The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Published: June 29th 2000 (print)/1st April, 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harcourt, Inc. /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 93/1 hours 59 minutes
Narrator: Humphrey Bower
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

It’s time for another installment of ‘This Classic Was Underwhelming, Why Do People Rave About It?’ I’ve given it a four but that is because it started out as a sweet story and I was open and willing to explore the universe with this little prince. I enjoyed the strange planets and the different people, and it was cute to follow the prince around the universe. Then it becomes heavy handed and weird. I was intrigued having never really heard about the plot, just that it was filled with inspirational quotes and filled with the allegory about life. I didn’t hate it, I was just underwhelmed.

I understood what de Saint-Exupéry was trying to do, but it didn’t grab me. I was interested in his approach and I managed to enjoy the story, but I got to the end and went ‘ok?’. So obviously I missed the grand impact that he was after. It’s not that I didn’t get it, I understand the big meaning of life that was being expressed but I didn’t care. The last part of the story ruined the magic of the first part, even though I know they were trying to tell the same story.

I’m glad I went with the audiobook because I think I might have disliked it more if I read it. Bower does a great job telling the story and even though I missed out on the pictures, it didn’t really impact on the story too much. Perhaps I wasn’t connected enough to the prince given his journey. Without that emotional attachment perhaps the impact of it was lost on me. At least I can say I’ve read it now.

You can purchase The Little Prince via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond QBD

 

The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

Published: 12 August 2015 (print)/12 August 2015 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Pan Macmillan Australia /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 384/2 Hours 13 mins
Narrator: Stig Wemyss
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Andy and Terry’s amazing 65-Storey Treehouse now has a pet-grooming salon, a birthday room where it’s always your birthday (even when it’s not), a room full of exploding eyeballs, a lollipop shop, a quicksand pit, an ant farm, a time machine and Tree-NN: a 24-hour-a-day TV news centre keeping you up to date with all the latest treehouse news, current events and gossip. Well, what are you waiting for? Come on up!

With a touch of Jack and the Beanstalk, time travel and the film Them! it’s a curious adventure Andy and Terry go on. Jill comes in with her logic and reason to bring the boys into line and solve their problems all of which combine to be a pretty normal day in the treehouse.

In this new adventure you learn new words, get to travel through history in a wheelie bin, albeit a smidge inaccurately, but it is fun. TreeNN is a fun addition as well, ending chapters with something different. I liked the break in formula in this one, no book talk, instead we need a building inspection from Inspector Bubblewrap. This prompts the time travel and all sorts of mishaps as they try to travel back 6.5 years and end up at all different points through history.

Admittedly, I couldn’t get into this story as easily as the others. I liked the diversion from the normal structure because that can be boring after a while. It was fun but not as engaging as the previous stories. I also got a visual copy in the end because while Wemyss has done a brilliant job in the past to compensate, I needed Denton’s illustrations this time to appreciate some of the jokes and references.

The Treehouse series continues to grow and change with each book and the creativity and inventiveness of Griffiths and Denton is amazing. The jokes are clever and the illustrations are so detailed that there is always something to discover in them. The two make a perfect team and while I didn’t love this storey as much as previous storeys, I look forward to seeing what the next storey in the treehouse has to offer.

You can purchase The 65-Storey Treehouse via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Angus and Robertson | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wordery | Publisher

The 39-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

Published: 1st September 2013 (print)/28th Sep 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Pan Macmillan Australia /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 352/2 hours 5 minutes
Narrator: Stig Wemyss
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Andy and Terry’s amazing treehouse has 13 new levels including a chocolate waterfall, a non-erupting active volcano, an opera house, a baby-dinosaur petting zoo, Andy and Terry’s Believe it or Else! museum, a not-very-merry merry-go-round, a boxing elephant called the Trunkinator, an X-Ray room, a disco with light-up dance floor, the world’s scariest roller-coaster and a top secret 39th level that hasn’t even been finished yet!

So what are you waiting for? Come on up!

