Friday, May 22, 2015

How To Solve Your Biggest Audiobook Problems

Audiobooks are one of the best ways I've discovered to fit in reading time. I can listen on the commute and knock out a book almost once a week just by using driving time.

Sometimes when I talk to people about audiobooks I hear a lot of reasons why audiobooks don't work for them. I'd like to go through some of these hurdles and some solutions for getting into audiobooks.

Problem: Distractions
You've got an audiobook on while you're working, running, or driving and next thing you know you aren't sure where you are, who that character is, and who just died?! Then you have to skip back to where you got distracted and listen again.

Solution: Listen only when you have nothing else to do.
I can't listen to audiobooks when there is anything else for me to do. If I'm on my computer, I'm not paying attention to the story. Here are some of the places I find that it's easy for me to concentrate on a story:

  • My daily commute. It's about 30 minutes each way, so I can get in about an hour a day. It helps me get where I'm going faster. It also helps me decompress a little when I'm headed home after a long day.
  • During menial chores. I hate cleaning. But, if I have my headphones in while I'm sweeping the floor, scrubbing toilets, doing dishes, or folding laundry, I can concentrate on the story. When my husband and I were working on major remodeling projects that involved things like painting or pulling out a billion little carpet staples out of our wood floors, we listened to audiobooks.
  • Long car trips. I get carsick if I so much as glance at my phone or anything written. It's a terrible curse. But, I love listening to audiobooks during a long trip. Sometimes I can listen to an entire novel before the end of the journey home.
  • Exercising or running. I love listening to music when I run, especially because the tempo of music keeps me going. But, every once in awhile I like to put in an audiobook if I'm going on a long run. If the book is good, I'll keep going a little longer.
Problem: Hate the narrator's voice
Lots of people do voices for characters in their heads when they read. And sometimes the character's voice doesn't match up with your vision of it in your head. It's absolutely true that a bad narrator can kill a book.

Solution: Start with great narrators
I have a few narrators that I am crazy about. In some cases, the narrators have made the book absolutely come alive for me. Those are the ones I listen to. I know a lot of people like Librivox recordings because they are free. However, many of the readers are amateur and they can be pretty bad. If you can find a narrator you like, listen to their other books. You can find some of the narrators I've loved in my June is Audiobook Month series on narration. Here are some of the ones I've loved and my favorite titles:
Another great resource for narrators is to look at the books that won the Audie Awards from the American Publishers Association. They have a category for narrators, and they are often a sure bet. Bonus! A good narrator can also help you focus. Great voice actors are like sirens, you can't look away.

Problem: Cost
Audiobooks on CD cost upwards of $25-30 a book, and downloads really aren't all that much cheaper. It's a fast way to break the bank, especially if you aren't sure you'll love it.

Solution: There are a couple different (completely legal) places I get audiobooks.
  • Audible: Start with the lowest package, you get an audiobook free. You can cancel whenever you want and still keep all the books you've purchased. As an added perk, Audible helps keep your place so you can always come back to your book. The monthly cost starts at $15, which is pretty reasonable.
  • The Library: Yes, the library has audiobooks. They have them on CD as well as available for download. I love the download selection at mine, it's more than just classics, there are some great titles from Overdrive. And best of all, it's free!
  • Spotify: This is a hidden gem. I listened to almost all of Shakespeare's collected works on audio last summer. This works best if you have a subscription to the service, rather than just the free version. The free version means you have to listen on shuffle, which doesn't work so well with audiobooks. Spotify has mostly classics, but they have top-notch production.
  • YA Audiobook Sync: Every summer, Sync provides two free downloads a week. One is a YA title, the other is a classic title with a similar theme. You can keep these forever, and they've had fantastic titles in the past. It's going on now, so get downloading! They only last a week.
Bonus Tips and Advice

Use audiobooks as a tool to reread books you've loved. This way if you do get distracted, you can still keep up with the story. Having someone read a book to you might make you pick up things you missed the first time you read. Especially if you have a great narrator.

Recognize that listening to an audiobook is a different experience. It's not the same as picking up a book and reading silently. But, there is a magic to it once you find a book and a narrator that clicks. It becomes a sensory experience and can really elevate the book. Trust me.

Don't feel like you have to constantly be listening to a book. Maybe only listen during car trips, or during a commute. Aim for one every couple months. Be selective about what you listen to and don't get overwhelmed.

Do you listen to audiobooks? What do you love about them? If you don't listen, what are your barriers to trying them out? Any of these tips appeal to you?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale: Book Review

Princess Academy The Forgotten Sisters Shannon Hale

The Forgotten Sisters

By: Shannon Hale

Published: February 2015, Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Acquired: purchased hardcover

Series: Princess Academy, Palace of Stone

Buy the book: amazon | BN | king's english (signed!)

