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Listen Up! Final day of Audiobook Week 2012 #JIAM

This post is part of the Listen Up! Audiobook Week June 25–28 event hosted by Jen of Devourer of Books, with help from Jen of A Book and a Latte, in which I answer these questions:
Where do you learn about great audiobook titles? Find reviews? Buy your audiobooks? Share your secrets with the rest of us!

Three words: The Guilded Earlobe.

What? That’s cheating to have a three-word answer when everyone else (including Bob at The Guilded Earlobe) is writing thoughtful, detailed posts? OK, so for audiobook reviews and suggestions, I also go to: Devourer of Books and Everyday I Write the Book.

I make heavy use of the public library system to feed my audiobook addiction. I don’t have any secrets for obtaining audiobooks, unless there are some bloggers who don’t know about being a reviewer for Audiobook Jukebox. Their site is a clearinghouse for audiobook reviews and you can sign up to be a Solid Gold Reviewer (see badge in sidebar). It’s a great place to find audiobook reviews from bloggers, too, even if you don’t want to write reviews yourself.

If you’re on Twitter, type in the hashtag #JIAM for June Is Audiobook Month, and follow everyone who is using it this month!

Listen Up! Audiobook Week Day 3 #JIAM

Midweek Meme for Day 3 of Audiobook Week hosted by Devourer of Books

Current/most recent audiobook
The Untelling
by Tayari Jones, narrated by Michele Blackmon (Chivers Sound Library, 2005)

This novel is a first-person narration by main character Ariadne Jackson who grew up in the shadow of a family tragedy. All may not be as it seems at first. Reading by Michele Blackmon excellent so far. Her Atlanta, Georgia accent…not twangy at all!

Current/most recent favorite audiobook
This is a tough one, but I think Ready Player One has been mentioned enough already this week, so I’ll pick The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant, narrated by Hillary Huber, published by AudioGO. Read my review here.

Favorite narrator you’ve discovered recently
Tai Sammons who read The Reapers Are the Angels. Beautiful and sad!

One title from your TBL (to be listened) stack, or your audio wishlist
Adding lots to the TBL pile with all the Audiobook Week recommendations, but one I picked up at BEA that I’m looking forward to is Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks, narrated by Matthew Brown (Macmillan Audio).

Your audio dream team (what book or author would you LOVE to see paired with a certain narrator, can already exist or not)
Lenny Henry’s narration of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman was absolutely perfect. I don’t understand why some like it when Neil Gaiman reads his books himself, when it has been clearly demonstrated that a pro does a far better job. *ducks*

Miracles of Science in the Amazon: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (AUDIO)

Cover image of State of Wonder audiobookNarrated by Hope Davis, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Harper Audio) recently won the 2012 Audie Award for literary fiction. Very well deserved! It is an incredible performance of a story that starts with the barest of news of the death of a colleague somewhere in the Brazilian jungle and gradually develops into a Heart of Darkness-style journey from Minnesota to the Amazon for Dr. Marina Singh.
A tall, dark-haired woman of Indian-American descent, Marina (pronounced on the audiobook as “More-ray-na”) was the consummate outsider among the other Minnesota natives – tall, blond, and easily sunburned. The idea that she would be sent alone to the Amazon, after the death of the last emissary of the Vogel Pharmaceutical Company, Anders Eckman, Morena’s lab-mate and friend, father of three young boys, who also went along, seems crazy, but is explained by the delicacy of the mission and the dangerously eccentric secrecy demanded by the doctor in charge of the jungle camp, Annick Swenson, who is on the verge of developing a fertility drug that will make Vogel’s fortune. The complexity of the story grows rapidly from the opening scene, developing tendrils and offshoots in a matter of hours like a rainforest vine.
In a remarkable reading, greatly enhancing my enjoyment of the story and the characters, narrator Hope Davis conveys Marina’s natural scientific detachment, outsider’s tendency to observe without engagement, and reluctant probes into her own state of mind after she is transported to a setting far more exotic and remote than her childhood trips to visit her father in India prepared her for.
The psychological, suspenseful, and topical aspects of the complicated story intertwine in combinations that seem unbelievable yet inevitable, making this an excellent choice for a book discussion group. I highly recommend this as an audiobook!

Listen to an excerpt from the HarperAudio edition of State of Wonder here.

