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Zombies All Around: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry (Audio)

Here’s one to recommend to guys who steer clear of the young adult books because of all the girls dressed in long, flowing gowns on them (as observed by Stephanie at Read in a Single Sitting).
Rot & Ruin, the first YA book by horror author Jonathan Maberry is set in a near-future dystopia. Familiar, yes, but this YA dystopian novel has ZOMBIES. Plus, none of this killing somebody only by accident because you aren’t the kind of person who can kill somebody even when you’re fighting for your very life. Rot & Ruin has real fighting, with swords, guns, knives, rocks, and pitchforks (if necessary). There is dismemberment and worse in this human coming-of-age story, but also a flinty romance and a family reconciliation. So it’s not all body parts and zombies!
Fifteen-year-old Benny Imura and his friends – Nix, Chong, and Morgie – are normal teens growing up in the town of Mountainside, needing after-school jobs. Benny is regretting his vow to Chong not to date within their crew, now that he’s been seeing Nix (the only girl) with new eyes and knows that Morgie didn’t make the same vow. Normal teen stuff, except that if Benny and his friends don’t find jobs after turning fifteen, their food rations get cut in half. Also, their job options include fence tester, carpet coat salesman, and zombie spotter (excellent vision required).
As Benny eventually realizes, the “town” he’s always known is really just a frightened band of humans who fenced themselves in after the zombie apocalypse known as First Night – tightly rationing resources ever since, living in fear of the hungry zombie hordes beyond the fence, in the no-man’s land known as the Rot and Ruin.
The Recorded Books audio version of Rot & Ruin, narrated by Brian Hutchison, was hard to get through my library, but I recommend reading this one instead of listening to it, anyway. With the audio, I noticed lo-o-ong stretches of other characters’ explaining things to Benny, filling him (and us) in on the backstory. I think if I had been reading instead of listening, these long breaks in the action wouldn’t have stuck out so much. Also, the narration on the audiobook sounds very adult, not like a fifteen-year-old boy, as The Guilded Earlobe points out.
Recommend this one to teens looking for something to read while waiting for the next in The Ranger’s Apprentice series, or for something after The Hunger Games trilogy, if they’re not afraid of zombies. There’s action, adventure, a reluctant romance, and…a sequel! (Dust and Decay)

Other opinions on Rot & Ruin (mostly good):
The Guilded Earlobe
Milk and Cookies
Paperback Dolls

Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (Audio)

P.G. Wodehouse‘s stories about Jeeves, the erudite and unflappable valet, and his young English master, Bertie Wooster, first started appearing in 1917, but they are still hilarious today. A few years ago, I listened to a couple of early story collections: The Inimitable Jeeves, narrated by Martin Jarvis, and Carry On, Jeeves, narrated by the late Jonathan Cecil. Each of the narrators was excellent as the voice of Bertie Wooster, the foppish, dimwitted, and conceited young bachelor who doesn’t realize just how often he relies on his imperturbable manservant not just to keep his wardrobe and the household in order, but also to keep him (Bertie) in the good graces of his rich aunts, out of the dreaded state of matrimony, and out of the farcical scrapes he’s always getting mixed up in due to his misreading of a situation.
Much Obliged, Jeeves purports to be a continuation of Bertie Wooster’s memoirs. I suppose Bertie’s oblivious, upper-class snobbery could be offensive to class-conscious listeners. But much of the humor stems from Bertie’ being so smugly self-centered that he doesn’t realize he could ever offend, except maybe unwittingly (and that would be highly unlikely, as he prides himself on his sensitivity.) Bertie relates the events of his life in such a way that we the readers understand that he’s completely clueless, while Bertie himself clearly remains clueless about being clueless.
I worried at first that a new narrator wouldn’t be able to fill the shoes of previous Wodehouse narrators (who also number among them the popular Simon Prebble) but Dinsdale Landen captured both Bertie’s exaggerated sense of entitlement and Jeeves’ stoic air of patience very well. I thought that he read a bit fast compared to other audiobook narrators, and I had to listen extra closely not to miss anything, but I got used to the fast pace. It seemed to fit the breezy, breathless nature of the Bertie’s memoir.
If you’re in the mood for something funny and frivolous, the Jeeves books are perfect. They are not educational or multicultural; there are no take-home messages, but, hey, they’re English classics, so you can feel virtuous about listening to them as you laugh.
Much Obliged, Jeeves refers frequently to events from earlier books but Bertie helpfully suggests “heaps of things” that the “old gang” (readers already familiar with the other characters mentioned in this book) can do while he catches new readers up on who the people he’s talking about are.
Much Obliged, Jeeves can be enjoyed on its own, but if you’d prefer to listen to the Totleigh Towers books in chronological order, here’s the list:
Code of the Woosters
The Mating Season
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Much Obliged, Jeeves

