I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
This is an utterly charming audiobook! Arthur Ransome's story about the four Walker siblings ("Able Seaman" Titty being my favorite!) and the two "Amazon Pirate" girls and their idyllic adventures during a perfect August in 1929 sailing around a big lake in the Lake District and camping on Wild Cat Island in it is vividly, humorously, winningly told. Ransome is so good at capturing how kids play, with one half of their minds and hearts in fantasyland (pirates, explorers, the Pacific ocean, sharks, buried treasure, sea battles, walking the plank, deserted islands, etc.) and one half in the real world (making safe fires, cleaning fish and pots and pans, teaching a younger sibling how to swim, managing sailboats efficiently, etc.). He's so good at depicting how their thoughts and imaginations and hearts work! And his girls, especially Titty and Nancy, are at least as imaginative, bold, wild, and strong as the boys.
I cringed at first when I heard the kids referring to the "natives" (locals) from the standpoint, I thought, of "civilized white explorers," but then it turned out to be their way of signifying killjoy adults who are too serious to enter into the kids' fantasy world and became a complex and interesting use of language.
The reader, Alison Larkin, is perfectly suited to the book. She speaks clearly, thoroughly understands and feels what she's reading, slightly varies her voice for the different characters (from Ship's Boy Roger to Captain Flint), and speaks with infectious good humor and spirit, so that listening to Ransome's delightful text becomes a big smiling and chuckling pleasure.
The book is also surprisingly moving (without being at all sentimental), as when, near the end, Mrs. Dixon, the local farm woman who has been supplying the kids with fresh milk every morning, says she'll miss them after they leave the lake the next day, and Titty says, "But we'll be back next year and every year after that for ever and ever," and Mrs. Dixon replies, "Aye
Listening to Kidnapped was a great adventure! While the story itself is not as intoxicating as Treasure Island, it is exciting, fascinating, grueling, moving, suspenseful, and funny. And Alan Breck Stewart, the outlawed Scottish lord on the run with first person narrator young David Balfour, is an even more appealing rogue-mentor-friend than Long John Silver: proud, hot-tempered, quick to take offense, loyal, brave, humorous, strong (when it comes to fighting and fleeing), weak (when it comes to playing cards and blowing the bagpipes), a complex, fully rounded person. It is a pleasure (that finally becomes quite poignant) to accompany the pair as they struggle to escape south over the dangerous, inhospitable heather covered highlands of northern Scotland through numerous patrolling red-coats.
Stevenson depicts the political and historical setting of mid-eighteenth-century Scotland complexly, depicting the rebellious Highlanders with sympathy for their loyalty, honor, and resilience, even as he exposes their pride, grudges, and violence.
Frederick Davidson does an excellent job reading the novel, appropriately making David na??ve and youthful, Alan experienced and mature, and all the other supporting characters just right for their roles and personalities.
The only criticism I could make with this production is to say that it has Davidson somewhat startlingly announce the next chapter number and title without pausing after ending the present chapter, but that is a very minor quibble about what is a great audiobook.
This is an interesting and exciting audiobook filled with demonic buccaneers and na??ve youths and pretty governor (or merchant) daughters and plenty of action, from desperate hand-to-hand combats to horrific sea battles, not to mention dreamy treks through moonlit sand dunes to bury or unbury treasure chests.
The first chapter, a kind of survey-history of the buccaneer-pirate phenomenon, is a little bland and moralizing, but the following stories are great, especially those involving secret identities and double lives and changing fortunes and na??ve guys getting more than their share of adventure. Here's one of my favorite moments in the book, when a character is speculating on what drives can make a good man turn devil pirate: "Who, within his inner consciousness, does not feel that same ferine, savage man struggling against the stern, adamantine bonds of ???morality and decorum? Were those bonds burst asunder, as it was with this man, might not the wild beast rush forth, as it had rushed forth in him, to rend and to tear?"
And at his best, Pyle writes incredible painterly descriptions of pirate faces and clothes and ships in candlelight or moonlight or lightening light, descriptions that remain vividly in your mind like afterimages after the light fails. You can imagine the Disney artisans pouring over this book to gain inspiration and models for making the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction!
Simon Vance (aka Robert Whitfield) does his usual fine and flexible job of reading the text, though at times I wished for someone with a bit deeper voice.
My five year old son loves these stories, and I enjoy listening to them as well. The cameraderie among the siblings is refreshing and it is nice how resourceful the kids are. Each of the stories has an element of mystery to them, which keeps you interested. (My three year old, however, starts to get antsy with these stories, because they are so lengthy - we have to take Dr. Seuss and Nate the Great breaks for him!)