Saturday, August 30, 2008

Butterflies are free

I think this is the first time this year I've had to pre-read some series installments to prepare to listen to an audiobook ('cause I hate starting in the middle). I slogged through the first two episodes in the Faerie Wars Chronicles by Herbie Brennan to get to Ruler of the Realm. The Faerie Wars tell the story of young Henry Atherton, who discovers a faery (fairy?) named Pyrgus in his backyard and follows him to the faery realm, where he meets Pyrgus' sister Holly Blue and various other denizens. Things are a bit unsettled in the Faery World (Henry lives in the Analogue World) as the fairies (I'm just going to spell it that way!) of the Light and those of the Night have some conflicts. Every book culminates in some kind of battle, in which the Lighters always seem to triumph. In the Ruler of the Realm the two groups of fairies discover a common enemy, the demons of Hael, led by Beleth.

These books are incredibly talky -- strategies are described, re-described, revised and re-revised ad nauseum. And, in all three of the novels, disaster is averted at the end by some event or person that comes out of nowhere. They're kind of a cheat. And they get very dull far before the end.

The author has a very nice conceit: All the named fairies are species of British butterfly. That seems delightfully plausible to me -- in the third book, Henry briefly believes that he has imagined his visits to fairyland and named all the characters he's encountered after butterflies. There's another riff on alien abduction and sexual experimentation (and the offspring of that experimentation) that's mildly amusing. But, these two ideas are not enough to sustain interest for pages and/or hours (100+ chapters per book).

The reader of this tome is James Daniel Wilson and he tries very hard (Although he doesn't pronounced Pyrgus the way the UK Butterflies website say its pronounced -- and the way I was pronouncing it in my head while reading: He says Pyre-gus, the butterfly-ists say it's Peer-gus.) to keep the ponderous plot moving. He can keep a conversation going among distinctive characters and those characters are consistent throughout the story. He's got a pleasant English accent, so listening wasn't particularly onerous. (This was a book I listened to on cassette so I took longer than I would with one on CD -- yikes 20 days!.) However, I don't think he (or any reader) could overcome the lengthy story where there's an awful long build-up to the payoff. And the payoff was never really satisfying. It kind of creeps up on you and then it's quickly over.

We just received the fourth (and final?) installment in the series for our review. I'm crossing my fingers that the committee's listener doesn't nominate it. While it is the same reader, there are 12+ hours I think I could be spending on something better.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Up, up and away

I think I've said this before here, but I'm not fond of revisiting books I've already read in the audio format (or vice versa). I think I've also said that when I do, I'm rarely disappointed (unless I hated the book, of course), so perhaps I shall stop saying it now. Getting to Skybreaker more than two-and-a-half years after reading it wasn't really a chore. Kenneth Oppel's books about young Matt Cruse are terrific adventures -- he's fully created an original universe with enough familiarity to be charming and added a deliciously suspenseful adventure peopled with characters we like to be around. A pretty perfect package. I'm not alone: Skybreaker's prequel, Airborn, was a Printz Honor and the audio version was on both the Selected Audiobooks and Children's Notable Recordings lists. (Do you think ALA's new website is going to kill all my links? Arghh...) According to the author's website, the third Matt Cruse adventure is coming in January: Starclimber. Hmmm, read it or wait to listen?

In Skybreaker, Matt Cruse finds himself off on a dangerous adventure when he should be concentrating on his Airschool Academy studies. But, he loves the wealthy Kate de Vries and feels the need to get rich and prove himself to her -- two opportunities that present themselves on the journey of the airship Skybreaker to salvage the Hyperion. The Hyperion -- believed to be full of one man's private fortune -- disappeared 40 years ago. But Matt was on a training mission when it was located high up in the oxygen-deprived atmosphere ... and now he's the only person who knows precisely where it can be found. Alas, he and Kate are not the only ones who want to get to the Hyperion, and once they arrive what they find on the vessel is equally dangerous as those who are pursuing them.

I'm a pretty fast reader, and so listening often forces me to slow down (although it also makes it possible to "read" during times when one can't actually be holding a book so I've found this to be pretty much a wash). And when I must slow down and listen to an exciting, suspenseful story like Skybreaker, there's something tingly/scary in letting the plot play out at someone else's pace. (Listening to something equally as long but not as plot-driven, like Lock and Key, can be less enjoyable.) The forward momentum of the story never lagged and when Matt and Kate began their game of cat and mouse aboard the Hyperion, well, I was listening well into the wee hours last night!

