Quantcast

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 10 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater, narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham, is an atmospheric novel based on a tale of water horses. Puck Connolly (Kate) is a young orphan girl who lives on Thisby, loves it with all of her heart, and barely has enough food for herself and her brothers. Her other main love is her horse, Dove. Her oldest brother, Gabe, earns the bulk of the money in the family, but he’s also plotting a life of his own away from the family home.

On the other side, there is the wildly successful horse trainer at the Malvern Farm, Sean Kendrick. This farm breeds horses and Kendrick is the premier rider in the Scorpio Races along the beach in November every year, and his capaill uisce (a type of water horse) Cor. While he has won the race four out of six times, he cannot escape the small room near the stable beneath the thumb of his employer, Malvern. He and Cor have a special bond, and it is clear that Sean’s love is for his horse.

Unlike Stiefvater’s other novels, which tend to be heavy on teen romance, the setting and the horses are the true stars of the Scorpio Races, especially on a less-than-forgiving island that is far enough away from American that a horseman can be considered a foreigner and the mainland can be seen as a way to improve one’s financial situation and see picture shows and musical numbers. The water horses are mysterious beasts that must be captured and dragged from the oceans they love, and while they eat flesh and can be difficult to control, they are the fastest and most magnificent animals to behold. The mystique of the island and the horses will draw readers in, but the story is not about the myth, so much as the love between man and beast and woman and beast.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater, narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham, is about wishes and reality, love and despair, hardship and compassion. It’s a story that comes from the sea mists and rises to the cliff tops to sing like a water horse thriving in its natural environment despite the November cold.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author of The Shiver Trilogy, The Raven Cycle, and The Scorpio Races. Artist. Driver of things with wheels. Avid reader. All of Maggie Stiefvater’s life decisions have been based around her inability to be gainfully employed. Talking to yourself, staring into space, and coming to work in your pajamas are frowned upon when you’re a waitress, calligraphy instructor, or technical editor (all of which she’s tried), but are highly prized traits in novelists and artists. She’s made her living as one or the other since she was 22. She now lives an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia.

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

***Read Leviathan and Behemoth before reading this one.***

Goliath (book #3) by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, takes Alek and Deryn to Siberia to pick up the slightly mad inventor Nikola Tesla, who claims to have created an invention that will end the war – Goliath. Alek continues to believe in his destiny as the next leader of Austria and as the only one who can end the war. As machines and manufactured animals come to battle, Alek uncovers Deryn’s secrets, but learns the true meaning of friendship, whom he can truly trust, and what it means to love something more than destiny.

Cumming continues to narrate this series with aplomb and he engrosses readers from the beginning. Westerfeld has created a believable alternate history, although gender issues are sort of glossed over for the most part, even as one of the main characters is a girl. Alek has grown up quite a bit in this story, and Deryn remains the anchor in the story. With appearances from William Randolf Hearst and Pancho Villa, it is clear that the politics of the war goes far beyond the war between machines and manufactured animals for superiority.

Goliath (book #3) by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is a whole new world with a war threatening everything past and present. The series is strong throughout and the characters have evolved a great deal in the course of three books, with several close calls. Wonderful series.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld‘s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

***Leviathan was a book club selection and I’ve finally been able to get back to the series, though this book is our book club selection for June. You’ll need to read the first to read this book.***

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is the second book in a young adult trilogy that is an alternate WWI history rife with steampunk elements. The German Clankers who rely on machines are advancing their war against the British Darwinists, using secretive technology and subversive tactics. Deryn, a young man in the British Air Service, has divided loyalties as he tries to continue hiding his identity from his closest friend, Alek, who is the heir to the empire. The Leviathan’s peace mission has hit a snag, and Alek stumbles upon a resistance in Constantinople even as they find themselves in enemy territory.

