Audiobook Review: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

2 04 2012

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Laini Taylor has created a vivid world, lush in color and grand in scope. The Daughter of Smoke and Bones blends together aspects of mythology, fantasy and science fiction to create something that fits together comfortably but feels quite unique.

Grade: B+

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an Audie award Nominee in the Fantasy Category.

I am going to say something that I know annoys many people, I don’t listen to a whole lot of Young Adult. Now, I don’t say this as some sort of proclamation of superiority, it’s just the fact. I choose my novels based on what interests me, and last year, less than 5% of my total listening was of young adult novels. Now, I in no way ever feel any sort of shame when I do take on something that is young adult. In fact, the book I declared to be my favorite audiobook of 2011, Dan Well’s I Don’t Want to Kill You is arguably young adult. I find the recent attacks on young adult literature to be ridiculous. I am someone who has met the legal age requirement to become president of the United States, and have no issue admitting I read The Hunger Games, and enjoyed it. The idea that some novels are less worthy of my attention because of how they are marketed is ridiculous. For me, in essence, that is what Young Adult literature is, a marketing choice. Sure, there are style and content choices to be made when writing a novel for a young adult audience, but in the end the ultimate designation of that label is a marketing choice. For example, I recently listened to Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water. Brilliant novel which has been marketed as an adult novel, despite the fact it is a coming of age story centered on three teenagers that deals with some classic YA themes and has been compared to Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Stephen King’s Stand By Me. So, in the end, should I really base the suitability of a book on an arbitrary label? When I have ventured into the YA market, I find these novels to offer a lot to adults, in sociological and entertainment value. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an Audie nominee in Fantasy and the only Young Adult novel in the three speculative fiction categories, but it easily holds its own against the adult novels nominated along side of it.

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the tale of Karou, a 17 year old art student in Prague, with natural blue hair, tattooed palms and a necklace that grants her small wishes. While maintaining the trappings of a normal life, she is at the beck and call of her chosen family, an underground group of seemingly monstrous Chimera who traffic in teeth. Laini Taylor paints the opening of her young adult fantasy novel with brilliant color, from the blue of Karou’s hair, to the black hand prints burned into secret doorways across the world. Despite the novel being set in modern day Prague, you feel the novels otherworldliness in each sentence. With this vividly drawn world and compelling setup, Taylor pulls you instantly into the story, creating a true desire to learn the secrets behind Karou and her strange family. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a novel in two stories. There is a very specific moment in this novel, a game changing event that creates a distinct delineation in plot. There is measured change in tone and feel of the novel. I absolutely loved the first half of the novel, with Taylor’s lush prose and original manipulation of fantasy tropes creating something with a truly unique feel. I didn’t feel as effusive about the second half of the novel. I liked it, but its contrast in tone and the brilliance of the first half had me longing for when the two halves would again merge. There is a sort of inevitability of plot in the second half, you generally know where it’s going, just not too sure what route it will take. This contrasts sharply with the first half which is full of potentialities you can only dream of.  One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the complicated familial relationship between Karou and her Chimera family. The Chimera, as a race, are a blending of man and beast, and, at least on the surface, reminiscent of the monsters of legend. Yet, to Karou these are the people who raised her, gave her the attention she needed, and in their own mysterious ways loved her. I did struggle with the romantic elements of the novel, which is typical for me. Personally, I prefer romance to be a byproduct of a tale and not it’s driving force, and I don’t find myself overly concerned with two incredibly attractive people discover that they are attracted to each other. Yet, that is a personal preference, and not a reflection on the writing. All together Taylor has created a vivid world, lush in color and grand in scope. The Daughter of Smoke and Bones blends together aspects of mythology, fantasy and science fiction to create something that fits together comfortably but feels quite unique.

I am a big fan of narrators who create a unique and consistent voice for their characters and the worlds they reside in and Khristine Hvam does this wonderfully in The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Hvam infuses her voice with character, giving Karou more than just a default teenage voice, but adding an exotic spin that fits so well with her personality. I think what will stand out for many listeners, and is a big reason this title has been nominated for an Audie, is Hvam”s ability to capture some of the unique characters in this novel. She transitions from the incredibly creepy to the soft and beautiful with organic ease. Yet, for me, it was her narrative voice, and ability to bring Taylor’s vivid world to life that stood out. I have listened to a few titles now that Hvam has narrated, and in each of them, you can tell she understands the characters and tailors her voice to fit them. This ability is what separates the truly good narrators from the greats. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a vivid fantasy that truly comes alive in the hands of this gifted narrator.





