Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

Loyalty by Ingrid ThoftLoyalty by Ingrid Thoft
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Published by Penguin Audio on 6/18/13
Genres: Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
three-stars

Story: C+
Narration: B+

Quick Review:

A feisty PI, dysfunctional family dynamics, good narration by Rebecca Soler, and a plot that moves along nicely make this a decent, if not groundbreaking, listen.

The Plot:

Josefina “Fina” Ludlow quit law school and became an investigator in her family’s law firm. The firm focuses on personal injury claims and has made its fair share of enemies in the police department so when Fina’s brother, Rand, becomes a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, not only will Fina have to untangle a web of family secrets, she’ll have to do it while racing to beat a hostile police detective to the truth.

My Thoughts:

Loyalty is constructed of two different story-lines that eventually converge into one. The astute listener (which was not me, in this case) will quickly see at what point they are likely to intersect but the story is engaging and well-paced enough to keep both the clue-solver and the clueless listener involved.

Fina’s father and her three brothers are all lawyers in the family firm but Fina flunked out of law school. In punishment, her father set her to working her way through various jobs at the firm and she found her place (and a mentor and true father-figure) with the firm’s private investigator. She lives at her (deceased) grandmother’s condo and splits her affections between her friend (with benefits) and massage therapist, Milloy, and her friend (with benefits) and inside source at the cop shop, Christian. She maintains contacts in various professions and social strata of Boston – including among the criminal element – and utilizes them when working a case. As she leverages some of them, it becomes clear that Fina’s investigation is seriously irritating someone because they keep trying to kill her or beat her up.

I like a tough PI protagonist as much as the next reader but the combination here struck me as somewhat awkward at times. Sure, Fina was more than willing to take a swing at a bad guy but she spent a lot of time collecting bruises from being run off the road or punched in the face to discourage her investigation. Then, when she confronts some of her more questionable contacts face-to-face (where her primary threats seem to be “I have a gun” or “don’t make me come back here a second time”) she strikes fear into their hearts? I felt that was more “tell” than a pattern of “show” in terms of how tough Fina is.

Fina loves her family but her father is forceful and controlling and she struggles to balance her desire to please him with how she wants to live her life and what she thinks is right. This sets up a nice internal conflict for Fina to accompany the external conflict of the search for her missing sister-in-law, although I would have enjoyed a deeper look into the dynamics there. The steps Fina goes through to track down her sister seemed logical and grounded, in contrast to many mysteries that rely too heavily on coincidence. Boston is the setting for the story but my sense of the city as a character came strictly from the accents used in the narration rather than atmospheric descriptions in the text.

I was slightly bothered by the fact that most of the adversaries Fina encountered in her investigation were categorized as physically unattractive: possessing cleavage that probably had to be “excavated for crumbs” at the end of the day (Lt. Pitney), or fat (multiple characters) and balding (Mark), or egregiously unfashionably dressed (multiple)  in contrast to the Ludlow’s fashionable attire and Fina’s beauty, rapid metabolism, and athletic nature. It’s a simplified bad guy vs. good guy shorthand characterization that limited the dimensions of the story for me.

It took a while for the story to get going, not because it was poorly paced but because none of the characters are particularly likable so I needed a better understanding of what their motivations were and how the plot pieces were going to start to twining together before I could sink into the story. The plot winds up to a very strong climax and Fina’s internal conflict as she finally uncovers all the components of her sister-in-law’s disappearance and how her family will be affected was particularly engaging.

The Narration:

I’ve enjoyed Rebecca Soler’s performances in the past (most notable with Cinder) and this audiobook was no exception. She does an excellent job encapsulating Fina’s personality and easily transitions between characters with distinctive changes in tone, accent, and pitch. The accents were well done: typical American, Boston-specific accents used intermittently (among the characters, not within the same character), light Hispanic, and a couple of nicely done mild Southern drawls. She conveys the bored teenager with aplomb while moving into the domineering patriarch with equal skill. Her pacing was good and overall, the production was very clean.

