Archive for the ‘Audiobook reviews’ Category

Hello and welcome to another reading roundup.  Since my last roundup I have read two pretty good books which I’d like to share with you.

Reading roundup – November 12th 2016The Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
Series: Court of Fives #2
Also in this series: Court of Fives
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Georgia Dolenz
Length: 13 hours and 2 minutes
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible
Evelynne’s rating:

four-stars

I received an Advance Reader Copy of The Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott at BEA.  It’s been on my TBR for a while, but it’s only recently I read it.  The Poisoned Blade is the second book in a planned trilogy (I believe) and continues the story of Jessamy, a young woman caught between two cultures whose passion in life is playing the game of Fives.  In this second book, Jes is drawn into court politics and has to deal with the fallout of her decisions in book one.  I listened to The Poisoned Blade in audiobook format and very much enjoyed Georgia Dolenz’s narration.

What I liked

The characters.  I really liked our protagonist, Jessamy.  Her conflicts between her love for the Fives, her need to protect her family, the limitations placed on her by her heritage and her affection for Kal were expertly written.  

The pacing.  The Poisoned Blade didn’t suffer from middle book syndrome at all.  There were enough conficts and resolutions to keep me well satisfied.  I will certainly be picking up the final book in the trilogy.  Personally, I’ve found Elliott’s series lose steam as they go on and for that reason I’ve not finished many of them.  This one I do intend to finish.

The worldbuilding.  Continuing on from Court of Fives, Elliott has created a wonderful world for our characters to live in.  

What I didn’t like

There was little I didn’t enjoy about The Poisoned Blade.  It is my favourite of Elliott’s series.  

I gave it four stars out of five.

My review of Heartless Reading roundup – November 12th 2016Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Format: eBook
Pages: 464 pages
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy
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Evelynne’s rating:

four-stars

Probably my most anticipated release of the year, Heartless is Lunar Chronicles author Marissa Meyer’s origin story of Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts.  I really wanted to listen to this in audiobook format, however technical issues meant that it wasn’t available to Canadians on Audible.com for several days after release.  This was rather disappointing as i loved Rebecca Soler’s narration of the Lunar Chronicles.  I ended up reading it on my Kindle.

What I liked

The writing style.  I really loved Meyer’s, fresh, immediate writing style from the Lunar Chronicles and Heartless is no different.  This time it’s spiced with Lewis Caroll whimsy and the blend is magical. As a note, it probably does help if you’re familiar with both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

What I didn’t like

Somewhat predictable.  Of course, as an origin story, it’s tricky to be completely unpredictable.  There’s no escaping the fact that Catherine becomes the cold hearted Queen of Hearts.  However, certain other plot points were more easily guessed than I would have liked them to be.

Character development.  I felt this was better done in Fairest.  There was a more logical progression in Levana’s transformation to the wicked Queen than Cath’s becoming the Queen of Hearts.  Cath is much more of a positive character at the beginning, so her transformation was always going to be more difficult to plot.  At times I felt each step in Cath’s journey was a little unexpected, unearned or not wholly justified by the steps before.

In summary, I did enjoy Heartless, but I prefer the Lunar Chronicles.  I gave Heartless four stars out of five.

In other news:

I am currently obsessed with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Yes, I know, it’s not released until next week, but everything I’ve seen and heard about it indicates it’s going to be absolutely magical.  Rowling’s Wizarding World in 1920s New York?  Sign me up!  I’m especially loving all the hints about Grindelwald and his rise to power in Europe.  There must be some wonderful stories to tell there. I can’t be the only bookworm who has planned a day off work around a book release, surely?  Not only is the movie released on November 18th, but we also get a book of the script and a LEGO Dimensions Story Pack!  I can’t wait!

Also this week I have been watching Netflix The Crown, the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne and the first few years of her reign.  I’m enjoying it very much; Clare Foy has taken the role of the Queen, with former Doctor Who Matt Smith as Prince Philip,  Both are giving excellent portrayals and I recommend this series.

That’s all for now folks.  Back soon!

four-stars

Reading roundup – November 12th 2016 was originally published on Canadian eReader

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The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks is the fourth in a planned series of five epic fantasy books.  The series has a wonderfully imaginative magic system in which magic users can turn light into a physical substance. luxin.  Each spectrum of light (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) produces luxin with different properties and uses.  If you’ve not yet started this series, I heartily recommend it.  Go start with The Black Prism.  I strongly suggest experiencing this series in audiobook format due to the excellence of the narrator, Simon Vance.

