Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Ashes, Ashes" by Jo Treggiari

"Ashes, Ashes"
by Jo Treggiari
read by Cassandra Campbell
Produced by Oasis Audio
9 hours and 48 minutes

Time once again to dive into the fiction from the young adult category, this time I listened to a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel "Ashes, Ashes" by Jo Treggiari.    As with most young adult titles this one involves a little romance but lots of action and some despair.  The world has ended but, Treggiari never fully explains why but 99% of the human population is wiped out from a smallpox like plague.  The rest of the world is getting wiped out by floods and drought and the cities are decaying.  What's left of the human population is being hunted down by hazmat suited people called sweepers, armed with tazers they invade encamped populations taking people (especially children) away in white vans to an island hospital never to be seen again.

Lucy Holloway is an anomaly.  When the book opens we find her struggling for her own survival eating only that which she catches and kills.  Relying on acorn mush is not enough and through the help of a survival book rescued from the decaying library as the book opens she is learning to clean and cook a turtle.

While out checking her snares she sees a boy of around her same age (16) who helps her to escape from the sweepers.  The boy, Aiden, stays on her mind and she often thinks of joining his encampent of refugees.  When a tsunami threatens her campsite she litereally runs for the hills and in running away decides to find the encampent.  Lucy decides that she would be better with a group rather than alone, and joins up with the group of survivors.  But the danger follows her and the sweepers raid the camp taking people away.  This time one escapes and leads a rescue party to bring back the other children.  On this rescue mission Lucy discovers the sweepers are looking specifically for her because her blood holds the mystery to surviving the plague.

Through the dangers of a dying world and a mad scientist on the hunt this book is full of adventure that will sweep you away to a world of survival.  The reader Cassandra Campbell does a nice job of presenting the story and with the constant teetering on the edge feel of the story the few mispronunciations are easily forgiven. 

The book does present an interesting end, in that it ends the story nicely but does leave it open for a sequel, which I'm hoping Jo Treggiari has planned.  If you liked the "Hunger Games" series this book will be right up your alley.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

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Monday, October 17, 2011

"Enron" by Lucy Prebble

by Lucy Prebble
a full cast audio performance
starring Greg Germann, Gregory Itzin, Amy Pietz and Steven Weber
Directed by Rosalind Ayres.
Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles in October, 2010
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works
1 Hour 51 Minutes

One of my latest treasures I've found are the classic theatrical productions in audiobook form produced by L.A. Theatre works.  I've been listening to plays by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Chekov, Oscar Wilde and others.  Listening to the classics is fun but this time around I was curious to see what LATW had to offer in the more modern theatre genre.  I was intrigued by this play, "Enron," due to the fact that as the Enron scandal unraveled I was was working on a Business format radio station and at the time and this was all big news, and I heard most of it unfold live on the air with our in depth coverage on "Business Radio 1190 KPHN."  What I didn't know then was how this would affect our economy today. 

This play not only points out the greed and political underhandedness of the time and of the company but also gives great insight as to how the world economy today has fallen into the state it is in.  The interesting aspect of this play is that it, at times, takes an absurdist look at the situation and company.  For example, when the company develops a way to make losses seem like profits they illustrate the feature by feeding dollar bills to Raptors, yes in the performance you hear actual dinosaurs eating money.  The raptors soon become too much to handle and must be released or killed.  Another fun feature of the play is that it has song and dance numbers.  A musical about greed...too much.

When Enron slumped into bankruptcy in December 2001, Lucy Prebble was a 20-year-old English literature student at the University of Sheffield in northern England.  She tossed around the idea for a few years and eventually got to do her show making it into this musical adventure that actually puts into plain language the cryptic language of finances and Mark to Market financing that gave Enron the edge.  So with a little British humor the average listener is able to understand the disaster that came crashing down on Enron and the U.S.   Informative, entertaining and frustrating, you'll find yourself laughing with disgust at big business.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"The Chee-Chalker" by L. Ron Hubbard

"The Chee-Chalker"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multi-cast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio (2008)
Approx 2 hours.

It's time once again to go on an adventure with the master story teller, L. Ron Hubbard.  Once again we turn to the stories from the Golden Age, and this time explore the wilderness and outlaws of the Alaskan territory.  Hubbard wrote many stories in many genres that were published in many of the pulp fiction magazines in the mid-20th Century and Galaxy Press has been releasing these stories in their own "pulp" form and have created audio pulps from these releases.  What I call audio pulps are short books (usually around 2 hours in length) that are produced with an excellent multi-cast of performers, special effects that place the listener in the middle of the story and original music that matches the story perfectly.  Each production is reminiscent of old time radio broadcasts with over the top characters and voices to match.

