Sam’s Listening Report: December 2012

After two months in a row with seven audiobooks, I closed out 2012 with a quite a run, with several titles making it into my best-of-the-year choices, including several unique and thoroughly enjoyable books — such a good month that I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll just run ’em down in chronological order, like I always do:

Three Parts Dead | [Max Gladstone] Some Like it Cold | [John Kessel] Legion | [Brandon Sanderson]The White Forest | [Adam McOmber] The Testament of Jessie Lamb: A Novel | [Jane Rogers] A Sudden Outbreak of Magic: Contagious Magic | [Michael Jasper]The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making | [Catherynne M. Valente] A Christmas Carol: A Signature Performance by Tim Curry | [Charles Dickens] The Last Policeman | [Ben H. Winters]

REVIEWS:

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, read by Claudia Alick for Blackstone Audio (review copy) — A fantastic debut fantasy novel, one part secondary world urban fantasy and one part … legal thriller? It’s actually something like that: “A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, a first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring him back to life before his city falls apart. Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without him, the metropolis’ steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god who’s having an understandable crisis of faith. When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.”

Tara ends up being a pretty badass first-year associate and character, a kick-ass, take-no-crap naturally gifted necromancer, and Gladstone’s debut was one of my favorite debuts (among several good choices) of 2012, with a wonderfully original core conceit of gods as legal frameworks, and a shambling, lived-in-feeling to the cities and buildings the story inhabits, along with a fascinating world I could definitely stand to see more of in future. The narration here was quite excellent also, but some fairly obvious segments were patched-in fixes, with differing background noise and recording quality, etc. and this puts a slight mar on what could have been an absolutely great audiobook and makes it “only” merely great. Definitely recommended.

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Some Like it Cold and A Clean Escape by John Kessel, read by the author — I’ve been re-reading my way through Kessel’s short fiction bibliography, by way of the recently-released The Collected Kessel (Baen), and decided to finally listen to this pair of stories available at Audible.com. In the first, Some Like it Cold, a time traveler from the future visits Marilyn Monroe in her final hours, and in A Clean Escape a psychiatrist from a world in mid-apocalypse tries to determine the sanity of a man. Both stories exemplify so many of Kessel’s strengths — detail, character, voice, pace — and the productions are clear and, with the aid of the author as narrator, “on” in terms of timing and the rhythms of a story. Two short interludes I enjoyed very much in a month of good listening. The closing lines of each stick with me: one (“Some Like it Cold”) for its wry humor, the other (“A Clean Escape”) for its gut-punch finality.

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Legion by Brandon Sanderson, narrated By Oliver Wyman for Audible Frontiers — As much as is packed in, it’s hard to believe this is just over two hours. Wyman brings Sanderson character Stephen Leeds — and his menagerie of split personalities, here called “aspects” — to life in this really interesting novella. Leeds, with his highly specialized and capable aspects, is renowned as someone who can solve problems, find things, etc. He’s drawn into the search for missing inventor Balubal Razon, whose camera produces photographs which should be impossible, leading to car chases and intrigue in Jerusalem and a step forward in Leeds’ search for someone from his past. Many things stand out here, not the least being that, wow, Sanderson has really done something different from his epic fantasy oeuvre, creating a striking and vibrant and original character in Leeds from whom I would really like to hear more.

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The White Forest by Adam McOmber, read by Susan Duerden for Brilliance Audio (review copy) — Debut novel for McOmber, who is also the author of a BOA Editions American Reader Series collection of historical fantasy short fiction, This New & Poisonous Air. The novel is an interesting meshing of a Regency style novel of courtship and intrigue among families around the well-heeled Hampstead Heath outside of 19th century London as the Victorian is built upon with electric lights and the coming technological age, and a more gothic story of magic, dark powers, and world behind the veil between realities. [Full review to come.]

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The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, read by Fiona Hardingham for Blackstone Audio (review copy) — A Man Booker Prize longlisted novel and winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, first published in the UK in 2011 and gaining wider release and recognition throughout 2012. The titular “testament” is the date-stamped diary (or journal, if you prefer) of Jessie Lamb, a teenager whose world is in shock, heading toward chaos, when a global pandemic renders all women unable to bear children to term. Hardingham’s innocent yet firm narration is flowing with the emotional textures and undercurrents of Jessie’s young life, making this both a story and audiobook to ponder over. [Full review to come.]

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A Sudden Outbreak of Magic by Michael Jasper, read by Alyson Grauer (review copy) — After opening with the 1871 great Chicago fire, the narrative jumps forward to a black teenaged girl in modern day Dubuque, Iowa, coming to terms with her family’s move from Chicago. It takes a delicate hand for the voice of a YA novel to not annoy me, particularly in an era of far too many paranormal YA novels with far too helpless protagonists. Too often it’s “whine whine whine” all the time, and sitting around waiting for someone else to save the day or at least make a decision. Here, author Jasper gives us Kelley Strickland and her twin brother Jeroan, and Kelley is nobody’s damsel in distress, or petulant moper — whether it’s raining a (well deserved) haranguing down upon Jeroan for repeating the same mistakes that were leading him less-than-nowhere, all too quickly in Chicago, or, once discovering her magical abilities, using them to defend herself and her friends, the proper adjective is something more like “plucky”. First of a series. [Full review to come.]

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, read by the author for Brilliance Audio –I switched back and forth between the print book and the audiobook on this one, as I found myself so drawn into the story that I wanted to swim in it. September is a girl from our world, longing for adventure, when one day an adventure comes calling. Brave and determined, she’s a great protagonist for a wonderful, new yet also ineffably timeless Fairyland story for kids and their grown-ups. Valente is not the most polished or perfect narrator, but having the author’s voice is as one’s guide into a book is the authentic real deal. I would say to go for the book, with its illustrations and wonderful cover, though, like I did, you can’t go wrong with both.

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A Christmas Carol: A Signature Performance by Tim Curry by Charles Dickens, narrated by Tim Curry for Audible Inc. — It had been a very, very long time since I read this book, if indeed I ever read the entire thing cover to cover, and in the main I was struck by, well, how excellent a story it is in full. While for personal and sentimental reasons my favorite “Scrooge” must be Rich Little‘s, Tim Curry was a wonderful choice as narrator.

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, read by Peter Berkrot for Brilliance Audio — Detective Hank Palace continues to investigate a suicide he finds suspicious, though worldwide the fabric of economy and society is coming unglued as an Earth-killer asteroid hurtles toward impact. Really a good book and well-narrated, and one I find myself thinking about and talking about fairly often. [Full review to come.]

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The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson, read by the author — I listen to a lot — a lot — of audiobooks with my kids, and don’t review too many of them, and for the most part I won’t change that with a short mention here. But I will say that it was a huge selling point for me to pick up the hardcover edition of this new book when I saw that it came with the audiobook, and it’s one my kids have enjoyed several times over.

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Whew. Well, considering this is mid-March and I’m finally posting this, and not even full reviews of everything, I think the experiment of doing “monthly” roundups is over. I’m going to give just writing reviews and posting ’em when I’m done a try for a while.

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2 Responses to Sam’s Listening Report: December 2012

  1. Dave Thompson says:

    Man, I love Curry’s reading of A Christmas Carol. It’s just incredible, and he just makes it funny and heartbreaking and scary all in a few hours (obviously, he’s working with an excellent story)!

    I see a couple others on here I’ve been meaning to read/listen to. GAH. Booklust…

  2. Pingback: Sam’s Listening Report: January 2013 | The AudioBookaneers

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