The Squickerwonkers isn't something I'd normally pick up and it only really came onto my radar after reading interviews with the author Evangeline LilThe Squickerwonkers isn't something I'd normally pick up and it only really came onto my radar after reading interviews with the author Evangeline Lilly (of Lost and Hobbit fame). I found myself interested in some of the things she was talking about and wanted to check out her writing, but still unsure about picking up a "children's book", especially when I never realised how expensive these sort of books are.
And then I saw the audiobook – narrated by Sylvester McCoy (of classic Doctor Who fame) – was available free on Audible, and thought I'd try it anyway.
Overall, the story is good and tight, perhaps a bit darker than what we'd normally expect to have been written for children. Not being someone who has much contact with children should mean my opinion of whether it's "too dark" for children or not should be taken with at least a grain of salt, but perhaps an entire salt shaker is more appropriate. That said, I don't think it's darker than say, Alice in Wonderland.
I believe Evangeline Lilly intends The Squickerwonkers to be the first of an 18-volume series, all focusing a different "squickerwonker". This, being the first volume, feels more like a teaser-slash-introduction to the world. I don't think it's necessarily a mistake that the first book is about setting up and introducing the world and the beings that populate it, but for someone who likes to a lot of meat in her reading material, I felt I'd had been given an appetiser and then told I'd get the entrée next year.
So I do wonder if the series would be better served if all 18 stories had been written and then published collectively in the one volume. Of course, this would likely mean that instead of 18 books all with sumptuous, full-colour illustrations (not available in audiobooks, alas), you'd get one book with a couple of black-and-white illustrations for each of the 18 stories. But at least you'd feel like you'd gotten the full story.
Or maybe that's just more appealing to my sensibilities as a reader. I just wanted to know more about this world and it was a little frustrating that there wasn't more to read.
Sylvester McCoy's narration is fantastic and suits the style of Lilly's book to a T. It's engaging and a little creepy and a little twisted. The various characters he voices all sound unique and are quite simply a joy to listen to and be amused by. The production behind the audiobook is lavish and again well-suited to the style. However, I found it a little distracting and found that sometimes I'd be listening to the sound instead of the words and that I was missing chunks of the story.
Overall, I found The Squickerwonkers to be a decent enough story – I enjoyed the brief glimpse of the world Lilly gave us and would definitely have a look at future instalments. I'm not convinced it's really my favourite thing to read, but it is interesting and this first book definitely whets the appetite for more. ...more
Sylvester is not the usual book I'd pick up. Regency romances don't usually appeal to me – too Austenesque for my liking (I had a traumatic experienceSylvester is not the usual book I'd pick up. Regency romances don't usually appeal to me – too Austenesque for my liking (I had a traumatic experience reading Emma in high school that was not only worsened by watching the movie adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow). But the appeal of listening to an audiobook narrated by actor Richard Armitage quickly outweighed the worries I had associated with the book.
As a quick disclaimer: this audiobook is the abridged version and I currently have no intention of seeking out an unabridged version to read it. So, while I might criticise an aspect of the book, the flaw might lie in the abridgement rather than the actual writing.
Sylvester tells the story of the relationship between the titular character – an aloof, confident duke – and Phoebe, an awkward young lady who has few prospects. Their families want them married, they find nothing inspiring in the other until they are forced to spend time together, trapped by bad weather, and are then thrust into a series of misadventures – chief of which is the publication of Phoebe's novel in which the villain is based on Sylvester.
I quite like the basis of the plot – that these two individuals would start off disliking each other, but learn to get along after being stranded. The idea suggested a somewhat cosy imagery for me, which was reinforced when I learnt that it was because of heavy snow they became stranded in a small inn, and I was a little disappointed that it was so quickly over. I do think there's a really nice story there – two people who don't like each other becoming stranded and not only learning to get along and survive, but also falling in love – but one that's probably been written before.
The writing style, though probably quite fitting for the subgenre and context it was written in, left me a little wary too – it seemed to rely too much on exposition to explain almost everything, breaking that old rule of "show, don't tell". I think I could have enjoyed it more if we got more insight into the characters' personalities and thoughts, rather than just being told baldly what they were feeling.
Additionally, I thought there was too much of a focus on Sylvester wronging Phoebe. While the novel does acknowledge Phoebe's mistakes and flaws, it is quick to excuse her from blame and instead casts the fault of all the misadventures on Sylvester. And yes, at times, Sylvester is at fault and there are times his behaviour could have been better, but at other times it smacked of victim blaming.
For example – Phoebe has written novel with a villain based on Sylvester – she wrote it before she knew him, and to her credit, attempts to change the novel before publication – but it is Sylvester's own fault for being cast as the villain because he wasn't warm and welcoming to Phoebe at first meeting (we later learn that he holds himself at a distance to everyone due to his grief over his twin brother's death). In another sequence, Sylvester airs his grievances to her over the book but when this provokes an upset and angry reaction from her and wrecks her reputation, it's Sylvester's fault for daring to be upset with her.
I just don't understand it.
I did like the characters of both Sylvester and Phoebe and part of my frustration with the writing style is that they were rich and complex characters, but the writing didn't really allow that complexity to come across.
The ending also felt a bit unsettling, leaving me questioning whether Phoebe really did love Sylvester or whether she was merely tolerating his affections for her. With what comes before, I believe she did love him but the ending made me doubt that. Additionally, with Heyer describing his actions as "mad" or "depraved", I felt very uneasy about the way the two characters are left, even though I believe this was meant to be humorous.
Actor Richard Armitage narrates the audiobook, and seemed to have been fully invested in bringing to life each and every one of the characters and the setting of Sylvester. Armitage is easily the best narrator I've heard in my (limited) experience of audiobooks. He provides each character with such a unique voice it is often easy to forget that it was Armitage voicing all the characters. Furthermore, Armitage is the only male narrator I've come across who doesn't fall into the trap of going for an obviously forced, high-pitched, breathy voice for the female characters. I wouldn't go so far to say that he makes you believe you're listening to a woman, but at the least he doesn't sound like he's a man putting on a feminine voice. It just feels natural.
Armitage's narration is most probably the real reason I enjoyed Sylvester as much as I did. I liked aspects of Heyer's work, but would have probably found the book – abridged or not – somewhat of a chore to get through. The story itself I'd probably rate 3 stars, but I can easily see it being lower if I'd actually read the book. With Armitage, Sylvester was nothing but a joy to listen to, however, and easily worth 4 stars. ...more
The third visual companion for Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, this volume provides background information on the final instalment, The Battle ofThe third visual companion for Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, this volume provides background information on the final instalment, The Battle of The Five Armies. Following the trend of Fisher's earlier visual companions for both Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, this is aimed at younger readers, the language and detail rather simple and uncomplicated. I'm enough of a fan to want to buy and read this book, but I would prefer a bit more complexity to what I'm reading. That said, this book will give the reader more background information than the films about the people, creatures, places and elements that make up The Hobbit, often using a mishmash of the films, Tolkien's writings and the back-stories developed for the films.
Additionally, this edition has a couple of typos which, while forgivable, is disappointing. ...more