Audiobook Review: The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

27 03 2012

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

Read by Edoardo Ballerini

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 8 Hrs 47 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts:  The Land of Laughs is solid storytelling. A Tale that slowly builds, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the tale, and then smacking them upside the head with a wonderfully delivered ending.

Grade: A-

APA-2012nomineesbut

The Land of Laughs is a 2012 Audie Award Nominee in the Category of Fantasy.

The Land of Laughs by Jonathon Carroll is the second book in the Neil Gaiman presents audiobook line that I have undertaken. It is also an Audie nominee for Fantasy which means it is one of my listens for Armchair Audies. I have one stunning confession to make. Although I have read quite a lot in my life, I am not especially well read. Sure, I have my niches where I have explored certain genres well beyond the average reader, but for the whole, I really am not one who has explored the myriad of classics in any particular genre. This is particularly true in Fantasy. I have skinned the surface of the genre, and read many of the modern popular titles. I have read George Martin and Stephen Donaldson, and I have jumped on to the bandwagons of various fads. Yet, I have never really dug into the genre, discovering the hidden classics, the Fantasist’s Fantasies. This is one of the reasons I have been excited about Neil Gaiman’s line. Here is a chance to discover new authors that I may not have had chosen before. Through this line I met a Minotaur who worked at a cook at a Steak House, and his story became one of my favorite audiobooks in 2011. This time, it’s the work of Jonathan Carroll.

The Land of Laughs is about a person obsessed with books. Thomas Abbey has lived his life in the shadow of his father, a popular actor and sex symbol. Abbey’s one refuge was in the world’s created by reclusive children’s fantasy author Marshall France. Now, an adult, Abbey is stuck in a rut, unfulfilled by his job teaching literature to privilege prep school boys. He decided to take a break, and take a chance writing a biography of the author who meant so much to him. Abbey is warned by France’s long time editor to expect a hostile reception from Anna, Frances daughter. So, when he arrives at the small town of Galen Missouri, Abbey and his girlfriend Saxony are taken aback by the warm enthusiastic reception they receive. The Land of Laughs is part American Fable, part Twilight zone episode. Carroll paces it at a slow burn, He lulls you into an almost sense of complacency with his normal characters and description of everyday life of small town Americana, so that when the Fantasy elements bleed into the tale you are almost unprepared for them. There is one moment, the first full on time where the otherworldliness unquestionable enters the tale, that you are just jarringly reminded that this is in fact fantasy. From the moment the cascade of unusual begins. Carroll unfolds this tale beautifully, moving each revelation into the game like a master chess player. He creates a wonderfully frustrating character in Thomas Abbey. Abbey is almost boring in his angst filled existence, and Carroll complements him with two fascinating women, one who is heartbreakingly real, and another a twisted fantasy. Most importantly, Carroll pulls it all together, offering an ending that colors the entire tale, making you reevaluate the entire story. The Land of Laughs is solid storytelling. A Tale that slowly builds, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the tale, and then smacking them upside the head with a wonderfully delivered ending.

First off, I simply love Edoardo Ballerini voice, and I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit it. He has such a rich modern tone, the fit this tale so well, He reads with and almost effortlessness that fully allows you to immerse yourself in the world Carroll is presenting. He brings the wide array of characters, from big city editors, to simple townsfolk alive with authenticity. There is only one little complain I have about the audiobook, and it’s not really anyone in particular’s fault. This book was written in 1980, and Ballerini’s performance was so modern, that occasionally a dated reference would bring me out of the story, for instance, the moment when I realized that the Thomas Abbey character was writing out his story longhand. Now, I’m sure this is something that may still happen, and was probably quite commonplace at the time this book was set, but, I kept forgetting as I listened that this was a production of a book over 30 years old. I guess that this is a reflection of the timeless quality Carroll achieved and the modern feel of Ballerini’s performance, and should be seen as praise and not a criticism.





Audiobook Review: Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers

16 03 2012

Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures: A Novel in Two Books by Walter Moers

Translated by John Brownjohn

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Blackstone Audio

Length: 24 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: This novel reads like Shel Silversteins cleverest poems, and it will remind readers of my generation of classics like The Phantom Tollbooth. While every situation and every character doesn’t always work, taking the story together in it’s entirety Rumo & his Miraculous Adventure offers everything a good fantasy should, a heroic quest, a touch of romance, an unlikely hero, bizarre but wonderful characters, and outrageous moments that will have you on the edge of the seat laughing uproariously.

