Review of The Magic Tree House Collection by Mary Pope Osborne

January 31, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Audiobook - The Magic Tree House Collection, read by Mary Pope OsbourneThe Magic Tree House Collection
By Mary Pope Osborne; Read by Mary Pope Osborne
5 CDs – 5 Hours 40 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: 2001
ISBN: 0807206121
Themes: / Fantasy / Children’s Fantasy / Time Travel / Magic / Dragons / Knights / Pirates / Prehistoric /

This delightful children’s fantasy series features Jack and Annie. They’re siblings that find a tree house full of books. By opening the books the children are transported across time and space. This collection contains the first eight books of this popular kids series. In each book the children find themselves going to a different place. The books contained in this audiobook are:

1. Dinosaurs Before Dark
2. The Knight at Dawn
3. Mummies in the Morning
4. Pirates Past Noon
5. Night of the Ninjas
6. Afternoon on the Amazon
7. Sunset of the Sabertooth
8. Midnight on the Moon

Each book’s setting contains the tropes you’d expect to find. So in Pirates Past Noon, for instance, you have pirates, sailing ships, booty and treasure maps. There are story arc’s that stretches over a number of the books. The first concerns—who is the owner of the Magic Tree House.

Mary Pope Osbourne does a wonderful job of narration. Her pacing is excellent and her voice characterization are right on the mark. She has a gentle, soothing voice that children will love.

If you know or have a young person, of about five to ten years old, that you want to turn on to audiobooks, this audio collection is a perfect introduction. For my eight year old, we used it as part of our bedtime story ritual. I’ve bought the books so we can read along some nights. Other nights we take turns reading the books out loud.

Review of A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

January 16, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Fantasy Audiobook Review

Fantasy Audiobook - A Feast for Crows by George R.R. MartinA Feast for Crows
By George R.R. Martin; Read by John Lee
26 CDs – Approx. 31 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0739308742
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Medieval setting / Power Struggle / Dragons /

There’s a long story behind A Feast for Crows, but I’ll make it short. George R.R. Martin, while writing the fourth installment of the superior A Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy series, found it was getting too long. Long enough, in fact, that if he published it as-was, it would need to be broken up into two volumes. So, rather than break the book into two pieces at the middle, he split the book by character, including the complete story of select characters in one volume, leaving the rest of the characters to appear in the next volume. A Feast for Crows, then, is the fourth book, and a new fifth book (A Dance with Dragons) will be published relatively soon. This novel is a bit shorter than the previous volumes, but still clocks in at 31 hours on unabridged audio.

Roy Dotrice read the first three volumes in the series, but this time British actor John Lee narrated. I’m not sure why the change was made; the narrators were very different. While Dotrice has a rough, earthy delivery, Lee’s style is smooth and skilled. Both narrators succeed with Martin’s story, because with such a large number of characters, ranging from royalty to peasants, each found places to shine.

The myriad of characters brings me to my next point. This is the first of these large novels that I’ve heard before I read. Some listeners have complained that the novels are difficult to follow on audio because there are so many entrances, but I didn’t feel that way until now. With this novel, I found that the portions of the book that involved characters I didn’t know from previous books were indeed difficult to follow. When a character I knew arrived on the scene, I was fully engaged with the story.

There is a very simple remedy to this. There are acres of real estate on the packaging for large audiobooks. Why not include a Cast of Characters (Dramatis Personae)? Why not include the maps from the print version? Both of these items would have been welcome.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am a huge fan of Martin’s, and especially this series. I felt that this one started a bit slowly, but ended with a bang. I reveled in being in Westeros again. Many of the characters I like were not included in this novel, which both disappointed me and heightened my anticipation for the next volume. A Feast for Crows delivers much – I was riveted to the last third of this audiobook – but I can’t help to feel that it is incomplete, because of the missing characters and because it is the middle of a long wonderful saga that I am patiently waiting to see through.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Legends II: Volume One

November 9, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Legends II: Volume 1Legends II: Volume One
Edited by Robert Silverberg; Stories by George R.R. Martin & Anne McCaffrey
Read by Graeme Malcolm & Alyssa Bresnahan
3 Cassettes – 5.25 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0739310828
Themes: / Fantasy / Series / Collection / Dragons / Knights / Royalty /

The tag line to this audio book is “New short novels by the masters of modern fantasy”. Would it have knocked out any teeth to use the word “novella?” It’s like calling a pack of number 2 pencils “a pallet of light-duty lumber.” A novella is not merely a novel that was born sickly or abstained from performance-enhancing drugs; it is a distinct literary form with a tighter focus in theme, setting, character, and time. Has the novella become such a bane to publishers that they seek to disguise it with a new name, as politicians have disguised the apocalypse of global warming with the ambivalence of climate change? I hope not. The literary form of Goethe, Conrad, Silverberg and Leiber still has a lot to offer us today. Its name should be spoken with pride, and its name-bearers sold, bought and read (or listened to) without shame.

