Monday, June 2, 2014

Audiobook Review: Anne of Avonlea by LM Montgomery, narrated by Colleen Winton

Buy from the Publisher
Title: Anne of Avonlea
Author: LM Montgomery
Series: Anne of Green Gables, Book 2
Narrator: Colleen Winton
Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press
Duration: 9 hours, 25 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Following Anne of Green Gables (1908), the book covers the second chapter in the life of Anne Shirley. This book follows Anne from the age of 16 to 18, during the two years that she teaches at Avonlea school. It includes many of the characters from Anne of Green Gables, as well as new ones like Mr. Harrison, Miss Lavendar Lewis, Paul Irving, and the twins Dora and Davy. Narrated by Colleen Winton.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

*I was provided a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.*

In Anne of Avonlea, we get to see Anne dealing with more grown-up troubles, which prevents this book from being as humorous as the first, but it's still entertaining. Also, Marilla and Anne adopt twins, so their antics add a bit of fun into the story.

This is a re-read for me, and as a kid, I didn't think to appreciate how Montgomery develops Anne's character, taking time to show her growth from a child to an adult. What I like most is how Anne is shown as being much more responsible and thoughtful while still being herself, which is a tricky balance. Overall, not much goes on in this book. It's very much a set-up for Anne becoming an adult, and there aren't any huge plot points that wow-ed me. An engagement or two and the adoption of Davy and Dora are pretty much the only things that I found important. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. This series is more character-driven that plot-driven, and it's always nice to revisit Anne and her world.

My favorite part about listening to a series in audiobook format is that, with a good narrator, the characters just feel more real to me. And Colleen Winton is a great narrator -- she really brings the personalities of the characters to life. She is consistent with all the old characters' idiosyncrasies from the first book and does a good job in portraying the new characters. For this book in particular, I liked being able to listen to it, because not much goes on in the way of plot or excitement, so it's nice to be able to do something productive while re-reading an old favorite. If you are at all a fan of audiobooks, this is a nice series to try in audio.

*Listen to a sample!*




Monday, May 26, 2014

Audiobook Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, narrated by Khristine Hvam

Buy from the Book Depository
Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Book 1
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Duration: 12 hours 32 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.  
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.  
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.  
When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first of a series, and because it's the first, it suffers from being a bit slow in the beginning so that the foundation is laid for the rest of the books. However, the payoff is there, and I was in love with the story by the end.

However, I actually didn't start really liking the story until about midway through, when we get to the more fantastical elements. I think that Taylor was trying to set up a contrast between Karou's human world and the otherworld she grew up in, but the Prague stuff just wasn't all that interesting. Her ex-boyfriend Kasimir is a useless character who doesn't add anything to the story, and while I liked her best friend, Zuzana, I just didn't see how they really added anything much to the overall conflict.

But I loved the story once it got going. I generally try to set aside an hour a day to listen to a book, but when it's good, I have to pry myself away. That definitely happened when Akiva showed up -- once he came into the picture, I was listening to 2-3 hours a day. The "plot twists" were a bit awkward, because I think that they're hinted at too much in the beginning and easily guessable, but that's redeemed by the characters' reactions to those twists -- the characters are simply beautifully done.

Hvam is a great narrator who does a good job with differentiating between characters. I especially loved her ability to capture the characters' personalities with the way she spoke. Issa had a crooning voice and lingered over vowel sounds, which made me think of her as a loving, doting sort of aunt figure to Karou. When Hvam spoke as Zuzana, on the other hand, her sounds were clipped, giving her a no-nonsense sort of feel. Hvam's narration added life to the characters and the story, in general. I think I enjoyed the story more in audio format than I would have in printed, just because I felt so close to the characters through the audio.

I have already added the sequel to my "to-read" list, and am excited to continue with this story. For those who aren't good at waiting, the end was a bit abrupt, so if you want to start this series, be sure to have the first two books at hand!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Audiobook Review: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Buy this book from the publisher
Title: Anne of Green Gables
Author: LM Montgomery
Narrator: Colleen Winton
Series: Anne of Green Gables, Book 1
Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press
Duration: 10 hours, 8 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Anne, a young orphan from the fictional community of Bolingbroke, Nova Scotia, is sent to Prince Edward Island after a childhood spent in strangers' homes and orphanages. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, siblings in their fifties and sixties, had decided to adopt a boy from the orphanage to help Matthew run their farm. They live at Green Gables, their Avonlea farmhouse on Prince Edward Island. Through a misunderstanding, the orphanage sends Anne Shirley. And Anne brings all sorts of surprises in her wake. 
So begins the classic tale of a girl who, through trying to find her place in the world, ends up bringing love and adventure to Green Gables.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

It has been over a decade since I've visited the world of Green Gables, so when I saw this title available to review, I just couldn't pass up a chance to revisit it.

