Why the Audiobook is Not Always the Better Choice

I love audiobooks. I love that I can still read books while I am driving to work or shopping or otherwise unable to have a book in my hand. I also love that when you get good audiobooks with good narrators you can become so engrossed in a book you listen to it all day every day until you are done. But there is a flip side. There are risks to listening to audios. Not only if you have a bad book it can make it hard to skim and skip over the terribleness of it all, but you are at the mercy of the narrator and how they chose to interpret the text. This may mean you dislike a book you otherwise might have enjoyed.

 

The effect of the Wrong Voice

The voices a narrator chooses for a character can have immense effects on how you as a reader feel towards them. A voice that is too young, childish, and babyish make you look down on a character, makes you see them as childish and immature, something that may not have happened had you had your own voice in your head. If the voice is harsh and grating on your ears, and certainly not one you would ever feel suited that character then that too can be a turn off. I’ve turned off a couple audios recently because I could not stand the voices used for characters. It wasn’t anything I could get used to and it hurt my ears every time they spoke.

 

Bad narration

Connected in part to the wrong voice is also straight up bad narration. If a narrator does a bad job you do find you take it out on the book. Was the book bad, or was it just badly read? So often you can get used to a bad narrator, adjust your ears and your mind to their style and proceed as normal, or you focus more intently on the story and try to ignore their banality or slowness. Other times having a bad narrator can make you dislike a book, something that might not have happened had you had a physical copy in your lap instead. There is one upside to a slow reader though, the ability to put things on 1.5x or 2x speed on certain platforms which wonderfully makes the story play at regular speed instead of dragging on.

 

Changing narrators in the series

This one I cannot understand but at the same time I do. Narrator availability and time between books impacts this but it messes with your mind. Having spent ten hours imaging a character as a middle aged lady of reason, a bit of middle class, nothing too fancy but not that common either can jar the senses upon starting book two when a very different voice hits your ears with a twang and a jovialness that she never had before. Suddenly everything is less upper middle class, still doing the exact same things in the exact same house with the same cat, but the character seems different. It hardly seems right having this voice attached to the lady you had moulded in your mind to be a certain way. This is why I love when series have the same narrators, it makes everything more seamless and doesn’t mess with the characters in your head.

 

The Songs

When authors feel the need to fill our pages with songs, little hums, and all around general musical merriment, it is a fun thing to have a quick read, glance at the words, not worrying about rhythm or melody. Get the gist and off you go! With audio, to get the Full Experience, some narrators like to sing will full gusto and it makes you realise How Many Songs are in this book and Why Are There So Many Songs? It doesn’t do anyone any good having to sit through these things. It must be part of someone’s Beginners Guide to Torture having to sit through these songs in these books where they have no place being.

 

These are of course only my opinions, a few things that got me thinking after I listened to one of my favourite books as an audio and realised what a horrible mistake I had made. I have also had a lot more wonderful audiobook moments, but sometimes it is a little fun to point out that they aren’t always the best route to take. I suppose you only find out once you try, and thankfully 99% of the time there is another format you can fall back to when you decide your ears deserve better. 😛

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Published: June 1975 (print)/1 September 2005 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Avon Books/ABC Audio
Pages: 478/5 hrs
Narrator: Kerry Francis
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic/Young Adult/Fantasy
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stout-hearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society. 

The way I had heard people talk about this book I was expecting it to be filled with death, heartache and disaster. I compared it to Animals of Farthing Wood where they lost members of their party and the entire book was about their journey. This was not entirely the case, but I guess, in a way, this was also a tough journey, especially into the unknown.

The different rabbit warrens were interesting and seeing the different scenarios they came upon made for an entertaining read. Seeing our world through the rabbit perspective was curious because sometimes they knew what things were other times they didn’t. This of course was due to where they lived. They knew some human things but not others because they had never seen them before.

I listened to a dramatisation which said it was unabridged but I was looking at my physical copy later and I’m sure most of it was there, but with dramatisations there is a lot less “he said, she said” required not to mention description as you can act it out with different voices and sound effects which might have made the difference.

The actors brought the characters to life really well, I liked the voices chosen for them and it reflected their personalities. Hazel was a wonderful character, he wasn’t flawless but he had a good heart. Surprisingly Fiver didn’t annoy me as much as I thought he would with his dramatics. They never explained much but perhaps that was the mystery of the rabbit world.

