Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hi there. If you are like me, who loves reading along with an audio version, then there is a good chance that you are also keeping a good watch on some favorite narrators. If not, hopefully, this post will change your views on audiobooks. I have a list, which I narrowed down to seven, because (truthfully) I think it’s ridiculous to write more than 5,000 words in a single blog post.

(7) Kirby Heyborne is the reason I got through Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After, Chapter 6 of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, satisfied. It was really a difficult chapter given how it was written in a corrupted form of English. So, when I started rereading sentences three times before grasping, I decided to switch to the audio version of the book. Heyborne did such a good job I was able to finish all 528 pages of the book without any back reading and loved it.

Kirby Heyborne is an actor, musician, singer-songwriter, and comedian. He is also known for narrating Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs,  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

(6) Susan Duerden was someone I had to hunt for. Allow me to elaborate.

A good friend of mine and co-TFG member (also an author), Tina Matanguihan, recommended the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. Most people believe that it’s a hard series to dive into because aside from the fact that it is under alternative history fiction, it literally involves diving inside books. Well, they aren’t wrong, there is plenty to take in –Jurisfiction, grammasites, Chronoguards, etc. There are various audio versions; hence, I hunted through Audible for someone I can relax with. It was Susan Duerden who made everything easy for me and turned this series into one of my favorites.

Susan Duerden likewise narrated the Maggie Hope Mysteries by Susan Elia Macneal, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and co-narrated the 2012 Audible edition of Dracula with other narrators, including Alan Cumming.

(5) Wil Wheaton is best known for his role as Wesley Crusher for Star Trek: The Next Generation. But I think I like him better playing as himself in The Big Bang Theory. And I like him best in narrating Ready Player One and Armada. I am not a gamer and the jargon Ernest Cline employed took some time to get used to. Wheaton made these books alive and exciting for me. I saw what he saw and believed it.

Wil Wheaton also narrated books by John Scalzi, David Kushner, and Cory Doctorow among others.

(4) Neil Gaiman reading his own books is always a treat. He is obviously one of my favorite authors. The first time I heard him read Instructions and The Day The Saucers Came I knew I want more of that as much as I want to collect all of his books.

I recently read Gaiman’s Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. My favorite was Black Dog because he really channeled Shadow Moon superbly.

(3) Stephen Fry is my preferred reader of the Harry Potter books; which sounded pretty biased, and I am. I love how more lifelike and mysterious Fry’s narrations are. Not only does he inhabit the main characters vividly well, but so with the secondary characters. And I think I hated Voldemort all the more because of him.

I know I’m going to get a lot of hot daggers from American readers out there for saying all these, (erhm) which is definitely reasonable.

Stephen Fry is also a brilliant actor and writer. He likewise read Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, released in 2017.

(2) Juliet Stevenson, for me, is the goddess of all audiobook narration. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is not exactly my cup of tea, but I read somewhere that the reader should savor the language to enjoy it. And so I had my friend Angus Miranda lend me an audiobook copy. I fell in love with Stevenson instantly. She was articulate and mesmerizing. Her soft compassionate voice lifted Woolf’s writing on a different level and saw it for what it truly is – an exemplary work of art.

Juliet Stevenson, CBE is an award-winning actor, both on stage and screen. She was best known for her leading role in Truly, Madly, Deeply. Aside from Virginia Woolf’s books, she read other classics written by George Elliot, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, etc.

(1) Lenny Henry is Anansi. For me, there is no other. His narration of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is right up there, and nothing is topping it thus far. He is one of the most distinct narrating voices in the field and he gave Anansi the perfect Caribbean voice and shadowy character required for the part. Henry’s was an unquestionably first-rate performance, one that made a great book even better.

Lenny Henry also narrated White Teeth by Zadie Smith and My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal.

Try reading along with an audiobook, or, listen while waiting for your bus, or, on your long drive home. For some it can be an acquired taste, for others, it’s an instant addiction. Make your own list of favorite narrators too, let me know.


Friday, October 4, 2019

Faerie, a vast land beyond the small village of Wall, where all manner of beings and creatures exist. Tristan Thorn, an enthusiastic young man, set out on a journey through this enchanted land to find the fallen star that will bring him his heart’s desire. Little did he know that his fated journey was exactly just that and perhaps more.

