Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Makes a Good Narrator? – Audiobook Week Discussion

What I Look for in a Narrator:

I'm not sure if there are set characteristics that can define what is or isn't a great narrator.  However, I think that over the years I've really come to appreciate the art of speaking, and as I was thinking about what to write for this post I realized that what I think makes a good narrator is in a way similar to what makes a great professor...obviously there is a more layered way of viewing a great professor, because they not only have to be engaging in class as a presenter/speaker but also need to be passionate about their interests and research and it's always great when they are excited to work with students and meet and answer questions and just talk about their field of study.  

So in saying that, in a narrator I look for a person who has the ability to make me believe that they are the characters or the narrator in the story that their voice is bringing to life.  Good narrators  convey an interest in the work they are reading, a passion for the story just through their voices.  It's not good when they are monotone.  It's alway really awesome when they are able to change their voice for the different characters, and when necessary, take on a different accent.  I seem to favor British/Irish/Australian male readers, but I've read from a variety of different readers.  And cast performances are usually really great, if they are well done and especially if they are unabridged.  

What do all of you look for in Narrators?

Some favorite narrators (a by-no-means exhaustive list):
-Lynn Redgrave
-John Keating
-Gerard Doyle (my favorite of his is the Sea of Trolls books by Nancy Farmer, I forgot to mention these in my posts about my favorite audiobooks, but these are really great!)
-Jim Dale
-Katherine Kellgren

Narrators I would love to hear more from:
-Allan Corduner
-Bertie Carvel
-Robin Atkin Downes (He was the voice of Stephen Barley in the full cast, abridged version of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and I absolutely loved his voice!)

Who are some of your favorite narrators?  Are there any you would love to hear more from?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In Praise of the Audiobook, Part 2

So I've been struggling to get back into a schedule since my trip back from Boston.  I was hoping to be extremely productive on my return home, what with all the inspiring academic work going on and such at the conference, but I'm hoping this week I'll really get going, continuing my reading and starting my planning for this coming school year along with prepping for my own studies starting up again finally this fall.

So in case you missed part 1 of my, "In Praise of the Audiobook" posts, here's the link to that right here. And I also have a post I did as part of Audiobook Week over at Devourer of Books which you can see here.

So here we go, six more audiobook titles that I think you'll enjoy:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, Read by Michael Maloney. (Ages 12-14 and up)
This novel pulls you in from the very first words, from the jacket description even.  It sets a certain tone and intrigues you.  Now, I have not read the physical book, but have only listened to it so I cannot comment as to whether one is more atmospheric or worth while than the other, but I can say that this is definitely a listening that is worth experiencing.  This book kept me going wanting to find out what would happen next, which is interesting because at first a lot of Bruno's experiences are seemingly quotidian and normal.  But there is something awry and that twinge of strangeness in the setting and some of the scenes keeps you wondering.  There is also a film made of this novel (trailer below).  Now I'm definitely an advocate for the notion that however good a film might be, the book is always incredible better.  Now in the case of this story, I never felt so strongly that this was the case.  While the film was powerful and brought a deeper layer to the character of Bruno's mother, the narrative of this text is just so powerful and moving, so please don't pass up the book/audiobook for the film!  It's a quick read or listen and it's definitely worth it.

I found this sample of the audiobook on youtube, hope it gives you a nice taste:

Also, here's the trailer for the film in case you're interested:


(Also, I'm just curious, has anyone read this book going into it not knowing what the setting or historic placing of the book was?  Or had a child of theirs or student read it, not knowing this?  I'm just curious since the book never explicitly mentions the time period or figures of the time, but hints at them, sometimes even through Bruno's mishearing of things)


The Ranger's Apprentice Series by John Flanagan, Read by John Keating (Ages 10 and up) So, I need to start with the confession that I've only listened to the first three books in this series by John Flanagan.  I started reading/listening to these book when they were first coming out, so back then I had no idea that the series would be so long, although I'm excited at the prospect of going back and listening to more from this series because it really is a wonderful set of stories and characters!  So, first of all the stories themselves are epic and truly reel you in with  an incredible setting and characters that I at least really connected with.  John Keating, who has read other books like The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd, War Horse by Michael Morpurgo and The Irish Country Doctor series by Patrick Taylor, brings an authentic feel to the stories and fills them with emotion and embodies each character in a special way.  

