Johnny HellerMarley and meHorrible Harry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local audiobook aficionados got an opportunity to hear a master narrator at work and to quiz him about his craft. Johnny Heller, award-winning narrator, actor and stand-up comic visited Bettendorf Public Library July 15th to read aloud and take questions from the audience.  A resident of Manhattan, he seemed genuinely interested in learning more about Iowa in general, and the Quad Cities specifically.

Heller is an interesting combination of  the highbrow (trained as a Shakespearean actor) and the low to middle brow (he delights in adolescent humor, which serves him well when narrating juvenile books). He read from several of his books (Marley and Me and  Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys).

He gave several insights into the process. Most fascinating was how he chooses someone (an actor or actress perhaps) to pair with a character, so he can instantly call up that persona. When asked how narrators can seamlessly and quickly move between male and female characters, he says, ideally, he’s in a zone where he doesn’t consciously have to make those decisions. He doesn’t try to do “female” voices. it’s more about their character. He softens his voice for females but doesn’t go several octaves higher.

Other tidbits, he gets paid by the hour – the finished hour of product, not what he puts into it, so as an experienced  narrator, he’s more efficient and the ratio of time spent and actual output is more equal.

His favorite part of the job, though, is to foster the love of books and reading. Mixing with the crowd before and after, Heller clearly enjoys the extensive traveling involved in the job, and doing whatever he can to promote the appreciation of story, in whatever format it may be.

 

 

 

Burning RoomThe audiobook of Michael Connelly’s latest (hopefully, not the last) Harry Bosch novel is brilliantly narrated by Titus Welliver. The Burning Room is enjoyable on multiple levels. First, there’s the evolving relationship between Harry and an assigned protegee, Detective Lucia Soto, as well as Harry’s internal monologues about the careerists in charge of the LAPD and the incredible talents of Welliver and, probably least of all, the actual plot.

Bosch grows into an ever more fascinating character; professional in that he cares first and foremost about solving cases, rather than the political implications of each and every action. He skewers the bureaucratic bluster in the guise of the bumptious Lieutenant Samuels, Bosch’s nemesis. As they investigate two entwined cold cases, Harry imparts his survival skills and hard-won knowledge to Lucy Soto, a smart and hard-working disciple. Will she carry the torch in future Connelly books?

There’s a fine balance in audiobooks when it comes to altering the reader’s voice between characters; they should be distinct enough that the listener can follow a conversation, but not so in-your-face that you’re brought out of the story. Welliver’s  gift is his ability to create, with consistent and subtle intonation, a conversation’s back and forth action. So much more efficient than “he said” and “Harry replied,” and “she shouted.”

His narrating work can be heard in several Robert B. Parker novels, while his acting can be seen in The Town, Gone Baby Gone, Twisted and Transformers. Age of Distinction. I’m sure acting is not easy, but reading aloud in such an intelligent and enjoyable manner must be even harder.

 

I have a love/hate relationship with movies that are based on books. Sometimes the movies are well put together and follow the plot lines and character development of the book almost perfectly. Other times, I can tell just by the preview that the movie has completely gone off the rails and does not follow the book. Depending on how attached I am to the book, I might be able to let go of the differences in the movie, but if I feel any deep connections to the book, I pity the people next to me in the theater because I will point out how the two differ. Thankfully, I have found a few book-based movies that have changes that enhance the book or even make more logical sense than the world created in the book.

With the recent upswing in popularity of post-apocalyptic dystopian literature, especially those marketed towards young adults, movie producers have seemingly been turning to these novels as fool-proof ways to draw people into the theaters. (Case in point: The Hunger Games movies based on books by Suzanne Collins, as well as the Divergent movies based on books by Veronica Roth.) A similar post-apocalyptic dystopian book/movie pair just made it to the top of my to-be-read/to-be-watched list and I must say that I actually enjoyed the two.


the maze runnerThis pairing is the book, The Maze Runner written by James Dashner published in 2009, as compared to the movie The Maze Runner released in 2014 by Twentieth Century Fox.

In the book, Dashner begins the story of the Maze by introducing Thomas, the newest Greenie who wakes up in the bottom of the Box not knowing anything about himself, not even his name. He is greeted by the other boys, the Gladers, and shown around his new home, the Glade, a large expanse of land surrounded and enclosed in huge stone walls. Each boy has to pull his own weight in order for them all to survive, leaving them all with jobs to make their enclosed community run smoothly.

