Review: Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Lynn Redgrave

Prince CaspianI finished listening to C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian over the weekend, and I haven’t had a chance to do my review yet.

Prince Caspian takes place one Earth year after the Pevensie siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—have returned from Narnia through the wardrobe. They are at the train station preparing to go off to school, when they are suddenly whisked back to Narnia. It takes them some time to realize where they are because everything has changed. While they have been gone, hundreds of years have passed in Narnia, and they discover they have been summoned because Narnia once again has great need of their services. Prince Caspian, rightful king of Narnia, has had his power usurped by his evil Uncle Miraz, and he can’t defeat his uncle alone.

Each of the novels in this audio book series is narrated by a different great British actor. I found Kenneth Branagh’s reading of The Magician’s Nephew utterly charming, while Michael York’s reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a bit spottier. Alex Jennings’s read of The Horse and His Boy was also good. Lynn Redgrave’s reading of Prince Caspian is excellent. She did a masterful job capturing the characters’ voices and using different types of accents. She managed to inject the patronizing tone of older siblings into Peter and Susan, and her characterization of the dwarfs Trumpkin and Nikabrik made me glad whenever they took the “stage.” I also particularly enjoyed her characterization of Doctor Cornelius, Reepicheep, and Trufflehunter. It looks like she has narrated a few other audio books, so I have to recommend her highly. What a shame she is no longer with us.

Of the four Chronicles of Narnia books I’ve read or re-read this year, I would say Prince Caspian comes in a strong second after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Pevensies strike me as similar to King Arthur: they will come when Narnia has great need of them, and the device of Susan’s horn to call them was clever (and somewhat evocative of other myths). I really loved some of the minor characters in this one. Caspian is likeable, but Trumpkin, Reepicheep, Trufflehunter, and Doctor Cornelius are loveable. I like the idea that Narnian time passes at a different rate. I wonder if I can say this, though, without making someone angry: I just don’t like Aslan. He’s not bad, he’s just so heavy-handed a symbol. I realize it would wreck Lewis’s Jesus allegory if he removed Aslan from the stories, but I would find them more interesting if they had to figure out how to defeat the enemies without him as a deus ex machina. I also don’t find his personality particularly compelling. I understand his role in the stories, but he just doesn’t interest me as much as the children do. I suppose that if he is supposed to represent Jesus, then I’m not really sure I like this particular characterization of Jesus. Jesus struck me as less judgey and more gentle. I know he overturned the moneychangers’ tables at the Temple, but I mean on the whole. Aslan is forgiving, too; I’m doing a sloppy job putting my finger on their differences. Suffice it to say that I don’t find him as much fun as the other characters.

In all, this was a very enjoyable reading. I know I’m liking an audio book when I find excuses to wash the dishes so I can listen to a book while I do it. I mean, that’s just crazy, right?

Book Rating: ★★★★½
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: Voyager, Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Davina Porter

Voyager audio book (Voyager)Voyager is the third book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Outlander is filming right now and will appear on Starz this summer. Can’t wait! The casting looks phenomenal. Spoilers follow for the first two books, so you might not want to read the rest of this review if you don’t want them wrecked for you. I figure you probably wouldn’t be reading a review of the third book in a series unless you had either already read the others or don’t mind their being spoiled.

If you’re not familiar with this series, it’s a most unusual and difficult to classify series of books: part historical fiction, part romance, part fantasy/sci fi—I can’t think of too many books like these that so defy labels. In the first book, a World War II nurse named Claire Randall steps through standing stones in a stone circle near Inverness and finds herself over 200 years in the past. As she tries desperately to get back home to her husband Frank, she winds up forced (after a fashion) to marry young Jamie Fraser and unexpectedly falls in love with him. In the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, the Jacobite Rebellion draws closer, and Claire and Jamie try to think of a way to avoid the devastation that will follow, even spending time in France, but Jamie is inevitably called to fight at Culloden, but before he faces a battle where he expects to die, he sends his wife Claire back through the stones to save her life and that of the baby she is carrying.

Voyager begins some twenty years later. Claire and Jamie’s daughter Brianna is grown, and Claire has become a doctor. She and Brianna travel to Scotland and discover that Jamie did not die at Culloden after all. Claire decides to go back through the stones one more time to reunite with the love of her life, leaving her daughter behind with Roger Wakefield, a young historian who helped Claire discover Jamie’s history and who is falling in love with Brianna.

