Monthly Archives: June 2014

Awesome Audiobooks

June is Audiobook Month, and I’m getting ready to take a long drive to the east coast, so I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite audiobooks this week. If you want more recommendations, check out my great audiobook shelf on Goodreads. And please feel free to add your own favorite listens in the comments!

Thirteen Reasons Why. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, narrated by Debra Wiseman and Joe Johnstone

Summary from Goodreads:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

If ever there was a book written for audio, this is it, and these narrators do a fantastic job of bringing this story to life. I still get chills every time I hear Hannah Baker’s (Debra Wiseman’s) voice.

Leviathan. Leviathan and the rest of the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Allen Cumming

Summary of the first book from Goodreads:

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way … taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

This series solidified my love of audiobooks. It’s a fantastic story, and Cumming does a great job with the plethora of accents.

The Graveyard Book. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, narrated by Neil Gaiman

Summary from Goodreads:

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack — who has already killed Bod’s family…

I’d recommend just about anything written and read by Neil Gaiman. His stories all have bizarre premises that are wonderfully executed, and his narration is phenomenal. To quote a colleague, “I could listen to that man read the phone book.”

The Raven Boys. The Raven Boys and the rest of The Raven Cycle series  by Maggie Stiefvater, narrated by Will Patton

Summary of the first book from Goodreads:

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love … or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them — not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all — family money, good looks, devoted friends — but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

In addition to a great story and reader, this audiobook is enhanced by music that was written and performed by the author and her fellow musicians. The music complements the story and setting nicely.

If I Stay. If I Stay by Gayle Forman, narrated by Kirsten Potter

Summary from Goodreads:

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love — music — even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only one that matters.

With the movie adaptation coming out this summer, I thought I’d mention this one. It’s on the shorter side, so it’s great for a medium-length road trip, and it has some beautiful cello music that ties in nicely with the main character’s story.

If you want a more specific recommendation, leave a comment with the genre or type of story you’re interested in and I’ll come up with a few titles for you. And if you have books to add to this list, please share them in the comments.

Happy listening!

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Amazon vs. Hachette: I Choose Readers

Hachette Book Group and Amazon.com. There has been no shortage of coverage of the Amazon/Hachette dispute in recent weeks. A Google search of “Amazon vs. Hachette” brought up 7,260,000 results from several reputable sources — The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The AtlanticForbes, and plenty of others. Briefly, for those who haven’t been following the news, Amazon and Big Five publisher Hachette Books Group are arguing over how much of a cut Amazon should get from each sale of a Hachette eBook. While they duke it out behind closed doors, Amazon is delaying shipping of Hachette titles and is not allowing pre-orders of upcoming Hachette books.

I’m not going to claim I know enough about this to take a side. Honestly, I don’t think either corporation is completely in the right. What I do know is that while these businesses are fighting, readers and writers are losing. Readers are missing out on opportunities to purchase books they want to purchase and to discover books they may love because Amazon, which accounts for roughly 50% of all book sales in the United States, isn’t listing those books. Writers are losing opportunities to sell their books or have their books discovered by new readers. This is bad enough for bestsellers like James Patterson and J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith). But for debut authors, it is a career changer — perhaps even a career killer.

If a debut author loses sales because her books aren’t listed on Amazon, then publishers (both Hachette imprints and others) will see those numbers as an indication of that author’s success, and may be more reluctant to publish future books she writes. Yes, authors are expected to do some of their own marketing these days, but when they’re cut from a major retailer like Amazon, that’s a huge blow.

So for now, I think I’ll let the corporations duke it out. I’ll be getting my Hachette titles from the library. (And while I may not be purchasing them, I’m talking them up to my patrons, who will often sample a new author at the library and buy his future books.)

Where do you stand on the Amazon/Hachette dispute?

Diverse Books

We Need Diverse Books. Following the live tweets of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel at Book Expo America and reading some of the articles in Publishing Hub’s latest Diverse Words round-up has gotten me thinking a lot about diversity in books.

I was fortunate to grow up exposed to a lot of different cultures. Throughout middle school and high school I lived next door to a Chinese family, across the street from a Puerto Rican family and an Indian family, and down the street from a family that had immigrated from the Czech republic. My backyard bordered an African American family’s backyard. I took classes with Chinese, Japanese, Indian, African American, and white kids, and had both friends from wealthy families and friends who put themselves through college because their parents couldn’t afford to. I babysat for two women who were very open about the fact that one of them had undergone gender reassignment surgery. I have a Jewish mother and a Catholic father and have studied faiths from Buddhism to Baha’i.

I didn’t mean to turn this into a showcase of how diverse my upbringing was (although side note, a HUGE thanks to the parents and educators who made sure it was so diverse). My point is, I grew up with an understanding that some people had experiences that were different from my own. But more importantly I learned that despite our differences there were universal struggles we all faced. We all felt pressure from our parents. We all struggled to fit in at some point. We were all trying to figure out who we were and where we belonged.

Not everyone has the same opportunity to interact regularly with people from different cultures. I think we need diverse books for those children as much as we need them for the kids who don’t see themselves in the books on the shelves today. If kids aren’t exposed to diversity, they’ll fill in the gaps with stereotypes and misconceptions. And if kids don’t see heroes they can relate to in books, they’ll think the experiences those heroes have — and even the books themselves — aren’t for them.

I absolutely think that it’s important for the books on our shelves to reflect the variety of cultures and experiences in our diverse society. However, I also think it’s important that we promote and celebrate these books because they are good books that tell good stories, rather than because they are about people of color or feature LGBTQ characters or are “diverse” books. We should not have to have a separate “diverse” section of the bookstore or library; we should have mysteries and fantasies and biographies that feature characters as diverse as our society.

How do we get there? Right now I think we’re at the stage where people do need to make a conscious effort to read diverse books. There simply aren’t enough diverse books out there. But if we do make that effort, and keep this conversation going, hopefully the people who write diverse books (and the people who publish them) will listen. And hopefully someday we’ll reach a point where we don’t need to talk about diverse books as a label because books will just be books.

And with that, I’ll step off my soap box for a bit. What do you think of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks conversation? How do we get more diverse books to the readers who need them?

Review: Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince

The False Prince. I had the pleasure of getting completely sucked into a book when I picked up Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince. I read a lot, but it’d been a long time since I started something I couldn’t put down. By the end of the first paragraph, I actually said to myself, “This is what I’m doing with the rest of the night.”

The summary (from Goodreads):

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

What makes this book work? Besides the obvious great writing, there’s the combination of an interesting premise, a vivid setting, and a protagonist whose greatest strengths may also be his greatest flaws (or vice versa). Sage’s way of looking at the world is so engaging that I’d probably read even if the plot started to drag (which it never did). Nielsen has also created a vibrant world in turmoil, with the setting itself adding tension to the plot.

I devoured the sequel, The Runaway King, just as quickly. Nielsen does a great job providing enough backstory for this book to stand on its own without bogging readers down with too much detail. And it has one of my favorite first lines ever: “I had arrived early for my own assassination.”

If you write middle grade or young adult fantasy, or if you’re just looking for a great story, I highly recommend The False Prince and the rest of the Ascendance trilogy.

What books have you come across lately that you couldn’t put down?