Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde, Emily Gray (Audiobook): A little too zany for me

Lost in a Good BookLost in a Good Book

by Jasper Fforde, Emily Gray (Narrator)
Series: Thursday Next, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs. and 59 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2011

Read: September 4 – 6, 2018
I didn’t post about The Eyre Affair a couple of months ago when I listened to it, because I just didn’t know what to say about it. I was hoping that a second book would help. I’m not sure it did.

Let’s just start with the Publisher’s Summary (because there’s just no way I could do justice to this book):

           The second installment in Jasper Fforde’s New York Times bestselling series follows literary detective Thursday Next on another adventure in her alternate reality of literature-obsessed England—from the author of Early Riser.

The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with New York Times bestselling author Jasper Fforde’s magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction—the police force inside the BookWorld. She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe’s “The Raven.” What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications.

Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth. It’s another genre-bending blend of crime fiction, fantasy, and top-drawer literary entertainment for fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse.

There’s simply too much going on. This is Douglas Adams (mostly the Dirk Gentley novels) meets Terry Pratchett meets Doctor Who meets . . . something else, but it’s not just those elements — it’s those influences without restraint (not that any of those are known for their restraint). It’s just too zany ,too strange, too unmoored from reality.

There’s cloning to bring back extinct species, time travel, vampires, werewolves, interacting with fictional characters, rabid literary fans, characters walking into novels/other written materials to rewrite them, travel, or just to meet with someone else — and that’s just scratching the surface.

I realize that this is tantamount to complaining that there’s too much of a good thing, and I recently talked about what a foolish complaint that is. But this is different, somehow. The sheer amount of ways that reality can be rewritten/rebooted/changed in this series is hard to contemplate, and seems like too easy for a writer to use to get out of whatever corner they paint themselves into. One of the best emotional moments of this book — is ruined, simply ruined by time travel unmaking it just a few minutes later.

Emily Gray’s narration is probably the saving grace of this audiobook — I’m not sure I’d have rated this as high as I did without it. Her ability to sound sane when delivering this ridiculous text (I mean that as a compliment) makes it all seem plausible.

I enjoyed it — but almost in spite of itself. I can’t see me coming back for more. I do see why these books have a following — sort of. But I’ve got to bail.

—–

3 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

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My Lady Jane (Audiobook) Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, Katherine Kellgren: This YA Romance/Alt-History/Fantasy is simply delightful

My Lady JaneMy Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, Katherine Kellgren (Narrator)
Series: The Lady Janies, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs., 47 min.
HarperAudio, 2016
Read: July 2 – 5, 2016

           You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete strange (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country. She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.

Yes, it’s a tragedy, if you consider the disengagement of one’s head from one’s body tragic. (We are merely narrators, and would hate to make assumptions as to what the reader would find tragic.)

We have a different tale to tell.

Pay attention. We’ve tweaked minor details. We’ve completely rearranged major details. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, or simply because we thought a name was terrible and we liked another name better). And we’ve added a touch of magic to keep things interesting. So really anything could happen.

This is how we think Jane’s story should have gone.

So begins the Prologue to this wonderfully fun book. It’s that second paragraph — but specifically the parenthetical sentence — that locked in my appreciation for the book. Thankfully, it continued to be as good as that paragraph, but I was going to be a fan of anything that happened from that point on.

The advantage you have with historical figures that no one knows anything about, is historical novelists — particularly those who like to play with their history — can do pretty much what they want. Lady Jane Grey is probably the English monarch that people know the least about (if they know about her at all) making her perfect fodder for this story.

This is one of those books that I can’t figure out how to summarize, so I’m just going to steal the publisher’s blurb, as much as I hate doing that, but my attempts have a mess, and theirs worked:

           In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind YA fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

The characters are wonderful — no one’s perfectly good, or perfectly evil (although there are a few that come close in both directions). The authors keep things moving well, never letting the story detract from the characters, or one part of the narrative take over (there’s plenty of action, romance, friendship, espionage for everyone). Yes there’s magic, yes there’s comedy, but there’s also a lot of heart — a lot of joyful storytelling. This has it all. I really can’t point to a favorite bit, or favorite theme or anything. This is just one of those books I enjoyed all of.

Inside this novel is a love letter to books — and Jane is the representative book lover par excellence (though she could like poetry and novels a bit more) — there’s a treasure trove of quotations about reading, books, and related topics in these pages. All of them delightful.

