The High King (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The High KingThe High King

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #5
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs, 24 min.
Listening Library, 2005

Read: March 29 – 30, 2017


Arawn-Death-Lord has managed to get his hands on Dyrnwyn, Gwydion’s sword, which has emboldened him to move his forces to launch an all-out assault on the Kingdom of Prydain. Gwydion and his allies move quickly to assemble the forces necessary to stand against him — basically, it’s an Armageddon-type situation, and all hands are needed.

Taran is sent to the Free Commots, where he spent so much time recently to gather their support — and he does so, almost without trying to, becomes the leader of the assembled forces (such as they are) of the rather libertarian people. Before you know it, Taran’s leading his band into battle at the side of Gwydion and the other warleaders. It’s a stretch to believe, but at this point, you go with it. The forces marshaled against the High King are strong enough to make this an uphill battle, but when treason rears its ugly head and the forces of Prydain are divided against themselves, it really seems that all hope is lost. Eventually, Gwydion and his forces head off on a last-ditch effort to stop the Death Lord, while Taran, his companions, allies, followers and Glew take on a vital, but smaller task that will allow Gwydion’s hail Mary to work.

And frankly, that whole treason storyline bugs me — not just because it’s evil, but because it’s futile, stupid, and pointless. I think this was Alexander’s biggest error in the series. It serves no real purpose but to stack the odds against the armies of Prydain.

Finally, we get final battles — The Death Lord and his forces are defeated (spoiler, children’s fantasy written in the 60’s features good guys winning); the future of Prydain is settled; other Tolkien-esque things take place as is fitting in the conclusion to a fantasy series (actually, Tolkien was probably following the same older rules and tropes as Alexander, but we now associate them with Tolkien, not his predecessors).

Taran finally grows up into what Alexander’s been holdig out for him all along — it takes the whole novel, but it happens. Gwydion is probably the least interesting he’s ever been here, which is a shame. Eilonwy? Oh, Eilonwy — she’s just so perfect (as a character, probably annoying in real life — still, someone you want in your corner). I loved everything about her in this book. I wish Gurgi had a little more to do, and that Glew had far, far less. Fflewddur Fflam remains the unsung hero of this series — the sacrifices he makes, the efforts he makes, his wisdom, etc., are all overshadowed by his comedic use. What he goes through moved me more this time through than any of the deaths. As an aside, the first time I saw a picture of Lloyd Alexander, I shouted — Fflewddur! I don’t know if it was intentional, or if I just had a strange imagination, but he looks exactly like a Fflam.

Oh, and there are many, many deaths — mostly nameless soldiers on both sides, but there are quite a few named people, too. Some get great heroic moments, others are just named in a list of the fallen. I remember the first time I read this book being very upset by just one of them — it was quite possibly the first time in my young life that anyone other than a dog, an ailing elderly person or a villain had died in a book I read. I still get sad when I read that particular one, but it doesn’t get to me as much.

James Langton’s performance here is consistent with what he’s done for the last few books. If you liked him before, you’ll like him now. If not . . .

I remember liking this more than I did, even just a few years ago when I read this with my kids. Still, a great way to wrap up this series — Alexander ties up everything that needs tiring up, he rewards all the surviving characters in a fitting way and sends our heroes off on new adventures. There’s still a bit of fun, a little adventure, and character growth throughout, with all things ending up just where they need to satisfy readers. It’s really easy for adult-me to see where kid-me fell in love with the genre thanks to this series. Still, a fitting conclusion to this series — which I still recommend for young and old (primarily the young).

—–

4 Stars

High Heat (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

High HeatHigh Heat

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #17.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs., 27 mins.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017


Ahhh, finally — an actually satisfying shorter Jack Reacher story. It’s longer than the others I’ve tried — a novella, not just a short story. That’s probably a lot of it, but there’s something more to it — just don’t ask me what.

Reacher’s on summer vacation before his senior year — pretty much fully grown, has a good head on his shoulders, and is as arrogant and invincible feeling as most teenagers (he’s just big and tough enough to back it up). He’s visiting NYC for the day before going to visit his brother at West Point.

