House of Many Ways is in some ways a new direction for Diana Wynne Jones, and in many ways reminiscent of her other lighter, funnier works. It's entertaining and has some good bits of character insight/development, and some nice moments of tension, and it is pretty much free from the underlying hatred of adult women which tarnishes so many of Jones's otherwise more engaging works.
What makes this recording a joy to own and hear, however, is Jenny Sterlin's sterling performance. After years of Gerard Doyle's agonizing struggles to get meaningfully from one end of a sentence to another, it is a dazzling relief to finally have a reader who is brilliantly suited to Diana Wynne Jones's works, with range, flexibility, intelligence, and humor.
Here's fervently hoping that others of DWJ's best novels will be given the reader they deserve.
Curse of Chalion is one of my favorite Bujolds - honestly, it's one of my favorite books. After years and years of doing good work on the Vorkosigan novels, she turned her hand to a wholly new piece of fantasy, producing compelling characters, with the simultaneously hilarious and penetrating dialogue of all her best writing, in an incredibly rich, detailed, interesting world, fully supplied with totally new gods and beliefs, a history of politics, hardship, courtly elegance, and war, a society, a geography... Curse of Chalion is a masterful piece of epic fantasy which keeps the story fully anchored in the gripping humanity of its characters.
And someone went and gave it to Lloyd James to read. There may be some books he could read well, I don't know. In Curse of Chalion, he seems to struggle simply to complete each sentence, intonation going up at random, and eventually wandering back down again, without any grasp of what the words that have just come out of his mouth might possibly mean. And I suspect that in fact he may not know what several of the words mean (and I don't mean ones Bujold invented, just English), because he mangles the pronunciation of several of them.
Harsh, harsh. I feel like I should apologize. But I love this book, and Lloyd James made listening to it once an agony, and listening to it more than once unthinkable.
If you want to see Bujold really stretching her wings and putting all her wit and intelligence and eloquence to great use....read the book on paper (and then get Kate Reading's reading of the semi-sequel Paladin of Souls, where the book and the performer are equally superb). Read it on paper, and then hope and pray that at some point, there will be another audio recording of it, with a reader who actually understands the prose and the story, and can do justice to both.
Not the very best of McKillip's work but still with the odd, unexpected, quiet charm which distinguishes her prose, her characters, and her imagery from any other writer's, _Od Magic_ is a fine place for a publisher to start with recordings. The world is complex, the characters varied, the story not so intricate as to leave a listener stranded but a long way from simple.
But the reader. Gabrielle de Cuir has a sweet, breathless, girlish voice which embroiders on every hint of wonder until it loses all its interest. She doesn't have the range for the variety of characters she's posed, but more, she seems to take the delicacy and beauty of McKillip's prose as a mandate to make a sticky-sweet spun-sugar confection out of a story that truly has more grip to it than that. de Cuir should be set to reading cyberpunk or other dystopias, where the *italic* quality of her reading would provide a contrast, a surprise, a source of richness in the reading. To have her reading McKillip is to reinforce every stereotype there is of McKillip's flowery-ness, every stereotype formed by readers who don't pay attention to the real tensions and ambiguities laced - yes, delicately, but with great tensile strength - through the narratives. De Cuir reads _Od Magic_ exactly the way someone who didn't like the book would expect it to be read.
I've been a fierce fan of Patricia McKillip's works since 1981. When _Od Magic_ was published, I bought it and read it and liked it very much. Every month or so, I do a hitherto useless search for any of her books available through Audible. When I found one, I bought it. I downloaded it. I started it. I never finished. Now, when I do my searche for anything by McKillip, it's with both eagerness and dread: what if there is another one, one I like even more? But--what if it's read by de Cuir?
This satirical, hysterical romp of a novel is a classic now, and would be hard to describe in any case. At breakneck pace, it careens through the galaxy, only rarely pausing long enough for the characters - or the listeners - to catch their breath.
Arguably, the best way to listen to Hitchhiker's Guide is to listen to the original radio show that prompted the novel in the first place.
But if you're going to get an audiobook instead of the radio-show, this is the one. Stephen Fry is top-notch, and clearly having just the right amount of fun.
After countless reductionist versions, it may be hard for some people to remember what J. M. Barrie's original story really was: a surreal, ironic, humorous, touching tale filled with weird details that no other writer would have dreamed of, and dry - and very English - social commentary.
Like so many other books which have been relegated to the ranks of "children's classics" and forgotten, this story is actually rather disturbing in some strange and marvelous ways - and I think it would be largely wasted on the young reader. Let them have the Disney picture book, and keep this gem for yourself.
Jim Dale is a superlative reader, who truly does justice to this strange, lapidary little piece. I recommend it without reservation to any reader/listener who will *pay attention* and see what's really there, and not the pastel wallpaper that revisionists have spread over the original work. I've listened to other versions by readers I respect and enjoy, but this one wins out over all of them: Jim Dale has got to the heart of the story that is really there, and he is mesmerizing in telling it.
The long wait for a new Emma Bull has been rewarded; 'Territory' is well-written, humorous, sharp-edged, and much more historically accurate than the beguiling preface would suggest. It is very definitely the first part of something; it's not just that it leaves many, many plot points unresolved, to be addressed in the subsequent book(s), it's also that it does more to build complexity in character and relationships than to provide a really gripping story arc that can stand alone. There is action, adventure, drama, humor, and things changing and developing, but it's not paced like a stand-alone novel. I enjoyed the complexity of the foundation laid in this first volume, as well as enjoying its story, characters, and dialogue (perhaps especially dialogue), but I found myself wishing for just a little steeper a plot arc, even though I know it's the first piece of something and I like it that way.
