Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Immortality

I had wanted to listen to The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel when it appeared last year, but it was assigned to someone else. I really enjoyed the narrator, Denis O'Hare's previous audiobook outing, The Witch's Boy. But my colleague didn't care for it, and I had other listening duties, I took advantage of Selected Audiobooks' brief hiatus to give it a listen.

Nicholas Flamel (a real person) and his lovely wife, Perinelle [sp?] have used the magical book, the Codex of Abraham the Mage, to live -- comfortably middle-aged -- for the past 600+ years. Another historical figure, John Dee, has also managed immortality, but he has been chasing the Flamels across the centuries in pursuit of the Codex. Dee seems to have finally cornered them in their antique bookshop in present-day San Francisco. Also working at the bookshop is young Josh Newman, whose twin sister Sophie is working across the street at a coffee shop. During the attack by Dee, Perinelle is taken, but Josh tears the last few pages of the Codex from Dee's grasp, which means that Dee lacks critical information to complete his nefarious, earth-destroying plan. Nicholas realizes that Josh and Sophie may be the answer to one of the predictions in the Codex, and he takes them on a journey to find the magical entities who can awaken their magical powers and help him to defeat Dee and his evil masters, the Dark Elders.

It is, naturally, book one of a series, so there's a certain amount of exposition. However, the young heros Josh and Sophie are pleasingly realized, and it's easy to root for them. Towards the end of the novel, it seemed like one character might be headed to the dark side, and I admit to a certain amount of reader tension. There's plenty of action (I believe it's been optioned for movieland), so those fantasy readers one is always trying to keep ahead of should enjoy it.

(I wanted to link to the author's webpage (http://www.dillonscott.com/) but it doesn't appear to be cooperating this evening.)

Unfortunately, narrator O'Hare really dampens down the excitement here. He reads in a rapid monotone that makes it difficult to feel much terror and excitement at the several action set pieces. He's got to produce a fair number of accents and characters (both human and other) and he doesn't appear to be working very hard at any of them. You kind of get the feeling he's not breaking a sweat. The rapidity with which he reads occasionally causes him to swallow syllables -- there was more than one occasion when "flamel" got half-swallowed. (Say it out loud: Nicholas Flamel. Not the easiest thing to say.)

I was disappointed. Lovers of audiobooks who are in need of a good listen: Find The Witch's Boy.

Digression

While waiting for a cassette copy of the latest in the Last Apprentice series to show up at my neighboring county library, I spent a few hours listening to an old (1993) Newbery title: Missing May. There are two versions of this at my library -- one narrated by a young (sounding) woman and one by celebrity reader: Frances McDormand. I got my hands on the young reader, Angela Jayne Rogers (who read last year's Such a Pretty Girl).

She did a nice job with this title -- her gentle Southern accent seemed a good fit for Summer, the late May's foster daughter. In this short, simple novel, Summer and her foster father, Ob, are coming to terms -- with the help of Summer's classmate Cletus -- with the death of the family's center, May. For me, though, this book didn't seem that different from other grieving youngster books like Belle Prater's Boy and Walk Two Moons (Newbery Honor and Medal winners respectively ... it's true what "they" say about Newberys [I was looking for something online where this debate has raged, but grew tired, and only found this which isn't really on-topic]).

The book's elegiac feel was nicely reflected in the narrator's soft, sad narration. But I wonder if this has truly stood the test of time. Just three of my library system's 20 copies are currently checked out (and just one of the four audiobooks is).

Cold winter? Here's a great book!

I've been distracted lately ... my library is currently going wild with Learning 2.0 and I've needed to post on that blog -- mostly very dull comments on de.licio.us, Flickr and Bloglines. I've also slowed up considerably on the audiobooks, must be taking a breather before the 2009 madness begins.

I did finish Anansi Boys -- Lenny Henry got even more bravura once the animal kingdom (tiger, various bird life, and Anansi himself) entered the picture. And then, the whole cast of characters (dead and alive, human and animal) ends up on a Caribbean island ... whew! The book was just like a great tropical vacation.