Here's a great video interview with John Flanagan about his books and writing:


Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, Read by Brendan Fraser (Ages 6 and up). This audio hooks you from the start.  Brendan Fraser has a real presence in this audio and he creates really great voices for the various characters, Sorrel being my personal favorite.  While I must say I was a bit disappointed with Fraser's performance for Inkspell (also by Funke) and was hesitant with how he would do here, he really did do a good job with Dragon Rider.  It's really just a fun and adventuresome story and my little brother first listened to it when he was 5 or 6 and loved it! Fraser gets a bit loud at some moments, which is my only complaint, but other than that, which isn't really a big deal, it's a great listening journey to take.

Here's a rather long preview I found on youtube, but in case you're curious to hear what it sounds like...


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Read by Jim Dale (Ages 9 and up). Many of us have read or been read A Christmas Carol.  It's tightly strung into the heart strings of what the Christmas season is made of.  On entering high school I came to the realization that a good idea for finding audiobooks was to think of who I already knew I liked as narrators and then search to see if they had done anything else.  So one of my earliest experiences with audiobooks were Jim Dale's readings of the Harry Potter books.  I soon found that Jim Dale had recordings not only of Peter Pan (which I mentioned in Part 1) but also of A Christmas Carol!  I was so excited because for what ever reason this story has always been for me a tale that was essentially Christmasy but also had a tinge of, what I now call Victorian halloween flavor, which I liked from an early age, and was so excited to hear Dale's narration.  And of course, I was not disappointed.  It takes a little while to get over the fact that your not listening to Harry Potter, since his voice is so closely tied to that, but soon your swept up in Dickens' world and Jim Dale is just perfection!


Angel on the Square and The Impossible Journey by Gloria Whelan, Read by Julie Dretzin (Ages 10 and up).  So first of all, if you haven't heard of these wonderful books by Gloria Whelan you should really look into them, especially if you're interested in Russian history or trying to introduce your child to the history of Russian.  Whelan wrote four books which are all connected generationally, the first being Angel on the Square, then The Impossible Journey, then Burying the Sun, and The Turning, and the first starts at the turn of the century with the fall of the imperial family and the last one is set in the spring of 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union; so they cover this whole span and are truly incredible, poignant, and stirring.  I'm sad that, as far as I know, they only made audiobooks for the first two :(  I wish they would make the other ones.  Julie Dretzin does a fantastic job, she has a calmness and powerfulness to her tone.  This is one of the audiobooks that just keeps me wanting to know what would happen next; I remember I listed to the first one my freshman year of high school and I think it's the only audiobook that I actually had it on my iPod and listened to it in the hallway between classes and didn't want to stop!


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Read by Eric Idle (Ages 6 and up).  As a child I never knew that "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" the film, was actually based on a book.  So all I new was the film.  I obviously figured out some time ago that it was in fact based on a book by Roald Dahl.  However it wasn't until two summers ago that I finally read it when I read it aloud to my 6 year old brother.  And it just blew me away, it was soo good and sooo much better than the film; the Oompaloompa song about books and television should be posted in every school and library!  Now, my little brother loved it so much that he wanted to hear it on audio, and so I tracked down a copy from my library, and I can tell you that neither of us was disappointed.  From the beginning music selected (I actually haven't mentioned this anywhere in my other audiobook recommendations but I'm a big fan and judger of what kind of music is chosen for the beginning of audios and am always disappointed when I find one that doesn't even have music!) we were hooked, and Eric Idle just did a quirky, fantastical and whimsical job of narrating this famous and well loved story.  From each child to the songs and Wonka himself this version of the book is a must hear!

Thanks to all who commented on part 1 with thoughts and suggestions!!  Please keep commenting and sending in suggestions or favorites or whatever you like :)

Mid-Week Meme – Audiobook Week Discussion

I just discovered the wonderful posts from the blog, Devourer of Books, and this week she is holding her "Audiobook Week" which is exciting!  About two weeks ago I posted part 1 of my post "In Praise of the Audiobook" (see it here) and I promise I'm currently working on Part 2 of that which should be finished tomorrow :)  However, I wanted to contribute and participate in today's Audiobook discussion run by Jen at Devourer of Books, and today the task is to answer some questions related to our experiences with audiobooks.  So here we go:

Current/most recent audiobook and Impressions:
My Current Audiobook is The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Read by Tony Chiroldes, it's pretty good so far but it hasn't hooked me in as much as other audiobooks have.  However I'm still listening, so there must be something there because I haven't completely stopped and moved on to my long list of audios to listen to...

My most recently finished audiobook is The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, The Unseen Guest Book 3 by Maryrose Wood, Read by Katherine Kellgren.  This lived up to the other books in the series and was just such a great listen.  There was a bit more drama and action, but so many things are still unanswered, waiting impatiently for the next one (out early 2013!).

