Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Grand Canyon #3

From the helicopter. For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ashes to Water - Irene Ziegler

Back in early May, I forced myself to look in the mirror and admit I had painted myself into a corner with reading commitments. Review copies, challenges, I have them coming out of my ears. I hate to fail at anything, so right then and there, I pledged that I would get caught up, and would not accept any review copies until I'd accomplished my task.

Then here comes Ms. Irene Ziegler, who sends me an e-mail "pitching a platypus". A what? Her latest book, she tells me, is a mysterary. A little of this a little of that, like a platypus. She tells me she grew up in Florida (in Deland actually, which is just north of Orlando), has Polish ancestry, and her books have very little in common with Nicholas Sparks. So obviously she did her homework, and has a hilarious sense of humor. This wasn't the half of should check out her blog! Not only does she have a resume that includes novels, voiceovers and acting, this lady is a piece of work! How could I say no? You're right, I couldn't. Irene did mention she was out of actual ARCs, but still I did a double-take when her package arrived, all 400 pages on copy paper! Ack! But it didn't even matter. It was all good.

The story centers on Annie Bartlett, a girl forever damaged by her mother's suicide when Annie was a little girl. So damaged, in fact, that even as an adult, she still "sees" her mother and has two-way conversations with her. Despite this little wrinkle in her mental health, she has moved away from home, met a wonderful man, and has established a successful photography career. But when she receives word that her estranged father has been murdered, she must return to her childhood home to face a few demons, maybe at the expense of her comfortable life.

The childhood home being Deleon Florida, which, for all intents and purposes, is Ziegler's Deland. It is your typical small town full of personalities, all of them in each other's business and carrying around grudges and hidden agendas. Annie soon discovers that her father's accused murderer, his girlfriend, may actually be innocent, but nobody seems to care, including the town judge and the accused's lawyer (Annie's high school sweetheart). Add to that little pot of trouble a series of suspicious fires, Annie's older drug-addicted sex-addicted sister, unresolved guilt over Annie's feud with her father, and a growing body count.

There is something very atmospheric about small towns in Florida. If you have spent any amount of time in them, you know what I mean. They are maddening, they are charming, you hate them when you are in them, but miss them when you are not. I find myself generally smitten with authors that effectively integrate this atmosphere into their stories (which Ziegler does). Does this mean it wouldn't have the same impact if you live in Wisconsin? I don't know...I always loved stories set in New Orleans, and I don't live there. But with novels that utilize this atmosphere properly, you feel like you've been there. Ticket to anywhere. It's cool.

Ziegler has constructed a platypus, for sure. The writing is respectable, with a touch of humor that you would expect from the author, knowing what you know. There are relationship issues going in ten different directions, the protagonist is likable, there is a mystery or two, and some skulduggery. The ultimate evil-doer was impossible to guess, although the big reveal felt a little hokey. The pages turn quickly, even if they are unbound (ha!). I might have liked it if an important character had been thrown under the bus (I like that kind of moxie), but the plots weren't completely buttoned up either, which is a bonus. Do I smell a series here?

I did discover that Ziegler wrote a prequel to Ashes to Water, called Rules of the Lake. (I hate it when this happens!) However, I never felt like I was missing out on anything by not having read it. There is ample background provided on Annie and her family, enough to allow us to appreciate the nuances of the interrelationships. But I guess I know what MY next purchase is going to be...

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 28, 2010

BBAW Registration Post

It's almost that time of year again! Book Blogger Appreciation Week will be celebrated September 13 -17. If you haven't participated in this event in the past, it is not be missed. There are blogger interviews, daily memes, and awards. In 2009, I was lucky enough to interview the amazing Nymeth from Things Mean Alot - I think my blog almost crashed from all the hits! You are introduced to so many wonderful book blogs, I think my blogroll doubled after last year! My only regret is that during BBAW in 2009, I was on vacation, and had to sneak in my time on the computer. I'm going to make sure I'm home this year!

This year, instead of bloggers nominating each other for various award categories, we nominate ourselves. I have to admit, I am extremely uncomfortable with this. I honestly don't view myself to be in the same league as some of the blogs I follow, but I also think it would be a shame not to participate. So what the hey. Please accept my humble offerings. Here are the categories I am entering:

Best Audiobook Blog

The Girl That Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson (ISBN #9780307269980)
Sandy's Audies

Best Eclectic Blog

YA: The Heart is Not a Size - Beth Kephart (ISBN #9780061470486)
Graphic Novel: Fun Home - Alison Bechdel (ISBN #9780618477944)
Biography: Christian Encoungers: Jane Austen - Peter Leithart (ISBN #9781595553027)
Literary/Movie: Fingersmith - Sarah Waters (ISBN #9781573229722)

Monday Movie Meme - Wonder Woman

After a two week hiatus from the Monday Movie Meme, we are back and ready for more fun with the Bumbles! This week, we are talking about great heroines, or in other words...girl power. I will concede that Molly and Andy have come up with some respectable ladies of their own (check them out!), some of them that would have been on my list, but I don't want to steal any of them, so here are mine (I'll just tell you up front, you won't find any Angelina Jolie here friends):

1. Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) - Gone With the Wind: Granted, there are times when you would love to smack the woman, but she turns all tough and gritty and resourceful somewhere in the middle of the movie, and you have to get behind her.

