Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Three Serviceable Audio Books

During exams I race through audiobooks and make zero progress on reading anything but my casebooks. Although I had a fairly condensed schedule this semester (only two exams, on the first and third days of the exam period), I still made it through five audio books in rapid succession. Two were quite good, and reviews are forthcoming as I compile my thoughts into something coherent. The other three were just fine. Not bad, but not worth deeper reviews.

Since I don't have many substantial thoughts on either, I'm collecting them here. Note that they have nothing in common beyond my reading them in succession.

"The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases " by Michael Capuzzo, narrated by Adam Grupper, audio published on October 10, 2010 by Simon & Schuster Audio

I discovered "The Murder Room" in the best possible way - a recommendation from a fellow book lover. Waiting in line for the restroom at a Barnes & Noble, I began chatting with another woman about the books we were each holding, and somehow that conversation resulted in an emphatic recommendation of the book. The non-fiction true crime book discusses the creation and successes of the Vidocq Society, a group of top criminal investigators from around the world who gather regularly to discuss, and attempt to solve, the coldest cases. The book discusses many of the group's cases alongside the stories of its founders and a very interesting discussion of the development of criminal profiling and other investigative techniques. While the content was intriguing, the formatting wasn't ideal for audio. The book jumps back and forth between cases in a way that made it difficult to recall which case was being discussed at any given time. Maybe the structure is clearer in print, but that combined with the narrator's slight tendency toward the sinister at what felt like odd moments made this book just average for me.

Verdict: Jury's out. Fans of true crime and mysteries should definitely look into it, but others probably won't be interested.

"The Wishing Spell" written and narrated by Chris Colfer, audio published on July 17, 2012 by Hachette Audio

In addition to sticking to audio, I also take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on my middle grade TBR list, since the simpler plots are easier to pick up and put down in between cases. I had been intrigued by the premise of Chris Colfer's book, the first in a series. Two twins find themselves transported into the Land of Stories via a book of fairy tales given to them by their grandmother after their father's death. In the Land of Stories they meet many of the characters from their favorite fairy tales while trying to gather the ingredients to a spell that will take them home. I wanted to like the book - I love new takes on fairy tales. But this was a bit too simple, the similes both too plentiful and too obvious, and the plot line a bit predictable. What's more, the siblings didn't seem to have significant differences in their personalities beyond Connor's being "bad" at school and Alex being "good" at school. Colfer's narration was fine, if a bit over-acted at times. Nothing too distracting though, and kids will probably appreciate the different voices he uses for each character.

Verdict: Jury's Out. Kids who haven't read deeply into fairy tale re-tellings yet will find a lot that's entertaining here, but there isn't anything that makes this stand out for adults. There's nothing bringing me back for the other two that have already been released.

"Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)" by Christian Rudder, audio published on September 9, 2014 by Random House Audio

I had wanted to review this for Muckraker, but upon finishing I just didn't have enough to say about it. One of the founders of OkCupid digs into data collected through social media sources and explains what can be discovered through such massive data collection. Sites we thoughtlessly use every day are collecting huge piles of information about us. Rudder argues that this data has untapped potential for exploring how people really behave and what motivates them, while adequately acknowledging the limitations of this data. I was particularly inspired by his chapter on how Twitter may actually be improving the use of language, rather than destroying our ability to communicate. The only big BUT is that a lot of these studies were released before the book's released or during the promotion. If you follow sociology and psychology news (even just through io9), a lot of this will be studies you've already read.

Verdict: Affirmed if the topic is interesting to you. Bonus points for a book that translates charts, graphs, and tables into audio descriptions very well.

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