Tag Archives: listening library

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

anemberintheashesThis book has been covered by several other bloggers and has received glowing reviews from most of them – I’m here to co-sign everything positive that has already been said about this book! I’m typing this review from the sky as I fly from Chicago (for a Thanksgiving visit to my partner) to San Diego (for work). When I fly, I always become reflective on life things because I’m usually visiting or leaving loved ones. For this flight, I decided to reflect on the nature of the Young Adult books I’ve been consuming this year as they relate to my most recent read.

Lately I’ve found myself disconnected and annoyed with most of the YA that I’ve encountered. Up until this moment, I’ve largely thought the disconnection I’ve felt when I read YA is because of my life stage: I’m no longer a teen and perhaps I emphasize less with the typical situations that tend to dominate the lives and stories of teenagers. In actuality, I think I’ve actually become more of a critical reader and am less forgiving to authors and their stories if I find them to be poorly constructed or lacking complex character development.

When I was younger, even if I didn’t completely enjoy a book, reading excited me so much that I was able to dismiss flaws that would irk me now. Now that my free time isn’t endless, I simply become annoyed when a book has wasted my time. An Ember in the Ashes did the opposite of wasting my time – at the conclusion of the novel, I was left wanting even more of the story! Unfortunately for me, no sequels to the novel have been released yet, but the internet tells me the author is developing the sequel!

The audiobook version of An Ember in the Ashes is absolutely riveting! Each chapter shifts back and forth between the points of view of two of the main characters and the audiobook version features two equally talented narrators weaving their tales together. I’ve been disappointed with other audiobooks featuring multiple narrators (I detest All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin), but this novel is a champion of what dual audiobook performances should aspire to emulate! The novel rotates between the perspective of two main characters, Laia, voiced by Fiona Hardingham, and Elias, voiced by Steve West.

Laia is a member of the Scholars, which is essentially the lowest caste of the society in the book. After her life is completely turned upside down at the beginning of the book and she is separated from her family, she must seek help from the Resistance. The Resistance is a group who disagrees with the existing system of power in the Martial Empire (land where the book takes place). The Resistance is attempting to disempower the Martial Empire’s leaders and high-ranking members of the Martials, the highest caste. In order to gain assistance with finding her separated brother and respect from the Resistance, Laia poses as a slave and unexpectedly learns some of her own family history along the way. When Laia is sold into slavery, she becomes a servant to a terrible, cruel leader known as the Commandant who is part of the Martial caste.

The Commandant is hated by most of the servants and by her son, Elias, a member of the elite Martials and a top student at Blackcliff Military Academy. Elias is the other main character and provides an inside look at how the Martials lives and how members of the Martials reinforce their systems of power. Elias is very critical of the Martials and harbors a strong desire to defect from his obligations as a member of the Martials. As one of the top students at Blackcliff, he and three other students are being considered candidates for emperor of the Martial Empire. Of course because of Empire’s desire to maintain its systems of power, democratic elections for emperor don’t exist and the four top students must battle to determine who will be crowned as the next emperor.

Along the way Elias and Laia’s stories begin to intertwine because of their connection to the Commandant. Throughout the novel, they come to realize that they share common interests and might be able to work together to accomplish their individual goals. While some authors withhold narrative depth until the two narrators come together, Tahir has woven an interesting tale from the very first page to the last (or in my case, very first to the last minute of audio).

The ending is a digestible cliffhanger, meaning it felt like a natural, exciting end for the first novel in a series. When I finished listening to the book, I was hungry for the next installment, but didn’t feel as if I was deprived of essential parts that would complete the story.

An Ember in the Ashes is a brilliant debut from Sabaa Tahir and I’ll be quick to gobble down her novels as they’re released. My fingers are crossed that they’re able to use the same narrators for additional books as the series continues.

Publication Date: 28 April 2015 by Razorbill. Format: Digital Audiobook from Listening Library.

Author: Sabaa Tahir web/@twitter/instagram

Narrators: Fiona Hardingham web/@twitter/iMDB and Steve West web/facebook/@twitter

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lord of the flies by william golding

Lord of the FliesAs I’ve done with some other audiobook reviews, I would like to state that the following review is strictly for the audiobook version of Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The version of the audiobook that I listened to was read by the author, William Golding, and featured an author preface and notes from the author at the conclusion of the story.

