Audiobook Series Review: Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (Frontlines Series)

26 01 2015

The Frontlines Series by Marko Kloos

Terms of Enlistment

Length: 9Hrs 40Min

Lines of Departure

Length: 9Hrs 7Min

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Grade: B

I am a sucker for End of Year lists. I always find new and interesting books by pursuing the Best of… lists put out by Industry people and bloggers. While checking out the Goodreads and Audible lists, I saw a title I was aware of, but was surprised to see on such lists. At first glance, Marko Kloos Frontlines series, with books Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure seemed like pretty much by the numbers Military Science Fiction in the vein of John Scalzi and Jack Campbell, so I was surprised to see getting such high praise. Yet, then I realize, Old Man’s War and the Black Jack Geary military SF series are some of my favorites, so why not give it a go. The Frontline series is basically just what I expected, solid military science fiction with a likable main character. The writing is solid, with much less of the pulpy cheese factor of series like BV Larson’s Star Force yet with just as much fun. While at times I got a little lost in the extended action scenes, Kloos does a good job, especially on Lines of Departure, setting up intriguing scenarios reminiscent of classic Military science fiction, yet spins it just enough to give it it’s own flavor. One of the highlights of the book is the unique nature of its alien enemy, but the true heart of the novel explores the murkiness of domestic life, with some well drawn internal sociopolitical conflicts giving the tale a multilayered approach. Fans of classic Military science fiction will find this series a step up from much of the current offerings available in terms quality and enjoyment.

Often times the term workhorse is applied to a mediocre position player who always seems to find himself in the game. Well, Luke Daniels is a workhorse in the Audiobook Industry, with one glaring exception, his performances are never mediocre. Daniels seems to be able to handle any genre at the drop of the hat, giving the performance of an expert. In Kloos’ series, Daniel shows off his ability to keep the action at a brisk pace while bringing the characters to life in intriguing ways. There is a reason why we see Luke Daniels as the narrator of so many audiobooks, his performances always manages to bring the most out of the books he is reading.

Advertisements




Audiobook Series Review: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

25 04 2014

For my reviews of the first two in this series, click on the images above

Hammered by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk, 3)

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 4)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 41 Min

Genre:Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

Trapped by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 5)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

Hunted by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk, 6)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: A-

People seem to love The Iron Druid series. In fact, they love it so much that upon discovering that someone may be like two… or four books behind in the series, that person’s status as a blogger and perhaps even their masculinity is called into question. As someone who cares greatly about his image as the manliest of all audiobook bloggers, it was my secret shame to be woefully behind in the various adventures of the titular Iron Druid, Atticus and his canine cohort Oberon. Now, I had, some time ago, listened to and enjoyed the first two books of this series. I even reviewed those books pretty positively, so OBVIOUSLY I should have quickly moved on to the rest of the series.

Yet, I didn’t. I got all sorts of distracted by other pretties. Hot new releases, other series, covers with alien crab walkers on it. I said to myself, Hey, you need to get back to that Druidy thing with the funny dog, and I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah… but this book has cyborg robots in love with Unicorns. Maybe after this book about a small boy and his talking chimp who survive global economic chaos through pluck and bad cockney accents.

Basically, there is too many goddam books for me to listen to them all, and dammit, I listen to a lot of frakkin’ books.

I know, excuses, excuses.

Since 2014, so far, has been the year of the audiobook series binge listen, and since I knew that in the relatively near future, due to a change at work, my listening time may decrease, I decided that if I was ever to catch up on this series, I needed to do it now. Hence, the Iron Druid Binge Listen. I have always been a fan of the binge listen. In fact, it’s my favorite kind of binging, since binge eating leads to health issues, and binge drinking eventually leads to me vomiting next to a merry-go-round in a elementary school playground. Yet, I find that certain types of book series, particularly Urban Fantasy and Horror series are well suited to the binge listen.

OK, confession time. Often times when I start the next book in a series, after the required year long wait, I am totally lost. I don’t know if it’s just the limit of my brains, or the affects of reading 150-200 books a year, but I tend to lose much of the details of a book over time. Even with my most favorite series ever there are characters who I know I should know, and foreshadowing events I should absolutely remember, but instead the details take a long time coming. More than once, I will get like two thirds of the way into a book, and have an “ah ha” moment saying, “Holy shit, that’s who that dude is.” I think this is one of the reasons I’m hesitant about epic fantasy, since by the time book 3 comes out I forgot who 758 of the 760 perspective characters where. This, my friends, is why Cthulhu created the series binge listen.