This time I go back to 2008 (the year when Galaxy Audio first began releasing these stories) and listen to the audio pulp of "The Chee-Chalker" which was originally released in "Five Novels" monthly during the months of July and August of 1947.  This story takes you to the Alaskan Territory where FBI agent, Bill Norton and his assistant Chick have been sent to investigate the smuggling of Heroin into the United States via Alaska and Canada and the missing agent that preceded him in the territory. 

Norton is considered at first a "Chee-Chalker," local slang for a newcomer by the locals, but that's their first mistake.  Norton finds not only the smugglers but a string of corpses which are dismissed as "accidental drownings."  Norton doesn't buy it and when a dame gets in the picture the twists and turns in clues abound.  This time the dame is a heart-stopping heiress to the halibut trade, and seems to be behind the murders and smuggling, at first.  But through the typewriter of L. Ron Hubbard things are never what they seem. 

With hard hitting punches and excellent detective work, Norton will get to the bottom of it all,but at the expense of whose lives?  Yet another fun adventure that will keep you guessing until the very end.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

"The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus" by Clive Barker

"The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus"
by Clive Barker
read by Bruce Donnelly
Published by Crossroad Press
Approx 2 hours

The first thing that grabbed me about this audiobook was that it was written by Clive Barker, I have always loved horror novels and Barker's horror novels are some of the best.   I knew this was a fantasy book, and was prepared for this because I have read a few of his fantasy books including the young adult fantasy series "Abarat."   What I wasn't prepared for, once I started listening was the depth of the language and the way the story completely engulfed me.   What is more amazing is that these stories were written in 1974 when Clive Barker was only 17 years old.  At first listen it is an amazing book by a young author, but more to it, it is an amazing book that will take you on a magical fantastical journey in and of itself, regardless of the age of the author.

On a side note regarding this audio book version, I think the non-emotional, straight forward read actually works.  I have recently become a fan of audiobooks where the author actually acts out the book and even provides different voices for the characters, or even better yet a full dramatization with a full blown cast of actors.  These types make the audiobook more of an exciting experience, but for this book, where the language used by Clive Barker is the star, the nearly monotone emotionless reading by Bruce Donnelly works.  This approach took some getting used to but once the book was rolling I found myself completely lost in the language.  The words used by Barker in this book flow like poetry.

Maximillian Bacchus is the ringmaster and owner of what he considers the greatest show in the world. Traveling with a Crocodile named Malachi, a trapeze girl named Ophelia, a strong man named Hero, and a clown named Domingo de Ybarrondo.  All travel in a wagon pulled by a giant "Ibis bird," the troupe wanders from adventure to adventure.

The book consists of four interwoven stories beginning when Indigo Murphy, the best bird handler in the world, leaves the show to be married to the Duke Lorenzo de Medici.  During the feast where this announcement is made Maximillian Bacchus announces the circus will travel to the fabled Xanadu built by the Khan named Kubla.  From there, the magic never stops. On the road they meet a young apple thief named Angelo with glowing eyes who tries to redeem himself by helping to find a lost girl.  The troupe next rescues an orangutan named Bathsheba from what seems like the evil and opposite form of the travelling circus.  The Circus then arrives at the end of the world where the people living in a town on the edge of the world are terrorized by a band of trolls. Finally arriving in Xanadu the troupe sets to perform for Kubla Khan.  After the troupe performs the daughter of the brother of Kubla Khan is abducted and the sun is stolen from the sky, the Khan gives in to the sadness of the event but Maximillian Bacchus and his travelling circus volunteer to rescue the girl and bring back the light of the sun by venturing into the crystal caves beneath Xanadu.

With magical prose and fun short stories, this is one book that is great for all ages.  This would be the perfect bedtime story book, and in audiobook form would be the great travelling companion.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

"Macbeth" by William Shakespeare

by William Shakespeare
Multi-cast performance starring James Marsters
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works
Approx 2 hours

While getting my degree in Theatre from Southern Illinois University, I learned to appreciate the works of Shakespeare.   The first thing I learned is that the plays are meant to be performed not just read.  Once I started performing scenes from Shakespeare's collection I saw how much fun and in depth the stories were.  Yes, even the tragedies were fun, from a performance perspective.  So now when I hear of students having to read Shakespeare I cringe a little knowing they may never learn to appreciate Shakespeare.  In comes  L.A. Theatre Works and their releasing in audiobook format theatrical performances.    I've had the chance to listen to several of these and, to be honest, I was leery at first.  I was thinking, how can you turn such a visually dependent medium into an adequate audio book? 

