audiobooks

GREAT NARRATORS FROM WHOM TO CHOOSE

Voice Work – Your blog is about to be recorded into an audiobook. If you could choose anyone — from your grandma to Samuel L. Jackson — to narrate your posts, who would it be?


Narrating is not acting. It is a separate skill set from acting, though it is certainly related. Many great actors make atrocious narrators. Witness Meryl Streep’s venture into narration where she totally failed to grasp the concept — the narrator is not the voice of any or all the characters. The narrator is the mind of the author.

More than that, the narrator is the mind of the reader, the almost subliminal prompt that gives us the images without forcing us to notice what he or she is doing. It’s the subtlety of narration that makes it such a difficult art form. Enough animation to make the characters identifiable from one another … but not so “acted” that the narrator becomes more important than the story. It’s a thin line.

As a devotee of audiobooks, I think I’d have to go with either (both?) of my two favorite narrators — Will Patton, who narrates all of James Lee Burke’s books as well as many other southern authors and was terrific in the movie I saw last night, playing the good-bad CIA director in November Man

Will Patton

Will Patton

If a woman seems called for, Marguerite Gavin, who has done a remarkable job narrating Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series would be my top choice.

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I’m very much looking forward to listening to her one more time as she narrates the just-released final (13th book) book of the series, The Witch With No Name.

And because he is willing and has such a beautiful voice, Garry — who offered to narrate my book for audible years ago before life so altered my plans — can narrate anything. Because he will do a wonderful job and understands the difference between narrating and acting.

 

I LOVE YOU, AUDIBLE.COM

I joined Audible.com in 2002.

I had a long commute and I’d been buying audiobooks for a few years from Books On Tape and Recorded Books.

Books On Tape had recently announced they were discontinuing non-institutional services. Bummer. Recorded Books didn’t have much of a selection and were expensive.

Audible was a relatively new concept. Downloading was slow, but the price was good. For $16.95, I could have two books a month. I would own them, but wouldn’t have to store them. They were digital files and would be stored in my library on Audible’s server.

audible home page

Twelve years later, I have close to a thousand books in my Audible library. A few have disappeared. They may be there somewhere, but the search engine can’t find them and I don’t remember what they were. It doesn’t matter. There are so many.

A few years ago, Amazon bought Audible. For once, I was unperturbed by the acquisition. Amazon and I have had a great relationship since Amazon was an online bookstore selling real books. Kindles and e-books didn’t exist. The closest thing to an e-book was a PDF file.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Audible is bigger and better. Higher quality audio files, many more books. Famous actors and brilliant narrators. Almost every book from any publisher has an audio version. You can buy twinned Kindle and Audible books that synchronize. That’s overkill for me, but I often own both versions because listening and reading are different experiences. I listen, then read, then listen again. My eyes are increasingly reluctant to focus on print, so I listen more, read less. Audible has become primary and reading is now an alternative to listening.

Times change. I’ve changed.

Late the other night, already tucked in bed, I decided to select this month’s audiobooks. I still have the original plan I subscribed to. New subscribers pay more, but I’m “grandfathered.” The only thing I don’t have that newer plans include are “rollover” credits. I have to use my credits within the month or lose them. Technically, anyhow. The only time I didn’t use them — I didn’t forget, but I was in the hospital — they gave the credits back and threw in a couple of extra because I’d been sick.

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This month, I wanted two books, both not yet released. Pre-orders. The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey, Book Six in the Sandman Slim series, to be released on August 26th. And The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison, the 13th and final book in The Hollows series, to be released September 9th. I ordered the books using this month’s credits. Except when I completed the order, I had a credit left. I figured that meant they would charge the book to my credit card on delivery. I cancelled the order and redid it. Same thing happened.

It was 1:30 in the morning, but I knew I could call Audible and get this fixed. Unlike other customer service, I like calling Audible. Even before they become part of the Amazon family, they were friendly folks who wanted to make you happy.

A nice lady answered. I explained what happened. She said: “Let’s make this simple. I’ll just put the Kim Harrison book in your library. You keep the extra credit. Have a nice night. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I double-checked: “You mean, I actually have an extra credit?”

“Yes, you do. I put The Witch With No Name into your library. When it’s released, you will automatically receive it. You can use your other credit for whatever you like.” Indeed, the book was already in my library. I ordered another book.

I was smiling. How often do you smile after talking to customer service?

I love you, Audible.com. 

