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Crane / by Jeff Stone ; narrated by Kiki Barrera

The Five Ancestors Book 4: Crane (The Five Ancestors, Book 4) - Jeff Stone

Lots going on in this book, the 4th in The Five Ancestors series.  To be honest, there was probably a little too much that went on, making the story drift even further from any kind of clear center.  I really have no idea any longer what our monks are trying to do, because they are continually being swept off course and then brought back together only to be swept away from one another again.


That said, I did enjoy this installment.  I found Hok to be an interesting character.  She was a nice blend between masculine and feminine, hardness and softness, tenderness and firmness.  Of any of the characters up to this point she was much more of a yin and yang character, making her, I think, the most enigmatic and unpredictable character in the story.  I love that she so well embodies the tenacity that martial arts requires of students. 



Snake / by Jeff Stone ; narrated by Kiki Barrera

The Five Ancestors Book 3: Snake (The Five Ancestors, Book 3) - Jeff Stone

Seh, the main character in this, the third book, in The Five Ancestors series was certainly a more believable Kung Fu master than his fellow monks, Fu and Malao.  Seh's actions were more cautious, methodical, and deliberate than Fu's or Malao's, and I thought that this character anchored the story (to this point) and kept it from floating off into silliness with Malao or into broody cantankerousness with Fu.


Snake also puts to rest another of my complaints about the series up to this point:  it is suddenly becoming much harder to tell friend from foe.  This serves to keep our monks on their toes, and to not underestimate anyone they meet on their travels.  Seh is particularly good at this, and you would think that with all of the trouble that has befallen Fu and Malao up to this point they would do a better job of emulating Seh, but they don't.  Still, the point is made in this book that a good martial artist doesn't let his or her guard drop.


In this book a ton of supporting characters were introduced.  I think that if I had read this book instead of listened to it on audiobook it would have been easy to become confused by this rapid introduction of so many new characters.  Kiki Barrera, though, did a good job of making the voices for these new characters distinctive, so I didn't have too hard of a time keeping track of them.  With the introduction of the new characters came the introduction of females.  I had complaints about the denigration of the feminine in the previous two books, but that was nowhere in sight in Snake.  All of the females in this book were tough, and all held their own against their opponents.  Thank you, that's all I ask.


The main issue I had with the book is that it contained a lot of twists and turns, and I'm no longer quite sure what the monks view as their objective.  There's been a lot of running around the countryside, and it doesn't seem to have really served a purpose or forwarded the story much.  I am hoping that the objective will start to firm up and become more clear in the next book.  I'm sure it will.  It seems to be the case that with every complaint I've had with this series Jeff Stone has answered with the next book in the series.



Monkey / by Jeff Stone ; narrated by Kiki Barrera

The Five Ancestors Book 2: Monkey (The Five Ancestors, Book 2) - Jeff Stone

I enjoyed Monkey better than the first book in The Five Ancestors series.  The dialogue seemed a little better, and Malao is, frankly, a more pleasant character to be around than Fu was.  His mischievous personality made him a fun character, and when paired with Fu it served to soften Fu's sharp edges.


So far in the series, though, I am having a hard time accepting Fu and Malao at least as Kung Fu masters.  These boys seem to have little self-control, very little discipline, and very little regard for caution.  They are often reckless and leap head-long into dangerous situations.  On the other hand, I realize that this is a book written for children, and kids want characters that they can identify with.  If you've got an 11 or 12 year old acting with the wisdom and self-knowledge of an adult, then that doesn't make the character too believable or too relatable to a kid, does it?  In fact, it makes that character pretty boring.


The slamming of the female gender was toned down considerably in this book, although it did rear up once or twice.  Still, that grated less in this book because of some developments that I can't discuss without spoliers.


I am enjoying the way in which these books build upon one another.  Events carry over into the book featuring the next character, and slight shifts in perspective are executed.  Once events that the monks shared in common are looked at from the "new" character's perspective, the story picks up again and moves forward with that monk in the lead position.  It's an interesting device, and allows a reader to perhaps become more familiar with each character more effectively than they could if only one book tried to hold all of their personalities and stories.  On to the next book for my literary martial arts fix.

Tiger / by Jeff Stone ; narrated by Kiki Barrera

Tiger - Jeff Stone

I adore martial arts. I am a martial artist, and it is just something that has been in my blood from a very young age. My niece and nephew have recently taken up martial arts as well, so I wanted to give this book a listen/read to see if it's something that my niece might enjoy, since it's aimed at her reading level.

