Category Archives: reviews

Digital Library: Better Nate Than Ever

better-nate-than-ever-9781442366206_hrBetter Nate Than Ever by Time Federle; read by the author

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013. 5 hours, 54 minutes. ISBN 9781442366206

Odyssey Honor Audiobook Award Winner, 2014.

Synopsis: Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom. – from Amazon.com

I always think it is a treat when an author performs the audiobook version of their own work because you can get a feel for how they hoped to portray the characters on the page. Federle brings across the exuberance, hopefulness, and nervousness of Nate’s character as he embarks on what becomes a journey of major ups, downs, and even some other surprises along the way. I had a laugh out loud at Nate’s internal voice telling him to stop talking when he knew he was starting to ramble – and I’m sure other readers will identify with this part of Nate’s character as well. It was hard not to root for Nate as he is going through the audition process, which seems somewhat nerve-wracking when you consider the sheer number of people in the casting office – some of whom he is competing with. I also had to admire Nate’s starry-eyed view of New York and the way he instantly falls in love with the city even though Kristin Chenoweth is not at the Greyhound station to welcome him with a song. I absolutely loved everything about this audiobook and would recommend it to anyone with big hopes and dreams to help encourage them.

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Digital Library: A Wrinkle in Time

a_wrinkle_in_timeA Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle; Read by Hope Davis

Listening Library/Penguin Random House Audio, 2012. 390 Minutes. ISBN 9780307916570

Synopsis: Meg Murray, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father? – from the publisher

Davis brings L’Engle’s classic middle grade sci-fi/fantasy novel to life and takes the reader deeper into the text – especially if you are listening to the audiobook while following along in a physical copy. The reader can really get a feel for the different layers of the story and the personalities for the characters with the audiobook thanks to Davis’s superb voice acting. She seems to adopt a multitude of personas as she reads through the novel, giving each character a unique voice as the plot goes along. I like it when a narrator takes the time and energy to put a little bit of diversity into their acting because it reduces the feeling of monotony. As much as I enjoy the story, I am still not a fan of Meg as a heroine. Davis seems to bring out more of the whining adolescent quality of Meg’s character and it really turns me off to her character. I understand that she is trying to figure some things out, but I don’t relate to her at all. Despite this, I enjoyed Davis’s performance of the book and think it would make a wonderful companion to the physical copy.

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Feature Presentation: Peter Rabbit

peter_rabbitPeter Rabbit starring James Corden, Rose Byrne, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Fayssal Bazzi, Domnhall Gleeson, Sia, Colin Moody, Sam Neill, Elizabeth Debicki, Christian Gazal, and Ewen Leslie

Sony Pictures Entertainment/2.0 Entertainment/Animal Logic Entertainment, 2018. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Peter Rabbit (James Corden) his three sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), and Cotton Tail (Daisy Ridley) and their cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody) enjoy their days harassing old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) in his vegetable garden. After old McGregor’s death, his great-nephew (Domnhall Gleeson) inherits the house and seems to share his late uncle’s views about rabbits invading the garden. But when he starts to fall in love with the animal lover next door, Bea (Rose Byrne), his feelings towards Peter and the others begins to change. But is it too late?

I wasn’t quite sure what to think about this movie, but I ended up really enjoying it. The characters are endearing and charming, though sometimes the comedy can get a little crass (likely for the adult audience rather than the kiddies). My only real qualm with the movie is that it is supposed to be based on ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. While the movie shares some of its source material with the beloved children’s books by Beatrix Potter (namely, the characters and the basic plotline of Peter repeatedly sneaking into the garden), I don’t think it is a true adaptation (The World of Peter Rabbit and Tales of Beatrix Potter more closely follow the books). That said though, I liked the different angle the writers took to make it a little more relatable to modern audiences. There is a running joke about the contrast in Bea’s paintings (her ‘real work’ is abstract at best while her drawings of the local wildlife (a side project) are much more captivating) that seems to hold up over the running time. The extermination methods McGregor uses go a little bit over the top and the ridiculousness just made me bored after a while. The back and forth between the rabbits and McGregor also have moments where the jokes fall a little flat, but for the most part, the exchanges are clever and engaging. The message about learning to understand others and to ask for forgiveness is important to instill in younger and adult viewers alike. It’s a cute family film that will be enjoyed by both kids and adults.

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What’s On: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 2

series-of-unfortunate-events-s2A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 2 starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, K. Todd Freeman, Usman Ally, Jacqueline Robbins, Joyce Robbins, Matty Cardaropole, John DeSantis, Sara Rue, and Lucy Rush

Netflix, 2018.

Synopsis: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire continue to search for answers about the fire that killed their parents, an apparent survivor of the fire, and the mysterious organization V.F.D as they are pursued by Count Olaf and his acting troupe.

Season Two begins with the Baudelaire orphans waiting in the office of Prufrock Preparatory School to be seen by the vice principal. In fact, they have been waiting there so long, Klaus (Louis Hynes) notes, that Sunny (Presley Smith) is now a toddler rather than an infant. Nothing like a bit of light humor to start off a much darker series of events for both the Baudelaire children and the audience. What I appreciate about the series is that the characters are being moved around in such a way that we become invested in their fates – in the books, many of the people the Baudelaires encounter are simply around for the duration of the book and then drop off, never to be seen again. For example, the librarian at Prufrock (Sara Rue) is recruited by Jacques Snicket (Nathan Fillon) as a V.F.D. member and is seen in later episodes aiding Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. The audience is also more easily able to follow the journey of the notorious sugar bowl that was the catalyst for the events now occurring; it is seen repeatedly in the possession of a mystery female whom we are being lead to believe may be the survivor of the fire that killed the Baudelaire parents. The added musical numbers performed by Count Olaf and his troupe are delightfully amusing, especially given the rather dire and depressing nature of the series. And while this season ends on a literal cliffhanger (a fact that I am sure will not go unnoticed at the beginning of the next season), the audience is still somewhat prepared for further trouble to come, though we know not yet what forms it will take.

