Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver – Audiobook Review

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, narrated by Jim Dale
Published in audio by TK, published in print by HarperCollins

Synopsis:

The death of her beloved father has left Liesl helpless in the clutches of a very evil stepmother. Instead of forcing her to clean house Cinderella-style, though, Liesl’s stepmother keeps her locked in the attic Bertha Rochester-style. Surprising as it may seem, the luckiest day in Liesl’s young life is when a ghost named Po shows up in her attic bedroom. No longer male or female, the prickly Po befriends Liesl, and is able to give her information about her father on the Other Side, information that makes Liesl determined to take action to change her lot in life and her father’s lot in the afterlife.

Thoughts on the story:

Lauren Oliver’s middle grade story Liesl & Po is very cute and sweet. Liesl and Po have an interesting friendship as they attempt to overcome the barrier between the living and the dead. Similarly charming is the ardent schoolboy crush that Will, the alchemist’s apprentice, has on Liesl. It may be slightly creepy that he watches through her window from the street, but before long it becomes clear that his is a noble (or at least shy and embarrassed) love. Perhaps the best thing about Liesl & Po, though, is that it failed to simply go exactly where I thought it would. Oliver kept the story fresh, and moving in new and more complex directions, which was both surprising and refreshing.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Jim Dale’s adult women all sounded very mannish in Liesl & Po, but they were simply supporting characters, so it wasn’t really a problem. Overall his voices were relatively good, and he certainly made for an engaging listening experience.

Overall:

An enjoyable audiobook and a good palate cleanser. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc
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The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir – Book Review

The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

Accused of incest, adultery, witchcraft, and plotting the death of her husband the king, Anne Boleyn was the first royal woman to be put to death for crimes of this nature. What really caused her downfall, though? Was Henry VIII simply tired of her, had she become a harridan who he no longer wished to deal with? Was she actually guilty of adultery and incest? Or perhaps Anne was an innocent victim in Henry’s all-consuming quest for a legitimate male heir? In The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn, historian Alison Weir examines the evidence against Anne and those around her, and comes to a conclusion not often promoted in popular Tudor historical fiction.

Weir tells the story of Anne’s fall from beginning to end, all the way to its impact on her daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. Along the way she explores the evidence and counter evidence both for Anne’s alleged guilt, and for the plethora of theories that have built up around her accusal, conviction, and execution. Weir writes clearly, and ostensibly without much bias. She seems to know the Tudor period inside and out, and her arguments are convincing, based as they are on documents and Tudor-era norms.

Although packed with facts, theories, and evidence, The Lady in the Tower never becomes dull or dry. Anne’s story is a fascinating and dramatic one, and Weir lets that come through, without the drama prejudicing her arguments. This is a very well-written and informative history that has undoubtedly influenced the way I view Anne’s trial and fall. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson – Audiobook Review

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson, narrated by Dion Graham
Published in audio by Blackstone Audio, published in print by W. W. Norton & Co

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

Loyal readers of the monthly “Universe” essays in Natural History magazine have long recognized Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talent for guiding them through the mysteries of the cosmos with stunning clarity and almost childlike enthusiasm. Here, Tyson compiles his favorite essays across a myriad of cosmic topics. The title essay introduces readers to the physics of black holes by explaining the gory details of what would happen to your body if you fell into one. “Holy Wars” examines the needless friction between science and religion in the context of historical conflicts. “The Search for Life in the Universe” explores astral life from the frontiers of astrobiology. And “Hollywood Nights” assails the movie industry’s feeble efforts to get its night skies right.

Thoughts on the book:

If there’s one thing that Neil deGrasse Tyson knows how to do, it is make astrophysics interesting. If there are two things, they are how to make astrophysics interesting and how to make it comprehensible to the layperson. Each of Tyson’s essays in Death by Black Hole is well-reasoned, well-organized, and accessible to those with basic science skills. In one particularly interesting piece, Tyson details a number of experiments one can conduct with no more than a stick and some string (and, you know, some equations), all of which have significant things to teach us about the structure of the universe as a whole. He does get a bit nit picky in the essay “Hollywood Nights,” as he catalogs the liberties that the film industry has taken with the universe, often at the same time he admits that no movie is likely to get EVERYTHING right. Overall, however, Death by Black Hole is full of fascinating information.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Dion Graham does a wonderful job narrating Death by Black Hole. In particular, he captures Tyson’s obvious passion for and excitement about this topic, without coming across corny. His excitement is so genuine, in fact, that one suspects that he may be an astrophysics junkie as well and if not then he is a truly superb narrator. The delineations from one essay to the next were clear, which is essential in an audio collection like this (see: my one criticism of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?). That being said, the audio was not idea, in my experience, for close study of the subject, what with limited ability to go back and review, or take time and really allow what Tyson is saying to sink in. Luckily, his style in these pieces is more loosely informative than scholarly, so listening to get a general overview of his subjects worked well for me.