This is a Full Cast Audio production, with a voice actor named David Kelly taking the lead as the narrator Matt. The large cast sounds natural (for the most part) and each infuses their characters with personality that makes keeping track of dialogue and plot developments a breeze. There are several Sherpa characters in this story, and I believe that the actors reading those parts were also from Nepal. At any rate, they sounded both authentic and understandable to me. The four main characters -- Matt and Kate, along with the brash Han-Solo-like Hal Slater and mysterious daughter-of-pirates Nadira -- are original voice portrayals that were created from the character cues provided in the text. No one produced a one-note character and there were few actorly deliveries.

I did find Kelly's Matt to be the weakest performance, however. And I think that's a bit of a drawback when he plays such an important role in the book. He seemed to be reading every single line in an effortful attempt to portray wide-eyed innocence. He was breathless and astonished with every utterance. I concur that this is Matt's character (he's a curious observer of the world around him and a serious self-doubter), and towards the end of the book -- when Matt needs to take command in order to rescue the others -- Kelly did lose some of his wonder and added a bit of backbone. But it came almost too late. This narrative approach, coupled with some exaggerated vowel pronuciations that were meant to ... be youthful, naive? but really sounded like I-am-acting-now, brought the entire production down for me.

In Mary Burkey's image of the perfect balance of production and story, Kelly's performance is checked by the terrific tale that is Skybreaker. It'll probably be on our list come January 2009.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jane-ite on holiday

We just got a raft of titles published for adults that our beloved audiobook publishers think might have teen interest, so I just finished Austenland by Shannon Hale. If I had the time in my reading/listening life to read much adult fiction, I'm sure this one would have ended up on a plane ride sometime. I love Jane Austen. I loved Jane Austen before Colin Firth. (I am an English major, and am not a spring chicken.) And like the heroine of this novel (and others before her) I do find Colin Firth as Darcy extremely swoony, so Austenland's set-up appealed to me. On the whole, though, I think it suffers in comparison to its predecessor, Bridget Jones's Diary.

In Austenland, 30-something singleton (to borrow a phrase from the aforementioned BJ) Jane Hayes is bequeathed a trip to Pembroke Park from a distant, although perceptive, relation. Jane suffers from Darcy/Firth monomania -- her string of unsuccessful relationships are the direct result of each man's inability to measure up to the fictional owner of Pemberley. At Pembroke Park, visitors are invited to indulge in Austeniana to the nth degree: Assuming the persona of an unmarried, but eligible, heroine, they are properly wooed and won by the eligible gentlemen. The eligible gentlemen -- and the ladies appropriate to the plot -- are all played by actors. Jane embarks on this holiday, hopeful that the artifice of the situation will bury her Darcy fixation for once and for all.

Once she arrives, Jane is transformed into Miss Jane Erstwhile and vacillates between a sort of self-contempt for participating and an enjoyment of the pecularities of the experience. The story is always from her perspective, but is told by a super-omniscient narrator who tells the tale in a voice of affectionate cynicism. This narrator breaks the forward momentum of the plot with brief vignettes describing the arc of Jane's relationships with her 13 boyfriends. These are quite funny, although I have to say that the shtick got tired well before the end.

Austenland is narrated by a familiar favorite, Katherine Kellgren, who did such a fine job narrating the Odyssey Honor book, Bloody Jack. I can still hear Jacky, and what I found particularly admirable in her performance here is how adult she sounds. Truly, when Kellgren was reading Jacky, she was creating a believeable young person. (I'm pleased to report there will be more of Jacky, the audio version of her second adventure has just been nominated.)

The woman can reel off British accents -- in all their variations -- with confidence and aplomb and she does a fine job here. She can skillfully switch characters in dialogue, leaving you knowing exactly who is speaking. She ferrets out the humor and delivers it beautifully. Kellgren sounds less confident in her portrayal of one character hailing from the American South who tries to speak with an English accent (no easy task for a narrator). However, what I really felt was lacking in her performance was a distinction between Jane and that all-knowing narrator. I wanted to hear more vulnerability in Jane, what I heard was the narrator's slightly cynical take on Jane's neediness.