As Thomas soon learns, the Gladers are sure of only a few things: every morning the stone doors open, every night the doors close, and you do not want to be stuck in the maze at night because that is when the Grievers, a weird mechanical, bulbous type of monster that, if they corner you, can sting you and make you go through the Changing, come out. Every night after the doors close, the maze changes, making it even harder for the boys as solving the maze is the only way they can escape. Every thirty days a new Greenie is delivered in the Box. These things have been consistent since the first group of boys woke up in the maze over two years ago. Until Thomas shows up… Then everything changes.


the maze runner dvdThe movie version deviates from the plot of the book, but in a good way, in a necessary cinematic way. Some of the plot points Dashner makes in the book would have been difficult and a little far-fetched to allow for on-screen time, but at the same time, the exclusion of those significant details changed the plot from what Dashner wrote in the book. (For example, the exclusion of the Cliff, the abyss that is mentioned throughout the book, allowed the movie producers to instead dive more into the mechanics of the Grievers and the interlocking technology aspects that WCKD, also known as the Creators, used to control the boys.) Many other changes were done to enhance the book, but the overall themes of the book are still present within the movie.

All in all, the movie allows viewers who have read the book a better understanding of the workings of the boys’ minds, to see in better detail the immensity and confusion of the maze, and the destruction that the Grievers, and therefore the Creators, run the boys through on a day-to-day basis.

In my opinion, the movie version did not detract from the book, but instead adds a necessary level of cinematic pop to keep viewers engaged in the Gladers’ lives and their struggle to get free.

The Maze Runner is also available as an e-book, an e-audiobook, a playaway audiobook, and a cd audiobook.

 

 


still aliceStill Alice by Lisa Genova has been on my list of books to read since it was published in 2009. Recently, the audiobook version of the book arrived at the Davenport Public Library and I eagerly checked it out.  I wanted to read it before I watched the movie version of Still Alice, which stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart.  The DVD of Still Alice is available at the library too.

Still Alice is the story of a Harvard psychology professor named Alice Howland.  Alice specializes in linguistics.  She was a student at Harvard and has taught there for over two decades.  Alice met her husband John at Harvard where he is a professor of biology.  They have three grown children: Anna, Tom and Lydia.  Anna is a lawyer and Tom is a doctor which makes Alice very proud.  Lydia refuses to go to college and is pursuing an acting career.  Alice worries about Lydia’s future which causes tension between mother and daughter.

At a conference, Alice begins to have trouble remembering words.  She notices other problems with her memory and consults with her doctor.  Still uneasy after her doctor visit, she sees a neurologist.  Alice is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

It is quickly apparent why this novel was a best seller.  This brilliant scholar slowly begins to lose her memory, her lifestyle and her sense of self.  I believe that listening to this book on audiobook was more powerful since I could hear the doctor diagnosis Alice with Alzheimer’s disease and I easily imagined what it would it would be like to be Alice.  The majority of the book is filled with conversations between Alice and those around her so this book made an excellent audiobook.  Alice and her family learn to make adjustments in their routine and adapt to Alice’s changing mind.  Even though this book is heartbreaking it is also a beautiful story of strength and the human spirit.

 

 

I love Robert B. Parker’s mysteries. I’m a big fan of both Spencer, his Boston boxer-detective, and Jesse Stone, his laconic small town police chief.

So when Mr. Parker passed away in 2010, I mourned not only one of my favorite authors, but Spencer and Jesse (and Hawk and Sally and Suitcase and Vinnie Morris, and . . .) as well.

And when I learned that Mr. Parker’s family had made to decision to allow other authors to continue these series, I had mixed feelings about it. On one hand: more Spencer and Jesse (and Hawk and Sally and Suitcase and Vinnie Morris, and . . .)! On the other: who could possibly write Robert B Parker’s characters as well as Mr. Parker himself?

Parker Lullaby AtkinsIn my opinion, Ace Atkins can. He picked up Spencer in Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby and ran with him through four more books, all of which have the snappy dialogue, moral quagmires, and occasional brute force that a reader could hope for. The style may not be identical, but it doesn’t have to be—Mr. Atkin’s isn’t ghostwriting for Robert B. Parker, he’s honoring him.

Fool Me Twice BrandmanI wish I could say I liked the Jesse Stone books as much, or at least the first one I’ve tried. Unlike the Spencer series, each of these new mysteries was written by a different author—I don’t know whether that was the publisher’s idea or the authors declined to pick up the series in favor of their own characters, or if the publisher hasn’t found the right fit yet.

