Saturday, January 05, 2013

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #22: War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

I'm sure I'm not the only one whose only previous experience with H.G. Wells was the 2005 War of the Worlds movie  starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning and the character on Warehouse 13 .  While the movie was entertaining, it had the usual Hollywood dramatic scenes with the hero fighting to protect their family, where everything is frantic and full special effects.

With that in mind, I found the audiobook refreshing.  It has a much slower start than the movie.  The aliens don't just pop up out of the ground.  Strange objects, apparently from Mars, land on the earth and are later reveled to contain aliens - Martians.  We don't know at first if they are friendly or malicious.  They construct their tripod killing machines while people watch and wonder.

When the machines are operable, their destruction of humanity and civilization begins.  Of course, this is a time before cars, so people are fleeing by foot and horse and buggy and they don't have access to instant news or telephones like we do which makes for even more confusion.  Everyone is on their own.

One of the best parts is that the main character has no children and is not looking after any children.  I found this a nice surprise after so many of today's movies are made to manipulate our heart strings by making it all about the children.  Instead, the man has a wife, who he gets separated from in the early stages and spends most of the book not knowing if she is dead or alive.  The story is about his survival and the random people he encounters and how everyone is dealing with this stress of attack and survival differently.

I am very glad to have finally heard the original.  There is a reason why there are many adaptations of The War of the Worlds - it is just fundamentally a good and compelling story.  Some things are understandably dated, with the idea of "Martians" probably the most jarring to today's readers.  But other elements from its time period make it even better.  The 2005 movie gave us a very good visualization of how horrible the alien machines were which heightens the contrast between the alien technology and the simpler human resources.   When people are fleeing by horses, it makes their plight even more staggering than those experienced in the movie version.

I forget what the "enhanced" part of the audiobook was.  I assume there was music or sound effects at some point, but I can't remember if I felt they added or detracted from the story.  I just remember that I very much enjoyed the audiobook and story overall. 

The War of the Worlds [ENHANCED] Audiobook
Author:  H. G. Wells
Narrator: Simon Vance
Duration: 5 hours, 56 minutes
ISBN: 9781400192847
Release date: Jun 30, 2009  (original printed publishing 1898)

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #19-21: Various mysteries by Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters (real name Barbara Mertz who also writes under Barbara Michaels), is best knows for her popular Amelia Peabody mysteries.  Those are amongst my favourite mystery books, but Elizabeth Peters has written many other books.  For this review I'm combining three of her other books that aren't any other series.  My feelings and criticisms are very similar for them all, so it seems pointless to write the same review three times.

While the Amelia Peabody series begins in the 1880's, these other books have contemporary settings, but are now out-dated having been published in 1968-1977.  Amelia is ahead of her time, but the women in The Jackal's Head, The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits and Devil-May-Care perhaps were modern in the early 1970's.  That's when I was born, so I'm not really sure.  However, for present day, they come across as annoying, old-fashioned and not as likeable as they probably were originally.  They fight against the constraints that society places on women, but then often end up falling into silly and frustrating stereotypes despite that.

I listened to The Jackal's Head most recently.  Looking it up, it is the oldest one, which probably explains why I liked it the least.  It takes place in Egypt, a setting familiar to Peabody fans.  A young women returns to the place that destroyed her father's reputation and led to his death.  She masquerades as a tourist but meets childhood friends as she searches for answers to clear his name and her cover is quickly blown.   The eventual archeological finds go much more into fantasy than what I can remember from the Peabody series.

Surprisingly, compared to the other Elizabeth Peters books I can recall, there are two attempted rape scenes in The Jackal's Head.  They are kind of left ambiguous as to how far the attacker actually got.  I think we are supposed to understand that he didn't succeed, but in the first she is left unconscious and bruised.  I do not like reading/listening to sexual violence in books, so this was disappointing for me and I wasn't expecting it after being familiar with so many of her other books (Peabody and otherwise).  I suspect that this is a product of the time it was written.  If I recall correctly, Anne McCaffrey included a rape in an early fantasy story published around this time which she later regretted and changed in a rewrite when the short story became a full-length novel.  (and I can recall being very disappointed in that since I read the original before knowing about the rewrite)

Anyone familiar with Peters books will not be surprised at the ending of this book either.

The setting is slightly different in The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits.   A young women travels to the pyramids in Mexico City in search of her missing father.  Again, this was disappointing for Peters.  There is a strong anti-drug message that is unexpected and lacks creativity.   I think this is one of the most dated of her older work and doesn't hold up well now.  I can't even remember anything remarkable enough to comment more specifically about now and don't even remember the ending.  I don't think I cared too much by then. 

Refreshingly, Devil-May-Care, takes place in Virginia.  A young, wealthy woman house-sits for her Aunt and gets some much needed time away from her fiancĂ©.  She unwittingly uncovers some secrets about the old families in the area - but she's not even sure what she found and everyone wonders if the strange things happening in and around the house are paranormal or real-world tactics to try to keep the secrets hidden.

Out of the three books, this was the most recently written, and you can tell.  It still is not as strong as many of her other books, and a little too predictable but definitely better than The Jackal's Head and The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits.  In all cases there were instances where I was just rolling my eyes at the talks the women have with themselves about how they are modern women, while still having such sexist attitudes. 

I don't recommend any of these if you have not already enjoyed Elizabeth Peters in other books.  I would only bother with The Jackal's Head and The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits if you really, really want to just read everything by Peters and don't expect much.

The audiobook quality and narration were good.  However, these might read better in print when you can skip quickly through the annoying parts.  

Author: Elizabeth Peters

Narrator: Grace Conlin
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.