Gaiman did a fantastic job in creating a very charming adult fairy tale. A delicious plot that will draw you into a mystic fairyland and expand your imagination - of witches, and far-off kingdoms, and magic. His words are pure and simple, and yet they are timeless and unbounded. He made his characters significant in a way that you can vividly picture them in your head. I was amazed by how he mingled the sub-plots and fused them all together in the end. The story is a good illustration how the hands of Fate works. A wonderful story!

I just wish he did tell what happened to the little hairy man.

Book detail:
Title:  Stardust
Author:  Neil Gaiman
Published: HarperCollins, December 23, 2008
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★

STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

Monday, September 2, 2019

Micropots, are you one of them?
September 10, 2019,
Blackstone Publishing
Master storyteller Orson Scott Card delivers a touching and funny, compelling and smart novel about growing up, harnessing your potential, and finding your place in the world, no matter how old you are. - Goodreads

Orson Scott Card is a staple name in the Science Fiction and Fantasy arena. He is a diverse writer who captured both the adult and younger audience.

I’m not here to review OSC as a writer. I’m stating all this because he is more than justified in writing LOST AND FOUND. I understand that it’s not an Ender’s book –no space battles, no aliens. And I totally get why he low-keyed the characters as micropots (people with micropowers). He literally dragged us away from admiring superheroes into looking deeper at the most probable, odds-on, overlooked human gifts.

Ezekiel had been ostracized as a thief since grade school because of his gift to recognize lost things and the compulsion to return them to the owners without a credible reason. And he has a standing mistrust of the Police Force after his many heated brushes with them. But his trudge on anti-social life was halted when Beth decided to walk with him to and from school every day and when a desperate (but broad-minded) detective asked his help to find a missing girl.
“It means that I trust you and you can trust me. It means that if something goes wrong for you I help as much as I can. It means that if you’re not where you’re expected, I look for you. It means that if good stuff happens I’m happy for you. It means that no matter what you say to me I still care about you. It means that when nobody else will tell you shit that you have to know, even if you’ll hate hearing it, I’m the one to say it."
I love the snarky dialogues Card employed. It helps in many ways to soften the hard subjects of the story (kidnapping, white slavery, death, etc.) And the pacing of the story was apposite, it enables to both pad out the characters and ties concepts together. The whole book is replete of wisdom in understanding family, people, and what works from what doesn’t. It simply says that everybody may look ordinary or nonspecial until they are not. The last 15% of the book sort of slowed down for me (maybe there’s a sequel in the works) and there are some descriptive terms I may not agree with, but overall this book is legitimately remarkable.

Book details:
Title: Lost and Found
Publication: September 10, 2019, by Blackstone Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★

*Thank you, Blackstone and Edelweiss for the DRC in exchange for this unbiased review.

Book Review | LOST AND FOUND by Orson Scott Card

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

January 15, 2019
Random House
Apocalyptic novels are not among my picks for casual reading, because they usually employ chaos and human degradation. They simply hollow me out for days after reading. Death with Interruptions by José Saramago is one among the few that I really like because of its atypicality.

THE DREAMERS may be one of those atypicals too. In the small town of Santa Lora California, a sleeping virus had spread. There were no symptoms. Patients simply went to sleep and cannot be awakened.
“...how much quieter that ending would be, a whole world drowned in sleep, than all the other ways we have to fail.”
The first victim was a student from a local college. Karen staggered into her dorm room, after a decent night of partying and drinking, fell asleep, and cannot be woken the following day. Initially, Karen’s dorm floor was quarantined. Over the following weeks, though, the sleeping virus spread and a cordon sanitaire were pitched around the small town. No one can get in or out. Military Humvees patrol the streets, while helicopters scan from the air. The whole town went into a meek, mutual panic. Each day, more people are sporting facemasks and latex gloves. But the doctors were baffled by the cause and how exactly the virus is spreading. Only one thing was determined, these sleepers have intense brain activity. They are all dreaming deeply.
“This is how the sickness travels best: through the same channels as do fondness and friendship and love.”
Walker’s narrative is both spellbinding and evocative. She paraded this host of people in different states and examined each one from within. There is no hysteria or visible menace, instead, we are asked to quietly recognize humanity amidst loss and fear of the unknown and to be in awe of how a spark of life can strive despite the odds.