Listen to an excerpt from Much Obliged, Jeeves here.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of the audiobook Much Obliged, Jeeves from AudioGO, formerly known as BBC Audiobooks America.

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YA Book Wins Both Morris and Printz Awards for 2012

http://www.johncoreywhaley.com/books/Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley is the winner of both the 2012 William C. Morris Award (for young adult book by first-time author) and Michael L. Printz Award (for excellence in literature written for young adults). John Corey Whaley has got to be one very happy author! Where Things Come Back was published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Four 2012 Printz Honor books were also named: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Returning by Christine Hinwood, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, and Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket).
Susan Cooper is this year’s winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. A well-deserved honor! (And apparently she has recently moved back to Massachusetts, so we can once again claim this English native and Oxford graduate as a Massachusetts author.) As an adult, I really enjoyed reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence aloud to my kids, especially as I remembered reading it myself back in the 70s or so. All five books in The Dark Is Rising sequence are excellent examples of quality fantasy written for young adults that adult readers can also enjoy without a qualm. I haven’t kept up with the rest of Susan Cooper’s work, except for The Boggart (also excellent) but her later books have also received high praise.
Winners of all of the 2012 American Library Association media awards were announced this morning in Dallas at the annual Midwinter Meeting. See today’s press release for the complete list of all winners.

We Need to Talk About Daniel: The Good Father by Noah Hawley

In the first two pages of The Good Father, a novel in the form of a father’s memoir by Noah Hawley, Dr. Paul Allen summarizes, as if for a case study, the activities of his twenty-year-old son Daniel in the months prior to the shooting death that is the catalyst for this book. Over the rest of the book, he attempts to make sense of the shocking crime Daniel is accused of committing.
A rheumatologist, Paul thinks of himself as a “medical detective” – the clinician who is called in to review test results, scans, and every detail of a patient’s symptoms when a diagnosis remains elusive, and who puts the pieces of the diagnostic puzzle together. So he painstakingly reconstructs the chain of events in Daniel’s history, tries to uncover symptoms (anger? depression? neurological disorder?) that he missed, busy as he was with his own career and new family. What part of Daniel’s upbringing or psyche put him on the path to being accused of the assassination of a beloved politician? How much should Paul blame himself, for divorcing Daniel’s mother and moving to New York when Daniel was only 7, leaving him to fly for so many years – an unaccompanied minor – back and forth between him on the East Coast and his ex-wife Ellen on the West Coast?
Paul throws himself fully into his son’s defense, hiring a high-powered attorney and trying to understand the person that his son has become – a lone gunman, a drifter who calls himself Carter Allen Cash and who is seen as some sort of monster. He pores over investigative reports and witness statements, imagining scenarios and reconstructing the events of his son’s life that led him to that watershed moment when he was caught on video holding the gun.
Though not as explosively as Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin (which was from the point of view of a mother whose child committed a heinous crime), The Good Father builds up tension steadily as details are uncovered and facts are revealed; a psychological profile of Daniel as a directionless young adult emerges. Paul’s obsession with proving his son’s (and, correspondingly, his own) innocence starts to jeopardize life with his new family – wife Fran and their twin 10-year-old sons, Alex and Wally, who are now the bewildered half-brothers of an accused murderer.
Career-driven and sure of himself, Paul is not an entirely sympathetic character at first. He is arrogant and imperious with his son’s arresting officers, confident that he can fix things for his son. But these hard edges quickly erode, and, except for one scene in a men’s room that reminded me of The X-Files, The Good Father is a pretty realistic portrayal of a father might react to the implosion of his son’s life and the derailment of his own. (Remember Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files? He has a book out. Or, I should say, the actor who played him on TV does.)
The fourth novel by Noah Hawley, who is also a screenwriter and producer, The Good Father will be released in March 2012.

