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  • gilwilson 10:36 PM on July 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , cowardly lion, , , , harper audio, john mcdonough, , retelling, ,   

    “A Lion Among Men” by Gregory Maguire 

    “A Lion Among Men”
    by Gregory Maguire
    read by John McDonough
    Published by Harper Audio (2008)
    Approx 12 hours

    Well I just finished listening to the third installment in Gregory Maguire’s take on the Land of Oz.  “Wicked” took the world by storm, and has been a hugely successful Broadway production.  “Son of a Witch” told of Liir, the son of the Wicked Witch, Elphaba, who was melted by Dorothy, as he hunted for his half-sister Nor.  It seems as though Maguire has closed up his version of Oz, but has left himself some room in case he wants to revisit this land.   This time around we learn more about the Cowardly Lion, Brr and even more on how Elphaba became what she was.

    Before we get into the story, I have to say that John McDonough does a superb job narrating this book, giving voice to all the characters.  I was so happy to hear that he didn’t try to give the lion the same voice Bert Lahr did.  In all of Maguire’s books all the characters have a bit of a darker side to them and the Bert Lahr Cowardly Lion just would not have worked.   While still able to show some of the cowardly, lacking of nerve aspect to the lion he also gave him a bit of a scholarly sound in his voice.   After all when the book opens the Lion is seeking information on behalf of the Emperor of Oz.   McDonough does a great job representing the voice of Yackle who has been trying to die and failing and therefore holds a bit of snarkiness in her voice.

    As the book opens  the armies of the Emerald City and Munchkinland are marching toward each other in what will be the battle of battles.  In the middle is the Mauntery, which has been the epicenter for Elphaba, Yackle, Liir, and Candle. Yackle still lives despite losing her eyesight and longing for death. At her request, the Maunts bury her in their crypt alive with only a few candles and some wine. She’s eventually forgotten, but not by all.  The Lion arrives wanting to question her regarding Elphaba, and eventually we find out also the Grimoire, in which the power of all powers could be attained.  One of the sisters at the Mauntery is explaining that Yackle is dead just as Yackle comes walking into the room.  The sister faints at the sight of the dead Yackle, who is now blind and very very old.

    Yackle and Brr begin a bit of bartering to tell stories so Brr can gather the information he’s seeking.  In this we learn more of Brr’s beginnings, how he was abandoned and alone in the forest and taught himself to talk while listening in on humans (he had the ability but no one to teach him).  In his early years he comes across one of the Wizard’s soldiers caught in a trap that was meant for an Animal like himself.  He is too cowardly or maybe just excited about making his first friend and cannot find himself leaving the soldier alone.  Brr stays with the man until he dies and sets out with the soldier’s medal of courage and some books to tell his family.

    By the end of the book the Clockwork Dragon Oracle makes its return and reveals all to the players involved just before the war comes to them.  Allowing each to make a decision about their pasts and futures.

    Maguire could end his Oz saga here, but he did leave the door open for further exploration.  This book really allows you to emphathize with all the characters, even the ones who seem bad/evil and is a great addition to Maguire’s stories.

  • gilwilson 10:13 PM on June 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , harper audio, , son of a witch, ,   

    “Son of a Witch” by Gregory Maguire 

    “Son of a Witch”
    by Gregory Maguire
    Read by the author
    Produced by Harper Audio (2005)
    Approx 14.5 hours

    I still haven’t had the chance to see “Wicked” the musical, but I couldn’t just stop after reading the book.  I found Gregory Maguire had written two sequels to the book so I thought I would get going on that aspect of the story.   So here it is I’ve just finished “Son of a Witch” and have found the story to be interesting but didn’t seem to close out the story.  In the interview at the end of the audiobook the author says he doesn’t have any plans to come up with another book in the spin off from the world of the Wizard of Oz.  But it seems as though this book screams for a sequel.  In that same interview Maguire says he got the idea from two sources; the numerous letters from young female fans who wondered what happened to Nor (daughter of the witch) and after seeing the torture photos from Abu Gharib prison.  The problem with this is that this book seems to leave even more questions about what happened to Nor,  although the prison scene is in the book.

    This audiobook is read by the author and after reading stories (he also writes children’s stories) to children he has honed his craft of quality voice acting.  Maguire delivers the story probably the way it should be, the voices all sound as he intended so you get more depth to the characters.  His delivery is perfect for the story and the different characters come across well defined.  Keep in mind this is a story from the “Land of Oz” so there are some interesting characters such as,  a talking Goose, a Phoenix and an Elephant disguised as a human princess.  Each one comes across just as you and the author would think they should sound.

