Give It a Listen: Our Favorite Audiobook Narrators

Both of us like to listen to some of our books as audiobooks. And as any fan of this format of reading knows, the narrator really makes or breaks the story. There have been ok-ish books that have been greatly aided by the clever performance of a great reader. And then other quality books that have felt bogged down by a narrator who just doesn’t seem to quite fit with the story they’re trying to tell. Throughout the years, we’ve each identified some clear favorites, and so that’s what we’re bring you today!

Serena’s Picks:

Barbara Rosenblat

Barbara Rosenblat has been a long time favorite of mine. She’s pretty much a long time favorite of most audiobook readers and is one of the more sought after narrators out there, especially due to her wide range of accents that the can seemingly effortlessly apply to any work. I first came across in a read of one of Kathy Reichs “Temperance Brennan” series. I’ve read those on and off, but have always enjoyed them more in audiobook format as Rosenblat’s superb narration can add some flare to some criminal mystery elements that could be a bit dry for my usual mystery reading preferences. The other obvious favorite read by Rosenblat is the “Amelia Peabody” series. I read the first several as print books before, due to lack of availability at the library of the next one in print, I looked up the audiobook version on a whim and discovered Rosenblat narrated these, too! That sealed the deal. Even if I had to go back to reading a print version of this series, I don’t think I could do it without hearing Rosenblat’s pitch perfect rendition of Amelia Peabody’s voice. This series, character, and narrator is the perfect blend that comes from many great things coming together to make something that is,together, beyond reproach.

Tim Gerard Reynolds

Tim Gerard Reynolds is also a well-known, much-awarded audiobook narrator. And as he narrates a bunch of fantasy and sci-fi titles, I’ve run across him a number of times. There is an added challenge when narrating fantasy/sci-fi titles in that many of these works include completely fictionalized words, names, peoples, and worlds. This leaves a lot of creative interpretation at the hands of the narrator. Obviously, the author knows how certain words should be pronounced, but many readers are left to their own devices to succeed, or not succeed, in matching these expectations when reading from a print book. As an audiobook, readers fully experience the world and these words as they’re meant to be presented. On top of that, there is a lot of room for creativity in the voice work of characters who are from worlds and cultures that don’t exist. Reynolds is an expert at all of these things, making the most extreme fantasy setting and people jump off the page, seemingly fully formed and as common place in their idioms and voices as anyone on our good, ole, normal Earth. Each character has a distinct voice, and I’m particularly pleased with the way he interprets women’s voices. The “Age of Myth” and its fellow books have a huge cast of female characters, and Reynolds provides an excellent voice for them all, never falling into any of the pitfalls that can occur when trying to narrate for the opposite gender. He’s also excellent with action, and I particularly enjoy his work in the “Red Rising” series, a group of books full of intense, sci-fi actions scenes.

Simon Vance

Simon Vance is an audiobook narrator whom I had actually forgotten I enjoyed so much until I ran across him again in my read of Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series. I’ve read a lot of Guy Gavriel Kay in my day, many of them audiobooks. And while I remember particularly enjoying them as audiobooks, it’s been years since I’ve listened to one, so couldn’t remember who narrated them specifically. But when I started listening to the first “Temeraire” book, “His Majesty’s Dragon,” it all came back with the first sound of Vance, clear, melodious British voice. While many of Gavriel Kay’s books are fantasy, they also have a feeling of a historical fiction work. And obviously, so too with the “Temeraire” series. Vance voice perfectly bridges these two genres, in a sense grounding the more fantastical elements of a story into a world that feels believable as set in our own world. Novik’s sotry is one of dragons fighting during the Napoleonic Wars. Nothing could sound more far-fetched. But with her own brilliant world-building, paired with Vance’s smooth, proper voice, it suddenly feels completely believable that a gentleman would go to war on the back of a massive dragon. Now that I’ve rediscovered his voice work, I’m eager to dive back into several of Gavriel Kay’s books that I’ve been meaning to get to, all, of course, narrated by Vance.