Current/most recent favorite audiobook:
My most recent favorite audiobooks HAVE to be the Incorrigible Children series read by Katherine Kellgren.  They books are just in themselves so sharp, quick witted, funny, smart and a throwback to the Victorian and Gothic; and Kellgren just does an amazing job of bringing everything together.  From the howls, to the calm and intellectual Miss Lumley, to Lady Constance and her constant nagging and high pitched voice and Mrs. Clarke the caring head housekeeper, Kellgren just really brings them each to life with their own voice, intonation and spark.  THESE ARE JUST AMAZING!

Favorite narrator you’ve discovered recently:
So other than Katherine Kellgren, a favorite narrator I've recently discovered is Michael Maloney who read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  He really did a great job of adding life to the narrative and of bringing an innocence and rawness to his reading.

Titles from your TBL (to be listened) stack, or your audio wishlist:
Well, I've really been wanting to continue to listen to John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series read by John Keating and The Irish Country Doctor series (which I started but also haven't finished) by Patrick Taylor and read also by John Keating.  However, those aren't even on my list of audios for the summer... the ones I have coming up for the summer that are actually on my list are: Esperanza Rising, The Magician's Elephant, Alphabet of Dreams, Rodzina, Marie Dancing and Brooklyn Rose. 

Your audio dream team (What book or author would you LOVE to see paired with a certain narrator, can already exist or not):

So back early this year I read Eugene Yelchin's Breaking Stalin's Nose.  I just loved that book!  Partly I'm sure because I have a slight obsession with Russian-ness and for the past few years have been really interested in how that manifests itself in the Soviet Period.  However this is the first book I've read where as I was reading the physical book I was hearing sound effects, music and also a specific voice of a narrator, and I don't mean that the character was so real that he had a voice of his own, that's happened to me a lot as I'm sure it has for all of you, but I actually imagined a specific person/actor narrating it in my head.  So when the audio finally came out a few months ago, first of all I think that the narrator they picked really doesn't fit well with the story, and of course I was even more disappointed because it wasn't the exact thing that I had imagined! (so shocking, right? I mean shouldn't the publishers just guess my thoughts? haha)  So anyways, I'll let all of you in on my dream for what this audiobook could have been.  So I imagined them utilizing sound effects but tastefully, I imagined the beginning music being played perhaps by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra or perhaps John Zorn.  But MOST IMPORTANTLY I specifically imagined the actor Liev Schreiber from films like Defiance and Kate & Leopold.  I just think he would have been perfect!  And I was at least hoping for someone similar, but it fell far short, so much so that I didn't even listen to it, especially since I'd already read it and could just tell I would be disappointed.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Off to the Children's Literature Association Conference

Hi Everyone!

I'll be taking a few days break from writing on my blog since I'll be at the Children's Literature Association Conference this Week at Simmons!  Happy reading and summer activities to all of you :)

I'll hopefully be back with wonderful posts about the conference and my first taste of Boston, as well as part 2 of my audiobook post as well as a book review or two and my thoughts on the "Snow White and the Huntsman" film.

Till then!

Monday, June 11, 2012

In Praise of the Audiobook, Part 1

I've been an audiobook fan for a very long time...well since about 4th grade to be precise, so that's been a while.  Throughout those years, I've had many people, from friends to professors look at me with surprise when I would talk about how great such and such audiobook was, they would proceed to tell me how much they disliked the audiobooks they had listened to because they were sooo boring and slow.  I was shocked!  How had all these people not had wonderful experiences with audiobooks??  Audiobooks have been one of the greatest pleasures I've had as part of my reading experience, moreover they've added so much to my frequent weekend escapades of putting many baskets of laundry away throughout our house!

So when I would contradict them and say that audiobooks are in fact really good, they were surprised and I told them they just have to pick the right ones.  After seeing an article today at NPR on great audiobooks to take on road trips (click here to read it) I thought I'd list some of the best audiobooks I've had the pleasure of listening to over the years.  So here we go, I'll be posting two parts (at least that's the plan right now) with 6 audiobooks each in no  specific order (you should be able to find these at your local library, if not you can actually try and request that they purchase them, or if not try iTunes or Audible, and if that fails that they always have the physical CDs on Amazon but those are usually pricey for the longer books) Also click on the photo for more info, if you would like more info that is:

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, Read by Lynn Redgrave. (Ages 9/10 and up)  This is definitely one of the best audiobooks I've ever heard, it's one of my earliest exposures to the media of the audiobook and every time I listen to the first few tracks I'm taken back to when I first listened to this book and can feel the raindrops tapping on Meggie's windowpane...  Lynn Redgrave does a fantastic job of bringing soul to each character that she brings to life and in my opinion this is the best audiobook of the Inkheart trilogy.  

