Themes: / fantasy / giants / children /
The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It’s lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, or any of the other giants – rather than the BFG – she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that the giants are flush-bunking off to England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!
The BFG is classic Roald Dahl: a blend of lighthearted playfulness and bone-crunching, child-munching wickedness.
The story is about a gentle 20-foot-tall giant who lives in Giant Country with a bunch of other giants. The BFG taught himself English by reading Charles Dickens, and he mangles language in beautiful ways: “What I mean and what I say is two different things.”
The other giants, who have adorable names like Bloodbottler, Meatdripper, Childchewer, and Bonecruncher, are all much bigger than the BFG (“at least two times my wideness and double my royal highness!”) and bully him for being vegetarian. While they eat humans of various nationalities (like people from Turkey, who apparently taste like turkey, or people from Jersey, who taste of cardigans), the BFG eats only a disgusting vegetable called a snozzcumber. As he says, “I squoggle it! I mispise it! I dispunge it! But because I is refusing to gobble up human beans like the other giants, I must spend my life guzzling up icky-poo snozzcumbers instead! If I don’t, I will be nothing but skin and groans.”
The story starts when the BFG befriends a little human girl named Sophie, who he takes home with him to Giant Country, where he must hide her from the meaner giants who would eat her on sight. Together, the BFG and Sophie decide to try putting a stop to the terrible child-guzzling that’s been going on.
The narrator David Williams did such an awesome job with the voices, from Sophie’s soft feminine inflections to the BFG’s indignant horror and naive befuddlement with humankind’s weird ways. It must have been difficult to perform the BFG’s dialogue with all the backwards idioms and inside-out clichés and weird pronunciations, but somehow Williams makes it all flow seamlessly and naturally.
The audio production is also something special, with all kinds of sound effects in the background: bubbling and burping and scraping and gurgling. These special effects didn’t seem intrusive to me at all (despite preferring straight readings usually), and seem to fit perfectly with Roald Dahl’s storytelling style.
Everything else aside, the BFG character alone makes this story worth listening to. How can you not love a creature whose ears are so sensitive he can hear the faraway music of the stars, and who desperately wants to learn how to “make an elephant” so he can ride it around, picking peachy fruits off the trees all day long!
Posted by Marissa van Uden
The Mongoliad Book Two
By Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Mark Teppo, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo, and Nicole Galland; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Length: 12.5 hours
Themes: / mongoliad / martial arts / fantasy / monks / conquests / Mongols /
In the aftermath of the Mongolian invasion of 1241, beleaguered Christians struggle with the presence of a violent horde and a world turned upside down. Apocalyptic fever sweeps through Europe, infecting even the most rational individuals, leaving all to wonder if they are seeing the end times — or an hour when new heroes will emerge from the ruins of cataclysmic defeat. An order of warrior monks, the Shield-Brethren, refuses to yield, plotting to overthrow the invaders despite insurmountable odds. Father Rodrigo Bendrito receives a prophecy from God and believes it’s his mission to deliver the message to Rome. Along with the hunter Ferenc, orphan Ocyrhoe, healer Raphael, and alchemist Yasper, Rodrigo sets out to reclaim Europe. But to save Christendom, someone must slay the fierce Khan of Khans. Brimming with intrigue and colorful characters, The Mongoliad: Book Two is a riveting, expertly rendered tale about the will to survive.
Much like The Mongoliad: Book One, The Mongoliad: Book Two tells a myriad of parallel stories, all centered around the Mongol conquests in medieval Europe. There isn’t much that I can say about this book, Book Two, that I didn’t say in my review of Book One.
This book continues most of the plot lines opened in Book One, and adds a couple more. I suppose/suspect that each different author wrote a different parallel story. I’m not sure that a book that is the overall length of the trilogy (the first two books are about 13 hours long each, the third is about 22 hours long) really needs as many parallel stories as the books seem to have–and that’s before I’ve started Book Three, which may add more stories. It’s like reading a story with as many parallel plot lines as The Wheel of Time series or the A Song of Ice and Fire series but with a fraction of the total page count. This makes it confusing to keep track of story progress (overall) and each of the characters. This is also made more confusing by the odd names used. As I wrote in my review of Book One, I suspect that this would be easier to read in print, or at least with a wiki of a cast of characters. I’m amazed that I can’t seem to find one online.