Anne of Green Gables is a classic coming of age story about a young girl named Anne who gets sent to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert by mistake -- they wanted a boy to help with farm work. But when Marilla agrees to keep the talkative child and raise her up, she certainly gets more than she bargained for. Anne is energetic and over-the-top imaginative, but she is also full of love and generosity.

This book is about being a kid and, oftentimes, learning lessons the hard way. It also shows that even though adults are the ones in charge, they also learn just as much from children as children do for them -- I love that balance of perspective. There are also lovely lessons embedded in this story about friendship, forgiveness, and making the most out of life.

But don't take that to mean that you're hit over the head with moral after moral! The events flow naturally together, and to make things better, this book is funny. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions because of the ridiculousness of Anne's antics or Matthew's attempts to go against Marilla's wishes and spoil Anne.

I've only ever read the book, so listening to this story as an audiobook was a new experience for me. In some ways, it was more difficult for me to let go and enjoy listening to the story, because I'd already made my own assumptions about these characters in my head. However, Colleen Winton is an excellent narrator and I was hooked within a couple of chapters. She's able to see into the heart of the characters and reflect their personalities in her narration, which made for an entertaining experience.

The excellence of the performance is in the details. When the book says that Anne's friend, Diana is the kind of girl who always laughs before she speaks, Winton is sure to give a bit of a laugh before Diana's dialogue throughout the entire audiobook. It's the added thoughtfulness that really makes the narration stand out. And of course, all the standard marks for a good narration apply: there are distinct voices for each character and the tone of the exposition is reflected in Winton's voice. Winton brings this story to life, making this an audiobook well worth listening to. And if you want a taste of it yourself -- check out below, where I've shared the publisher's sample track.

In short, if you haven't read it, go read it! Anne of Green Gables is by far one of my all-time favorites. But if you have read it, consider giving it another go. This one is definitely worth revisiting. And if you're audiobook-minded, definitely consider listening to this edition -- it is delightful!



A big thank you to Audiobook Jukebox for their Solid Gold Reviewer program, through which I found this title.

A second big thank you to Post Hypnotic Press for providing me with a copy.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: Shalador's Lady by Anne Bishop

Buy from the Book Depository
Title: Shalador's Lady
Author: Anne Bishop
Series: The Black Jewels, Book 8
Publisher: Roc
Hardcover: 476 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
For years the Shalador people suffered the cruelties of the corrupt Queens who ruled them, forbidding their traditions, punishing those who dared show defiance, and forcing many more into hiding. Now that their land has been cleansed of tainted Blood, the Rose-Jeweled Queen, Lady Cassidy, makes it her duty to restore it and prove her ability to rule.

But even if Lady Cassidy succeeds, other dangers await. For the Black Widows see visions within their tangled webs that something is coming that will change the land-and Lady Cassidy-forever...

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Shalador's Lady continues the story arc introduced with The Shadow Queen -- we pick up where we left off with Lady Cassidy, who is still trying to pull Dena Nehele together while trying to win the people's hearts and negotiate a reluctant First Escort.

The Black Jewels sequels are nowhere near the quality of the original trilogy, and I'm getting a bit tired of the recycled phrases and situations. We get it: a "too soft" voice and sleepy eyes means that the all-powerful Saadi family is angry. Queens are stubborn and too reckless with their own safety, while the Warlord Princes are overprotective. Nothing new there. With that said, however, these books are fun, easy-reads that are good for a quick fix when you're craving time in the Black Jewels world.

In this one, I wasn't so much interested in the story as a whole, but I did like seeing the growth of the two male characters Ranon and Gray. We get to see a much more vulnerable side of Ranon, while Gray turns from vulnerable, broken boy to a strong Warlord Prince who is someone to be feared. I also enjoyed getting to see more Sceltie characters and reading about how they interacted with the other Queens and Princes.

Overall, I would say this is a light read that will appeal to fans of the series, if only to revisit old characters. Other than that, there's not much to it.