Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Random Thoughts - audiobooks on cassette

In my search for more audio books, I have been using the AAR audio book blog to see what other people have/know. One commenter on the blog mentioned an unabridged recording of Susan Andersen's Head Over Heels - a favorite author, a favorite book - read by Anna Fields - a truly favorite narrator! I could only find it in cassette, however, so I had been researching the ease of converting cassettes to MP3s. After futzing around with the solutions I had found online, purchasing a $20 Walkman-esque cassette recorder from Radio Shack, and using what appeared to be the correct cable to hook it up to both my Mac and my Toshiba with no results, I went back to Radio Shack and explained the situation. I figured they would maybe test my cable, or just sell me a better cable, or maybe even offer a different solution.

I was right: they offered a different solution, to the tune of $70 more dollars. It's a device, with cords and adapters, that hooks up cassette players and other audio equipment to a computer using USB. Dang, and for the $100 I spent, I probably could have gotten a nice USB cassette deck and not had all this surface-filling clutter.

The box indicated it worked with Windows 7 and XP but didn't list Mac. That doesn't usually slow me down, because often those devices also work with Mac; if not, I had my trusty Toshiba netbook. Lo and behold, I hooked it up, and it showed up in the devices lists, and Audacity was able to hear it and record it!

Then, I was able to delete the annoying "this is the end of the cassette" parts, delete the excess noise/hiss from the tape (I hope - sounded good on the computer but I haven't done the earbud test yet), export to an MP3 and add to my iTunes library! Oh, just the first tape, 45 minutes per side, of 7. It records at 1X speed, so I listened to it while it recorded (knitting, on the futon). I was reminded again how enjoyable Anna Fields makes every story she reads! It's a keeper for me, so I'm sure I will listen to it more than once - otherwise, I coulda just listened to it on tape and been done with it. But now my audio book world is open!

I wonder if I still have any cassettes anywhere - or did they get left behind in a move...

The device is by xitel and it's called Inport Pro on the box, although googling "inport pro" to see if anyone successfully used it on a Mac brought Zero - 0 - results. How often does googling produce NO result? But using only the word "Inport" and adding xitel produced several, none of which clarified whether or not it would work on Mac OS 10.whatever I have (the latest - Snow Leopard). IT DOES! in case anyone got here googling that inport + xitel + mac. I plugged the USB port into my hub, the other side into The Device, one end of the Incredibly Long Cable with RCA plugs they include in the package to The Device, the other end to the adapter they included for the mini-plug that goes into the cassette player.

The Radio Shack cheap cassette player actually does not have reverse, if you can believe that - you can turn it over and FF if you need to go back. Weird.

So for some reason I couldn't figure out, doing as the many online tutorials I found said - plugging the cassette directly to the computer's audio input - did not produce a recording on either the Mac or the Toshiba, although the Toshiba did recognize the cable as being plugged in. It might have been some setting I missed, but after a few hours of diddling, one gets weary. And Frustrated Beyond Belief. $70 seemed a small price to open my audio book world to older recordings!! Well, no, it's a big price, but maybe what I mean is "I'm worth it".

Monday, September 27, 2010

Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie ***

I shoulda known that glomming J Crusie audio books wasn't necessarily going to be a good idea - sooner or later I had to find one that didn't rate 5 stars, and this was it.

The story and humor and writing were all classic Crusie but for some reason, they didn't work for me. There was the annoying sister - was she older or younger? I dunno, but she kept trying to run Lucy's life. There was the obligatory dog(s) - all strays, all with one or more weird traits. The usual "he's/she's not my type" type of relationship.

And I do want to put in here - recently I've read a few teacher heroines, and the assumption seems to be that teachers, especially of younger children, are thought of as saintly and prudish. My experience with teachers says this is about the opposite of the truth, so I'm not sure where authors get this idea!

Lucy has just divorced Bradley Porter, a man she met, married and divorced in a fairly short period of time. She came in and caught him entertaining a woman - a woman who told her she and Bradley had been having an affair. She immediately threw him out and her annoying sister got her a lightning fast divorce, after which Bradley seems to disappear.