As with Book One, the book didn’t come to any conclusion, it just ended. At least this one didn’t end in the middle of a heated battle. Oddly, Book Two didn’t pick up exactly where Book One left off. This book started with a new plot line, one with a warrior traveling with a severely injured priest to Rome. I spent a good amount of time when I started Book Two listening and re-listening to the first part; I was trying to jog my memory to remember the plot line from Book One. It took me awhile to realize that the story was brand new for Book Two. The story lines so far seem to be:
- The brother knights on their quest to defeat Ogedai (spelling?) Kahn; they have sustained some losses but also have picked up a few extra travelers in their party, including a warrior woman. They also have a brother with them who has visions; he had one in Book One which we saw the outcome of in Book Two. He had another vision in Book Two, which I expect we’ll see the resolution of in Book One.
- The remaining brother knights trying to distract the Kahn’s brother and his traveling circus of fighters; these guys seem to be trying to form a rebellion from within the circus. Andreas is helping to lead this rebellion with the two most prevalent Mongol fighters in the circus.
- Ogedai Kahn’s point of view, where he is now under attack by the Chinese.
- GonSuk, an adviser/guard to Ogedai Kahn (as well as some of his fellow advisers/guards who are with and without him).
- The Levonian (spelling?) knights, who seem to be out to try to re-gain status in the world. They seem to be in conflict with the Rose Knights (the brother knights on the quest). Their role is not exactly clear yet, but it seems that they have ties to the church. This was a new story line for Book Two.
- The cardinals in Rome who are split into two factions for the election of the next Pope. This was a new story line for Book Two and it’s not exactly clear the differences between the factions.
- A wandering warrior and a young warrior girl (one similar to the warrior woman with the Rose Knights, though this young girl is still in training), who have been sent on a quest by one of the cardinals; the cardinal who gave them the quest to pass a message was killed. This was also a new story line for Book Two.
As much of a downer as this review seems, I’m still intrigued. I don’t get it, as this defies most of my typical “rules” for books. This time, I’m going to move right into Book Three, instead of reading a few books in between. Book Three is almost twice as long as Book One or Book Two. I enjoy this world, even though it seems like there are too many story lines and too much going on…with confusing characters. I do think that this world is better-suited to the prequels and the “Side Quest” books. I’ve already read two of the prequels (and have the other one, Seer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad, ready to read), and have three of the Side Quests ready to read once I’m done with the main story. Stay tuned for my review of Book Three, which will include an overall review of the main story line of the “series.”
Posted by terpkristin.
Specter of the Past: Star Wars (The Hand of Thrawn)
By Timothy Zahn; Read by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 17 September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 31 minutes
Excerpt: | MP3
Themes: / Star Wars / New Republic / Thrawn /
Hugo Award-winning author Timothy Zahn makes his triumphant return to the Star Wars universe in this first of an epic new two-volume series in which the New Republic must face its most dangerous enemy yet–a dead Imperial warlord.
The Empire stands at the brink of total collapse. But they have saved their most heinous plan for last. First a plot is hatched that could destroy the New Republic in a bloodbath of genocide and civil war. Then comes the shocking news that Grand Admiral Thrawn–the most cunning and ruthless warlord in history–has apparently returned from the dead to lead the Empire to a long-prophesied victory. Facing incredible odds, Han and Leia begin a desperate race against time to prevent the New Republic from unraveling in the face of two inexplicable threats–one from within and one from without. Meanwhile, Luke teams up with Mara Jade, using the Force to track down a mysterious pirate ship with a crew of clones. Yet, perhaps most dangerous of all, are those who lurk in the shadows, orchestrating a dark plan that will turn the New Republic and the Empire into their playthings.
No one does Star Wars quite like Timothy Zahn. He knows how to play the characters just right and make good use of the different factions in the Star Wars universe to make for an interesting story. Zahn has added the most significant and lasting characters to the series after the movies themselves and is the author who really got people excited about Star Wars novels after his trilogy that starts with Heir to the Empire. Specter of the Past is a great book if you like Star Wars or science fiction, although there is some back history from Zahn’s previous trilogy that makes me recommend starting there first. If you’ve already read that trilogy, you will definitely enjoy this.