Initially, the series was planned to be a trilogy; then four books and recently Weeks announced he would need five books to tie up his series.  The Blood Mirror is the penultimate entry and sets up things for the finale.

What I liked

The romance.  While it is not a focal point of the series or book, there is a love story in The Blood Mirror and it is beautiful.  It focusses on that very first serious/sexual relationship in which a character must learn to love another real life person, warts and all, and not just a fantasy crush.  Our protagonist’s learning to accept his partner, emotions, needs, strengths and all was so perfectly written it was a joy to read. This was one of the real highlights of the book for me. Of course it helped that the partner concerned is a pretty awesome, kick ass new character in her own right.  I am 100% on board this new ship.

Gavin’s storyline.  One of Weeks’ strengths as a writer is an ability to pull the rug out from under his reader’s feet, and Gavin’s story arc in this book is no exception.  This particular storyline is intended to leave the reader wondering what is truth, what is madness and what is manipulation and it succeeds perfectly.  This was also the storyline where I found myself thinking “ah, crap he’s really going to to go there, isn’t he?”  While it’s not confirmed in this book, it definitely looks like he will go there in the final book.  Darn.

Strong female characters.  The Blood Mirror gives us some amazing, strong female characters.   I loved reading about Tisis, Karris and Teia and look forward to reading (or listening) how their characters progress in the final book.

 What I didn’t like

Some characters merely treading water.  In certain ways some key characters in The Blood Mirror suffer from Daenerys Targaryen syndrome in that their storylines aren’t ready to progress yet until other characters have progressed.  This means that they do very little in this book other than pop up to remind us of their existence from time to time.

Kip’s character arc.  One of my pet peeves in YA literature is when the protagonist becomes an expert at something just because he or she is the protagonist, it suits the story and without doing the necessary groundwork.  For me Kip’s development wasn’t setup satisfactorily enough.  

Despite these minor flaws, I gave The Blood Mirror five stars out of five.  I am highly anticipating the conclusion of the story, although I confess to some anxiety that it’s going to be a traumatic read, having seen what Weeks has set up.

five-stars

The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

Empire of Storms is the fifth and penultimate book in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass in which a former assassin uses her skills and her magic to save her kingdom.  Being the second to last book in the series, it focusses very much on getting our protagonists into the right place for the finale.

What I liked

The pacing.  Despite the fact that Empire of Storms is primarily focussed on getting the team into place for the final confrontation, Maas managed to keep the pacing brisk and the tension high.  There were several points where I feared for our characters’ lives.  There are several confrontations adding to the tension, even if the end result is moving the pieces across the chessboard.

The characters and their group dynamics.  This is clearly one of Maas’s real strengths as a writer.  I loved the relationships between the characters and their journeys.  It was wonderful that each of our characters has a unique skill set, developed over the course of the series, which will be vital in the cause to defeat Erawan.  If even one person fails to play his or her part, the world is doomed.  I personally have not read the novellas, but I enjoyed the “new” characters who made an appearance and who also must do their part.

Manon’s story.  Once again, as in Queen of Shadows I found myself more engaged with Manon’s chapters than with Aelin’s, at least until the ending.  It is noticeable that Manon’s arc mirrors Aelin’s.  Both start the series as cocksure employees of a leader whose moral bankruptcy does not sit well with our heroines.  A crisis ensues causing a break with said leader, a confrontation which leaves our heroines in a pretty dark place.  Both must now accept their heritage in order to claim their birthrights to aid the cause of freedom.  I really look forward to where Manon’s journey takes her, although I can’t help wishing she’d had as much page space to develop her character as Aelin.

The increase in scope.  In Empire of Storms we learn just how long the confrontation between Team Terrasen and Erawan has been brewing and how much has already been sacrificed.  The potential cost of the war is also laid out, and I have even more love for Aelin now.  I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the final book.

Setup for final book.  I really liked loved Maas has set the pieces for the final book.  Each character is faced with a task or a role to play and each must perform to have a hope of defeating Erawan.  It’s clear that the cost will be high.  She has achieved a wonderful balance between bringing existing plotlines to fruition while leaving a great deal of possibilities.