It’s 1977, a summer in NYC known for two things: incredible heat and Son of Sam. Both have an impact on this story (no, Reacher doesn’t stop the killer or anything — phew). Reacher flirts with some college girls, breaks up a fight with a mobster and an undercover FBI agent, survives a blackout, spends some quality time with one of the college girls and helps the FBI agent out — while engaging in a few solid fights.

The action takes place in one night — probably 14 hours or so, but Child manages to cram a lot into those hours. Is it realistic? No, not even by Reacher standards. Is it compelling — yup. Will it keep you interested? Oh, yeah.

Dick Hill sounded to me like he as having a lot of fun reading this one — which is fitting, it’s probably the most “fun” Reacher story I’ve come across (well, maybe the Reacher/Nick Heller story in FaceOff is a little more so). He does his typical job, satisfying in his delivery, keeps you engaged, doesn’t wow with technique.

It’s a fun story, nothing to get excited about, but something that Reacher fans will enjoy, in a complete-feeling story. Good enough for me.

—–

3.5 Stars

Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far) (Audiobook) by Dave Barry, Patrick Frederic

Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far)Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far)

by Dave Barry, Patrick Frederic
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., 29 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2007

Read: April 10, 2017


Back in high school, I worked at a public library (shock, right?), and I kept shelving this book — Dave Barry Slept Here, and eventually succumbed and took it home — several times. I fell in love with Barry’s humor, and read him a lot over the next decade — every book, as many columns as I could find, etc., etc. But I eventually stopped, for no good reason that I can think of (it’s probably not Harry Anderson‘s fault) — and have really only read his novels since then.

Still, when I saw this audiobook on the library’s site, it was an automatic click — without even reading the description. This is essentially a reprinting of his “Year in Review” columns for the first few years of this millennium and a review of the previous 1,000 years of human history.

It was hilarious. Just that simple. There’s nothing more to say, really.

In the beginning Frederic played it straight — which surprised me a bit, but I liked the effect. A serious reading of Barry’s goofiness worked remarkably well. Later on, Frederic seemed to loosen up — he even did a couple of decent impressions. I really enjoyed his work on this.

Yeah, the humor’s a bit dated, but funny is funny. This is a great look back at the early part of the 21st Century (and before). I laughed a lot, remembered a few things, and generally had a good time with this.

—–

3.5 Stars

Taran Wanderer (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

Taran WandererTaran Wanderer

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #4
Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs, 22 min.
Listening Library, 2005

Read: March 28, 2017


The one question that’s plagued Taran all his life is just who is he? Who is his family? Is there any chance at all that his family is some sort of nobility? This last question has taken on a new level of importance to him as he has realized that he’s in love with a princess and can’t do anything about it without that nobility.

Dallben can’t answer the question for him — but he allows Taran leave to go try to find the answer himself. I’ve never understood just how Taran can pull this off — there’s practically no birth records in Prydain (I can’t imagine), it’s not like he can get blood tests done — and he doesn’t really interview anyone, just meanders around.

Still, he visits various corners of the kingdom — visiting friends old and new, dipping his toe in all sorts of trades and vocations. He renders aid, and gets aid. Fflewddur Fflam shows up and spends a good portion of the novel traveling with him (Gurgi remains a constant companion). There’s a confrontation with a wizard, a regional armed conflict to try to settle, a mercenary band to deal with — as well as other woes.

He learns a lot, he matures a lot, and maybe even gets a dose of wisdom. It’s not your traditional fantasy novel by any sense, but it’s a good one.

As for the audiobook? Everything I’ve said about the other books in the series — Alexander’s introduction and Langton’s performance — holds true for this one.

The most emotionally rich of the books, the most thoughtful — particularly for those of the target age. Good, good stuff.

—–

4 Stars

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Audiobook) by Alan Bradley, Jayne Entwistle

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

by Alan Bradley, Jayne Entwistle (Narrator)
Series: Flavia de Luce, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 49 min.
Random House Audio, 2010

Read: March 21 – 27, 2017

I think I’d have phrased things a bit differently, but in the interest of time, I’m just going to copy and paste from my thoughts when I read the book a couple of years ago and add in a bit for the audiobook:
The plucky young chemist with a nascent obsession with death is back in action. The case is a little less personal for Flavia de Luce this time, but that doesn’t stop her from jumping in whole hog to get to the bottom of it.