One thing that can be said about the audiobook experience of the Treehouse series is that Stig Wemyss really enjoys his role as narrator, and with the freedom and challenge of engaging children in an audio book his enthusiasm is a great draw.

Despite this, I do think this would have been a good one to read rather than listen to, there sounds like there would be a great assortment of pictures based on what happens. That is to say it wasn’t still enjoyable. As before, audio prompts, music, and sound effects make this just as enjoyable, maybe even more so; though I do feel like Terry’s drawings are being neglected, considering how much he talks about drawing in the books.

With another 13 storeys added to the treehouse another adventure awaits. Andy tells us what new things they have added to the treehouse, each as exciting and improbably and delightful as the previous things. Andy and Terry once again have a book due but Terry has a solution he’s been working on which naturally causes mayhem.

Terry also got a spotlight moment and a reprieve from being the daft friend, his drawing skills become essential and his illustration skills are commended. There’re also songs in this story, some more poems than songs, but one definite song, which Wemyss has to sing which was…an experience. I’m also learning that there will always be a recap of the book within the book, but thankfully it’s a fast recap.

Griffiths certainly had worked out a rhythm with this series. It’s repetitive, cheeky, silly, and all the fun and gross (but not too gross) things that make kids laugh. Once you get used to the structure of these books they become quite enjoyable, no matter your age.

You can purchase The 39-Storey Treehouse via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Angus and Robertson | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wordery | Publisher

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Published: 16th August 2011 (print) / 5th April 2012 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Crown Publishers / Random House AudioBooks
Pages: 374 / 15 hrs and 40 mins
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Format:
 Paperback/Audio
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 

I loved this story. I loved that Wade was able to geek out about his love of videos games and it was a widely supported thing. I also loved how Cline brilliantly and so creatively managed to combine popular culture and video games with a futuristic dystopian setting while also making it feel so retro at the same time.

It was a good move on Cline’s part to establish that Wade was obsessed with all things 80s. It made sense in terms of Halliday and it helped include as many references as possible without needing to explain it to the readers too much. Knowing Wade is the kind of stickler for details and knowing so much, it also made sense to have so many references about every song that plays or game that’s mentioned. The moments of convenience where Wade knows what something is to tell us, the uninformed reader, doesn’t come across as unbelievable because it has been long proven that Wade knows obscure details and is proud of it.

The world and future Cline has created sounds both amazing, terrifying, and also pretty much believable. The detail he included is astounding because so often it doesn’t mean anything but it expands on the OASIS universe or real society just that little bit more. I loved that when Wade was logged into the OASIS you felt like you too were immersed inside the virtual reality and I could easily imagine every move he made inside the system. Cline’s writing explains the futuristic dystopian world wonderfully and creates a vivid image of that society is like at both ends and across the country and how it connects naturally with the OASIS system.

There is everything to love about this book if you like the 80s, or are a fan of videogames. The 80s references are abundant, and the joy in reliving movies and games from a less technological time is brilliant. It gave me a great appreciation of how far videos games have come, even if a few of them were fabricated the familiar concept was there; creating avatars, inventories and points, not to mention the solving of riddles and treasure hunts. The other retro joy was remembering arcade games and seeing familiar games in the spotlight again.

The 2045 setting allowed Cline to take from both worlds, not so far in the future that a focus and having believable knowledge and access to 20th century media wasn’t possible, but also far enough ahead that based on current technology and gaming trends, it is also highly believable that we could get to that stage with minds like Halliday at the helm.

There are a myriad of surprises in this book, you never know what to expect because you don’t know what kind of world Cline has created and when anything is possible inside virtual reality, anything is possible. What I found interesting was that I actually found this quite believable. I could see that if such a system existed that there would be those who would try and monetise it and make it more exclusive. I could also see that when there is a mass fortune on the line people can get desperate.

Cline’s imagination is astounding. He has created a world and a virtual world that brings together so many vast and obscure references that even though I knew only a few, I still loved that they were there. I had so much trust in him that these games and characters existed I didn’t even question it. This is just one of the reasons I loved this book. It is so clever, and the OASIS is such a fantastic world that the inside jokes and references make it a better experience, and the excitement Wade has as he hunts for the egg is shared by the reader. Well, this reader anyway.