The narration.  I picked up Empire of Storms in audiobook format specifically for Elizabeth Evans’ narration.  She brings exactly the right amount of sass to Aelin, and her Manon voice is pitch perfect, too.  I would recommend this format.

What I didn’t like

Some modern phrasings.  Occasionally, Maas will use some modern phrases in her writing, such as “haul ass.”  While this probably fits in well with our sassy, modern heroine, the style of the novel is still epic fantasy and such expressions really, really bugged me.  Each time they threw me out of the story.  You may not have the same experience.

The number of romantic pairings.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I LOVED the individual pairings in the series.  They were beautifully developed, with each partner both giving and gaining something from the relationship.  What did frustrate me though was that almost every character seemed to be paired off in some way.  It came across as a little too neat for me.  Of course maybe the gods have put a perfect partner in each of their paths to make up for the hardships and pain they must endure!

Despite these minor quibbles I loved Empire of Storms and gave it five stars out of five.

Speculation on the sixth book

I liked that the story could still go in many different ways in this last book.  Maas could opt for a happy ending or it could be bittersweet.  In any case, I’m calling it now; Lysandra and Dorian won’t make it out alive :o(  The tasks ahead of them are simply too dangerous.  That is only my speculation though and I would be happy to be proven wrong. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott is a YA fantasy book and one that I found myself being sucked into even in the middle of a reading slump. I found the protagonists engaging and loved the world. I found it had a bit more substance than some YA fantasy novels.

What I liked

Cultural tensions. This is very much a tale of being caught between two cultures.  Our protagonist, Jessamy, is the child of a Saroese father and Efean mother and struggles to fit in with either culture.  Her father’s people, who are the conquerers of the Efeans, do not fully accept Jes as one of their own due to her mixed heritage yet her genteel upbringing closes her off from acceptance in her mother’s society.  Jes herself also struggles to find her place in her world.  The only time she can truly be herself is when she is training for the game the Court of Fives.  Although we do not live in a magical society, this theme may still strike a chord with many readers.

The Games.  I really enjoyed how the game of Court of Fives permeated the story to a great extent.  We see the games themselves a couple of times in the books, but it’s made clear that the skills Jes uses to become a successful Fives player are the same skills she and Kalliarkos will need to get out of certain situations and also to navigate Saroese politics.  I really loved that politics was hinted to be just a different version of the Court of Fives.

The magic and Jes’s journey.  The magic is very subtle in this book and is tied to the Efean culture.   At this point in her story Jes still struggles to accept her Efean heritage, so she has difficulty understanding the magic.  I expect that Jes’s journey in future books will be to embrace her cultural background, at which point the magic will become more and more prominent.  That I am excited to see. 

Little Women.  I read in the author’s notes that the characters of Jes and her sisters were based on those of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  I didn’t notice that at first, but once you do see it, it is very clear.  It was fun seeing those personality types in a completely different setting.  I am curious about what it means for the sisters’ character arcs in upcoming books and whether they will mirror those of Alcott’s.

Moral dilemmas.  Certain of the characters, including Jes, face moral dilemmas at certain points in the book.  I felt these were very well written and engaged my sympathy for the characters.  I am very interested to see how the decisions made will impact future character development and relationships.  I’d like to think Jes will have more understanding for her father in future.

What I didn’t like

The romance.  I wouldn’t say I disliked the Kalliarkos/Jes romance; it’s more a case of I’m waiting to see how it plays out in future books.  I was concerned that it felt a little too much Instalovey, which I don’t like.  If the parallels with Little Women hold true, the future for the couple doesn’t look too rosy.

In the end I really enjoyed Court of Fives and gave it four and a half stars out of five.  I have an Advanced Reader Copy of the sequel, The Poisoned Blade, and I’m very excited to read it.  

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine is the second in The Great Library series and is the sequel to Ink and Bone, which was one of my favourite reads from last year.  I realised I never did a full review of it.  Bad Evelynne.  Paper and Fire was also one of my most anticipated reads for 2016 and it did not disappoint.  For those of you not familiar with this series, it is a contemporary alternate reality/fantasy in which the Great Library of Alexandria survived and now has a monopoly on the distribution of books in electronic medium and controls all hard copy books, too.  Naturally, this gives it the ability to control the flow of knowledge and as such it has gained almost immeasurable power.  Our protagonist, Jess Brightwell, comes from a family of book smugglers and has infiltrated the Library with the intent of continuing the family trade.  The people he meets there open his eyes to the extent of the Library’s corruption and change his perspective.