There is a lot in here that I think my niece would be able to identify with. We love our Master just as much as the monks in this story love theirs. We would both be able to identify with the idea of doing anything for him, and we'd both identify with the idea of trying to live our lives in accordance with the principles that we learn through our art and through the lessons our Master teaches us. On a mechanical level, we'd both be able to envision the action in this book, because we are martial artists and know some of the moves described.

That said, I found this story to be a tiny bit too, well, Ninjago for my taste. The dialogue is at that level, I think, and there's just a little too much... I don't know the word... Too much "GAAHHH!!! I WILL DEFEAT YOU, YOU EVIL SLIME," going on. Melodrama? Maybe that's the right word.

Sorry to all the males out there who are offended by a female being offended, but I also didn't really like the way in which girls were used in this story. Paraphrasing here, "We shouldn't be hiding in this water barrel like a bunch of scared girls," or "The boys in the village didn't want the girls in the village learning Kung Fu, too," or, "Commander Wu, get down out of that palanquin--do you think you're a princess?!" I realize that this story is supposed to take place in ancient China, and that girls and women were not exactly well regarded at that time. But still--this is a book aimed at kids growing up today. I'm not asking that girls be written into the story (and they weren't in this one), I'm asking that using the female gender in a derogatory way just not be done when it really doesn't serve a purpose to the story. I can deal with it when there is a point to it. And frankly, as a female martial artist, let me just say, that I have knocked a 240 pound man out cold, and more than one large male has felt my blows. I routinely excel in my art, and I've won so many competitions against male competitors that I've lost count. I don't mean to brag, I really don't. My point is, all things considered, in the world of martial arts there is nothing derogatory about the feminine. Martial arts is an equalizer, and the monks in this story would know and respect that, because martial artists are taught to *never* underestimate an opponent. So, this idea of weak, scared, princess-y females is something my niece and I would not identify with, and would not appreciate about this book.

Would I recommend this book to her? Meh. I would certainly have done so if the portrayal of the feminine had been positive, or even completely left out. Will I recommend it to my nephew? Yeah. After he's lost a sparring match to a girl or two. :-)

The Ghost's Grave / by Peg Kehret ; narrated by Charles Carroll

The Ghost's Grave - Peg Kehret

I really thought that The Ghost's Grave was a fun book. In some ways it's a typical, "Mom-and-Dad-ruined-my-summer-by-making-me-go-stay-with-a-weird-distant-relative" story, but somehow this story was believable-lite, rather than completely in the realm of utter kid lit fantasy.


The author accomplished a believable-lite story by giving us a main character who was sympathetic and smart, and therefore believable, by paying attention to detail and realizing that the strength of a story can hinge on those details, and by refusing to rely on deus-ex-machina tactics in order to get our hero out of sticky situations. There was adventure and suspense which kept the story moving, and there was a bit of heart to the story, which really helped to explain what motivated the main character to behave as he did. He had a set of values and ethics that gave him, and thus, the story credibility.


Now, the story was written for children, so it does have some elements of improbability and fantasy in it, which is where the "lite" comes in in "believable-lite," but that's ok. It's balanced in this book, which makes the book feel like it's written with a more mature 5th-6th grade audience in mind, but it takes into account that kids in those grades are still kids and want some escapism in their stories. I would feel totally comfortable recommending this book to my 11 year old niece. I think it would hold her interest and keep her entertained. And even if it didn't, I don't really care. It entertained me, so I'm content!

The Books of Elsewhere : The Shadows / by Jacqueline West ; narrated by Lexy Fridell

The Shadows - Jacqueline West

Let me start off by saying that Lexy Fridell has a perfect voice with which to narrate the books in the Books of Elsewhere series.  She's got that high-ish Lisa Simpson voice, and that works for these books since our main character is an 11 year old girl.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to deal with Fridell's voice, but it all worked out just fine.


I did enjoy The Shadows, the first book in the Books of Elsewhere Series.  It was good fantasy aimed at older elementary school kids.  There was some suspense, some horror, some sense of magic, and that was all nice, and the right kid would probably enjoy reading this book.


To me, though, an old auntie in her 40s, the book didn't feel particularly fresh.  At various points I found myself reminded of Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  All of those are classic books, and it's not like The Shadows suffers in the (ahem) shadow of those books.  But again, it isn't fresh, and I'm not sure that there's anything in particular that would pull me irresistibly toward reading the next book in this series.  Maybe if I were a 5th or 6th grader interested in fantasy I'd go back for round two, book two, and maybe someday when I need something to occupy my mind I will give book two a shot anyway.  Olive is a compelling little character even if she leads a story that has been told before.