    The first section of the book consists of a series of flashbacks that jump back to after the Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba) is killed by Dorothy and Liir (the Son of the Witch) accompanies her and her band (Scarecrow, Tinman, Lion and Toto to) back to the Wizard, and the “present” when Liir’s body is found along the roadside thought to be another victim of “The Scrapings.”  Citizens are found dead with their faces scraped off by some mysterious force.  When Liir is found to be still alive he is brought back to the Cloister of Saint Glinda in the Shale Shallows. The Superior Maunt recognizes the young man and identifies him as Liir, the young boy who left the Cloister with Elphaba a decade or so ago.

    In the “present” time Liir is brought back to health by A Quadling girl, Candle who rarely speaks, and only in her native tongue, Qua’ati (though she understands other speech). Raised in Ovvels, she and some relatives became itinerants. She is left at the Cloister of Saint Glinda by her uncle, and ends up working in the kitchen under Sister Cook. She becomes a skilled player on the domingon, a Quadling musical instrument which sounds like it closely resembles a lute.  When a phoenix plucks one of its own feathers to give to Candle and place in the domingon, the instrument seems to be complete, and Candle is able to “play” Liir Back to health  by making him remember his past.

    Candle and Liir are forced to leave the Mauntery and seek shelter in an abandoned farm which also served once as a press for an underground newspaper.  Liir then learns he must go back to Oz and destroy the dragons, reclaim his broom and cape (which belonged to his mother) and guide the Council of Birds to Safety.  In the process Liir learns his uncle Shel is now the Emperor of Oz and is running a corrupt government.  The big lesson for Liir in this is that the he cannot simply sit back and let the world go by, he must take part in it in order to make change.

    The story remains very interesting and entertaining, but I feel the book was not complete.  I guess that’s why Maguire wrote the sequel “A Lion Among Men,” which is on my summer reading list.

  • gilwilson 8:50 PM on May 17, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: a tree grows in brooklyn, , , betty smith, , , early america, harper audio,   

    “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith 

    “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”
    by Betty Smith
    read by Kate Burton
    produced by Harper Audio (2005)
    Approx 15 hours

    I’m not sure what it is but there is something about reading / listening to books about the early years of America and the struggles it took to live day by day that can put some perspective into your life.  Yeah, times were different back then but if they can survive so can we.  At least that’s what I get out of books like this.  “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” not only tells the story of a family’s struggle and determination around the turn of the century into the first World War, but also since it is set in that time provides an historical view.    This novel approaches many issues that keep this one a book for the ages other issues the book addresses include:  Man vs. his environment, Education, Coming-of-age/loss of innocence,  Family, and  Exploitation of workers and the poor.

    The novel is split into five “books,” each covering a different period in the characters’ lives. Book One opens in 1912 and introduces 11-year-old Francie Nolan, who lives in the Williamsburg tenement neighborhood of Brooklyn with her 10-year-old brother Cornelius (“Neeley” for short) and their parents, Johnny and Katie. The family subsists on Katie’s wages from cleaning apartment buildings, pennies from the children’s junk-selling and odd jobs, and Johnny’s irregular earnings as a singing waiter. His alcoholism has made it impossible for him to hold a steady job, and he sees himself as a disappointment to his family as a result. The only antidote to alcohol Johnny accepts is coffee, which enables him to come out of and sometimes stay out of his alcoholic stupors but gives his behavior a manic quality nearly as closely associated with his alcoholism as the barbiturate itself. Francie admires him, however, and relies on her imagination and her love of reading to provide a temporary escape from the poverty in which she lives.

    Book Two jumps back to 1900, with the meeting of Johnny and Katie – the teenage children of immigrants from Ireland and Austria, respectively. Although Johnny panics when Katie becomes pregnant with first Francie and then Neeley, and begins drinking heavily, Katie resolves to give her children a better life than she has known. During the first seven years of their marriage, the Nolans are forced to move twice within Williamsburg, due to public disgrace brought about first by Johnny’s drunkenness and then by the children’s Aunt Sissy’s misguided efforts at babysitting them which is a bit comical but you can see the embarassment of the time.  They arrive at the apartment introduced in Book One.