The Jackal's Head
Duration: 6 hours, 35 minutes
ISBN: 9781455100057
Release date: Mar 08, 2005  (first print book published 1968)

The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits
Duration:  7 hours, 46 minutes
ISBN:  9781433264900
Release date:  Nov 29, 2005  (first print book published 1971)

Duration:  7 hours, 28 minutes
ISBN:  9781455101177
Release date: Jan 09, 2007  (first print book published 1977)

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #15-#18: His Dark Materials, Books 1-4 by Philip Pullman

I really wish I had gotten to this review when His Dark Materials was fresh in my mind, but some major things happened in my life right then so here it goes almost a year later!   I can't really separate the books well in my head now, so the review will be very general.  

I had reviewed The Lighthouse Land by Adrian McKinty shortly before listening to The Golden Compass, which was also my introduction to Philip Pullman  .  I take back what I said about wanting to continue The Lighhouse TrilogyThe Golden Compass reminded me what a really good book was!  There is no comparison and I will not waste my time listening to the rest of The Lighthouse Trilogy.  Since then I've listened to several Philip Pullman audiobooks and have enjoyed every one. 

His Dark Materials is about a young girl named Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon or "Pan" for short.  Pan acts like a pet, but you will learn in the book that it is much more than that.

In the The Golden Compass (note: in some countries it is titled Northern Lights), Lyra and Pan overhear some dark plans that begin them on a journey to discover the truth behind the disappearance of children throughout the land. Of course, there are many dangers for herself and others along the way.   With a heartbreaking, cliffhanger ending, I immediately went on to the next book.

The Subtle Knife follows Lyra and Pan as they travel to another world with a new friend, Will.  Here it is the adults who are in danger from forces that can attack at puberty.  Lyra and Will are all too close in age to that for comfort.  They find a tool that helps them travel through worlds to continue the quest to find the truth about the missing children and the dark things happening in multiple worlds.  Again I wanted to continue immediately to the next book which is the conclusion of the trilogy.

Lyra and Will's adventure continues with The Amber Spyglass.  They are learning a lot about life and love with all they've had to go through.  There is a war with the Kingdom of Heaven and they still have to find the the final pieces to the puzzle.   The conclusion is satisfying, but heartbreaking.   I was very emotional at this point in my own life, so I cried a whole lot with this. 

Overall, His Dark Materials is so good because it treats its readers like intelligent and curious individuals.  It doesn't dumb things down like so many things do nowadays for readers - and not just for children.  Philip Pullman questions authority and organized religion and the corruptions of power.  He wants his characters and readers to have a critical mind and to find the truth behind appearances.  His characters also learn a lot about the different kinds of love and sacrifice for the greater good.  I didn't really agree with the jealous love shown by the witches - I don't think we are supposed to, but it is still called "love" in the series, which is what I question.  But the themes of the other types: self-love, friendship and romantic love are more important and treated well.  And all of this is portrayed through unique worlds and characters.

I was very sorry for the Trilogy to end.  I wanted to hear more about the characters.  I looked forward to Lyra's Oxford, but it is only a short story about an adventure Lyra has two years after the end of The Amber Spyglass and didn't offer much.

The first three books are now amongst my favourite fantasy books.   I will certainly be rereading them and adding them to my permanent library.  The audiobooks were very well done with a terrific cast of narrators.   One of the best I've heard.

The series is recommended for ages 12 and up.  Each book has received several awards in both the print and audio versions.

His Dark Materials
Author: Philip Pullman
Narrated by Philip Pullman and a full cast
Publisher:  Listening Library

Book 1:  The Golden Compass
Duration: 10 hours, 33 minutes
ISBN: 9780739345122
Release date: Jun 27, 2006

Book 2:The Subtle Knife
Duration:  8 hours, 55 minutes
ISBN:      9780739350355
Release date: Aug 15, 2006

Book 3:The Amber Spyglass
Duration: 14 hours, 53 minutes
ISBN: 9780739345054
Release date: Jun 27, 2006

Book 4: Lyra's Oxford
Duration: 48 minutes
ISBN: 9780739353288
Release date: Oct 31, 2006

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #14: Anne's House of Dreams: Anne of Green Gables Series, Book 5 by L. M. Montgomery

As I mentioned in my review #10 , I am a fan of the Anne of Green Gables series and have read them many times.  This was the first time listening to an audiobook version of one of them.

Having grown up with the TV series where Anne is played by Megan Follows it is hard not to compare the narrator of an audio version to her.  It's especially hard when at times, this narrator, Susan O'Malley, did actually sound like Megan.  But, it was a Megan without the "joy" that the real Megan has in her voice. (and still does when I've seen her as a guest star on numerous TV shows) .  Susan's voice was better suited to the sadder parts of House of Dreams, of which there were ample.  But her voice grew on me by the end of it.

I don't feel that House of Dreams is the strongest book in the series, but it is an important book.  Here Gilbert and Anne are finally starting a life out on their own.  Gilbert has his own medical practice and Anne is a new wife as they move to their first house and eventually start their own family.  It is a time of many changes.

Gilbert and Anne are meant for each other.  But that doesn't mean they don't have their own sorrows along the way.  House of Dreams is more somber than the preceding books in the series.  But, it is an important development for Anne to work through her latest grief and transition to full womanhood/motherhood.  In typical L.M. Montgomery style, the reader is prepared ahead of time for the sad parts, but it doesn't lessen their emotional impact at all.

Anne's House of Dreams: Anne of Green Gables Series, Book 5
Author: L. M. Montgomery

Narrator: Susan O'Malley
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (Nov 09, 2004)
Duration:  9 hours, 23 minutes
ISBN:      9781455100842