The first time I read this book was probably around 1998 or 1999. I remember that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two at that time because I thought I like it better when Claire and Jamie were in Scotland, and I also had more difficulty enjoying them as an older couple, which sounds pretty horrible now (thought it’s an accurate representation of my feelings at the time). For crying out loud, Claire was something like 50! And Jamie was at least mid-40′s. Now that I am actually a lot closer to their ages in this book, I found that I no longer seem to have much trouble enjoying Jamie and Claire as an older couple. ;-)

I will admit that this book starts a little bit slowly. I suppose it is necessary for the reader to be filled in on exactly what Jamie did following Culloden and how Claire found out he was still alive and decided to go back in time to reunite with him, but the book drags a bit through this part. Once Claire goes back through the stones and finds Jamie in Edinburgh, the book picks up quite a bit, and frankly, the action doesn’t let up for pretty much the remainder of the book. I had forgotten what a swashbuckling story this one is. Jamie and Claire spend much of the book running away from or chasing Really.Bad.People. Pirates even. Witches! Possibly—just possibly even zombies. It’s crazy adventurous, and for that reason, it makes for quite a gripping read.

Gabaldon does get bogged down in details sometimes, but that’s actually one of the interesting things about her writing. Sometimes these scenes she writes, which don’t necessarily move the plot forward, are compelling in terms of character development. I am surprised she has been able to get them past an editor, who might be tempted to cut them. Then again, like I said before, these books tend to break all the rules.

I enjoyed this one much more this time around than I did the last. Davina Porter is an excellent reader who is able to do a wide variety of accents and brings life to the characters. She’s so good that I’ve just about decided listening to her read is the only way I want to read the rest of the series.

Book Rating: ★★★★½
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Top Ten Tuesday: Twitter

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/I have to admit that I love Twitter, but I use it more professionally—sharing links and resources with others and collecting the links and resources other share. Twitter is a great resource for teachers. I do love the way the Eleventh Doctor mutters “Twitter” whenever it comes up, though. I wonder if Twelve will like Twitter?

At any rate, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday concerns which authors or characters I’d like to see on Twitter. I’m going to do a 50/50 split of authors and characters, just to mix it up.

Authors

In no particular order, I wish I could see the following writers on Twitter:

  1. Oscar Wilde: His acerbic wit and penchant for the best bon mots would make him perfect for Twitter. He would be hilarious, catty, and fun.
  2. William Shakespeare: I wonder what the Bard could do with 140 characters. It would be interesting to see what topics he would choose to discuss, too.
  3. Emily Dickinson: Another one for interesting turns of phrase, but I suspect her account would be sort of like those friends who post “Vaguebook” status updates, and I doubt she would reply, retweet, or follow anyone.
  4. J.K. Rowling: She actually does have a Twitter account, but she never tweets. I wish she would. Wouldn’t it be fun if she answered fan questions and engaged with readers the way other writers like Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, and John Green do?
  5. F. Scott Fitzgerald: What a hell of a Twitter feed that would be to read, whether he was tweeting beautiful lines or dishing about the crazy shenanigans he and Zelda were up to.

Characters

In no particular order, I wish I could see the following characters on Twitter:

  1. Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice: She’d be the most fun on Twitter. I don’t think she’d be as taciturn as Mr. Darcy. I would love to see what sorts of comments she would make.
  2. Puck: The impish sprite from A Midsummer Night’s Dream would probably have some fairly interesting commentary about the nature of humanity: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
  3. Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit: or There and Back Again: I have so much affection for this guy. He’s funny. Wouldn’t it be great to see him complain about the Sackville-Bagginses? Even better, wouldn’t it be cool to read his exchanges with @GandalftheGrey?
  4. Albus Dumbledore: Another one for wise axioms perfect for Twitter. Plus, wouldn’t it be fun to read his exchanges with @GandalftheGrey? (See what I did there?)
  5. Naturally @GandalftheGrey would have some interesting things to say.

Who would you like to see take to Twitter?

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Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s WifeI have had Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife on my to-read list for an age, and I’m not sure why I wasn’t compelled to actually start reading it sooner. I started watching Doctor Who on Netflix, and I found the story of the Doctor and River Song deeply compelling. In the episode “The Day of the Moon,” River is going back to prison, and she kisses the Doctor goodbye.