It didn’t get a perfect grade from me because a) I’m starting to prefer slightly more natural-sounding narrative and b) the reactive nature of the dialogue between characters, while good, still felt somewhat as if each character was recorded in their entirety and then another had all their lines recorded and… you get the point. This was certainly not the case but that impression was caused by every character having very smooth and consistent pacing in their dialogue with no breaks or leveraging of pauses to really humanize and individualize the characters as well as the presence of an almost metronomic regularity in conversational “call and response.” Overall, it was still a good narration that should suit any listener.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Penguin Audio via the audiobookjukebox.com Solid Gold Reviewer program.

three-stars

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder by Marissa Meyer
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #1
Published by Macmillan Audio on 1/3/12
Genres: Science Fiction

Book description (via Goodreads):

“Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.”

My thoughts:

True confession: I’m not a fan of the Cinderella fairy tale but with this book, the story of Cinderella is just a launching pad for a terrific YA sci-fi tale. A theme of injustice that turns to triumph is clearly the basic framework for this series but the author has created an inventive riff on the old folktale and she takes it and runs with it, often in unexpected directions – not the least of which is “Cinderella” as cyborg. From Lunar people who possess magic to portions of the story from the Prince’s point-of-view to a virulent plague that affects both Cinder and Prince Kai’s families, there are new elements mixed in with the familiar that keep the book moving at a steady pace.

Can I spot aspects of the story that some readers might find bothersome? Yes. The listener is dropped into the middle of the world without a lot of explanation about how it came to be and that aspect isn’t developed as the story goes along. The political structure is suitably defined and a pretty strong sense of place is present in terms of the physical surroundings but the cultural component/flavor (this is New Beijing, after all) is surprisingly absent. Other than knowing they exist and meeting their deliciously evil Queen, we learn nothing about how the Lunar people came to live on the moon and there is very little information about their society other than that there are those who possess glamours and those who are reviled and killed for not having them. In addition, the revelations near the end will come as a surprise to no one. Since this book is labeled as the 1st in the Lunar Chronicles, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are a lot of unresolved plot lines at the end of the book. Not a cliff-hanger according to my definition but it certainly left me wanting more information (or the next book). None of these aspects particularly bothered me because the story moved at a nice clip and I was immediately invested in the characters but they are worth acknowledging.

The story succeeded on multiple fronts for me. Creativity is a big one but in addition, Cinder is a very relateable and sympathetic character. I was a bit surprised at the level of outrage I felt at the prejudice towards her based on her cyborg parts (she’s only 36% mechanical for crying out loud and she thinks and feels, how does that make her sub-human!?) let alone the way she was treated as property by her “stepmother” so the social metaphors that could be built on that plot line were clearly effective on me. Cinder is a competent young woman and while I might have been wishing for her to find her happy ever after, I was content in the knowledge that if she didn’t get it, she’d be fine on her own.

The Narration:

This is probably more of a producer-related comment because my opinion of the narrator’s skill is wholly positive. I am at a complete loss as to why characters who dwell in New Beijing have American accents. I might have gone with an assumption of a homogenous future in terms of universal language or accents but at one point, Cinder wonders if the doctor’s accent was “European? American?” I’m discomfited at the idea that a production decision was made based on a belief that Americans won’t listen to audiobooks where the main character has an Asian/Chinese accent.

That aside, Rebecca Soler delivers very age-appropriate voices for the characters and her performance choices perfectly matched Cinder’s youth (she’s sixteen), which helped increased my indignation about her maltreatment. Whether it was a monotone robot, a silky and sly-voiced Lunar queen (that one raised my hackles), a chipper and plucky android, the noble yet down-to-earth prince, or the ambiguous figure of the royal doctor, I can’t imagine the characters being performed any other way. There were times, especially when her thoughts were sliding to the negative end of the scale, when Cinder’s inner dialogue was given a sense of vocal intimacy that was a superb delivery choice. Not only did it clearly delineate the lines as thoughts rather than speech, it also had an immediate emotional effect on me as the listener. The energy Ms. Soler brought to the story was perfect and I don’t have a single criticism about her performance.

This was good book with great narration and I enjoyed it quite a bit while still feeling it had more of a YA vibe than most of the books in that category that I’ve read.