L.A. Theatre Works goes well beyond the adequate, and are able to produce superb audio versions of some great performances.  Most of this lies in the excellent production using sound effects that make sense in the right places and with even more excellent casting.  The many plays always feature accomplished actors, not just famous ones but ones that are capable of filling the role to perfection.  In the case of this release, James Marsters is cast in the lead as Macbeth, and just knocks it out of the park.  There is one scene where the ghost of Banquo sits in Macbeths chair at a dinner party and the issue is that Macbeth begins yelling at the spirit and the other members of the party don't see the ghost.  In his vocal gymnastics alone on this recording, Marsters is able to explain to the listener that only he sees the ghost.  Great performance throughout by all the actors. 

As for the story of "Macbeth,"  this is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays and carries with it some baggage.  "Macbeth" is considered a cursed play, so much so that theatre tradition does not allow one to mention the name of the play within a theatre,  many refer to it as "The Scottish Play" and when referring to the main characters, just call them "Mr. and Mrs. M."  The reason behind this superstition goes back many years, the origin is that Shakespeare used some actual witches' spells when writing it, and as revenge for giving out the secrets of the craft some real witches cursed every mention of the play.

The play is about a General in the Scottish army who becomes king, but not in a traditional happy sort of way.  Two generals, Macbeth and Banquo are returning from a battle and stumble across three witches in the forest where the tell the two of their fortunes.  Macbeth will be king and Banquo will have his children for many ages become King. 

Putting the thought of becoming King into Macbeth's head leads to the murder of King Duncan and the fall into madness that surrounds Macbeth.  Soon he must go to the witches again to find out more of his future.  This time around the witches tell him that no man born of a woman can kill him, leaving Macbeth with the false belief that he is invincible.  Tragedy ensues and another classic has been engulfed.  Enjoy this classic performed by wonderful cast.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"Doctor Who: Hunter's Moon" by Paul Finch

"Doctor Who: Hunter's Moon"
by Paul Finch   
read by Arthur Darvill   
Published by BBC Audiobooks
Approx 6.5 hours

Okay before we talk about this particular audio book I've gotta point out something I just found out and it has me stoked; there are like a bazillion Doctor who audiobooks.  I was looking around for something to shove into my iPod and remembered having listened to a couple of Doctor who books and thought that would be cool let's see what else is out there.  'Lo and behold there are several for the latest 3 Doctors and many more for the older series.  BBC Audiobooks has been busy. 

This time around I've picked up another audiobook featureing the 11th Doctor (portrayed by Matt Smith) and in the continuity it takes place just before the 5th season episode of "The Impossible Astronaut."  The Doctor's companions are still Amy and Rory and their adventures takes them to a region that is pretty much like a gambler's heaven, Leisure Platform 9.  Before he can join Rory and Amy, the Doctor has to go and visit an old friend, Kobal Zalu, who is head of the police force in this sector.  Zalu mentions that the last time he saw the Doctor, the Doctor had white hair, so this is digging out an old friend from way back, the first or second Doctor.   It seems Zalu doesn't as much act as a police officer but more of a peacekeeper between gamblers and vilians and as long as the locals aren't harmed all else is ignored.

This book is ready by Arthur Darvill, the actor portraying Rory in the series, and not only is this a good choice because the bulk of the story is told from Rory's point of view, but because Darvill has a great delivery.  His voice is flexible enought to change between different characters talking in the story, but he does a pretty good impression of Matt Smith (the Doctor). 

While on the platform Rory notices a game of chance that he's pretty good at, well least the Earth version (craps).  While observing a player at the game Rory remarks that the game of chance is chancing more to the players benefit.  When he remarks outloud about this the player then challenges Rory.   Rory plays ends up winning but on the final throw loses, and loses big, in fact he loses the TARDIS to the player (it doesn't matter that Rory isn't the owner.)  So as payment the player, Xorg Krauzzen, kidnaps Rory and takes him to the planet Gorgoror, where Rory and other kidnapped earthlings are part of a hunt, not as hunters but as hunted. 

The Doctor and Amy go undercover to save Rory and end up uncovering a fiendish hunt that has been going on illegally for years, so now the Doctor must stop this evil, rescue his friends and get the TARDIS back.  In a non-stop thrillride this story will keep you on the edge of your seat, have you chew down all your fingernails and keep your adrenaline up until the very end.