Audiobook Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

I’ve been listening to a variety of audiobooks as I try to figure out what does and doesn’t work for me. So far, I’m much more likely to be able to pay attention to nonfiction in that format, but every once in a while, I hit upon a fiction winner. A recent one was Rooftoppers, a middle grade novel written by Katherine Rundell and read by Nicola Barber.

As soon as I heard Nicola Barber read the first sentence, I was hooked on the story.

“On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.”

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

That baby is picked up by the scholar Charles Maxim, fellow passenger from the wrecked ship Queen Mary, and he names her Sophie. He becomes her guardian despite the disapproval of the National Childcare Agency (NCA) and surrounds Sophie with music and books while saying “you should never ignore a possible”. Twelve years later, the NCA say they must find a new placement because it’s time for Sophie to learn to be a young lady, and Sophie decides she needs to find her long-lost mother. That decision moves the action from London to Paris and introduces us to the rooftoppers from the book’s title.

Charles and Sophie have such a lovely relationship that I wish I could have heard even more of their conversations. Nicola Barber’s voices and accents for all the characters were so engaging that I was shocked by how quickly the time passed as I listened. Sophie reminded me of Pippi Longstocking with her spunky nature and way of interacting with the world, and Charles came across as a delightfully dotty British bachelor. They were a whimsical pair, and I loved spending time with them.

Quotes

“I know these sorts of people. They’re not men. They’re mustaches with idiots attached.”

“You have been the great green adventure of my life. Without you my days would be unlit.”

“She hated official letters. They made her feel nervous. The people who wrote them sounded like they had filing cabinets where their hearts should be.”

“Perhaps, she thought, that’s what love does. It’s not there to make you feel special. It’s to make you brave. It was like a ration pack in the desert, she thought, like a box of matches in a dark wood. Love and courage, thought Sophie — two words for the same thing.”

Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet by Susan Cain

I’ve been known to call myself a “hardcore introvert” because I almost always test at the maximum possible on any test of introversion/extroversion, so I thought I’d enjoy a book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking more than I did. I just never connected with the material except for the personal anecdotes from various people she interviewed and the brief history of how society moved from an inward focus on character to an outward focus on a selling personality. Maybe it’s because so much of this was old news to me after years as a psychology student and a love of personality tests.

I felt like Susan Cain wanted me to be amazed by all these positive facts about introverts as though I always felt inferior in a world of extroverts, but that’s not my experience. Quiet might appeal more to an introvert who actually struggles with that because of his/her chosen career or some other reason like friends and family who don’t understand his/her needs. I can definitely see it being a good introduction to understanding yourself, colleagues, friends, and family members if you’re unfamiliar with the topic. One strength of the book is that it talks more about how each person can work with what they have rather than tearing down extroversion and building up introversion as the new king.

“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers – of persistence, concentration, and insight – to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply.”

Although I connected with the early anecdotes and case studies, I became tired of them by the time I reached the last section of the book. (The book is divided into 4 parts – Part 1: The Extrovert Ideal; Part 2: Your Biology, Your Self?; Part 3: Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal?; Part 4: How to Love, How to Work.) That section with all its relationship talk screamed self-help book, and while I do read and enjoy some self-help books, it didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the book. By that point, the book was beginning to feel a little disjointed and like it was trying to be everything at once.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m new to audiobooks. Quiet is only the second audiobook I’ve been able to finish, and Kathe Mazur, the narrator, is someone I would definitely recommend. She has a calm, smooth reading voice that complements the book. I’ll check to see if my library or Scribd has more audiobooks narrated by her that interest me.

The Supergirls by Mike Madrid

The Supergirls by Mike MadridThe Supergirls by Mike Madrid was published in 2009 and has been on my shelves since 2010. Why did it take me so long to read it? I can’t really give a reason, but I’m glad to be able to mark it as read and move it off my shelves. It was a decent read but not one I feel a need to keep. Madrid starts with comic heroines of the 1940s in his decade-by-decade discussion, and the first chapters were surface-level descriptions that didn’t interest me. Despite a subtitle of “Fashion, feminism, fantasy, and the history of comic book heroines”, there’s not a lot of analysis. That improves in later chapters, but I don’t think it ever lives up to the subtitle.

The limited analysis reflects mostly on how comic book heroines haven’t received the same attention as their male counterparts. They’re often viewed as sidekicks and/or girlfriends in spite of their own powers, and those powers are generally understood to be inferior to the guys’ powers. He specifically mentions the abundance of women with “stand and point” powers where they can stay outside the men fighting and never mess up their hair. I get his point, but as I recall, the heroes also rarely look worn out or roughed up after a fight. I’ll admit that it’s been a number of years since I followed graphic novels like I did in the years that my brother and I would pool our allowances for weekly trips to the local comic shop.

The most interesting bits of information came when Madrid discussed the evolution of superheroines and how they reflected the times. I wish he hadn’t sounded so derogatory about artists like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears when he talked about how their sexualization influenced heroines like Supergirl in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His flippant dismissal of those women was unnecessary and distracted from his other points.

Given the subject, it’s a real shame that the cost of licensing didn’t allow for illustrations. I did, however, discover that Mike Madrid created a website with illustrations organized by chapter: The Supergirls Visual Guide.

The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition

The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition by C.S. Lewis

The first read of the year for me was technically a reread, but this was my first time reading the annotated edition of an old love, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. In another of his works, Lewis wrote, “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers, ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty, or thirty times during the course of their life.” Based on that, I still have a few more reads of this work in my future.

The Screwtape Letters was first published as a serial in a weekly magazine in 1941. Lewis imagined a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior demon, to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood has been assigned his first human patient to secure, and his uncle gives him lessons about effective temptation and human nature. Lewis uses Screwtape’s perspective to share interesting insights about what really makes humans tick. Wit and satire make the letters enjoyable to read while presenting a serious analysis of our relationships to God, Satan, and each other.

Although references to “The War” clearly mean World War II, Lewis used no dated examples, and descriptions of “The War” could apply to any war. Wars and vices like envy, vanity, greed, and lust will always exist, so the situations the patient faces are much the same ones that humans face today. In this way, the letters can speak to people of all ages from all walks of life. The fact that the patient is never named lends to that feeling.

An annotated edition of The Screwtape Letters was released in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death with annotations written by Paul McCusker, director of the Focus on the Family Radio Theater dramatization of The Screwtape Letters with Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy) as Screwtape. As far as I know, this is the only book by C.S. Lewis to have been released with annotations, and I hope it’s not the last. The notes do not attempt to interpret Lewis’s words or add commentary based on Lewis’s biography. These annotations are explanations of literary references and World War II English phrases and pointers to other writings by Lewis on selected topics.

Although I read a lot of ebooks, I would encourage anyone interested in this work to go with the hardcover edition. I’ve yet to see any annotated ebooks that work as well as a physical copy, and this particular hardcover is a beautiful addition to your bookshelf. inside view of the hardcover edition of The Screwtape Letters: Annotated EditionEach page of the book has two columns of text, with the original text in black in a large font and the annotations in red. This layout is easy to read whether you’re a casual reader or someone who picked this up for a deeper study.

"All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be. This is elementary." - C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape LettersI appreciate Lewis’s insights into spiritual matters and the human heart, and every time I read anything by him, I walk away thinking that he talks about temptation in a way that resonates with me. He wrote of the deepest things from a Christian point of view and explained them in a way that works into my soul. During this reading of the book, I was reminded of several quotes that had been sitting in my brain without sources. I created a few small images to better commit them to my memory, and I thought I’d share one here that I’m currently using as the lock screen on my phone.