REVIEWING THE KINDLE FIRE HDX

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They are much like the previous generation with the following differences:

  • Higher resolution graphics
  • More memory and memory options
  • Faster processor
  • Longer battery life
  • Easier (more) Amazon cloud storage
  • Simplified (better) support
  • A front-facing camera for Skype and similar applications
  • Different, more intuitive, menu structure
  • New placement of speakers and buttons
  • Even better sound quality
  • Comes with a charger.

There are other difference, but these are the ones that concern me.

When the HDX first came out, my Kindle Fire HD was working fine, but as months passed it began to stutter. Stuff wouldn’t download. Too many audio books and movies. Too much music. I kept finding more ways to use the Kindle and 8 GB of memory was insufficient.

When they dropped the price by $50, it became less expensive than my original Kindle HD Fire. After a dark night of the soul about spending the money, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest … a nice touch.

I depend on my Kindle. It’s not an optional piece of equipment. I have hundreds of books I can read only on Kindle so in the end, there wasn’t much choice. I was going to get the new Kindle.

I’m convinced Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets. My granddaughter has an iPad which theoretically has more functions. For my purposes, it isn’t as good. Not only does it cost two to three times more than the Kindle, but the sound quality, screen resolution and color are not as good. The difference in sound quality is particularly obvious. I don’t know how Kindles get such great sound from tiny speakers, but listening to anything on the Kindle Fire HDX is a pleasure.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new interface for email that’s smoother and easier to use. The calendar is greatly improved. There are plenty of free games from Amazon. If you have a Prime subscription, you can watch a wide selection of movies and TV shows free too. You can also borrow books. Moreover, you can “buy” many books for $0.00. Sometimes these sales run for only a day or too, but there are new deals every day. And finally, you can lend your books to Kindle-using friends and family.

This is an incremental upgrade to the Kindle Fire HD. The HDX is a wonderful tablet, but so is the original Fire HD. You can still buy the Fire HD (new from Amazon) for $139. For many people, it will be more than adequate. The main advantage to the HDX is the faster processor and additional memory. If you use your Kindle a lot, you’ll notice the difference.

This is a remarkably complete, fun entertainment center in a lightweight, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun offering a plethora of pleasantly distracting choices. It’s also a better reader. The page color is a softer; adjusting screen brightness is easier.

You can store everything on Amazon’s cloud servers. If you delete a book, you don’t lose it. You can remove items from the device, but they remain accessible as long as you have WiFi. Serious road warriors may want to get a Kindle with 3G.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least I wouldn’t. For those things, I want more RAM, a hard drive, an application with legs and a full-size keyboard.

Big thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed.

Buy a cover that offers some protection and keeps dust out. Most let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many (most) covers turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Covers are affordable.

Fingerprints are a peril of all tablets. Keep a stash of lens wipes handy. Good for the Kindle, cameras, computers and eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

The on/off button is less difficult to reach, though its placement on the back of the unit wouldn’t be my first choice. I’d prefer all the controls in front. And I find the charger connection tricky. The edges of the HDX are beveled, so the plug is not straight, but slightly angled. You have to be very careful when connecting it; it would be easy to damage the connector. They need to find a way to make the connector straight, not angled. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it is annoying.

The Kindle Fire HDX wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

I got the one with the ads. They only appear on the splash screen before you unlock it. What’s the big deal?

If you own a Kindle, you are in the Amazon universe. Amazon is so integral to my life anyway, that’s fine with me. I’ve been buying books, appliances, music, movies, housewares, coffee, cameras, computers — everything except clothing — from Amazon for years. If you feel you need to spend two or three times as much for a tablet for the privilege of buying exactly the same stuff elsewhere, hey, that’s what Apple is all about.

15-MONTHS AND COUNTING – MY KINDLE FIRE HD

Amazon launched its new generation of Kindles this week. I built up a nice head of new gadget enthusiasm looking at these latest greatest Kindles. They have even higher resolution, more memory options and a faster processor. Then, I turned on my Kindle Fire HD and realized I don’t need a new one. This one is fine. No hiccups. Handles everything I throw at it. For a little tablet, it’s a workhorse that never quits.

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There is no question in my mind that the Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets on the market. Even the most expensive top of the line new versions are remarkably low-priced. I have two Kindles and use both, though I use the Fire most.

