Which do you prefer: Science fiction, or fantasy?

Which do you prefer: Science fiction, or fantasy?
What if you didn’t have to choose?

In Enchantress from the Stars, first published in 1970, Sylvia Engdahl gives us both: a fantasy story of three brothers who try to slay a dragon with the help of an enchantress and a sorcerer, and science fiction about three anthropologists from an advanced race of humans that travel to a less developed planet to help the locals resist colonization.

It’s clear from the beginning that these two stories are actually the same story, but told from such wildly different perspectives that they share very few recognizable details in common. Even the language and tone of the two stories is wildly different. Most beautiful is that as the lead characters of each storyline come to understand each other better – and as their storylines merge – the tone of the two stories begins to merge, too, almost imperceptibly, until at the end we are reading only one story.

Enchantress from the Stars is YA, it’s fantasy, it’s science fiction, it’s romance. It’s strong on character growth, and it has a classic quest plot.  But in her preface to the 2001 edition, Lois Lowry noticed something about this book that I missed:

…spirituality remains a topic largely unaddressed in fiction for young adults. But in essence, Enchantress from the Stars is a story about sacrifice and compassion, two of the main ingredients of religious faith, and about the power of believing in that which one cannot understand.

I think in the end, like most excellent books, Enchantress from the Stars is a book that can work on many levels for many different people. It even translates well to audio. It’s definitely my favorite read from the past couple of months, and I would recommend it to almost anyone.


What I Loved in Blogs This Week

imageI want to write about things I love in my everyday life. But I want to read about them, too, and connect with other bloggers who are writing about the same topics. Although my blog reading, like my posts, is currently heavily slanted towards books, I did enjoy some really good posts in several of my favorite categories this week.


Adventures in Audio: Bookshelf Fantasies expressed her conversion to audiobook listener better than I ever did. Plus, there’s a great discussion going on in the comments section.

Career & Women in STEM

Barbie, Remixed: I (Really) Can be a Computer Engineer: A real life woman computer engineer rewrites a very demeaning Barbie book more to her liking. Oh, and Ken is a moron. (But we knew that already).


Review of Yogis Anonymous: Broke-Ass Yogi tries out an online yoga class subscription service, and lets us know how she liked it. (Spoiler: it sounds like she had the same problem I do with yoga videos – wussing out in the middle of a long sequence I don’t like.)


The False Gospel of Gender Binaries: Rachel Held Evans asks, “If Jesus started with the outliers, why wouldn’t we?”


Readers: What was your favorite blog post (not your own) from this week?

Review: The Fortune Hunter

My new audio to print technique is working really well. That’s where I listen to a library audiobook for a 3-hour drive I’ve been doing lately. Then I finish up with the print version, which is usually something I own.

I’ve just finished The Fortune Hunter, by Daisy Goodwin, and can recommend it to romance readers in either the audio or print version .

18404135 The novel starts with the heroine working in her darkroom, combining photographs so that Queen Victoria appears as a codfish in her family portrait. Yet this Victorian-era romance reads and feels like a Regency novel, with complex relationships and dialogue, ballrooms scenes, house parties, and foxhunts. There’s an empress and a rake, a shy smart girl and a lovable geek. All of these relationships are complex and well-developed, playing out in a detailed historical setting. As it turns out, three of the main characters are real historical figures, including Empress Elisabeth of Austria – and if you don’t mind ruining your mental image of the romantic male lead, check out this moustache. (But please, don’t read his Wikipedia entry – it contains spoilers for the book!)

The main question in the book surrounds who is using whom, and who is the true fortune hunter. And, of course, as with any romance novel, who should ultimately end up together. The author kept these questions alive for me throughout this lengthy novel, while also keeping my inner horsewoman entertained with well-informed descriptions of an English hunt.

However, the ending of the book didn’t seem to fit Goodwin’s well-developed characters. It reminded me of my issues with Gregory Macguire novels, where the book develops in one direction and then has to be forced into a known ending. I think there is a disconnect between the main characters as Goodwin wrote them and their true-life romantic outcomes.

Even so, I’d recommend this book for romance readers who are looking for a book with a little more historical depth than normal, or who are interested in horses and the English hunt scene. Despite the excellent historic detail and real-life main characters, I think historical fiction purists will be dissatisfied with this book, which is firmly in the romance genre.