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I found the idea of two time travelers, in love, but living in opposite directions, so devastatingly, hopelessly sad. And as I did some digging online, I found that people compared the relationship between River and the Doctor to this novel, which is what prompted me to read it at last.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is the story of Henry and Clare DeTamble. Henry has a genetic disease that causes him to travel through time. He is unable to control it, and when he arrives at his destinations, he is naked (being unable to take his clothes with him through time) and often has no idea when he is. From Clare’s perspective, they first meet when she is a little girl, and Henry occasionally visits her as she grows up. Though Henry can’t seem to control his travels, he does seem drawn to important people and places in his life. Their love story is both beautiful and tragic.

At this point, the review is about to be spoilery, so you have been warned. Don’t read further if you don’t want parts of the book ruined for you. Though I realize this book has been out for a while now, and spoiler alerts are technically “off,” I enjoyed the book spoiler free (excepting for spoiling it for myself by peeking ahead), and I think everyone else who wants to read it has that right. For that reason, spoiler text is in white below. Select the text to read it.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that I thought Henry’s death was unsatisfactory. After all the times he managed to get out of scrapes, he winds up being shot, and by Clare’s father and brother while they’re out hunting, no less? Yes, it’s probably a miracle that he managed to survive as long as he did, given all the bizarre situations in which he finds himself, but that was just pretty awful. All that said, I loved the rest of it. I admit it was a little difficult to keep up with Henry’s adventures, but his life with Clare, and their love for one another, was so well drawn and compelling, that I couldn’t quit turning pages. And then I peeked ahead and realized Henry was going to die, and I had to put the book down for a while because I just couldn’t take it. I knew that a story as strange as this one was bound to be fraught and most likely could not end well, but I didn’t want to read about Henry’s death. At last I picked the book up again and finished it. I adored the ending and the comparisons to Odysseus and Penelope. We read The Odyssey and see Odysseus’s story, but we have glimpses, only, of Penelope’s twenty years of waiting. In many ways, Clare’s own story is much more heartrending than Penelope’s.

In all, this was a good book, and it’s been a while since I read a book I enjoyed this much.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Alex Jennings

The Horse and His Boy CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)I know I read the third book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, about 20 years ago when I stalled out somewhere in the middle of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but I had no memory of its plot at all. I think I know why. It’s utterly forgettable.

If you are not familiar with the plot, it is the story of a foundling boy named Shasta, who is raised by a fisherman named Arsheesh in Calormen, which seems to be C. S. Lewis’s stand-in for the Arab world. Shasta runs away upon learning that he is to be sold, and he meets talking horse from Narnia named Bree; a feisty fellow runaway named Aravis, who is escaping a marriage she does not want; and Aravis’s horse, Hwin. In their escape, they go to the city of Tashbaan, where Shasta is mistaken for a prince of Archenland named Corin. You see where this is going, right? I figured out most of the rest of the plot at that moment. At any rate, Shasta does meet Queen Susan, Queen Lucy, and King Edmund in his travels, as well as Aslan, who guides him in the night when he is running to tell the king of Archenland of an impending invasion by forces from Calormen.

I thought the plot was predictable. My reaction on finishing the book is really just a resounding “meh.” The characters were fine. I liked them. I just felt the plot was fairly well trodden. I really wonder why the book needed to be included in the series. It feels like filler material. However, Alex Jennings does an excellent narration, and I think I would like to read other books read by him.

Book Rating: ★★½☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★½

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Top Ten Things on my Reading Wishlist

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/I totally didn’t do my weekend reading update this weekend. I actually haven’t made much progress in my book, so I think that’s fine. I just had a busy week. I do like this week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday:

Today’s Topic: Top Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist (if you could make authors write about these things you would. Could be a specific type of character, an issue tackled, a time period, a certain plot, etc.)

