Timothy Egan's The Big Burn is the best sort of nonfiction book: a detailed and thoroughly researched examination of an interesting moment in history, made exciting and lively by the way the author structures the narrative. The Big Burn reads like one of those great disaster movies of the 70s, introducing a range of characters, great and humble, connecting them to an ominous disaster, and then following each of their stories to the thrilling conclusion.
Unlike disaster movies of the 70s, though, The Big Burn will provoke thought and discussion about what has changed and what hasn't changed--politically, environmentally, and socially--in America in the hundred years since the events took place.
Robertson Dean's deep, rich voice has a weight and substance suited to the text, and he even lends a touch of acting and dialect in extensive citations from the writings of historical figures.
I generally listen to fiction from Audible, and the Big Burn was as entertaining and engaging as any novel, with a great deal more substance and food for conversation.
By Mike Carey, yes--and I have, in written form.
No good ever comes of having an American actor fake British accents. Ever. I've enjoyed Kramer's readings in the Wheel of Time series, so I know he's talented. This was a very, very bad case of the wrong person for the job. The book's narrator is supposed to be from Liverpool, the story is peopled with all sorts of characters who should have nuanced UK accents, and yet they all sound like--well, like Americans faking what they think English people sound like. Cringeworthy, frankly.
Clever, original, dark and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, this is a fantastic start of an urban fantasy series with an overarching story that the author never loses sight of. I deleted the truly unlistenable audiobook and paid for the Kindle edition instead, and am happily reading the whole series. Sad that the audio version was so wrongly cast.
If I were a professional audiobook voice talent, and commissioned to read a mainstream science-for-the-layperson title like this one, I think I might take a look at the text, notice that there are some foreign terms and ten-dollar English ones in it, and find out how to pronounce them. The narrator for this book didn't do that. Consequently, his pronunciations of French and Latin names and phrases becomes absolutely hilarious at times--enough to have taken me right out of the book.
I'm not talking about esoteric terms here; just that it's not King Lewis XVI, and not Chateau-nee-uf du Poppay, and not inexORable, and not "in vino vu-REE-tas" and...and... There's one such gaffe every few minutes.
Sadly, this makes a fairly thought-provoking text sound kind of...well, silly.
Paul Meier riffs on Received Pronunciation or Standard British English, up and down the scales from Cockney to the King, and demonstrates nuances of class, profession, and fictional style. There are some good tips here about using different variations for historical and fantasy characters.
It's a fun listen, well worth the low price, and I think frequent re-listening might instill a bit of the rhythm and character of the dialect in an American speaker. But there are no exercises here, nothing to actually guide an actor or storyteller in developing this dialect. Don't mistake this for language training or coaching. It's not. That, you have to pay a lot more for.
If I'd read user reviews prior to buying this audiobook, I wouldn't have bought it, and would have missed some very thought-provoking ideas, particularly in Korten's take on American history. He casts the whole founding of the United States in the light of his central thesis, that empire is inimical to humanity. He lays out some very good arguments against starry-eyed patriotism about Liberty and Justice For All when considering the foundations of the nation. Fascinating and perspective-altering.
I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't warn other audiobook listeners (of any political persuasion) that this is a very poorly narrated piece with mediocre production value at best. The reader, I'm sorry to say, sounds like a 2nd-grade teacher didactically o-ver-pro-nouncing every word--and with a slight lisp, no less, and as a result, this book was very difficult for me to listen to.
I'm fairly new to audiobooks, and every purchase still feels like a bit of a gamble. I prefer to listen to books I haven't already read in print, and finding a good book that's also a good audibook seems to be a matter of chance. Anansi Boys was a gamble that paid off handsomely.
The novel itself is as clever and original as I expected from Neil Gaiman. It's peopled by amazingly colorful, likable characters who give rise to a wonderful plot. I'm sure I'd have enjoyed the story very much in the written form.
But the narration! Wow! The reader has a beautiful voice and a nuanced set of accents and speech styles that make the listening a continuous pleasure. Some of the story's witticisms are laugh-out-loud funny, largely, I suspect, because of the reader's own droll delivery.
If you like fantasy-oriented fiction and prefer your audiobooks beautifully narrated with simple production values, add Anansi Boys to your list.
Yes, it's very long. No, it won't work for those with short attention spans. But Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of the most compelling and beautifully-written novels I've ever encountered. The slow pace and wealth of detail were a delight to me--I LOVE being able to spend a long time in a novel, especially one that takes place in such a highly original universe.
Simon Prebble's ability to bring each character to life with subtly different accents and tones is nothing short of astonishing. I'm new to audiobooks, and I have a feeling that I'm spoiled now by the particular excellence of this one.
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