If you are into audiobooks, Cassandra Campbell recorded a very convincing narrative.

Book details:
Title: The Dreamers
Publication: January 15, 2019, by Random House
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ★★★★

* I won this book from Goodreads Giveaway.

Book Review | THE DREAMERS by Karen Thompson Walker

Monday, June 10, 2019

Piscine Molitor Patel was a 16 years old castaway from India who survived the Pacific in 227 days with an adult Bengal Tiger for a boat mate. -That is the easiest synopsis I can come up with. What transpired between the pages cannot be simply put into words, nor can the mind readily assimilate.

The LIFE OF PI is a book you have to really spend time to read. It may take some time for the reader to get through at first, but as they say “patience is a virtue”; and its interpretation alone is rewarding.

While reading, I was rooting for Pi for being brave and resourceful. And yet, angry at him for his lack of basic sailing knowledge. But deep down inside, I was anxious for Pi’s psychological battle- his fight for HOPE.

I was deeply moved by the ordeal Pi went through. Moreover, with his willpower to move on. I learned a lot from reading his story and did some reflection as well. Like the overwhelming vastness of the ocean, life is just as huge, and its struggles come in waves. Paddling can wear us down. The heat can leave us thirsty, hungry, and delusional. We entertain dreams and fiction rather than face reality. Yet with Hope, we may get us to our projection. It can be our sail, our paddle, and our anchor. We just have to believe.
If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?

Book Details:
Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Publication: August 29, 2006, by Seal Books
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ★★★★

LIFE OF PI by Yann Martell

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Princeton. Good Friday, 1999. On the eve of graduation, two friends are a hairsbreadth from solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a Renaissance text that has baffled scholars for centuries. Famous for its hypnotic power over those who study it, the five-hundred-year-old Hypnerotomachia may finally reveal its secrets—to Tom Sullivan, whose father was obsessed with the book, and Paul Harris, whose future depends on it.

As the deadline looms, research has stalled—until a vital clue is unearthed: a long-lost diary that may prove to be the key to deciphering the ancient text. But when a longtime student of the book is murdered just hours later, a chilling cycle of deaths and revelations begins—one that will force Tom and Paul into a fiery drama, spun from a book whose power and meaning have long been misunderstood.

Four Princeton boys on their Senior year are struggling with their thesis, love life, and their future. But THE RULE OF FOUR is not exactly about them. It’s about Hypnerotomachia Poliphili -Poliphili’s Struggle for Love in a Dream- a book that is more than a book. Although it was published around 1499, it was only a decade after that the true author of the book was accidentally discovered by a Renaissance scholar. “Brother Francesco Colonna loved Polia tremendously” was revealed by stringing together the first letter of each chapter. Thus, naming the true author, Polian Frater Franciscus Columna Peramavit, a Roman scion. Yet, naming the author is barely scraping the surface, there are riddles to solve to unlock the secrets hidden in the book. Is the “Rule of Four” the key?

I don’t know which struck me more, Dr. Sullivan’s “The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong”; or Agostino Carracci’s “Love conquers all”. Both describe the story of how the main characters struggle to fight off strong influences and their deep love for uncovering the secrets of the book. This one was a (very) slow read for me, like the Hypnerotomachia itself is slower than a tortoise crawl. Those who don’t have the patience might already drop the book on the first chapter, which is a mistake. You’ll learn from it, more than you’ll learn from the Da Vinci Code.

A book more than a book…

I have to say I like it more than I expected.

Book Details:
Author: Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
Publication: The Dial Press; May 11, 2004
Genre: Mystery
Rating: ★★★

THE RULE OF FOUR by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Monday, May 6, 2019

Have you died? No, of course not. Not yet anyways.  Jude Allman did. Three times, in fact, since he was eight years old. This is not about a few minutes of crossing over and getting revived at the last second. No, this is the declared, in-the-morgue, ready-for-autopsy, kind of dead. I mean, this is the hallelujah, miracle kind of waking up from the dead.

“There must be a very good reason why you're still here, because there are thousand reasons why you shouldn't be.”

