Saturday, 19 October 2013

Audio Books - a few not to be missed.

I love reading but I also delight in being read to. My parents read to me in plentitude when I was growing up and they still read to each other habitually now. Dad always reads a certain chapter or two of The Wind in the Willows to my Mum in the days leading up to Christmas, and on a recent holiday at my childhood home, Dad read to us all every day from Arthur Ransome's The Big Six. There is nothing like cosying down together with hot drinks and a shared story. My husband has been reading tirelessly to me from Harry Potter all year. There is something very special and reassuring about being read to that makes you feel important and loved. I am already preparing a crash-blanket of books to share together when we reach the end of the Deathly Hallows.

However, when a near and dear one is not at the ready when you would like to be read to, I have a few excellent recommendations to rave about.

On the whole, I read to myself and I am content with the silent voice in my head to narrate the story I am travelling through. However, SOME books are worth listening to for the sheer appreciation of some excellent accents and tones of voice. I set great store by the tone of a person's voice; when it is warm and rich and expressive it is something to bask in and let it wash over you. It is a treat worth savouring.

The first of my recommendations is 'Framed', by Frank Cottrell Boyce and narrated by Jason Hughes. Now, I love all of Mr F C B's writing, and my favourite of his childrens' novels is still 'Cosmic', but my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to 'Framed' during a long car journey a few years ago and still quote bits back to each other. (namely the bit about the painting by numbers looking like a load of chickens had eaten too many Skittles and then come and had a great poo party all over the page. Imagine this is an uppy-downy Welsh accent and you're on the floor...)

Aaannyway, Framed is a very extraordinary adventure set in a very ordinary bit of Wales. The grey, wet, dismal town of Manod lacks a certain liveliness, and for a young boy there is not a lot to do. Until an intriguing situation arises involving the mountain road beyond his house and some unknown men. Add in a world-famous painting and a naughty little sister who is obsessed with committing "the perfect crime" and Manod is boring no longer.

Jason Hughes does a perfect job of telling the story. His tone is relaxed and gently sing-songy and he creates clear distinction between all the characters with subtle changes in the depth and expression in his voice.

And yes, this is a Childrens' book. And?

I love it. My husband loves it. The Vicar's wife loves it (Fact). And even just sitting here typing I've got that luvly welsh accent ringing through my head. Hehe.

My next choice is not just one book. It is the entire series of How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. Yes, there is a movie, and a very fine one at that. But it all began here, in Cressida's books, with her scruffy, ink splotched drawings all over the pages and Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, a young Viking boy, heir to the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans' Tribe.

The great thing about these recordings is the vocal talents of David Tennant. Do I need to say anything else really? Just the fact that you know it's him doing it means you instantly have a clear id-ear (sorry) of what it's going to be like. Jolly amazing, that's what.

The 11th volume has just been released and David's already recorded up to number 9 which is out in 2014 I believe, so that's a good few hours of entertainment for your ears.

Hiccup is an excellent unlikely hero. Small and weedy and not good in combat, Hiccup does not seem like a very promising future chief for a Viking Tribe. But he IS a good person and surely this will help him win through in the end, won't it? Especially with a good friend like Fishlegs who is also rubbish at fighting and more scared than Hiccup is of .. everything really. And Hiccups' trusty little dragon, Toothless. Ahhh, Toothless. If you have seen the film of How to Train Your Dragon then no doubt you will remember the epic flying sequences of Hiccup riding through the skies on enormous black hulk of the 'Dreamworks Toothless', a mighty fine beast with glowing green eyes who can breathe huge bolts of fire?

Well, Cressida's toothless differs slightly. He is smaller than a cat and spends most of his time hiding down Hiccup's tunic. He can talk however, which instantly gives him .. well, a voice. And that voice is excellently delivered by david Tennant. It matches perfectly with the petulant nature of Hiccups' fierce little pet. But despite how aggravating Toothless can be, it's hard not to love the little chap. His occasional displays of affection and concern for Hiccup show us that he really does care, and after all, dragons are selfish beasts who are most interested in themselves and where their next meal is coming from. When Toothless can be convinced that what's helpful for Hiccup is also beneficial for himself, they're a winning team. Mostly. 

The series charts Hiccup's journey from a weedy little boy into a brave warrior, all the time learning about the huge variety of dragons, from tiny the size of a bumblebee to creatures more enormous than a Blue Whale. 

David brings an extra zing to the books that pull you deep into the Island of Beserk and immerse you slap bang in the middle of Hiccups's joys and fears, sorrows and dangers. If you're thinking of listening to these books, do grab a paper copy too - they are full of interesting little scribbles that I wouldn't want to miss.

How to Train Your Dragon
1. How to Train Your Dragon (2003)
2. How to Be a Pirate (2004)
3. How to Speak Dragonese (2005)
4. How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse (2006)
5. How To Twist a Dragon's Tale (2007)
6. A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons (2007)
7. How to Ride a Dragon's Storm (2008)
8. How to Break a Dragon's Heart (2009)
9. How to Steal a Dragon's Sword (2011)
10. How to Seize a Dragon's Jewel (2012)
11. How to Betray a Dragon's Hero (2013)

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