Audiobook Review: Anita by Keith Roberts

8 04 2013

Anita by Keith Roberts

Read by Nicola Barber

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 9 Hrs

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

A few weeks ago I tried to rewatch Buck Rogers. It didn’t go well. I loved Buck Rogers as a kid, at least I remember loving the concept of Buck Rogers. I really have few memories of the actual show other than Twiki bidi-bidi-bidi-ing around. All I know I loved it as a kid, and watching it as an adult, well, wasn’t so pretty. Somehow, in the 30ish years since I last watched Buck Rogers, the special effects became horrid, the acting wooden and the stories boring. I find this happens to me a lot with visual mediums. I remember things I enjoyed as a child on TV as being so much better that they actually are and am often amazed at how I could ever have liked it. It’s a bit different with books. I have revisited books I loved as a kid on many occasions. I’ve learned that the experiences of these books are different, yet not really worse, as an adult. Often I find these books are simpler than I remember. The vast lands of Oz or Narnia not as big as I remember. Yet I also find a new beauty in them. Rediscovering the Phantom Tollbooth or James and the Giant Peach allows me to see things that I didn’t as a child. Often, there is both a melancholy sense of loss during these rereads coupled with a new appreciation of what the author did. Often times, I enjoy these tales, not more or less, but on a new level. When I listened to Neil Gaiman introduce Anita, ant talk about the magic of these stories I couldn’t help but wish that I had read these tales when I was younger, when maybe I was a little more open to the magic of these tales. 

Anita is a free spirited young witch, under the tutelage of Granny, who lives on a sort of magical copse on the edge of the modern world. She can change her shape, speak with animals and meets all manner of magical creatures, while dealing with boys in their cars, supermarkets and new technology. Anita is told in a series of short stories as we follow her development growing in her powers while maturing as an individual. Now, this is my first experience with these stories, but in many ways I felt like I did when returning to a much beloved tale of my youth. The stories have a surface level simpleness, obvious morality tales that reflected the time in which it was written, but with hidden moments of depth, and tongue in cheek humor that the younger set may miss. Not that Anita is a strictly children’s book. Its stories are full of magic and beauty that would appeal to younger children, but also full of a sort of 60’s era charm that adults will enjoy. Like many tales like this, Anita can be at times brave and bratty, frustrating and flashy, naive and mature all rolled into one. It’s a coming of age story with a protagonist in a never ending morphing of personhood. She makes mistakes, many of which come back to bite her in the butt later. Her naiveté and free spiritness is both refreshing and off-putting in equal measure. She is a wonderful character at time when not driving the reader just a wee bit crazy. Yet, even better is her crotchety, irascible Granny whose flavor filled patios often masks her deep wisdom. Being this is more of an anthology that a novel, some stories are stronger than others. The best stories involve the conflicts between the modern world and the witching world. There are two noticeable examples, both involving Granny dealing with some new modernity to hilarious yet often disastrous results. Other stories take a bit more work to get into but have their own sort of magic. There were times a story would bore me, but most were relatively short, and the next would grab me right away. If I had kids, I think I would love reading these stories to them, even with Anita’s open but subtle sexuality. These are just the kinds of tales I would have loved as a child, and as an adult, I appreciate their humor, magic and various lessons they teach that aren’t always as cut and dry as the typical morality tale.

This is my second experience with Nicola Barber and one that simply was beautiful to listen to. Barber voiced Anita perfectly, giving her a young, precocious and at times, uncomfortably sexy voice. She captured the carefree attitudes of the young perfectly. Yet, where she really excelled was in her voicing of Granny. It was simply splendid. Honestly, Granny’s patois was so deep and flavorful that it was at times hard to figure out but always wonderful to hear. It was like listening to music, even if I didn’t understand the lyrics, I enjoyed listening to every note. Barber captured the fable-like feel of the tale wonderfully, giving the stories a poetic rhythm that matched the whimsical nature of the tales wonderfully. Even the stories I didn’t find as engaging, just listening to Barber read them made it worth my time. Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.  I’m not sure if I would even have given this one a listen if it hadn’t been for the Audie nomination, but I am definitely thankful I did.

Audiobook Review: Seed by Rob Ziegler

19 06 2012

Seed by Rob Ziegler

Read by Nicola Barber

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 45 Min

Genre: Science Fiction/Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts:Seed is a highly stylized Post Apocalyptic novel that I think just went over my head. Perhaps all the pieces to the puzzle were there, I just couldn’t seem to find them, or get them to fit together right. Despite garnishing high praise from many respected sources, I never became engaged with the story or characters enough to actually enjoy my time listening to it.