A great place to start is George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire: The Sworn Sword”, which is a fine example of a fantasy novella. It is tightly focused on a single, weighty event in time: The final clash between the proud, nearly-extinguished ser Eustace, and the desperately aggressive Lady Webber. Caught in the middle are our protagonists: Dunk, the simple knight with a sense of right and wrong that supersedes his own pride and safety, and Egg, whose compassion for even the lowest grows every time we see him. Heraclitus proposed that character determines destiny, and this is certainly true here. Everything that occurs within Martin’s tough, gritty, complex tale feels like an inevitable result of the characters and their choices. For those looking for lots of sword-banging, spell-casting action, this isn’t the place to find it. This story deals more in verbal confrontation, shades of revealed truth, and the nature of honor and treachery. My only quibble is that the ending, hard-won as it is, is a little pat, especially after the moral ambiguity of Dunk and Egg’s first story “The Hedge Knight” and the foregoing mass of this one. But given everything else about this absorbing tale, hewn from the same wood as the rest of the Song of Ice and Fire, this is a very minor point.

Martin’s pacing is slow and deliberate, shining a light into all the crevices of the personal, moral and physical terrain covered here. Graeme Malcolm’s reading is fittingly unhurried and considered. A British accent is a must for high fantasy like this (in my opinion), and Malcolm’s is dignified and readily intelligible to the American ear. There is even a compelling, extensive introduction to tune your ear to it. I think you’ll enjoy Malcolm’s voice characterizations, as well, as they are subtle, yet distinct, and seem well matched to the characters. Some music is present, mostly as punctuation between the book title, the introductory material, and the story itself, which is helpful. It also accompanies the brief prologue and epilogue to the story, which is not helpful, but also not too distracting.

Anne McCaffrey’s story “Pern: Beyond Between” is much less successful. It seems less a novella (let alone a wee novel) than a doughy short story that got rolled out a little too thin. The main ingredient is the disappearance of Lessa and Hoth into the great unknown of Between, but sifted in are travels in space, time, and Between; a few changes in viewpoint; and even a digression into a different genre. Sadly, the result never quite rises off the page. You will never quite taste the wistful loss and the painful discovery this story hints at, nor feel the fullness of the characters in your belly. It will leave you hungry for the Pern you remember from the original novels. And should you have missed these rightfully revered classics, I highly recommend skipping the appetizer-sized review of it which precedes the story. It gives a little too much away.

As with the first story, the reading of this one is wonderful. If Alyssa Bresnahan’s voice isn’t the voice I heard in my head while reading the original Pern series, no one’s is. It is the perfect complement to McCaffrey’s prose, flawed as that may be. Again, music is used to separate the introductory material from the story, and this time it is kept sensibly out of the narration.

The sound and production quality of both these stories are exceptional; however, they make an oddly matched pair. McCaffrey’s story could be safely given to your emotionally stable ten-year-old niece, but some of the language and themes of Martin’s would blister the poor child’s ears. And the packaging? Even calling it bland would imply an effervescence it sorely lacks. And of the 11 authors represented in the hardback version of this book (which lists only a tiny bit more than this audio book), only two are represented here. How much would you have to shell out to hear the novellas from all these distinguished authors? I shudder to imagine it. In short, while one of these stories is outstanding and the narrations excellent, this audio book does little to attract a new audience to the novella, and it certainly does not provide great value for the money.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

Review of The Hedge Knight by George R.R. Martin

July 22, 2003 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobook - Legends 4The Hedge Knight
Contained in: Legends: Stories by the Masters of Fantasy, Volume 4
by George R.R. Martin; Read by Frank Muller
4 Cassettes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Date Published: 1996
ISBN: 0694521132
Themes: / Fantasy / Knights / Jousting / Court Intrigue /

I’m not a big epic fantasy fan. I have nothing at all against them – it’s just that I enjoy good science fiction more than I enjoy good epic fantasy. I’ve read and enjoyed Tolkien, then the first three books in Terry Brook’s Shannara series… with that my appetite for epic fantasy novels was sated.

But then came George R.R. Martin. Several people told me to read the first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones. I finally picked up the thousand-pager, and am now hooked, impatiently waiting for Martin to finish the fourth book (of six!) in the series.

The Hedge Knight is a short novel set in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but well before the events in the first novel. We follow the travels of Dunc, a squire to an aged hedge knight. When this hedge knight dies in the middle of nowhere, Dunc takes on the role of knight himself and gets into trouble when he crosses a prince at a tournament.

Like the the larger series, The Hedge Knight is filled with interesting, realistic characters, none of which are all good or all bad. There is plenty of intrigue and political maneuvering along with the medieval action.

The story is ably performed by Frank Muller, who’s considerable skill along with Martin’s excellent prose makes this recording one I return to again and again.

The Legends 4 audiobook also contains a Pern story by Anne McCaffrey and a Riftwar story by Raymond Feist.