2. Sara Connor (Linda Hamilton) - Terminator 2: This role will FOREVER be the one I think of first when anyone says "female bad ass". Did you see the arms on the woman? At one point in my younger years, it was my goal to have arms like that. I never quite made it, but boy was it inspirational.

3. The Bride (Uma Thurman) - Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2: This movie is the epitome of girl power. Uma takes on several dozen (hundreds?) of ninja assassins and leaves them in little chopped up pieces in her wake. I LOVE these movies.

4. Margie Gunderson (Frances McDormand) - Fargo: Only the Cohen brothers would create a pregnant policewoman with an overblown, Minnesota accent as their heroine, and that is why we love them. Any woman who has ever been with child will appreciate Marge, who feels nauseous when she witnesses an execution-style shooting, allows the feeling to pass, then is hungry again.

5. Elizabeth Bennett (Jennifer Ehle) - Pride and Prejudice: You have to love a girl with a mind of her own, and isn't afraid to speak it! To the dashing Colin Firth! Even after she has seen him wet in his white, poofy shirt! You put him in his place girl. You're in charge!

What say you? Do you have any favorite ladies on the silver screen?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Salon: Nesting

So. Are you sick of hearing about audio books yet? Thanks to Jen @ Devourer of Books, we celebrated the magic of the spoken word all week long. We posted audio reviews, and participated in daily discussions and memes. We had giveaways (BTW...Gayle, if you are out there, I need an e-mail from you in order to contact you and send you The Cemetery Dance!). It was gloriously fun for an audio geek like me. The highlight? The interview of Simon Vance over at The Literate Housewife. I was green with envy, but it didn't stop me from lingering over every word.

Not much else going on here, I'm ashamed to say. I celebrated my birthday on Monday by pulling weeds and supervising my children in various household chores so they can earn extra money. I went out to dinner (The Melting Pot!) with my friend Susan. We decided that the next time we go, we're sticking to cheese and chocolate. The rest is just a distraction. My friend Marianne and I took the kids bowling. I ordered a super-duper helmet for my son so he won't get his brain scrambled in tackle football this fall. That about covers it. I feel I am failing you in my lack of adventure.

I made up for it in my readings, however. I finished Elizabeth George's "This Body of Death" on audio, and started...(drumroll) "The Girl That Kicked the Hornet's Nest". Is it acceptable to let the kids forage for food while I sit huddled in my closet listening? My audio time isn't quite what it is when they are in school, but I commit to finishing it next week, one way or another. We also are working our way through "The Hobbit", the beginning of our journey through the LOTR.

I finished my second Vietnam novel called "A Hundred Feet Over Hell", which was absolutely amazing. I then started "The Monster of Florence", a gift from my husband and a book on my TBR Reading Challenge list. True crime heaven! A brief intermission was required when I received the graphic novel version of The Stand, Volume 1 (a birthday gift from The Bumbles). I sat outside by the pool until that one was finished. This was a particular highlight of the week. My BFF gave me a gift card to Barnes & Noble for my birthday, which is earmarked for more Stand Graphic awesomeness and of course the audio of Mockingjay, which at this point I am two million people in line at the library and there is no way I can wait.

We ended the week, appropriately I think, with our friends Mike and Ginny, enjoying good wine, good food and good music, and dancing when the mood felt right. It is what life is all about, it is not?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Vacation: Yosemite

Stop number two in the Nawrot summer vacation was Yosemite National Park. Our goals over our week-long stay were relaxation, familial bonding, and lots of hiking.

Yosemite covers nearly 1,200 square miles of territory, boasts elevations ranging from 2,000 ft. to 13,000 ft., and provides over 800 miles of hiking trails. The park is laid out with the Yosemite Valley close to the center, Wawona/Mariposa at the south end, Tuolumne Meadows in the northeast, and Hetch Hetchy in the northwest. Each location has Visitor Centers, picnic facilities, bathrooms, and hiking trails.
Each area of the park is 15 miles apart at a minimum. In some cases, you could be driving all day to get from one side of the park to another. Most roads are winding and run along the side of mountains, so care must be taken, and will extend your driving time beyond the norm. When we visited, a long-term construction project was under way on the road between Wawona and Yosemite Valley, causing a 30 to 60 minute delay in your travels. I don’t know how long this project is going to take, but I would guess years. Bring entertainment for the car ride!