    In Book Three, the Nolans settle into their new home and the children (now seven and six) begin to attend the squalid, overcrowded public school next door. Francie enjoys learning even in these dismal surroundings however the at the time the teachers seem to have it out for the poor children. So with Johnny’s help, Francie gets herself transferred to a better school in a different neighborhood.  Johnny’s attempts to improve the children’s minds fail, but Katie helps Francie grow as a person and saves her life by shooting a child-rapist/murderer who tries to attack Francie shortly before she turns 14.  When Johnny learns that Katie is pregnant once again, he falls into a depression that leads to his death from alcoholism-induced pneumonia on Christmas Day 1915.  Money from the family’s life insurance policies and the children’s after-school jobs keeps the Nolans afloat in 1916 until the new baby, Annie Laurie, is born in May and Francie graduates from grade school in June. The latter occasion allows her to finally come to terms with the reality of her father’s death.

    At the start of Book Four, Francie and Neeley take jobs since there is no money to send them to high school. Francie works first in an artificial-flower factory, then in a press clipping office.  Although she wants to use her salary to start high school in the fall, Katie decides to send Neeley instead, reasoning that he will only continue learning if he is forced into it while Francie will find a way to do it on her own.  Once the United States enters World War I in 1917, the clipping office rapidly declines and closes, leaving Francie out of a job.  After she finds work as a teletype operator, she makes a new plan for her education, choosing to skip high school and take summer college-level courses.  She passes with the help of Ben Blake, a friendly and determined high school student, but fails the college’s entrance exams.  A brief encounter with Lee Rhynor, a soldier about to ship out to France, leads to heartbreak after he pretends to be in love with Francie when he is in fact about to get married.  In 1918, Katie accepts a marriage proposal from Michael McShane, a pipe-smoking retired police officer who has become a wealthy businessman and politician.

    As Book Five begins in the fall of this same year, Francie – now almost 17 – quits her teletype job.  She is about to start classes at the University of Michigan, having passed the entrance exams with Ben’s help, and is considering the possibility of a future relationship with him. The Nolans prepare for Katie’s wedding and the move from their Brooklyn apartment to McShane’s home, and Francie pays one last visit to some of her favorite childhood places and reflects on all the people who have come and gone in her life.  She is struck by how much of Johnny’s character lives on in Neeley, who has become a talented jazz/ragtime piano player. Before she leaves the apartment, she notices the Tree of Heaven that has grown and re-sprouted in the building’s yard despite all efforts to destroy it, seeing in it a metaphor for her family’s ability to overcome adversity and thrive.

    Although the book addresses many different issues–poverty, alcoholism, lying, etc.–its main themes is the need for tenacity: the determination to rise above difficult circumstances.     There are moments in the book when I question the reality, but then I have to remind myself it is just a novel. For instance, the Nolans are financially restricted by poverty but yet always seem to find ways to enjoy life and satisfy their needs and wants. Francie can become intoxicated just by looking at flowers. Like the Tree of Heaven, Brooklyn’s inhabitants fight for the sun and air necessary to their survival.  Sure there are some moments where it is beyond reality but that is what makes the magic of a good book.

    The reader, Kate Burton, does a superb job in reading the book and applying the Brooklyn accents at the right moments to keep you in the realistic moments.

  • gilwilson 10:23 PM on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , harper audio, lesley livingston, midsummer's night dream, , , wondrous strange,   

    “Wondrous Strange” by Lesley Livingston 

    “Wondrous Strange”
    by Lesley Livingston
    read by author
    Produced by Harper Audio
    Approx 7 Hours

    Kelly Winslow, an aspiring actress in New York City, has just had her big break, when the actress portraying Titania in Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” has been injured and Kelly goes from being the understudy to the lead actress.  But not all is as good as it seems.  Kelly soon learns the world of Fairy and Fae is real, and worse yet, the Winter King, Oberon is not only real but is her real father.  This at first may sound good to suddenly find you are a Fairy Princess, but the Fairy-folk are really not a friendly bunch.   Someone in the Fairy world has decided they don’t want Kelly to realize her birthright.

    The troubles all begin when Kelly is rehearsing her lines in Central Park and Sonny Flannery, a Janus Guard for King Oberon (unbeknownst to Kelly) notices something different about Kelly.  Spying on her from the bushes he sees she is having a bad day (seems she forgot her lines during rehearsal and the director was a bit cruel).  Sonny can’t shake the feeling that she is different from most humans so curious he presents her with a rose.  Kelly asks why and Sonny says you look like you needed something nice.   When they part Kelly begins walking home through Central Park and hears the sound of someone screaming from a pond.  It turns out not to be someone but a something, a horse.  With Sonny long gone, Kelly realizes no one is around to help so she dives in to save the drowning horse.  Kelly risks her life to save the horse that seems to be tangled in the vegetation of the bottom of the pond.

