Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 Discoveries: Audiobooks

Except where I mention it specifically below, I imagine that these would be just as good for regular reading as when listening. I simply encountered them via audio first.
  • The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton
    At the beginning of the 20th century, in detective fiction there was Sherlock Holmes and that was all. There were other fictional detectives, to be sure, but they were only bad imitations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective. The sleuths offered by other writers would try to outdo Holmes in eccentricity and in solving crimes that were evermore contrived and convoluted.

    But in 1905 a book of mysteries came along that finally managed to turn the Sherlock Holmes idea on its head. The book was The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton. His detective, Rupert Grant, is a Sherlock Holmes-like private eye who investigates crimes and chases crooks with great self-assuredness in his powers of deduction. But he is always wrong. The hero of these stories is not Rupert, but his older brother, Basil Grant, a retired judge. In each case, Basil proves to Rupert hat there has been no crime and no crooks. (Read the entire lecture on this book, of which the above which has been an excerpt, here.

    This book was a delight from beginning to end, and I'm not really a G.K. Chesterton fan. I listened to the Librivox recording which was wonderfully read by David Barnes. This is an old book that is probably available free on the Kindle.

  • Cleek: the Man of the 40 Faces by Thomas Hanshew
    I listened to the Librivox recording done by the marvelous Ruth Golding. Cleek is a bad man who goes right for the love of a good woman. As well he is perhaps the cleverest detective I have ever read of, putting M. Poirot's little grey cells to shame while indulging his idiosyncratic love of flowers and nature. This allows for many short, quirky mysteries with the overarching theme of how Cleek hopes to redeem himself enough to approach his true love with honor. A wonderfully entertaining story from the turn of the century of mystery, chivalry, and intrigue. Again, this is old and probably available free on the Kindle.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
    Mr. Norrell is a fusty but ambitious scholar from the Yorkshire countryside. He is also the first practical magician in hundreds of years. What better way to demonstrate his revival of British magic than to change the course of the Napoleonic wars? Jonathan Strange discovers, to his dismay, that he is a natural magician. Because he "feels" his magic rather than depending on books as Mr. Norrell does, they wind up representing two distinctly different ways of doing British magic. Clarke deliberately used a style that calls to mind Jane Austen or Charles Dickens and thus transports the reader to a time gone by when spelling varied, footnotes could be long and involved, manners were paramount, and when it is possible to believe in such a thing as British magic.

    I tried this book several times but either wasn’t in the right mood or was expecting something different. Hannah read it, loved it, shoved it on my nightstand, and nagged me about it (with that hopeful, wistful, little puppy look that a mom can’t say no to…). Once I began reading I couldn't understand why I didn’t warm to it before … the writing is charmingly understated and amusing. It is about magic, English practitioners of magic, books about magic, and set in England during the Napoleonic war.

    However, once I was well into the book I got bogged down with the many wayside visits and long footnotes that added atmosphere but didn't seem to advance the story. That is when I picked up the audio book from the library to try (so do our children influence us!). Once I was listening, I began enjoying it immensely more than in simple reading. I think I do better with meandering books when on audio for some reason. It certainly helped with Charles Dickens when I was reading A Tale of Two Cities. Eventually I almost became addicted and couldn't stop listening.

    At the end the book suddenly picked up the pace with one thing happening after another. It ended in an unexpected way with some story lines being firmly concluded while others were left to drift off. Usually this would bother me but, in a sense, it was very true to real life, which makes me reflect upon the fact that the way the story was told was very like having someone tell it to you in person. They take little byways of explanation that may not have too much to do with the story and then come back to the point. In listening to the book this made for a delightful and somehow restful story. This was wonderfully narrated by Simon Preeble whose dulcet tones and perfect pacing helped make the There is no doubt that his narration is the key element that not only got me to the end of the book, but actually left me sad when it ended. Recommended but only for those who do not object to long, meandering stories with a lot of footnotes.

  • Hamlet (Arkangel Complete Shakespeare)
    Distressed by his father’s death and his mother’s hasty remarriage, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is haunted by a ghostly courier bearing a grim message of murder and revenge. The young prince is driven to the edge of madness as he struggles to understand the situation he finds himself in and to do his duty. Many others, including Hamlet’s beloved, the innocent Ophelia, are swept up in his tragedy. Shakespeare’s most famous play remains one of the greatest stories in Western literature. Performed by Simon Russell Beale, Imogen Stubbs, Jane Lapotaire, and the Arkangel cast.

    Inspired by Chop Bard podcast, I have checked this out of the library and am now listening to this excellent audio version of the play. Wow, truly amazing and recommended to all!

  • The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell
    I read this for SFFaudio, where you may find my review. I did enjoy reading it just as much as listening, as witnessed by the conversation I had about it with Scott at A Good Story is Hard to Find where this was the subject of our first episode.

  • The Bellefaire: Victorian Horror in Modern Day San Francisco by M. J. Hahn
    I discovered this on iTunes and was hooked after hearing the first episode. In rapid order I have listened to all but the epilogue (simply because I ran out of listening time in the day).

    Yuki and her mother, who she mentally thinks of as The Doctor, are returning to San Francisco, the city of Yuki's birth although she left there when only an infant. When they move into the house where The Doctor grew up, they discover it is now partly a hotel and is called The Bellefaire. Very soon, Yuki discovers that the house's nickname is Curse Castle and there are ghost stories aplenty, mysteriously missing people in the neighborhood, and very odd happenings in the house itself.

    The story actually begins in the 1980s where we meet a very different sort of teenager from the obedient Yuki, Tina. Her story introduces us to some of the odd goings on in the Bellefaire. The story continues to alternate current day and past events, going further and further back in time as we discover exactly what's been going on.

    The author reads the story and voices the male characters. Different actresses voice the female characters and sound production is excellent overall with professional sounding sound effects.


  1. The Chesterton pseudo detective stories sounds like a fun thing to read. I had never heard of it. All the Arkangel Shakespeare are excellent. I have the complete set and enjoy a Shakespeare play regularly. The entire set is worth getting, but I would wait for a sale or deal.

  2. I have been lucky because the library seems to have a complete set.