Part of my troubles with Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice, by Michael Brandman, might be because I listened to the audiobook first. No matter how talented a voice actor is (and James Naughton is very talented), if the reading doesn’t match how my beloved characters sound in my mind’s ear—and I’ve had years to fix these voices the way I want them—I have trouble getting past how things are said to pay enough attention to what things are being said.

This isn’t a fair assessment of Mr. Brandman’s writing, so I tried it in print . . . and still didn’t care for it.

I know that these books aren’t going to be perfect—every writer will bring a different style to the same story, even Ace Atkins. But while I think the styles of Mr. Atkins and Mr. Parker mesh well, the style that Mr. Brandman brings is too far off what I expect from a Jess Stone novel. The dialogue is excellent, but there’s too much omniscient narration and parts of it—particularly the sections that aren’t from Jesse’s point of view—read more like background notes than a story. The bare bones of the plot are intriguing . . . but that’s what the whole book seems like to me: bare bones.

Or maybe I just miss Mr. Parker too much to enjoy Jesse Stone’s adventures without him.

Will I give a different author’s Jesse book a try? Sure.

But this time, I’ll read it in print first.

Do you think a book series should outlive its author?

Do you enjoy the post-Parker Spencer or Jesse Stone novels?

Can you recommend a post-Parker Jesse Stone novel you really enjoyed?

Did you love Fool Me Twice?  Please let me know why in the comments—I’m willing to be convinced!

TaxiYou’d think that summer would mean spending less time driving the Mom Taxi, but even though there’s no school commutes, there’s day camp, play dates, vacation trips, and So Many Birthday Parties.

Since my pre-teen and I have a mutual dislike of each other’s favorite radio stations and my eight-year old’s tummy rebels when she reads in the car, audiobooks are a peaceful way to stave off boredom when the conversation runs out on those long rides.

As long as we all agree on the book, of course.How they Choked

A co-worker (the librarian who selects the audiobooks for our three library locations) recommended How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous, written by Georgia Bragg and read by L. J. Ganser (CD NF 920 BRAGG GEO)

This book is a collection of the biggest LifeFails of fourteen historical figures, from Marco Polo (even Kubla Khan knew better than to send him into battle) to Amelia Earhart (her fame took off without her) to “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (baseball done him wrong).

As we listened, it became clear that the phrase “awfully famous” could mean “really famous” or “really awful”. Or both. This book provides ‘behind the scenes” 411 on well-known people who worked through their failures to achieve greatness . . . and those who refused to learn from their mistakes.

(My family will never look at Queen “You Should Have Expected The Spanish Inquisition!”Isabella of Spain the same way.)

Whether inspirational or a dire warning, each of these stories is fascinating and L. J. Ganser’s voice lends a certain dry sarcasm that perfectly matches Ms. Bragg’s wry and witty tone. He even manages to read the lists of fun (and “not so fun”) facts at the end of each chapter in a way that made us look forward to them (who knew George Custer was a clothes horse?).

There were even a few times that we arrived at our destination and didn’t leave the car until the chapter was over. That’s one sign of a pretty good audiobook.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to successfully convince my kids to clean their rooms by withholding chapters of How They Choked—because I didn’t want to wait!  But I’m planning to follow the example of Susan B. Anthony, learn from my failure, and try, try again.

juneaudioSo June is National Audiobook Month. What does that mean for you?

Audiobook month is an attempt to increase the amount of book listeners. It is also an attempt to create awareness of audiobooks.  While some people cannot live without their audiobooks, other people have never listened to one.

I admit that I was skeptical of audiobooks.  I enjoy reading so why would I want to listen to someone read a book to me?  But seven years ago, I was going on a long car trip.  The thought of all those hours in the car doing nothing but listening to the same music over and over again was not appealing.  So I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on audio.  I had heard that the narrator, Jim Dale, was phenomenal.  And he is.  Jim Dale was won a Grammy award, five Grammy nominations and he has won seven Audie awards.

The hours in the car flew by.  I loved listening to Jim Dale read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I was a little disappointed when I reached my destination because I did not want to stop the book!  I have been hooked by audiobooks ever since.  I listen to audiobooks in the car all the time.  I often sit in my car in the garage listening to my book until I reach a good stopping point.