Kate’s Picks:

Santino Fontana

Some people will always see Santino Fontana as his various Broadway characters. Others will always see him as Prince Hans in the Disney movie “Frozen”. For me, Fontana is always, ALWAYS going to be the voice of Joe Goldberg in Caroline Kepnes’s “You” books. Fontana brings the creepy and yet hilarious Joe to life through his dark and yet endearing performance, capturing all angles of one of my favorite literary villains, and characters, of all time. His delivery is versatile for the characters in the books, and his timing is spot on, finding the proper beats to build suspense and find the humor. “You” and “Hidden Bodies” are my go to audiobooks when I need something familiar and comforting(?) to listen to, and while part of that is the narrative, the other part is Fontana. Fontana is not only an avid voiceover artist, he’s recently won a Tony for his leading performance in Broadway’s “Tootsie”, and he is going to be the audiobook narrator for Stephen King’s upcoming “The Institute”! So, that may have to be an audiobook read for me as well!

Will Patton

I first heard Will Patton perform an audiobook when I checked out “Doctor Sleep”. My main points of reference for him were movies like “Remember the Titans” and “The Mothman Prophecies” (and many, many more), but didn’t know what to expect from him doing an audiobook. But my goodness, he completely blew my mind. Patton’s strengths are that he knows how to completely transform his tone, cadence, and vocalizations for each and every character, and not only does he modify his voice when they are talking, he also does so for the entire section that is focusing on said character. Whenever I find out that he is going to be doing the voice work on an audiobook I’ve checked out, I get that much more excited for it. He emotes perfectly, and I have to say that his interpretation of Rose the Hat in “Doctor Sleep” is still one of my favorite performances from an audiobook, bar none. His versatility is on display when he’s an audiobook narrator, and if you find yourself with something read by him, get hyped.

Anika Noni Rose

This is an example of how a not so positive reading experience can be transformed by the person who is reading it. I tried to read a print copy of “Shadowshaper” by Daniel José Older, but just couldn’t get into it. My pickiness about fantasy strikes again. But one day I was looking at the books that were available for audio download, and saw that “Shadowshaper” was narrated by Anika Noni Rose. Given that I really like Rose, thanks to her turns in “Dreamgirls”, “The Princess and the Frog”, and “Everything, Everything”, I was intrigued to see how that would go. I was so happy with her performance, I listened to the entirety of “Shadowshaper” and am planning on going into “Shadowhouse Fall” as well. Rose has always been an expressive actress, and not only do we get her personality on the page, in “Shadowshaper” we get to hear her stellar singing voice. I truly believe that I wouldn’t have enjoyed “Shadowshaper” had it not been for her, and it just goes to show that sometimes what you need to enjoy a novel is a different reading medium.

Do you guys have any favorite audiobook narrators? Let us know who they are in the comments!

You’ve Got a Friend in Books: A “Toy Story” Book List

It’s been a while since we’ve done a book list based on a cast of characters (we’ve done “Game of Thrones” and “Avengers” in the past). And while the  “Avengers” has added a whole new lists’ worth of new character in the year since our last post and we’re still mad at “Game of Thrones” #neverforget #neverforgive, there is also another beloved ensemble-based movie in theaters currently: “Toy Story 4.”  So, here are a few books that we’ve paired up with some of our favorite characters from “Toy Story!”

Woody: “The Alloy of Law” by Brandon Sanderson

This book is a fantasy western, but there are many points about it that align well with Woody’s character. For one thing, the main character, Wax, isn’t a cowboy in the “lone ranger” sense, and neither is Woody. Each of them serves as the central core of a larger group of loyal friends who help in their adventures. But both Woody and Wax are still the heart of it all. They also each serve the law, and Wax is often tasked with tracking down criminals and is a stridently honorable person, much like Woody. They are also both of a more serious bent and rely on their companions to bring a bit of levity to their lives, which Wax finds in his fast-talking companion, Wayne.

 Buzz: “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” by Col. Chris Hadfield

The title kind of says it all. While Buzz has come to embrace his life as a toy, there was a time when he believed himself to be a real astronaut who had faced the numerous challenges of life in space. From this mindset, he has had to learn how to be a toy who lives her eon earth. This semi-autobiographical book is a collection of insights that Col. Chris Hadfield gathered from his time working as an astronaut. Like Buzz, he often offers insights into regular life as seen through the lens of some one who has traveled through the stars.

Bo Peep: “Emily of New Moon” by L. M. Montgomery

It looks like Bo Peep plays an important role in the new movie, but as neither of us has seen it yet, we’re basing this pick on what we know of Bo Peep from the first two movies. “Anne of Green Gables” is by far the more famous of these two series, but Emily has a lot of similarities with Bo Peep. They are both clever, but often in a more quiet way. And they are quick to win over the hearts of those around them. They are both quiet characters who through perseverance and faith in themselves and their friends make their way steadily through life.

