Friday, May 20, 2016

My Journey to Becoming an Audiobook Listener

Before September 2013, I hadn't really listened to audiobooks except for a couple of Harry Potters that I had bought for road trips. I was one of those jerky readers that didn't believe that listening counted as reading. I also didn't want to sit at my computer for hours on end and I didn't have a commute. Then came Ready Player One and the discovery of the Overdrive subscription through my wonderful library system. I couldn't resist listening to Wil Wheaton as narrator of an instant geek classic and thus began my conversion.

I have now tried out a lot of different kinds of audiobooks and listening situations. What works for me is this:

1. Middle grade, YA, or genre fiction: I tried listening to Victoria: A Life but I just couldn't keep up with names and timelines on audio. I needed the ability to look at relationship charts and photos. I need plot-driven fiction! I did listen to the Amy Poehler memoir but that was entertainment non-fiction, not the learning type.

2. A narrator with a good accent and good representation of various characters: I tried a theater group performance earlier this year and they were just too dramatic for me. There was also a Judy Blume book that I listened to where the adult narrator just made all of the kid voices whiny. It was awful.

3. The ability to listen on 1.25x or 1.5x: I am impatient and I don't want a book to last more than a few days. There have only been one or two times that I couldn't understand the narrator when I sped up a book.

I started by listening while taking walks and then added in some time during housework and yardwork, when settling down for a weekend nap, and finally just while sitting in the sun on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I've even been known to listen to the end of a great story through an entire evening.

A few of my favorites so far have been:

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, read by Bronson Pinchot
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, read by James Avery
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, read by Jim Dale
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, read by Cherry Jones
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (and all the other Discworld books and Nation and Dodger -- all read by Stephen Briggs)
The BFG by Roald Dahl, read by David Walliams
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (and other titles), read by Jenny Sterlin
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, read by Tantoo Cardinal
and Neil Gaiman reading any of his own books

One of the best things I've found about audiobooks is that I can actually listen to one book while having a different physical book in progress. I used to be a monogamous reader but now I have fun dipping into multiple stories through different mediums. Somehow, I'm able to keep the stories separate this way. The only thing I'm apparently not able to do is remember to review my audiobooks because they don't end up on my review stack. Oops.

Do you listen to audiobooks regularly? Do you have a favorite that I should try?

Happily converted,

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Making Series Progress

Because I've been in the mood for genre reads lately, I've used it as an opportunity to catch-up with some of the series I've got going.

The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch is the eighth Charles Lenox mystery. There's just one more book to go before I'm caught up on this series and I own that one so I anticipate getting to it this summer. I started reading the series in 2008 when I borrowed A Beautiful Blue Death from the library. Here are my brief spreadsheet thoughts on each book of the series --

A Beautiful Blue Death: a good start but a bit tame - would like to see another in the series
The September Society: enjoy Lenox very much - the anti-Poirot
The Fleet Street Murders: a bit oversentimental at times but strong
A Stranger in Mayfair: a high point in the series
A Burial at Sea: a slightly bumpy start with a great finish
A Death in the Small Hours: touching and unexpected
An Old Betrayal: fantastic and went in the direction I had hoped

As you can see, I have enjoyed the series more and more through time. Charles Lenox is a great protagonist that has a few qualities that make him rather unique in the literary detective world. I don't know how many more books Finch intends to write but I do hope he continues the series through at least a few more stories!

The Memory of Blood starts with the mention in the Acknowledgements that Christopher Fowler didn't think the series would make it this far, to book nine of the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries. And, as I look to buy book 10 (of 13), I'm finding that it doesn't even seem to have been released in paperback even though the hardcover came out in 2013. I'll need to go search for a cheap used copy because I definitely intend to reread this series at some point. Bryant and May are unique in both their age (they should have retired many years earlier) and also their unusual skill set (in this latest one, Bryant recalls his ventriloquism skills after being hypnotized by a white witch). The story in this one was a bit creepier than I like -- I have a fear of "talking" dolls and puppets and this tale incorporates the history of Punch and Judy shows. ::shiver:: But, once again, Bryant and May and the hard working people who toil with them in the PCU managed to engage me despite this fear.

