Monday, November 30, 2015

531 (2015 #88). The Good Lord Bird

by James McBride,
read by Michael Boatman

This 2013 winner of the National Book Award for Fiction is sorta about abolitionist John Brown.  The main character, though, is Henry "Onion" Shackleford, who is a ten-year-old black slave in Kansas when the book opens in 1856.  His father is accidentally killed and Brown "frees" Henry, mistakenly thinking he is a girl, and nicknames Henry as "Onion" (because Henry eats Brown's lucky one).

Onion continues to pretend to be a girl over the next three years, in Kansas and in Virginia with Brown (including at the Harper's Ferry raid), and on his/her own living in a brothel in Missouri in between.

James McBride works in real historical events and people (such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, both of whom actually met or worked with Brown) into his novel.  Enough so that I was compelled, as I am with any historical fiction, to find out what was true and what was not.  Onion is totally fabricated.  There isn't a lot of action in Brown's life in 1857, so Onion's sojourn that year in Missouri (a slave state at the time) provides an opportunity for insights into slavery.

McBride freely admits the book is primarily satire, and the picture he paints of Douglass in particular is not pretty (although there is speculation that Douglass had a German mistress).  The book is too long and drags a bit in places (with the scenes of the Harper's Ferry raid being especially flat).  However, I listened to the audiobook, which was extremely enjoyable thanks to the vocal talents of reader Michael Boatman, who was especially good at making "The Old Man" Brown, as Onion calls him, sound right on the cusp between religious fanaticism and abolitionist zeal.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  An e-book for reference was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

530 (2015 #87). Today is the Day

by Eric Walters,
illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

Based on a real girl named Mutanu at a real orphanage in Kenya, this book describes the birthday celebration for orphans who often don't know their real birthdays.  Run by the Creation of Hope, founded by the book's author Eric Walters, the book also includes some photographs, information, and a map at the end.  Eugenie Fernandes' acrylic on paper illustrations are colorful and heartwarming, and the Zemke Hand typeface makes the large amount of text easier to read.  The dust jacket doubles as a poster, and a portion of the book sales will go to Creation of Hope.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this hardbound book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for a fair review.  It will be donated to my university library collection.]

Saturday, November 14, 2015

529 (2015 #86). I'll Be Home for Christmas

by Lori Wilde

The latest in Lori Wilde's romance series set in Twilight, Texas (aka Granbury, my current home town), at Christmastime once again.  The hero in this story is Joe Cheek, younger brother to Sam Cheek of The True Love Quilting Club.

Restless former troublemaker Joe (he has ADHD) is running his grandfather's Christmas tree farm while the latter recuperates from a stroke.  Although Granbury doesn't have such a farm, there is one just north of the next town north of here, although  it doesn't look anything like the one on the book's cover (especially with all that snow we don't usually have here in Twilight).

The plot set-up seemed a little far-fetched to me - but hey, it's Christmas, the season of magic!  Joe's sister Katie meets law school dropout Gabrielle "Gabi" Preston on a snow globe board on Pinterest (love the way Lori incorporated this social media sensation into the story).  They become friends and share their needs for a change of pace.  Then, as fans of the movie The Holiday (which I haven't seen), they decide to swap houses sight unseen just as the main characters do in that movie.  For the three weeks just before Christmas, Katie heads to Gabi's condo near the beach in Los Angeles, while Gabi gets Katie's yurt (yes!) just outside Twilight and across from the Christmas tree farm.

Of course Joe and Gabi meet, and sparks fly, and romance ensues.  It's a sweet story and I love how characters from other novels in the series pop up in minor roles in this one.  However, it's not necessary to have read those other books before reading this one.  Katie's backstory is interesting, and I would bet the next Twilight, Texas novel will be about her!

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to a library e-book collection.]

526-528 (2015 #83-85). 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - Three Versions

by Jules Verne,
abridged children's version adapted by Diane Flynn Grund,
audio English version read by Michael Prichard,
unabridged translation by Emanuel J. Mickel

I wanted to read this classic because it was being read by the main female character in Anthony Doerr's  All the Light We Cannot See, and there were references to it in the story that were unfamiliar with me. Although often considered a children's book (for reasons that will be made clear soon), I hadn't read it, probably because I wasn't interested in science fiction and adventure stories as a girl.