 

Jessie: “Rapunzel’s Revenge” by Shannon Hale

Jessie is the spunky and emotional cowgirl in the group, and she doesn’t let a bad situation get her down (too much). And because of this, I think that she would really like the Shannon Hale graphic novel “Rapunzel’s Revenge”! Not only does it have a brave and tenacious heroine, it takes place in the wild west! This Rapunzel story involves a red haired cowgirl version of Rapunzel, who escapes her tower on her own and decides to run around the wild west, helping the helpless and doing good deeds. She even has a trusty partner in Jack, and who could be seen as just as good a partner as Woody is to her in their adventure stories!

Rex: “Dinosaur Planet” by Anne McCaffrey

Rex is the kindhearted (and somewhat neurotic) T-Rex toy who is always nervous about the situations he and his fellow toys get into. We also know, thanks to “Toy Story 2”, that he has a soft spot for Science Fiction lore and games, as he loved playing the Buzz Lightyear Video Game in his down time! So we think that he would LOVE “Dinosaur Planet” by Anne McCaffrey. Not only does it have dinosaurs, it takes place IN SPACE! When a crew of technicians to take data of living things on a distant planet, they find themselves stranded amongst dinosaurs on an unfamiliar world. And not all of them are as nice as Rex. While this book might stress him out a bit, it would probably capture Rex’s imagination as well!

The Pizza Planet Aliens: “Zealot: A Book About Cults” by Jo Thornely

So perhaps this is less a book that would be a good fit, and more a book that should be read for the readers’ own good. The Pizza Planet Aliens are very sweet and agreeable characters, but let’s be frank: when Woody and Buzz met them they were worshiping a giant Claw that would ‘choose’ them for a new existence. They are rather susceptible to suggestion! “Zealot” is a book by the podcaster Jo Thornely, who is able to tell you all you need to know about infamous cults and their leaders/followers. While this book only covers a few of the craziest (and a lot of times saddest) cults, it is sure to give the reader a lot of insight into cult behavior…. And our green friends need a wake up call.

There are so many other characters that we haven’t touched upon. What books would you recommend to those characters, or the ones that we covered? Tell us in the comments!!

On The Lakeshore: Books To Read By The Lake

20190629_152630So a couple weekends ago we took a trip up to Duluth, Minnesota, a lakeshore city on the banks of Lake Superior. Summer on the North Shore is a lovely getaway, and we did some shopping, looked at the lake, visited a museum about the boats on the lake, and, big surprise, took a look at the local book selections that the town had to offer. So we thought that it would be fun to make a list of books that have to do with lakes. And if you ever have the chance to go to Duluth or the North Shore of Minnesota, we can’t recommend it enough.

175828Book: “Iron Lake” by William Kent Krueger

Publishing Info: Pocket Star, May 1999

Heck, let’s just start this list off with a book that takes place in Northern Minnesota! This is the first book in the Cork O’Connor series, stories that follow a small town sheriff who lives in the North Woods. When a local judge is found murdered in a particularly violent way, it happens to coincide with a boy who goes missing. When Cork investigates, he stumbles upon a conspiracy and a secret that his small town of Iron Lake appears to be desperate to keep under wraps. On top of that, there are still issues between him and his ex wife that are starting to bubble over. “Iron Lake” is the start to a long running and suspenseful series, and the setting is almost a character on its own!

105742._sy475_Book: “The Loch” by Steve Alten

Publishing Info: Tsunami Books, April 2006

A bit of a tonal shift here, but yes, we are going into fantasy horror territory with “The Loch”. Steve Alten wrote the notorious “Meg” series, which pits researchers against a megalodon that swims out of the Mariana Trench, and this time he tackles The Loch Ness Monster. When disgraced marine biologist Zachary Wallace gets word that his father is on trial for murder back in Scotland, he returns home to support him in spite of their estranged relationship. His father claims that he is innocent, and that it was the Loch Ness Monster that killed the victim. When the British tabloids eat this claim up, Zachary has to consider the fact that not only is it true, but that perhaps he too has a history with a similar monster… Campy, over the top, and fun, “The Loch” leans in to the story of Nessie, and brings in larger themes like courtroom drama and familial strife.