Alan Cumming is a stunning narrator; it’s clear that he enjoyed this book and narrating the heart-stopping action of Westerfeld’s alternate history. As the Clankers connive to garner support from Istanbul, the Darwinists seek to appease the government with gifts only to find they are too late. Deryn is quick-witted and eager to prove himself a dedicated soldier, even as he feels a bit of camaraderie and loyalty to Alek and his plight to escape the Clankers. Alek comes into his own away from his guardian, as he is forced to seek out people to trust and to devise his own plans to prevent an all-encompassing war between the Clankers and the Darwinists and get revenge on the Germans.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is a stunning middle book in the series, providing Alek and Deryn with ample opportunity to prove themselves brave. Even as secrets continue between them, they remain friends. Westerfeld has a vivid imagination and it comes alive in the prose, especially as read by Cumming. Readers will fall into this world of unbelievable animal creations and giant machines of war.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld‘s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

United States of Books: Independence Day by Richard Ford (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 17 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Entertainment Weekly said, “The second of four books to feature Frank Basscombe, a sportswriter-turned-Realtor who’s the perfect sarcastic resident of that great big suburb called New Jersey.”

Independence Day by Richard Ford, narrated by Richard Poe, is one of those novels in which readers can be frustrated, as the main character, Frank Basscombe, often scurries along tangents just when the narration appears to be going somewhere relevant.  Poe does a good job of narrating this character.  He’s a divorced man who lives alone in his former wife’s house in Haddam, N.J., and he’s entered the real-estate game.  He barely sees his children, still wants to hang onto his newly married ex-wife, but also says that he loves his girlfriend.

Basscombe tells the truth as he sees it in that moment, but from moment-to-moment that truth can change.  He’s not steady in his beliefs, and much of that is because he’s clearly in the midst of a crisis.  He’s unsure of his own direction and his own place in life and in his family.  On a trip with his son to the Basketball and Baseball Halls of Fame, Basscombe makes a concerted effort to be someone to at least one somebody — his son.  However, like him, his son is going through a period of unease, as he’s unsure how to be and act, and he’s trying on different hats — some of which raise concern with his mother about his mental stability.

In many ways, Basscombe and his son’s inability to stand firm and find their own peace in the world mirror the wishy-washy perception of New Jersey — which ET calls a suburb.  The view of New Jersey can be its industrial gas and oil farms or the fact that it is the neighbor of New York, a place where those who work in the city come to escape the fast-paced life and find some green.

It’s hard to believe that there are four books about this character, given his disinterest and disdain for everything.  Independence Day by Richard Ford, narrated by Richard Poe, is one man’s search for a final independence — he’s looking to free himself from the ties that bind him to his ex-wife, trying to carve out a new career, and to find some direction for his own life without being hampered by the past.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Richard Ford is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist and short story writer. His best-known works are the novel The Sportswriter and its sequels, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land, and the short story collection Rock Springs, which contains several widely anthologized stories.

 

 

 

 

USbooks New Jersey

United States of Books: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 12 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, narrated by George Guidall, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1985 before being made into a movie with William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis.  Maryland resident, Macon Leary, is a very particular man, he likes things to be orderly and things to be pronounced just so. Even though he is a travel writer, he hates traveling and much of his column and his books are how-to guides on how to bring home with you when you vacation. His marriage to Sarah falls apart following the tragic death of their son, and she moves out. Following a freak accident at home with his dog, Edward, Macon moves in with his brothers and sister — all odd ducks in similar, yet different ways. How anyone could handle of the weirdness is something the wives have talked about before and some have even given up their marriages to escape.

Macon is tough to take throughout the novel until his world is thrown into a spin when he meets dog trainer and jack-of-all-trades Muriel.  In addition to Macon, Tyler has a cast of vivid characters, including Macon’s boss Julian.  However, the pacing here is slow and Macon is slow to evolve, which is frustrating.  His routines in life are so far ingrained into his character that it is very difficult for him to adjust to even the smallest changes.  When he’s thrown into a different way of living, he’s still clinging to the old life he had and even as he opens up and moves forward with his life, he is completely unaware.  Tragically, he takes no action of his own accord and things just happen to him and he adjusts as best he can.

In terms of place, as this is the book picked to represent Maryland, there is very little of my current home state in its pages.  While Macon is referred to as a resident of Baltimore on a few occasions, there is very little of the city I’ve come to know in these pages.  The descriptions given could be of many towns across the United States, and where he and his family live doesn’t even seem like Baltimore, a city with its downtrodden, littered streets and high crime, or its cultural connection to Edgar Alan Poe and Frederick Douglass, one of the most gifted activists during the Civil War era.

Douglass learned how to read in Baltimore, and while Macon and his family are quirky and troubled, they do not speak to the civil rights struggles in a state between the sides, nor do they speak to the other leaders of social movements, including Gertrude Stein.  There is a great sense in Maryland’s literary heritage that lives change here, their perspectives evolve and they move on to greater things.  There is no sense of that here, just as there is no sense of suburban life in Maryland, which is as varied as the cultures and incomes found within its borders.