The novel is clearly clever, witty, with a lot of heart, etc., but what sealed the deal for me was Katherine Kelgren’s outstanding performance. I would’ve enjoyed the novel pretty much no matter who wrote it (I’m not sure Scott Brick or Dick Hill could’ve pulled if off, but you never know), but Kelgren absolutely sold it. Her accent work was outstanding, the life and verve she brought to the project just wowed me.

I’m blathering on, I realize — yet I’m not sure I’ve actually said anything. Bah — just grab the book or audiobook. I don’t care if you’re YA or just A, if you like romance or not, male or female — if you like a fun story that’s well told and never takes itself too seriously (but never makes a joke out of anything important), read it. You’ll have a blast.

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Trouble Makes a Comeback (Audiobook) by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney: Not as good as its predecessor, but a heckuva fun read/listen

Trouble Makes a ComebackTrouble Makes a Comeback

by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney (Narrator)
Series: Trouble, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 56 min.
Listening Library, 2016
Read: May 23-24, 2018

After the explosive ending of Trouble is a Friend of Mine, life has settled down for Zoe — so much so, she may have achieved “normalcy.” Her grades are good, she’s got a nice job, she’s dating the backup QB (maybe not the brightest guy, but he’s nice), and even has a couple of friends. The biggest stress in her life is the SATs just around the corner (she’s over-prepared but doesn’t believe it). Her mother’s got a new live-in boyfriend, and other than all the health food he’s insisting they eat, things are good on that front, too — better than they’ve been in years.

Which means, it’s time for Digby to come back to town and muck everything up. And boy howdy, he does a great job of that.He’s got a lead on his missing sister, and he wants Zoe to help. Oh, and he’s pretty sure there’s a drug ring afoot at her school, and he might as well take that out while he’s at it.

The drug story runs just like you’d think it would — maybe a bit too conventionally, really. But it does it’s job — giving Digby, Zoe and the rest an easier target than the quest for his sister. And is good for enough laughs and tension that it feels like more than just a distraction from the “real” story.

That story, the hunt for clues to his sister’s fate is huge. We learn so much more than we did in the first novel — and find out that so much that Digby thought he knew wasn’t quite right. In the end, this task feels out of the reach and capabilities of these two — even if it’s inevitable that they’ll get somewhere that the police, FBI, and other professionals never did.

I may not have done myself a favor listening to this so soon after the first novel — I may have liked it better with a cool-down period. Still, I just don’t think it’s as good. Which is strange, the story’s more focused, there’s less stage-setting needed — we know almost everyone already, the situation is clear, etc. But the story wasn’t as gripping, I kept waiting for something to happen — and when it did, it seemed too easy. Plus, the whole “high school story” thing — romantic relationships, etc. — was more significant to this book. None of this made it a bad book, just a “less-good” one. Still, plenty of fun, and I really want to get the sequel, which can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Nevertheless — I enjoyed the novel (and McInerney is a big part of that) — I laughed, I had fun, I enjoyed the tension, and might have even gotten wrapped up in the emotional moments. A strong sequel that does an admirable job of setting up a sure-to-be knockout final book in the trilogy.

—–

3.5 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Trouble is a Friend of Mine (Audiobook) by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney: The most enjoyable mystery I’ve come across in months!

Trouble is a Friend of MineTrouble is a Friend of Mine

by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney (Narrator)
Series: Trouble, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 49 min.
Listening Library, 2015
Read: May 16 – 17, 2018

Preparing to survive a typical day of being Digby’s friend wasn’t that different from preparing to survive the apocalypse.

I don’t remember exactly what I was reading, but I came across a reference to this book filling the Veronica Mars dialogue hole for the writer (or something like that — I stupidly closed the tab and moved on so I can’t get the quotation right, or credit the source…). That sounded good enough to try, and boy, oh boy, am I glad I did. I doubted it’d come close to Veronica Mars, because none of the things I’ve read compared to it have ever come close (not that I haven’t enjoyed many of those things, even in their non-Mars-ness), but that was wrong of me — there’s a strong Mars-like vibe here.

Actually, that’ll work for a very reductionistic and not very accurate summary of this book: It’s Veronica Mars, gender-flipped, narrated by the Wallace figure.

I should’ve paid more attention to the piece I skimmed, I didn’t realize until I’d started that this was a YA mystery, but it works okay for older readers. There’s a soupçon of romance — and only that. I just want to throw that out before some of you decide to bow out of this one from the start.