The sequel, Paper and Fire, opens shortly after the events of Ink and Bone and deals with the aftermath of the Library’s successful “divide and conquer” campaign against Jess and his friends.  The book can be summed up by “let’s get the gang all back together.” Jess must reunite his friends and make alliances with people who do not necessarily share his values.

What I liked

The characters.  For me the characters are the real highlight of this series.  Not only Jess, but his friends and allies too are all wonderfully developed.  Each of them has his or her story, motivations, hangups and fears.  They all act in unique ways based on their values and experiences, and it’s great to see how they develop throughout the series,

Scholar Wolfe and his relationship with Santi remain one of my favourite parings. Incidentally at EnterTheLibrary.com the author has published a few short stories, one of which is Wolfe and Santi’s first meeting – a wonderful meet-cute. We also get to meet some new characters, including Wolfe’s mother and get to see a snippet of life in the Iron Tower which was fascinating.

The world.  The world is simply amazing.  It’s fascinating to see the changes that the lack of freedom of information has caused in the world.  The automatons protecting the Library are also very very cool.

The pacing.  Caine kept the story moving along at a great pace – there was never a point at which I lost interest.  I kept wanting to listen to the next chapter.  

That kick ass ending.  The book does end on kind of a cliffhanger and it has made me very excited for book three.  I really look forward to it.

I gave Paper and Fire four and a half stars out of five.

four-half-stars

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine was originally published on Canadian eReader

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is a new book/audiobook/app series from the creator of Downton Abbey.  It is set in the Belgravia quarter of London in 1841 with a prequel set in Brussels in 1815.  The lives of two families, the rich, titled Bellasis family and the nouveau riche Trenchards are brought together at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball and the effects are felt down the years.  It is available in ebook format, as an audiobook and as an app.  I believe a hard copy of the entire story will be released on July 5th.  As an aside, isn’t that a gorgeous cover?

What I liked

The serialisation.  Fellowes made the decision to release his story in instalments, with one chapter each week in the style of Charles Dickens or Alexandre Dumas.  Usually the chapters would end on a cliffhanger to encourage you to come back the following week.  I thought it was a really interesting idea, even if I didn’t follow it in practice.  Although one chapter hit my Audible download queue as regularly as clockwork each Thursday, I actually ended up listening to it in a couple of marathon sessions.  As with most Audible pre-orders it hit my queue at 4am – not a time I’m likely to be sitting down to listen or read.  Perhaps if each instalment were released at 8pm on a Sunday evening I’d have been more inclined to set time aside for it.  I can’t comment on when the app downloads were released.  Still it was a good idea, although perhaps not one that fits in well with today’s Netflix binging.

The narration.  Belgravia is narrated by British treasure Juliet Stevenson who does an excellent job.  She provides very appropriate voices for the gentry, the professional classes and the servants.  

The app concept.  I liked the idea of the app which contained both the text and audio formats.  The fact that the app includes background information on the events of the episode in question and should also update the map and family trees as the story progresses is excellent.  However, in practice it was rather a failure from my perspective.  If you purchased the content anywhere other than on the app, you were locked out of the additional content.  I was rather irritated that I paid $1.99 for each Audible audio only episode and each episode on the app costs the same and gives the text, audio and background information.  A Google search indicated there was no way to link the Audible purchases to the app.  I actually ordered the final episode on both Audible and the app to see if that would update the family tree – nope.  I’m not certain if it was a marketing issue or a technical issue, but in any case that was poorly thought out.

The social history. I always loved Downton Abbey, seeing how the upper classes and their servants lived in times gone by and Belgravia is more of the same.  What was new to this was the rise of the merchant/professional classes, seen through the Trenchards and Charles Pope, which wasn’t really a focus of Downton.  Of course, I am no social historian, so I can’t comment on the accuracy, but it was fascinating.

The soapy plotline.  OK, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.  As I mentioned, each episode generally ended on a revelation or twist and it was awesome.