Flavia runs into a couple of traveling performers with some car trouble and before you know it, she’s got them some help–and a gig. While she hangs around the TV star and his assistant, she finds herself surrounded by some of her town’s darker history and then face to face with a murder. And Flavia being Flavia, she can’t resist sticking her nose in and making sure all the knots are untangled–particularly the ones adults are ignoring, despite them being painfully obvious to her.

We get less of Flavia’s sisters (and the rest of the household, come to think of it) in this installment–but when they’re around, their impact is greater. Clearly, as this series continues, there’s going to be some serious drama on the homefront with some major implications for the de Luce family, I hope Bradley tackles that quickly, the foreshadowing’s getting old quickly.

Unlike with so many other amateur sleuths (particularly juveniles), it’s nice to see that her reputation and track record are acknowledged by some in the community — which is both a help and a hindrance, I hope to see more of that in the future.

Entwistle really impressed me again with her narration. Not just the way she nails Flavia — both the good and the bad aspects of her personality. But her work on the rest of the characters — the TV star’s assistant in particular — really won me over, showing a little more range than we got to see, er, hear last time.

My only major quibble with this installment is that it takes far too long to set the main action of the novel up–in a 348 page mystery novel, you’d better get to the central crime before page 150 or so. Unless you’ve got a heroine like Flavia to focus on, I can’t imagine being patient enough to wait that long to get the ball rolling. Entwistle’s performance helps, but, man, it drags on awhile before Bradley’s done setting things up and gets things moving.

Another fun (occasionally hilarious) read, with a mystery satisfyingly twisty, with just enough red herrings to get you through it.

—–

3.5 Stars

Not a Drill (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

Not a DrillNot a Drill

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #18.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr., 27 min.
Random House Audio, 2014

Read: March 14, 2017


Reacher sets out for the Canadian border, to make it as far north on this Interstate as possible, just because. Not too far south from there, he stops in a tourist-y town, a haven for backpackers, hikers, wilderness types in general. Before he leaves, a whole lot of military types show up and block access to the forest from the town (well, they try to — the forest is pretty big, it’s impossible to block access to the whole thing).

This gets Reacher’s curiosity piqued and he starts poking around to see if he can understand why.

I don’t want to sound bloodthirsty here, but not a single fight. No threat of violence breaking out. Mostly, it’s Reacher walking around and observing things before making a heck of a guess/deduction that proved to be right.

Dark, cynical ending — one of Child’s more political statements.

Hill was okay, not terribly interesting, but I think that’s Child’s fault this time.

It’s not bad. It’s just disappointing, short and . . . bleh. Proof that they can’t all be winners, I guess.

—–

2 1/2 Stars

The Castle of Llyr (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The Castle of LlyrThe Castle of Llyr

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #3
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs, 36 min.
Listening Library, 2004

Read: March 20, 2017


Taran is tasked with escorting Princess Eilonwy to the Isle of Mona, where she’ll be taken in by distant relatives — the king and queen, who will help her learn how to be a proper young lady (an idea she finds ridiculous). They sail there on a ship “captained” by the island’s Prince Rhun.

Once they reach the island, Taran runs into Fflewddur Fflam, who’s enjoying barding again — even if the castle’s steward, Magg, has an intense dislike of his music. Shortly after that, Taran discovers there’s a threat to Eilonwy in the castle and tries to save her from it without letting her know she’s in danger. That goes poorly and he joins the rescue effort instead (also led by Rhun — or at least Rhun thinks so).

The companions also meet the world’s littlest giant (why does that sound like it belongs more in The Phantom Tollbooth than here?) and a mountain cat that we’ll get to spend a lot of time with. There’s a lot of links to the first book as well as the last book in the series here.

The introduction by Alexander was great — I wish I could hear more of his own takes on the books. Langton was solid. Again, I think he could talk a little faster — but that’s minor. His Prince Rhun’s “Hullo”s are just what I’ve heard in my head all these decades.

This is probably the most entertaining of the lot — there’s some really good comedy here. Taran grows up a lot more here than he does in other books, I think, which adds something more than just entertainment to this book. It’s possible that this is the one in the series I read the most as a kid. The story isn’t as rich as I remember, but factoring in the growth in characters and the entertainment factor, the experience as a whole was pretty satisfying — and I’ll take that.

—–

3.5 Stars