35463752Book: “Lake Silence” by Anne Bishop

Publishing Info: Ace, March 2018

Set in the same world as Bishop’s “Others” series (all of which Serena has read), comes a new entry feature a new cast of characters at its heart. In this fantasy world, powerful magical beings rule much of the land and all of the water, with humans only their tolerated guests. Trying to escape her mess of a life, Vicki finds herself in one of the towns that is completely run by the Others. But instead of peace and quiet, she finds herself caught up in a murder mystery where she is the prime suspect. Now she and her new friends must work to uncover the real killer, one whom she suspects must not be human themselves.

39678996._sy475_Book: “Cursed” by Thomas Wheeler and illustrated by Frank Miller

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 2019

Given the publishing date is still in the future, neither of us have read this book. But it definitely sounds intriguing (and good enough that Netflix is already producing a series to come out next spring.) The story is marketed as a retelling of the story of King Arthur but from the perspective of Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, who has been tasked with bringing together a famous sword and a would-be-king. The novel also features illustrations by Frank Miller, so that’s one more mark in its favor.

39973246Book: “The Woman in the Lake” by Nicola Cornick

Publishing Info: Graydon House, February 2019

Serena very much enjoyed Cornick’s “The Phantom Tree,” and this story seems to be dipping into the same formula: part historical novel, part time-travel fantasy story. In 1765, a beautiful golden dress, tossed away to help erase the traumatic events of one night, re-appears on the body of a young woman floating in a lake. Two-hundred and fifty years in the future, another woman becomes enamored by a beautiful dress with a mysterious past. As the two stories slowly unwind, each woman’s past and future become more and more clear, connected in unexpected ways.

13590708Book: “The Lighthouse Road” by Peter Geye

Publishing Info: Unbridled Books, October 2012

For our final selection we’re going back to Northern Minnesota, and picking a historical fiction family epic. In the 1890s an immigrant woman finds herself alone in a new country when she settles outside of Duluth, Minnesota, and then in the 1920s her now adult son finds love with an emotionally closed off woman. As mother and son learn about home and identity in two different times, the past continues to haunt the both of them. “The Lighthouse Road” is an emotional and bittersweet read about how we are shaped by our circumstances and questions if we can break away from our expectations we have for ourselves.

Do you guys have any recommended reads about lakes? Let us know in the comments!! 

Beach Reads: Summer 2019

Back for 2019, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

68427Fantasy Title: “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson

As well as right lengthy fantasy epics, Brandon Sanderson also has a few excellent standalone works. This is one of his earlier writings, and the book that really solidified him as a favorite author for me. Off the back of the “Mistborn” trilogy, I wasn’t sure whether Sanderson was the real deal, or whether that series had been lightening in a bottle. But “Elantris” is marvelous all on its own. It proves that you can still include detailed world-building, complicated magical systems, and fully fleshed out characters all in one, stand alone fantasy series. It tells the tale of the magical city of “Elantris,” once a wonder of the world, now a ruin, haunted by those infected by an incurable disease that comes on suddenly and dooms its carriers to a short life of exile. Princess Sarene and Prince Raoden are both fun characters to follow, but the slowly-revealed mystery behind the doom of Elantris is the real draw of this story.

15743440Science Fiction Title: “The Best of All Possible Worlds” by Karen Lord

Honestly, I had forgotten all about this title until I was researching options for this list. But once I rediscovered it on my Goodreads “read” shelf, I immediately remember how much I enjoyed it and now want to nab a copy to re-read. The story is a bizarre mix of an anthropologic travelogue and the answer to the oft-asked fanficttion question “What would a romance really look like between a Vulcan and a human?” Of course, they aren’t actual Vulcans in this book, but with the same cerebral, cool demeanor, they are as close as you can get. Pair one of them with a fiery, human scientist and have them travel around discovery the answers to mysteries and slowly falling in love, and you’ve got a story!

28588390Mystery Title: “A Study in Scarlet Women” by Sherry Thomas

It’s pretty hard to find stand-alone mysteries. But like many mystery series, the individual books in the “Lady Sherlock” series can be read on their own, as well. As the series name implies, this is another re-telling of Sherlock Holmes where the titular character is recast as a woman. But what stands out about this version of the story is how little changed the character is other than her gender. Charlotte Holmes has all of the original character’s brilliance, but also many of his same flaws, like a lack of concern for social decorum and a tendency to put her case before others. But she also has unique aspects as well that take readers who know the original character well by surprise. Supporting characters are also a delightful mix of familiar and new traits and the mystery is complicated and intriguing.