I think some teen readers will truly enjoy this, so I'm pleased that our publishers are thinking broadly and sending along some technically adult fare. Austenland was kind of a no-brainer in this area, particular since the author is more well-known for her young adult titles. Among the titles waiting in my pile is a novel by Peter Carey. Now he's a really adult writer!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Secured

I finished Sarah Dessen's 10-disc tearfest, Lock and Key, in just under a week! That is really fast for me (I try to get to at least a disc a day, so now I'm ahead three!). She is an extraordinarily popular writer for teen girls (a quick look at her blog ... whew! Many, many comments!) who -- in a probably inappropriate analogy -- I'll call the Andrew Clements of high school. Her protagonists are older teenaged girls struggling with family, love, leaving home, and the odd trauma (date rape, sex abuse, alcoholism) in a mostly upper middle class milieu. Sympathetic, authentic-sounding, well-written, and always uplifting, her novels always tell a satisfyingly good story. Girl overcomes trauma, finds an understanding boyfriend, and heads off to a good college. (Perhaps there are some variations, I'm basing my generalizations on the three Dessen novels I've read.)

In Lock and Key, heroine Ruby Cooper has been living in near-poverty with her alcoholic mother. She's in her senior year at a big public school. She holds her own academically, but lacks ambition. Her "friend with privileges" is also her pot dealer. One day her mother disappears and doesn't come back. Ruby knows she can rely only on herself and believes she can hold out until she's 18 and is legally an adult, but her nosy landlords turn her in. She's sent to live with her sister Cora and Cora's husband Jamie in their luxury home in a gated community and is promptly enrolled in Jamie's prep school. Cora and Ruby were once close, but in the 10 years since Cora left to go to college, Ruby has had no contact with her. Ruby -- who isn't interested in rebuilding a relationship with Cora, who she believes deserted her -- initially intends to run away, but circumstances intervene. Over the course of rest of her senior year, Ruby re-learns what it means to be a part of a family.

The title comes from a talisman Ruby wears on a chain around her neck: The key to the house she lived in with her mother. Ruby thinks of this yellow house as her first real home and keeps the key in hopes of returning there.

Dessen's prose is pretty effortless -- metaphors are sprinkled throughout but not in a heavy-handed fashion, the dialogue sounds like real people are having a conversation, the characters are always people you want to know. Good things happen to the good people and the bad are punished. Lock and Key is narrated by Ruby, whose voice is a good combination of armored vulnerability.

It's just too bad that this story went on for 11 hours. It's just way too long to sustain interest over that length of time. I was enjoying Rebecca Soler's interpretation -- Ruby sounded like a teenager, in both her timbre and her slightly sarcastic delivery. She has a slightly nasal voice that is completely appealing to listen to. Oddly, when she needed a strict nasal monotone for one character (described as such in the book), she didn't succeed. She only provided unique voices for a few characters, otherwise everyone was a variation on upper-middle-class, white, educated twenty somethings. Soler was very successful at this -- if I was confused over who was talking, it was quickly remedied by the book: Since so much plot development is dialogue, Dessen makes very clear who is speaking. And Soler's narrative choices kept the "he said" "she said" from becoming annoying. (How does she do that?)

Despite all that, it was a slog to the end. One of the reasons I think I finished it so quickly (aside from the fact that the temperature was over 100 degrees three days in a row and one can't do much but lie still on a cool floor) was because I knew I couldn't let it drag on. By the time I was at disc 6 or 7, I knew all the characters and I knew they were all going to be alright. I knew that Ruby was going to learn to trust again. [Spoilers!] And that Harriet would go out on a date. And that Olivia would support her cousin. And that Nate would go back to swimming. And that Cora would get pregnant. The audio version became a question of simply getting there in the shortest time possible. Some novels are just too long to be "amazing" audios and I think Lock and Key's length ultimately can't be overcome by a great narration.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nuclear winter?

It's rare that I read a book without knowing anything about it; I am a compulsive reader of reviews, but I came to The Compound review-free. Which made it all the more enjoyable I think (when it works out like that I think perhaps I should eschew the reviews altogether, but I can't!). This thriller by S.A. Bodeen, had just the right touch of it-could-happen, and while the ending wasn't in doubt the ride getting there was full of perilous fun.

Eli and his two sisters, his mother and father escaped nuclear devastation six years ago through his wealthy father's foresight in preparing an underground shelter for them to live in for 15 years. Unfortunately, in their race to the compound they left behind Eli's nine-year-old twin brother Eddy, his mother's mother, and his chocolate lab Cocoa. Eli considers himself the "evil" twin, and is convinced that it was his selfishness that left Eddy behind. As a result, he has cut himself off literally from human contact, and just fills his endless days in the compound with schoolwork, fitness, reading and his chores in the hydroponic garden. He refuses to have anything to do with the Supplements, the three children his mother has borne since coming to the compound: Eli's father has stated that -- if necessary -- these children will be used to supplement the family's food supplies. Eli's mother is pregnant again.