Yosemite Valley: The valley is definitely where most tourists flock. You are surrounded by enormous granite rock formations, and in the early summer while the snow is melting, dozens of exploding waterfalls. The downside to Yosemite Valley is that it is a swarming, glutted mass of humanity jammed into a tiny little area. If you are not staying in the valley, parking is just about impossible (hint: tip the valet at the Ahwahnee Lodge and save yourself the coronary) and there are heavy crowds everywhere. Traffic is often at a standstill. There are free shuttles that take you around where you need to go, and are highly recommended. There are several eating establishments here, several options for accommodations (the Ahwahnee is very nice but extremely expensive, others appear run-down and could book up a year in advance), horseback riding (we did a two hour ride), and more hiking options that any one person could cover. We were able to get some signal for phone service here. While the valley is very beautiful, however, a couple of days was enough for us. We like a bit of peace and quiet.

Wawona/Mariposa/Glacier Point: At the hub of this area is the Wawona Hotel, which has been serving guests since the 1870’s. With big wooden porches, an expansive lawn with lounge chairs, and a small 9 hole walking golf course, you can almost feel yourself transported back in time (I told my husband that he could take the kids hiking and I’d stay there and read all day!). From this location, you can pick up a number of hiking trails, or the free shuttle to Mariposa, where you can see some of the world’s largest and oldest sequoia trees on a wonderful hike. Wawona also has a living history museum, where you can take a ride in an old horse-drawn coach, or watch a blacksmith do his thing. There is also a small general store here that is convenient to pick up groceries, a bottle of wine, or the bar of soap you forgot to pack.

In Wawona, there are a number of cabins for rent, in an area on the side of the mountain called The Redwoods. This is where we chose to stay. If we stay anywhere for more than a couple of days, we prefer to have our privacy, a washer and dryer, and to make our own meals. It saves a huge amount of money, and offers a comfortable home base where we can chill out at the end of the day. Our cabin was extremely peaceful, with the exception of our obnoxiously loud children. From The Redwoods, there were several great hiking trails within walking distance. There was, however, NO PHONE SERVICE and very little Internet connectivity. I know this was all good for me, but I didn’t like it one bit!
Glacier Point is a nice drive from Wawona, and takes you up to over 7,000 feet, overlooking the valley (a very sheer, stomach-turning drop off, thank you very much) and a great view of Half Dome, an icon for Yosemite. (Hint: Bathrooms here are your worst nightmare. Go somewhere else or pay the price. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Tuolumne Meadows: The road to this locale, Tioga Road, had just opened when we arrived in early June. The road climbs to almost 9,000 feet and still had a significant amount of snow – in some places there were several feet of it. This fact had me just a wee bit freaked out, and was THIS close to begging my husband not to go. I could imagine going off the road and not being found for weeks. But we did and we were glad. There were some amazing overlooks along the way, as well as stops along lakes and meadows. (The weather was pretty chilly, even in June, so bring layers.) Tuolumne Meadows itself gives you a beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada range, several granite domes, and flower-filled sub alpine meadows. Hiking was limited when we went, because of the melting snow and significant flooding of trails.

Hetch Hetchy: This was the one area we did not visit on our trip, primarily because it was so darned far from us. The area is located along the Tuolumne River and contains a reservoir created by the O’Shaughnessy Dam. The dam was built to provide drinking water and hydroelectric power for San Francisco.

WARNING: On our way out of the south entrance of the park on Saturday morning (about 10am) on our way to San Francisco, we were horrified to see at least 200 cars waiting in line to get into the park. There were only two toll attendants manning the gate, so these poor folks were going to be waiting a long time. Bear this in mind when you are determining when to arrive. We arrived on a Saturday evening and had no wait whatsoever. If you decide to stay outside the park and drive in each morning, plan accordingly!

Our goals? We slept in, we consumed some wine, I read “Columbine”, and we estimate that we hiked at least 40 miles of trail ranging from moderate to very strenuous. The kids preferred to hike together within screaming range of my husband and I, chattering away like little squirrels. I even spotted them holding hands down the steeper sections. We watched “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Baby Boom” together. We listened to Classic Rewind on our satellite radio on our road trips, to the point where the kids can quickly identify the Greg Kinh Band and Loverboy in five notes or less. Mission accomplished?

For more information about Yosemite, check out UpTake's website.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Last Chance! An Audio Book Giveaway

Earlier today, I posted a first-come, first served giveaway on some audios I had sitting on my shelves. As of 7:00pm this evening, no one has spoken for the following audio:

Got the Look - James Grippando: One of a series of murder mysteries that take place in Florida. In this installment, the bad guy kidnaps a female, then sends a ransom note to the loved one asking for "what she is worth". Narrated by Jonathan Davis. Here is my review.

I will mention that the narrator is excellent (he narrated Shadow of the Wind). While the story is fairly predictable, he is fun to listen to. Any takers?