My first time through it, I felt a little flat at the ending. But in its praise, I can say that every time I've listened to it again since then, I've enjoyed it more and more.
The readers are both *extremely* good. Kate Reading does a marvelous job, which is what I have come to expect from her. I think it's a pity that the production gave us one male reader for two different male point-of-view characters (Jesse Fox and Doc Holliday), but Michael Kramer does a fine job with a challenging task.
I wavered between giving this a 4 and a 5. As I finish writing this review, I'm still not sure. And I don't hand out 5's often.
Grover Gardner has definitely got the hang of the Miles Vorkosigan books by now. He's not an inspired reader, but he's not a poor one, either. There's nothing about this performance to offend or mesmerize, and if you've heard many other Vorkosigan books, you'll know about how Gardner reads this one: perfectly serviceably.
The book, coming directly after _Mirror Dance_, is in some ways one of Bujold's best, and in others one of her most frustrating. The opening premise is difficult to sit still for, it's so uncomfortable: good writing, but not a pleasant experience. Once the initial, excruciating premise plays itself out, the book becomes far more engaging, and contains some of Bujold's best character work and writing. The problem is that for many readers, the central mystery is terribly transparent, and it's hard to spend hours (or a couple hundred pages) waiting for the certified super-genius to ask the question which occurred to the listener/reader after five minutes. The fact that this manages to be one of her best novels *in spite* of that says a great deal about the deft competence of the writing. Bujold is is one of those satisfying writers who make fandom pay off by getting better and better with age. _Memory_ so far exceeds the meager competence of the earliest Vorkosigan books that it's in a whole separate class. The only things which made the early books worth reading and rereading were the humor, the dialogue, and the characterization. _Memory_ has all that, and solidly good writing besides, with just that one little failure of suspense to put a crimp in its style.
This is one of Shaw's lightest, most sentimental plays, written with such good pacing and such a pleasant touch that despite lacking quite as much of the incisive social commentary of something like "Pygmalion" or "Mrs. Warren's Profession," it's just a pleasure to read, watch, or hear.
This performance, with audience reactions audible, brings it to life. The humor is funny, the sarcasm is witty, the pathos is touching, and the characters are a great deal of fun.
Unlike some of Shaw's more profound works, the roles for women in this are painfully limited: there's the shrewish, selfish, short-sided, Puritan older woman, the child-like, devoted young woman with too few lines, and the sentimental woman in her prime who says a great deal to little effect and shows no insight into anyone, from magnetically attractive strangers to her own husband. I think the highest testimonial I can provide to both the play and this performance that I noticed all that and yet enjoyed it to the hilt nonetheless.
It won't change your world, but it may beguile a couple hours of it.
Like all prolific writers, however brilliant, Terry Pratchett has his ups and downs. Some books are better than others. This is one of them. Set in Ankh Morpork, where the story can brush up against long-standing favorites like Vimes, the Patrician, and the wizards, Going Postal introduces a new cast of characters, and with them, a new energy. Part of Pratchett's genius is that he can be funny, even farcical, without being mean, and that comes through strongly in this story, with his trademark mix of whimsy, cheap shots, social commentary, and a truly engaging and hilarious plot and cast. No one else can write like Pratchett, and no one else should try.
And, as always, Stephen Briggs reads Pratchett's work exactly the way it wants to be read, with energy and understanding and a straight face. There are other performers who can read Pratchett's writing well - Nigel Planer generally does a good job - but no one seems to get inside the story the way Briggs can.
It's impossible to judge which books will be a particular reader/listener's favorites, and which will simply be enjoyable, but Going Postal is strong, witty, and highly entertaining.
Fahrenheit 451 is a classic of speculative fiction for a reason. Ray Bradubury's prose is lush and exquisite; his talent as a writer makes it possible for him to get away with descriptions which, from anyone else, would be ludicrous hyperbole. It's not always clear how he pulls off this intensity without becoming ridiculous, but he does, and the result is beautiful.
Bradbury's story keeps you moving, and this is important. Stop too long, and the inherent misogyny starts to rise to the surface of the attention, the flaws in the story's construction begin to interfere with one's enjoyment. So don't stop, just keep listening, and value it for what it is - a gorgeous, shimmering, evocative slice of early SF, with the blend of speculation and social commentary that implies.
Christopher Hurt's reading matches the text unexpectedly well. His accent strikes the ear of the typical US listener, accustomed to the media's construction of mid-Atlantic "neutral" tones, as unexpected, perhaps distracting, but only for the first few minutes. After that, it flows with the story to form a well-shaped whole. I have the feeling that if I were to try to read this aloud to someone now, Clarisse would have the faintest ghost of a southern accent, because now, in my mind, she does. That's success, for a performer.
My only complaint with this performance is that it includes an 'Afterward' written by Bradbury long after the original publication. There's nothing wrong with that - I love to have more information about the things I enjoy. I watch 'The Making Of--" specials, too. But in this case, I found the things Bradbury writes about his own work so painfully frustrating, disillusioning, offensive, or just plain wrong that after it was over, I wished overwhelmingly that I had stopped listening when the story ended, and never needed to find out Bradbury's own opinions of it. I was happier with my own.
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