399395Historical Fiction Title: “Enemy Women” by Paulette Jiles

I read this book a few years ago, and it’s really stuck with me ever since. Looking through my reading lists, I find that I typically read about a very narrow period of time and place, Regency and Victorian England. Many historical mysteries or fantasy historical fiction will be set in these times. But this book explored a completely unfamiliar time period and place for me: the South during the Civil War. It tells the story of Adair Colley, a young woman from a family that has tried to protect itself in Missouri by keeping a neutral stance. When this falls through and Adair finds herself in a prison for enemy women, she must call on her own strength to make it back home. The writing in this book is truly unique, and while it took a bit to get used to, the lyrical prose eventually won me completely over. This well-researched historical fiction title is definitely worth checking out.

Kate’s Picks

28111713Horror Title: “The Long Walk” by Richard Bachman

It isn’t that much of a secret now, but Richard Bachman is the pseudonym for Stephen King when he wanted to write darker(!), less horror oriented works. Eventually he was outed as one and the same, but not before he wrote one of his great masterpieces, “The Long Walk”. Which is still VERY much a horror novel in spite of the pen name. In the near future in a dystopic United States, every year teenage boys can sign up for a walking and endurance test called The Walk. The last person standing at the end is promised fame and fortune, and security in an economically unstable world. You get three times to break the rules. After the third, well… there can only be one standing at the end. This is one of my all time favorite Stephen King stories, as the suspense is relentless, the consequences devastating, and the pacing completely addicting. Think “The Hunger Games” but even darker and with less hope. King/Bachman also continues to capture the spirit of youth, friendship, and adolescent angst, even in the hellscape that is The Walk. You won’t be able to put it down, even if it makes you feel sick by the end.

23492630Thriller Title: “You” by Caroline Kepnes

I reviewed “You” way back around the time this blog was first created, and as time has gone on it has become one of my favorite novels thanks to rumination and multiple re-reads. And given that the Netflix show exploded in popularity, I feel the need to promote it again as the perfect read to take to the beach, pool, park, or wherever during the summer months. Joe is a quiet bookseller in New York City, and his life is changed the day that Guinevere Beck walks into his shop. Joe immediately becomes obsessed with her, and starts to plot ways to insert himself into her life. Through any means necessary. Both a creepy stalker tale and an exploration of dark humor in regards to Millennial ennui (as a Millennial I can say this!), “You” is hard to read and yet hard to put down. Joe Goldberg is a narrator you love to hate, but then the same can be said for Beck and just about everyone in this story. If you liked the show on Netflix, you definitely need to read the book!

24727094Graphic Novel Title: “Honor Girl: A Memoir” by Maggie Thrash

While this takes place at a summer camp, that isn’t the only reason that I put it on the list of Beach Reads! I remember devouring “Honor Girl” when I first read it. When Maggie Thrash was a teenager she attended an all girls summer camp in the Appalachian mountains. Thrash was living a fairly typical life, enjoying pop music, feeling awkward at times, and growing up in Atlanta. But during the summer that she was fifteen Thrash realized that she had a deep attraction to one of the counselors named Erin, and thus began a summer of exploration of identity, sexuality, and what love is and can be, even if those around you don’t understand. “Honor Girl” is a relatable and at times bittersweet story about first love, fitting in, and the heartbreak that can come with both. Plus, so many references to The Backstreet Boys!!

16213Non-Fiction Title: “The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus” by Richard Preston

So I don’t put this on the list to scare you guys, even if it IS a pretty scary novel. I put “The Hot Zone” on the list because even though it is a non-fiction book, it reads like a thriller novel that will not let you go until you have read every last page. While Ebola is usually associated with far off countries in Africa, in 1989 a research lab in Virginia has to contend with the possibility that it has shown up in their research monkeys. Suddenly it becomes a race against time and potentially nature as military personnel and scientists alike try to get a hand on what is going on, and if they do, indeed, have a potential outbreak of a ‘hot’ case of Ebola on American soil. Along with the deeply upsetting scenario playing out in the lab, this book also looks at the history and the viruology of Ebola and other hemorrhagic viruses, which gives a context that is not only fascinating but all the more scary. True, it may make you incredibly paranoid about the preparedness our government and scientists have when faced with a deadly outbreak, but it will also keep you interested.

What books are you going to take to the beach, pool, or wherever this summer? Let us know in the comments!

Say NO! to Snow: Books To Bring Back Spring Feelings

Well we know that we live in Minnesota, but honestly, it’s hard not to be discouraged when a giant snowstorm comes through your state and dumps a lot of slushy, cold, and somehow brown snow on your head in the middle of April. Because of this frustrating turn of events, here are some book titles that will hopefully remind the winter doldrums that Spring is supposed to be here.