What I didn’t like

Issues with the app.  See above

Bland characters.  Some, not all, of the characters were so two dimensional as to be uninteresting.  As it happens one of these is the character around whom the whole drama turns.  This character is so good and… nice it’s boring.  The antagonist of the piece is also very much a caricature.  I’m surprised he wasn’t described as twirling his moustaches.  Fortunately there were enough fully developed and interesting characters to mitigate this.

Belgravia is definitely worth checking out.  The first episode is available for free, so you have nothing to lose.  I recommend picking it up directly on the app though, I gave Belgravia four stars out of five.

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence is the third and final book in his Red Queen’s War trilogy.  It continues the story of Jalan Kendeth as he continues to follow the path upon which fate has set him.

The Red Queen’s War trilogy is set in the same world as, and dovetails with, Lawrence’s earlier Broken Empire trilogy.  In some ways that is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing because the world in which the trilogies are set is awesome.  It’s set in our world in the future, millennia after a nuclear war (the Day of A Thousand Suns) decimated the world and let magic in for the survivors.  Some remnants of our world survive, but the current inhabitants have no cultural knowledge or background of them.  So plastic shop dummies (I knew those things could survive nuclear attacks) confuse the heck out of them!  This leads to one of the funniest moments in Wheel of Osheim involving an “iron pineapple.”  You’ll just have to read it to find out what I’m talking about.

It is a blessing because the protagonists of both series, Jorg and Jalan, are on separate quests to discover more about the Builders (aka us) and to prevent the destruction of the world.  The knowledge they obtain on their separate journeys adds up to more than the sum of its parts and creates an ever more vivid picture of the Builders and the Day of A Thousand Suns.  I suspect I’ll have to reread Broken Empire with the new knowledge I have from Red Queen’s War.

It is also a joy to have cameos from characters from Broken Empire.  Particularly this final instalment adds so much more to their stories.

On the negative side, it is made clear that Wheel of Osheim takes place just prior to Emperor of Thorns – Jalan meets Jorg on his way to the Congression which takes place in Emperor.  Knowing how Emperor ends is a clear indication of how Wheel doesn’t wrap up.  This robs Wheel somewhat of its narrative tension as it’s pretty clear what action Jalan chooses in the end, despite the dramatic chapter break.

I will say thought, it’s not necessary to read Broken Empire to enjoy Red Queen’s War.  Indeed, Red Queen’s War is more young adult than Broken Empire which is definitely much, much darker in tone.  That is something to bear in mind if you are thinking of checking out Jorg’s story.

So onto Wheel of Osheim.

What I liked

The world.  As I mentioned above, I adore the world Lawrence has created.  I was completely fascinated by the truth behind the Wheel.  The concept that it can make whatever your imagination creates a reality and the trick of Snorri’s stories worked very very well.

The narration.  Tim Gerard Reynolds did the honours for Wheel of Time.  Jalan as a character can be rather snarky and at times indignant and this came across beautifully in the narration.  Many times I smiled or even laughed at Reynolds’ interpretation of Jalan’s indignation.  Very well done. 

What I didn’t like

The pacing.  At times I felt it was a little slow.  

I really enjoyed Wheel of Osheim and gave it four stars out of five.

The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence – review was originally published on Canadian eReader

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray is a YA sci-fi mystery in which teenager Marguerite Caine must use technology developed by her parents, the Firebird, to chase her father’s murderer across multiple dimensions.  She finds out that things aren’t as they first seemed.

I picked this book up partly because of this concept and partly because I’ve enjoyed books (Star Wars) by Claudia Gray.  Thanks to Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice I picked up both the Kindle book and the audiobook, narrated by Tavia Gilbert.  Most of the time I listened to the audiobook which was amazing.

What I liked

The concept.  I found this a really intriguing premise for a novel, moving into alternate dimensions to solve a murder mystery.  Gray comes from a sci-fi background and clearly has a firm handle on it.  It was a lot of fun when Marguerite jumped into a new dimension trying to work out what situation she was in! I’m not certain that I’d agree with the Orphan Black comparison; the main – only? – similarity is that characters frequently find themselves having to impersonate other people and to think on their feet to work out what’s going on. 

The audio narration.  Tavia Gilbert did an awesome job of narrating this book.  Her accent work was impeccable.  There’s a funny scene early on where Marguerite has fun with her current doppelganger’s accent.  That came across really well in audio format.  My one frustration with this is that often the accent “spoiled” in some way the leaps into new dimensions.  From the voices it was often clear where Marguerite had landed long before it was revealed in the text.  