Specter of the Past is part of a two-book series from Timothy Zahn that takes place just before the books from the New Jedi Order series which takes place about 20 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Empire has pretty much been all but defeated by The New Republic and is only left with a considerably smaller portion of the galaxy to call home. Some in Imperial command are considering proposing a truce with the New Republic while others still want to find a way to regain the power they lost. Those other factions use a secret document from the Emperor’s cache on Wayland to polarize parts of the New Republic while promoting a new rallying point for the Empire.
This is back from the more “golden age” of Star Wars before the prequels changed things, so it feels more like it belongs with the original trilogy. Zahn manages to weave an impressive array of factions in this book: The New Republic, The Empire, pirates, smugglers, gamblers, etc. The story keeps up a good pace throughout and keeps things interesting.
My only very minor gripe for this book is actually because it comes from the “golden age” of Star Wars books. There was less coordination between books back then so Zahn is clearly writing with reference to his previous trilogy that happened 10 years before. Characters seemed to just randomly make references in their heads to things from that trilogy or think back to events from those books even though there are something like 10+ books that happen between that trilogy and this novel. I wouldn’t comment on it except that animals and event from Wayland and things that happened with Grand Admiral Thrawn seem to come up a lot.
Audio book: As usual, Marc Thompson did a great job with the impersonations of our favorite characters and kept things lively and energetic throughout the book. He was easy to understand and I look forward to Thompson doing more Star Wars books. The usual music and sound effects commonly found in Star Wars audio books were also in there and were as good as I’ve heard them.
Posted by Tom Schreck
The Twits, The Minpins, & The Magic Finger
By Roald Dahl; Read by Richard Ayoade, Bill Bailey, and Kate WinsletPublisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 26 September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 2 hours
Themes: / children’s fantasy / short stories / creatures /
How do you outwit a Twit? Mr. and Mrs. Twit are the smelliest, nastiest, ugliest people in the world. They hate everything—except playing mean jokes on each other, catching innocent birds to put in their Bird Pies, and making their caged monkeys, the Muggle-Wumps, stand on their heads all day. But the Muggle-Wumps have had enough. They don’t just want out, they want revenge.
Little Billy strays into the forest, where he meets the Minpins?tiny people who live within the trees. The Minpins tell Billy about The Gruncher, who preys on them. So Billy embarks on a mission to rid the Minpins of their foe once and for all, and sets off?on the back of a swan?to confront The Gruncher.
THE MAGIC FINGER
What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted? To the Gregg family, hunting is just plain fun. To the girl who lives next door, it’s just plain horrible. She tries to be polite. She tries to talk them out of it, but the Greggs only laugh at her. Then one day the Greggs go too far, and the little girl turns her Magic Finger on them. When she’s very, very angry, the little girl’s Magic Finger takes over. She really can’t control it, and now it’s turned the Greggs into birds! Before they know it, the Greggs are living in a nest, and that’s just the beginning of their problems.
Although I have enjoyed many of the movies made from Roald Dahl’s books (most notably James and the Giant Peach) I cannot recall reading any of his books except Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was … fine but not world changing for me. That’s kind of odd too, when I think about it, because I was the right age to be the prime audience when a lot of his books were coming out but I was largely oblivious to them. (Yep. Dated myself. Don’t care.)
However, as I have learned in the past, audio often breaks open a book or author who I didn’t find congenial in print. It was that way with Coraline by Neil Gaiman. It was that way with the last half of The Lord of the Rings (yes, I am ashamed but I will not lie). And, now, it is that way with Roald Dahl.
The Twits are the most horrible couple in the world and quite hateful to each other, until they are under attack from a common enemy. Even then they are horrible which makes it quite gratifying to see them get their comeuppance from the Muggle-Wump monkey family and the Roly Poly bird. This story had the most disgusting description of a beard I have ever encountered. Even while I was grimacing, I was also laughing because Dahl had such a clever way with words. Narrator Richard Ayoade had a lovely, calm British narration style that didn’t preclude hilarious, low-class voices for the Twits. First class stuff.