One day, Eli happens upon the computer that Eddy would have been using in their early days in the compound. Eli had an identical computer, but his father replaced it shortly after their arrival, saying it needed upgrading. On Eddy's computer, though, the icon for accessing the Internet is still there. And when Eli clicks on this, he finds that he is online. He soon discovers that the wireless cloud only exists in and near his father's locked office. In secret, Eli accesses the Internet and finds himself im-ing Eddy ... and learning that there was no nuclear war. Eddy and his grandmother believed the family had died in a fiery crash.

It turns out that everyone but Dad wants to get out of the compound; unfortunately, only Dad has the key to the door. I think I've already given away too much.

This relatively short novel takes a little time to set the stage, and then powers its way to an almost breathless finish. I ended up listening to nearly all of it yesterday (on Saturday I lost myself to the Olympics), mostly because I didn't want to stop. Narrator Christopher Lane, portraying Eli, reads with clipped lack of emotion at the beginning of the story, then warms with passion and action as the plot progresses. His portrayal of Eli's father, megalomaniac extraordinaire, was positively terrifying -- powerful and threatening. And therein lies my main concern: Lane was much more effective as a middle-aged man than he was as a teenaged boy. And when he was called upon to portray even younger children -- Eli's sister Therese who spends much of the novel affecting an English accent and the five-year-old Supplement, Lucas -- he veered into the almost cringeworthy. Both these characters just sounded unnatural.

Still, I can't deny the excitement of the plot. I'm very much on the fence with this one.

Alex Rider: Aging nine months in seven years

After nearly 10 hours (preceded a couple of years ago by another eight), I am so over Alex Rider. In his seventh adventure, Snakehead, faced with certain death each and every time, Alex succeeds at vicious Thai kickboxing, escapes from a metal shipping crate and reprograms a bomb, blows up an organ-harvesting hospital in the Australian jungle and then eludes helicopter gunfire as he kayaks down some rapids in an airplane pontoon, and parachutes onto an oil-drilling platform to disable the bomb destined to cause another tsunami. I completely understand the appeal of these novels to those reluctant reader boys, but at this point they are so predictably formulaic that nearly all the pleasure is gone. Alex still says he doesn't really want to be a spy, MI-6 still says this will be the last time, the "Q" character (called Smithers) gives him some neato devices, and the villains are all cinematically talkative. Author Anthony Horowitz is one of those prodigiously prolific authors that teeter on the edge of hackdom, but I think it's time to put Alex to bed.

A plot summary is pretty much beside the point as the details -- between death-defying events -- are really irrelevant. Suffice it to say that upon returning to Earth, Alex is "recruited" by the Australian secret service to expose a human smuggling ring, but he ends up in the middle of a plot by Snakehead (an arm of the worldwide criminal empire known as Scorpia ... I think) to explode a bomb under the seabed, creating a tsunami that will kill some rich environmental activists meeting on a private atoll along with the thousands of other people living on the western coast of Australia and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.

However, narrator Simon Prebble helps immensely in keeping these novels from the sludge of really bad series fiction. He takes every element of them seriously (far more seriously than I do) and that commitment shows in their audio versions. Alex's worldwide adventures are accurately reflected in the multiple accents Prebble rattles off -- often in a single conversation. He knows how to set an exciting pace and how to back off at quieter moments. As Alex, he really does sound like a young man, acted upon rather than acting, and often very lonely. As Prebble's creation (as opposed to Horowitz's), Alex is extremely sympathetic.

In Snakehead, Alex finds himself at a remote hospital waiting to have his organs harvested little by little; and in the moments of extremely disturbed kindness from the hospital staff combined with Alex's feelings of helplessness at this situation I got ever so queasy while listening. By contrast, if I had been reading, I would have blown right through this section without pausing to contemplate what was really happening there. I credit Prebble for that queasiness.