2998Book: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Publishing Info: William Heinemann, 1911

Because what says Spring more than a garden filled with flowers? That isn’t to say that the garden in this novel started out that way, at least when first introduced. But when headstrong orphan Mary Lennox arrives on her uncle’s estate and finds him to be isolated and her wheelchair bound cousin tucked away, she soon discovers a long forgotten garden that becomes a symbol of imagination and hope. This classic has endured in the century since it was first published, and has become a well loved tale of family, love, and not giving up on the kindness of those around you. The regrowth and rebirth of the garden is the perfect image to say goodbye to winter.

16143347Book: “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart

Publishing Info: Delacourte Press, 2014

Though this technically takes place in summer, any warm weather is looking good at this point. If you like the sound of a summer beach home right now, and are looking for a YA thriller with a lot of twists and turns, “We Were Liars” could be a good escape from the lingering cold. Cadence Eastman is a wealthy and privileged teenage girl whose family has gone to their summer estate on an island every year. But during her fifteenth summer something happened to Cadence that she can’t remember. As she tries to adjust to being back on the island and fall back into routines with her friend group called The Liars, including cousins Mirren and Johnny, and family friend Gat. But it seems like everyone may be hiding something from her. And Cadence wants to find out the truth of what happened, and hopes that she and her fellow “Liars” can help her remember.

11504610Book: “Hades: Lord of the Dead” (Olympians #4) by George O’Connor

Publishing Info: First Second, 2012

It may be called “Hades: Lord of the Dead”, but this children’s graphic novel is really about Persephone and her journey to the Underworld to be Hades wife. This is an adaptation of the tale of Persephone, who was taken to the Underworld to become Hades wife, and her absence left her (domineering) mother Demeter so distraught she brought eternal winter. The deal made between Persephone and her mother eventually led to the explanation for the change of the seasons, as when Persephone returns to her mother’s side, Spring arrive. While some people don’t like the Persephone and Hades romance, at it’s heart it’s a story about change, transition, and growing up, and O’Connor does a good job of giving Persephone, the goddess of Spring and also the Queen of the Underworld, some agency in her story.

27333Book: “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin, 1962

A bit of a downer to put on this list, but still far too relevant to ignore, “Silent Spring” is the legendary environmentalist book that opened people’s eyes about the consequences of pollution. Rachel Carson wrote this book as a warning to America about what chemicals in our environment can do, and because of it many reforms were passed to help ease the damage that corporate interests were doing to the world around us. It also helped lead the charge in developing the EPA. One of the things that people associate with spring is the sound of the bird songs that happen after our avian friends have returned from a long winter away, and the title alone gives a chilling idea as to what it would mean if the birds, thanks to DDT and other pollutants, were no longer around to listen to. Given that there are more concerns about environmental issues being raised and the consequences of pollution on our world, “Silent Spring” is still an important read.

What books get you in the mood for Spring? Let us know in the comments!

Happy Birthday Batman!: Essential Batman Reading For His Birthday

On March 30th, 1939, “Detective Comics” introduced the world to Batman, the Caped Crusader known for fighting petting criminals and mental patients so that Gotham City would be a safer place! We kid, we kid (kinda). We’re both Batman fans here (though Serena is decidedly #TeamSupes when it comes down to it). Since it’s the brooding billionaire’s birthday this year, here are some essential takes on Batman through the decades. Happy 80th, Batman!

19030845Book/Arc: “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller

The 1980s was a serious shift for comics, with titles taking on darker and more existential story lines. One of those seminal comics series was Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”, which brings a middle aged Bruce Wayne to it’s pages. Gotham is being overrun by a gang called The Mutants, and Bruce Wayne decides that it’s time to bring Batman back to try and get some justice. But age and time has taken it’s toll, and Bruce isn’t certain he can do this alone. Especially when old foes start to come out of the woodwork, and have decided to take this moment to wreak as much havoc as possible. But it’s when Superman is enlisted to fight back against Batman as ordered by the Government that things take a real turn for the dramatic. Miller’s story is a favorite with many fans, and it brings darkness that hadn’t really been seen with Batman up until this point. While it isn’t one of Kate’s favorites, it’s hard to deny the impact that this story had for Batman in the years to come.

96358Book/Arc: “The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (Ill.)

