audio book trip

We remembered the audio books this time. Natalya and I browsed the considerable audio book collection at the library and left with more hours of reading than the trip should need–just in case one of the narrators was awful, which has happened in the past. Perhaps as we listen to more audio books we will remember the good readers.

When N and I were perusing the three sections of audio books, I noticed Tonya Hurley’s Ghostgirl on the Teen Shelf and was tempted to pick it up. Maybe next time. Because I am familiar with the story or am tempted by the cover copy? No. The book is read aloud by Parker Posey–I mean, how fabulous is that? N didn’t know better and nixed the idea, but Sean agrees–next time.


We began with Faeries of Dreamdark : Blackbringer [unabridged] by Laini Taylor, read by Davina Porter. You may recall how I raved on this and its second book Silksinger. Davina Porter is a fantastic reader! I am going to remember her for future books. She changes her voice so seamlessly, so perfectly. I was immediately drawn in.

Just the same, we didn’t get too far into this very long reading because we were needing more overt humor over the chilling imagery of a terrible demon on the loose. (The Dreamdark series would be a fun RIP read.)

I picked up Skulduggery Pleasant because I thought it was funny, very Doctor Who-ish. Written by Derek Landy, this audio book version was read aloud by Rupert Degas. When I had read Skulduggery Pleasant I had had very definite sounds of Skulduggery and Stephanie (the two protagonists) in my head. In effect, they were David Tennant and Billie Piper (of Doctor Who). Imagine my distraction when the talented Mr. Degas presented two very different voices. His softened, lilting voice for the daring and sassy 12-year-old Stephanie Edgley sounded remarkably like Billy Boyd as Peregrine “Pippin” Took of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films.  I also felt that Skulduggery would have been a bit more animated, less like Brendan Gleeson suffering exhaustion and a scratchy throat. Fortunately, Sean and Natalya thought the reading was great and really enjoyed the six discs as it carried us across North Texas.

Except…there are musical/sound effect transitions between chapters here that we had come to mock, but were otherwise not amusing. Really, that they all start with weird music (minus Blackbringer) was startling and slightly icky.

The third book we listened to upon the return trip was Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl : The Eternity Code. Only Natalya and I have read the first book in the series. The Eternity Code, I believe, is the third book. Sean had a passing idea of who Artemis Fowl was.

The reader for this audio version is Nathaniel Parker. The reading was a wonderful experience and the flashes of Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane (as Rubeus Hagrid) were not too distracting. Actually it was kind of funny trying to picture the Hagrid figure as the dwarf Mulch Diggums.

I marvel over the voice memory for each character an audio-book reader can employ. I remember trying to assign each character a voice (as recommended by their description) when reading aloud to N when she was much smaller. I would forget and get them mixed up if there were more than 5 characters. N, however, always remembered how the voices were supposed to go. My greatest success is still Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.

We would have liked to have gotten to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline as read by the author–except we are glad to have not been on the road that much longer. Neil Gaiman was our fail-safe. He softens his voice for the female characters, but does not reach for the falsetto like the previous two mentions. His alterations are more slight. And well, Sean and I adore his reading of The Graveyard Book. Gaiman will be sure to come along with us again.


How do you prefer your audio-books? Dramatic vocal changes between characters? Female or Male Narrator? Author over Actor? Musical entrances? Warnings that the disc is finished, a ‘would you please change it or you’ll be experiencing two full minutes of deja vu and forget where you’d left off’? Do you have fail-safe readers/series?

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series · short story · wondermous · young adult lit

guys read

Guys Read #01: Funny Business

Edited by Jon Scieszka

w/ Illustrations by Adam Rex

Scholastic Inc., 2010.

10 stories, 268 pages, tradepaper.

Ten stories guaranteed to delight, amuse, and possibly make you spit your milk in your friend’s face, from the following esteemed writers:

Mac Barnett (The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity)Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl; Airman; Half-Moon Investigations)

Christopher Paul Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy; The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963; Elijah of Buxton)

Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn Dixie; Tiger Rising; The Tale of Desperaux)  & Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales)

Paul Feig (Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut!; and television: Freaks & Geeks)

Jack Gantos (Joey Pigza series; The Rotten Ralph series; Hole in My Life)

Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise)

David Lubar (Nathan Abrecrombie, Accidental Zombie; In the Land of the Lawn Weenies)

Adam Rex (The True Meaning of Smekday; A Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age)

David Yoo (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before; Girls for Breakfast)

“Book Nut” reviewed Funny Business the other day on her blog and it reminded me that the daughter owned this one. A Book Fair find. She’d read and crammed onto her bookshelves and I’d forgotten about it.