The Kindle with the keyboard is still a great book reader with an astoundingly long battery life — weeks of reading on one charge. It doesn’t do everything, but it does what it does perfectly. The Kindle Fire HD is much more versatile. It is a portable entertainment center. It travels everywhere. I use the other one primarily when I just want to read and I don’t know when I’ll be able to charge the battery.

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The Amazon Kindle Fire 7″ HD is fun, a complete mini entertainment center in a convenient, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun. I intend to read, but end up watching a movie. I get distracted by the plethora of choices.

It’s a fine reader. You may need to adjust the brightness to suit your comfort level, but that’s easily done. Adjusting the size of the text is a mere finger pinch. In bright sunlight, it isn’t as good as my 2nd gen Kindle, but I rarely read outside. I do, however, read in bed and the built in backlighting is very convenient.

The sound is remarkable. It’s hard to believe you can get that much good quality sound from such tiny speakers. The quality of the video is also amazing. I watch movies and TV shows on my  7″ Fire HD — something I was sure I would never do.

As an Amazon Prime member, there are a great many movies and television shows available for free; it will be a long time (if ever) before I need to buy anything. I have a huge library of books for the Kindle and all the books in my Audible account are automatically available on my Kindle too. I’ve gotten great “box sets” of Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy at amazingly reasonable prices. Any music CDs I’ve bought since I got the Kindle appear automatically under the music menu.

75-KindleReader-NK-09The Kindle HD links to the older of my 2 Audible accounts. You cannot link an Audible account that isn’t under the same email address as your Amazon account nor can you link multiple Audible accounts. If you have multiple Audible accounts under one email address and it is the same address you use for your Amazon account, you can consolidate libraries into a single account. If — as I did — you have more than one Audible account under separate email addresses, you can only link one. I gave up and closed my second account. If you are having problems with your Audible library, you will need to call Audible. They have excellent, friendly tech support and are a pleasure to work with.

The Kindle is great for listening to audiobooks, in my opinion better than an MP3 player because I hate earphones. The audio quality is good and the sound is plenty loud enough. The Kindle is small and light and fits easily in my purse. The HD is heavier than my older Kindle reader, but it’s still a very acceptable size and weight. You can use it with earphones if you need to. It sounds great. Really, I’m not kidding.

The available memory is only 16GB, plenty unless you want to download movies. Streaming uses no memory, so no problem. Regular “print” books are small; you can carry a whole library with you (I do). Music and audiobooks take up a lot more memory, but you can stream music. You can’t stream audiobooks yet, but maybe eventually. They’re working on it. There is no way to expand the memory. The Kindle has no slot for an SD chip nor port for a flash drive. Why not? If they would add one, I’d probably trade up! But, at the price — which has now dropped to a new low — it’s hard to complain. So I won’t.

Still, it wouldn’t have been that difficult to include slots for one or both. Just saying. Buying a 32 GB version doubles the amount of resident memory, but there’s still no option to expand beyond whatever is your preset limit.

You can work around the limits, but you need to accept the limits of the device or you will become very frustrated. It is what it is. It’s a lot. It’s just not everything.

Audiobooks can be large. You can keep a few on the Kindle, but probably not all 57 hours of  “Lord of the Rings.” Listen to a book, delete it then download the next. Unlike when you download from Audible to your computer, you cannot download a multi part book in sections. It’s the whole book or nothing. A book that is in your Audible library in multiple parts will download in a single section to the Kindle. If the book you want to load is LOTR or Winds of War, make sure you have enough room. I have not successfully downloaded anything that long. Actually, I haven’t even tried. It would be silly. Those books I listen to on one of my three other computers. I can live with that.

You can store everything you aren’t actively listening to, watching, or reading on Amazon’s cloud servers. Thus when you delete a book you never lose it, something that’s true of the entire Kindle line (not just the HD). You just move it off the device.

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You can retrieve it when you like. All is well if you have WiFi. It’s an issue if you lack a WiFi connection. Serious road warriors should probably spend the money and get a Kindle with 3G that automatically switch when you don’t have WiFi. That’s pretty much covers the world, with the exception of Jackman, Maine, where neither WiFi NOR 3G are available. I suppose there are other dead zones but I don’t know of any.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least, I wouldn’t. For those things, I want a lot more RAM, a real hard drive, the right application and most important, a full-sized keyboard.

