Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (Macmillan, 1977); audiobook read by Tony Robinson (AudioGO, 2011) Jones deftly establishes a parallel world in which magic is commonplace, and a cast of characters where the identity of the villain—and even that of the protagonist!—remains convincingly ambiguous. Tony Robinson’s audiobook reading elevates the story to a new level.
Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, Volume 5 ed. Sean and Corie Weaver (Dreaming Robot Press, 2018) A substantial but fast-moving collection of middle grade SF short stories, some fully formed, others little more than scenarios that cut off at some arbitrary word limit. All convey positive messages, although the predilection for underrepresented protagonists becomes artificial in its ubiquity.
What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book ed. Mark Fisher (Edinburgh, 2019) An almanac-style miscellany of interviews, articles and reminiscences relating to XTC, one of England’s most determinedly idiosyncratic rock bands. Although clearly aimed at dedicated fans (or serious musicians), the book itself is beautifully produced and diverse enough to be of broader interest.
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (Atria, 2006); audiobook read by Nick Rawlinson (Isis, 2007) A drawn-out coming-of-age quest through a dark fairy-tale land (perhaps a little too dark for readers the protagonist’s age). Granted, there’s a payoff at the end, but the pacing is questionable. Elements like the communist dwarves pad the story to little avail. …
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers (Gollancz, 1934); audiobook read by Ian Carmichael (Playaway, 2011) As a period piece this is passably interesting. As a mystery it is nothing but a disappointment (and could easily have been edited down to half the length). Lord Peter Wimsey is a minimal presence at best, listening to other characters’ ramblings.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick; stories read by Tanya Eby, Luke Daniels, Peter Berkrot, Jeff Cummings, and Patrick Lawlor (Brilliance Audio, 2017) Dick was an ideas man and a prolific writer. He may have outshone his pulp era contemporaries, yet the end product smacks of an imagination employed piecemeal, in lieu of craft. The stories in…
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (William Collins, 1971) Nine-year-old Anna and her family are refugees from Nazi Germany. The child’s perspective is uplifting and uncomplicated but—as with many mostly autobiographical accounts—the authenticity that is so valuable precludes the story from having the (manipulative) clout of a straight-out novel.
Peanuts Dell Archive ed. Whitney Leopard & Chris Rosa (Kaboom!, 2018) A collection of lamentable (though Schulz-endorsed) Peanuts knock-offs that appeared in comic books during the late 1950s and early 1960s. These are of curiosity value but the artwork, format, stories and characterisations serve only to highlight the superlativeness of the genuine article.
A Foot in the Grave by Joan Aiken (Jonathan Cape, 1989); audiobook read by Melissa Exelberth (Bolinda, 2015) These supernatural stories breeze along, effortlessly conjuring character and mood; yet their conclusions invariably fail to shock, spook or satisfy. The let-downs are palpable! Aiken is like a pole-vaulter who runs in beautifully, soars to great heights but always clips the bar.…
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury, 2002); read by Neil Gaiman (Harper Audio, 2003) A dark modern fairy tale, dreamlike, eerie and grounded in odd little incidental details. Gaiman reads the audiobook himself, his delivery evoking a calm avuncular foreboding while (unsurprisingly) bringing out every nuance of the text. Sadly, this is a little too drawn-out.