Thursday, May 21, 2015

This week's Sync includes Walter Dean Myers and X: A Novel

Sync is continuing its free audiobook giveaway this week with two more books. One is a book of poetry, Here in Harlem by award winning author Walter Dean Myers. The second book is X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon. The X of the title is Malcolm X, an interesting protagonist for a YA book, due to his polarizing rhetoric on race in America. This book is a fictionalized account of Malcolm X's younger days, co-written by his daughter, Shabazz. I haven't read it yet, but it looks to be an intriguing perspective.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Source: Lit2Go (iTunes link)
Length: 14 hours, 23 minutes
Reader: Rick Kistner

The book: In 1864, the Confederate States Navy Huntley became the first submarine to sink a military vessel. Within a few years, most of the major navies of the world, including the French and British Navies, were experimenting with submarines. In this atmosphere of militarization of the ocean's depths, Jules Verne wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a novel about an advanced submarine that had great potential as a weapon, but was mainly used for exploration and science. The ship, and its enigmatic owner Captain Nemo, have become so well known in popular culture that it is worthwhile going back to the source to understand what their creator was trying to convey through their story.

As someone who first encountered the Nautilus through reruns of the 1954 Disney movie and the Disney World ride, I found the whole book to be a bit dry. Yes, there are some exciting parts like the voyage to Atlantis, the encounter with island natives, and the "devilfish" attack, but much of the book reads like a travelogue, with lists of destinations and types of fish seen there. Presumably this was more exciting in Verne's mind, exasperated as he was by politics and failed revolutions. Verne's novel encapsulates the fantasy of being able to escape the surface world and embrace the mysterious life of the ocean.

Rating: 7 / 10

The reader: I've commented many times on Kistner's reading. It's good without being outstanding. He does seem to rush his speech at times, but that is something the ear can adjust to within about 15 minutes. The recording is clear and well-produced. I recommend using the iTunes link for downloading even if you're not using an Apple device.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sync continues with free Terry Pratchett

Audiobook Sync is continuing this week with a novel by the great Sir Terry Pratchett. The free audiobook, Dodger, is not from Pratchett's well-loved Discworld series, but it sounds great anyways. Dodger is set in Victorian London and follows the adventures of a young street urchin. Pratchett always manages to combine great social commentary with hilarious comedy, so I highly recommend this one.

The other audiobook being given away this week is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I already have another audio copy sitting in my virtual to-read pile, so I'm less excited by this, but by all means pick it up if you're interested. As before, you'll need to download the Overdrive software to your computer or audio device and provide an email address to download these books. There are some geographic restrictions that also apply for certain books.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde


Source: LibriVox (Act 1 | 2 | 3)
Length: 2 Hours, 11 min
Readers: multiple

The play: “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.” John Worthington, a.k.a. Ernest, has been leading a double life. In London, his friend Algernon knows him as Ernest. In the countryside, his ward Cecily knows him as Jack or John and believes that "Ernest" is Jack's black sheep brother in the city. This being a comedy, the double life comes back to bite John, and everyone tries on new identities for parts of the play, leading to more confusion. It's an old device that recalls Shakespeare's comedies, but Wilde (who knew a thing or two about putting up a false front) twists it beautifully until the false identities become more real than the actual identities. 

The funniness of the piece holds up, even after almost 100 years. Although it is meant to poke fun at British upper-class society, much of the humor is in Wilde's wonderful use of language. One-liners like "To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up," are funny even out of context, but the mounting absurdity of the play's plot make them even better. The great lines are almost too much to keep up with at some points and I found myself relistening just to catch the full wit of the words.

Rating: 9/10

The readers: Librivox does an interesting trick of having the actors record their lines separately, then has an editor paste all the lines together to make a finished recording. It shouldn't work, but somehow in this example, it does. There are places where the sound quality noticeably changes between readers, but  I didn't mind so much. The actors themselves do a remarkably good job, despite the impediment to comedic timing. I'm impressed that they were able to overcome the limitations of this style of compiling a play.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I'm back!

Yeah, I know I haven't published anything in almost 3 years. I had given this blog up, since I had changed jobs, changed my commute, and didn't have as much time for audiobooks or blogging anymore. This summer, I'll have a bit more time, so I'll be posting occasionally.

The first big announcement for the summer is that SYNC audio is back! Sync gives away free audiobooks to everyone, though the program is designed to get young people interested in reading. No credit card is required, just a name, an email and a free download of the Overdrive software for your computer or portable device. They offer 2 different titles each week. This week, they're offering Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Beautiful Creatures by  Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Both books have excellent reviews and I've heard great word-of-mouth on both, though I haven't read either. These free books are only available for download until May 12, so go grab them now.

Sync will be back each week though the summer with new titles for download. I'll update as they're released.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning

SourceLibriVox (mp3)
Length: 13 minutes
Reader: Algy Pug

The poem: In The White Company, Conan Doyle mentions the great knight Roland as the company travels from France into Spain through the Roncevaux Pass in the Pyrenees Mountains. Roland, a knight of King Charlemange, died while holding the rearguard in a battle in the pass, made famous by the French epic poem The Song of Roland.