“You are in for a raging robot, a homicidal turkey, a bloody souvenir, a biker taking over a kid’s bedroom, and more, by some of the best and funniest writers around.”–Jon Scieszka (viii, “Before We Begin…)

The collection of short stories is targeted to specifically appeal to boys. All the protagonists are boys, and the content is markedly “boyish.” Gross-out humor, bodily functions and bodily secretions, you know, every day stuff.  Of course, this is not limited to boys, there are girls like N who thought most were funny, and there are grown-up girls like me who have the sense of humor of a junior high boy sometimes (much to the amazement and mortification of my husband).

Melissa (“Book Nut”) thought Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Begins was the funniest. It is very amusing and Artemis Fowl readers will especially appreciate it. Colfer writes about his brother, the “young criminal mastermind” who could get anyone out of a scrape.  Jeff Kinney’s Unaccompanied Minors is of a similar autobiographical flavor, telling stories about he and his brother growing up, the tormentive antics. Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans will find comforting familiarity and hilarity here. (These were a little more difficult for N to catch the humor as an only child.)

N votes Paul Feig’s My Parents Give My Bedroom to a Biker, Kate DiCamillo/Jon Scieszka’s Your Questions for Author Here, and Will by Adam Rex as her top 3 faves. They are pretty brilliant. And having her read them aloud was good practice for figuring out the delivery of a funny story; knowing when to pause for us to laugh, snort, and gasp over “did he say he “shrinkage”?”

Adam Rex’s Illustration to accompany Lubar’s Kid Appeal. Intriguing, isn’t it?

I was laughing aloud at David Yoo’s A Fistful of Feathers even as it turned deliciously sinister by the end. Best of Friends by Mac Barnett and Kid Appeal by David Lubar are moving stories of friendship; the kind of train wrecks you cannot possibly look away from. The wit and imagery are marvelously perpetrated–course, this could be said of all the stories. The writing is really good.

One of my favorites is The Bloody Souvenir by Jack Gantos which should come with a warning label: not for the weak of stomach. But it is awesomely funny. It makes for a great ending to the collection, but for the squeamish this may be best shoved toward the middle, maybe before Your Questions for Author Here (which would have most teacher’s howling).

Gantos’ contribution and Rex’s have the best lingering effect. Rex’s Will is a great submission with the Percy Jackson fandom still at large (amongst other latent-hero stories). “And Aidan won’t leave because there is no special school for him–he only goes to that Norse god summer camp in Connecticut” (36). Everyone else is coming into their special powers and Will marks another year of “normalcy.” “Sucks about you not getting powers,” said Aidan. “I know.” Will sighed. “I’ll never be a hero.” (54)

The stories vary in style and humor. All are appealing and are sure to capture the reader and non-reader’s interest. This collection is highly successful in achieving its intent: To catch the attention of guy audiences and giving them a taste of the talented authors available them. “We do know that every Guys Read Library book will be packed with the kind of writing guys will enjoy, the kind of writing that gives guys a reason to want to be readers.” (ix, “Before We Begin…”)

The plans are for volumes to feature: Nonfiction, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Thriller/Mystery, Sports, and Who Knows (ix). According to Jon Scieszka’s website for Guys Read (guysread.com), Guys Read #02: Thriller is expected Fall 2011. Looking forward to this one. “Brett Helquist is painting the cover.” Here is the list of authors they provided, “Anthony Horowitz, Walter Dean Myers, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Matt de la Pena, Jarrett Krosoczka, Bruce Hale, James Patterson, Gennifer Choldenko, Patrick Carman, and one M.T. Anderson.” Curious who’d they’ll tap for Sci-Fi/Fantasy; though I’d like to see this split into two volumes, one each.

This has to be the easiest recommend for anyone looking for a book for the guy in their life (reader or no). Guys Read features other recommended reads under a variety of Interests, check it out.

almost forgot the great book trailer:



"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · young adult lit

brilliant, as always…

749383Airman by Eoin Colfer.

Hyperion, 2008

Hardback, 416 pages.