Also, Gayle spoke for Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Gayle, I need your e-mail in order to get in touch with you and get your address!

First Come, First Served...An Audio Book Giveaway!

It is the fifth and final day of Audio Book Week! Audios are such a huge part of my life, so I will admit, this has been so much fun for me. I've added close to a dozen audio books to my queue at the library from all of the great recommendations. And what better audio to be listening to throughout this week but "The Girl That Kicked the Hornet's Nest"? To close out the week, I thought I would do a little giveaway. I had three audios sitting on my shelves that need a loving home.

This is a first-come, first served giveaway. Simply leave a comment on which audio you would like along with your e-mail, and I will make arrangements to mail it to you! Here are the choices:

Got the Look - James Grippando: One of a series of murder mysteries that take place in Florida. In this installment, the bad guy kidnaps a female, then sends a ransom note to the loved one asking for "what she is worth". Narrated by Jonathan Davis. Here is my review.

The Cemetery Dance - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child: Also one of a series with some pretty intriguing characters. This murder mystery dabbles in the paranormal and the walking dead. Narrated by Rene Auberjonois. Here is my review.

The Unnamed - Joshua Ferris: How does a family cope when a loved one suffers from a disease that has no name and no cure? How far will a wife go to support her ailing husband? This was one book that grabbed hold of me, and is still bouncing around in my head months later. Narrated by the author. Here is my review.

Hope you all had fun this week! Long live the audio!

Belong To Me - Marisa de los Santos (audio)

I have to make you laugh. OK, so you may remember me babbling and gushing amidst a Sunday Salon or two about the perfectness of Belong To Me on audio. I was closing in on the end today, so before my sweaty five mile walk, I wanted to be sure I had the latest Elizabeth George thriller, This Body of Death, loaded and ready to go in case I finished mid-journey. I deleted all but the last disc of Belong To Me as well, just to clean things up. The iPod was synched and I was ready to go. To my horror, I realized about 2.5 miles into my walk, that there were not 12 discs to this book, but 13, and had deleted THE ENDING!!!! So I started This Body of Death, but my heart wasn't into it. I was crushed. Luckily, I also had the printed version of Belong To Me at home, so I stormed in from my walk, smelling like a camel, grabbed the book, laid down on the floor right then and there, and finished it. The day was saved. This novel was THAT good.

The book starts out 2 1/2 years after the end of Love Walked In, with Cornelia, Tao and Clare. Boy did I miss those guys. Cornelia and Tao have moved to the burbs, and Cornelia is attempting to make some new friends, but failing miserably. Leading the charge in her misery is Piper, the neighborhood b*tch...perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect kids, and a derision for anything or anybody that doesn't conform to her perfect world. Cornelia does meet and make friends with Lake, a single mom with a 14-year-old son, Dev, who is just about as lovable and charming as Clare. In fact, when Clare comes to visit Cornelia and Tao over Thanksgiving, cupid strikes the two precocious teenagers, and a connection is made.

But obviously, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is the issue with Dev's paternity, and his emotional and physical pursuit to unearth the truth. There is Piper's life, spent supporting her best friend as she battles cancer. There is Cornelia's quest to find a friend, and to have a baby. There are real-life, devastating issues in there. It is rare that an audio will bring tears to my eyes, but this one did.

The book is narrated in several different voices...Dev, Piper, and Cornelia of course. Santos has a special gift of bringing characters to life, making them so human, so raw, so flawed, so memorable, so endearing. You wish you had these people in your life. One unique twist to this story is Piper's perspective. In any other book, she would be the token antagonist, there to absorb our ire. But with Santos, we see behind the manicured exterior and learn to love her.

The narrator in this audio book is the same one that annoyed me at the beginning of Love Walked In. Only this time, I get it. I get Cornelia, I get the narrator, and I love it all. I wouldn't have another narrator.

I suppose Santos' novels would be considered "women's fiction", a genre I enjoy. But I almost feel that minimizes her gift. She is the proverbial cherry on top of the banana split, the extra 20% of cacao in your chocolate souffle, the decoder pen in your box of Lucky Charms. She just has that extra little something that takes a story from good to great, and makes it stand out above the rest. I won't be forgetting Love Walked In or Belong To Me for a very long time.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 24, 2010

When Do I Listen to Audio Books?

Welcome to day four of Audio Book Week! For our discussion question, Jen wonders where exactly do we listen to our audios? In short, for me that would be everywhere. But I understand that I get extra points if I use pictures, so pictures you are going to get!

In the car.

While cooking.

While doing yard work.

While cleaning the house, and all other forms of domestic torture, such as ironing, laundry and picking up after my children.

While working out, including my elliptical machine and walking outside.

While cleaning the pool, taking care not to fall in of course.

So where do you enjoy listening to audios?