    The next day Sonny discovers the area where someone was dragged on shore the mud in the grass and some mysterious black beads and copper colored horse’s hairs.   Sonny knows the hairs for what they are, Kelpie hairs.   Kelpies are fairy creatures that lure people into the water and eat them.  When Sonny finds Kelly’s script nearby he fears the worst.   Sonny shows Oberon the beads which Oberon immediately knows them as part of a spell that is set to begin the Great Hunt in which all the evils of the fairy world will be unleashed into the mortal world killing all in sight until the quarry is found.  This time the target is Oberon’s daughter.

    Sonny must save Kelly from the fairyworld by letting her know who she is.  At the same time he must find out who is trying to unleash the Hunt.  He suspects Queen Maab, but with a very interesting twist in the tale, the author, Lesley Livingston, creates a bit of a mystery into this fairy tale set in modern day New York City.  Very entertaining bit of young adult fiction that will keep you enthralled until the end.   This book is part one of a three book series but is easily a standalone novel.

    I have to note that at first I was a bit leery at the idea of the author reading her own work as the audiobook.  While the authors may have a great feel for what is in the book, the performance as a reader can sometimes lack.  Not so with Lesley Livingstone, she does a superb job of performing the many different voices and expressing all necessary emotion.  This audiobook is an excellent choice from that aspect alone.

  • gilwilson 9:02 PM on November 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , chuck hogan, guillermo del toro, harper audio, , the fall, the strain, , virus   

    “The Fall” Book 2 of “The Strain Trilogy” by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan 

    “The Fall”
    Book 2 of “The Strain Trilogy”
    by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
    Read by Daniel Oreskes
    Produced by Harper Audio
    Approx. 11.5 hours.

    The teaming up of del Toro and Hogan to create this trilogy has turned out to be a pretty haunting affair.  “The Strain” (the first book in the trilogy) introduced the horror world to a different view of vampires.  This time around the heroes are not the vampires or are the vampires the subject of lustful desire, instead the mythology of vampires returns to the dark horror of life stealing blood suckers to be feared and staked or in this case killed with silver.  Some other twists that del Toro and Hogan have added are; instead of fangs the vampires have stingers under their tongues, the spreading of vampirism is through parasitic virus-like blood worms and that there are seven “Ancients” that basically are the leaders of the vampires and have been around for centuries.

    The story behind the “Ancients” is where this book focuses.  The first book told of the spread of the strain of virus turning New York City back to ground zero, this time for the spread of vampires.

    The heroes are Abraham Setrakian, a proffesor from the old world who has been hunting vampires since before World War II,  Dr. Ephraim Goodweather a formerly with the CDC, he was listed as a criminal when he tried to alert the world of the vampire invasion,  Eph’s Son Zach, whose mother was turned and is now hunting him, andFet an exterminator who now has a new form of vermin to hunt.

    Setrakian has revealed to all that he has been hunting “The Master” for most of his life and that “The Master” is responsible for the sudden influx of vampires in the New World.  The Ancients have all been around for centuries and have maintained their anonymity, so why now do they become public and seek to ponentially wipe out their food source?  The secret lies behind the Master.

    Setrakian, Fet, and Eph join up with a battle force from the Ancients in order to prevent The Master from completing his plans.  Using silver weapons and UV lamps to battle the vamps the various skirmishes lead up to one big battle with The Master.  A new character brought into this story takes part in the final battle and has some great fighting styles throughout the book.  His name is Angel and he’s a former wrestler turned movie star, not a normal wrestler but a Luche Libre, a masked Mexican Wrestler.  His movies usually had him pitted up against vampires, but nothing like he’s experiencing now.

    The reader, Daniel Oreskes, does a great job of reading this book, his voice adds to the drama and horror underlying the story and at the same time he is able to allow the listener to discern between who is talking/thinking by subtle vocal changes.

    The nice thing about this audiobook, in that it is part of a trilogy, but del Toro and Hogan write enough of the backstory so that if you were to jump in with this book instead of the first or that a long span of time passed between books, you wouldn’t be lost in what is going on.  Don’t get me wrong though, read the first book, because both of these stories have some great storytelling of epic proportions.

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