After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

Fans of Shannon Hale won’t want to miss this gorgeously woven return to this best-selling, award-winning series.

Princess Academy is one of my all-time favorite books, and I've been delighted to read the other books in the series as they've come out, especially since I wasn't sure that a sequel was ever going to come.

The Forgotten Sisters has a similar feel to Palace of Stone. Miri's heart is in Mount Eskel, and her task for the king will ensure that she provides stability for her family and village. Miri isn't a warrior, at least not in the physical sense. She's no Katniss with a bow and arrow, but she's got her own brand of fierce. One of the things I loved about Palace of Stone in particular was Miri's sense of diplomacy and intelligence. This character trait is challenged and explored in The Forgotten Sisters as well.

If you follow Hale on any of her social media platforms (and if you don't, you really should, she's on twitter, facebook, tumblr, and has a blog), you'll know that Hale herself is outspoken about opportunities and stories for girls. Hale walks the walk with this novel by giving a diverse group of girls and women who all work together and are unique. Hale tackles issues such as poverty, injustice, prejudice, feminism, and family, but wraps it all up in a story that middle grade readers will devour.

One of the things that really sets this novel apart is the setting. The humidity, dampness, and treachery of the swamp is really incredible. It becomes a character of its own as the environment isolates Miri and then becomes a tool for her. Lesser Alva is a far cry from Mount Eskel or the capital city, but it's fun to see how Hale uses this new setting to show new characters and new cultures.

Overall, this is a magnificent end to the series. I'm sorry to see Miri and the entire crew go. But, in just a few years I'll be able to experience it all over again with Abigail when she's old enough to read it with me.

Monday, May 18, 2015

'Throne of Glass' Revisited in Audio

Audiobook Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Performed by: Elizabeth Evans

Published: September 2, 2014; Brilliance Audio
Acquired: Received for review from Brilliance Audio

Buy the book: Amazon | BN | King's English

Read my review of the print edition!

I read Throne of Glass a few years ago and felt massively underwhelmed. I won't go into the details, you can read my review of the hardcover to get the basic idea.

However, a few months ago I got a pitch for the audio version. I noticed bloggers were really enjoying the series, and several tried to convince me that the series really got better as it progressed. I requested the audio CDs, but then didn't do anything about them.

But, a recent trip to Disneyland left my husband and I with about 20 hours of driving time and I gave the audiobook another chance.

I am so happy that I gave this series another chance. Elizabeth Evans did a fantastic job as narrator, and pulled me in during scenes that I had previously found lukewarm. Her depiction of Celaena Sardothien was spot on, and she kept the pace of the novel going nicely. I had previously really made a connection with Nehemia's character, and I still consider her to be one of the strongest characters in the novel. As is often the case with audiobooks, I find myself paying a little better attention to details.

This time around I found Celaena to be more likable. I think I had wanted her to be a lot more ruthless and had hoped she'd be an out-of-control assassin, especially given her reputation. But, Evans's narration really brought out the bite in Celaena's words and showed her dimensional character.

The plot wasn't as richly developed as some of the other YA fantasies I've grown to love, but there was enough foreshadowing to prove some potential for the rest of the series. Along those lines, there were still minor issues with some of the pacing generally, but I found that this second reading left me very excited to see how the next novel turns out. And, luckily, I have a copy of Crown of Midnight ready to go. This re-read puts this series up with some of my favorites (Graceling and The Demon King anyone?).

psst! Need another reason to give this series a shot? Wendy Darling from Midnight Garden also had a positive experience re-reading the series after a lukewarm first go.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Courtney Alameda: What a Vampire Novel Can Teach You About Friendship (+ a Giveaway)

Shutter Blog Tour

I'm so excited to invite one of my favorite people to my blog today. Courtney Alameda's debut novel, Shutter, was released earlier this month, and it's one of my favorites so far this year. Courtney is here to talk about Micheline and Van Helsing. Basically, why Dracula is a must-read. And check the bottom of the post for a giveaway of a hardcover copy of Shutter.

Author Courtney Alameda
By: Courtney Alameda

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Abraham van Helsing: I was alone in my car, listening to an audiobook of Dracula as I drove to Los Angeles. Dusk fell over the Grapevine Pass just outside the city as Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker pledged friendship to one another:

“’You will give me your hand, will you not? And let us be friends for all our lives,’ [said Van Helsing.]

We shook hands, and he was so earnest and so kind that it made [Jonathan] quite choky.”