It’s not just the references or the structure, the characters he has put into this world make all the difference as well. The development and understanding of online relationships is wonderful and I found myself wishing that such a system like OASIS existed because it sounds amazing. Wade’s online connections as Parzival with Art3mis, Aech, and all the other online avatars demonstrates a great community and allows Cline to show off more of this amazing OASIS that he has created and allows him to show more sides of its functions, away from just hunting for the egg.

I listened to both the audiobook and read the physical book. The audio was read by Wil Wheaton and he did a great job. It was especially more enjoyable because Wil himself is mentioned in the book as well as multiple Star Trek references.  I like to think that even if you didn’t like or play video games or even if you don’t like or understand a lot of the references you would still enjoy this book. It has mystery and suspense, and there are twists and turns and surprises that make it an engaging read. Like a video game there are battles and side quests, and there are levels that you must go through even if you don’t realise it when you read. An important part too is that Cline keeps the timeline realistic, understanding that with all puzzles there can be short bursts and long waits, and Cline fits his story into this mould perfectly.

I think I could go on about this book forever but I won’t. I urge you to read it if it’s something you think you would like, even if you don’t think you will give it a go. It’s an adventure and a mystery and it’s dystopia all in one.

You can purchase Ready Player One via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

QBD | Fishpond | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Angus & Robertson | Wordery

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Published: 14th March 2006 (print) / 15 June 2012 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Alfred A. Knopf / ABC Audio
Pages: 552 / 14 hours 22 minutes
Narrator: Dennis Olsen
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Historical YA
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

I’m glad I finally got a chance to read this, it has been on my list for a very long time and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. There were some adjustments to make with the audio format, it took a lot of getting used to, but at the heart of it, it’s a beautiful story.

Zusak’s approach to the story is quite unique. I loved the narrator and I loved how the story jumped around in time, always connecting back to things with a seamlessness. I actually kind of liked that some parts were spoiled early on, it made me think that if key spoilers were going to be announced in the first few chapters, whatever secrets that were kept must have been even bigger. Little did I know that Zusak’s plan was to ruin you in a completely different way with words that crush you and emotions that sneak up on you when you thought you were safe.

There are so many components that bring this book together: the characters work together with the history, and their environment brings it all together perfectly. Zusak’s blunt in some ways, but can weave a descriptive sentence in other ways as well. In a conflicting situation, I both loved and hate the side notes. I liked that they were like small information snippets or opinions from the narrator that provided more information to the reader and it gave it a nice aspect of being like footnotes while you read. The problem with them though is they didn’t translate to audio very well. Not that they couldn’t have, just that they weren’t done very well in this instance. Olsen does a fine job with the audio, but the sidenotes are told in hushed tones, something that is very hard to hear sometimes. It also made me realise I’m not a fan of accordion music.

Another thing I loved was that Zusak doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. He brings out the strain and the tension of Hitler’s Germany, as well as the pressure to conform and the consequences if you don’t. Zusak manages to explore a wide range of the social and political climates through his characters without it feeling like they are being forced into situations in order to explain things. There was no sense of Forrest Gump where all the important things happen to be connected to the characters, and yet with the structure Zusak has created, there is always a natural way to get all the information across and bring the main characters into the story.

I did think it was a bit long. I get that it is meant to be an ongoing story that builds up gradually over the course of the war, but my halfway I was a bit tired. I still enjoyed the story, but I was surprised that I was only half way. In a way it made sense not to rush it, there is a lot of power in a slow story that sinks its teeth into you and makes even the smallest action weigh heavy by the end of the book, especially over the course of a war. Of course I got my second wind and by the time I got to the end I’d gotten back into the swing of the story and Zusak brings this epic journey to a brilliant end. It’s poignant, heartbreaking, and for all the warning you get through the entire book, Zusak still manages to punch you in the heart.

You can purchase The Book Thief via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository | Wordery

QBD | Dymocks | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

 

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