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Robin’s Favorite Audiobooks of 2015

I’ve started listening to audiobooks since I ride my bike to work and they’re a nice (and not loud, so I can still hear the outside world) way to pass the commute. Also, I joined a gym, so I can knock out even more audiobooks than I used to. Here are my favorites of 2015 (not necessarily published in 2015 though):

 

1. THE COST OF ALL THINGS by Maggie Lehrman, read by Sharmila Devar, Shannon McManus, Jesse Bernstein, and Nicholas Dressel

The cost of all things

I think I would have loved this book just as much had I read it instead of listening to it, but listening to it did give me an appreciation of the language Lehrman uses. Sometimes listening to audiobooks is difficult because you notice things you wouldn’t notice in print. Repetitive sentence structure, or five bazillion instances of “said” that just grate. However, THE COST OF ALL THINGS didn’t have any of those problems. I loved the words as much as I loved the whole novel, which follows a girl who pays a large sum of money for a spell to forget her dead boyfriend. I won’t go into further detail, because it’s nice to listen to the novel just unfold.

Voice cast also did a great job. Another thing that will kill an audiobook for me is the narrator. There are four here, though, and they’re all good, and they all seem to get their characters.

 

2. FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar, read by Kathleen McInerney

Fuzzy Mud

Sachar is one of my favorite authors and I think his writing style translates well to audiobook. McInerney does a really great job here with the cast of fifth- and seventh-graders.

 

3. SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli, read by Michael Crouch

Simon vs the homo sapiens agenda

Funny, heartfelt, and a really good narrator.

 

4. FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, NATE! by Tim Federle, read by the author

Five Six Seven Nate

I avoided this book for a while, because I’d really liked BETTER NATE THAN EVER and I was afraid the sequel wouldn’t hold up, BUT I WAS WRONG

 

5. MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach, read by Jeremy Davidson

Masterpiece

Another book I avoided for far too long. I remember a lot of kids in one of my after-school programs reading this when it came out, so it’s always been in the back of my mind. However, I like to read physical books if they have illustrations, so I was holding off. I really shouldn’t do that! But I like looking at illustrations and they’re never included with my downloadable audiobooks.

 

6. KINDA LIKE BROTHERS by Coe Booth, read by John Clarence Stewart

Kinda Like Brothers

This one had maybe my favorite narrator of the year. He knew just where to put the emphasis, and even though his voice was clearly an adult man’s, he got the intonation and cadence of a preteen boy down PERFECTLY. I laughed out loud many times while listening.

 

7. IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE by Eric Gansworth, read by the author

If I ever Get out of here

I’m gaining an appreciation of authors reading their own audiobooks. It makes sense, they wrote it, so they’ve got the voice in their head already. Still, I know not everyone is the best reader. But Eric Gansworth is.

Coming up next: My favorite Graphic Novels of 2015!

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Interview with Michelle Schusterman, author of I HEART BAND!

Today I am pleased as punch (or a similarly over-sweetened beverage) to host this interview with Michelle Schusterman! Michelle is the author of the upcoming I Heart Band series, which is everything a band geek could want in a middle grade series. Being a former band geek myself (trombone, 8 years), I knew that I simply HAD to interview Michelle about the books.

I Heart Band

First things first: How long were you in band, and what instrument did you play?

I started band in third grade. After an excruciating few weeks torturing squeals out of an innocent clarinet, I switched to percussion. I was in band through middle school and high school, including all the marching band/drumline madness. I ended up majoring in music education in college. That meant more marching band, as well as steel band, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban ensembles, women’s chorus, and methods classes on woodwind, brass, and string instruments, as well as piano. After that, I was a band director for four years.

So the short answer: I’m a lifelong band geek. :)

I’ve always wanted to write a book about my experiences taking band from 4th-12th grade, but could never quite think of a good story. Michelle, what was the inspiration for Holly’s story? Did you want to tell a band story, or was it something else?

Fun fact: I HEART BAND is actually a commissioned series! An editor at Penguin had an idea for a story about middle school band geeks and contacted my agent asking if she had any authors who might be a good fit. I had a phone call with the editor (Jordan Hamessley), and we discovered we both grew up in Texas. Jordan played French horn in middle and high school band and was, in her words, “a HUGE band geek.” We ended up chatting about state marching band contest and other competitions we’d both experienced–it was kind of surreal! She wanted a story about a talented French horn player named Holly who gets some competition from a new girl, who’s not only a great horn player too, but becomes close with Holly’s best friend. She gave me some notes, I wrote an outline, and we took it from there!

