Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Audiobook Round-Up: Getting My History Groove Thang On

One thing I've been trying to get better about is audiobooks: listening to them, keeping track of what I "read," and rating them.  I seem to have this mental block against romance audiobooks (I just can't deal with someone reading me a sex scene out loud), so it's also a good way for me to keep up with books published outside my usual genre of choice.

Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye is the second book in her historical mystery series featuring New York City police officer Timothy Wilde.  I listened to the first book last year and enjoyed it enough to include it in my Best of 2014 round-up.  But this book?  This book was ahhhh-mazing.  The premise is essentially 12 Years a Slave-ish.  Free blacks in the city are being accused of being runaway slaves, are kidnapped, and then shipped back south.  Timothy gets roped in when a beautiful (and married) free black woman, Lucy Adams, comes home from her job at a flower shop to discover her young son and her sister have been taken.  Complicating issues?  Timothy's brother, Valentine, and his various Democratic party, Tammany Hall political connections, and Lucy's very white husband.

This is one of those series that I think I would enjoy in print, but dude - the audio productions?  Words cannot express how amazing the first two audiobooks have been for me.  Steven Boyer narrates and he's Jim Dale/Harry Potter good.  Seriously.  That good.  So that's probably colored my enjoyment of the series somewhat.  The story by itself?  Is very good.  I did have one quibble - in that Timothy was sometimes unnecessarily dense (for what I felt) as a way for the author to educate the reader on the lack of civil rights among the free black population in the 1840s.  But, quibble.  Brother Valentine continues to be a reprobate with one foot hovering over his own grave (drugs, booze, women.....and men), but Lord help me - I loved him.  I loved the twisted brotherly relationship, Timothy's relationship with his landlady, the reappearance of many players from the first book (so yeah, book two doesn't stand alone entirely well), and all the political shenanigans. 

These are dark, dark books, so probably not for everybody.  But the historical detail, the immersion in the world that the author has created, the dynamite audio narration?  The third (and final?) book can't get here quick enough.

PS: Dear Hollywood, someone buy the rights to this series.  It would make a killer TV series, like on HBO or something.  Surely Martin Scorsese isn't too busy?

Grade = A

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a book that her publisher was promoting fairly heavy to librarians at last year's ALA conference.  I took an ARC, and of course, neglected it - but decided it was the kind of thing I'd like to try on audio.  This was totally a second half book for me, and I'm glad I stuck with it.

Opening in 1939, it tells the story of two sisters - steady, quiet Vianne and impulsive, rash Isabelle.  The girls have baggage (a dead mother, a neglectful father haunted by WWI) and their relationship is strained.  Then the Nazis show up, occupy the majority of France, and everything changes.  Vianne's husband goes to the front, and she is left to care for her daughter, Sophie, by herself - all while having to billet a Nazi officer in her home.  Isabelle, ever rash and impulsive, throws her lot in with the French Resistance.

It took me a while to warm up to these characters.  Isabelle comes off as a little girl playing dress up for a long time (Look at me! I'm serious! I want to be remembered! LOVE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) while Vianne is trusting to a fault (to be fair to her, I had the benefit of hindsight).  Sometimes the language got a bit flowery (and repetitive) for me, and there's a huge, whopping amount of Insta-Love going on between Isabelle and a fellow Resistance fighter, Gaetan. I just had to get to the turning point - which is Isabelle growing up, Vianne quietly fighting her own war, and the ending.  I was a crying, sobbing mess while driving my car down the freeway during the last couple of CDs.

It's a war book, so basically it's one huge trigger warning.  But it's women's fiction written in a way that I find intriguing.  There's a line at the end of the book, spoken by one of the characters many years later that is essentially, "Men tell stories, women get on with it."  And that's what happens to Isabelle and Vianne.  They fought the war in ways that only women could fight it, and changed the course of history - their own, and the world's.  If you're part of a book club?  This is one to consider.

Oh, and the film rights have already been optioned.

Final Grade = B+


Lori said...

I wish that I could get the knack of listening to fiction on audio, but for whatever reason it just doesn't work for me. I can't get immersed enough in the story and I tend to lose the thread of the narrative. I can't even imagine listening to romance on audio. Because of that I pretty much gave up on audio books years ago, but recently I have been getting back into listening to nonfiction, which works fine for me. That allows me to "read" in the car or while doing chores around the house, which I really like.

azteclady said...

Oh, how you tempt me, you book pimp extraordinaire you!

Kristie (J) said...

I'd like to start listening to more audio books. It's a world I haven't really entered into very far. A couple of years ago I won the I-Team series by Pamela Clare and though it took a while before I started listening, once I did, I really enjoy listening to them when I'm driving.
And I loved Kristin Hannah back in the day when she wrote pure romance but I didn't follow her when she made the switch to women's fiction. But big kudos to her for her book possibly being made into a movie.

Anna Richland said...

Can I push some of my favorite audio books, mostly kid things that are so good I think everyone should listen?

And if you're burned out on romance (and I keep reading that here and other blogs) then maybe a non-romance audiobook is just the refresher ...

I really enjoyed (and I know they're kid books, but my kids were too scared so I listened alone) The Young James Bond audiobooks. The author is Charlie Higson, and the first one Silver Fin especially was creepy and wonderful. Nice lightly British-sounding narrator made it feel like I was there in 1933 London. James always gets knocked on his rear by a girl, and I think they're good car listening - lovely, especially with the new movie out.

I have the problem listening to thrillers that I read too fast, so listening goes too slowly - and thus an audiobook that is maybe more 'British' in flavor and pacing works better for me, b/c I get less frustrated by waiting for the narrator. I realized as I made this list it was almost all British (which is why I added this paragraph).

I also highly recommend the audio version -- ABRIDGED -- of Seamus Heaney's Beowulf translation, narrated by Heaney himself. The man was a wonderful storyteller, and the audiobook is like sitting around a fire and listening to a bard tell the epic. And the abridged one leaves out all the boring bits. It's more an evening at home doing something in the dark of night, though - not sure that traffic would mix with Heaney's voice. He's more old man voice, but like a bard or poet, not an orator, so I think maybe the essence wouldn't do so well in a car. Unless you have a really nice silent car.

Of course HP is wonderful even for adults - won Grammys for a reason - you don't need a kid to listen to it anymore than you did to read it. You just need like 100 hour cross-country trip. And the Kenneth Brannagh version of The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis is also wonderful. (Best of the audio Narnias, IMO).

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd - the story is written from the POV of a boy with neurological differences - perhaps autism, perhaps Aspergers, I don't think it's ever fully laid out. But it's very, very good and also reminded me that there's a lot going on inside people that I can't guess at. The audio takes a little getting used to b/c the narrator reads it with a pretty flat affect, but it's very moving.


Wendy said...

Lori: I got through phases with non-fiction, and almost prefer to listen to it on audio these days. I'm a slow reader anyway, but I slow down to a crawl with NF. Plus I find that my attention doesn't wander quite as much with NF when I'm listening instead of reading.

Wendy said...

AL: Audiobooks have almost become a must for me. I'm not sure I'd survive my commute otherwise :)

Wendy said...

Kristie: I know a lot of folks who buy audio - but I just....can't do that. I will relisten to books, but they have to be favorite series (like Harry Potter or Sue Grafton's Alphabet mysteries). Prices have come down - but audio is still pretty rich for my frugal Midwestern blood! I would say 95% of what I check out on my library card are audiobooks, with the occasional DVD or print book tossed into the mix.

Wendy said...

Anna: Thanks for the suggestions! When I get back to the office I need to request something. I'm currently between audiobooks and I can only take so much morning radio! Blah.