 

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The Carnivorous Carnival Review

ASOUE_9The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket; Illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2002. 978-0064410120

Synopsis: When Violet, Klaus, and Sunny find themselves at the Calgari Carnival and are forced to disguise themselves as freaks to hide from Count Olaf, the orphans feel like they have fallen even further into despair. Then Olaf announces that one of the freaks will be fed to a heard of hungry lions in order to increase ticket sales.

Why I picked it up: I’m invested….

Why I finished it: As promised, the situation for the Baudelaries continues to deteriorate to the point where the roles are now reversed, and the children are now having to use disguises to try and hide themselves from Olaf. And just when the situation seems the direst, it gets even worse. One of the Baudelaire parents may still be alive after the fire, but it is going to take all the children’s courage and daring to be able to escape from Olaf and figure out how to reunite with the survivor of the fire. The revelation that the answers Violet, Klaus, and Sunny desire about the mysterious V.F.D. are right under their noses proves not to be as big of a help to them as they thought especially when they learn that the fortune teller that will give them what they want is just as unscrupulous as Olaf himself. The plot had a good flow to it, and it kept the action moving along better than in some of the previous books. It seems strange to say that Snicket has finally found his stride, but as depressing as the stories seem to be getting, the more enjoyable they are to read. The Baudelaires lives are unlikely to get better any time soon, but maybe they will be able to find out something that will help them survive their continually worsening circumstances.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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The Hostile Hospital Review

ASOUE_8The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2001. 978-0064408660

Synopsis: Framed for a crime they didn’t commit, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire find themselves hiding out in the half-built Heimlich Hospital with the V.F.D. (Volunteers Fighting Disease). They have a stroke of luck when the three children volunteer to work in the Library of Records at the hospital, where they are able to uncover a shocking secret about the fire that killed their parents.

Why I picked it up: As I have said before, I apparently am enjoying these rather morbid adventures.

Why I finished it: Okay, so, things are starting to look truly dire for the Baudelaire orphans. They are on the run, wanted for murder, trying to hide from Count Olaf and Esmé, they are unable to get in touch with Mr. Poe, and they still have no hints about the meaning of V.F.D. The children seem to find a momentary solace in the Library of Records, which is of course ruined with the appearance of Esmé, whom it turns out is after the same mysterious Snicket file that could give the Baudelaries the answers to their many questions. More puzzle pieces click into place for both the characters and the reader, as we discover that Count Olaf is using anagrams in order to hide incriminating evidence and that the “V” in V.F.D. stands for “Volunteer”, per the few notes the orphans are able to decipher from the remains of the Quagmire’s notebooks. We still have yet to find out more about Beatrice, the missing sugar bowl, and the role Beatrice’s theft of the sugar bowl that lead to this series of unfortunate events. The timeline felt somewhat haphazard in this book, but I can’t put my finger on why exactly the timing of events is bothering me. Maybe it’s because there is less of the chase element between Olaf and the orphans, and now it has become a game of hide and seek. What fate holds for our heroes, I cannot say, but I have no doubt that they will be able to somehow survive these truly dire circumstances.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel Review

city_of_ember_graphic_novelThe City of Ember: The Graphic Novel by Jeanne DuPrau, adapted by Dallas Middaugh, art by Niklas Asker

Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012. 978-0375867934

Synopsis: It is said that the city of Ember is the only light in the dark world. Without Ember’s great lamps, the darkness would last forever. Now, the lights are flickering, and supplies are running low. When Lina and Doon find an mysterious document that might hold the answer, they must decipher its meaning before it’s too late. – from the back cover

Why I picked it up: I loved the non-graphic novel version and I was curious about the adaptation.

Why I finished it: This is one in a long line of post-apocalyptic stories that have come out in the last ten years that has made an impression on myself as well as other readers. It combines elements from the classics The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz and others, yet DuPrau manages to give the story its own distinctive mark. Lina and Doon are young people fighting against a system that their community is gradually coming to see as broken, both figuratively and literally. They are not extraordinary children, but they are clever, and it is this cleverness and resourcefulness that endears them to the reader. Middaugh’s adaptation captures the contrasting desperation and hope of the original novel, while Asker’s art brings to life the decaying city and the eventual illumination of Lina and Doon’s discovery of a world beyond the surrounding darkness. Asker uses muted colors that give each page a sort of sepia tone, as though the reader is perusing an old family photo album and truly capturing the journey from darkness into the light. I would recommend this book for fans of the novel and of course, for a reluctant reader. It’s a quick read that is sure to engage from the first page to the last.

Other related materials: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau; The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau; The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau; The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne Du Prau; A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Madeline L’Engle, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson; Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer, adapted by Andrew Donkin, art by Giovanni Rigano; The Hobbit graphic novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, adapted by Charles Dixon, illustrations by David Wenzel; The Golden Compass: The Graphic Novel by Philip Pullman; Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel adapted by Mariah Marsden, illustrated by Brenna Thummler; Coraline: The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell; The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell;  The Wizard of Oz: The Graphic Novel by L. Frank Baum, adapted and illustrated by Michael Cavallaro; Zita the Spacegirl books by Ben Hatke; Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

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