So, I started the binge listen with Hammered, book 3 of the series. Honestly, throughout most of Hammered, I was kinda “ho… hummm…. this is nice.” I definitively was suffering some of the dissonance of jumping back into the story, and the core part that always stuck out to me in this series was the relationship between Atticus and Oberon, which wasn’t as prevalent in Hammered. It seemed to me that Hammered was that essential book in every Urban Fantasy series where the protagonist goes off to do something incredibly stupid, which they know is stupid, and everyone they trust tells them it’s stupid but they continue to do it for some sort of arbitrary “pride” or “honor” reason and you the reader just knows it’s basically going to unleash the shit storm that they will be dealing with in upcoming books. You know you have to get through the “protagonist acting like a complete nit” book, in order to get to the more awesome “protagonist dealing with the shit storm that acting like a nit unleashed” books. There were two scenes that made Hammered worth it. Atticus’s interaction with Jesus, and the “bonding” sequence where each of the questers told their stories. So while I was less than thrilled with Hammered, I believed there was good things to come.

Thank God I was right!

After the events of Hammered, Atticus has a lot on his plate. Gods want to kill him, Religious whackjobs still don’t trust him, he has an apprentice to train, and Oberon still needs sausages. Tricked benefited a lot from a scenery change, and a whole new mythology to explore. I often cringe when books bring in Native American mythology, because it often comes off as derivative, but Hearne has a way of exploring mythology in creative ways while not diminishing the traditions. Tricked was a fun change of pace, and gave the characters a bit of a breather before the chaos begins, well, if you can consider dealing with evil skinwalkers a breather.

I was both surprised and relieved with the 12 year time jump in Trapped. When Atticus discussed the prophesy of the word burning in 13 years, I was like “Shit, now Hearne is going to write 12 novels each spanned out over a year until we get to the global apocalypse we all are waiting for. WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY WORLD BURING NOW!!!!” Now, maybe he still plans on string out 12 more novels, but at least Ragnarok is looming closer and closer, and this absolutely builds the tension. I really, really enjoyed both Trapped and Hunted. First off, I love that Hearne ended the sexual tension between Atticus and Granuaile with a choice, and not some clumsy fumbling moment where they both finally give into their long repressed passions. I love the interplay between Atticus and the various Gods. Hearne never gives into the Hollywood dulling of the natures of the gods but embraces their utter despicableness. Hunted is a brilliant otherworldly chase novel, that cleverly included some new perspectives, and lots of cool twists and turns that kept me enthralled until the end.

Yet, everyone, let’s be honest. We’d all probably like a Iron Druid novel if the plot was an unadventurous trip to the Laundromat, as long as their were plenty of interactions between Atticus and his hound Oberon. Sure, life and death struggles, battles with the gods, hot druid sex are all fine and good, but without Oberon bartering for sausages and bitches, what’s the point? Oberon makes this more than just another Urban Fantasy series. He imbibes it with soul, acting as Atticus’ insatiable moral compass. I mean, he’s a friggin’ dog and he’s awesome. What else do you want?

Now, I like to keep my personal feelings about a performer out of my evaluations of their performances, so I will not let my jealousy of the fact the ladies swoon at the mere mention of Luke Daniels name influence my thoughts on that rotten bastards narration of The Iron Druid Chronicles. I have listened to Daniel’s narrate a lot of thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary science fiction novels, and I am always impressed with his ability to tell a good story. He handles characters well, making each one distinct and creating dialogue that feels natural. Yet, I often forget just how wide of a range he truly has. Books like The Iron Druid Chronicles and Martin’s shared world anthology Wild Cards show that Daniels can take on any character, no matter what sex, nationality, genetic mutation, planet of origin, or any other goddam weirdo thing a screwed up author throws at him with ease. I honestly at times thought, “Now, Kevin Hearne is just fucking with him, right?” with some of the voices he had to pull off, but pull them off he did. I truly can’t imagine experiencing this series in any other manner besides audio without a significant decrease in awesomeness, and really, people, we want more awesomeness, not less. So get with it. So, if you have yet to listen to this series, maybe you too should partake in an Iron Druid binge listen.