Lucy runs into Zack, the cop on the case of an embezzler named John Bradley, when Zack hears Lucy tell her sister she is going to "get rid of Bradley" meaning his stuff. Zack assumes the worst, and Lucy does as well, assuming he is a mugger. She promptly beats him up with her book bag and runs off.

Of course, Zack is our hero, so he has to chase her down and move in with her to protect her, since it appears - to Zack's instincts - someone is trying to kill her.

Oh, going any further will just start to introduce spoilers, so suffice to say - surprise - they fall in love, and there's some obstacles and there's a HEA.

The narrator is Elenna Stauffer. She has an ok voice for narrating - she is able to tell the story pretty straight-forward-ly and interestingly. Her sister voice was odd - why would Lucy's sister have a Brooklyn accent when Lucy doesn't? Her other male voices weren't horrible, but somehow she managed to do only one voice worse than the hero's, and that was Bradley's voice which was damn awful. I think Zack's was higher pitched and younger sounding than Lucy's, though. She tried to give him some kind of a raspy voice, which made it sound more like he was going through voice change. In general, she has a good voice for story-telling, so maybe she'll learn how to produce male voices at some point.

I guess that probably made my rating go down too, so I liked it ok - 3 stars - but it's a disappointment to love 2 in a row then... this...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie *****

Hey, CindyW - I finally got around to listening to it on audio too! and I'll just repeat my review here and add a note about the audio at the end:

first read was in 2008:

This was a terrific, short, light, fun read!

Kate has a plan. She's a 35-year-old career woman who's been engaged 3 times in 3 years - but never manages to make it to the altar. With the help of her best friend Jessie, the plan is to go to a golf resort and find her life partner. Her requirements: tall, dark and successful.

She manages to meet men right at the start: Lance, who she shoved in the pool for being a little too grabby; Peter, who got rushed to the hospital for heart palpitations when she caught him cheating at golf; Donald, who got a fork in the hand when he tried to stop Kate from eating; Nick, who fell off a cliff into poison ivy for... well, just a nice kiss on a hike! (and whatshisname that got kicked by a horse?)

Meanwhile, she spends her early mornings fishing with the resort owner's brother Jake, who keeps trying to rescue the men she's inadvertently maiming, and who warns her not to get involved with the locals since it's such a small town... and she's sending all the men to the hospital.

Jake's a former tax attorney who gave up life in the fast lane to move home to the small town where the resort is, in order to both finance and help his brother with the resort. Jake is a sort of silent partner - he now handles all the outdoor maintenance type work on the grounds, and fishes, and shies away from women like his ex-wife who values the fast life and big money.

Although it does only take place in 2 weeks, the relationship that builds between Jake and Kate feels real and believable, with them starting out just being friends. They both admit it - he doesn't fit in her plan, and she's the kind of woman he has no use for. When the feelings finally come to the forefront, they're both actually a little surprised, although no one else is.

The major conflict is how to compromise for a long-term relationship: she's on a career fast track (admittedly, not one of her choosing or that she particularly likes) and he's semi-retired from work at all. Plus he's commit-phobic as well. So after a long buildup and a fast relationship, they have to now face a future where one or both have to make some changes or live without each other.

I enjoyed it quite a lot, and rated it 5 stars, although I don't consider it one I'd save in a fire.

The narrator of the audio is Renee Raudman, and she was wonderful!

The Exile by Diana Gabaldon ***1/2

I got my copy in the mail 2 days ago, but was too engrossed in both an audio book and knitting to actually sit down and read it. It's a graphic novel, see, so it requires sitting with good light and strong readers and poring over it.

I finally did this last night - like comic books, it can be done in one sitting the first time. I had already seen early sketches and read all the updates on Gabaldon's website as it was being created, so there were no major surprises. I already knew it was from Outlander, it was a "new" story told from Murtagh's POV.

There actually was a new twist stuck in that was resolved inside the story that put a sort of answer to a couple of unanswered (although frankly never actually pondered by me) situations. And it was fun to have drawings of everyone. Hoang the illustrator did some great work with the characters and the settings.

