Sunday, February 12, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #05: The Lighthouse Land by Adrian McKinty

The Lighthouse Land introduces us to a 13 year old boy in New York City, who has survived cancer via an arm amputation which has left him mute from the shock.  His life changes for the better after he and his mother inherit their own small island and home off of the coast of Ireland.   There he becomes friends with a boy-genius his own age and they discover a portal to another world.  After becoming friends with a girl on the alien planet, they help to fight the pirate-type race who are attacking her people.

Again, I chose to listen to the audiobook version for this review.  At the beginning of The Lighthouse Land, I did not like the use of the future tense "you will".  Maybe it was a little more confusing hearing it, rather than reading it, since it is unexpected.   Fortunately, this does not continue for very long, and I stopped myself from giving up on it too soon. 

I also thought that the narrator, Gerard Doyle, sounded amateurish, by tending to end his sentences on a high note.  I was shocked to discover that he has won numerous narrating awards, including Best Voice in Young Adult Fiction in 2008.  So, I'm very curious now to listen to something else he has narrated to compare.  I did feel that his voice was better suited to the characters later in the book, rather than the ones in the New York setting.  I'm not sure if this was the writing or his voice, but Gerard was almost certainly chosen as narrator because of the Irish setting after New York.

Overall, I thought this was just an OK book.  It was certainly not one of my favourite science fiction/fantasy books.  I didn't find the plot very original and the boys at times seem very young and other times overly mature for  their age, making it seem very inconsistent and forced.  I have not read McKinty's adult books, although I understand, they have a lot of graphic violence (so I probably won't be listening to them).  My guess is that he does not translate his skills as well to Young Adult as authors such as Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman do.  Both of them masterfully translate their dark sides to be suitable for younger readers without over-simplifying and feeling unnatural.

However, this wasn't a completely terrible book either.  After having invested the time in getting to know the boys a bit, I did like it enough to want to continue to the next book to see what happens to them.  But I'm not in a rush to do that and have already both listened to and read books since this one, so I better get to those reviews soon too!  :)

The Lighthouse Land
The Lighthouse Trilogy, Book 1
Author: Adrian McKinty

Audiobook version
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Duration: 9 hours, 59 minutes (unabridged)
ISBN-13: 978-1441771537
Release date:  January 4, 2011

Hardcover Version
Pages: 372
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (October 1, 2006)
ISBN-13: 978-0810954809

Saturday, February 11, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #04: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Original Hardcover cover

I've held on to my copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond since I was about 11 years old and have re-read it many, many times. In a time when the word “witch” brings up images of Harry Potter-type stories, it might be helpful to clarify - this book is historical fiction, NOT fantasy. :) “Witch” refers to the Puritan colonist ideas of what a witch was in the 1600's. Generally, anyone who was a little different, especially a different religion, might be accused of being a witch in league with Satan. For this review I decided to listen to this old favourite in the audiobook version for the first time, to compare it to the experience of reading it myself. 
The Witch of Blackbird Pond starts with a 16 year old, free-spirited girl named Kit, traveling on a ship from Barbados to Wethersfield, Connecticut - a Puritan colony up the Connecticut River, in 1687.  Kit was raised by her wealthy grandfather in Barbados in a completely different lifestyle from the Puritans. But after his death, she is now on her way to live with relatives who she has never met before. Kit struggles to fit into her new life and to understand the Puritans, but, while her relatives try to be welcoming, they make little effort to understand her in return. It is quite the culture shock for her to go from having wealth, status and slaves to being poor and an outsider having to learn daily household chores.

Kit does her best to become friends with her cousins, Mercy and Judith, while they are all getting to know each other and are developing romances with the very few eligible young men around. But eventually, she rebels against the intolerance of the community and finds comfort by becoming friends with the lonely, old Quaker women who lives at Blackbird Pond.

The book ends with an old-fashioned Puritan witch hunt and Kit finds out who will really stand up for her and for justice when it counts.

While I've always thoroughly enjoyed it when I read this book, I found the audiobook, narrated by Mary Beth Hurt, lacking something.  As it started, I was initially disappointed with some music competing with the narrator's voice, but that soon ended and only recurs briefly again at the end. But it is completely unnecessary and detracts from the reading. Then, my second disappointment was that the narrator's voice did not suit what I had in my mind for Kit's voice. I was afraid that it would ruin the whole book for me, but it eventually grew on me enough to go unnoticed most of the time. Mary Beth was good at doing both a young girl's voice and an older woman's voice - it was the main character's teenage voice that didn't seem right to me. 

And a little side-note - there were a few scattered technical glitches, of voice skips. I don't know if that was just my download, or if it would be in other library audio versions too.

I've very seldom thought a narrator had the “wrong” voice before. A few have just been bad in all respects, but the good ones, are usually good all around too. So this problem was a new experience with audiobooks for me. I've also both read and listened to the same books before, but I'm not sure if I've done it in this order since at the moment I can only recall buying a book after enjoying the audio version. So perhaps it is just harder for an audiobook to live up to my own imagination. I hope to find more library audiobooks to compare to other printed favourites to better determine this.

This book will appeal to readers who enjoy juvenile historical fiction books with feisty, young heroines. It is recommended for ages 8 -10 and up, although the younger readers may have a little difficulty following the politics of the time. But anyone may enjoy looking up the real historical figures and places, such as Wethersfield and the Buttolph-Williams House.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Young Adult Historical Fiction
Audiobook cover
Audiobook (unabridged)
Narrator: Mary Beth Hurt
Duration: 6 hours, 33 minutes
ISBN:  9780739330289
Release date: Oct 31, 2006

Pages: 249 
Publisher: Houghton Miffline Company (December 1, 1958) 
ISBN-13: 978-0395071144
Awards: Newbery Medal in 1959