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Read by Allan Corduner. (Ages 14 and up)  Coduner's voice completely embodies and brings to life this novel's narrator.  His reading of the story adds such a special, otherworldly, and almost necessary layer to the work.  If you have read The Book Thief already, I highly recommend rereading it with this audiobook because it is truly a worthwhile listening experience and if you have not had the great pleasure of reading this book this is possibly one of the best ways to first experience it.  Corduner's tone has this perfect blend of velvety chocolate and a salt of the earth grit...

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Read by a Full Cast, Abridged Edition. ("grown up" book)  Now this is probably the ONLY time I will ever recommend someone read/listen to anything that is abridged.  However I listened to this version of the audiobook as I was reading the actual book because the cast of readers for this abridged version is truly AMAZING!!  For whatever reason, perhaps financial concerns, the publishing company decided to have a full cast for the abridged version but only two narrators for the unabridged, and I tried to make myself listen to the unabridged version out of personal convictions, but the abridged version is truly that much better that I just went ahead and listened to it instead.  I highly recommend this audio, even thought it's abridged it's actually still lengthy, so you won't miss too many of the beautiful details of this novel!

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, Read by Bertie Carvel. (Ages 5/6 and up) Now this audiobook has a collection of dragon tales by Kenneth Grahame and E. Nesbit.  I have only listened to the Reluctant Dragon, although I'm sure the others are wonderful as well.  But this version of the book includes the often left out Prologue to the Reluctant Dragon and this reader is wonderful, by far the best and I've tested out almost all of the other options out there.  He inhabits each of the characters wonderfully and brings a light charm and whimsy that is so much a part of this story.  My brother listens to this one over and over again, and I'm sure many others will enjoy it as well.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Books 1-3 by Maryrose Wood, Read by Katherine Kellgren. (Ages 7 and up) I have been wanting to post about this wonderful series for some time now, and I'm currently listening to the third audiobook, but this is one of the most refreshing group of books I've read in quite sometime!  The trials and escapades of three young wards under the tutelage of a young, bright governess Miss Penelope Lumley, these four wonderful characters come in contact with foes and friends throughout the series and face many obstacles, physical, academic and literary.  Katherine Kellgren does a FANTASTIC job of creating voices for the characters from the always calm, inquisitive and resourceful Penelope to the sometimes howling but quick learning Incorrigible siblings to Ms. Clarke the kind and caring housekeeper to the shrieking antics and annoyances of the mistress of the house Lady Constance Ashton.  Full of unique twists and turns and brimming with allusions to old classics like Jane Eyre, this series is a wonderful addition to children's literature, and through experience I've witnessed it's appeal to both girls and surprisingly boys as well!

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, Read by Jim Dale. (Ages 5 and up)  Peter Pan is one of those stories that has captured the hearts of so many people.  However, unfortunately most have come to know Peter through Disney's animated film version.  But J.M. Barrie's actual novel is one of the most beautiful, whimsical, humorous, witty and wonderful stories ever written.  This essence of childhood and adventure, growing up and believing in the impossible, has been given a fresh breath of life with Jim Dale's wonderful reading of the tale.  You may know Jim Dale as the narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks, I listened to some of them and fell in love with the way he told stories and often wondered how cool it would be to have him as a grandfather, can you imagine sitting in the living room hearing him read to you??  Years after finishing the Harry Potter series and after becoming more adept at finding audiobooks I wondered whether Jim Dale had any others, I discovered that in the next month or so after I looked it up this audiobook was coming out!  He really does a wonderful job, and I can't imagine listening to anyone else read this book.

Click here to read Part 2!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

(FREE download from the composer): Soundtrack for Between Shades of Gray

Found this beautiful official soundtrack created by Gavin Mikhail for "Between Shades of Gray".  He worked closely with the author, Ruta Sepetys, and what came about is a beautiful collection of songs that as he says he hopes can "deliver the message of the novel as she intended...but as only music can sometimes...speak to the love, hope, sacrifice and redemption we all feel in a more visceral way".