What I enjoyed about this book -- aside from the terrific narrator performance -- was its utter sincerity. Here was an improbable story that Gaiman told with believability and commitment, so that the reader/listener can just sit back and revel.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Trickster

Still needing cassettes for a car trip, I'm exploring some of Selected Audiobooks' backlists, and I'm laughing through Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys right now (thank you Interlibrary Loan). I'm just where the Florida ladies are gathering their magical ingredients to get Spider out of Fat Charlie's life, and I was yucking it up in the drive-through coffee line today.

Fat Charlie and Spider are brothers, and sons of Anansi the Spider. Fat Charlie was leading a life of pretty desperate ordinariness until his father died and he learned that his father was a god and that he had a brother. Curious, he asks a spider to tell his brother, Spider, that he wants to meet him ... and now Charlie's life is ordinary no more. Spider's pretty much taken over his life -- but he's just so much better at being Charlie than Charlie is. Charlie has fled to Florida for help from the voodoo/santeria ladies (if that's what they indeed are) and they are cooking up something!

The reader, Lenny Henry, is fantastic. He's doing it all, pretty effortlessly: sophisticated omniscient narrator, schlumpy Charlie, badass Spider, dippy girls, smart girls, terrifying mothers-in-law, equally terrifying voodoo ladies, pompous embezzlers, confused taxi drivers, and widows of short Yorkshire comics. And I'm only halfway through. This one's a keeper.

It's also on this year's Young Readers' Choice Awards ballot -- which surprises me. Usually, these books -- even the ones for high schoolers -- aren't this creative a choice (I mean a Harry Potter is on the list). I don't think it will win, but maybe a few adventurous readers will discover it.

This reminds me that HarperAudio published another Neil Gaiman book last year, Interworld, that I'm hoping they will send to us this year. Ooh, the guy who reads The Last Apprentice series is reading it, Christopher Evan Welch. I guess I'm going to have to insist ...

Riffing on Jazz

Well, I found out yesterday that I've got a whole lot more readers than I thought I did! You know, I read blogs and rarely post any comments either, so I guess I can't fault you all, but the attention has thrown me for a bit of a loop. I've been sending my thoughts out into cyberspace for a year now, and well, we all know how easy it is to get caught up in the sound of one's voice. Clearly, I must remember the original purpose was to post thoughts on the audiobooks I am listening to, and leave all other opinions to more private communications.

I dearly love the idea of the Odyssey award, and certainly had not meant my previous post to detract from its value in any way. I listened to Jazz this afternoon, and found it outstanding. It's clear why the Odyssey Committee selected it as the best. As an unsophisticated appreciator of both jazz and poetry (I mean, it's all very nice, isn't it?), experiencing both through the Live Oak CD was delightful. The readers were terrific, bringing the right riff and sassiness to each poem. They even read the introduction and the back matter with jazzy inflections. Everything was right about the production: the voices, the music, and the way they chose to interpret some of the "arty" text (Christopher Myers [whose Jabberwocky was my pick for the Caldecott, so it's clear I don't have the vibe for that committee!] here and there illustrated the book using words). And -- while I suppose the Committee didn't consider the book -- I liked having the pictures to look at as well.

I think teens would enjoy this -- so it's appropriate for a YALSA list. At my library, this book (and book and CD) are in what we call "Beginning Facts" -- nonfiction for the early reader set -- so it'll be hard for teens to find; but it might get some listenership at a middle school library.

I wish we had gotten a copy to review. Hey everyone! At the risk of corporate speak ... let's take this opportunity to think outside ... yes, the box: Publishers, if you think you've got something for teens, send it to us!

Oh, and while I have everyone's attention, Brilliance Audio [this means you!], enough with the 99 tracks!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Whingeing ...

Here's our list (hmmm ... it needs the attention of a proofreader ...) I guess they are busy at ALA.

Here's the reason why Jazz (Odyssey winner) is on our list:

"[The powers that be] looked at reviews and recommended age ranges for Jazz and determined it would be appropriate for our lists. It was given an age range that included 13 year olds (at least) ."

Doesn't it seem odd that a list with our names on it would include audiobooks that we never listened to?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

And the winners are ...