But I'm not that enthusiastic about it. I'm not sure if it's about graphic novels - I tried to sort of familiarize myself with them when this concept was first announced, and looked through but never actually finished some of the novels I had available to me at the time. What I didn't expect was how different the characters looked in different frames. Body shapes changed, a lot. Faces changed completely - sometimes it was only the hair that made me realize who it was. In his trying to have the related characters look like family, as they are described, I found myself wondering who was whom in many of the pictures. First, Murtagh was a pleasant surprise, and I felt the most attractive of all the characters. In my mind, he wasn't as good looking as the fellow Hoang drew! But he also looked enough like Jamie that I kept thinking maybe he was Dougal, Jamie's uncle. Then Dougal appears, and Murtagh and Dougal were different enough usually to pick out (mostly in the hairstyle). Other characters - random men in kilts - were fuzzy enough to be anyone, so I was never clear in those scenes who they were. But Jamie and Claire's faces also changed so much from frame to frame that it was disconcerting. Maybe that's a graphic novel thing, but it was off-putting for me.

So, the story was pretty much what we already knew, with a couple of twists. The overall look was good. But the changes in Jamie's and Claire's faces - not their expressions, but the fact that they looked like completely different characters - were just enough to make me just put it down and be done with it, instead of wanting to go back and go over favorite frames and re-read it and share it with the world.

Ah well. 3 1/2 stars. Liked it. Probably shoulda just stayed on the PBS list for it, but I think I'll keep it - it wasn't really that expensive.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Crusie *****

I feel like I've been in an audio book slump. I've been doing a lot of re-listens; I have a few audio books in my library that I just can't bring myself to even start - every time I think I'll start, I just can't do it; I've listened to some new ones and some that I've already read the book that I just didn't like. Wahhhh, whine whine whine. I've DNFed two audio books in the past month! I started a Dorothy Garlock - free from the library - and after maybe an hour or so, decided the dang narrator was just too dramatic for the story. Lots of inflection issues and drama - and right when the hero was being described, I just turned it off.

So when I perused the AAR All About Audiobooks column and came across a discussion of Jennifer Crusie books, I thought - hey, I like many of her books, let's listen to some more of her audio books. The reviews at Audible weren't very encouraging, but I picked up The Cinderella Deal for a pretty low price and jumped in.

What a fun story! It's a sort of Dharma and Greg-ish plot, except they aren't in love at the beginning. The hero, Linc Blaise, is a logical, orderly teacher trying to get a new position at a college in his home state. When the department head indicates they would be more interested in a married man, Linc lies and says he has a fiancee. The department insists he bring the fiancee along to the interview, and he has to come up with someone who will fit the bill.

Linc's downstairs (or is it upstairs?) apartment neighbor is Daisy - she's not exactly Dharma, but she's a free spirit who quit her teaching job to follow her painting passion. In addition, she's a story teller and sells her handmade jewelry - but none of this is quite enough to support herself, and at 34, she's almost run through her savings and is at the end of her rope financially.

Linc thinks that (1) because she lies for a living (as a story teller) and (2) she has a nice Little House on the Prairie look, she will fit the bill as his pretend-fiancee. When he offers to pay her $1,000, Daisy accepts because she figures it's a no-brainer - she gets the infusion of cash she needs for about 24 hours of acting.

Daisy's a hit with the college, and Linc gets the job - case closed, relationship over. Of course, they both think the other is attractive but so far from their usual boy/girlfriend-type that they don't even pretend an actual relationship after the 24 hours is over. Months go by, Linc moves to the college town and runs into his first obstacle: the department head won't go for the story that Linc and Daisy broke up and insists he go get her and they get married. Then the fun starts.

The banter is some of Crusie's best, in my opinion. I laughed out loud several times at Daisy's and Linc's dialog and inner thoughts. Even the implausible situation seemed plausible enough - Daisy was just thinking she needed a change in her life when Linc shows up to ask her to be his pretend bride for 10 months, and they do live for a few months in separate bedrooms, never acting on their attraction.

It's a fun, heartwarming story with an emphasis on Daisy's finding herself and in the process helping Linc find himself as well, and I really really loved it! I read an interview in which Crusie says that TCD is an earlier book that later she re-wrote for an editor, Strange Bedpersons. I'd already read SB, and while similar, it is a completely new book!

and maybe - just maybe I'm out of my audio book slump. We'll see - Crusie's Manhunting (which I've read but not heard) is next.

