, I'm very glad that Listening Library chooses to flesh out the end of its audiobooks with this kind of value-added stuff.

On the other hand, Listening Library, what happened to Jim Dale? He doesn't finish off the books with his little paean to audiobook listening. Nobody does ... it just doesn't seem right!

Leaves are falling, but not trees ...

Here I am blogging from Iowa City, Iowa and doing some power listening (since there isn't much else to do here while tending the elderly parents at the old folks home). I finished If a Tree Falls... before I left Portland, and pretty much didn't change my mind about what bugged me about the dual narration. This is the kind of thing that you want the author to explain why she chose first person for one person and third for another. (Because she had to have a reason, but she doesn't offer it here although she does explain the meaning of the title -- sort of.) Anyway, I don't wish to take anything away from the readers, they were very good; but the narrative approach Choldenko took fits awkwardly into audio.

I also thought that the book itself was simply too jam-packed with stuff: class and race prejudice, eating disorders, mean girls, divorce, adultery, etc. Its slight frame just couldn't take it.

However, I will admit that I had the whole "secret" quite wrong -- what the secret was quite frankly never occurred to me. (Not the secret, but that it would be in this book.)