So, our committee was a wee bit concerned that we had to put the Odyssey Award winner on our own list, regardless of whether we had liked it or not. This all worked out for the best, since the Award winner was a children's book. Some of the Honors will go on our list, and I guess there's really only one to quibble about. We all loved Bloody Jack and Harry Potter, and we never even received Skulduggery Pleasant (I hope I rectified that by visiting the Harper exhibit booth this weekend), but ... Treasure Island?

As for our own list, it isn't published yet, so I'm trying to cobble it together from memory. I think this is right ... here goes:

An Abundance of Katherines
Before I Die
The Black Tattoo
Bloody Jack
Cupid
Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature
Forever in Blue
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
I am the Messenger
Life as We Knew It
Mao's Last Dancer
Mimus
The Off Season
Peak
The Rules of Survival
Samurai Shortstop
Soul Eater
Thirteen Reasons Why
Wintersmith

We had a handful (five or six) with unanimous yes votes, which is very exciting. There's only one title I don't think should be here, and one that I wish was. (This I shall keep to myself for the moment.) We had some good discussions, but we spent the moments before we had to vacate the room re-writing the annotations and not taking a picture ... so I have nothing to share of the occasion. Oh well.

Also, I had no access to this blog (which was the primary reason for keeping it!) since the wifi in our meeting room was erratic, and when it was available, it only wanted to keep one window open on our chair's computer.

As for the Printz, I loved this choice! I thought it was quite a good book, if not a great audiobook -- although I can hear that guy's voice in my head right now!

On to next year ...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Let the games begin!

And how, you ask did I get from Portland, Oregon by train to Philadelphia? Are you asking? If you are (whoever you are), I left a few days early to stop and see my old stomping grounds in New York. I reveled in the uber ballet at New York City Ballet, and spent some quiet time at one of my NYPL haunts -- the Donnell Library. I'd never been to the Children's room there, and was amazed to find it as deserted as our Children's Library is in the late afternoon. Teen Central, though, was hopping -- great to see.

So, our deliberations begin tonight, and I present our schedule just in case you are reading this and want to sit in:

We're in the Delaware Room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (can't link the map because the computer I'm on doesn't like the PDF, and since it's not my computer ...).

January 11. 7:30 - 10:30 p.m.
January 12. 1:30 - 6:00 p.m.
January 13. 8:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Hope to see you there!

Am I forgetting something?

Last post before Midwinter: I'm an hour from leaving by train from New York. I finished my LAST audiobook yesterday: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. Last year's committee all loved the audio version of Elsewhere, but to me -- this book didn't measure up. It was a fine conceit for a teen novel: Here's an opportunity to reinvent yourself from the ground up -- what would you do? Naomi Porter falls down the stairs, knocks her head, and can't remember the previous four years: Years where some pretty momentous things happened. Her parents' divorce and mom's new baby, losing her virginity, becoming a successful tennis player, editing the school yearbook. As her friends and family tell her what she missed, Naomi has the chance for a do over. And she does.

The narrator, Caitlin Greer, is a terrific teenager, although she tends to read in a very prescribed way: Her delivery doesn't vary much from sentence to sentence. She seemed to only come alive when reading dialogue, and then she really only had a feel for Naomi's dialogue -- not the many males in her life (oddly, not many females -- no best friend for example, what's with that?). The men all spoke softer and lower, but otherwise weren't very distinguished. As a listener, you desperately needed the "Will/James/Ace/her father said"s in order to track the conversation.

Greer did not narrate Elsewhere, as I first thought. I wonder why Listening Library didn't hire that narrator? (I say this while having complained in the past that Recorded Books always uses the same narrator. Yes, I guess I want it both ways -- when the reader is a good one!)

I also wanted to get in a final word on Katherines, finished on Sunday. At the risk of repeating myself, I think I just enjoyed listening to the very talented Jeff Woodman read this story with his trademark wry humor, compassion, and expert characterizations. Certainly, revisiting this story wasn't an ordeal -- I think with this year's batch of books, I can say that I am fully over the having to read it again annoyance: Nearly every re-visit was just a pleasure.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Love, Arabian style

I finished up my ten days off with the adult novel, Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea. I'm probably not the first person to compare these girls to Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha, without the cosmopolitans (definitely with the Manolos). There's something comforting in knowing, in our extremely broken world, that even women under the veil want chick lit. In this novel -- told in a somewhat epistolary fashion as emails to a Yahoo! group from an anonymous writer -- four friends seek love and companionship in upper class Saudi Arabian society.