If you've read this book or are thinking about it, you will definitely enjoy this unique component to the novel; here is the link to a FREE download of the soundtrack:

Also here's a link to Gavin's website with more of his music, as well as sheet music and videos:


Saturday, June 9, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Between Shades of Gray

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”           
                     —Albert Camus

 I’ve never really cried reading a book (perhaps a slight wateriness in the eyes, but a tear has never escaped); I’m sad to say that I’ve cried in at least a movie or two, but never in a book, not even in Where the Red Fern Grows like the rest of my sixth grade class.  However two nights ago, around midnight, that changed.  What was it about Ruta Sepetys' novel, Between Shades of Gray ?  I’m not really sure.  There is so much I feel about this novel that I don’t even know if I could put into words right now, but I hope I can convey at least a fraction of the beauty, power and importance of this incredible story. 

Sepetys took me on a journey on so many levels.  From the very first page, and especially the moment I stepped foot onto the car with Lina, I could feel that something was different about this book and that somehow, through mere words on paper, part of me had become part of Lina and I was one with her throughout her entire journey, and that her story wouldn’t be one I would easily forget.  Through the highs and utter lows, through the tinglings of first love to the pain of twelve hours of tortuous labor, through the anxiety and the despair, through the longing and hope through the terrifying fear and a most powerful love and an ability to retain faith and believe in humanity.

As readers of this novel, we are ripped along with the Vilkas family from the safe sanctuary of home.  We witness the questioning eyes of young and old, from the “bald man” to the little girl with her dolly on her knee to a newborn baby who had “been alive only minutes but was already considered a criminal by the Soviets”.  Death, sickness, and devastation spread rampantly, fear is instilled by a reign of terror.  Will any one survive?  Where will they take Lina and her family?  As you read you will wonder how did anyone actually survive this?  And how is it that they kept the flame of hope from
 being whisked away and that love in so many forms, first love, love of family, love of God, love of country and man, could take root and spread in a place so solidly cold and heartless. 

This is truly an incredible work of art, one that should be read by as many people possible.  Thank you Ruta Sepetys for this inspiring and powerful jar of words and images, with a story that honors those who have left us, those who persevere to this day and one that will carry all of their stories into the hearts of many.

From the Author’s note at the end:

“Some wars are about bombing.  For the people of the Baltics, this war was about believing... They chose hope over hate and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light.” 


Some of my favorite quotes:

-“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?  That morning my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”

-“...little pink face in a bundle...The child had been alive only minutes but was already considered a criminal by the Soviets.”

-“I scanned the group...I saw courage, anger, fear and confusion.  Others were hopeless.  They had already given up.  Which was I?”

-“ ‘Are you always so pleasant?’ ”

-“I hated them, the NKVD and the Soviets.  I planted a seed of hatred in my heart.  I swore it would grow to be a massive tree whose roots would strangle them all.”

-“ ‘Do you really think they need our permission, our signatures, to do what they’re doing to us?  Stalin needs to break our will.  Don’t you understand?  He knows if we sign some stupid papers, we’ll give up.  He’ll break us.’ ”

-“My art teacher had said that if you breathed deeply and imagined something, you could be there.  You could see it, feel it.  During out standoffs with the NKVD, I learned to do that.  I clung to my rusted dreams during the times of silence.  It was at gunpoint that I fell into every hope and allowed myself to wish from the deepest part of my heart...he thought he was torturing us.  But we were escaping into a stillness within ourselves.  We found strength there.”

-“ ‘No.  Don’t be scared.  Don’t give them anything, Lina, not even your fear.’ ”

-“I pulled my coat closed and put my hands in my pocket.  That’s when I felt it.  The stone.”

-“Hello Lina. You’ve gotten to page 278.  That’s pretty good!... Are you really on page 300 or are you skipping ahead now?”

-“There were only two possible outcomes in Siberia.  Success meant survival.  Failure meant death.  I wanted life.  I wanted to survive.” 

Some other great reviews and articles on the book:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Kind words from Beth Kephart

Gaudi bench in Spain
Thanks so much to Beth Kephart for her wonderfully kind words and for highlighting Alice in Baker Street at her blog, Beth Kephart Books! Once again, I wanted to say that it was truly a pleasure to meet you :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Books to be on Future Lists and Shelves

So, I've finally gathered together various lists made in notebooks and scraps of paper and backs of desk calendar pages and am keeping track in a "page" on this blog books that have caught my attention recently or that I've been wanting to read for a long time but haven't made it onto a list yet. There's a mix here from children's novels to classics to graphic novels (I'm still experimenting with this genre) and picture books. I've finally figured out one notebook where I'll be keeping books I want to read and another for books I've read, but I like having it here as well because I can post the covers (I really love book covers!)

 Feel free to make suggestions in the comments if any books come to mind that have caught your eye recently :)