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.

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.

 

I found this book in a roundabout way, but I’m so glad I landed on it! On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Julia Quinn’s What Happens In London to read on an upcoming vacation, so I was familiar with the author: her books focus on 19th century London society, clever dialog, and spirited characters. So, when I saw A Night Like This on a search of audiobooks read by my favorite narrator, Rosalyn Landor (a reader I fell in love with for her perfect reading of Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella), and it happened to be on the shelf not 10 feet away from my desk, I snagged it immediately!

I’m very glad I did. A Night Like This is a terribly fun romance; a genuine connection between two likable people, explored in an enjoyable book with a bearable quota of romance cliches. Anne Wynter, the main character, is probably my new all-time favorite romance heroine. She is brave, intelligent, and kind, and she is factually, genuinely self-sufficient in a way that most historical heroines are emphatically NOT (though the author may try to trick you into thinking they are). After a scandalous incident in her teen years, she is sent away from her modest gentry family to live as a governess under an assumed name; during this novel, she has been succeeding at this career for eight lonely years, isolated from her family and unable to create any new connections of her own status. That she still manages to be bright and positive is inspirational, and when she falls in love with the Earl of Winstead, a man way out of her league as a “ruined woman,” you’ll root for them all the way. Daniel, her beloved, is a pretty boring version of the romance-hero-pretty-boy trope, and his instant lovesickness is tiresome, but this book is worth reading just to get to know Anne.

Good news! This audiobook is available for download via WILBOR!

“They can’t make me be a princess…I mean, this is America for crying out loud.”

The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot is not only one of my favorite book series, but also one of my favorite audiobook series. In fact, I have only “read” the final two in the series–the first eight were purely experienced by audiobook! I seem to gravitate towards audiobooks where the story is in diary format (Princess Diaries, Bridget Jones, Confession of Georgia Nicholson, etc). They are usually light and funny, and I do not lose track of the story if I get distracted by something else for a second.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Princess Diaries’ movies starring Anne Hathaway (her first role, in fact!) and Julie Andrews, the series follows a girl named Mia Thermopolis as she deals with being invisible at school, having a crush on her best friend’s older brother, seeing her mom kiss her math teacher, and, oh yeah, finding out that she is the sole heir to the throne of a small European principality (the made-up country of Genovia). Mia is incredibly big-hearted and intelligent, but also quite dramatic and neurotic. Thus, she gets herself into all sorts of hilarious entanglements much to the enjoyment (and sympathy) of the listener. Also, almost everyone I know who has read this series has become infatuated with the character of Michael Moscovitz–as in he is right up there with Mr. Darcy for romantic literary figures. If that won’t get you to read/listen to it, I don’t know what will! (and extra bonus, the movies’ version of Michael was played Robert Schwartzman, who will be in the Quad Cities on August 6th to perform with his band Rooney at the Redstone Room.)

geography-of-blissIf you’re a fan of public radio, you’ll love the audio version of this “travelogue of ideas.” Eric Weiner is the reader; as an NPR reporter, he knows how to edit his stories so they make for compelling listening, as well as reading.

To research The Geography of Bliss, Weiner decides to visit countries that rate at the high and low ends of various happiness indexes. The journey, of course, is more interesting than the goal, and we are immersed in the cultures of Iceland, Bhutan, Holland, Switzerland and others. Weiner, with his dark sense of humor, never takes himself or his quest too seriously and makes for a very accomplished narrator. What is the happiest place on earth? You’ll have to read or listen yourself.