Adams was clever with parallels, the stories of El-ahrairah to influence the decisions of the rabbits. It created an understanding of the rabbit community and practice and how their beliefs played into their everyday life. Inspiration from their folklore to aide their current perils. Not only that but their own ingenuity to become greater than they were in order to survive.

As heartless as it sounds, I enjoyed the ending. I liked that brains beat brawn and even if some parts were strange, overall it was a good story. I’d always heard about this horrible ending and I can see how it might be a tad traumatic if you were a kid. I watched the movie afterwards, the 1970s version, and I can see their point. Despite the cartoon nature the violence really shines through and I will agree that end scene was visually very bloody and violent.

Thinking about it, I did enjoy the story more than I might have been in the middle. I have a few questions such as their ongoing (but logical) obsession with does, but also the fact they never try to rescue anyone else from their sorry lives when they meet them. Surely there would have been others who would have loved to come and join them, but they never thought to ask. If that is my only true criticism then that’s not so bad.

You can purchase Watership Down via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audio – Dramatisation

Cinder (#1) by Marissa Meyer

Published: 5th January 2012 (print)/26 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 387/10 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator:  Rebecca Soler
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★   ★  – 5 Stars

A forbidden romance.
A deadly plague.
Earth’s fate hinges on one girl . . .

CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.

Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.

This is not the fairytale you remember. But it’s one you won’t forget.

I recently reread this book and it reminded me of all the things I loved about it. I loved that the Cinderella elements are there but it doesn’t follow the strict story either. Meyer inputs creativity and uniqueness into this age old tale and it shines because of it. The pumpkin carriage, the stepmother and the shoe are there but this is so much more than a fairytale telling. This is about cyborgs and colonies on the moon threatening war. The world Meyer has created is detailed and complicated but you fall seamlessly into this world and there was never a moment when I didn’t understand what was happening, why it was happening, or lost among the technical talk, the little that there is.

Set in the far future there are wonderful elements of our history present but a lot more new history to discover. Meyer doesn’t lump us with history lessons or attempt to provide long exposition chunks about what has happened in the world, instead she seamlessly weaves in=t through the entire novel, so that even as the final chapters close in we are still learning about this future world and those in it. At the same time though, not everything is explained, Meyer doesn’t need to give us every piece of detail and accepting this future and the developments is no issue at all as the focus remains on the brilliant story unfolding instead.

Cinder is a great character to focus on, her sarcasm, wit, and vulnerabilities make her relatable and ironically human given her cyborg components. There is detailed exploration of other characters such as the prince, Audrey her stepmother and other characters. The only one I felt left out was Pearl, I felt she was pushed aside as the obnoxious step-sister and not explored as well as the others but what is shown provides a component of her character at least.

The cliff-hanger Meyer leaves us with invites you to immediately jump into the next novel. So many revelations and unanswered questions but there is also a satisfaction because Meyer rewards us with an influx of answers and then pushes us on with more temptation and elements that feel finalised at the time but may not be that way.

If you love fairytale retellings, or love futuristic worlds where it’s not a dystopian wasteland then you should 100% read this series.

You can purchase Cinder via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Published: 18th September 2018 (print)/18th September 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Macmillan Australia/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 464/19 hrs and 9 mins
Narrator: Caroline Lee
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★ – 1 Stars

Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? Nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

The LONGEST, most TEDIOUS 19 hours of MY LIFE. I swear somewhere around chapter thirty it never progressed no matter how many hours I listened to it. It felt like I was trapped in the thirties forever and with a book of eighty chapters this was a nightmare scenario. I am quite convinced time stopped because I listened to it almost every day and I never seemed to get anywhere. Just when I thought I think I’d listened to it for another 3 or 4 hours I was only one of two chapters ahead. In the end, I had to bring it in from the car and put it on the computer so I could get it to play at double speed. Even then it dragged on. It’s an amazing feat that a book this long could have nothing happen in it.

I am not convinced it was only the fault of the audio either. I have generally enjoyed Lee’s narration, she has done every single other Moriarty book I have listened to. But from the initial chapters I knew this one felt different. It was slower, much slower than her other ones, and I couldn’t understand her decision with some of the voices she chose for the characters. Francis is one of the main characters who gets most of the perspective and I could not stand her from the very beginning. I did not like her portrayal but retrospectively I appreciate her character. She was bubbly and naïve, she was idealistic and at least she felt like a real person. It’s just that from the start I was on the wrong foot with the narration and these characters and unfortunately it never managed to recover. For having a dozen key characters I felt that maybe only a few were really fleshed out. Even if some got fewer chapters for us to get to know them, I was still able to grasp who they were as people. Some of the others who had multiple chapters gave me so little I have no real idea who they are.