Al Capone Does My Shirts / by Gennifer Choldenko ; narrated by Kirby Heyborne

Al Capone Does My Shirts - Gennifer Choldenko

I really enjoyed Al Capone Does My Shirts! I found all of the characters to be engaging, believable, and capable of inspiring an emotional reaction from the reader.

The book falls into kind of an interesting place for me. On one hand, it does lightly allude to some kinda sorta mature themes on occasion, making me not sure whether or not I'd want to recommend this book to my eleven year old niece (I'd probably give it to her mother to read first). On the other hand, I can't imagine this book really speaking to kids much older than Moose, the main character, who is in 7th grade. I think there is a very tight window where this book has the greatest chance of appealing to kids, and I do think it's a well done book very worth reading, so if your'e on the fence about suggesting it to a kid, make your choice quickly. I do think the book could appeal equally well to boys or girls--I definitely didn't get the feeling that this was trying to aim itself at either gender in particular.

The audiobook was well narrated by Kirby Heyborne. His style was engaging, and his voice acting for each character was very well done. I am definitely looking forward to reading Al Capone Shines My Shoes, the next book in this series.

The Cater Street Hangman / by Anne Perry

The Cater Street Hangman started off a little slowly for me, but it picked up fairly quickly.  I enjoyed the process of the mystery, even though I had the culprit pegged very early.  I liked how Perry got into the heads of her characters, and how she explored their psychology a bit.  It was this exploration that made the book engaging.


I did find that the book became clunkier, even rushed, toward the end.  It was as though Perry spent all this time breathing life into her characters and making an elaborate story for them to live in, and then she realized, "oh, crap.  I've got a mystery to wrap up!"  There were a few loose ends that were left loose, and a couple of very important developments that happened at kind of a weird juncture in the story, and the ending was abrupt!  In spite of all this (and more), though, I did get swept away by this book.   I don't know.  Sometimes proper Victorian swells and grisly Victorian murders are just the thing.

King Richard III / by William Shakespeare ; performed by Kenneth Branagh, et al.

King Richard III: Performed by Kenneth Branagh & Cast (Classic Drama) by William Shakespeare (2005) Audio CD - William Shakespeare

This was my second foray into King Richard III.  The first time I was exposed to it I read it, and hated it!  I mean, bored to tears, thinking bad thoughts about Shakespeare, tempted to rip the pages from the book hated it.  


I feel bad about my dislike of many of Shakespeare's historical plays, so I do intend to give them another chance.  I decided to listen to this one in audiobook format, and it was performed by Kenneth Branagh, who is famous for his work as a Shakespearean actor.  Listening to this play was much better than trying to read it, but it is still not enough.  Unfortunately King Richard III is a play that must be seen to be appreciated.


In audiobook format it is extremely difficult to keep track of the characters.  It's often difficult to know who is speaking, or even what the scene is, and that interferes with the ability to keep track of the story.  These plays were simply meant to be seen, not read, not listened to.  You can read some of Shakespeare's works and do just fine, but with Richard III, and I suspect with his King Henry plays, too much gets lost by not being able to experience the play in the way Shakespeare intended.


Since King Richard III doesn't show too often at theaters around here, my next step will have to be to find it on video.  Maybe then I can finally get full enjoyment of King Richard III.

Let Loose the Dogs / by Maureen Jennings

Murdoch Mysteries: Let Loose The Dogs (Murdoch Mysteries (Detective Murdoch)) - Maureen Jennings

really wanted to enjoy this book in the Detective Murdoch series, but I just couldn't get into it.  There was much too much going on in the book for my attention and interest to land anywhere.  Too many side stories, too many characters, too many diversions from the main mystery.  I got over half way through it, but my library loan expired before I finished it.  I think it says something that I did not renew the book so I could read the whole thing.

Doctor Who : The Rising Night / by Scott Handcock ; narrated by Michelle Ryan

"Doctor Who": The Rising Night: (Audio Original) (BBC Audio) - Scott Handcock

It's October, so it's time to start throwing some good halloween monsters into the reading regimen.  Doctor Who : The Rising Night features "the tenth doctor" (my favorite) having to once more save Earth from a dire threat.  In this book he's doing battle against a vampire/zombie/siren/banshee-ish alien who rips and shreds like a werewolf.  This alien is hell-bent upon taking over the world and ruling it with exactly the kind of leadership style you'd expect from such a creature, so Doctor Who really needs to act fast to keep this threat from getting out of control.