Other opinions of State of Wonder audiobook (mixed):
Audiobook Jukebox (Find links to other reviews here)
Devourer of Books
Everyday I Write the Book
Literate Housewife

State of Wonder
Patchett, Ann
HarperAudio, 2011
ISBN: 9780062072498
Unabridged Length: 12 h, 25 m

So You Want to Review Audiobooks…

This post is for Day #2 of Listen Up! Audiobook Week June 25–28 hosted by Jen of Devourer of Books, with help from Jen of A Book and a Latte. Today’s discussion topic:

Discuss the essentials of audiobook reviewing. What do you make sure to include? What do you want to see when you read other people’s reviews?

Badge for Listen Up! Audiobook Week 2012One of the most basic pieces of writing advice is, “Read it out loud and hear how it sounds.” Poor writing is much more noticeable when read aloud; you notice extraneous details and unnecessary conversations much more easily because you can’t hurry past them as you might if you were reading to yourself and not out loud. I tried to listen to a John Grisham book a few years ago (The Street Lawyer) so I could get an idea of why he is so popular, but couldn’t get through the first few chapters in the audiobook edition. The writing was just not strong enough to stand up to being read aloud.
On the other hand, sometimes an excellent audiobook narrator can carry a book with a strong storyline through any clunky spots in the writing so skillfully that you hardly notice them (e.g. The Help).
I find it hard to review audiobooks because I can’t flip back through them easily to refresh my memory of what I wanted to be sure to mention, so I often end up never writing the review. Also, I haven’t figured out how to highlight quotes or favorite parts, especially since I’m usually driving as I listen.
When I read audiobook reviews, I like to know primarily if the narrator was a good fit, doing real justice to the book or even enhancing it. (Accents can be tricky; I don’t know if I’ve heard an authentic Boston accent yet in books that are set in the Boston area. But a true Boston accent could be pretty annoying for the length of a whole book, so it’s probably best that most audiobook narrators tread lightly when it comes to accents.)
The other main thing I try to glean from an audiobook review is whether the reviewer recommends the audio edition as a superior format for the book. That is, does the narration do more than just provide a read-aloud version of the book, actually adding a layer of appeal through a stand-out performance? A prime example of narrators embodying the characters’ voices and nailing the sound of the story as the author intended it to be heard would be Jonathan Davis and Staci Snell’s narration of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Please let me know what you think, and keep the recommendations coming!

2011-2012, My Audiobook Year

This post is part of the Listen Up! Audiobook Week June 25–28 event hosted by Jen of Devourer of Books, with help from Jen of A Book and a Latte, in which I answer these questions:

Are you new to audiobooks in the last year? Have you been listening to them forever but discovered something new this year? Favorite titles? New times/places to listen? This is your chance to introduce yourself and your general listening experience.

I have been listening to audiobooks since the days of cassette tapes, so, yes, it’s been just about forever.cover image of Dancing at the Rascal Fair
I first got hooked on audiobooks via public radio in rural Vermont when I was a new mother, alone with an crying infant much of the day, and some kind public radio programmer decided to broadcast fiction read aloud in the late afternoon. Years later, I had forgotten most of the story itself, a novel set in the American West, a book I wouldn’t have normally picked up to read, but remembered how captivating the story was, read aloud by the narrator, and how I waited for the next installment, since we owned no TV, and – way back then – no computer either. Later still, I figured out that the novel was Ivan Doig’s Dancing at the Rascal Fair and that it was part of a trilogy. One of these days, I’ll look to see if it’s available on CD or MP3 and listen to the complete trilogy.
I progressed to borrowing audiobooks from the library on cassette tape, listening in the car and in the kitchen, but had to be ready to shut off the tape quickly if any salty language or “dirty bits” were emitting from the speakers or just stick to family-friendly listening while the kids were around, so it was only with the gift of an iPod Touch from my enabling husband that my audiobook addiction really took off.
Ah, the exquisite privacy of earbuds! Why did I resist sticking those unpleasant little nubs in my ears for so long? And the iPod was so portable, going easily from car to kitchen stereo to pocket. Listening to audiobooks made running errands more palatable and doing housework less tedious.
I listen to a variety of audiobooks, mostly fiction with an occasional memoir thrown in. I’m more inclined to listen to a book with a first-person narrator now than to read one, because a first-person narration is perfectly suited to the audiobook format. In general, I’d also rather listen to genre fiction on audio, because no matter how well written they are, I still have to pay some attention to the road, chores, or whatever else I’m doing, at the same time as I’m listening. I’d rather devote my limited reading time (as opposed to listening time) on books that require focused attention, free of distraction.cover image of The Spellmans Strike Again
My audiobook genre fiction favorites for the year 2011–2012 include Lisa Lutz’s The Spellman Files books, narrated by Christina Moore; Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club books, narrated by Davina Porter; Louise Penny’s Three Pines mysteries narrated by Ralph Cosham, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series narrated by Dick Hill, and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller series narrated by Len Cariou and Peter Giles, respectively.
cover image of State of WonderSometimes I listen to an audiobook because a book has been well reviewed and seems worth reading, but something about the subject or description makes it unappealing. My current listen, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, is a good example of this. As with Bel Canto, which can be described as a novel about an opera singer and others taken hostage by terrorists in unnamed South American country, the description of State of Wonder as a novel about a pharmacologist in Brazil working for a big pharmaceutical company to develop a fertility drug didn’t make me want to read it, but Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, The Magician’s Assistant, and Run, were all excellent audiobooks, and State of Wonder, narrated by Hope Davis, is too.