5 stars - oh, and the narrator was good too! Susan Boyce - not sure if I've heard her before, but I liked her.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Love Only Once by Johanna Lindsey - DNF

I'm struggling not to DNF this audio book. This is only my second Lindsey book (and I wasn't that taken with the first one), so I was willing to give her books another try or two, and it seems a lot of folks really like this series (The Malorys).

I got the audio book free from the library - thank gawd because I'd be really pissed to have wasted an Audible credit on this book. The narrator is Laural Merlington, who has 193 listings on I recognized her name as she also narrates some Elizabeth Lowell books, and I think I've even listened to some of them. It's not that she cannot narrate books - it's that her British accents are beyond dreadful, and if she goes "heh heh" in my ears one more time when the author has written "he chuckled" or "she giggled" I'm likely to throw the iPhone across the room. Which would not be a good thing for the iPhone and so totally not its fault. Jesus H Christ, woman! Your "heh heh" is about the most obnoxious thing I've heard since that awful narrator of the 1st two of Christine Feehan's Dark series said Car - path -ian (rhyming it with bath) a couple hundred times (along with all her other wrong pronunciations). I cringe when Merlington says anything that implies a laugh from a character, knowing I will next hear it - "heh heh". ARGGG.

Now, I can't decide if this is Lindsey's or Merlington's fault, but the so-called heroine of this book, Miss Regina/Reggie/Reagan (??) might as well also be called Scarlett O'Hara. Twiddle dee dee, I'll just worry about that tomorrow. She's spoiled and headstrong and seemingly way too wise for all of her 19 years and FRANKLY I DON'T GIVE A DAMN. And Ms Merlington's Regina voice is petulant and high-pitched and pouty and might as well be Scarlett O'Hara too.

The so-called hero is at least as obnoxious. I say he's an alcoholic. He's constantly foxed - well, as constantly as a hero who has been gone a big part of the book can be. He was drunk when he accidentally kidnapped Lady R the first time (ok, it was his first time to kidnap her, but her third kidnapping in her life, soon to be followed by a fourth); he was drunk when he ran into Captain Hawk; he was drunk when he poured out his soul in whatever part of the tropics he was in. He's violent. He's a ruthless cad, a seducer/ruiner of multiple virgins - I'm sorry, this main male protagonist doesn't have an ounce of the character of most romance novel heros. Give me whatshimname from Linda Howard's Death Angel (I really loved that book, but the hero was a paid assassin, so he wasn't exactly an angel).

and wait - isn't this a Malory novel? The spoiled Regina is a the daughter of a deceased Malory woman, so technically she isn't a Malory at all, although she's been raised by her [several] Malory uncles. And I'm troubled by the fact that her uncles all dote on her so much, even though at least one of them has other children her age. Where the hell are they?

I kept listening, along with cringing and wondering why I am bothering. I felt the need to write some of these complaints down, and now that I've re-read what I've written, I am going to go ahead and DNF this one. At least with Lisa Kleypas, I just didn't find her books as great as others said - I didn't actually hate them. I think I'll stop trying to understand why I don't like certain authors - surely 2 books is enough to decide. The end.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Princess Charming by Jane Heller ****

This was the other Jane Heller I read this week - also that romance/chick lit style, first person POV, mostly about the heroine and her best friends and with a side dish of romance.

The friends - 3 women who met when going through their mid-life divorces - were on a Caribbean cruise, apparently spending the exes' money as often as possible, based on the list of vacations they had taken together. During a storm on the ocean, the phone lines get crossed, and our heroine Elaine hears a conversation between an apparent hit-man and his employer in which he tells the hit-man he better kill his ex-wife. Elaine already has a reputation for blowing things out of proportion and panicking over nothing, so she says nothing to her friends about it, but tries to convince the ship captain and local authorities at every stop that someone is in danger.

The hero is Sam, an insurance salesman on the cruise who becomes romantically involved with Elaine. He and some other characters - I mean that both in the "book" way and in the "he's a character" way - are the women's table mates for the duration of the cruise.