The worldbuilding.  The fun thing with this concept is that Gray gets to build several worlds; the multiple alternate dimensions into which Marguerite leaps.  It would be too spoilery to name them all, but each of them is beautifully developed with supporting characters, rules and challenges for our protagonist.  The fact that Gray’s travel system has limitations was particularly well done – as in fantasy, often it’s the limitations in the magic system/technology which can generate the most interesting conflicts for the characters.  I loved that the dimensions had varying degrees of technological advancement which made things interesting.

The pacing.  Gray keeps the plot moving along fast, with new information and revelations keeping our protagonists – and readers – engaged.

What I didn’t like

The characters.  I found Marguerite somewhat bland.  The way her loyalty seemed to be so easily won and lost did not sit easily with me, and the revelations of the villains was a little too obvious.  The fact that Gray reverted to the trope of “the special”, our protagonist having unique traits which make her the only person capable of foiling the evil plot is rather disappointing.

Despite these flaws, I really loved 1000 Pieces of You and gave it four and a half stars out of five.  I will certainly be picking up the sequel soon.

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is the fourth in the Austen Project of modern retellings of Jane Austen’s novels and attempts to bring her classic Pride and Prejudice into the 21st century.  Having read the other three Austen adaptations, I was intrigued to see how Sittenfeld would update the story of Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane and Bingley.  From experience I know that Austen adaptations, when done well, can be wonderful. (check out The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube if you don’t believe me.)

I really, really wanted to like this book – I love Jane Austen, and the pre released teaser sample sounded excellent – but no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t sit well with me.  In the interests of fairness, given how well known and beloved Pride and Prejudice has become, it was always going to be one of the trickier ones to adapt.  Let me talk about what I liked first.

What I liked

The modernisation.  Many things in the update worked surprisingly well.  The transfer of the action from Hertfordshire to Cincinnati was seamless and gave a very similar flavour of the small town mentality that caused Darcy’s snobbish attitude.  The Bennet family’s future being at risk because of the lack of a male heir is not something that would fit well with a modern tale, so Sittenfeld uses a more up to date threat which works in well.  Surprisingly the whole reality TV show plotline adapts well and served to enhance both the story and the characters.

The narration.  I listened to Eligible in audiobook format.  Narration duties were undertaken by Cassandra Campbell who did a great job of narrating the tales of the Bennet sisters.  I chose the book in audiobook format because of the sneak peek narration.

What I didn’t like

The chapter break up.  The audiobook is 13 hours and 21 minutes long, so approximately 800 minutes.  This is relatively short in terms of audiobooks.  I believe the hard copy comes in at around 500 pages.  There are over 180 chapters in the book.  Let me say that again.  One hundred and eighty chapters.  This means that, on average, there is a new chapter roughly every four minutes.  Some chapters last less than 40 seconds.  Especially in the audiobook I found it extremely distracting and detrimental to my engagement in the story to have it broken up so frequently.

Character development.  My biggest issue with Eligible was that I didn’t feel Sittenfeld accurately portrayed – or even at times understood – Austen’s wonderful characters and/or their journeys.  It is fair to say that, perhaps her interpretation of Elizabeth, Jane and Lydia just isn’t the same as mine; however I would argue that they also differ from Austen’s.

To take Lydia first; while both Austen’s and Sittenfeld’s youngest Bennet sister is young, immature and, yes, does occasionally push the boundaries of propriety I have never perceived her as being downright crude and vulgar as she comes across in Eligible.  Admittedly, I will never be able to read P&P with an Austen era mentality, so I could be wrong here. Secondly, Lydia’s story arc in Austen’s original has her family (and ultimately Darcy) having to step in to protect her from the consequences of an imprudent and ill considered decision.  While it is not an easy task to come up with a modern storyline that has the same shock value and social repercussions that nineteeth century Lydia’s running off alone with a man would have, and I can see what Sittenfeld was trying to do, I personally disagree with her choice.  At that point in the story I found myself thinking “What imprudent decision?  What consequences?”  Sittenfeld even has her Lydia try to sit down with her parents and discuss her decision before taking action and the impression I was left with was that it was a far more balanced and thought out decision than Austen’s Lydia would have made.  