I decided to read Lord of the Flies because it’s mentioned within so many YA novels as being a classic novel that high school students are required to read in school and subsequently is weaved into the plot line of whatever contemporary YA book that mentions it. The most recent book that actually caused me to read the book was Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King, which references Lord of the Flies plot points frequently and forced me to realize that this was a significant part of popular culture that I knew nothing about.

After being on the wait list for the physical book at my library for months, I decided to download the audiobook. The version I downloaded from my library is narrated by the author and very much feels like a grandfather reading you a nighttime tale before you drift to sleep… except the concepts within this novel are much, much darker. The main narrative illustrates what could hypothetically happen if a bunch of young boys are left alone on an island to fend for themselves, surrender to their own human nature, and together enact a survival of the fittest mentality.

The novel has been criticized for solely featuring young boys within the work and lacking any female characters. In the foreword by Golding, he states that girls and women aren’t included in the book because Golding himself has only ever been a boy and thus felt like he couldn’t begin to represent the experience of a girl; this foreword automatically put a poor taste in my mouth before I even ventured into the actual story. Because the book only featured young boys and because the author is not a trained narrator, it was completely impossible to mentally separate any of the dialogue of the characters from each other and to form a mental map of the different qualities of these characters. Each of the characters was narrated with the same voice and the dialogue frequently jumped around without being followed by stating which character said certain things. Thus, I feel like I wasn’t able to really follow the flow of the story or become invested in any of the characters, other than the legendary Piggy. Even the darkest points of the novel weren’t associated with much feeling from me as a reader because of how the audiobook was narrated.

Of the classics that are frequently assigned to most Americans in high school, this is not one that I recommend to you if you’re able to choose whether or not you read this book and I definitely do not recommend it in the format with the narrator reading the audiobook.

What are your favorite classics that were assigned reads for you while you were in school? I recently acquired To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I somehow haven’t read yet and am very much looking forward to starting it soon!

Original Publication Date: 17 September 1954 by Faber & Faber. Audiobook published by Listening Library.

Author/Narrator: Sir William Golding web

anna and the french kiss by stephanie perkins

Anna and the French KissAt the beginning of April I listened to Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins on audiobook. Spring was *allegedly* in the air. Despite it taking a few more weeks for spring to officially bustle its way into Brooklyn, everyone kept talking about spring as if it was actually around and not still as cold as it had been in March. Thus, with everyone buzzing about spring, I decided to try to embrace a springtime attitude by delving into some fun, light reads. Light, fun reads typically don’t require me to think too deeply about what’s covered in the book beyond the scope of the characters and the storyline within the novel. I need books like this to balance the nonfiction and sociology texts that I usually bury my head into during the fall and winter months, when I can’t quite get into the fun books that I mentally associate with spring and summer (whether or not the books are actually set in spring or summer).

I started going down my To-Be-Read list on GoodReads in alphabetical order and checked out the first book that I felt fit into my mentally assigned fun and light category that was also digitally available from my library. This is how I came to listen to Anna and the French Kiss.

The book follows Anna, a spoiled and sometimes annoying protagonist, who is switched from her high school in America to a boarding school in Paris, France. The plot sounds like that of a high schooler’s daydream and the entire book reads that way, but there’s nothing wrong with that! However, I did find the main character a bit grating at times when she didn’t realize how lucky she was to have the opportunity to attend an elite boarding school with all expenses paid and when she frequently complained about minor issues in her life, while the main male character (and eventual love interest) dealt with his very ill mother and tumultuous relationship with his father. Characters like Anna seem to be very common in YA “chicklit” territory which is typically overrun with protagonists who complain about little things — but what typical American teenager (me included) isn’t constantly addled by small complaints and a refusal to see the big picture? Thankfully, toward the end of the book, the narrator comes to realize how frivolous some of her worries detailed throughout the novel were, which ultimately made the book more enjoyable for me.

This book definitely satisfied my itch for a springtime read and while I didn’t love the book as a whole, I could definitely see myself reading the rest of the books in this series (though it’s not so much a series in the traditional sense because the books follow different characters) by Stephanie Perkins in the future.

Do you have any great spring/summertime reads to recommend? I would love to add them to my TBR list for the coming months!

Publication Date: 2 December 2010 by Dutton Juvenile. Format: Digital Audiobook from Listening Library.