But I also didn’t care enough to care.

I did not care about their personal journeys and while Moriarty deserves credit for the variety of characters she has included, the execution was lacking.

I am trying not to just dump on this book, but after hour upon hour of waiting for something to happen I feel let down as a reader and I am disappointed because this isn’t the writing I have come to expect from Moriarty. With no plot except listening to these people and their boring lives I was desperate to grasp onto any real story at all. Where was the Moriarty’s Reveal™ that she is renowned for? Where was the intrigue and the suspense? How can such a diverse range of characters hold so little intrigue?

There is a moment that Moriarty breaks the fourth wall later in the book through Francis and not only does it read like she is venting her own frustrations at her career and the writing process, it jars the flow of the narrative and it took me out of the story because it doesn’t sit right. And to be honest, by that point I was using all my effort to keep myself in the narrative.

The ending was stranger and even more ridiculous than the rest of the book. I had heard the ending was amazing and while it might be the only time it got actually close to something happening, it still failed to hit the low bar I had placed on it after listening to the other 18 hours.

I understand from talking to other people that this is a book that divides people. They either love it or they thought it was boring and terrible. I know people in both categories and with my history of Moriarty books I went in with an open mind. It seems though that this book is yet another of Moriarty’s that didn’t quite hit the mark with me. There aren’t enjoyable moments, there are simply moments that aren’t terrible.

You can purchase Nine Perfect Strangers via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Published: 24 May 2012 (print)/24 May 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Broadway Book/Orion Publishing Group
Pages: 415/19 hours 18 minutes
Narrator: Julia Whelan, Kirby Heyborne
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Thriller
★ – 1 Star

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

There have only been a few books that I felt cheated by, genuinely cheated by. These include The Last Battle by C.S Lewis, The End by Lemony Snickett, and to a very small degree To All The Boys I Have Loved Before by Jenny Hann. Being cheated by a book is more than disliking it, it is where I feel the author themselves have cheated me as a reader by building up my expectations and leading us to a point, only to dismiss our investment in their characters and turn the entire thing on its head with no point or purpose, ignoring everything that has come before.

Granted, each of these books cheated me in different ways, but Flynn’s crime here is not only making the book boring to read, toxic characters or not, but also because there is no satisfaction in anything that happens. The reader is not rewarded for dealing with this story, nothing to reward us for getting to the end of this long and tedious book. I don’t need a happy ending, make it as messed up as you like, but there was frustration in that conclusion, not a decent conclusion to the nonsense I had to sit through.

Irony could have played a great part, karma, justice, all these things. Instead, we’re left with these characters who I hated from page one and hated even more by page 400. It just got worse and then even when it got interesting it was still terrible. The writing was terrible which makes you hate the story they were telling. They were both poorly written, poorly expressed, and I think even though Flynn tried to give Nick some emotional baggage, the fact it is poorly explored means it all comes to nothing.

Surprisingly, the audiobook was also a bit terrible, Heyborne’s odd emphasis of some words catch in your ear and every time he said “my wife” (which, again, poor writing, is said A LOT), he sounded like Borat. I couldn’t escape into the story because having it read aloud highlights the problems even more. There is repetition, both characters constantly compare things to how it’s done in a movie, and they whine. They might have been decent characters if their story was better written.

When I hit part two I groaned because there was another chunk of this book. But luckily it somehow it managed to get more interesting. Predictable, but interesting. I got the result I expected, I was impressed that Flynn went the direction she does, but it didn’t remove the issues. The fact Nick’s narration is infuriating, and the language Flynn uses is repetitive, sexist, and boring. Even in the “exciting” part it is boring and monotonous.

When Part Three came, I rolled my eyes and prepared myself for another long boring section of this book. I can see the plan to make the ending some tragedy, some Shakespeare tragedy for us to wallow over, but it didn’t work. I could think of three better endings for this book and I wish any of them had been picked. I know this is apparently a psychological thriller in concept, it is not in execution. How Flynn has managed to make this story unentertaining is beyond me. The framework is there for a thriller, you get inside character minds and see their motives which was intriguing, but it wasn’t enough to save the story.

You can purchase Gone Girl via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

 

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