Hooray! Audible is offering the first book about life in the small English village of Fairacre.
Miss Read's Fairacre and Thrush Green books are delightful. Reading them is fun, but listening to Gwen Watford's beautifully-nuanced readings is even better.
For a while it was hard to get hold of even the hard-copy books in the United States; now many are back in print, and even more are available as eBooks. But they're best as audiobooks!
These are peaceful, relaxing books. Don't expect a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride. The stories involve problems and tensions, but action is small-scale, in situations that are plausible, amusing, and touching.
The characters vividly drawn. Even those that are not downright eccentric are satisfyingly quirky--and they seem like entertaining versions of people we know. And the sense of community may be the best part of these books. People have patience with each other. They recognize each other's foibles, but don't feel compelled to try to fix their friends.
Listening to these books (and Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre is one of the best) means seeing the world from a very different point of view. We feel akin to Miss Read's characters, but their attitudes, assumptions, and pace of life are half-a-world and at least half-a-century away from ours.
That's part of the fascination. The books actually become more fun each year, as their world becomes more distant and quaint. I hope that eventually (and the sooner the better) Audible offers the Gwen Watson recordings of all Miss Read's books.
Wilma's grown sisters would treat pond scum better than they treat Wilma. But then, they're professional Wicked Queens. Their mother is too busy being Queen of the Night to bother about fairness. Their father, a mere mortal, means well, but can't keep up, so he focuses on gardening (not that there's enough sunlight for vegetables in the Queen of the Night's domain). And, after a more-than-usually-distressing crisis, Grandmother shut herself into the belfry, where she fires blasts of magic at anyone who disturbs her.
Since Wilma has no one to defend her, she resolves to defend herself, and to take revenge on her sisters while she's at it. (Anyone who has ever been the picked-on youngest will sympathize.) Interfering with her powerful sisters' plans requires all Wilma's cleverness, all her magic (she's passed Level 3), plus all the help she can get. Her father's new garden assistant is willing to help her, although he and Wilma have extremely different ideas of what's acceptable behavior. In the process, they rescue a dog, and uncover (and solve) a mystery.
This is an entertaining, light-hearted story, and Claire Higgins reads it very, very well.
This is a remarkable book, with vivid, complex characters, well-built worlds, and alien species that are clear and memorable. These species are thoroughly alien, and yet, when we consider them through Pyanfar Chanur's eyes, they make their own kind of sense.
Pyanfar Chanur is a shrewed space merchant captain. She's swashbuckling enough to thrive in the sometimes-deadly bluff and counter-bluff of trade and politics between six very distinct spacefaring species. Still, despite swagger and sharp dealings she's an honest, decent captain with a fine, honest crew of kinswomen. In fact it's that very decency, shown in the companionable laughter of crewwomen unloading cargo at dockside on a space station deep in alien territory, that makes a desperate human fugitive choose Pyanfar's ship to try to stow away on. It's also that same decency that makes Pyanfar refuse to return the human (a member of a never-before-seen seventh intelligent species) to the predatory Kif who had attacked his ship and tortured his crewmates to death.
There are some things a decent Hani captain just can't do. Only, by the end of the book, and again by the end of the series, Pyanfar changes her mind about what some of those things are.
While the human, Tully, proves his worth and earns a place in Pyanfar's small crew, the crisis with other species escalates. The deadly Kif want Tully badly enough to go to war to get him. The devious, physically-fragile, timid but ruthless Stsho want their own safety and profit at any cost to other species, and they will placate the Kif if that seems safest. The primate-like Mahendo'sat certainly want something very badly, but it's hard even for a shrewd Hani captain to detect what exactly they're after. A Mahendo'sat captain called Goldtooth seems to be turning into an ally against the Kif (and Pyanfar and her crew desperately need allies), but Goldtooth represents a Mahendo'sat Personage with unknown motives. Can even captains of sincere good will twist their orders far enough to stand by their friends when the best interests of their species come into conflict?
And then there are the methane-breathers, who make no sense to anybody who breathes oxygen, and who are wild cards that can change the whole situation.
Every time I read or listen to this book (and I've listened to it several times already, after having read it many times in hard copy), I'm struck by the book's sheer craftsmanship. It's exciting, and dramatic, but it doesn't slip across the line into melodrama. It's fascinating, and it deals with profound, complex issues, but it isn't pompous, pedantic, or analytical. It's tense and suspenseful, but it's also amusing, often in a wryly self-recognizing "Oh, isn't THAT the truth" kind of way. The story is character driven, but with a rip-snorting plot that could easily steal the show if the characters were weaker and less engaging.
By the way, this book is a stand-alone story, complete in itself. It's not a cliff-hanger. The next three books (Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, and Chanur's Homecoming) together tell a second story about Pyanfar and her crew.The fifth book in the series, Chanur's Legacy, tells a third story all in one volume.
The five books together are a tour de force, but this first book, Pride of Chanur (punning on "pride," the emotion, and pride as in a pride of lions--the Hani are very lion-like) is one of the all-time great enjoyable works of science fiction.
In 1982, when this book was published, I loved it without reservations. It broke new ground mixing magic and alternate history, it had a capable, self-aware heroine, and it built an exotically evocative, engaging, and appealing world.
Thirty-one years later, listening to Diane Warren's excellent performance, I realized that all those things are still true--but there's more to it. Time has brought some disturbing threads and nuances to the surface of the story, as a whole body of other works grew up following in this one's footsteps, and as capable, self-aware heroines became normal instead of oddities. Noticing those disturbing threads adds richness and complexity that, if anything, reinforces simple enjoyment of the story.