The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano (audio)

Listening to The Solitude of Prime Numbers on audio was an impromptu move for me. Yes, I'd read a positive review or two, but it didn't register on the Sandy-meter. But my BFF had it in her hot little hands, and offered it to me with lots of time left before it had to be returned to the library. It was only six discs, so I went for it, knowing absolutely nothing about the plot, but expecting loneliness based on the title.

And loneliness I got in spades. We meet Alice and Mattia as children, both scarred permanently and devastatingly by traumas occurring in their youth. They meet and while they are never "close" as we would define it, they have a strange connection. Both are outcasts, both are odd, both cannot seem to forge relationships, except with each other. There is a mere whisper of romance, but because of emotional baggage, they run in opposite directions. Mattia is a mathematical genius, and receives a lucrative position at a university abroad. Alice marries a well-meaning but clueless doctor and earns a living as a photographer. They reunite briefly again, awarded another chance at love, at independence, at happiness. But will they grasp the opportunity this time?

Let me just start with the positive. The writing was beautiful and lyrical. The author is quite handsome.

But overall, this book was a struggle for me from the get-go. Don't get me wrong. I had empathy for Alice and Mattia - these were damaged and neurotic kids. It was wonderful that they found a small amount of solace in each other, although even their friendship seemed stilted and shallow. But they were not likable. They were difficult, closed off emotionally, and flat. The plot moved forward, but in an aimless, wandering path. There was no resolution to the story...not that I always need one, but I really needed something, anything to grab onto, to propel me (or drag me) to the end of the story. When it ended, I screamed and threw my hands in the air. Is that IT? I felt short-changed.

I suppose it may have been to this story's detriment that I was listening to an absolutely delightful audio at the same time. I was also in a mood of intolerance. I was not suffering fools, whiners or wandering plots gladly. I was underwhelmed, as well, by the narrator. He wasn't horrible, but was on the monotone end of the spectrum, and this did not help matters.

2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mid-Week Audio Book Meme

Audio Book Week fun continues! Today, Jen has made it easy for us...a few quick questions:

Audiobook are you currently reading/you read most recently: The Girl That Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson (narrated by the lovely Simon Vance)

Impressions?: Can't listen fast enough! Of course, I may go into a funk when it is over because that is all there is.

How long you’ve been listening to audiobooks: Well, technically my husband and I listened to a Tony Hillerman mystery on a road trip that we took about 15 years ago, but that was an anomaly. If we want to mark the moment I dove in and never came back up for air? This is where my reading history at the library comes in handy and helps out a poor, forgetful girl. According to the records, it was January 2008.

I will also add that this adventure began because of my BFF Michele. Audios were the ONLY way she read books, because of her busy life. I'd been hearing her talk about the joys of audios for years, and I finally caved...and never looked back.

First audiobook you ever listened to: If we don't want to count the Tony Hillerman novel I mentioned above, then the answer would be "Bones to Ashes" by Kathy Reichs (Temperance Brennan series).

Favorite audiobook title: Next you will be asking me my favorite child! Overall, though, it must be the Harry Potter Series. It is magical.

Favorite narrator: Oh, now this is a really toughie (NOT). Of course it is Simon Vance. He brings his audios to life, but in addition to that, his voice is oh so silky smooth and puts me into a sort of trance. Not to take anything away from the dozens of other narrators that I would actively seek out in an audio...Barbara Rosenblatt, Jonathan Davis, Julia Gibson, Jim Dale, Dick Hill or Tom Stechschulte.

How do you choose what to listen to versus read? It is very easy. I listen to everything I can, limited only by what isn't carried by my library. I generally listen faster than I read, so if I am even mildly interested and there is an audio for it, I order it from the library and it gets uploaded!

Tomorrow, I will talk about all times I listen to my audio books (hint: just about all the time except sleeping, but I will go into a little bit more depth...).

Wordless Wednesday: Grand Canyon #2

From the helicopter. For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Writing an Audio book review

Continuing with Day 2 of Audio Book Week, Jen proposes the following discussion starters on the topic of writing audio reviews:

What do you include? How do you rate an audio if the narrator is good but the story isn’t (or the other way around). Do you let people know the book was an audio off the bat, or do you surprise them with it at the end, ‘trick’ them into reading the review?

I find that I retain information much differently when listening to a book than reading it. I remember more about the plot, and I am left with a more tangible mood. When I read something in print, I have little magnetic markers that I use to mark important scenes, quotes, etc. With audios, I make no notes whatsoever. And when I sit down to write an audio review, I use the tangible mood I'm left with, and write from the heart. This can be tricky with a 30, 40 or 50 disc audio, but there you go. Nobody REALLY wants to hear a 50 disc plot, so my memory is the best editor in this case, and you lucky people get the boiled down version.

Quotes can be very problematic with audios, and I rarely use them in my reviews. Once in a great while, a quote will stick in my head and MUST be included though. Sometimes I will write down the location of a quote and later transcribe it (which is a pain). Chances are, however, if the quote made that much of an impact on me, then it probably impacted others as well, and I can easily Google it and find it online.