Author: Stephanie Perkins web/@twitter/tumblr

Narrator: Kim Mai Guest facebook/random house audio catalog

we were liars by e. lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This review is specifically for the audiobook version of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, performed by Ariadne Meyers. This book came recommended for me from Krystal, one of my current pen pals and past high school friends. I love, love, love receiving book recommendations from my letter buddies (Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan was also recommended to me this way) because it manages to add a bit more magic to the joy of receiving letters from friends.

Most of my friends who read YA fiction have raved about this book and told me that it would keep me guessing until the very end when the narrator reveals all. Needless to say, I had some high expectations of this book to thoroughly entertain me through each chapter and to keep me guessing and mentally engaged until the very end. Unfortunately, I feel like the audiobook of this novel doesn’t do the story justice.

The novel jumps through time very frequently, but that is much harder to follow in audiobook format because the cues that indicate that a time shift has happened are not as obvious when you hear the time change only repeated once versus reading the date on a page. Because of this, it took me a while to even notice that the timeline wasn’t continuous; this also eliminated some of the mystery that inherently surrounds the storyline, which I’m sure is much more captivating in print or ebook format. Since it was so easy to become disengaged from the book, I wasn’t trying to predict the ending of the novel while I was listening, and subsequently wasn’t shocked when the twist of the book was revealed. I didn’t predict the twist ending, but I also didn’t care enough to be surprised when I heard it.

Some of the characters differ from the typical characters that are often portrayed in YA novels, which was pretty interesting. The central character seems to be more socially and culturally aware than other YA protagonists I’ve encountered, but at times, the text describing the main character seems a little forced and unnatural. That said, if you enjoy YA fiction, I recommend reading this in print or ebook format.

As an aside, if you enjoy sending and receiving mail as much as I do, I recommend signing up for this extremely fun mail subscription box called Happy Mail.

Publication Date: 13 May 2014 by Delacorte Press. Format: Digital Audiobook from Listening Library.

Author: E. Lockhart web/@twitter/tumblr/pinterest

Narrator: Ariadne Meyers listening library catalog

peter pan by j. m. barrie

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie audiobook cover

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie audiobook cover

After being completely obsessed with Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter audiobooks, I sought a new read that he also narrated. Luckily, I quickly found a match on my to-read list in the form of Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

I’ve had a small fascination with Peter Pan for a while, likely connected to the fact that some writers have deemed my generation the “Peter Pan generation” because of our desire to be children for a lengthier period of time than our predecessors. However, instead of attempting to stay a child forever, I dove-tailed a teensy bit and decided to immerse myself into the world of children’s culture and media as my occupation. Subsequently, I’ve been trying to read some of the children’s literature classics that I haven’t read yet and dive back into those I really want to re-read.

While I was in high school, I had tried to read Peter Pan in physical book form and couldn’t get into it at all because I felt like it was too childishly written and I wasn’t in a mental space to appreciate that. To me, it felt like a story that needed to be told to me, which makes sense since the story was originally written as a play and thus felt like it needed to be performed in some way for me to appreciate it. Later that year, I saw Peter Pan performed in San Francisco the summer before I left for college… and let’s just say, I felt quite a few emotions.

That said, there are parts of the text that are definitely dated which makes it hard for me to recommend this book as a read for children who aren’t aware enough to understand the historical and social climate that existed when this text was first published. When most American individuals read novels like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, they are likely reading it as part of a middle or high school curriculum with English teachers who explain the historical and social context that existed when the novel was written. When most people encounter the story of Peter Pan in whatever format they consume, they are too young to understand some of the dated language (every time the phrase “red skins” was used I cringed). Thus for those younger audiences (2-12 year olds), I think they should encounter a newer version rather than the original text that has adjusted some of the language and removed some of the racial undertones that seep into the story. Unfortunately, I haven’t read such a version so I’m not able to recommend a specific publication. Because of this, I think the best time to listen to this book is when you’re a young adult, perhaps reflecting on your own experience with childhood, but are also aware enough to recognize some of the faults that exist within the original text.

If you choose to read Peter Pan, I definitely recommend reading the story in audiobook format, specifically the Jim Dale version if possible, over a physical copy.

On that note: if you have any recommendations for other literary works performed by Jim Dale, please send them my way!

Original Publication Date: 11 October 1911 by Scribner. Format: Digital Audiobook from Listening Library.

Author: J. M. Barrie wiki

Narrator: Jim Dale web