This poem, composed hundreds of years later, follows a legendary earlier quest by Roland to the Dark Tower. Browning describes a desolate landscape full of imagery of death, reminding him of other knights who have failed this quest. Roland himself holds little hope of himself succeeding at finding the Dark Tower, but continues on anyway. Browning, perhaps, is commenting on the futility of life as well as our duty to keep living as best we can. The depressing nightmarish land described in the poem have been a inspiration to other writers, notably Steven King's The Dark Tower series and Gordon R. Dickenson's Childe Cycle.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: Pug does an adequate job here reading a very difficult poem. He has a strong Australian accent, but it did not inhibit my understanding of the words. I did have trouble following the poem due to its complexity and had to follow along by reading the text. Each stanza heading (1, 2, 3, 4) is read out loud, which, although faithful to the text, is somewhat distracting. Though Pug's reading does little to aid the interpretation of the poem, his neutral tone is probably best for those wishing to find their own sense of meaning.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 14 hr, 43 min
Reader: Clive Catterall

The book: Although known now as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle considered The White Company and his other historical fiction as his best work. The title refers to an English mercenary band of archers during the Hundred Years' War. The book follows the adventures of two men from very different parts of the feudal hierarchy: Alleyne, a second son of a minor nobleman who after being raised in a abbey, goes off to find his fortune and John, a massively strong peasant who has been kicked out of the same abbey for flirting and drinking. They both fall in with Aylward, an enthusiastic recruiter for the White Company.

The story takes a long time in getting started, with plenty of descriptions of everyday life in the 1300s before the action gets going. Perhaps Conan Doyle was trying to set up a connection with the characters before thrusting them into danger, but they never seemed more than two-dimentional to me. The action set pieces are quite exciting and worth the wait. Although this was a fun book, I'd have to disagree with Conan Doyle and go with the Sherlock Holmes books as his greatest legacy.

Rating: 7 / 10

The reader: Catterall's narration is outstanding. He's a gifted narrator, using his tone of voice and pacing to play up all the action and humor that's in the text. His character voices are particularly well thought out. Sam Aylward's rolling baritone perfectly brings out the bravado of the old soldier. This is a top-notch recording. I'll be looking forward to hearing more of Catterall's work soon.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" by Neil Gaiman

Source: Starship Sofa (mp3)
Length: 54 min (starts at 12 min in of a 1.5 hr episode)
Reader: Richie Smith

The story: I was a bit disappointed by this story.  Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. His works, from the Sandman comics, to American Gods, to The Graveyard Book, are filled with mind-blowing ideas and a personality that is both grotesquely horrific and charmingly idealistic. When I heard that he had a story on StarShip Sofa AND the story had won the Locus Poll Award for Best Novellette, I had high expectations.

Those expectations were not met, but this is still a good story. It starts out simply: A man, small in stature, has lost a daughter. He seeks a guide to take him to the Misty Isle where there is legendary treasure in a cave. Along the way, secrets about both the man and his guide come to the surface, leading to a much more dangerous journey than it would first appear to be. The journey format seems to drag the story out longer than it should to an ending which is predicable, but satisfying. This is one of Gaiman's less memorable stories, but is a Gaiman  story and that's quality enough.

Rating: 7 /10

The reader: Richie Smith is a superb reader for this story. He has a clear voice that's easily understood. There's not much emotion in his voice, but that may be because this story is rather understated. The recording is well produced. Besides the main story, the podcast contains some additional commentary on science fiction and a old radio play. Tony, the host of Starship Sofa, has put together an excellent podcast. If it's not on your weekly listening list already, it should be.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan

Length: Approx. 9 hrs
Reader: Nathan Lowell

The book: Literature that is innovative can be challenging and mind-changing. With the long days of  summer approaching, though, a good story with familiar elements is just as welcome. The Crown Conspiracy liberally borrows from its predecessors in the medieval fantasy genre, but lack of originality can be forgiven when the tale is told well. 

The main characters here are a pair of hear-of-gold thieves distinctly reminiscent of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.  The heroes get themselves into trouble through a obvious set-up and set about trying to escape from captivity and avoid their pursuers. There are some plot twists that aren't terribly surprising for anyone familiar with the genre, but the story is told with such humor and a sense of adventure that these tropes feel natural. The writing alternates between exciting set-pieces and long exposition conversations as the author fleshes out his fantasy world. This short novel is the first in a series of six, so there are some loose ends, but the book itself winds up to a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 7 /10

The reader: As I stated in a previous review of his own book, Lowell is a gifted reader. The recording is professionally produced with appropriate music for the beginning and end of each segment, along with shorter bits of music for scene changes. If I have any complaints, it's in Lowell's voices for his characters. I found it hard to distinguish between the voices, and the uneven distributions of British accents added to the confusion. Overall, though, this was an excellent recording.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Free audiobooks from Sync return

Just like last summer, Sync Audio is giving away free audiobooks all summer. Every week from June 14 to August 22, two audiobooks will be available for free download. One of the books each week is a young adult novel, the other a classic. Downloads are in the Overdrive format, so you'll need to get that free program, but once they're downloaded, the files do not expire.  Find the full list of books by clicking below