There are other smaller issues as well. Names, for example. I don't remember them, and obviously I don't know how to spell them. That is an easy fix - a quick trip to Amazon will provide everything you need.

Now, let's discuss the impact of narrators, which is really the million dollar question, isn't it? Good books have been ruined for me by narrators (Olive Kitteredge is a great example). It is nearly impossible for me to separate a bad narrator from the prose, unfortunately, which might not be fair, but life isn't fair. I have a pretty strong opinion on this. If a printed book is going to be adapted to an audio book, it is the job of someone (publisher?) to not simply find someone to read the words and record it, but to create an experience. It is like making a movie, is it not? You must find the right narrator or cast of narrators, and ensure the essence is captured. If not, why bother? So when I am reviewing an audio, I am reviewing the entire package. I'd love to say that I would revert to the printed book and read it, if an audio goes sour, but I don't. Not enough time and too many other great books to read!

Jen's question about "tricking" readers by not revealing an audio review until the end is interesting. It never occurred to me! (You mean somebody might not read the review if they know it was an audio??? Really???) In my post title, I always state that the review is for an audio, and I also tag it as an audio as well. I will generally not only review the plot, the characters, the atmosphere, etc. but will also comment on the narrator. Like I said, the whole package.

Stay tuned through out the week for more dicussion. Also, on Friday, I will be hosting a giveaway on some audios as well! Happy listening!

The Life of Pi - Yann Martel (Audio)

The Life of Pi has had a life of its own since its release in 2001. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2002, has been considered for a film adaptation by various directors (ultimately will be directed by Ang Lee and released in 3D in 2011), and has been a featured read in thousands of book clubs. With Martel's recent release of Beatrice and Virgil, interest in Pi has been renewed - Barnes & Noble was actually sold out a couple of weeks ago. I originally read this book in 2002 and enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised when my book club chose it as the May read, and decided to give it a try on audio this go around.

Even though it feels like half the world has already read this book, I won't assume anything. The story is one about a boy named Pi Patel. He recounts the story of his life in India, one that was primarily spent around the zoo which his parents owned and ran. Pi also took an early interest in religions, and because of his love of all Gods, ultimately practiced Muslim, Hindu and Christianity simultaneously. Due to political unrest, Pi's family sells the zoo, and with some of their animals, boarded a cargo ship for Canada. The ship sinks en route, and Pi spends 227 days on a life raft, fighting to survive.

This is when the story takes a surreal turn. Pi tells about how a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker, were also on the boat with him. Not a compatible group, you might say. After the circle of life applies itself, Pi is left to co-exist with the tiger, catching fish and turtles and rainwater to survive. He briefly stops at an uninhabited, toxic island, before he eventually finds himself on a beach in Mexico. Richard Parker disembarks, never to be seen again. Investigators don't buy the story, so Pi tells them another, more disturbing one. We are left to choose which one we believe and prefer.

There are endearing aspects of the book that all came back to me as I listened to the story unfold. Pi is an alluring character, a kid like no other - precocious, intelligent, bright-eyed. I found his innocent embrace of all Gods and faith in higher powers enchanting. Being an animal-lover, I was also entertained by the details of animal behavior. This is not a fast-paced story however. It is very slow and deliberate, and I began to feel restless. I know how it ends, after all. Because I was aware of the "twist" at the conclusion of the book, I found myself adrift (pun sorta intended!). It did allow me to analyze the story with a different perspective, but it wasn't enough to keep me engaged.

As you all know, I am a walking endorsement for audio books. But this is not one I would recommend. The narrator had a pleasant Indian accent, and seemed to do his best with the prose, but it was not one that translated well to the ears. I will be in line when the movie premiers, however, with high expectations from a director like Lee.

Unfortunately, because my husband was out of town, I was unable to attend the book club to discuss Pi. This is the first book club I've missed since I began attending, and I'm sorry it had to be this one. The discussions would have been interesting!

First time reading: 4 out of 5

Second time reading: 3 out of 5

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sandy's Audies

Wasn't it nice that the Audiobook authorities declared the beginning of Audiobook Week on my birthday? They must have recognized that I am audio-obsessed (a "tapeworm" according to David Sedaris), and I appreciate them throwing a little love my way!

So to celebrate both, I decided it would be fun to host my own Audie awards. I have listened to well over a hundred audios since I started blogging late in '08, and even more before that, so to narrow down the field, I forced myself to pick my favorites from June '09 to June '10.

There are so many great books, a number of them offered on audio. But for anyone that listens to audiobooks, you know that because of audios and their narrators, books can be elevated to a whole different experience - almost three-dimensional in fact. In the hands of a great narrator, I LIVE the story, I am IN the story, I am transported to another world. Few printed books have been able to accomplish this. Audiobooks make walking, cleaning my house, running errands, doing yardwork and cooking an immense pleasure ...the ultimate multi-task.