Other Opinions (Mostly Good)
The Coffee Lover’s Blog
For the Love of Books

The White Rhino Report

Disclosure: I received an electronic advanced reading copy of this book from Doubleday, a division of Random House, through NetGalley.

Getting in Shape to Live: The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass (Audio)

Audiobook Review  The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass – like her first novel, Three Junes – takes characters from different generations of an extended family and explores their interactions with each other and with the wider social circles they belong to. What characteristics are handed down through the generations? How do the family members respond in times of personal or public crisis? How strong are their family bonds?
The Random House Audio edition of The Widower’s Tale is excellent. Although narrator Mark Bramhall’s accent for Percy Darling, the 70-year-old widower of the title who tells a good part of the story in the first-person, made me think of Maine, the setting for the book is actually “Matlock”, a fictional rural-turned-upscale western suburb to the west of Boston. (Maybe similar to the author’s hometown of Lincoln, Mass.?)
Percy Darling owns an historical house with a converted barn on a pond  – a property that is now worth a fortune. But Percy is a bookish man, an unapologetic intellectual, and a retired Harvard University librarian. He thinks of it only as the property on which he raised his two daughters (now married with children): a house that needed a lot of TLC when he and his dead wife bought it so long ago, the barn where she had her beloved dance studio, and the pond in which she drowned. All of which – until the start of the book – Percy has kept exactly as it was when his wife died.
At the start of The Widower’s Tale, Percy is heading firmly into curmudgeonhood – set in his ways, rebuffing all attempts to jolly him into flexibility, and bemoaning the slothfulness of today’s youth. He has taken up jogging to get in shape for the “hard work” of dying. But he has agreed to allow the barn on his property to be used as a preschool named “Elves & Fairies”, and thus has opened the floodgates of change, endangering the established order and threatening his carefully hoarded memories of his wife.
The author tackles a lot of current issues in The Widower’s Tale (including gay rights, environmental activism, undocumented immigration, universal health care, and breast cancer) that almost overwhelm the main characters’ stories at times, but the characters of Percy himself, his college-student grandson Robert, and Ira, a teacher at the new preschool, have remained strong in my memory for weeks after listening to the audiobook, along with the stories of many of the wide supporting cast of characters.
The story of the fourth main character, Celestino, a Guatemalan who has been working illegally in the U.S. for years, was the only one that seemed contrived to home the author’s point that there are smart, decent immigrants in this country working for low wages who differ from Americans only in lack of money and opportunity. Celestino is smart and pleasant; he becomes friendly with Robert, despite their differences in age and social status; eventually, like Percy, he has to let go of his romantic idea of the past.
The Widower’s Tale, with its themes of social justice and economic injustices, would make a good choice for a book discussion group with liberal leanings or with members who would enjoy discussing the author’s clearly liberal stance on these issues.

Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here.
Read more about The Widower’s Tale in this Bookslut author interview.

Other Opinions (All Good):
Book Club Classics
Literally Booked
Sommer Reading

2012 TBR Pile Challenge

I’m joining Roof Beam Reader’s TBR Pile Challenge for the first time this year, with the goal of reading a dozen older books that I’ve been meaning to read but that keep getting nudged aside by newer titles. Technically, the books on my list are not in an actual pile, or even all owned by me, but all are books published over a year ago that I either own or have listed in my little TBR notebook. They all come highly recommended, but I keep picking up other books first.
This challenge will also help me with an unofficial goal for 2012: to read more of the Massachusetts Book Award winners and Honor books from recent years. The rules include that the books have to have been on your TBR list for at least one year (I’m pretty sure these all qualify.) and that you have to read all twelve by the end of 2012. (Two alternates are allowed in case one or two on your list are duds, but I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that.) I think I’ve got a nice mix of fiction here. Just hope no one recommends more zombie (Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry) or vampire (Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro) novels to distract me!

My 2012 TBR Pile Challenge List

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey
The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
Map of Ireland by Stephanie Grant
The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
All Is Vanity by Christina Schwarz
Codex by Lev Grossman
Third Girl from the Left by Martha Southgate
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

Two Alternates
Great House by Nicole Krauss
Family Album by Penelope Lively

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