Review of The Witches by Roald Dahl

April 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Witches by Roald DahlThe WitchesBy Roald Dahl; Read by Miranda Richardson
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours, 28 minutes

Themes: / children’s fantasy / witches /

Publisher summary:

This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches. Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches are the most dangerous of all living creatures on earth. There’s nothing they hate so much as children, and they work all kinds of terrifying spells to get rid of them. Her grandson listens closely to Grandmamma’s stories – but nothing can prepare him for the day he comes face-to-face with The Grand High Witch herself!

In The Witches, a seven-year-old boy and his grandmother must use their cleverness to stop an evil witch conspiracy. It’s a lovely, funny and nightmarish tale. In the prologue, there is a direct warning to the children reading: witches are all around us but are disguised as kind and normal ladies… and they hate children and want to squelch them.

“For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. … She might even – and this will make you jump – she might even be your lovely school teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of your cleverness.”

It might seem a little mean to scare children like that, but then again it’s no lie that some very cruel people disguise themselves as regular kind people, so maybe this is a theme that should appear in more children’s books.

The whole story is told from the little boy’s perspective, after he is orphaned during a trip to visit his grandmother. The family car skids off the road and crashes into a rocky ravine, killing both of his parents, and next day as they mourn, his grandmother distracts him from the tragedy by telling him all about witches: they’re real, she tells him, and they’re hidden among us, and she knows at least five children who have been taken by them.

An odd way to comfort a recently orphaned boy, but lucky too, considering the witch-encounters lurking in his near future.

The audiobook narration is beautifully performed and complete with subtle sound effects like chirping birds and the crackling of a fireplace. I found the witches’ screechy voices difficult to listen to in one chapter and had to adjust the volume a little now and then, but this wasn’t a problem overall. The grandmother’s voice is especially well narrated: I loved her accent, and her consistently warm and affectionate tone.

The cigar-smoking grandmother was my favourite character. She is not fazed by anything and has a kooky alternative streak when it comes to caring for children. At one point she offers her little grandson a puff of her cigar, and when he reminds her he’s only seven, she says, “I don’t care what age you are. You’ll never catch a cold if you smoke cigars!”

I’ve tried not to give away too much in this review because The Witches is so much fun to discover, and it has some unusual twists and turns. Definitely worth listening to… it’s funny and magical, with haunting little tales hidden within the main story.

Posted by Marissa van Uden

Review of Fantastic Mr. Fox and Other Stories by Roald Dahl

February 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fantastic Mr FoxFantastic Mr. Fox and Other Stories
By Roald Dahl; Read by Quentin Blake, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Chris O’DowdPublisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 2 hours, 59 minutes

Themes: / children’s fantasy / short stories / animals /

Publisher Summary:

Fantastic Mr. Fox: Nobody outfoxes Fantastic Mr. Fox! Someone’s been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief – it’s Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox – Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.

Esio Trot: An ancient spell, 140 tortoises, and a little bit of magic…Mr. Hoppy is in love with his neighbor, Mrs. Silver; but she is in love with someone else – Alfie, her pet tortoise. With all her attention focused on Alfie, Mrs. Silver doesn’t even know Mr. Hoppy is alive. And Mr. Hoppy is too shy to even ask Mrs. Silver over for tea. Then one day Mr. Hoppy comes up with a brilliant idea to get Mrs. Silver’s attention. If Mr. Hoppy’s plan works, Mrs. Silver will certainly fall in love with him. After all, everyone knows the way to a woman’s heart is through her tortoise.

The Enormous Crocodile: The Enormous Crocodile is a horrid greedy grumptious brute who loves to guzzle up little boys and girls. But the other animals have had enough of his cunning tricks, so they scheme to get the better of this foul fiend, once and for all!

The Giraffe and The Pelly and Me: Who needs a ladder when you’ve got a giraffe with an extended neck? The Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company certainly doesn’t. They don’t need a pail, either, because they have a pelican with a bucket-sized beak. With a monkey to do the washing and Billy as their manager, this business is destined for success. Now they have their big break – a chance to clean all 677 windows of the Hampshire House, owned by the richest man in all of England! That’s exciting enough, but along the way there are surprises and adventures beyond their wildest window-washing dreams.