Conor Broekhart was born to fly.  In fact, legend has it that he was born flying in a hot air balloon at the world”s fair.

In the 1890″s Conor and his family live on the sovereign Saltee Islands, off the Irish coast. Conor spends his days studying the science of flight with his tutor and exploring the castle with the king”s daughter, Princess Isabella.

But the boy”s idyllic life changes forever the day he discovers a conspiracy to overthrow the king. When Conor tries to expose the plot, he is branded a traitor and thrown into jail on the prison island of Little Saltee. There, he has to fight for his life as he and the other prisoners are forced to mine for diamonds in inhumane conditions.

There is only one way to escape Little Saltee, and that is to fly. So he passes the solitary months by scratching drawings of flying machines into the prison walls. The months turn into years, but eventually the day comes when Conor must find the courage to trust his revolutionary designs and take to the skies. ~dust jacket

Eoin Colfer has yet to disappoint. While I can easily say I like one book over another, I can never fault the originality in his stories, excellent character development, and his incredible wit. Airman was a great read. I inhaled it over the course of a day. And it almost edged out Half-Moon Investigations as my favorite; which really isn’t all that fair to say. Colfer is versatile. Half-Moon reads like a hard-boiled detective story. The Supernaturalist is a Future set, x-men-ish foray. His Artemis Fowl is like a mafia drama set in Fantasy. Colfer provides a Historical context for Airman.

The technological race to fly is on. A fixed-wing plane with engine propulsion is in the offing, and Conor and his tutor are determined to get there first. Victor Vigny teaches Conor about aeronautics along with lessons various fighting techniques. The story is easy in its relating that Conor is a genius (his mother is a brilliant Scientist), he’s preternaturally given to flight, and he is a brave and determined problem-solver. He’s also pretty charming.

And then things take a turn for the worse.

Airman becomes reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo thrusting Conor into an inescapable prison after suffering a wrenching betrayal. And he is forced to take on another identity. The prison Colfer portrays is quite terrible and puts Airman squarely on the YA shelf. It is also the musings on survival, and what one is willing to do, or has to do–physically and emotionally.

Colfer seems to deal in the gray areas. What do you do when circumstances are not so black and white? In Airman he provides us with the black (Bonvilain) and the white (Nicholas). The rest are trudging through the shades of gray. What would you do if you lost your son to tragic circumstance? Would you remain valiant and fair? What if your best friend and first love was a part of the plot to kill your beloved father? What if you were thrown in a prison that was kill or be killed?…And what wouldn’t you forgive?

And what wouldn’t change? Conor is given a new last name, effectively cutting the connection to his family. He comes to wear a mask (for flight) and wings and the name Airman.  Do those things change who he really is? For Conor, flight is the constant. But there is also a constancy to his character regardless of circumstance. This does not mean he remains unchanged, or that he doesn’t struggle with who he is or what he is doing, or should do. It means that before all of the names, he was this one individual; and since then, he proves to be an individual that can adapt and become more and greater in all the ways he’s ever been; which requires risk.

Conor’s risks create wonderfully suspenseful moments. And their actions sequences are superb. Even the political schemes are seated in movement–Colfer is good at keeping a story moving.

Conor has ingenuity in spades. He has disposable income and a fantastic lair. Ah, yes. Airman has an element of the superhero. I can’t decide on Batman or the Rocketeer, but fortunately for Readers like me, it doesn’t come off as too much.

The conversation on Progress versus remaining in the Middle Ages is great. It is fun to see the incorporation of modern invention (the toilets), and its progression. The progression in the advances in flight are fascinating–and a preoccupation, naturally. But it isn’t just about keeping up. There is an attitude attached to those who would embrace technologies and those who wouldn’t. Technological reform is attached to social reform. That Bonvilain would keep people in the middle ages and is head of a dying order called the Holy Cross Knights, I’ll leave the conclusions to you.

The characters are wonderfully portrayed, at times silly. Colfer’s comedic timing is brilliant as ever. I read his books for his wit–its lovely.There is a strong sense of family and themes of friendship and loyalty…Conor doesn’t go it alone. Among others, he has his Alfred (Linus).

Airman is a great book for older boys, and older girls; those with the mechanical bent, likes the science and engineering of the late 1800’s, early 1900s; readers of superheroes, of historical fiction, of action-adventure, even of romance. I don’t know who wouldn’t care for it…maybe midwives would have to skim Conor’s birth sequence in order to maintain belief.