Of course, the downside is that bad narrators can destroy a decent book, but that is not why we are here today, is it? Let's talk about a few that deserve distinctive honors:

Best Belly Laugh - Anything written and narrated by David Sedaris. His work should only be experienced through the audiobook medium. The printed word could never come close to delivering his dry wit in the manner in which it was intended. Reviews: When You Are Engulfed Flames, Me Talk Pretty One Day

Best Atmosphere - Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Post WWII Barcelona, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a young boy, a mysterious author, and an evil antagonist...this story sucks you into its world. But spoken from the lips of narrator Jonathan Davis, in his flawless Spanish accent, you just may find yourself in a swoon.

Best Ability to Remind You of the Magic of Literature - Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Multiple narrators + brilliant and insightful writing = audio masterpiece. More than once, the spoken prose made me stop and stand where I was, overwhelmed with the emotion of the moment. When I finished, I said to myself "now THAT is what it is all about". A number of great bloggers had issues with this book. I suspect the audio may have made the difference.

Best Series to Spend a Year With - Harry Potter Books 1 through 7 by J.K. Rowling. In the case of Harry Potter, I have read the books several times, seen the movies, and listened to the audiobooks. Without a doubt, the audios are the best experience of the three. Jim Dale embodies the characters effortlessly. It was almost like watching the movies only nothing was boogered up or left out of the plot. An entire year of our lives was spent frolicking in the Wizarding World of Witchcraft with childlike glee. Reviews: The Sorcerer's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Goblet of Fire, The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince, The Deathly Hallows (review coming soon).

Most Like a Warm, Comfortable Blanket on a Cold, Rainy Day - Love Walked In and Belong To Me (review coming soon) by Marisa de los Santos. Snuggle down, friends. You will never want these audios to end. Granted, the writing is half the charm, but Julia Gibson brings these enchanting characters to life.

Best Ability to Inspire Homicidal Rage - The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. I suspect I would have liked this book in print, but the audio version, narrated by Julia Gibson (the narrator of the beloved Marisa de los Santos audios), perfectly captured Walls' unfailing love and trust in her parents. Gibson also conveys the maddening selfishness of Rex and Rose Mary Walls, to the point where I was near a homicidal rage. That's some powerful narration.

Best Ability to Knock You Off the Elliptical Trainer - Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. So call me dense, but as I was listening to this audio, I did not see any of it coming. And when it came, my legs turned to jelly and I promptly disembarked the elliptical trainer so I could sit on the floor and put my head in my hands. All of this drama was delivered in the raw, course, haunted and even guttural narration of Tom Stechschulte, which added to my grief and the ultimate impact.

And saving the best for last...

Best Ability to Enthrall, Enchant, Entertain and Cause Your Heart to Palpitate (also known as the "Ear Candy" award) - anything narrated by Simon Vance. I melt like butter, I do, when Simon speaks. He's smooth, he makes his characters appear before your mind's eye, and his voice echoes in your head long after you have turned off your iPod. I would listen to him read the phonebook. Reviews: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (currently reading!), The Little Stranger

Stay tuned throughout the week, for in honor of Audiobook Week, all of my reviews will be guessed it!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Salon: Laying Low

We're back to reality here at the Nawrot abode! We arrived back from our vacation late Monday night, fell into bed and barely moved for the rest of the week. Well, that is not exactly true but almost. My daughter did have a babysitting class on Tuesday and Thursday, I cleaned like a maniac on Tuesday, but beyond that we were slugs. Kids slept until noon. I caught up on posts. I did laundry and got a few groceries. And I was at peace with it - no guilt, baby! It IS summer, after all.

For all the laying around that I did, I got very little reading done. I did finish "Columbine" on the flight home (all I have to say is WOW), and dug immediately into "101 Things I Learned in Film School", a book I won from Trisha, which was sitting on my doorstep when I arrived home. Right after that, I started "A Hundred Feet Over Hell", a highly recommended Vietnam novel. I'm STILL working my way through the rather long audio "This Body of Death" by Elizabeth George (an EW Summer Reading book) and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I'm just jumping out of my skin because I have both "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" and "The Passage" waiting for me. Do you think I could listen to one in each ear?

So what the heck was I doing, if not reading? Catching up with other blogs, posting my Wordless Wednesdays for the next two months, doing recaps on my trips, writing reviews I'd gotten behind on. Sheesh. You'd think it was a job!

To celebrate Father's Day and my birthday (which is tomorrow), we came to New Smyrna Beach (the non-oily side of the state) and stayed with some friends who have a condo here. We stayed here for a month two summers ago, and it feels like a second home. The coolest thing about this place is that you can see the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse from the balcony or the bedroom window, shining its beacon and standing there tall and proud and majestic. (I couldn't take a picture of it with my iPhone because I can't zoom!)