Prebble also reads the "other" Anthony Horowitz series: The Gatekeepers, and I wasn't as impressed at his last outing there. Still, his soothing voice with its singular delivery lingers in my ears and I think I'd enjoy something non-Horowitz from his vast repertoire.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Three of a kind

As I think I've said before, I love a good mystery. For "everyday" adult reading, I usually pick up a mystery (although, it must -- of course -- be the one that I'm up to in the reading order). When I was a reading child I don't recall any other mystery options beyond the usual fare: Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, etc., so I'm glad that young readers today have so many other options. And those options now include Nancy's heiresses Kari Sundgren and Lucas Stickney (no Ned Nickerson in sight at this point), whose first case is The Mystery of the Third Lucretia. The easy summary: Chasing Vermeer for a slightly older set. Perhaps the author, Susan Runholt, was dismayed when she saw those other titles precede hers, or perhaps that's why her book got published.

Kari and Lucas (she's the one on the left) are good friends, who share a love of art. They are at the Minneapolis Institute of Art for an exhibit of Rembrandt's two paintings depicting the moments before the Roman heroine Lucretia dies from suicide (the exhibit is an actual event that the author moved up in time by a number of years) when they accidently bump a man who is copying one of the Lucretias. The man is rude and furious and the girls dub him "Gallery Guy." Several years later, they find themselves in London's National Gallery of Art, and who do they find in the Rembrandt room, copying another masterpiece? Gallery Guy. The girls are intrigued, intrigued enough to investigate further. They are convinced that Gallery Guy is creating a Rembrandt forgery, but they aren't proved right until Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum announces the discovery of a third Lucretia. The Lucretia in Washington, D.C. depicts the moment before she stabs herself, the one in Minneapolis shows her wounded, but still standing. The third, forged, painting shows her dead on her bed.

The girls (along with Kari's mother, the adult in the story) race to Amsterdam, and -- after some close calls -- reveal the painting to be a forgery. The story drags a bit to its ending (you're only halfway through when the forged painting enters the story), but it was engaging and I learned a little bit about Rembrandt and the Lucretias. The audiobook is short, and while didn't personally like the narrator's interpretation, it was a completely acceptable, professional production.

In an earlier outing, Krista Sutton, had teen girl inflections to a T; but in this book she sounded like she was talking down to us. If she was a teenage girl telling her story to other teens I'm not sure she would have sounded so deliberately wide-eyed ("I am being a teenager," her voice was saying to me.). She seemed to be straining at insouciance. She tried very hard with English- and Dutch-accented English, and she wasn't always consistent. Sutton also voiced Kari and Lucas pronouncing Dutch words with native-sounding confidence, which seemed a little off.

There were also several occasions in the text where Kari says a word -- example: "Jaguar" (British pronunciation) and then says, "it's pronounced jag-u-ar." It's very awkward to listen to, bringing you right out of the story. To me that means it's just not the best candidate for audio interpretation.

The musical intro and outgo struck just the right note of jauntiness and adventure. But the audiobook ended with "Notes to the listener" that sounded like it was read by another narrator, yet there was no introduction of this person. Could Sutton have sounded that different I just listened to it again and I believe it is another person. Who is that? The author? Tell us, please!

Since I am better at linking than incorporating images into my blog, here are links to the Minneapolis Lucretia, the D.C. Lucretia, and the London Rembrandt that Gallery Guy was copying (he used the hands in his forgery).

Monday, August 4, 2008

Perambulating

I just added a nomination this morning for this great book, InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, bringing us to 23 for the year. It's my third nomination. There are nine of us on the committee, so that means we're averaging 2+ per person. I guess that puts me right on track. A few members are a bit more enthusiastic (I might say a bit too), but most of us are hovering around that one-to-three figure. I muse on this because I don’t count myself excited by very much so far this year (six of the 23 titles have my unqualified support), but I sure did enjoy InterWorld.

Joey Harker finds out he’s a Walker when – trying to impress a girl on a class field trip – he walks right out of his own world and into another. This is a place where his mother doesn’t recognize him and he bears a slight resemblance to a daughter of the family named Josephine (a sister who doesn’t exist in the family he knows). This freaks him out a little, so he heads to his teacher for some advice. His teacher is more than a little shocked to see him; he tells Joey he drowned in an accident. Wholly freaked now, he blunders into a sort of empty space where he is soon entranced by one Lady Indigo who spirits him onto the Hex ship the Lacrimae Mundi (which translates to 'the world's tears,' I believe), where he will be boiled down to his Walker essence. Walker essence, evidently, is the best power source for these ships.