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, narrated by George Guidall, is a slow moving novel, much like it’s main character, Macon, as it is slow to evolve and move beyond the humdrum routines of a rigid travel writer who hates to travel.  The narrator does well in his portrayal of Macon, and his voice and timber set the tone that Tyler has given in her prose.  While there are some amusing moments with the quirkier characters, Macon is hard to like and his slow evolution is tough to take.

Rating: Couplet

About the Author:

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. The Beginner’s Goodbye is Anne Tyler’s nineteenth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Just Kids by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Just Kids by Patti Smith, narrated by the author, embraces her naivete and anxiety about her artistic life, particularly her chaotic creative process and her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.  As a struggling poet, she finds that she was ill-prepared for feeling true hunger or living on the streets, but through a series of kind acts from strangers and eventually friends, she finds her way.  Moving fluidly between photography, art, music, and poetry, Smith demonstrates what it means to be young and on a journey of self-discovery in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is a very honest memoir about life as an artist, and what it means to have a clear vision of what you want from an artistic life.  Mapplethorpe had a clear vision of what he wanted from his art and pursued it relentlessly and with all of his body, even though he also feared the judgment of others.  Smith, on the other hand, knew she wanted to be a poet, but was unable to see for some time that poetry is malleable and can evolve beyond what is expected.

Rather than assess her relationship with Mapplethorpe, Smith focuses on how their tumultuous relationship allowed them to grow as artists — their reciprocal relationship becomes the crux of what it means to be a muse and to have a muse.  Because Smith is a writer, her observational skills are keenly seen in her memoir.  An early pact that these artists make to one another about being the sober one when the other is not, helps to keep both artists on their ultimate creative paths, even if they diverge from one another.

Just Kids by Patti Smith is seductive.  Smith narrates it as she wrote it, with honesty and unconditional love.  While she makes no assessments about her experiences, readers will see how appreciative she is for her luck and her journey, a journey that is ripe with sadness and pain but also joy and happiness.  The life of an artist is difficult and chaotic, but no less fulfilling for those committed to it body and soul.

***The poems at the end are worth waiting for***

Rating: Cinquain

Photo: © Jesse Dittmar

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Please visit her Website.

 

Other Reviews:

Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Susan Lyons, updates Jane Austen’s tale of a young woman in high society who starts meddling in the lives of those around her.  Smith’s Emma Woodhouse is far more brazen in her comments of others, and its clear that when she returns from university that she wants to make her mark by making people happier.  Unfortunately, taking her interior design education and applying it to the relationships of her friends and neighbors is not a good fit.  Lyons does an excellent job with the narration, and she really knew which parts to emphasize.

Unlike her sister, who is happy to meet a man and start a family, Emma doesn’t have a conventional future in mind.  She wants to start her own business in the suburbs, rather than in London, which suits her hypochondriac father well.  He thinks London is a place that will make people ill, but his eldest daughter takes off with her new husband to begin their family there.  Meanwhile, Emma is content to stay in the village and take the summer to assess her options.  Smith follows the original plot pretty well with his rendition, with many of his modern elements woven in well, but some of the main conflicts appear glossed over — beginning and ending swiftly.

One area that is tough to take is Emma’s harsher characterization, which can be attributed to the much harsher and self-absorbed nature of today’s society.  However, how Emma is still given a pass in a modern society where class does not hold as much respect or weight as it once did in Austen’s time is left unexplained.  Smith creates a different backstory for Emma and Mr. Knightly, which works in this modern retelling, but may not win points with Austen’s fan base.  Mr. Woodhouse, however, is treated with a bit more respect than he was in Austen — he’s a little less ludicrous, which was a refreshing change.  The governess, however, seems to be a mouthpiece for the author, steering Emma in the right direction and the relationship between the two seems flat.

Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Susan Lyons, was a mixed bag with modern updates, like including cars and women going to college, but lacking in the obsession with selfies, cellphones, and other technology.  It also was mixed in terms of Smith’s treatment of the characters and the original story.  While Knightly was a guiding force for Emma, here he is relegated to the sidelines and a new character emerges, the governess.

About the Author:

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland. Visit him online at www.alexandermccallsmith.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.