 

  1. I want a really great gothic ghost story something like The Woman in Black, but set in Ireland or Scotland, and with a great creep factor, but no ick. Also, bonus if it’s in a castle. I am a big Scooby Doo fan. Also, double bonus if it’s set in the Edwardian era because I love the clothes.
  2. I would love it if someone would do something with Celtic myth. I actually have a little something I’m working on myself, but I would really like to see what someone else would do with stories from the Ulster Cycle or Finn Cycle in Ireland, or the Mabinogion in Wales.
  3. More really good historical fiction about Shakespeare. I have read some that’s not what I’d call good. Bonus points if it explores one of the lost plays or the Dark Lady. Maybe I should cook up something along those lines myself.
  4. I’d like to read a historical fiction book like Diana Gabaldon writes. Historical romances are just not my favorites, but she seems to cross genres in a way that really intrigues me. Also, I like how her books span across time and over the lifetimes of her characters.
  5. A really good multigenerational saga. I know these exist, but I haven’t had as much luck finding them. If you know of one, please share. I mean, I’d like to see hundreds of years pass. I am really interested in genealogy, and it would be interesting to me to read about a family’s history.
  6. Really good derivative works. I mean, tell me the story from Miss Havisham’s point of view, but make it awesome. I have read some metafiction lately that hasn’t been up to scratch. Some of it has been really good, however. Bring on more of the really good.
  7. An Arthurian novel that measures up to The Mists of Avalon. That book is probably my favorite Arthurian saga. I love that it’s told through the viewpoint of the women, mainly Morgan Le Fay. I wish someone would come up with a fresh and interesting way to tell that story again.
  8. A really good novel set in Paris that makes me want to keep flipping pages the same way that A Moveable Feast does. I love that book. By the same token, it can be similar to The Paris Wife. Bonus points if it’s about artists.
  9. A good book about George Sand’s life. I have been fascinated by her since I was in college. This is yet another topic I have considered exploring myself. I adore her passion.
  10. A good thriller like The Da Vinci Code but well written and with characters that are more than cardboard stand-ins or flagrant copies of Indiana Jones.

Sometimes I think it’s good advice to just write the book you want to read. Don’t tell anyone my ideas.

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Weekend Reading: January 11, 2014

The Time Traveler's WifeIt’s a rainy, blustery day. Perfect for curling up and reading! I have a plan to make some soap later today, particularly as I have received this excellent equipment in the mail.

New England Handmade Artisan Soaps apronI made it on Zazzle. It turned out just like I wanted. I haven’t made a soaping video in a while either, and I am going to try to do one this weekend.

I’m still reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’m about halfway through the book on p. 283. I’m still enjoying it very much, and I half wonder if I’m subconsciously drawing out my reading so I can keep reading it for a while. Then again, I don’t have as much time to read during the work week.

I finished the audio book of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, read by Michael York. You can read my review here if you missed it. I am moving on to The Horse and His Boy read by Alex Jennings. I have zero memory of what happens in that book, though I’m pretty sure I read it about 22 years ago or so. I’m also still listening to Voyager by Diana Gabaldon read by Davina Porter. That book is pretty long, so I imagine it will take some time to finish.

We had to buy a new microwave yesterday. Our microwave died earlier this week. I’m not sure what happened. It wasn’t terribly old (perhaps a maximum of ten years or so). I remember we had to buy the old one when we moved into our previous home, which was about ten years ago now. The one before that lasted about ten years as well. Perhaps that’s about all they’re good for nowadays?

No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity

My copy of No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity has also arrived. I had to order the journal and supplies, so I can’t get started right way. That sort of sounds like an excuse! I do hope that I can make a regular habit of art journaling and perhaps even post some photos from my journal here. We shall see.

What are you up to this weekend?

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Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Michael York

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)I recently decided to finish reading The Chronicles of Narnia, as I never read them as a child, and the time I did start them, I never finished the series.

The second book in the series, chronologically speaking (the first book published), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is arguably the most famous. In fact, one of my students made a reference to going inside the wardrobe as a metaphor for exploring the unknown just today. I often wonder how many children spent several frustrating minutes inside closets and wardrobes over the years in a desperate attempt to get to Narnia.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story (not sure how that can happen), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the story of the four Pevensie siblings: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They are sent to live in the country house of Professor Digory Kirke during the London air raids, and while playing hide and seek, Lucy, the youngest, discovers a magical wardrobe that transports her to a snowy land inhabited by a faun, Mr. Tumnus. She befriends the faun, and he reveals that he is in league with the White Witch and has promised to give the Witch word should any “Sons of Adam” or “Daughters of Eve” show up in Narnia. He meant to turn Lucy in, but he couldn’t do it. She returns through the wardrobe back to Professor Kirke’s house to discover she’s been gone no time at all, and the others don’t believe her. Later, the others all discover she is telling the truth, but not before the White Witch manages to sink her claws into Edmund via some fiendishly addictive Turkish Delight and convince him to rat out his siblings. The Pevensies find themselves caught up in ancient Narnian prophecy and wind up having to rid Narnia of the White Witch.