Thus began one of the greatest friendships in the literary canon, one that would take its participants from the safety of their homes to the snowy, inhospitable feet of the Carpathian Mountains to face an ancient evil. I had read Dracula before, but hadn’t remembered the depth of the affection and loyalty between the members of the coalition banded together against the vampire, which I can only describe as “fierce” or “unconquerable.”

When we think of Van Helsing in popular culture, we often picture a tough, uncompromising vampire hunter; the brutish, silent, armed-to-the-teeth Hugh Jackman type. Yet the real Van Helsing’s defining characteristics were his intelligence, his vast kindness, courage, and leadership abilities; and for me, those traits make him more badass than the stereotype, because he inspired absolute trust in the people who followed him. When faced with the most repugnant of tasks—desecrating the grave of a friend who has risen as a vampire—Van Helsing says: “I, too, have a duty to do, a duty to others, a duty to you, a duty to the dead; and by God, I shall do it! All I ask now is that you come with me . . .”

Not only does the hunting party rise to join him, but the reader does as well.

“Kindness” and “friendship” are not generally the first words that come to mind when we think about horror—yet we so often see the trials and travails faced by the genre’s protagonists binding them tightly together. Since Dracula has some of the finest examples of friendship growing stronger in spite of danger and death, I knew Shutter needed to follow suit.

When I sat down to write the novel, I knew I wanted the protagonists’ relationships to echo those found in Dracula: The four teens embody Van Helsing’s original hunting coalition, with Micheline as his descendant and de facto leader of the group. She is less scientifically-minded than her famous ancestor, but shares his deep dedication to protecting others—especially her friends. As Micheline’s best friend (and later love interest), Ryder came to symbolize both Jonathan and Mina Harker, who are Van Helsing’s closest friends in Dracula. But unlike the others, Ryder isn’t a direct descendant of one of the original members of Van Helsing’s hunting party—though it’s rumored he carries Harker blood in his veins. Jude, who’s described as being very “all-American,” represents the lone American in the original group, Quincey Morris. Who, I should add, delivers one of two killing blows to Dracula via bowie knife—thus Jude’s obsession with them. Last but not least, while Oliver might be named for Bram Stoker, he actually represents an amalgamation of Dr. John Seward and Arthur Holmwood (later Lord Godalming), being both the most refined member and the one with the scientific leanings.

Friendship has the ability to carry us through our hardest times and darkest straits, in fiction and in life. Over the course of the novel, the friendship Micheline, Ryder, Jude, and Oliver is tested, stretched, and strained . . . yet every time Micheline says come with me, the boys answer her call, even in the face of death. Or perhaps especially in the face of it, and I love them for their endless loyalty to one another, and I hope readers do, too.

But more than anything else, I hope that Shutter’s readers seek out the source material, step into the fray with Van Helsing’s original hunting company, and find some fine literary friends among them, too.

Cover of Shutter by Courtney Alameda
About Shutter:

Horror has a new name: introducing Courtney Alameda.

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Bishop's Wife: Review

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
The Bishop's Wife
by: Mette Ivie Harrison

Linda Wallheim is the bishop's wife. A mother of five boys and the surrogate mother of her ward in Draper, Utah. She's used to late-night phone calls, visits, and responds to the call for help. When her friend, Carrie, disappears, leaving behind her young daughter and husband, Linda fears for the worst. Carrie's husband, Jared, is acting strangely, and Linda is determined to get to the bottom of where Carrie has gone.

I read this book on the plane ride back from BEA (Book Expo America) this year, and I was riveted.

This book is about a Mormon woman, but it's unlike any other book about a Mormon woman that I've ever read before. Long ago I gave up on LDS fiction, and part of me is convinced that it's impossible to write a compelling narrative about a person with intense, pure faith. At least, I haven't found it yet.

What sparkles in this novel is the fact that Linda is unabashedly questioning. This causes tension with her husband, children, and members of her ward. And it's so completely real that I found myself really wanting to be friends with Linda. Mette has moved us past the illusion of a perfect woman and a perfect family to a study on how to be "faithful" and questioning. Linda confronts questions about the LDS church that aren't comfortable. And they don't have easy answers. At times, Linda is judgmental and wrong. But, she's also kind and strong.

I'm not sure how other Mormons will react. It may be difficult to see the culture from an outsider's view. Mette is a practicing Mormon, but this narrative reads more like someone on the outside looking in. However, there will be some translating involved for readers not familiar with the vocabulary of Mormons. It's a difficult balance to work out how much explanation to give non-Mormons while also not bogging down the story with too much detail.

The book isn't perfect. It suffers at times from a cohesive narrative, and it's just not quite as tight in the plot as it could be.

However, on a more personal note, it resonated with me. It was a book that was at once entertaining and thought-provoking. It gave me a little glimmer that perhaps there are some other Mormon women out there like me.