I admit that not every audiobook is phenomenal.  Some are just okay and others are unbearable.  Don’t be discouraged by a bad narrator!  Just because one narrator was bad does not mean that you should give up on audiobooks.  I recommend that people check out an extra audiobook just in case they do not like their first pick.

Davenport Public Library owns several audiobooks.  Most of your favorite books have been made into audiobooks.  So next time you go on a road trip, stop by the library and pick up a few audiobooks!

If you have not listened to an audiobook before, I strongly encourage you to try it. It is amazing how many books you can listen to during your daily commute.  The Davenport Public Library owns a variety of audiobooks! Whether you like myseries or fantasy or thrillers or any other genre, the library will have something for you.  If you are new to listening to audiobooks, I recommend listening to biographies and memoirs. Most celebrities will read their own memoirs for the audiobook and they are highly entertaining.

The following audiobooks are biographies and memoirs that will be new to the Davenport Public Library in May:

i must sayI Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short-Comedian Martin Short, best known for his roles on Saturday Night Live, Three Amigos and Father of the Bride recounts his often funny and sometimes tragic life.  Short reveals the stories behind some of his most famous SNL characters as well as shares the spotlight with his friends and costars, such as Steve Martin and Tom Hanks. But not all of Martin Short’s life has been funny. He talks about losing his brother and parents before the age of twenty and as well as losing his wife of thirty years to cancer all with his upbeat personality.

hooeyA Load of Hooey by Bob Odenkirk – You probably know Bob Odenkirk from the television show, Breaking Bad and its spin-off, Better Call Saul.  But before Odenkirk starred in these shows, he was an Emmy award winning comedy writer on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Odenkirk’s debut is a collection of funny short stories, resembling a hilarious sketch show.  If you enjoy laughing and like comedy sketch show, then this audiobook is sure to please.

 

eleanorAutobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt – An insightful look at one of our country’s best known women, Eleanor Roosevelt.  Niece to President Theodore Roosevelt, and wife to Franklin Roosevelt, she witnessed life during the Gilded Age through the Great Depression up to the Cold War.  Eleanor was a champion for those less fortunate and used her influence as First Lady to help those in need. Often called inspiring and controversial, she continued to work for the downtrodden throughout her lifetime. Written in her own words, Eleanor Roosevelt comes alive telling her story of her life, living with her husband, her life as First Lady and years of work abroad.

Special DeluxeSpecial Deluxe: a Memoir of Life and Cars by Neil Young – In this memoir, Neil Young recounts his childhood in Canada and his family. He also discusses his living like a rockstar and his passion for cars. Young talks about his life with his collection of vintage cars. He has also been devoted to clean energy and converting his collection so that it does not have a negative impact on the environment. Witty and candid, this memoir will please fans.

brooke shieldsThere Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me by Brooke Shields – Brooke Shields began modeling at the tender age of eleven months. Her mother Teri manager her career but in private, Teri was troubled and drank heavily.  Brooke describes her changing relationship with her mother over the years, including how Brooke was a mother to her own children. Teri passed away in 2012 with Brooke by her side.

 

It Was Me Allit was me all along Along: a Memoir by Andie Mitchell – Many people comfort themselves by eating and Andie Mitchell was no exception. But when she weighed herself at the age of twenty, she was shocked to see that she weighed 258 pounds. Knowing that she needed to make some changes, Andie leaves Boston and heads to Rome. She trades pre-packaged pastries for handmade pasta and loses half of her weight. Andie discovers that balance and learns to find beauty and acceptance in herself.

 

closeResilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness by Jessie Close – Sister of actress Glenn Close, Jessie Close recounts her struggles with living with bipolar disorder. After five failed marriages and living on the brink of suicide, she struggled with symptoms for decades until Jessie was finally diagnosed in her fifties.  Included are vignettes from Glenn Close that offer an alternative perspective. Just in time for Mental Health Month, Resilience describes what it is like to live with a mental illness.

A Touch of StardustA Touch of Stardust  by Kate Alcott is a novel about the filming of the movie, Gone With the Wind.