And finally, I got to the end of the Graceling/Fire trilogy with Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. This series was just WOW. I really didn't think it would be for me as bloggers like Ana were talking about it a few years ago but a lovely publicist had a set of the three books to give away and I decided to give them a shot and got to enter this beautiful and horrible world. I didn't write about Graceling because I ended up listening to it and I always forget to mention my audiobooks. But I thought that it was a great story with a strong female lead. Then I read Fire in February of this year and it had a different strong female lead and I couldn't get enough. So I was quite surprised in Bitterblue that, though the main character, Queen Bitterblue, has actual power, she's actually quite weak and this is the story of her progress in finding the strength that she envies in others. I loved that she was on a different journey than Katsa or Fire experienced. It was harder to side with Bitterblue when she was being irrational or petulant but then a learning experience would happen and she would win me over again. The world building in this series was fantastic as were the variety of relationships portrayed. I'm very happy that I eventually read this trilogy.

What series are you enjoying at the moment?

Reveling in murder and mayhem,

Monday, May 16, 2016

Catching Up

The other day, I noticed that my blog wasn't loading at all and I was getting DNS errors. My kind hubby got things working again and Trish happened to check it for me and asked if it should be coming up with a last post on April 30. Why yes, another two weeks have passed without a blog post. I have decent reasons this time though!

We've had unseasonably warm weather up here in Seattle and I've been doing lots of yard work -- reshaping trees, clearing forest paths, cutting tea roses away from the fire hydrant, reclaiming my driveway from errant bushes, and weeding, weeding, weeding. I've also had a little thing that I've had to get ready for -- Z turning twelve last Friday! For some reason this one is hitting me harder than I expected. It's probably a combination of the facts that he's only got five weeks of elementary school left and that he's only about an inch or two shorter than me now. The days of him being my baby are gone for good. I love the young man he's becoming but it's strange to not be the parent of a "kid" anymore.

Still, I've done a lot of great reading lately and I really want to start catching up on telling you all about it. Stay tuned!

Making excuses,

Saturday, April 30, 2016

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks - April

For this challenge, my goal is 80 books for the year from my own shelves, whether they're new books from the TBR or rereads.


The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (DNF)
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch
The King's English by Betsy Burton
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (relisten)
The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland ... by Catherynne Valente (reread)
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland ... by Catherynne Valente (reread)
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland ... by Catherynne Valente (reread)

Monthly Total: 9
Yearly Total: 30

With one third of the year gone, I am doing fantastic so far! The only problem is that I'm still acquiring new books so my TBR shelves aren't clearing off very much. I need to really limit my purchasing to only essential new books (like the new Neil Gaiman non-fiction collection, another Jackaby novel, and the next Flavia De Luce mystery). Still, it feels nice to be making progress and to be revisiting so many favorites that live in my house permanently. The only negative to this challenge is that I'm having to find room on my shelves for these new books that I'm keeping and I'm totally out of space!

How are you doing on reading your own books? Have you been inspired to join this challenge recently?

Making sure my books aren't just decor,

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What I'm Reading: A Discussion

Over the past couple of weeks, as I chose books to receive as birthday presents and what to read for Readathon and which my next #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks choices would be, I started noticing that my reading of late has been mostly what one would consider genre reads -- in my case, fantasy, science fiction, or mystery. Of my last twenty reads (including the three I have going at the moment), sixteen have been genre.

So, as we introspective readers do, I started thinking about why this was the case. And the more I thought about it, the more I got the feeling that it was the fault of modern politics and news and social media. I am tired of this world that we live in -- tired of the violence and hate and heartbreak and destruction. I am tired of hearing about the latest new war, the latest grizzly murder, the latest act of gun violence, the latest trampling of someone's civil rights, the latest evidence that we are destroying our planet. If I have to read about murder, I want it to be in Victorian England, far away from me and with some ridiculous motive. If I have to read about an army, I want it to be knights and rangers, fighting against the forces of evil that threaten their castle. If I have to read about awkward teenagers, I want them to be awkward because they are in Fairyland, being teased by a Blue Wind. If I have to read about a government, I want it to be that of Ankh Morpork, where I can chuckle at Lord Vetinari's iron grip without feeling the squeeze myself. I don't know how long this shift toward genre reading will last but my guess is at least until after the current election cycle is over.