I first read the children's abridged version pictured at left, which I borrowed from the juvenile fiction section at my local public library.  It's part of a series called "Treasury of Illustrated Classics" originally published in the 1990s that took long classics (some considered appropriate for children, some not), drastically abridged them, added (rather poorly done) black-and-white uncredited illustrations, printed them on poor quality paper and bound them with a colorful cover designed to attract the kids.

Even so, it was enough for me to understand the basic plot of the novel and how it related to Doerr's book.  I did want to read a more complete version of the book, however.

So next, I borrowed an e-audiobook from another public library.  Although this version is definitely longer (11 hours, 23 minutes duration) and its description in the library catalog describes it as unabridged, it turns out it is not (although I did learn from the description that Nemo is Latin for "no one" - how appropriate!)

I do agree with a 2003 AudioFile review that "Michael Prichard's deep, pleasant voice does no accents for the three languages involved [English, French, and the language invented by Captain Nemo for his crew] but, nevertheless, captures the action and drama of this classic novel."  I do feel Prichard did well distinguishing between the four main characters (the French professor Pierre Arronax, his servant Conseil, the English-speaking Canadian harpoonist Ned Land, and Nemo).  However, the quality of the audio was poor.  Nevertheless, the book met my need to understand a little more of the story.

Finally, I compared some passages in this so-called unabridged audiobook to a 1991 translation by Emanuel Mickel of Verne's original work (written in French and published in 1869 and 1871), available at my university library.  I found a lot had been cut in the audiobook.

Indeed, Mickel explains (near the end of his 63-page introduction) that  Verne's work was drastically cut, 25% or more, in translations and in French in 1928, after his death.  Hardest hit were long scientific passages where he names or describes fish and other marine life, as well as archaelogy, geology, and exploration history, and much of the dialogue (some of which is humorous).  According to Mickel (page 61-62),

These sections are so severely truncated that the emphasis of the novel is shifted in a fundamental way.  Those chapters and parts...that deal with scientific topics give the novel its weight and balance.  They draw the reader away from the fast-paced adventure narrative to issues of greater intellectual significance.
Mickel's unabridged version also has chronologies (of Verne's life and of the events in the book) as well as an eleven-page bibliography, and extensive footnotes throughout the text.  The latter are especially helpful in explaining names and places Verne mentions with which the modern reader might not be familiar.

Verne's novel is remarkable for the way it predicted some technologies we take for granted today.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Monday, November 02, 2015

524-525 (2015 #81-82). A Couple Blah Children's Books

[This is post number 500 on this blog!]

Felicity the Dragon, by Ruthie Briggs- Greenberg, is a fantasy picture book sent to me to review by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It has a nice message about being yourself and helping others even if you are "different," but the forced rhyming and unremarkable amateurish illustrations make it mediocre at best.  I'll be adding it to my university's curriculum collection, but only because I didn't have to buy it.
I recently selected the audiobook of the 2014 Newbery Medalist, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo for my university library's collection, and this one falls into the "unfinished" category.  I'm not really surprised, because I HATED DiCamillo's other Newbery Medalist (in 2004), The Tales of Despereaux.

Although I LOVED actress Tara Sands' reading of The Language of Flowers, her voice really started to grate on me with this audiobook.  So much so, combined with the annoying characters and ridiculous plot, that with the last sentence of chapter 43 (on page 144 of the hardbound print copy), when the main character, ten year old Flora, describes her mother's romance writing to her pet squirrel Ulysses as "sickly sweet nonsense" and realizes "yes, it was treacle," I realized I was tired of this treacle too, and gave up on the book.

I suppose that the silliness of this book will appeal to young readers, but I cringe to think that this was considered "the most distinguished American children's book published" in 2013.  The print copy of the book has a number of whimsical pencil illustrations by K. G. Campbell, and I suppose those add to the book's appeal for most children.  Some of the illustrations are in comic book format, and the audiobook narration adds superhero music and a description of what is occurring in those sparsely-texted panels that would be helpful for struggling readers.  The book is written at about a fourth-grade reading level.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received a hardbound copy of Felicity the Dragon through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program in exchange for a review.  It will be donated to my university library, which is also where I borrowed and returned both a print and audiobook copy of Flora & Ulysses.]