So, post-bitter divorce, Zoe and her mother move to a small town from NYC. Mom’s an English professor at a community college and Zoe’s trying to fit in — temporarily. Her plan is to blow this popsicle-stand and move on to a Private School, make her mark there and step on to Princeton. She just needs to nail this semester.

Enter Digby. This odd boy who always wears a suit and refuses to fit in. First, ropes her into working on an insane independent study project (which he shows no signs of ever working on), showing up in the least convenient places, and leading her into all sorts of trouble — despite her best intentions.

Digby has a dark past, the events of which shape his every move (that’s obvious, I know — but he’s self-conscious about it) and the way that everyone in town sees his every move. It’d be very easy for this past to turn Digby into some sort of Bruce Wayne-y do-gooder crusader; or angry, rebellious young man — neither ends up being the case. He’s a brilliant kid with little regard for societal norms (not that he’s not very aware of them and how to use them for his own benefit). I’m doing a horrible job describing him — while there’s all that going on, Digby is observant, quick-witted, a creative thinker, resourceful, with a sharp-tongue, an odd-sense of humor and the teenaged-boyest teenage-boy appetite.

Zoe is strong-willed (except when it comes to Digby or her father), smart, careful, cautious, determined and focused. But she wants to be more — she wants to be adventurous, popular. I just don’t think she can admit that to herself. She’s a great character with a voice that makes you just like her.

Speaking of voice, I’ve gotta give kudos to Kathleen McInerney. She narrates this tale with life, verve, and humor. This is good material and she makes it live.

In addition to Zoe and Digby, we’ve got Henry — an old friend of Digby’s, the clean-cut quarterback — and many other mainstays of high school fiction (the meangirl, the computer geek, the bully athletes). Zoe’s mother is a better-than-average adult character for YA fiction, she’s not perfect, but she’s a committed and caring mother. Her father, on the other hand, is a little more typical — over-bearing and focused on his goals for his daughter (that’s typical for a character, not a father, I want to stress). The characters and the relationships between them feel grounded and believable — which makes it easy to want to see them succeed and to buy into the outlandish situations that Digby introduces Zoe and Henry to.

I’ve gone on a lot without talking about the plot — what kind of situations are there for Digby to involve his friends in? Let’s start with the cult with a headquarters across the street from Zoe’s house, and the very creepy guys who live there. There’s drug dealing, a missing high schooler, some dumpster arson, a gynecologist who definitely needs to review the Hippocratic oath, a case the police have given up on, and high school drama. It’s actually very difficult to say the plot is about X, because Digby has an agenda that he really doesn’t fill people in on until the last minute. And he seemingly hops around from caper to caper in an ADHD-manner. Minor spoiler: it’s not the case, he as some kind of a plan.

I’ve done a lousy job selling you on this book, some of that is because it’s such a quirky, oddball of a story — and the rest is due to a sloppy job on part, so let me sum up before I make things worse. The book moves swiftly and smoothly, making you smile frequently — impressed with Digby’s dogged determination and enjoying (even while rolling your eyes at his antics). The dialogue is snappy, the characters are likeable, you’ll find yourself invested in this crazy story — even if you’re a couple of decades past the target audience. Trombly has given us a great gift in Zoe and Digby, give this a shot, you’ll have a great time.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

The Hike (Audiobook) by Drew Magary, Christopher Lane: Well-written adventure that did absolutely nothing for me

The HikeThe Hike

by Drew Magary, Christopher Lane (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 4 min.
Brilliance Audio, 2016
Read: April 25 – 26, 2018
This is one of the more creative, inventive, unpredictable books I’ve come across in a long while. Ben takes a business trip to Pennsylvania, and goes for a hike in the afternoon before his big diner meeting. Somehow, while hiking he runs into … well some creatures that I won’t describe because you should read that for yourself, and realizes that reality has turned off and he’s in a very strange place. Eventually he learns that he needs to stay on the Path (not a yellow-brick road, but might as well be) until he finds the Producer. So he sets out to do just that — and ends up walking a lot further than he imagined possible, doing things he’d never imagined and almost befriending a talking snow crab that curses like a sailor.

I was so annoyed last week when I showed my wife the paperback version of this book — “hey, this is the strange book I was telling you about…” when I saw a blurb on the back from Wired comparing this to The Phantom Tollbooth, because that was almost all the insight I had into this — some (I feared and now know) obvious comparison to the Juster classic, but for adults. But really, that’s the best way to put it — the Adult Phantom Tollbooth, but without the wordplay (or charm, or heart, or . . . ).

