Thursday, February 28, 2008

Navigating fantasy conventions

I am six books behind blogwise. So without further ado, here's a few thoughts on The Navigator by Eoin McNamee, a book I listened to over a month ago ... so the thoughts will indeed be few.

Owen is practically an orphan -- his mother hasn't been right for a very long time. He feels different from his peers and -- as a result -- spends much of his time alone in a refuge he has built for himself on the outskirts of his community. (Do all fantasy stories start this way?) While in his refuge, he hears a loud bang, and runs outside to see that his familiar world has vanished. His refuge is located in some kind of a time cramp, and time has shifted to long before his time. And in this time, a valiant crew of independent fighters (who spend much of their time asleep) is fighting an evil entity called The Harsh (who turn out to be unpleasantly disaffected teenagers ... OK that's a new twist) determined to stop time permanently. Owen is, of course, destined to be the person who can fight and defeat The Harsh. He is the Navigator. I think.

I found this to be way too complicated for audio. I had to listen to the first disk twice to make sure I was (or wasn't) following the exposition. And, it's clear that whole plot points continued to elude me. The reader, Kirby Heybourne (who I liked reading The Vacation), did a serviceable job here. He had lots of characters to keep straight, and most of them sounded natural and distinctive. When the exposition finally concluded -- very near the end -- the story became somewhat exciting, and I was caught up in the adventure. But, for the most part, Heybourne chose to read in a very lulling tone, with an unvarying rhythm, that failed to build or sustain much interest.

I started listening to this one because it was physically (not metaphorically) at the top of the pile of books I hadn't gotten to in 2007. I think there are probably other treasures underneath.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Le livre du temps

My most recent listen has me wondering what makes a good start to a projected series because The Book of Time isn't. And the obviously simple answer is it has to be a good story; you can't be writing for the next installment. This title is all set-up, and since you have the set-up figured out well before its hero, Sam Faulkner, it makes for some fairly dull listening.

Sam's dad -- who has turned a little odd since the death of his wife -- has disappeared without a trace, and so Sam is now living with his grandparents and his aunt and her daughter, Lily. One day, Sam returns to his father's antiquarian bookstore for clues to his father's disappearance; behind a heavy curtain he finds a book -- opened to a page showing the castle of one Vlad Tepes -- a statue with a sun symbol and some old coins with holes in their centers. Because 14-year-old Sam is a smart boy, he figures out that the coin fits into a part of the statue and in a blink of an eye he finds himself in Dark Ages Ireland, about to fight off a Viking attack. When he locates another coin, he jumps to World War I France, and then to ancient Egypt. His next jump takes him back home and cousin Lily is waiting for him. The page of the book now shows a scene from ancient Egypt. Hmmm ... could the previous person to use the statue to travel through time have gone to Dracula's castle? Why yes! He has ... but it takes another hour or so for Sam to figure that out, after spending some time in medieval Bruges.

And once he has, the book ends! There's a judo tournament in there -- the purpose of which remains unclear to me -- but otherwise, we're just left on the doormat waiting for what's next. Not really annoying since I didn't feel that I had any opportunity to get invested in Sam and his world. I read that the author, Guillaume Prevost, has written adult books up til now, and he seems to have that same problem that many other adult authors have when they try to write for children: What comes out of their mouths just doesn't sound right. I thought this might be a translation problem, but I'm not so sure.

The audiobook has a tough time overcoming these problems, I think, and it doesn't really succeed. When Sam travels to foreign parts and ancient times he has no trouble picking up the lingo, so the narrator -- Holter Graham -- gets to show off some accents (and I have no judgment about how accurate they were), but he doesn't speak in Canadian when Sam is in the present day (I'm currently immersed in Canadian as I'm watching the television series Slings & Arrows. It's great!). His girls are a little screechy and Valley Girl-ish and he's chosen to read in a way too deliberate way so this book never really comes alive. He does give an appropriately pop-y performance of some dreadful tune: The Boy on the Beach (or something) that he then reproduces as a ring tone. This business takes all talents!

I do see here that the second book has been published in France already (according to Babelfish, the first novel is Carved Stone and the second is Seven Parts). I love the fact that the Wikipedia entry on a French author is in Italian!

Finally, I'm getting the hang of the photos: saving to my computer and then uploading from there. Duh!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Out damn spot!

OK, I'm behind again -- yikes, it's been more than two weeks! My library is involved in a "Learning 2.0" project that involves blogging and I'm behind on that too! (Too bad, if I can catch up and stick it out the whole ten weeks, I might win an MP-3 player!) (I'm not going to direct you to the blog I'm semi-maintaining there because it's bad and cranky, to boot.)

So, I think I'm going to try posting backwards, with the most recent listen first -- since I've got that closer to the front of the brain (or wherever I'm storing that stuff). I'm nearing the end of Enter Three Witches, and I can't get there soon enough! This is "a story of Macbeth," as John Keating intones at the beginning of every disk, and I'm wondering how Shakespeare's shortest play could be stretched out to run the seven and a half hours of this audiobook. The story of the Scottish king who murdered his way to the top and then went mad -- along with his ambitious wife -- has been augmented with the introduction of Lady Mary, daughter of the Thane of Cawdor. Cawdor is murdered as a traitor early on, and Mary comes under the dubious protection of the Macbeths. Then, she finds herself on the fringes of the Shakespeare plot: She happens to witness Macbeth encountering the witches, she (for some reason that I clearly missed) sees the same ghost of Banquo that Macbeth does, she rides to Lady Macduff to warn her of the arrival of her murderer, etc. There's also a few other invented or fleshed out characters to muddy up the plot further.

And that is the downfall of the audiobook I think. The story moves forward on many different fronts -- the point of view changes often. Each shift is preceded by a short quote from the play (although the title of my post hasn't shown up yet). It's very hard to tell when one scene has ended and another begins. We were complaining about Recorded Books' often lengthy pauses between chapters in some of the titles we reviewed last year, but here, they could have used a bit more silence to help your mind prepare for a new scene. This was extremely frustrating in the beginning, and so the whole book lost me very early on.

The reader -- and there's only one, more than one might have helped with the transitions -- is the very talented Charlotte Parry, reader of committee favorite (and a BBYA Top Ten I was delighted to see!) Before I Die. She's created a lot of believable characters, she's reading with emotion, as well as lots of chewy Scottish vowels; there's no doubt I'm enjoying her voice. But the format just doesn't lend itself to audio. And then there's the whole fleshed-out part of what was a perfectly good story on its own -- but then it wouldn't have been a book for teens.

(I'm trying a new way of posting pictures, let's see ...)