Fortunately, Joey is rescued from Lady Indigo's clutches by a guy in a silver suit. This guy, Jay, explains a little bit more about Walking and all the different worlds that Joey can visit, and how the Hex are the bad guys -- intent on destroying as many worlds as they can. Jay intends to bring Joey to InterWorld Base, where the good guys (all Walkers, and all variations of Joey Harker) are trained to fight the Hex to keep the worlds -- known as the Altiverse (or Multiverse, I can't quite remember) -- safe. Alas, Jay dies before they reach InterWorld, but Joey makes it there. After five weeks of training, Joey and his team are sent out on a training mission, when something goes horribly wrong.

This sounds like a massive, 16-hour fantasy doesn't it? InterWorld clocks in at just five and a half hours, and it's all utterly enjoyable. It doesn't spend too long giving you background info (I really don't care much about how those alternative dimensions work), and -- at the same time -- it's not all action scenes. Joey's an extremely interesting and pleasant young man, and the adventure filtered through his smart, self-deprecating worldview is highly entertaining.

Narrator Christopher Evan Welch (a fave reader from The Last Apprentice series) does a fine job here. He has a number of different characters for which he has to produce different voices, and he does this beautifully -- creating unique characters that aren't cariacatures. Interestingly, nearly all the characters are variations of hero (and first-person narrator) Joey Harker, and I appreciated how he maintained the Joey-ness of each individual through inflection and pacing.

He's a skilled narrator who knows how to build tension and excitement -- he doesn't spend it all on the battle scenes. Every once in a while (actually more rarely than I expected), I would hear a hint of Tom Ward or the Spook in his characterizations, but it certainly didn't sound like I was hearing Tom Ward in an interdimensional adventure. I admire how Welch managed to take another naive boy, undergoing training to help him cope with a new world, and make him demonstrably different from the earlier boy he had created.

Finally, in the novel Jay gives Joey directions to InterWorld that must have been a series of symbols in the print version, because publisher HarperAudio used a series of electronic sounds to indicate these directions for your ears. The sound strikes precisely the right note of difference without being intrusive. An excellent editorial choice, and the sign of an exceptional audiobook.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Don't tell mama

I generally like novels in free verse. They're an easy sell when kids have to read a book of "more than 100 pages" or some such malarkey -- since they often meet the page limit but read fast. You feel like you've read a book, when you've really read a novella. Give yourself the credit anyway. I think it's a given that poetry sounds better when read aloud, so how pleasant it was to see this (relatively) old (2001) title in audio. At just two hours, it listens fast -- not a bad thing in the face of the imminent arrival of Breaking Dawn (likely to run about 20 hours ... arghh!)

In What My Mother Doesn't Know, Sonya Sones gives poetic voice to Sophie, almost 15 years old and mostly boy crazy -- with a side interest in art. In the course of the short novel, she falls for three guys; but its the third one -- known pejoratively as Murph by everyone in her high school -- who is her true soul mate, if she can get up the gumption to actually date him. Sophie's funny and chatty, self-aware and self-absorbed. The audiobook's narrator is Kate Reinders, who captures Sophie's personality in a cheerful breezy delivery that sounds very authentic. She's spot on with Sophie's "eewww!" when she discovers that the guy she's been chatting up online gets his pleasures by ... well, self-pleasuring, as well as with Sophie's loss and confusion at her parents' disintegrating relationship.

Some quibbles: Instead of reading each poem's (chapter) title and pausing before delivering the verse, Reinders barrels through her reading. And since some of the poem titles could be a line within the poem, it's often difficult to know when one poem ends and the next one begins. Occasionally it seemed like she was under instructions to get the book in under two hours.

Which segues me to quibble number two. I've gone on (and sometimes on) here about Brilliance Audio and their 99 tracks (I've noticed that Full Cast Audio has started producing CDs with lots of tracks as well). With the recent New York Times article discussing the death of the cassette, I must ask again why the tracks are so short and there are so many. "But for audio books," the article said, "the cassette is an oddly elegant [italics mine] medium: you can eject it from your car, carry it home and stick it in a boombox, and it will pick up in the same place, an analog feat beyond the ability of the CD."

When a CD switches players, you have to forward it to whatever track you finished on ... perhaps listening to a part of it again. OK, I can live with that. With Brilliance CDs, you have to click, click, click through 50, 60, 70, 80 tracks to get to your place again. Neither my finger, nor my CD players, can go fast enough to make this anything but an annoyance. On top of this, the tracks don't break in logical places: I spent some time watching the readout on the player and, more than once, one poem finished and another one began, and the track break didn't occur until halfway through.

But the sad truth is, I was chicken. I had an opportunity to ask about this and I didn't. I didn't wish to be impolite.