Grade: B+

This title is a 2012 Audie Award Nominee in the Fantasy Category.

For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, I am participating in an event called The Armchair Audies. A Group of bloggers will be taking on the task of listening to the nominees for categories of The Audie Awards, which recognized the best in Audiobooks. I will be listening to the nominees in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal categories. One thing I’m excited about is the opportunity to listen to some Audiobooks that were never really on my radar. I spend a lot of time searching through Audiobooks companies and publications trying to find a good variety to listen to and review, yet I know I miss out on many wonderful audiobooks. Rumo & and His Miraculous Adventures was never on my radar. If it wasn’t for The Armchair Audies, I would have never even considered listening to this tale. In fact, despite the amount of time I spend on Blackstone Audio’s website, I had never even heard of this or any of Walter Moer’s Zamonian tales. Yet, now I can honestly say that, when I get the chance, I will be checking out the other audiobooks in this series. For that, I most thank the Armchair Audies.

Like many classic Fantasy tales, Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures is about the rise of an unlikely hero. Yet, while Rumo shares many characteristic with the traditional orphaned farm boy trope, he has one great difference. Rumo is a Wolperting, an intelligent dog/deer hybrid. Wolpertings are known throughout Moer’s fantasy world of Zamonia as fierce warriors, who are skilled fighters, but never really heroes. The tale of Rumo is told in a middle grade, almost Mother Goose like fashion, yet is rich in sardonic adult humor, and with witty word play and twisting of genre rules, this is a novel that adults will not only appreciate, but grow to love. As I began to listen to Rumo, I was instantly taken by the world. It felt like I was being told a story by someone who knew how to spin a yarn as only those raised on the oral tradition can do. Yet, this is quite a long tale, and the novelty of the world begins to lose some of it’s glamour as the story progresses.  Rumo’s saving grace is its plethora of amusing, unique and wonderful characters. Rumo himself is sort of bland, and if the tale stayed strictly on him you would have been left feeling cold, but the variety of wonderful characters, from major players like The Shark Grub Volzotan Smyke and chief nemesis General Tick-Tock, to smaller characters like a witch who can only predict the past, and a king who mixes up his syllables when speaking bring heart, humor and a feeling of wonder to the tale. In many ways, the story reads like Shel Silverstein’s cleverest poems, and it will remind readers of my generation of classics like The Phantom Tollbooth. While every situation and every character doesn’t always work, taking the story together in it’s entirety Rumo & his Miraculous Adventure offers everything a good fantasy should, a heroic quest, a touch of romance, an unlikely hero, bizarre but wonderful characters, and outrageous moments that will have you on the edge of the seat laughing uproariously.

Listening to Bronson Pinchot’s narration of Rumo will instantly show you why he is one of the best narrators out there. Pinchot does one thing in the reading of Rumo that only the best narrators can pull off, each time the perspective shifts to a new character, Pinchot alters his delivery of the Prose to match that of the character. So when we are hearing from Professor Ostafan Kolibri, the pace picks up with an almost frantic cadence, but when the story shifts to General Tick-Tock Pinchot’s reading becomes almost mechanical. Listeners will truly be amazed at some of the things that Pinchot pulls off in this tale, and it’s obvious why it’s nominated for an Audie Award. Yet there are some issues with the overall production. Pinchot delivers the many characters brilliantly. The sheer numbers of character, many with weird verbal quirks, must have been daunting. The problem was though, that the reading may have been too true to some of the characters, particularly that of Dandelion, Rumo‘s talking sword. Dandelion is the Jar Jar Binks of this tale, he is an annoying character with an annoying voice that seems to serve no real purpose other than to give Rumo someone to talk to when he is alone. Pinchot captures him perfectly, which is to say his voice is high, squeaking and especially grating. This would be OK, if Dandelion was a minor character, but he appears for a significant portion of the story. I found myself lowering the volume and, like Rumo, praying that Dandelion would just shut the heck up. Yet, this is my only real complaint. There are some clever tricks used by both Pinchot and the production staff that really bring this tale to life and does it justice. If you can get past the annoying Dandelion, you will really enjoy this tale.

Note: A Special Thanks to the good people of Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.