Fictional character Julie Crawford is new to Hollywood and is pursuing a career as a screenwriter. A female screenwriter is a rare thing in 1938 Hollywood so she gets a job working at Selznick International studios to earn some money. Julie’s first day on the job is the first day of filming Gone With the Wind. The first scene of GWTW that was filmed was the burning of Atlanta. Producer David O. Selznick decided to burn down old movie sets in order to make room for the new GWTW sets. At this point in time, Selznick had not cast the role of Scarlett O’Hara. The front runner for the role, Paulette Goddard, has not been able to convince Selznick that she is right for the part. Julie has been given a message to give to Mr. Selznick but she cannot get near him due to the crowds and the fire department keeping her away. When she finally finds David Selznick, he promptly fires Julie for giving him the message too late. The note told him that actress Vivien Leigh would be visiting the set and that she was interested in playing the lead, Scarlett O’Hara. Selznick had been talking to Vivien Leigh for the past hour.

Actress Carole Lombard takes pity on Julie and hires her as her personal assistant. Julie now has a front seat to the developing romantic relationship between Carole Lombard and actor Clark Gable, who stars in Gone With the Wind as Rhett Butler. Julie is constantly in Carole’s movie set trailer signing autographs for the actress or at Carole’s house helping her with a project. Carole Lombard becomes a true friend to Julie. She advises Julie on life and the way that Hollywood works. Carole and Clark even invite Julie to dinner at their home. Julie also spends a lot of time with David O. Selznick’s fictional assistant, Andy. Andy invites Julie to come on set and watch scenes being filmed. She witnesses Vivien Leigh’s first day on set, the siege of Atlanta and  the desolation of Tara among other scenes.

Another aspect of the story is the growing tension in Europe. The film industry was trying to ignore the growing war overseas. Some people in Hollywood believed that the war should be addressed while others thought that a war movie would bomb at the box office. Julie’s boyfriend Andy is Jewish. He has family in Germany that he worries about. Julie’s parents would not want her dating Andy because he is Jewish which is a source of tension between the pair. Along with that tension, the African American community has reservations about the making of the movie GWTW.

70th Anniversary Edition of Gone With the Wind

70th Anniversary Edition of Gone With the Wind DVD

A Touch of Stardust is a coming of age novel about friendship and relationships centered around the filming of Gone With the Wind. Author Kate Alcott’s late husband, Frank Mankiewicz, grew up in a film family (his father was a screenwriter and his uncle was a director) and shared many stories about Old Hollywood with Alcott. Included in the novel are stories about what it was like on the movie set and working for David O. Selznick.

A Touch of Stardust is available in print and in audiobook.

 

TaxiI’ve been driving the Mom Taxi at least twice a day for the past ten years and getting my fares—I mean, kids—into the car on time has been something of a struggle, especially on school mornings.

But one day, I forgot to stop the audiobook I’d been playing on my way to pick them up and we listened to it on the way home. The next morning, both kids were up and ready as quickly as I could have wished, asking if I was going to let them listen to more.

How could I say no?

I did say no to portions of it; I’d checked out Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie, which is fantastically funny and has a manic-depressive beagle in it, but is still an adult romance.  I occasional had to lunge at the fast-forward button in the effort to avoid questions  for which I wanted more preparation time (say, ten to twelve years) to answer.

The kids still enjoyed it—partly because of the lunging, I suspect—and after the book was done, they asked if I could get another audiobook.

This time, tired of fast-forwarding (and rewinding after I’d dropped them off), I headed for the children’s section. All the branches of the Davenport Public library have audiobooks that appeal to my second-grader and others that appeal to my pre-teen.

It was trickier to find ones that would appeal to all of us.

Knights Tales Collection - MorrisEnter The Knights‘ Tales collection, written by Gerald Morris and read by award-winning voice artist Steve West.

The four tales included on the five CDs are about the adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (“He’s sooooo handsome!”), Sir Givret the Short (and his friend, Sir Eric the Not Too Bright), Sir Gawain the True (and his frenemy, the Green Knight), and Sir Balin the Ill-fated (whose mother just wants him to marry a “nice Nothern girl.”).

The main characters spend a lot of time getting into impossible situations that are unraveled by a piece of astoundingly simple logic. They’re funny and clever and twisty and very well-written.

Mr. Morris doesn’t talk down to his target audience (3rd to 6th grade) and his plots and intelligent, witty style won’t bore adults.   Mr. West uses an assortment of voices and accents that make even the minor characters—like the herald Harold, the argumentative Lady Elaine, and the Old Woman of Some Nonspecific Mountain—come to life.

These stories ensure that my kids are eager to get up and get going for the next installment—even on Mondays—and that our morning commutes are full of intent listening, predictions about what might happen next, and a lot of laughter.

For this Taxi Mom, that almost makes up for the dismal lack of tips.

Almost.