This collection of stories written by Roald Dahl contains Fantastic Mr. Fox, Esio Trot, The Enormous Crocodile, and The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me with each story narrated by a different reader. The stories are all highly imaginative and definitely targeted to young children. The stories and their readings are very British, so if that turns you away this may not be the collection for you. Don’t expect deep life lessons in these stories but just some silly fun.

Fantastic Mr. Fox read by Chris O’Dowd – The headline story and my favorite of the bunch. Mr. Fox gets into trouble with 3 mean farmers and has to find some way to save his family! The reading by Chris O’Dowd has great voices and sound effects. I found one or two of the voices mildly irritating but I’m sure kids would love it. Lesson: It’s ok to steal if you’re stealing from mean people to help your family?

Esio Trot read by Geoffrey Palmer – Also an interesting story about a guy who teaches his female neighbor how to speak tortoise and make her tortoise grow. Geoffrey Palmer’s reading was great and he did a great job with the “tortoise language”. If doing audio don’t worry – I’m sure reading this story makes it easier to see what’s going on with the tortoise language but they explain what’s going on shortly after it’s introduced. Lesson: It’s OK to lie to people and mess with their stuff as long as you are trying to pick up a gullible lady.

The Enormous Crocodile read by Stephen Fry – Stephen Fry does a great job with the voices in this story about an enormous crocodile who wants nothing more than to eat children. I thought the story was fun albeit a little disturbing. Lesson: Don’t go around boasting about bad things you plan to do and be surprised when they do something about it. Oh and elephants are strong.

The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me read by Hugh Laurie – This was an odd story about a very unique group of window washers. I only say odd because I didn’t really know where this story was going aside from trying to be quirky; but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hugh Laurie did some nice voices and even some singing on this one! Lesson: Be awesome at the things you like to do and helping people can lead to good things.

Posted by Tom Schreck

The SFFaudio Podcast #245 – The Best of 2013

December 30, 2013 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #245 – It’s our -The Best of 2013! episode. For it we invited SFFaudio fans, SFFaudio reviewers, and SFFaudio participants to share their listening highlights of 2013. We asked folks to tell us about their favourite audiobook or podcast episode.

If you don’t see your favourites listed below, feel free to add them as a comment. And remember, it needn’t be a podcast or audiobook from 2013, only one you heard in 2013.

And if you leave a comment in the first week (and a way to contact you) you’ll also be eligible for a a FREE PRIZE audiobook mailed to your home (anywhere in the whole universe*)!

Participants:

Bryce L.

Casey Hampton.

Maissa Bessada

Seth Wilson

Paul Weimer

Jenny Colvin

Scott D.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

*Mirror universe inhabitants need not apply

Review of George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl

December 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

George's Marvelous Medicine by Roald DahlGeorge’s Marvelous Medicine
By Roald Dahl, Read by Derek Jacobi
Penguin Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 1.5 hours

Themes: / magic medicine / oversized farm animals / crusty granny / avaricious father / children / short stories /

Publisher summary:

A taste of her own medicine. George is alone in the house with Grandma. The most horrid, grizzly old grunion of a grandma ever. She needs something stronger than her usual medicine to cure her grouchiness. A special grandma medicine, a remedy for everything. And George knows just what to put into it. Grandma’s in for the surprise of her life – and so is George, when he sees the results of his mixture!

This is a short humorous story that doesn’t ever seem to fully get off the ground. But still, it’s fun and lighthearted. And while there aren’t any deep secretive insights to the human condition, it made me smile through pretty much the whole thing, and that has to be worth something, right? I loved Dahl’s warning to potential medicine makers. Equally so, I appreciated the ending. It was touching in its uncomplicated way. The image of a child knowing his fingers had brushed the magic edge of another world leaves the reader/listener in a wistful rumination.

Derek Jacobi is narrator, and he really nails the reading. I might go so far as to say that Jacobi’s delivery shines slightly brighter than Dahl’s words. Regarding the production end of things, I didn’t care at all for the numerous musical scores that seemed jammed in at odd places within the story. They were distracting and unnecessary. I felt they detracted from the overall presentation.

I recommend this to any and all Dahl enthusiasts. For those peripheral fans, you can skip it, and not feel as if you’re getting left out in the cold darkness.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl

December 26, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Revolting Rhymes and Dirty BeastsRevolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts
By Roald Dahl; Read by Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, and Miriam Margolyes
Publisher: Penguin Audio
[UNABRIDGED] –  1 hour

Themes: / poetry / children / fairy tales / mischievous animals /

Publisher summary:

Revolting Rhymes

Did you think Cinderella married the prince and lived happily ever after, or that the three little pigs outsmarted the wolf? Think again! Master storyteller Roald Dahl adds his own darkly comic twists to six favorite tales, complete with rambunctious rhymes and hilarious surprise endings.

