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.
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
Midnight in Austenland
By Shannon Hale; Read by Stina Nielsen
9 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Themes: / Fantasy / Jane Austen / Romance / Reading /
I am a huge fan of Shannon Hale’s books. I love her style and her characters. I loved “Austenland,” which is not necessarily a prequel but is set in the same location.
Midnight in Austenland is about a woman who is recently divorced. She has two kids, her own business and an ex-husband who makes her feel like a loser. Her friends try to set her up on dates, but they all fail. No one wants a 30-something divorced mother of two. So, she decides to take a vacation. Her travel agent suggests she try Austenland. A stay in a regal manner house and live for two weeks as if she were in the time of Jane Austen’s books.
She arrives unsure of what to expect and is both captivated and amused by the other guests. One is an entrepreneur and the other a rock star. Along the way the husband of the woman who runs Austenland is murdered and the guests and actors must find out what happened, keep anyone else from dying and manage to stay in character.
The story is part Jane Austen and part Agatha Christie and entirely charming. Murder, romance, intrigue. I loved it. You will, too. A light, clean romance.
Posted by Charlene Harmon
The SFFaudio Podcast #236 – The Hills Of The Dead by Robert E. Howard, read by Paul Boehmer (courtesy of Tantor Media’s The Savage Tales Of Solomon Kane). This is a complete and unabridged reading of the story (60 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Mr Jim Moon, Matthew Sanborn Smith, and Bryan Alexander
Talked about on today’s show:
Second-to-last Solomon Kane story chronologically, “Red Shadows” and “Wings of the Night” close contenders for Solomon Kane stories, the latter featuring harpies from Jason and the Argonauts, history of Solomon’s staff explained in other stories, fetishes (not THAT kind!), joojoo stick, magical weapons, Wandering Star edition illustrated by Gary Gianni, comic book adaptations, vampire-slaying, story uncharacteristically well-plotted including foreshadowing, “plains and hills full of lions” oh my!, lion sleeping habits, “Africa is full of never-explained mysteries” excuses plot holes, prefigures Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Kate Beckinsale’s Underworld movies, one of few stories to depict ‘nation of vampires’, Kiss of the Vampire (film), Transylvania, homeopathic symbolism, sex sells, ‘Howardian damsel in distress’, voodoo, feminization of the jungle, homoerotic undertones, Howard biography Blood and Thunder by Mark Finn, post-Colonial critique, vampires in fiction oscillate between sexualized and homicidal, Stephen King slams Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight vampires, Nosferatu (relatively unknown at the time of this story’s writing) introduced the idea that sunlight kills vampires, the Devil as source of Kane’s lustful urges, “Howard doesn’t do metaphors very well”, vampire-zombie continuum, Howard as great visual writer, animal characteristics ascribed to Kull and Conan but not Kane, snake imagery (related to serpent in Garden of Eden?), Slave Coast, vultures, nature of the soul, “Rogues in the House” (written in one sitting while Howard had a headache), the dangers of over-interpreting Howard, Howard’s subconscious, early 20th-century magazines preoccupied with race, Cosmpolitan (it was once a literary magazine), race hierarchy, Solomon Kane less racist than Howard himself, racial hierarchy, Berbers, Solomon Kane’s conflicted personality, the New Model Army, Howard’s characters are solitary, Puritans, Kane has a death wish, Kane’s celibacy, significance of Solomon Kane’s name, Ben Jonson satirizes Puritan names (in Bartholomew Fayre), so does Terry Pratchett (in Lords and Ladies, Mormonism, concept of congregation of all believers, English Civil War and its sects, Grendel in Beowulf as descendant of Cain, Sandman comics, Kane is “always on the road”, Matthew Hopkins witchfinder general, wood imagery, we learn what a palaver is, The Dark Tower series, temptation, inquisition, H. P. Lovecraft, cohesion of Howard’s works, history of the English language, George Harrison’s coyright infringement, parallel evolution in fiction, Clark Ashton Smith, Charles Baudelaire, genocide, the importance of a shared reader-author premise, shared cultural values, Hitler, The King in Yellow, Woodrow Wilson was a racist, zombies vs. animals.
Posted by Seth Wilson
By Roald Dahl; Read by Kate Winslet
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 3 July 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 5 hours
Themes: / fantasy / telekinesis / children / school / libraries / bullies /
Matilda is a sweet, exceptional young girl, but her parents think she’s just a nuisance. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When Matilda is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back. It’ll take a superhuman genius to give Miss Trunchbull what she deserves and Matilda may be just the one to do it!
This book made me so nostalgic for childhood, mostly because Roald Dahl is a wizard who can see through a child’s eyes but also because he was such a huge influence on me when I was a kid. Matilda was one of my favorite Roald Dahl stories, and hearing it narrated by Kate Winslet was amazing—probably the best narration I’ve heard. She colors every single character a fully realized personality, from syrupy sweet to hilariously grotesque. I think Kate Winslet is doing in narration what Quentin Blake did for Roald Dahl in illustration.
The story is Roald Dahl at his best: it is sarcastic and dark (featuring a bingo-obsessed mother, a dishonest father, and a headmistress who throws children out windows for eating in class) but it’s also hilarious, magical, and hopeful.
Matilda Wormwood is a very small, sensitive, and brilliant girl who has the misfortune of being born to gormless idiots. Mr. Wormwood is a rat-faced used-car salesman who’s really only interested in people who boost his ego. He seems allergic to his daughter, mainly because she is much cleverer than him. Mrs. Wormwood, when she’s not off playing bingo, sits around watching American soaps and thinks “Looks is more important than books!”
Matilda’s good morals and quick wits unsettle her parents, which makes them even more dismissive and neglectful of her. Her only escape is to visit the local library where she devours the whole children’s section in no time. The amazed librarian than helps guide the little girls through all the classics, from Charles Dickens and Jane Austen to George Orwell and HG Wells.
“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”
Reading all this literature awakens something in Matilda. She realizes that she now has a view on life that her parents have not experienced and never will, and that there’s far more to life than cheating people and watching television.
But she’s only four, so she’s stuck with them, “no matter how asinine.” To stop herself from going crazy, she beings to play mischievous pranks on them to punish them for every wrong they do. And when she starts school and meets even nastier bullies, she must use her brain power to develop new techniques for helping good people and punishing rotten ones.
I love the honesty Roald Dahl puts into his children’s stories. Children are often taught they must respect and obey their parents and teachers no matter what, as if we live in some utopia where all adults are intelligent, caring protectors. But Roald Dahl is not afraid to tell children the truth: sometimes monsters are real, and sometimes they look just like the people who have the most power over you or are supposed to care about you. People should earn trust and respect through their actions, not get it automatically because of their authority, age, or status.
Roald Dahl also teaches the other great wisdom: the world is full of idiots and oversized egos, and the best way to survive them is to keep your wits sharp and find the humor in every situation.
Posted by Marissa van Uden