Starting tomorrow and lasting all week, I will be celebrating Audio Book Week with some of my blogging friends. I am besotted with audio books, so I didn't have to deliberate very long on my involvement in this project. I will be kicking off the week tomorrow with Sandy's Audies, my own list of the best audios I've listened to in the last year. Throughout the week, all of my reviews will be on audios. And I will be also peppering the week with various memes and discussion starters, organized by Jen at Devourer of Books. You should join us (pssst...there's prizes!).

I'm off to call my dad and wish him a happy Father's Day, then we are off to the beach! Hope you all have a wonderful day!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Vacation: Grand Canyon

The first stop in the Nawrot summer vacation was the Grand Canyon. None of us had ever seen this Natural Wonder of the World, so we were aptly blown away. My first impression was amazement at how you don’t see it coming. In your mind you know it is massive, so you think you would see it twenty miles away, right? In fact, you drive and drive, looking at a flat horizon, then all of the sudden you come to the edge and it all opens up before you. It is breathtaking.

We visited the park on the South Rim. If you decide to visit this area as well, here are some tips and impressions from a novice:

Getting there:

We were visiting the South Rim, so we flew into Flagstaff Airport. It is a very small, two-gate airport that is primarily served by US Airways, but it is clean, friendly and efficient. There are several rental car companies to choose from, and provide excellent service. From Flagstaff, you have approximately an hour drive to the entrance to the park. There is a small airport at the Grand Canyon, but I’m not sure if it would be practical to fly in there.

Where to stay:

There are a number of lodges and cabins within the park village area where you can stay, however they are extremely expensive and book up a year in advance in some cases. If money is no object, and you plan ahead, the El Tovar is the accommodation of choice. It is a turn-of-the-century gem (recently renovated in 2005), is historically significant with a long list of famous lodgers, and is perched right at the edge of the Canyon with incredible views.

If you are interested in saving hundreds of dollars a night, I would recommend you stay right outside the park entrance, where there are a number of reasonable options. We stayed at the Best Western for two hundred dollars a night, which included a complimentary breakfast buffet, ample parking, an arcade, a bowling alley, a pool, and a nice restaurant. It was clean and comfortable, and for two nights, it worked for us.

Park Entrance:

Whether you go into the park once or twenty times, you are charged a one-time $25 fee, which is good for seven days. (A one-year pass is available for multiple parks.) This allows you to come and go at your leisure.

Where to eat:

Inside the park, there did not appear to be many places to eat, so plan ahead. The El Tovar does have an excellent restaurant, where we dined one evening (reservations recommended). It seemed to be the only true fine dining in the area. Entrees were pricey, but they did offer any adult entrée at half price for kids, which ours appreciated (they are not big fans of PB&J or chicken fingers). Parking is a huge issue in the village area, so be prepared to spend some time finding a spot, or parking and walking a distance.

Most of the scenic turnouts only had bathrooms and a picnic table or two. The Desert View turnout (featuring a watchtower) did have a snack bar.

You will find a number of casual eateries right outside the, Mexican, American fare and fast food. There is also a general store where you can stock up on snacks, drinks and sandwiches for the road. The Best Western featured a restaurant called Coronado, a full-service joint. The food was good, the wine list deplorable, but was more appealing to us than a Big Mac.

What to do:

You can easily satisfy your hankering for scenic views of the Grand Canyon by driving and stopping at a variety of turnouts. Some of these stops feature hiking, for those of you ambitious folks. There are also a number of trails available in the village area venturing down into the canyon. These hikes are pretty strenuous but provide amazing views. Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks! I must also add that this is not Disney. There are no protective guardrails, and sheer drop-offs that offer no chance of survival if you went over the edge. My point? Think twice before you bring young children, or if you bring them, make sure they are strapped into a stroller. It was even terrifying with a 10 and 12-year old!

The big attraction at the canyon is helicopter rides. Against my better judgement, our family decided to give this a whirl. Papillon was the company recommended by AAA, and operates out of the Grand Canyon airport, right around the corner from our hotel. Reservations are recommended, for these tours are very popular. You can take a 25 minute tour, or a 50 minute tour…we choose the latter. Why not? We also chose to take an “Eco Tour”, which is operated by Papillon’s sister company. These helicopters have more windows in the cabin, and afford more expansive views for a few more dollars. I might add that this option was not automatically offered to us; we had to ask for it. The experience was indescribable. The tour went to several parts of the canyon, flew down inside it and around the rock formations, all the while listening to some pretty cool music (including Floyd’s Wish You Were Here – ha!). Strangely, I felt safer on this ride than I did during any of our hikes! I have a pretty crazy fear of heights, and my son is prone to motion sickness, but neither of us were bothered.

The only thing we did not do on this trip was take a raft ride on the Colorado River. We will save that for next time.

For more information on the Grand Canyon, visit UpTake travel website.