A controversial title to say the very least, Alan Moore wrote this essential, dark as night one shot story that changed the course of a few of the Batman characters in significant ways. The Joker is up to his old tricks, and this time he decides to hit Batman where it really hurts: by hurting his friends. Yep, this is the story where Barbara Gordon is shot in the spine and then, potentially, sexually assaulted. It is absolutely a rough read (and so on brand for Moore, who is one of Kate’s problematic faves in the comics biz), but it did so much for Batman stories from then on out that it has to be included. It gave Joker his most accepted back story that influenced Tim Burton’s “Batman”. It gave us Oracle, the superhero Barbara turned into after she was paralyzed, who became arguably the most powerful of the Bat Family because of her hacking and information skills. “The Killing Joke” has its detractors, and rightfully so. But its influence is indisputable.

106069Book/Arc: “The Long Halloween” by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (Ill.)

While many people think of the deranged super villains that Batman fights, sometimes we forget that he also has helped take down organized crime syndicates in Gotham. The Falcone and Maroni Families takes a prominent role in “The Long Halloween”, a collection where Batman has to try to stop a mob war all while trying to figure out who is killing people on each holiday of the year. Not only do the crime families and their intricacies get a big slice of the plot pie, this is also the collection that give Harvey Dent his most complex and accepted back story as he goes from idealistic district attorney to crazed criminal. It should also be noted that this is a story arc that gives Bruce and his lady love Selina “Catwoman” Kyle a fairly functional relationship! Well, as functional as the two star crossed lovers can be, anyway. And keep an eye out for a whole slew of enemies like Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and, of course, The Joker.

51078Book/Arc: “Knightfall” by Chuck Dixon, Jo Duffy, Alan Grant, Dennis O’Neil, and Doug Moench

Bane gets no respect when it comes to his movie counterparts. In “Batman and Robin” he was a weird street punk turned feral roided out monster, and in “The Dark Knight Rises” he is relegated to a crony role to Talia Al Ghul of all people! Is that any way to treat The Man Who Broke The Bat? “Knightfall” is the story line that introduced Bane as the first adversary who could not only intimidate Batman, but to put him out of commission when he broke his back on his knee (which “The Dark Knight Rises”, admittedly, adapted properly). Bane is a super genius as well as being suped up on Venom, a man who was born in a prison and had to serve the time his parents had racked up. He is a formidable foe to be sure, and to take down Batman and put him on the sidelines for an extended period of time? THAT is impressive.

107032Book/Arc: “A Death in the Family” by Jim Starlin and Marv Wolfman (Ill.)

We tend to think of Batman as someone who always comes out on top. But there was one time that when he failed, it was the worst failure he could have made. And that was when he couldn’t prevent the death of Jason Todd, aka Robin. Jason Todd was always a controversial figure in the comics; he was the second Robin, and a very different character from Dick Grayson, whose shoes were already VERY big to fill. The fans didn’t care for him, and when the creators gave the fans the chance to vote on whether he lived or died, he was given a resounding death sentence. Unfair? Perhaps. But it was one of the most powerful stories because Batman was bested when the stakes were at their highest. This storyline has been alluded to, if not directly addressed, in newer iterations of Batman mythos, and while they tried to replicate it with “Death of the Family” (and the death of Bruce’s son Damian), the initial power and gut punch of “A Death in the Family” will probably never be replicated.

39018271Book/Arc: “The Court of Owls” by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (Ill.)

The New 52 was the expansive reboot series DC did in the 2010s, and The Court of Owls is arguably the best story line to come from this era of Batman comics. It’s a little more secretive and clandestine than other Batman villains. Usually the villain is apparent and in our face. But with the Court of Owls, very little is known about the Illuminati-esque secret society that may be pulling the strings in Gotham City. Even Batman goes in with very little information, and can’t rely on his vast (and sometimes SUPER convenient) knowledge when facing off with these foes. It’s nice to see Bats at a disadvantage every once in awhile, and The Court of Owls puts him at a vast one.

What Batman stories are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

 

St. Patrick’s Day/Irish Themed Books!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The day everyone wears green and likes to claim some loose, loose connection to Ireland to justify a night out on the town. We here at The Library Ladies like to use any/all holidays for a completely different purpose: as a loose, loose excuse to create random, themed booklists. So here are a few books that have some (remember “loose”) connection to Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day!