So that’s why Holly plays French horn! I was wondering, since the French horn is usually not the instrument people think of when they think of band. Usually it’s a trumpet or a flute. How did you pick everyone else’s instruments? Was that another conversation with your editor?

Yup! She’s a mini-Jordan. :) Well, we knew Natasha (Holly’s rival) had to play French horn, too. I’m pretty sure Jordan also wanted Julia, Holly’s best friend, to play clarinet. We tried to have the main cast of characters represent a variety of sections – there’s a candy-loving sax player, a gossipy flautist, and a trumpet player Holly has a pretty big crush on. Her friend Owen is in the French horn section, too – he loves sci-fi, could totally be a professional comic book artist, and is my favorite character. (Don’t tell the others!)

Friends, Fugues, and Fortune Cookies

Ha! Owen is totally my favorite character, too, and I loved how real the other kids felt. They all reminded me of someone I knew in band. Did you draw a lot on real-life incidents when writing? Because I’m pretty sure we had several ant invasions in my band room, too!

SO many real-life incidents! The ant invasion was one of them. My first year teaching, the head band director told all the beginner classes this story about a clarinet student of hers who never cleaned her instrument properly…until one day, when she found maggots in her mouthpiece. I have no idea if that story was true or not, but it definitely encouraged kids to clean their instruments!

There’s bits and pieces of my own band experiences throughout the whole series. Book two includes a fundraiser bake sale – I can’t even count how many of those I’ve done. In book three, the kids take a trip to New Orleans, only to have their bus break down in the middle of nowhere – a variation on my senior band trip, when our buses were caught in a snowstorm in the Rocky Mountains! (Which, of course, only made the trip more epic.)

Honestly, every scene brought back tons of memories of rehearsals, football games, performance anxiety, the thrill of winning a competition, the anxiety of auditioning for all-region band (which was the bane of my musical existence back then)…it was unbelievably fun to be able to relive all of that while working on these books.

I’m legitimately having band flashbacks right now. Although our bus never broke down and we usually sold candy bars instead of holding bake sales. Still, I can’t wait to dive back into the series when it comes out next year. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little bit more about books 2 and 3? (And maybe even 4?)

Candy bars, poinsettias, car washes…I think I’ve probably done every school fundraiser known to man!

Book two (FRIENDS, FUGUES, AND FORTUNE COOKIES) comes out January 9th, along with book one! Holly tries to help the brass section win the band’s bake sale fundraiser competition while dealing with scary all-region tryouts and the prospect of asking someone to the winter dance. Book three (SLEEPOVERS, SOLOS, AND SHEET MUSIC) is out May 15th. This one’s all about band trip drama–fights, breakups, and new crushes develop while Holly and her friends are in New Orleans. Book four (CRUSHES, CODAS, AND CORSAGES) is out in the fall. Holly prepares for a huge band competition, the district’s science fair, the spring dance…and her possible-maybe new crush on a certain comic book artist!

Sleepovers, Solos, and Sheet Music

That makes me ridiculously happy! I’m so excited to have all four (and maybe more?) glitter-tastic books on my shelf next year. I have a few quick “this-or-that” questions for any and all band nerds who might be reading this (answer however you see fit!):

Treble or Bass? Bass!

Football games or Basketball games? Basketball. (After my Texas high school/college experience, I’ve had enough football for a lifetime.)

Tuba or Euphonium? Tuba!

Bass Clarinet or Oboe? Bass clarinet! (When I try to play the oboe, I feel like my head is going to explode.)

Timpani or Snare? Snare! (That’s what I played in high school drumline.)

Crescendo or Pianissimo? Pianissimo! (Never underestimate the power of super-soft!)

There you have it: crescendo sucks! (Just kidding!) 

And I encourage everyone – former band geek or not – to check out Michelle’s wonderful books. Seriously, I have been waiting years for a great band geek story, and I’m so glad to have finally found it! Even if it did remind me of how gross spit valves are. And besides that – awesome covers! (Plus, they have glitter! Everyone at work knows I’m a sucker for glitter.)

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Read this Middle Grade: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Last weekend I sat down to read Rebecca Stead’s 2012 middle grade novel Liar & Spy and I finished it in almost one sitting. (I had to make dinner, so I had to pause while stirring my pasta.)

It’s such an unassuming little book! And the title of the book is BRILLIANT. One of those titles you don’t fully understand until the end. And Rebecca Stead has a way with characters – they get under your skin in the best way. Even the unimportant ones!

What really got me, though, above everything else, was the way Georges and Safer’s friendship developed over the course of the novel. SAFER’S SUCH A GOOF.

liar and spy

I can’t say too much more without spoiling the entire thing. I don’t have much more to say anyway, IT WAS REALLY GREAT

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