The zany mishaps of the 3 divorcees and table conversations of Table 186 make up most of the humor of the book, and I did laugh out loud several times. Heller's love scenes fade to black once the kissing starts, but she does create real tension for her protagonists even if she doesn't let us share it. And if you like older protagonists - at 45, she might have been the oldest heroine I'd read about in a while (ok, Family Blessings by LaVyrle Spencer was the other).

4 stars for the laughs

Name Dropping by Jane Heller ****

I had picked up two Jane Hellers in hardback from the local Goodwill over a year ago, and decided to read them just this past week. The 3 Heller books I've read have been good - a little more on the chick lit side of romance than my usual fare, with first person POV and a love story mixed in with a story of personal growth and some best friends.

In Name Dropping, kindergarten teacher Nancy Stern just found out that a semi-famous journalist, also named Nancy Stern, had moved into her apartment building in Manhattan. She discovered this when she started receiving invitations by mail to some very chic parties and even to the White House. She also got phone calls for Ms Stern, all of which she reported to the "right" Nancy Stern - except for one.

When Bill called for a blind date at the insistence of a mutual friend (of the "right" Nancy), the Wrong Nancy was so intrigued with his voice that she lied and pretended to be the other one. They went on a date, she lied and lied and felt the magic sparks of true love so much that she forgot to ever own up to her identity. After about 3 dates, she decided that just breaking up with him was going to be easier than revealing that she had been lying all this time. Then, however, the Real, semi-famous Nancy was murdered in her apartment, and everything changed.

Bill worked for a jewelry store - well, he told her he was the manager of the store. And when she went there, to show him a brooch given to her by one of her rich young charges, he was there and told her it was probably paste but he would test it. Was it paste?

OK, there I get into spoiler territory. Was he the manager? Not gonna say. It was a fun romp, lots of Heller's style of humor and her best-friend sidekicks, with this murder-mystery going on in the background. I enjoyed it, going into it knowing it was not what I usually like but still...

4 stars

Burning Up by Susan Andersen ****

Andersen is one of my favorite contemporary romance authors. She writes upbeat, fun and often funny plots, with fully fleshed out characters, and some of them have become Save From the Fire keepers for me.

This one was good, I really liked it but it never quite crossed into keeper status. For one thing, it seemed like she was trying too hard to use that Deep POV that Suzanne Brockmann uses/describes - getting so truly into the head and thoughts of the character that even the narrative uses their style of speaking, as if we were actually hearing their thoughts. This became almost too cutesy for me - as if everything the protagonists thought was at a level-5-high-anxiety, practically from page 1. Like Andersen was trying too hard. I dunno. It bothered me.

But I liked the characters pretty well - Macy was the misunderstood girl who in high school had been wrongly accused of being easy, and still carried the reputation and the scars from that. She had made something of herself as a star of music videos (I guess it ages me that I didn't even realize there were stars in music videos other than the musicians) but that didn't stop the local crowd, still stuck in Dumfukville, er I mean Sugarville, from hating her. Everywhere she went, people still talked about her, behind her back and even in her face. (man, I'm glad I don't go back to my small home town!)

Gabe was the new fire chief, big, buff and also with a past - a mother who left him in foster homes, a wild teenager who managed to straighten up and become a true hero. It was a little unsettling to find out he had a steady date in Sugarville - Grace - and I knew Andersen wasn't going to have our hero cheat, so she was going to have to kill off Grace somehow. She managed to do it by introducing one more character, a rock star friend of Macy's. That also gave Gabe some competition even though Rock Star and Macy were really like sister and brother. Oh - she didn't actually kill Grace, but she did have Gabe break up with her so he could pursue Macy, which worked for Grace since she was far more attracted to the Rock Star anyway.

The other plot swirling around was some dumpster and abandoned home fires that were starting to smack of arson - a sort of background mystery plot that gave Gabe something to do while Macy was in town.

It wasn't much of a mystery - mostly she concentrated on getting Macy and Gabe together and letting them get accustomed to their new feelings. She writes hot getting-together scenes, and that includes the tension building ones where one of our protagonists comes to his or her senses before they get too far. She included a couple of kids and a kindly Auntie Em and Uncle Henry (not their real names) to round out the family. Her books are big on creating families from the friends and neighbors when the hero or heroine have no immediate families of their own.