The Minpins has the most perfect monster name I’ve ever heard — The Gruncher, a fire-breathing, boy eating creature in Sin Forest. It sends Billy right up a tree where he meets the Minpins and they form an ingenious alliance to deal with their common foe. Bill Bailey narrated this with a great deal of gusto which didn’t detract in the least from the story.
The Magic Finger was my favorite story, partially because Kate Winslet’s narration won me over from the very beginning. I also just couldn’t resist the little girl who “puts my Magic Finger” on those who displease her. The Greggs are worthy of a magic finger punishment because they are such keen hunters. What the Magic Finger does is typical Dahl ingenuity at its best.
All three of these are little stories but each is a gem which children would love. Heck, I liked them quite a bit myself and, as I have revealed, I am far past the age of tender youth. I am now going to look for more Roald Dahl in audio, possibly even revisiting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Posted by Julie D.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars
By Ian Doescher; Read by Daniel Davis, Jonathan Davis, January LaVoy, and Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 October 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 31 minutes
Download excerpt: | MP3 |
Themes: / Star Wars / Shakespeare / poetry / saga / iambic pentameter /
Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the audiobook you’re looking for.
What if you went to your local Renaissance Fair expecting to watch a Shakespearean play that ended up being Star Wars: A New Hope? Shakespeare’s Star Wars is pretty much what you’d get. If you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted take on Star Wars that’s fun to listen to but can also come off a bit silly, you might enjoy this book. Don’t be intimidated by the Shakespeare part, it isn’t difficult to follow. We’re talking Renaissance Fair level of difficulty in understanding what’s going on.
This book follows the events of the first movie (Episode IV) and was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Some fan service is paid out to small things like whether Han Shot first and Luke’s whining while on the farm. Too much fan service can be bad but I thought this was handled well and not overdone too much. It was just enough that it made me smile or laugh as the story progressed.
As for the Shakespearean side of things, Doescher does a great job of incorporating many of the more well known phrases and devices known from the more well known plays. I have to give him due credit for writing the whole thing in iambic pentameter and making fantastic use of asides (when characters speak to the audience). The asides are really great to show what characters are thinking and I especially like how they are used for R2D2 (and how he “plays the fool”). Doescher makes prolific use of many well known phrases from Shakespeare that work in most places but can be a little too jarring in others when too much of the quote is used (“we few, we happy few…”).
Audiobook: As for the audio performance, I couldn’t have been happier. I expected the Shakespearean dialogue to be difficult to follow but since it’s more like “Renaissance Fair” Shakespeare, it was no problem to understand. The cast did a great job with all the voices and I genuinely laughed after the first couple of R2D2 lines. I should note that I didn’t really like January LaVoy’s performance so much in Razor’s Edge but I thought she did great in this book. All the normal sound effects and music were also present and enjoyable as usual.
Posted by Tom Schreck
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland #3)
By Catherynne M. Valente; Read by Catherynne M. Valente
Publication Date: 1 October 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 23 minutes
Themes: / fantasy / YA / children’s / fairy / coming-of-age /
September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.
This was a lovely third book in the Fairyland series, where September has struggled to return to Fairyland and is wondering if you can ever really go back. The characters left behind in Fairyland have struggled too, missing her and loving her. Life apart is not always easy.
September meets a few versions of Saturday and starts to question whether she gets choices in her life, and between that and the nostalgia of childhood and facing being a grownup and what that means for her fairy land and fairy friends, this book is a bit tinged in sadness. It also includes Valente’s amazing imagination that we’ve seen from her poetry to Palimpsest (still my favorite) to the very underdiscussed Prester John books.
This is the first book of Valente’s that I’ve listened to, and Catherynne M. Valente is a marvelous performer of her own work. Her voice has the versatility of an old-Hollywood actress, with moments of great rich depth. I feel like going back and listening to everything she’s ever read. Her performance enriches her worlds, and I highly recommend the audio.
The Fairyland books are highly recommended, starting with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Perfect for kids, young adults, and adults who can still dream.
Posted by Jenny Colvin