So, we have to talk about Aslan. Is it me, or is he the least interesting character? I mean, I understand he is supposed to be a Christ figure, and I have nothing against Christ figures in literature, but Aslan’s depiction in that role is just so heavy-handed. Perhaps it isn’t so heavy-handed to the intended audience of children. I actually really liked Edmund this time around. He was a pain in the rear, but he redeemed himself, and he was a little more interesting than the other characters. Jadis makes for a nice villain. I had forgotten the ending was so violent. I also have a soft spot for Lucy, but I confess I found Peter and Susan to be too goody-goody and boring to be terribly interesting. However, the storyline is deeply engaging, and it’s not hard to see why it has endured as a children’s favorite.

Also, as a side note, the missing Oxford comma in the title really bothers me, given C. S. Lewis was an Oxford man. Anyone know why it was left out?

It had been quite a long time since I read this book, and I have to say the Disney movie did a superb job capturing all of the book’s elements (and in casting). I couldn’t help but think about the movie as I was reading and remembering how the various parts of the book were depicted. I have to say Michael York’s reading was uneven. He did an excellent job characterizing most of the Narnian characters and Edmund and Lucy as well, but I didn’t care much for his Aslan, and he had a sort of odd cadence that sounded slightly patronizing. I think it was an attempt to sound avuncular, but it didn’t always hit that mark. All things being equal, I liked The Magician’s Nephew better in terms of the narration.

Because this book features Jadis, as the White Witch, I will count it for the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge.

Story Rating: ★★★★☆
Audio Rating: ★★★☆☆

2014 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

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Sunday Salon: Resolutions

A Ride in the SnowJust like everybody else, I am making a few resolutions as the new year begins. However, making resolutions is not typical for me. I usually ignore the passage of a new year, at least in terms of turning over a new leaf. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a teacher or not, but I always felt like the real new year turned when a new school year started. For some reason, I don’t know why, this year feels different. I actually find myself feeling like it is the start of the new year, and for the first time in years, that didn’t feel like a sad thing to me. New Year’s Eve usually makes me quite sad, and this year, while I can’t say I was excited or anything, I felt pretty content. As a result, I started thinking about the things I really want to do better or do more of in the coming year.

No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity I have the usual resolutions regarding tackling organization, etc., but in terms of reading, I want to try to be much more active in reading and talking about my reading here. I have had a hard time making myself blog for the last couple of years, but I do enjoy it, particularly book blogging, and I have missed it.

I also want to do better with journaling, and to that end, I picked up No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity. It looks like a fun way to try a new creative outlet. One of the things I have enjoyed about making soap is the creativity. The soap is like a work of art. No two cut bars are the same, and no two batches of soap are the same. Art journaling seems like a fun way to be creative when I’m stuck. One of the things I’ve learned about making soap over the last year is that it can’t be my only creative outlet, or I wind up making too much of it. By the way, if any takers want to try out my soap, let me know. If you want to check out my soap on Etsy, try here.

So, do you have any resolutions?

The Sunday SalonA Ride in the Snow by DaveLawler

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Weekend Reading: January 4, 2014

The Time Traveler's WifeIliana posted her current reads over at Bookgirl’s Nightstand, and it inspired me. A new year is always a chance to try new things and introduce new habits (hoping they will stick!). Here’s hoping I can make a regular Saturday post about my weekend reads a habit. What I’d like to do is take a snapshot of the book I’m reading, right where I’m starting for the weekend.

This weekend I’m reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’m already in love with it on page 79. One of the reasons I picked this book up is that I have a new-ish obsession with Doctor Who, particularly the love story of the Doctor and River Song, and I read somewhere, I forget where, that their relationship was similar to that of Henry and Clare in The Time Traveler’s Wife in some respects. Given I’m not too far in yet, I would say the comparison is fair, and I can see how the novel may have inspired the creation of River Song.

I’m also listening to Michael York read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Davina Porter read Voyager by Diana Gabaldon. Both are what you might consider re-reads, since I have read the Outlander series up to Drums of Autumn. I would like to catch up the end, and I’m looking forward to the adaptation of Outlander on Starz.

It’s bitterly cold outside. My browser’s weather extension says it’s 14 degrees and feels like -3 degrees. Perfect for curling up inside under my husband’s robe with a cup of tea and a good book.

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