[Now, in line with my New Year's resolution, I am now trying to post a cover image:

And the damn thing is huge ... so now I've deleted the post and submitted a new one in hopes of shrinking the image!]

There's a bit of an edge every now and then about the status of women in this culture -- one character is divorced by her husband presumably because she "gave in" to his not-so-subtle demands for sex before they were ceremoniously married, but after they were legally married. But this is mostly just about girls seeking romance from the right guy. And, over the course of seven or so hours, it's just not all that interesting. (The subtext here: There's not enough sex.)

The reader is very professional. Kate Reading (hey, what a great name for an audiobook reader) has a lot of experience, so she reads quickly, precisely, and with great characterizations. As a committee, our listserv discussions are revolving around the teen appeal of this book. Will fans of the aforementioned New Yorkers, Gossip Girls, and the Pants be interested in this story? I think the premise might appeal, but I'm not sure they'd stick it out for the whole book.

One of my committee colleagues pointed out -- in connection with another adult title we've got under consideration for our list -- that some teachers and librarians actually use our list to inform their audiobook purchases. So, should we select titles that are excellent, but may have limited appeal to keep these teachers and librarians from wasting their limited funds? Good question. This is not the title to have this discussion over, though ... but What is the What (the book my colleague was talking about) is.

Yikes, our discussions start a week from tonight. I'm not tech savvy enough to have a laptop, but I'm hoping I'll be able to borrow someone's so I can have the many profound and not-so thoughts I've put down here over the past year.

Movie-izations

Over the holiday break, I went to see The Golden Compass, and saw -- as a friend of mine said -- previews for all the other movies based on children's books that are coming out this spring (can't wait for Inkheart!). This is not the space for movie reviews, but I will say that I enjoyed The Golden Compass, as an adventure movie. The book is many years down the road in my head so I can't comment on the movie's faithfulness to the book, but one of the most memorable things about the book (the daemons) were wonderfully realized in the movie.

Among the coming attractions I saw was The Spiderwick Chronicles, which is being previewed at ALA next week, so I thought I would take advantage of my empty cassette player and listen to Books 1 and 2 of this series, narrated by Hank Jones.

And it's a good thing I don't have to be profound or thoughtful about this title, because each book took an hour of listening and I would have a hard time telling you what exactly happened.

In The Field Guide, young Jarod takes a ride up the dumb waiter to a secret room and finds the aforementioned guide, and then does something to a [insert creature's name] home for which he must make amends. In The Seeing Stone Jarod has to rescue his twin brother from [insert another creature's name] and the stone helps him. They are very short, so I think a listener needs to pay very close attention as the story flies by. The narrator was doing a bit of speed reading as well, and he didn't go to town with [creature] accents as some others might. Still, it passed the time, and now I'm ready for the movie.

Still curious ... let's see how this picture looks.

Friday, January 4, 2008

That looks good ...

doesn't it? Now I just have to figure out how to poach them from my library's catalog and not someone else's.

Abundantly

OK, now I'm going to try the cover image again:

I think that's much better (although I want them to be small and tidy like Kids Lit). I'll keep working on it.

Since coming back to work two days ago, I've slowed down to a crawl listening-wise, and am barely halfway through An Abundance of Katherines. It's not that I'm not enjoying it -- I love the narrator, Jeff Woodman [can I mention the wonderful Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime?)] -- but life is intervening. (Also Season One of The Wire, which I had to watch fast since it wouldn't renew.) I need to finish this weekend, and then I've got just one more to go before Friday.

So, this smart, funny book just rocks with Woodman's reading. So far, the formulas are coming across without stopping the narrative flow. I'm not sure I'm the best judge of this title because I read it in print a year ago, but I'm certainly enjoying the second visit.

So, now I'll publish this and see how the image worked.