Overall:

A fascinating essay collection, and one whose narrator ably matches the passion of its author. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson – Audiobook Review

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, narrated by Tim Kang, Josiah D. Lee, and James Kyson Lee
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Thoughts on the story:

Jun Do’s story is, at times, a bit of a tangled web, particularly as part of The Orphan Master’s Son is narrated by a voice over the loudspeaker that broadcasts to all North Korean citizens, and part comes from the point of view of a prison interrogator. It is not that Jun Do is an unreliable narrator precisely, it is that the nature of narrative in North Korea is, by definition, unreliable. This becomes increasingly evident during Jun Do’s time with Sun Moon, as identity and reality shift based on what people allow or force themselves to believe. Jun Do knows that power of belief and blind obedience better than most, having been an orphan who was not really an orphan, and thus he is one of the privileged few who is able to make this quirk of North Korea society work for him – at least for a time.

It is this contemplation on reality in North Korea that makes The Orphan Master’s Son so very brilliant. At the same time, however, Johnson has also created a story that keeps the reader interested, even before this theme becomes so strongly apparent. From Jun Do’s time as a state-mandated kidnapper of Japanese citizens, to his time manning a radio on a fishing vessel, his inclusion on a diplomatic trip to Texas, and then finally his relationship with Sun Moon, every aspect of Jun Do’s life offers the reader tantalizing and often horrifying glimpses into life in North Korea.

Thoughts on the audio production:

The best part of this audio production is that it uses multiple narrators to fully differentiate between the multiple points of view in Johnson’s story. Kang is the primary narrator, telling the majority of the story from Jun Do’s point of view. Lee and Lee voice the loudspeaker and the interrogator, giving additional definition and clarity to the story. I must say that none of the narrators completely wowed me, but all were solid narrators and they told the story adequately and in an interesting manner.

Overall:

I might lean slightly towards recommending this in print over audio, but the audiobook also works perfectly well. Either way, this is definitely a book to pick up.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick – Book Review

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Published by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House

In the futuristic dystopia imagined in 1984, George Orwell wrote of a world where the only color to be found was in the propaganda posters. Such is the case in North Korea. –p. 11

One of the hardest countries to get a look inside is North Korea. Closed off since the Korean War, North Korea initially seemed to be doing better, financially than its cousin to the South. Pyongyan, the one city where visitors occasionally came, was filled with only those inhabitants who would make a good impression on outsiders, but even outside of the capital city most North Koreans believed for many years that their lives were as good or better than those of most of the world’s inhabitants. All this began to change with the famine in the 1990s, however. As people began to starve to death, they took increased risks and increasingly subverted the state that had held them captive for so long. Crossing illegally into China to work or trade for food gave many North Koreans a glimpse of what life was like in the rest of the world. It was only at this time that defections began in earnest.

In Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick chronicles the lives of a variety of North Koreans who eventually defected to South Korea. All came from different family situations in the stratified North Korean society, and all initially had varying degrees of dedication to the state, but all initially believed the propaganda they were fed. How could they not, after all? None of the outside world penetrates North Korea enough to show anything different. Plus, any resistance would mean repercussions not only on the protester his or herself, but on all other known relatives.

Demick interweaves her subject’s stories in such a way that is simultaneously fascinating and horrifying. Alternating stories could have made Nothing to Envy choppy, but it is done skillfully with good transitions, so that instead it serves to keep the reader’s interest and keep any of the subjects from fading into the background.

For a general overview of the day-to-day lives so North Koreans, plus fantastic background to the situation, beginning with the end of WWII, I cannot recommend Nothing to Envy highly enough.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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