The thing just left me cold. I never, ever, ever cared for the protagonist or his plight. I kept looking for the point to all this and never got there (even the thing at the end which came close to giving us the point, didn’t really). I appreciated the skill, the imagination, etc. I quite enjoyed crab. But I just never cared about any of it.

The ending? I’m talking the last paragraph or two (hard to guess on audio) — so the very end ending? That earned .5 – 1 star from me. It didn’t make me care any more, but it floored me. I want to give this 2 stars, that’s how little I liked it, but the talent and skill displayed keep me from it — not to mention that killer ending.

—–

3 Stars

Batman: Nightwalker (Audiobook) by Marie Lu, Will Damron: aka Gotham Season 9, just didn’t work for me. DNF’d.

 Batman: NightwalkerBatman: Nightwalker

by Marie Lu, Will Damron (Narrator)
Series: DC Icons, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs, 39 min.
Listening Library, 2018
Read: April 27 – 30, 2018

Let me get the Audiobook portion out of the way quickly — Damron does a capable job. He didn’t particularly wow me, but I had no complaints about his work. I could see myself really getting into a book he narrated.

This is essentially Gotham, season 9. Bruce is on the eve of graduation, turning 18 (yet his guardian, Alfred, is still treated as if he has any standing in his life), and finds himself on the wrong end of the law and serving probation by doing community service at Arkham Asylum. While there, he becomes fascinated by an accused murderer — she’s part of a criminal/political (technically a terrorist group, but the label was never used) group targeting Gotham’s one percenters.

The line between the Bruce Wayne of this book and the Dark Knight we all know is pretty weak. You’ve got Alfred, Lucius Fox, Bruce’s dead parents, Gotham City — sure — but there’s nothing that distinctively Batman about them (as used here). Even when you throw in Harvey Dent as a troubled youth with a strong trust in the legal system as one of Bruce’s best friend and numerous references to bats, and you’re supposed to thing that you’ve got yourself the building blocks of the Caped Crusader. But it’d have been incredibly easy for this to be any other rich youth with a knack for electronics. This doesn’t have to be a Batman story, it could be almost any generic YA hero.

If you want to read an inexperienced, fallible, Batman (as seems to be the case here), read Miller’s Batman: Year One or Barr’s Batman: Year Two — they treat the character the way he should be treated. This book just wasn’t. I got about halfway through (maybe a little over halfway) before I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to move on.

I liked the Wonder Woman installment in this series just fine — why didn’t this one work for me? Well, while Diana wasn’t the hero we all know — she was still clear in her purpose, driven to do right and capable. Bruce is none of those things — which is odd, because he’s typically been depicted as driven and single-minded since childhood. That’s the Bruce we all know, and should’ve seen here.

I can see why some people will enjoy this, but I just can’t bother to finish.

My Man Jeeves (Audiobook) by P. G. Wodehouse, Simon Prebble: Tales of Rich Fools Fail to Amuse

My Man JeevesMy Man Jeeves

by P. G. Wodehouse, Simon Prebble (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 Hrs., 8 min.
Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2006
Read: April 24 – 25, 2018
This is a collection of eight short stories — half of them starring Jeeves and Wooster, the other half featuring Reggie Pepper (who is basically Wooster without Jeeves). Like the rest of the books featuring Jeeves and Wooster, this is frequently hailed as a comedic classic, a masterpiece, and has no dearth of fans — highbrow and lowbrow alike.

I am not one of them. Wooster and Pepper are vapid, privileged aristocrats — vain, insipid, too wealthy and seeming incapable of narrating — or conversing — in coherent sentences. Jeeves is a frequently (but not infallibly) conniving and tricky valet, who seemingly knows more than anyone else around him. I honestly don’t know if I’d want him working for me, he’s too nosy, too duplicitous for my taste. All the characters get into farcical situations that are complicated and entirely of their own devices. If they could just be upfront and honest with others (including each other), their lives would be far less complicated.

Prebble did a fine job, I think. Yeah, I had no patience for any of the narrators of the stories — but that’s not on him. That’s totally on the characters. I think he grabbed the personalities perfectly. I just don’t see why anyone would bother.

I’m primarily posting about this experience as a reminder to myself: Just give up, HC. You and Wodehouse are just not compatible. You may have friends (Internet-based and Real Life) that love him, but you just don’t understand the appeal.

Not funny. Not amusing. Not charming. Pretty much a waste of time. Just can’t recommend this to anyone.

—–

2 Stars