The manual — such as it is — is useless. Amazon has good customer service, real people who know the device and will stay on the phone with you until your battery runs out … but who wants to have to call customer service to figure out how to delete a book or movie? Or for that matter, turn the unit on? It’s simple, but even if you actually find the manual (I had to call customer service for that, too), you won’t find a listing for “delete,” “remove”, “turn on,” etc. Amazon, hire a technical writer. We work cheap. Give a job to someone who needs one!

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I bought the $199 version (much less now!) with advertising. I’m don’t find it intrusive. You can get rid of adverts for $15 if they annoy you, but they show up only as offers on the splash screen before you actually turn it on, which is why I find all the comments about how annoying it is puzzling. Have the people who are complaining seen how it’s done or are they assuming the ads show up on your reading screen? Once the unit is on, the ads are gone; you can only access them via the Offers menu. They aren’t in your books, movies, music, games, email or anything else. Just the splash screen you see before you turn it on.

Thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed. It’s a good-looking compact device. Accessories are affordable. Definitely get the Quick Charger ($9.99); you will be very glad you did. I also bought some inexpensive styli and use them occasionally. They’ve turned out to be useful for my iPhone. The touch screen is sometimes too sensitive. Usually it’s easier to use your fingers than a stylus, but the stylus does come in handy. A cheap stylus will work just as well as an expensive one. I have both and I can’t see any difference between them.

Fingerprints are not a problem. I buy lens wipes at the drug store. They clean the Kindle, my camera lens, my computer and my eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

Get a cover. It provides protection and keeps dust and dirt out. Most of them let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many covers also turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Since the on/off button is a bit hard to find by feel, a case that turns the unit on and off is a plus.

The Kindle Fire HD does a lot more stuff than you expect and does it well. I’ve had it for more than 15 months. I’m still a very happy camper.  I’ve discovered I can listen to music while reading or playing Scrabble. I can listen to an audiobook while checking email or doing something else online. I’m finally starting to coördinate audiobooks and Kindle books, so I can listen and read the same book. Kind of cool. As the narrator reads, the books come alive and the text highlights with the narration. Neat.

The Kindle wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

It’s the best deal in town — even less expensive now that the next generation has been released. I will probably get a new one eventually but not soon. I have yet to experience a single problem with either of my Kindles. They both work as well today as the day I got them. That’s saying a lot. I only wish everything in my world of widgets and gadgets worked this well.

Returning to the Dresden Universe — Cold Days in Audio

Including spineListening Cold Days again took me back to a world I love. James Marsters is a wonderful narrator. Marsters has become the voice of Harry Dresden. One book used a different narrator and fans were up in arms. I wasn’t quite as bothered as some, but I prefer Marsters. He strikes that perfect balance to enable me to see the story in my head. My own movie.

I am a Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher fan, so there’s no way for me to discuss any of these books with even a semblance of neutrality. If you also love the series, the enchanted world of Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher … I’m with you.

In the last Dresden book, “Ghost Story,” Harry was neither entirely alive nor quite dead. It was a difficult excursion for Harry’s fans. I liked it well enough, though it was different from any previous Harry Dresden adventure. I was sure it was an important bridge to the next phase of Harry’s world and I was right.

“Cold Days” is more satisfying. Although Harry gets pulverized (as usual), I’m consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has, after all, already survived death. Earlier books ended with more resolution than the last few. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line. “Cold Days” brings Harry back in the flesh. Changed, less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. This is just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and they aren’t going away.

Jim Butcher is a clever. He extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces horrendous odds, then adroitly uses these apparently hopeless situations to move the story in a new direction that will become the next book. Nothing is superfluous. It’s all part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of the full picture to be revealed in a subsequent installment.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on this plane is likely to consist of grey bureaucrats, smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there fighting for justice, even when it seems he’s taken a wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad, though he is stubborn, too wedded to his own opinions. He’s a poor listener and does not heed advice, a combination that has cost him dearly.

Harry is changing and growing. He’s painfully (in the most literal sense) aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s not cocksure anymore. He has become more of a planner. He is less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. All to the good.

I’m sensing a climactic conclusion to the series coming. I wish the series would go on forever, but Jim Butcher has said it will be 20 books and a trilogy. I’m not sure if the trilogy is part of the 20 books or in addition to it. I keep meaning to ask. Maybe I’ll just wait and see.

I hope — by now — the next installment of the Dresden Files is nearing publication. I’ll be waiting and ready to read when it comes around! Meanwhile, if you haven’t gotten to this one, don’t miss it. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

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