There is an edge of the fantastical, I think it only serves compliment to a fantastical time in dreaming and inventing, and in creating Legends…like the Airman.

If you haven’t read an Eoin Colfer novel, you should. You are bound to find one with a premise or setting that would interest you. You won’t be disappointed. Colfer is a great storyteller.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend

a second and third

Here is the second two in one post. And here is a third from ‘the coloring book’s’ archive.

Amidst the packing I did manage to read something, and at present am jotting down notes.

Also we are going to see Inception (2010) today, Christopher Nolan’s new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. We like Nolan in our house, but Sean is an especially big fan, so opening day, here we come. May be I will resurrect my rusty Film Studies courses to write a thoughtful review. I have watched a few good and interesting films lately. I will think up a Film post soon.



From March 9, ‘09

Please read Belle Teal by Ann M. Martin and The Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer.

319383Belle Teal by Ann M. Martin

Scholastic, 2001.

214 pages.

Belle Teal as you’ll note in the link’s synopsis is the story of a 10-year-old girl–who lives with her mother and grandmother in a noticeable level of poverty. And though Belle Teal (the girl) is conscious of her poverty, it is not a focal point, but merely a fact; which you come to appreciate in the story. Belle Teal’s grandmother is getting old and senile; her mother works crazy hours and frequently shifts jobs; the local school is becoming desegregated; a friend at school has an abusive father; add in the conflict of a snobby new girl who is unsuccessful at bullying Belle Teal and has issues of her own.
There are sobering moments within the story, but none of which can be found steeped in self-pity. This is a story about family, and community, and how life achieves normalcy within the act of big changes.
The possible realness of the situations raise questions but do not belabor the story’s progression. Obviously there is tension and discomfort over some of the topics; and one story line feels unresolved as the book holds to the untidiness that is life.
This story made me think of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, and Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie. It has charm, and a really likeable main character; well, you like most of the characters. I do not recall language other than the N-word and that has a place in the story’s setting (year) and its address of racism.
The story sets the provocative challenge to face difficulty with a delicate balance of will and compassion. Compassion is a strong thematic element that I find exceedingly well-handled.
I would not place this story along gender lines, nor would I place it younger than 9, or a mature 8, mainly because it is a ‘middle-school’ read. Like Pam Munoz Ryan’s  Esperanza Rising, or any of the afforementioned reads, I think it would be great to read together, or at least having both read it.

831893Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

Miramax, Disney Press, 2007.

304 pages.

Half-Moon Investigations is a lot of fun; and I am getting the feeling that the author Eoin Colfer tells all his stories with such incredible wit. I haven’t made it through his Artemis Fowl series yet but I started the first and I recognized some similarities with Half-Moon–namely the humor and the uniqueness of the story’s angle.
is about a boy who gets a detective badge (top of his on-line class of grown-ups) and is presented with his first really big case. The narrative follows the traditional genre form of a hardboiled detective story. Just read the first page and you’ll know what I am talking about–it is funny and just, well, awesome.
It may be that I watched Brick (2005) fairly recently but I pictured a slightly younger Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing the part of our hero; regardless, the 12 year-old hero is a good one to follow. Like any good detective story, you must know and learn that appearances are deceiving, and that casting types are a mistake (even as the story uses these as its own device); one of the acts of the genre is to overturn an expectation; and in this case will not turn back to right it. There is tension, of course, and there is one real act violence–though not too explicit and not unnecessary to the story; but I feel I should cover my bases and put that warning out there.

It is set in Ireland, which is fun (that is where the author is from), and the principal at the school reminded me of the one in Roald Dahl’s Matilda but not as evil. I like that Fletcher Moon (the hero) has a good family. There is a lot of that element in the book, the interaction/relationship between parents and child (and that influence).
Hhumor keeps the story from being too dark, and the author holds the content in the realm of children. It is a wonderful read. No gender lines here, and I would put the minimum at 8 or maybe 7; it really is a grade schooler (if not middle-schooler) read as far as having developed social expectations and the awareness of how they categorize people based on sex and age and grade level.
A great story and a perfect genre to present ideas of revisiting and over-turning expectations while having a really good adventure. You can also add: that we can find friends in the most unusual ways. No one’s worth should be counted or discounted based on appearances–even our own.