It was a pretty quick read, although I did skim a little too much and missed some details that made me go backtracking. I Liked It A Lot 4 stars!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn ****

This was another case of my finishing it on vacation and not writing the review right after reading, and now... In my mind, in the car, after finishing the audio book, I wrote this review as 5 Things I Loved About Ten Things, and 5 Things I didn't Love.


1) I loved that the hero is the secret author of the book that is read in It's In His Kiss starring Miss Butterworth
2) I loved that they even said the line "pecked to death by pigeons" from this novel which made me sputter with laughter
3) I loved that I laughed out loud several times during the read, including when they named his books.
4) The witty dialogue was so much more reminiscent of other Julia Quinn books I loved and re-read from time to time, and not so much of the last 3 which were not keepers for me.

I can't remember any of the others, including the things I didn't love. Annabelle is the heroine - from a large but impoverished family, and as the eldest daughter, she feels obliged to enter into a marriage of convenience that will bring much needed funds in for her brothers and sisters. Sebastian is the hero - he's the nephew and heir apparent of the Earl who wants Annabelle, mainly because he is in need of an heir - any heir except Sebastian.

Oh, I remembered something I didn't love - Annabelle's grandmother. Ish, she was such a bad role model! But I guess she had to be to fit into the whole story. The Plot: Annabelle meets Sebastian, accidentally, in the garden during a ball, while trying to get away from the ancient Earl and his roving hands. They kiss... and then Annabelle and Sebastian go about falling in love while he keeps his books a secret and she tries to keep away from the Earl.

Anyway, it was light and mostly funny, and I'm glad I ended up spending my audible credit on it after all. I first got it from the library, but it expired and I only got about 2 hours into the book before it locked me out!

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt *****

The whole purpose of my blogging my "reviews" of books is for me to remember later that (1) I did read the book and (2) how I felt about it and maybe even (3) a plot synopsis. When I wait even a day after reading a book - even one I loved - sheesh, I cannot remember a thing about it.

In this case, I remember that I was thinking it was just an ok read until a certain point, and then thinking how much I loved it. And then I finished it - on vacation, where my internet connection was spotty, and the computer I had with me was the Netbook - so I decided to wait til I got home to write. and dang if I can hardly even remember the plot, much less the turning point and why I changed my mind.

Ok, actually I do remember something about the plot. The heroine, a Mrs Dews, first name Temperance, runs an orphanage in an awful neighborhood in London with her brother. There's a sister named Silence, married to a sea captain, and 2 other brothers and maybe some more siblings, but only the 2 of them work at the orphanage (brother and Temperance). Mrs Dews is a widow and her thoughts imply that she has some deep dark secret in her past, possibly relating to her husband.

The hero is Lazarus, Lord Caire, who, we are told repeatedly, has unusual sexual appetites. He is searching for the murderer of his mistress, a woman who apparently would indulge unusual sexual appetites. I remember waiting to find out what these unusual appetites would be, and we learn that he ties her up and puts a blindfold on her. Or, as it is later described, "the rope and hood" which I just didn't think was exceedingly unusual. I expected something truly different - not sure what - paddling? buttseks? all of the above? Considering how we are lead to believe he is truly depraved, I was hard pressed to consider tying her up that outrageous. (In fact, I thought learning Temperance's secret was more shocking.)

Caire decides to employ Mrs Dews to help him in her neighborhood since he is a Lord and she is a resident. He is also attracted to her, and she lets us into her thoughts by admitting she's attracted to him as well, which she considers part of her awful secret.

There was something towards the end where Caire makes a realization about his inability to let anyone touch him because it causes him pain that I think might have been my turn-around. Unfortunately, I read the review at AAR to see if I could recapture my thoughts - but reading it, although it was a B review (that is to say, not a bad review), completely screwed up my own thinking about the story. What I liked, the reviewer didn't, and now I'm completely lost and will either have to re-read it to figure it out, or just let it go.

Maybe it will come out in audio and I'll get to experience it again that way. For now, I'll just say I liked it 5 stars worth and get on with my life.