Recommended Audiobooks

In my last post, I discussed the benefits and challenges of listening to audiobooks, and ways to make them work for you.

Although I suggested that children’s literature is most successful in audio, I’ve had success in multiple genres. Here are a few recommendations for audiobooks. Not only did the audio versions of these books really hold my attention, but in most cases, I felt that the audio really brought something special to the book.


Adult Fiction (Light): The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I thought The Help was soap-opera-y, and in book form, that would probably have been irritating. In audio, though, the combination of humor and drama along with its episodic format held my attention as I listened on my daily commute over three weeks.

Adult Fiction (Serious): The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is a great example of how a more thoughtful, character-driven book can still make for great listening. I finished this book with tears streaming down my face somewhere on the eastern leg of I-64.

Mystery: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall. I think anyone who is interested in this series should lirithmatiststen to at least one of its books on audio. The lyrical narration of Mma Ramotswe, performed by a South African native, adds to the overall picture of Botswana. Plus, the books are just plain fun.

YA Fantasy: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. This is an example of a book that should have been handicapped by audio, because it was about magical drawings. However, the audio descriptions were effective and other elements of the book, like its amazing world-building, helped too. I actually enjoyed coming up with my own mental image of the rithmatists’ drawings, similar to how print books allow you to develop your own voice and image for the characters.


Readers: What audio books have you enjoyed?

Listening to Audiobooks: What Works

Audiobooks always seem like a great idea.

I spend many bored hours in the car every week, and I’m always looking for extra reading time. Audio should be a perfect fit. In practice, though, it’s really difficult to make the format work for me.


Challenges with Audiobooks:
  •  Pacing. I read much faster than the audiobook. How much faster? Think auctioneer, or the legalese at the end of a car commercial, or a hyperactive mouse. In comparison, audiobooks’ pacing seems slow to me. If a book has a natural slow spot – one that I could skim through when reading a book – that’s where I’m going to completely lose interest in the audio version.


    My current audiobook

  •  The first chapter. I am a canary for slow first chapters. I’ve been known to re-read the first few pages of a book several times before feeling pulled in. Before I get to that point, I often miss some really basic cues like setting or a major character. This problem is amplified for me in audio, and it’s much harder to re-scan a few paragraphs to catch up.
  •  Patience and Memory. I like instant gratification. When I really enjoy a book, I gobble it up in a couple of days, and in that time, the characters live with me even when I’m not reading. Listening to an 8 hour audiobook during stolen hours in the car means I’m taking 2-3 weeks to finish the whole thing. During that time, I’m probably also reading other books; I may lose interest, or get confused about some of the plot elements. Coming back to the middle of an audiobook after a long weekend can feel a lot like picking up a new release in a favorite series: you know you like it but you can’t remember exactly why.
What works for me:
  • Pick my genre carefully. Some translate better to audio than others. My favorite genres for audio are children’s books and YA. These books face similar issues to audiobooks: children need a fast moving plot. Plus, kidlit is just plain fun. What just does not work for me: big historical epics and literary fiction.
  •  Be mindful when I start a new audiobook. My least successful audiobook starts somehow also coincide with setting out for a 5 AM road trip on a busy interstate. Wait until you’re through that first cup of coffee, out of the city, and settling into a driving rhythm. Or, start your audiobook at home, maybe while cleaning or cooking – whatever is meditative for you.
  •  Set reasonable expectations. Someone out there must be listening to the 18 hour audiobooks, or they wouldn’t be published, but I limit mine to 8 hours. Another way to deal with length: start out listening, and finish reading. I’m not sure my local librarian likes it when I check out the audio AND print version of a book at the same time, but she hasn’t stopped me yet. (I’d love to hear some of my librarian readers weigh in on this issue…)
  •  And finally, have fun with it. I’ve used audiobooks as a way to screen books that I want to read in more depth. I can download 10 e-audio books at a time from my library. So if I have a 5 hour drive, I can listen to thirty minutes of each book and get a feel for which ones are worthy of my reading hours. It’s like entering my TBR pile in a reality show, where I get to read the winner.


Next time: My recommendations in audiobooks.

This post was inspired by a review from A Work In Progress.


Readers… How do you make audiobooks work for you? Do you have a favorite format?