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Arcadia by Iain Pears

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Arcadia by Iain Pears Arcadia by Iain Pears
Narrator: John Lee, Jayne Entwistle
Published by Random House Audio on February 9, 2016
Source: Purchased
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Length: 20 hrs 12 mins
Format: Audiobook
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Three interlocking worlds. Four people looking for answers. But who controls the future - or the past?

In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is attempting to write a fantasy novel that forgoes the magic of his predecessors, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He finds an unlikely confidante in his quick-witted, inquisitive young neighbor, Rosie. One day, while chasing Lytten's cat, Rosie encounters a doorway in his cellar. She steps through and finds herself in an idyllic, pastoral land where storytellers are revered above all others. There she meets a young man who is about to embark on a quest of his own - and may be the one chance Rosie has of returning home. These breathtaking adventures ultimately intertwine with the story of an eccentric psychomathematician whose breakthrough discovery will affect all of these different lives and worlds.

Dazzlingly inventive and deeply satisfying, Arcadia tests the boundaries of storytelling and asks: If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly alter the past?

First a note on the title, since I’d heard of “Arcadia” but really had no clear knowledge about what it was. And it’s not actually mentioned in the book, I don’t think. Arcadia is a mountainous, landlocked region of Greece. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. The Roman poet Virgil recognized that Arcadia’s isolation and bucolic character make it a perfect setting for pastoral poetry. Now English speakers often use arcadia to designate a place of rustic innocence and simple, quiet pleasure. Arcadian can mean “idyllically pastoral” or “idyllically innocent, simple, or untroubled.” Anterworld is our would-be Arcadia, the land Rosie, from the blurb, enters into.

Why did I pick up Arcadia? It embraces things I usually avoid – mainly time-travel, but also science fiction and dystopian and post-apocalyptic societies. Now spies, cheesy romance and fantasy I’m all for. Yes, it does manage to smash all of those together. I also tend to not like audiobooks with two narrators. I picked it up simply because I trust Iain Pears. His Instance at the Fingerpost was great and Stone’s Fall, but I’ve been a fan going back to his lighter Art History Mysteries.

I like the way time works here. The past affects the future, but the future affects the past. You drop the glass so it shatters. The glass shatters, so you had to have dropped it. There were about three time-lines going here. The base is 1960s London, but there are two possible futures. Anterworld and a dystopian world dominated by science and tech where our time-traveling psychomathematician Angela Meerson comes from. I can’t talk to much about the plot, partly because I don’t want to spoil it and partly because it’s a bit complicated, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

There are lots of characters, but they are all well-drawn and fit into their world. There are those I sympathized with and those I rooted for. Angela is brilliant and abrasive and in over her head. Henry, whose created the idea of Anterworld, guides the spy subplot, and i will say the conclusion to that piece surprised me. Rosie is 15-ish and for all that happens to her, grows quickly from a child to a young woman who is calm and can stand on her own.  There are more main characters: Rosie’s love interest, a Robin Hood figure, and his band of men; Angela’s boss and his henchmen; the cat; the Storyteller and Jay, his apprentice; Henry’s government connections; Angela’s daughter Emily who is probably my absolute favorite. All their stories entwine with each other and really it’s fantastic.

It took me a while to get used to the two narrators. Lee does most of the story and Entwistle does the parts that are from Angela’s first-person point of view. Eventually I settled into it, but when Lee did Angela’s voice it threw me off every time, because it didn’t sound like Angela – and I knew what Angela sounded like.  It’s a small quibble. Other than that, the narrators did a good job, let me get lost in the worlds.

Arcadia is probably not for everyone. It’s an odd mix of genres and is definitely not linear, but I loved it.

The ending is perfect. You would think it would be tough to wrap everything up in a satisfying way. but Pears manages it. It’s almost as if the ending came first and everything else had to happen to get there.

There’s an app that goes along with it, but since it’s only available on Apple products, I didn’t try it. I guess it kind of lets you choose different paths, almost like you choose the order you want to read the story. Time as a concept is pretty flexible and it seems like the app lets you travel through the story’s character’s timelines in different ways, not the set path the print/audio version takes you. It sounds like a neat concept and had it been available for Android, I totally would have tried it, but alas..

About Iain Pears

Iain Pears is an English art historian, novelist and journalist. He was educated at Warwick School, Warwick, Wadham College and Wolfson College, Oxford. Before writing, he worked as a reporter for the BBC, Channel 4 (UK) and ZDF (Germany) and correspondent for Reuters from 1982 to 1990 in Italy, France, UK and US. In 1987 he became a Getty Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Yale University. His well-known novel series features Jonathan Argyll, art historian, though international fame first arrived with his best selling book An Instance of the Fingerpost (1998), which was translated into several languages.

Pears currently lives with his wife and children in Oxford.

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

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First Impressions by Charlie Lovett First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
Narrator: Jayne Entwistle
Published by Books on Tape on October 16, 2015
Source: Library
Genres: Fiction
Length: 10 hrs 52 mins
Format: Audiobook
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Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

I almost quit listening to First Impressions about halfway through, mostly because I had an audiobook waiting in the wings that I was really, really looking forward to, but I stuck it out to the end. I’m not sure if that was a good choice or not. It wasn’t torture, but it wasn’t great either. The story alternates between chapters focusing on Sophie in now and Jane back then, which worked well really, even if from what I understand a lot of the Jane portion was as fictional as the Sophie part. I knew who the bad guy was – from the moment he showed up; I knew that Sophie would find proof that Jane Austen was not a plagiarist; I was sure Sophie would end up with the right guy and that Jane Austen would become a well-known novelist. And guess what- I was right.

What kept me listening was that Sophie, and especially her uncle, love books. The libraries and books shops and the books themselves were marvelous. I enjoyed learning a bit about early book publishing too.

Sophie, though I appreciated her love of books, was not someone I actually liked. She fell for the guy #1 too easily and then fell for, and slept with, guy #2 too easily. Maybe she didn’t fall for guy #2, but she did go on and on about how good-looking he was and how awesome the sex was. I found her annoying. She didn’t have much compunction against stealing or breaking and entering – apparently her love of Austen and her uncle justified most things.

The narrator however, had an adorable voice, just British enough. She made even the corny lines sounds fun and amusing. She made it seem cuter, funner than it was.

If just the fact that it features Jane Austen makes you want to read it, at least wait for the paperback – it comes out at the end of the month.

About Charlie Lovett

Charlie Lovett is a writer, teacher, and playwright whose plays for children have been seen in over 3000 productions worldwide. He served for more than a decade as Writer-in-Residence at Summit School in Winston-Salem, NC.

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