Jane’s character arc, too, wasn’t always given the service it should have.  In my mind, in the original, Jane’s character flaw was that she wasn’t confident enough to express her feelings adequately to Bingley.  This allowed Darcy to interfere in the relationship believing that she was not very strongly attached to Bingley.  This is a flaw which she must overcome to achieve her happy ending.  In Sittenfeld’s reworking, it’s Jane’s circumstances which force her to be more reserved about expressing her feelings, therefore no flaw, no character development.

Finally, we come to Elizabeth, the second oldest Bennet sister.  My impression of Elizabeth from Austen’s original was that she is an intelligent, strong willed woman, who has a strong sense of self worth and who is not prepared to compromise that.  Sittenfeld’s description of her Liz’s relationship with Jasper does not show a woman with a strong sense of self worth.  Perhaps that’s Eligible Liz’s character arc, to regain that sense of self, but it’s not the arc of Austen’s character, and as such I didn’t feel it should have been part of the story, especially as Austen’s Elizabeth already has a strong character development arc in overcoming her prejudice of Darcy.

While there were some excellently written parts of Eligible, for me, it is the weakest of the Austen project books in terms of bringing Austen’s characters to life in a modern setting.  I gave Eligible only 1.5 stars out of five.

If you want to see a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice done well, I recommend you rather take a look at The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube.

one-half-stars

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

Now, pretty much anyone who has an interest in popular culture is aware that the first Star Wars movie since 2005, The Force Awakens, was released on December 18th 2015.  Full disclosure: while I consider myself a fan of Star Wars, I have only dabbled in the Extended Universe/Legends supplementary material.  Like many, though, I was anxious to see what J.J. Abrams would make of Lucas’ legacy and booked my ticket to a showing on release day.  In anticipation of the event, I did a fair amount of preparation.  This blog post details my immersion in the world of Star Wars during the month of December.  Out of respect for the three of you out there who have not yet seen The Force Awakens, I will place my thoughts on the movie/audiobook itself below the cut.  

The Rewatch

Naturally, the main part of my pre Force Awakens preparation was a rewatch of the Star Wars movies released prior to Episode 7.  I chose to do this following machete order.  I urge you to check out the full link on why this order works, but in summary, you watch Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and then switch to the prequels Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith before finishing up with Return of the Jedi.  In essence, you treat the prequels as an extended flashback after Vader’s big reveal a the end of Empire explaining how that came about before concluding his character arc in Jedi.  Note that Phantom Menace disappears from the viewing entirely.  The creator of the machete order believed, rightly in my opinion, that losing Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians is only to the good, and anything explained in Menace is recapped in later films.

Machete order is especially good for those who have never seen any of the movies.  When my niece and nephew are old enough for their aunt to introduce them to Star Wars (three years old is still too young, isn’t it?) I will certainly be following this viewing suggestion.  It preserves the drama of the Vader reveal (which is lost if you watch the prequels first – their whole point is to set it up) while adding tension to Luke’s character arc.  You see Luke at the end of Empire, broken and in shock at the Vader reveal.  You then watch Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side.  When you next see Luke in Jedi, he has turned badass, Force choking guards and turning his beloved droids over to the evil Hutts.  Having seen Anakin’s fall really underscores the risk that Luke will turn to the Dark Side and makes his reappearance in Jedi a bit more of an “oh…crap” moment.

The other thing I got from the rewatch is just how much fun the original trilogy was compared to the prequels.  Seeing that Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was back on duty for The Force Awakens gave me a great deal of confidence in the movie. The banter between our heroes and the sparks between Fisher’s Leia and Ford’s Han were a joy to watch. I finished my rewatch the afternoon before heading to The Force Awakens in the evening, which meant certain events in the movie hit so much harder.

The Alternative Prequels

While preparing my Star Wars watch I came across Belated Media’s YouTube channel which has videos entitled What if Star Wars Episode 1 was good? – one for each of the prequels.  In these videos he discusses changes he would make to the prequels to make them stronger.  While I don’t necessarily agree with all of his suggestions, many of them do make very good sense from a storytelling and character development point of view.  I particularly liked his suggestions of making the Obi Wan/Anakin relationship the core of the prequels rather than the Anakin/Padme one.  This would add so much more emotional resonance to their final confrontation at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

Go check these out – they are well worth watching.

Now we come to my thoughts on The Force Awakens.  If you’ve already seen it, join me after the cut

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