Dirty Beasts

Roald Dahl’s inimitable style and humor shine in this collection of poems about mischievous and mysterious animals. From Stingaling the scorpion to Crocky-Wock the crocodile, Dahl’s animals are nothing short of ridiculous. A clever pig with an unmentionable plan to save his own bacon and an anteater with an unusually large appetite are among the characters created by Dahl in these timeless rhymes. This new, larger edition is perfect for listening.

This brief and unabridged audio production begins with Revolting Rhymes then progresses into Dirty Beasts. There is music arranged as dividers between the various rhymes. I usually do not like music in audio productions but this is the exception. I appreciated how the music provided a moment for laughter or reflection, and I never felt as if the musical interludes were distracting. Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, and Miriam Margolyes take turns reading the selections. All of them do a fantastic job, and not once did a narrator overacting the material pull me away from the text. I think Penguin Audio got this right.

While this is aimed at a youthful audience, it’s accessible for all ages. Those who are younger will enjoy the enthusiastic readings and rhyming schemes on display. For the older reader/listener, the cleverness of Dahl is truly something to appreciate.

Incidentally, my favorite was “The Toad and the Snail.”

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Boy by Roald Dahl

December 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

BoyBoy: Tales of Childhood
By Roald Dahl; Read by Dan Stevens
Penguin Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 11 minutes

Publisher summary:

Where did Roald Dahl get all of his wonderful ideas for stories?

From his own life, of course! As full of excitement and the unexpected as his world-famous, best-selling books, Roald Dahl’s tales of his own childhood are completely fascinating and fiendishly funny. Did you know that Roald Dahl nearly lost his nose in a car accident? Or that he was once a chocolate candy tester for Cadbury’s? Have you heard about his involvement in the Great Mouse Plot of 1924? If not, you don’t yet know all there is to know about Roald Dahl. Sure to captivate and delight you, the boyhood antics of this master storyteller are not to be missed!

At the start of his book, Roald Dahl says, “An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life, and it usually filled with all sorts of boring details. This is not an autobiography.”

Rather than a straight autobiography, it’s a short collection of some of his most powerful memories of childhood – the good, the scary, the hilarious and mischievous — all revealed with his amazing ability to paint a scene with the most evocative details and to find humor in even the worst situations.

Roald Dahl knows just the right details to capture your imagination and take you back to that feeling of being a kid, when the world is magical and mysterious and kinda gross, and Dan Stevens does a great job of narrating these tales with an engaging, slightly amused tone. Even readers who don’t know Roald Dahl’s books (they do exist: I know one!) would probably enjoy this book just for the trip back to a child’s perspective.

For fans, though, the collection is even more special, because it’s like taking a tour through Roald Dahl’s mind. Although Dahl rarely mentions it, if you know his work you’ll see the inspirations for his later stories and characters all through these anecdotes.

The most obvious one is in his near-religious awe of the candy shop. It promises so much and is so filled with delights, but the woman who works there is frightening and Roald Dahl in his friends come up with all kinds of conspiracy theories about the seeming-magic of some of the candy: for example, they are convinced the licorice shoelaces are made of rat’s blood, and the ‘tonsil ticklers’ candies are saturated with anesthetic to subdue children.

Then there is Mr. Cadbury, who regularly sent Roald Dahl’s family boxes of unidentified new flavors chocolates to taste-test. It’s not hard to see the seeds for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when you hear Roald Dahl’s childhood revelation that, somewhere, there are people working away in inventing rooms to come up with new and amazing flavors of chocolate.

Along with all the more colorful and whimsical stuff are the darker stories of his boyhood, like having doctors turn up with their surgical bags and chloroform to operate right there in the living room, and many awful dealings with bullies of all sizes – but even the most horrid character becomes someone to delight in because of Roald Dahl’s cheerful wit and playful descriptive detail. You’re right there with him when the sheer force of the “foul and beastly” matron’s voice causes that “massive bosom of hers to quiver like a blancmange.”

Posted by Marissa van Uden

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