13928Book: “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tom Doherty Associates, February 2002

Juliet Marillier is one of my (Serena’s) favorite authors. Her writing flows off the page in a beautiful, lyrical style, often combined with a fairytale-like feel. She often has a whole host of books that are set in a historical, fantasy-based version of Ireland. I could make an entire list on this theme all written by her. But my favorite of her works is still her first story, “Daughter of the Forest” that is a re-telling of the “Seven Swans” fairytale. I consider it the definitive version of this fairytale, even, that’s how good it is. Throughout the story, we see how important Sorcha’s homeland is to her identity and the beautiful descriptions of its deep forests and quiet lakes is simply one more reason to check out this fantastic tale.

249747Book: “Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, April 2003

Just in time for the growing hype about the movie version of this beloved middle grade book, “Artemis Fowl” is also a perfect fit for this list given the location of Fowl Manor on the outskirts of Dublin. Not to mention the host of fairies who live below ground and work for the LEPrecon Unit. Artemis Fowl himself is a 12-year old genius who gets on the wrong side of said fairies when he takes one of them hostage in a ploy to regain his family’s lost wealth. He’s the kind of precocious protagonist who manages to be both frustrating and root-for-worthy at the same time. If you somehow missed this one, best check it out now before the movie hits screens! There are also a bunch more in the series, so you could potentially have quite a reading list on your hands.

300932Book: “Lion of Ireland” by Morgan Llywelyn

Publishing Info: Forge, March 2002

This is a historical fiction novel that attempts to novelize the story of Brian Boru, a 12th son who grew up to be one of the greatest king’s of Ireland. In many ways, his is also thought to be a story that lay behind the legend of King Arthur. Set in the 19th century and drawing from the scant information that is known about the man himself, Llywelyn attempts to novelize the life Brian, documenting his rise to power and his ability to gain the loyalty and love of a people. The story is long, but full of action and romance. Readers in the mood for a historical story that is at least partially based on a real-life person, look no further than “Lion of Ireland.”

873783Book: “The Hounds of The Morrigan” by Pat O’Shea

Publishing Info: Oxford University Press, 1985

When you take two siblings, a Goddess of Death, and some hell hounds with a tenacious streak, you get the fantasy book “The Hounds of The Morrigan”. This YA adventure is set in Galway, and takes Irish and Celtic mythology and brings it to the 1980s. When ten year old Pidge finds an old manuscript, he unwittingly releases the vicious serpent Olc-Glas. Now that Olc-Glas is free, he gains the attention of The Morrigan, the Irish goddess of death and destruction, and she wants to join forces with the snake to cause mass chaos. Pidge and his sister Brigit are the only ones who can find a magic stone that can destroy Olc-Glas and hopefully save the world, but The Morrigan has sent her Hell Hounds to hunt the siblings down. Taking classic mythology and giving it a 20th Century twist, “The Hounds of The Morrigan” is a fun adventure with an Irish twist!

7093952Book Series: “The Dublin Murder Squad Books” by Tana French (“In The Woods”, “The Likeness”, “Faithful Place”, “Broken Harbor”, “The Secret Place”, “The Trespasser”)

Publishing Info: Penguin Books, 2007-2016

Tana French is a name you probably know if you are a big mystery/crime procedural fan, and her most popular books are those in “The Dublin Murder Squad” Series. The first in the series, “In The Woods”, concerns a detective who suffered a childhood trauma that he hasn’t quite let go. When a new case involving a murdered girl happens in the same woods of his trauma, he has to try to keep his past at bay. The next book in the series follows another member of the Murder Squad, and the book after that follows another one, etcetera etcetera. The books have a devoted following, and the peripheral connections are fun to see within high tension and sometimes very upsetting mysteries.

15926229Book: “Making Sense of The Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland” by David McKittrick and David McVea

Publishing Info: Penguin, October 2001

During the latter part of the 20th Century, Northern Ireland was caught in a struggle between those who wanted Northern Ireland to stay with the U.K. and those who wanted Northern Ireland to join The Republic of Ireland, and while it wasn’t technically religious in nature it tended to split along Protestant and Catholic lines. The conflicts had many instances of violence, with bombings, kidnappings, riots, and targeted violence coming from both sides. It’s a complex and dark time in Irish history, and “Making Sense of The Troubles” is considered to be a comprehensive and even handed account of the decades long conflict. It’s a dark book to finish the list with, but given how The Troubles are still in living memory, it’s an important read nonetheless.

Do you have any favorite stories set in Ireland? Share yours with us in the comments below!