How about you? Have you noticed a need to escape into genre reads lately?

Embracing the farfetched,

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Readathon Kick-Off!

It's 5 a.m. and, as I tell you almost every single Readathon, I'm still asleep! I did see that when I participated in my first Readathon in October 2010, I actually got up at the start of the event. But hey, I was six years younger then than I am now and, these days, I want my full night of sleep. So, I am writing this at midnight and I'll be awake around hour four or five.

This is my stack, with the addition of the second volume of the Edward Scissorhands graphic novel that I got for my birthday. The first three Valente books will be rereads but I want to do that before I read the last two. It's such a lovely, quick series that I'm hopeful that I'll get through most of it today. I have the third and fourth books on audiobook in case I need to rest my eyes by that point in the series. I threw in some other fun-looking middle grade review copies in case I need to take a break from September and her adventures. And I also have The Regional Office is Under Attack! on audiobook. I started it earlier this week on my daily walks and it is a crazy and exciting story. If I need a pick-me-up, this book will do the job! I'll probably stick it on first thing when I wake up to get me going.

I don't have a picture of my snacks at the moment. I'll put one on Instagram and Twitter when I get to the snacking portion of my day. In the morning, I'll be making my traditional scones. I can't wait! Otherwise, I have a lot of snacks that involve popcorn and dark chocolate -- sadly, not together.

I'll be doing all of my updates throughout the day on Instagram and Twitter as part of #TeamOwl so come find me there! I can't wait to spend the day reading with you (and hubby and Z, who are both joining me in order to share my snacks).

Doing this thing,

Friday, April 22, 2016

Spending Time with Neil

As the first casting decisions for the upcoming miniseries came out, I decided it was time to reread American Gods and to see what Neil decided to add back in to the Author's Preferred Text edition. I liked this story much more than I did when I first read it almost five years ago. At that time, I had just gotten started with Neil with books like Coraline and Good Omens and didn't really know to expect sex or violence in his stories. But now that I know him and his work better, there was nothing unexpected in the book and I was more able to focus on the details of the story and the mythology. I can't find where but I know I've seen Neil himself say that his fans can be divided into two groups, those who love American Gods and those who hate it. It is definitely a divisive book, dark and brooding with just a touch of redemption at times. This time through I appreciated the crafting of the characters and the vivid sense of each place that Shadow found himself in. Anyway, the casting decisions so far have been stellar and I'm really looking forward to watching the miniseries hopefully late this year.

The Art of Neil Gaiman is a comprehensive review of almost everything Neil has done in comics, novels, film, and children's books by Hayley Campbell, a young family friend who a journalist and the daughter of illustrator Eddie Campbell. She had access to all of the stray papers in his attic and to him and his memories. It was really interesting to read how his career evolved, which things he loved working on and which were more like "work", and what things he would possibly like to write in the future. This is a book for diehard Gaiman fans and it was a fascinating inside look.

Worshipping at the altar,

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New in Paperback: The Library at Mount Char

I have to admit that after reading the first chapter of The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, I took to Instagram to ask my fellow readers if I should keep going. Why? Because the first chapter was dark and violent and full of surprisingly awful characters and I didn't know if I could stomach a book that continued on like that. Luckily, a couple of you convinced me to stick with it and, while it's probably not going to be an all-time favorite, it was a unique read with some very big ideas and some really interesting characters that paid off in the end.

I don't really know how to summarize this story without giving everything away. It's a story that builds, turns back, flip-flops, and builds again. The main character is Carolyn and we know at the start that she calls herself a librarian, she's nowhere near normal, and she's walking down the street the early morning hours, covered in blood. What follows is the building of an alternate universe where manipulation of the laws of physics and biology is possible for those who have the knowledge. The owners of that knowledge, however, happen to be a horrible, horrible bunch.

There is a LOT of killing in this tale and a LOT of violence, but, strangely, also some extremely honest friendships and connections, including some that you really would never expect. The story is rooted in the intersection between science fiction and fantasy but so much of it is brutally real that it doesn't necessarily seem like a genre book most of the time. It definitely has the potential to be a long-lived cult favorite.

Unwrapping my mind from around this tale,