Unfortunately, Jude has the "Jonah Syndrome". He wants to run from God and his calling. He's a simple chap, who wants a simple life with no complication from the Higher Being's manipulations. No, it wasn't a whale that swallowed him whole, it was a life of self-ostracism. Not acknowledging God's purpose is one thing -waking up from death three times but not living life to the fullest- while ignoring your gift is another.

This book is T.L. Hines' debut. The first line of this book hooked me instantly. Pushed all the right buttons for me. I love the twists and turns. The blend of spirituality and thriller is brilliant. See how Jude Allman embraced God, and his gift; while getting the most of the nerve-racking suspense in this novel.

Book details:
Title:  Waking Lazarus
Author:  T.L. Hines
Publication:  May 1, 2007; Bethany House
Genre:  Christian Fiction, Mystery
Rating:  ★★★★


Monday, April 22, 2019

Something awful comes scratching in the middle of the night.
August 1, 2019 
Sourcebooks Fire
Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. Moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye's window in the middle of the night, claiming she's the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home. - Goodreads

I should like this - it is of the horror genre- but I can’t for good reasons.

I was instantly hooked by the book cover; it’s an absolute eye-catcher. The writing started off really good. The choices of words are pleasantly invoking and creepy enough. But then, the plot started going sideways in the middle. There are more than enough “sort of” scenarios that are difficult to picture. I cannot take hold of what exactly is going on and where it’s actually moving. I never abandon a book, so, I plowed on and read it to the end.

I have to admit, there is plenty of substance here. The book’s premise is absolutely interesting; the setting could be perfect, and the character foundations are there. In other words, the backbone for a good horror book is present, but not fully developed.

Book details:
Title: Here There Are Monsters
Author: Amelinda Bérubé
Publication: August 1, 2019, by Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: YA, Horror
Rating:  ★★

*Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for the DRC in exchange for this honest review.

Book Review | HERE THERE ARE MONSTERS by Amelinda Bérubé

Monday, April 15, 2019

   A perfect 'Royal Intrigue'.
14 May 2019;
St. Martin's Griffin

What happens when America's First Son 
falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure Millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There's only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper and more dangerous than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn't always diplomatic.

I can easily see why many are raving about this book. It's a modern fairy tale - cute, sexy, and posh. Two of the world's most sought-after eligible bachelors are secretly in love with each other. And by heavens, if only they are real and everything they stand for, life is so much better. A dream novel where everything is made possible and good. But it isn't for me. It's just too surreal (even for fiction). It tried to be deep in some places, but it didn't work, especially when it dragged in the middle.

Book details:
Title:  Red, White & Royal Blue
Author:  Casey McQuiston
Publication: 14 May 2019: St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance
Rating: ★★

*Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin Griffin for the DRC in exchange for this unbiased review.

Book Review | RED, WHITE, & ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston

Monday, April 8, 2019

May 7, 2019
From the critically acclaimed author of The Kiss Quotient comes a romantic novel about love that crosses international borders and all boundaries of the heart...

Reading THE BRIDE TEST made me realize that I have not had a romance novel for quite some time now. It was absolutely refreshing and exciting. I now understand why readers are raving about Helen Hoang.

Imagine yourself as a provincial bred girl who spent your life crammed in a single-spaced dwelling, trying to make ends meet by scrubbing toilets; then, you are literally commissioned to play the vixen and seduce a well-educated and rich hunk of a man from across the globe. 

Here begins Esme's adventure to hook and secure her future.

Kai is in the spectrum and has difficulty forming any passionate relationship. Esme, on the other hand, is patient and charming. I like how Kai and Esme bounce off each other a lot but manages to compromise every time. There's just a right amount of smuttiness to keep the taste buds sated, and was definitely needed for the progression of the story. This book has that ability to keep me in an electrified bubbly state while reading. (I'm not sure if that makes any sense to you, but it does to me.) Spoiler alert: My favorite is the haircut scene. It's the most personal and revealing for me.

Romance enthusiasts will take pleasure in this. Preorder your copy soon.

Book details:
Title: The Bride Test
Author:  Helen Hoang
Publication:  May 7, 2019, Berkley
Genre: Romance, Fiction
Rating:  ★★★

*Thank you, Berkley and Edelweiss for the DRC in exchange for this unbiased review.

Book Review | THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang