Category Archives: audiobook

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Port Chicago 50Before hearing Steve Sheinkin speak at the 2014 YSS Spring Conference in White Plains, NY, I had never heard of the Port Chicago 50.  When Sheinkin told us about the Port Chicago disaster and then went in to explain how the 50 men who had been too afraid to return to work were charged with mutiny, I was dumbfounded.  I *had* to know more about this story and how it was that the charge of mutiny actually stuck.  I don’t often find non-fiction books so compelling, but I found myself sitting in my driveway after I got home and popping in my ear buds during lunch breaks at work because I just couldn’t tear myself away from this story — especially when I got to the court trial.  It was like I was listening to an episode of Law & Order: Historical Case Files.  (If they end up starting a spin-off show with that title, y’all are my witnesses that I came up with the idea and deserve some royalties!)

I especially appreciated how Steve Sheinkin pointed out the fact that the members of the Port Chicago 50 were early, and largely unsung, heroes in the Civil Rights Movement.  Not only did their plight shine a light on the unfairness of the segregation of duties within the Armed Forces, but their treatment by civilians once they left the base was sometimes atrocious, regardless of the fact that they were putting their lives on the line to fight for their country.  One of the quotes that best summarizes how these men effected change in the people around them actually came as the answer to a question between friends.  When Joe Small (the so-called leader of the Port Chicago 50) asked his friend Alex (a formerly racist Alabaman) what had changed his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied, “I found out something. A man is a man.”  So simple a statement, yet so profound.

Happy Reading!

 

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

great and terrible beautyFrom looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel.  I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix.  And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off.  Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life.  While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!

Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace.  Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide.  Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit.  After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy.  Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.

Happy Reading!

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate‎

One and Only IvanWhen this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it.  It just sounded too depressing.  Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it. I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp.  (We share a parking lot with the Y!)  This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit.  So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.

Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny.  The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light.  My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball.  You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?”  Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course!  ;-)  He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals.  The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan.  I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.

Happy Reading!

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin Book One by Robin LaFevers

grave mercyToday’s installment of I Read YA Week is RelationSHIP Day — and I am supposed to “play matchmaker to the YA universe.”  While I am guessing most people will be matching up couples, I think I am going to be different and match up some BFFs.  I recently listened to the audiobook of Grave Mercy, and I kept thinking of Katsa, from Graceling.  After all, she was also an assassin with mystical powers who was being used as a pawn in someone else’s plans.  I think these young women would find great comfort in each other’s company, and I can almost imagine them meeting up for tea or a glass of wine and to kvetch about the people they had to kill that week!  (To learn more about Katsa’s story, check out my Graceling review.)

The really cool thing about Ismae is that she was fathered by Death — aka Saint Mortain.  This was first discovered when she resisted the herbs her mother bought in an attempt to expel her from the womb.  The turnip farmer who raised her as his child despised her and treated her terribly, then he sold her off as a bride to a brutish man when she was seventeen.  On her wedding night, when her husband discovered the marks that had been left behind by the poison, he flew into a rage.  Ismae managed to escape and was taken away to live in a convent with the Sisters of Mortain, who trained her to be handmaiden of Death.  Ismae was trained to mix and administer a variety of poisons, to conceal and use all manner of weapons, and to use “womanly arts” to search potential targets for the mark of Mortain [which both confirmed that a person should be assassinated and also indicated how they would die].  Add in some double-agents, hidden plots, and a dash of romance, and you get an audiobook that made me sad to run into only light traffic on the way home!

Happy Reading!

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

between shades of grayToday’s I Read YA Week post is supposed to be “If Movies Were YA,” so I am posting about a book that I think should be turned into a movie.  Between Shades of Gray is a story that I think should be required reading for all high school students when they study world history, though I think a movie might do a better job of increasing awareness overall.  As I listened to this audiobook, I kept thinking, “This needs to be the next Schindler’s List.  Why is it that everyone talks about the horrors of the Holocaust and nobody ever talks about the Soviet Holodomor?”  I mean, I didn’t even know the term Holodomor (which roughly translates to “death by hunger”) until this book inspired me to do a little research.

I remember briefly covering Stalin and being taught about his “purges”… but I think we pretty much glossed over it on the way to an in-depth study of the Holocaust.  I mean, I definitely didn’t recall that the total death count was right up there with the Holocaust.  It is estimated that somewhere between 3 and 60 million people died during the Holodomor, with many estimates putting the death toll at around 7 million people.  SEVEN MILLION!  People talk about the Holocaust all the time.  They lament the fact that the Nazis killed 6 million Jews and another 5 million people [including Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, disabled people, and Gypsies] under Hitler’s rule.  There are numerous Holocaust museums and memorials in addition to a Holocaust Remembrance Day.  But, no one really talks much about what Stalin did.  My Facebook feed doesn’t “blow up” once a year to remind me of what Stalin did.  And that is a crying shame.  Some people may debate the death toll and ask, “Was it genocide?”  But, regardless of the exact number and the terminology you use, there is no debating the fact that millions of people died under Stalin’s regime.

I appreciate the author interview at the end of the audiobook, in which Ruta Sepetys explained her personal connection to the story, and I love that the official website for the book includes resources like a book discussion guide and a video of Ruta Sepetys discussing the novel.  I’m glad that this book has started to shed some more light on the Holodomor , and I can only pray that this light shines brightly, and widely, from here on.

Happy Reading!

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I Hunt KillersI have always been intrigued by serial killers.  I am so utterly fascinated, in fact, that I managed to scare a student worker at my college library during my freshman year.  You see, I used to go during my [6-hour-long] breaks between Tuesday classes to watch A&E Biography videos about serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz in the media lab.  One week, he asked what class I was studying for.  When I replied that it was “just for fun,”  he practically threw the video at me before running and hiding in the back office!  Luckily, I happened to meet him at a later time through some mutual friends and I was able to set his mind at ease.  Up until I had the chance to explain myself, he called me “the creepy serial killer girl” and worried that I was studying up so I wouldn’t get caught!  Though I no longer frequent the library to watch A&E Biography videos about serial killers, I have watched enough of them (and reality-based shows like Crossing Jordan, Law & Order, Castle, and Criminal Minds) that I have a frighteningly thorough knowledge of serial killer pathology and the methods of the law enforcement officials who try to catch them.  When one of my teens told me about this book, therefore, I knew I had to read it.

Though he is pretty average and a fairly nice guy, most people in town wouldn’t be surprised if Jasper Dent was secretly a serial killer.  Why?  Because his dad, Billy Dent, killed into the triple digits by the time he was caught.  Everyone seems to be afraid that Jasper is a killing spree just waiting to happen; well, everyone except his best friend, Howie, and girlfriend, Connie.  So, after a dead body shows up in Lobo’s Nod, Jasper is determined to help the police.  Even though Sheriff G. William Tanner does his best to dissuade his involvement, Jasper keeps insisting that he needs to help — because he’s sure it’s a serial killer [even though the police don't think so], because he knows how serial killers think, and because he wants to clear his own name.

I was enjoying this audiobook so much that I jokingly told my husband I was going to make him listen to it when I was done.  He agreed that it sounded good, so we decided to actually start it over (even though I was at 96%!) and listen to it together on our weekend roadtrip without the kids.  We finished all but half an hour by the time we got home and we couldn’t imagine leaving it for later… So, we listened while we unpacked our bags and sorted laundry!  Since then, I have read the prequel (an e-novella) and downloaded the second audiobook from OverDrive.com.  The third book comes out in September on the day after my birthday.  Coincidence?  I think not!  ;-)

Happy Reading!

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

enchantedSunday Woodcutter, like her six sisters, was named for a day of the week.  I assume it was the day of the week on which they were born, though I cannot honest recall at the moment.  I do remember, though, that her sisters all seemed to be the embodiment of the old nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child,” which predicts children’s characteristics based on their days of birth:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

The number seven always seems to hold some magical and mystical powers in fantasy stories, and this story is no exception.  Being the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter has set Sunday up to be especially magical.  She loves writing, but is hesitant to do so because what she writes often comes true.  After meeting a talking frog, and telling him about her stories, Sunday finds that she finally has a friend to confide in.  He disappears, of course, when Sunday bestows a kiss on the his little froggy head — turning back into Prince Rumbold, whom her family despises.  Prince Rumbold is certain he can make Sunday fall in love with him, though, if only he can get a chance to talk to her and explain…

Happy Reading!