Grade: C-

I have always believed that consuming a book, whether reading it in electronic or print form, or having it read to you through an audiobook, or aloud by a loved one, is more than just being presented with a story, it is developing a relationship with the text. Sometimes, a book fails to please, not because it’s poorly written or a flawed story, but either something fails in the delivery process, or the relationship just isn’t right. Often, the reason a book doesn’t resonate is just as much the readers fault as the author. To put it plainly, sometimes I feel like a failure when I don’t like a book. I have become more attuned to other people’s opinions on book since becoming more active in the blogging community, and often I will hear about a book that everyone, including respected bloggers and critics, is raving about, and it’s a book that is within a genre, or subgenre I enjoy, yet when I read it, it just falls flat. Sometimes I understand why it happened, like with Daniel Wilson’s Robopocalyse, whose story structure, and the audiobook narration failed to resonate with me. Yet, there have been a few books recently that many have raved about, that I just couldn’t get into. I could never point to something within the book and say, "That was wrong. I didn’t like that." I just got to the point where I had no desire to keep on reading or listening to the tale. Some of these books are critic darlings, like Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, and others are books raved about by bloggers who I consider my "go to" people for book recommendations, like Low Town by Daniel Polanski. Both of these books were cases where I felt more like I failed the book, than the book failed me. These were books I just couldn’t figure out, or engage with and ended up not finishing. In 2012, I have yet to start an audiobook and not finish. I have had a splendid run of books, giving out more A grades this year than I did in almost all of 2011. But all streaks must come to an end, and for me, the streak ended with a book I was quite excited about, Seed by Rod Zeigler.

Now, first thing, I do not review books I don’t finish. So, since you are reading this, I did end up finishing Seed. I listened to the first 8 hours of the book, and realized, I had no desire to finish it. So, I stopped listening, and moved on. Then I finished a book Friday evening, and decided that maybe the weekend, where my listening is more scattered, would be a better time to attempt to complete the final 6 hours of the book. So, I strapped on the ear buds, and powered through it. Seed is everything I should like in book reading, a high concept Post Apocalyptic near future tale. With war and climate change wreaking havoc on the world’s economy, The United States government becomes dependent on a strange bioresearch company called Satori, who has developed a genetic strain of seeds that will grow in the changed environment. Yet, when one of the strange genetically engineered scientist decided to defect to the government, she goes missing, and a Secret Service agent named Sienna Doss is sent into a land full of migrants and roving gangs to find her.  Seed is told from multiple points of views, including the missing scientist, her clone-mate/husband, the secret service agent sent to find her, and two migrant brothers trying to find a place in the changed world. For me, it felt like someone grabbed a handful of pieces from multiple puzzles, thrown them together, and we the reader were supposed to forced the pieces together into some sort of complete picture. Every time I felt I was starting to get somewhere in the story, I found something that just didn’t fit right, and no matter how hard I pushed, I couldn’t get it to fall in with the rest of the tale. I most enjoyed the perspective of Doss, who finds the army base she is sent to in disarray, and she attempts to pull it together to help her complete her mission. Yet, this standard Post Apocalyptic military angle was broken up from the story, missing for large portions of the tale and never gathered enough steam to significantly affect my perception of the book. Instead, the focus is more on the strange Satori company whose weird science and genetic manipulations serves some strange purpose I could never really figure out. Seed is a highly stylized Post Apocalyptic novel that I think just went over my head. Perhaps all the pieces to the puzzle were there, I just couldn’t seem to find them, or get them to fit together right. Seed has been highly praised by critics, and made its way onto many end of 2011 "Best Of" lists. Yet, for me, I never became engaged enough to actually enjoy my time listening to it.

The narration of Seed was one of the more interesting aspects of the novel, in a sort of technical, out of the text manner. First off, to be clear, I thought Nicola Barber, for the most part, did a good job. In particular, I thought her male characterizations, particularly of the young Mexican brothers, and other gang members was superb.  Yet, I also had a few issues. First off, there was one weird mispronunciation that had me tweeting and researching, instead of listening to the book. Barber pronounced the word "vitamin" with the first syllable rhyming with "bit." Now, I couldn’t figure any textual reason for this particular pronunciation, and after some tweets and research I discovered that it is a proper British pronunciation. Now, later on in the book, she did pronounce the word in the way I was used to, with a hard ‘I.’ I also discovered that Barber is a British voice over talent, who was using a American accent for this production. While her American accent was strong, beyond the Hispanic characters, she used no regional dialects. Characters from the North East sounded basically the same as characters from Texas. This wasn’t too distracting, outside of two characters discussions about their Texan upbringings but it failed to add flavor to the dialogue in a way that truly talented and prepared narrators excel at. Despite my issues, I though Barber did a relatively decent job with the story, and her performance was pleasant enough to keep me listening to a tale I really wasn’t enjoy all that much.

For another view of this novel check out the review by Justin at Staffer’s Book Review. Also, if you are a Speculative Fiction Fan, I recommend checking out his blog in detail.