Scott Handcock did an excellent job of putting David Tennet's Doctor Who style onto the page, while Michelle Ryan did a great job of voicing that style.  I enjoyed the book, and it is the month of halloween, but you know, vampires.  I'm starting to get a little burned out on these particular undead beings, and while it was a nice twist to give the aliens in this story some of the characteristics of other familiar monsters, in the end, they were at the core vampires with the same ultimate vampiric weakness.  A more creative, less vampire-like demise for these aliens would have been cool--there's just no other way to say it.


The story was a short one, so it's a good quick listen (audiobook), and as I mentioned above, the tenth doctor's style was so evident in this book it was very easy to become absorbed in the story.  Certainly one that a Whovian can enjoy.



Endless Night / by Agatha Christie

Endless Night - Agatha Christie

Endless Night did not strike me as your typical Agatha Christie book.  It was creepier.  It felt more Gothic in the beginning, and then it seemed very modern (for the time).  The tone of the book shifted dramatically, suddenly, and that shift made the creepiness resolve into a sense of horror.


The denouement was a surprise to me, Christie's reveals almost always catch me by surprise, but this denouement also seemed a little clunky.  I can't even say why it felt clunky, because doing even just that will give away the ending, and I don't want to spoil the book.


This is just a different Agatha Christie.  Worth the read just to see how well this woman could manipulate her readers' emotions.

Doctor Who : Black Orchid / by Terence Dudley ; narrated by Michael Cochrane

Black Orchid: Library Edition (Doctor Who) - Terence Dudley, Michael Cochrane

This installment of Doctor Who had a different feel to it; part gothic horror story, part mystery, part love story, it was less sci-fi and more Jane Eyre.  I did find the mystery to be very predictable, and the first two chapters dragged on interminably (honestly, two chapters about a game of cricket?!), but I still found the story to be engrossing.  Once we got past those cricket chapters, all I really wanted to do was spend the rest of the day listening to this story!





Doctor Who and the Visitation / by Eric Saward ; narrated by Matthew Waterhouse

Doctor Who and the Visitation: An Unabridged Classic Doctor Who Novel - Eric Saward, Matthew Waterhouse

I have to say, these Doctor Who audiobooks are very well done!  They are entertaining, well narrated, and easily conjure pictures from the TV episodes as I listen to them, even if I've not seen the entire episode (as was the case with Doctor Who and the Visitation).  


There were a couple of points in this audiobook that the sound effects occasionally overpowered the narrator's voice, but this was rare, and only happened in the very beginning of the book.  Overall, this was a good one to listen to as I made my way through some monotonous work for a couple of hours! 



The Dollhouse Murders / by Betty Ren Wright

The Dollhouse Murders - Betty Ren Wright

The Dollhouse Murders is the first chapter book that my sister ever read (over 25 years ago!), and ever since then she's been encouraging me to read it. I'm glad I did!

The book, aimed at 4th-6th graders, is creepy and chilling without being too intense for kids in this age range. In fact, today's kids probably wouldn't even bat an eye at the "scary" stuff, so I guess the label "creepy" should be taken with a grain of salt. Be that as it may, I enjoyed the eerie aspects of the book, and I also liked the way the author dealt with the more real world issues in her character's lives. Issues of responsibility, independence, guilt, self-reproach, family were all dealt with in believable ways, and the author, Betty Ren Wright skillfully avoided heavy handedness when approaching these issues.

I'm not usually a fan of chapter books aimed at upper elementary kids, but this one had a certain appeal. Wright was careful to give these kids a story that honors their budding maturity while still recognizing the idea of age appropriateness. A fun read that I would have no problem putting into my niece's hands.

Solomon's Jar / by Alex Archer

Solomon's Jar - Alex Archer

Oh, alas, Solomon's Jar did not suck me in the way Destiny, the first book in the Rogue Angel series did.  I got about 50% of the way through, and really couldn't quite suss out the plot of this one.  The book mostly seemed focused on Annja getting into street fights all over the world; Peru, Amsterdam, England, Jerusalem, and I really have no idea why people were trying to kill her.  I'm all for some good fights, but I at least want to understand what's behind them.  She also spent some time in the French Riviera and in New York.  All the globetrotting just confused me and kept me from connecting with this book.