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost

Paladin ProphecyI thought this book was kind of like a Davinci Code for tween and teen readers.  There is a lot of mystery, tons of action, and a “bigger picture” that readers catch glimpses of throughout the story.  (This is the first in a series.)  Although I feel this book probably could have been edited down to be quite a bit shorter, I think the fast-paced action is likely enough to keep even reluctant readers turning pages.  Plus, the movie rights have been bought by Reliance Entertainment and Kintop Pictures, so I have a feeling this book will be in high demand as soon as the trailer starts making the rounds.

Will West’s parents constantly remind him to be as average as possible.  They won’t tell him why, but they think it is very important for him to fly under the radar.  So, he stays in the middle of the pack in cross country, he gets average grades, and he doesn’t do much else.  All his careful calculating is wasted, though, when he slips up and scores off-the-charts high on a national standardized test.  As a result, he gets invited down to the principal’s office for a meeting with a woman named Dr. Rollins, who extends an offer for a full scholarship to a secret, elite prep school… and men in black also start following him.  When his mom starts acting like a robot/zombie and his dad sends strange text messages, Will decides he needs to run for it.  With the help of a local taxi driver, who assumes Will is on the run from the police, he makes a mad dash for the airport — where he boards a plane for the secret prep school with the hope that he will soon begin to make sense of what is happening to him.

Happy Reading!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

peculiar-childrenI made it a point to listen to this audiobook last June because it had been added to a local summer reading list.  Since I had already been thinking about reading it, I didn’t even feel like I was doing homework as I sometimes do when I am trying to familiarize myself with summer reading titles.  How lovely!  While I am willing to admit that it wasn’t quite what I expected, though I can’t quite put into words what exactly that means, I was far from disappointed.

Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather’s outrageous stories about strange children with amazing powers — like invisibility, super strength, and levitation — as they looked through pictures from the home in which his grandfather had been raised.  He believed his grandfather when he was very young but, as he got older, started to think that the pictures “proving” their peculiarities looked so fake.  After all, what sane person would believe that there was a girl with a mouth on the back of her head and another who could float like a helium balloon?  Still, it was kind of fun to imagine.  That is, until the day his grandfather called him absolutely terrified about being unable to find his guns when the monsters were coming to get him.  When Jacob found his grandfather’s body in the woods, and saw something he couldn’t explain, he had to decide whether he would choose to believe in the bizarre stories his grandfather had told him or if his grandfather had simply been suffering from delusions or dementia.  And only one thing would set his mind at ease — a trip to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Fans of this book should be happy to learn that movie rights have been sold to 20th Century Fox.  According to Ransom Riggs’ blog, Tim Burton is set to direct and the screenplay with be adapted by Jane Goldman [who also wrote the screenplays for X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, and The Woman in Black].  IMDB has a projected release date of July 31, 2015 but no further information. I, for one, am pretty excited to see how this develops.

Happy Reading!

Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

Gorgeous18-year-old Becky Randle, a recent high school graduate, works for a local grocery chain and lives in the trailer she inherited when her mom died (from complications of diabetes/being morbidly obese).  One day, Becky thinks she hears her mom’s ringtone and, while searching for the phone, unearths a phone number on a scrap of paper inside an otherwise empty jewelery box.  She wonders if the phone number has anything to do with the cryptic thing her mother said on the day she died — “[S]omething is going to happen to you. And it’s going to be magical.”  So Becky decides to take a chance and calls the number.  It’s almost too good to be true when the person on the other end of the line offers her $1000 and a plane ticket to New York City, but she has nothing to lose and decides to check it out.

Upon her arrival in NYC, she is brought to see fashion designer Tom Kelly, who offers to make her three dresses and to transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world.  Becky doesn’t believe him at first, but her best friend Rocher uses some extremely colorful language to convince her to go for it.  (Rocher’s expletive-laden exclamations were often hilarious, and one was so good that I actually pulled over and recorded it with my cell phone so I could later play it back for my husband.  AFTER the kids had gone to bed, of course!)  Anyhow… Tom comes through and works some sort of crazy magic and Becky really is transformed!  She becomes Rebecca — who is tall, thin, and gorgeous, with perfect skin and hair.  She can eat anything she wants without gaining an ounce, and this gives her loads more confidence than Becky ever had.  The only problem is that Rebecca needs to fall in love and get married within a year or everything will go back to the way it was before.

Happy Reading!