Zombie Killing Fields: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell (AUDIO)

cover image for The Reapers Are the AngelsThe Blackstone Audio production of The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, narrated by Tai Simmons, is a mesmerizing horror story about a girl who comes of age amid the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Temple is a fifteen-year-old survivor who kept herself and her younger brother Malcolm alive for years, who never knew her parents and doesn’t remember the “old times” – the time before the breakdown of American society, when stores sold things, roads were maintained, families lived together in one place, and people stayed dead after they died.
This book was highly recommended by Becky of RA for All and many other bloggers when it was first published two years ago, but since it also got compared to The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which I didn’t get past the first few pages of, I never got around reading it. But when I saw during Zombie Awareness Month (May, in case you didn’t know) that The Reapers Are the Angels made The Guilded Earlobe‘s list of Top Ten Zombie Novels and Series, I was convinced that audio was the way to go with this one.
At first I wasn’t sure I liked the narration by Tai Simmons. Temple’s thoughts even as she skillfully dispatches a zombie invading the safe haven she was living in (a small lighthouse) were delivered so matter-0f-factly that her affect seemed almost flat, until. as the listener, I began to understand how stoic Temple has had to be to survive. Being afraid is a luxury she won’t allow herself.
This book has a strong air of Southern Gothic, so the slightly Southern twang in Temple’s voice goes well with the story’s themes of grief, revenge, and redemption. Temple is like a reluctant avenging angel in her now aimless travels, cutting down zombies with a single swing of her always-sharpened gurkha knife…but only when she can’t avoid it. The zombies are following their nature, she knows; it’s not their fault that they came back so many and so suddenly that they destroyed all but a few pockets of civilization.
This is the most literary zombie novel I have yet come across. The old-fashioned language, almost biblical, reminded me in many ways of The Passage by Justin Cronin, which was often described as a literary vampire novel, and Temple’s precocious maturity reminded me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Be forewarned, however. There will be blood. And gore. And dismemberment. Beyond Faulkner’s wildest dreams.

Other opinions on The Reapers Are the Angels audiobook (all good):
Audiobook Heaven
dog eared copy

SFF Audio

Disclosure: I listened to a copy of The Reapers Are the Angels borrowed from the public library.

Finding Family, New & Old: So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore

Cover image of So Far AwayFor Meg Mitchell Moore‘s second novel, So Far Away, she has created historical diary entries from an Irish immigrant maid’s found notebook, as well as believable contemporary characters ranging in age from 57-year-old archivist Kathleen, to Kathleen’s 30-something friend and coworker Neil, down to 13-year-old Natalie, who travels by bus from her suburban Newburyport home to Boston to visit the Massachusetts Archives in Boston on her own. She brings a crumbling notebook filled with handwriting too spidery for Natalie to read that she found hidden away in her basement – which turns out to be a gripping personal account from a Bridget O’Connell Callaghan (writing in 1975 as an elderly woman) about her position as a young maid just over from Ireland in a Boston doctor’s household.
Natalie (whose parents have separated and haven’t been showing much interest in her life) is investigating her family history for a school project and as a way of escaping bullying classmates who are tormenting her with malicious text messages. Kathleen, living alone with her dog Lucy after losing her teenage daughter years ago, becomes concerned about Natalie, but isn’t sure whether or how to intervene.
The author skillfully brings together several different story lines – historical and contemporary. Readers who liked The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve, or novels by Laura Moriarty or Joanna Trollope, will also like this moving novel about how easily families can break apart and how hard it can be to create new ones.

So Far Away
Moore, Meg Mitchell
Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown)
May 29, 2012

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of So Far Away from Little, Brown through NetGalley, but plan to purchase my own hardcover copy at an author signing at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library this month. Additional disclosure: I’m friends with the author’s mother-in-law, but I don’t think that influenced the review!

Other opinions of So Far Away (mostly good):
Amused by Books
Coffee and a Book Chick
Devourer of Books
Everyday I Write the Book
Jenn’s Bookshelves

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