To write this book with this heroine and this plot, McKinley had to fight her way out of confining cultural expectations and stereotypes. She succeeded amazingly well--but the lingering strands of those expectations and stereotypes still show. They certainly don't undermine the book's quality or the importance of what McKinley accomplished, but they do add a kind of fey light that casts odd shadows (rather like the heroine's dual vision in the story itself). The book, caught at the hinge of a literary turning point, is, honestly, rather odd.
In some ways, this is a book about possession. The main characters perform brave, unexpected, history-changing deeds--but usually when they perform them, their will and choice is compromised by being under the influence-compulsion-control of another force. In some ways, it's a book about abduction. The main character is kidnapped, and although McKinley carefully foreshadows and justifies the character's change of allegiance, there are still queasy echoes of the Stockholm syndrome in the shift of her loyalty and affection.
Ultimately, it's a tribute to McKinley's accomplishment that even today the book succeeds on its own terms despite the overtones that were invisible (though powerful) more than thirty years ago. One believes in the romance. One cheers the shift in allegiance. The possession is more enviable than creepy.
This isn't a simple book, but it's certainly an interesting, enjoyable, and worthwhile book to listen to.
I'm giving these stories to my nephews and nieces, but I also got a copy for myself. These are funny, lively, and inspire a second--or even a third--thought. They're well-informed by older versions of the Arthurian stories, without being one bit stuffy.
Three cheers for Steve West's excellent performance, and at least a dozen cheers for Gerald Morris's great storytelling. His scholarship gives his stories life and backbone, but his exuberant imagination and his smart, perceptive characters make them sparkle.
Phyllida Nash's excellent performance lets the quirky, likeable characters sparkle in this wonderful, witty comedy.
After a few calm pages that let us find our balance, Kit learns that his mother and brother are teetering on the brink of crisis. After that, it's unexpected turns and convolutions all the way to the end.
The story would be amusing and thoroughly satisfying even if you've never heard of Regency England. But having more background lets you appreciate its breadth and depth of authenticity.
If this were a movie, it would get a whole bundle of Oscar nominations: screenplay, leading and supporting character performances, costumes, setting, cinematography, and direction. It all seems light and effortless, but wow, it's a delightful masterpiece.
These stories are hilarious. So is the introduction. As the author points out, if you think about this story, every line is worth a chuckle.
"What big eyes you have, Grandma."
Really? The kid notices size but not the fur, the claws, even the tail?
All the stories are clearly "Little Red Riding Hood," but every one is different. They range from just plain funny, to very surprising, to even kind creepy, to stand-up-and-cheer.
Can't say more without spoiling the twists and surprises--but I'm giving this to all my favorite family members who have a witty, wry, or snarky sense of humor.
Wonderful characters with believable friendships, tensions, and resolutions in a small old-fashioned village. This book makes me smile. Gwen Watford's performance is perfect.
I wish all the Miss Read books about Thrush Green and Fairacre were available on Audible--I'd buy them in a minute.
Daniel Thomas May's performance is outstanding. It's insightful and compelling, going beyond just making all the book's vivid characters distinct and memorable.
This book is at least as good as the first three. In fact, I thought Precursor had even more action and suspense than the first three volumes. It introduces people and places of great interest. And the plot takes surprising twists that sometimes made me cheer out loud.
One heads-up: by now there's a lot of background needed by new readers. Cherryh provides the backstory while moving the action ahead, so you might not even notice unless you're reading the books back-to-back. However, since I'm gulping them down one right after the other, I found backstory slowing the usually-brisk pace now and then. Once, when the story had me sitting on the edge of my chair, I wanted to shake Bren and holler, "Stop brooding and do something, already!" (He did.)
I admire how well Cherryh makes each book a complete, satisfying whole. These are NOT cliff-hangers. Each book resolves its story's issues. (Well, so far, at least. I can't swear about the rest of them.) Each book is a complete novel, but they all tie together, and it's worth reading them in the correct sequence.
Audible has released the first six of the 14 books in this series. (The hard-back of volume 14 is due to be released in April.) I hope Audible quickly adds the other eight!
Everybody's on the brink of war: humans against atevi, atevi against atevi, even humans against humans (small surprise). And trying to balance on that brink is Bren Cameron, a human/atevi language expert plunged into politics and violence.
He's struggling to understand alien motives, to find decent answers to explosive problems, to advise and explain without betrayal, and to hang onto his humanity while submersed in alien culture. Oh--and while Bren dodges lies and bullets, his mom is ill, his brother's marriage is on the rocks, and he himself is dangerously attracted to the younger of his alien bodyguards.
Daniel Thomas May does an outstanding job narrating this fresh, in-depth, and fascinating look at the dangers and rewards of alien contact.
C.J. Cherryh is a great writer, Legacy is one of Cherryh's best works, and Dina Pearlman reads it splendidly. Legacy works as a stand-alone book, even though it is a grand encore to the four-volume Pride of Chanur series. It would be a good introduction to Cherryh's universe.
Hilfy Chanur, captain of the Hani space merchant ship Legacy, does two things that send Hilfy and her crew on a port-to-port scramble in a tangle of five-species complications. She takes what ought to be a simple contract to deliver a ceremonial object, and she agrees to deliver a stranded Hani male to the ship that "accidently" left him.
The tensions and adventures that result are exciting, suspenseful, funny, inventive, and fascinating. Cherryh is a fabulous world-builder, and is the best, bar none, at creating characters, species, cultures, and situations that drive the action forward and bring the reader along cheering for more.
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