Series Review: The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

14 04 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 45 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 48 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Big sweeping epic fantasies and I don’t always mesh well together for many reasons. First, magic tends to annoy me. I think it can be all kinds of cool when some crazy old sorcerer unleashed hellfire and damnation down upon the wicked, but when every problem is solved by a twinkle of the nose or some demon released from the nether regions, and magic becomes more important than characters, I lose interest. And while I love characters, after the 300th one appears in their cardboard cutter glory, and they are all named, Taragon, Sharagon, Sh’othan, Larry of the Sharaghon Forrest, Troctadon, Bill, Z’Atmothathalogabn, and… I WANT THEM ALL TO DIE. Also elves. OK, in the right context, elves can be sort of fun, but when they show up in their Tolkenesque glory in the first five friggin’ minutes of a book, I tend to want to scream GO BACK TO MIDDLE EARTH YOU POINTY EAR BASTARD! Maybe I’m speciest, I just don’t trust them. Yet, when I do fall for an Epic Fantasy, I fall hard. I fall like a YA protagonist after just meeting her first Vampire. I lie awake wondering if the book will call me the next day. I wonder if I read the book too much it will think I’m creepy, but still go back to it over and over again. I have spent months, reading and rereading Fantasy series. I have spent hours refreshing author’s websites when they are supposed to announce when the next book is coming out. This is why I am often hesitant to jump into a big fantasy novel. It becomes either my bane or my existence. Luckily, this is why god created other awesome people to motivate you into important life decisions like dedicating 100 hours of your life to listening to the AWESOMEST SERIES EVER. So, yeah, thanks. You know who you are.

So, what is The Stormlight Archives series by Brandon Sanderson about. Well, I’m not going to even try. If I could do justice to a summary that would truly give you an idea of the nature of this book, I would be a much better writer than I am and probably should concentrating on trying to fuck with people’s brains they way Sanderson did with mine. I think often, especially with hard core readers, there is a sense when reading where you think… “You know what… I could do this.” With Sanderson my reaction was “How in god’s name did some human being imagine this with his brain thing than manage to transport it from the twisted regions of his mind to words on a page. WHAT FOUL MAGIC IS THIS?” Truly, Sanderson has created a world that is truly breathtaking. From the otherworldly creatures that react to the emotions of the people, to a shattered land serving as the field for a massive battle. It’s full of dark beauty, fascinating magic, deep secrets and something tickling along the edges of the narrative letting you know there is even more than you can possibly imagine. Yet, the true beauty of this novel is the characters. Sanderson tells the traditional fantasy origin story in an entirely unique way. He creates a character, strips them down to their core, then builds them back up piece by piece. Along the way, they become real to you. Not just some powerful mage, or savvy political leader, but a real broken person, with flaws who manages to pull you entirely into their world. Sanderson surrounds his key players with an assorted menagerie of colorful characters, allowing you to see the growth of his protagonists through how they affect those around them. Bridge 4, a collection of slaves forced to carry bridges in suicidal battle runs, is one of the most wonderful group of characters I have read in a while. Their transformation from beaten down slaves, to an effective unit is so brilliant, it makes you almost want to to start running these death marches yourself.

Then there is the action. Holy shit, the action. There were moments where I just had to stop where I was and absorb some scene of pure baddassery. I became so mesmerized, I ignored those around me for the much more interesting people performing crazy ass action in my brain hole. I’m lucky I was never in the middle of traffic when these scenes came, because it’s hard to finish listening to a book after a F150 runs you down. The Stormlight Archives is the rare fantasy novel that is about war, but never glorifies it. Sanderson allows us to accompany his characters into the battles, giving as an intimate look at chaos, letting us see the full horrors of these event. Yet, there is some level of hope at play within the context of the team, and the players assembled. These are characters that make each other better, that build each other up, become a true family of choice, setting the basis to allow the events to build. The individual fight scenes rivaled the visual splendor and choreography of the best superhero films. These fights go beyond the “so and so punched so and so in the face” battles, but took place in multiple dimensions that break the laws of physics, yet never become muddled or obfuscated. Sanderson creates a vivid conflict in your head, and leaves you breathless as you follow each movement, each action and each new mind bending discovery.

Another fascinating element that Sanderson sneaks into the plot is the self defeating nature of isms. His society is built on highly structured class-ism based on the arbitrary physical attribute of eye color. The division between the Noble Bright Eye class, and the peasant dark eyes, creates levels of conflict that plays out in multiple ways throughout the tale. Sanderson shows how such and arbitrary class structure creates self defeating scenarios and ingrained suspicions among people who are essentially good and should be allies. It adds a level to the tale, that while on surface seems almost cliché, yet Sanderson subverts the clique effectively making it unique in his hands. Also, I found the division of labor between the sexes to be quite interesting. Men have deemed reading, writing and scholarly pursuits to be feminine qualities, when they focus on the more physical. So, while women are viewed as subservient, they control the knowledge, and well, we know what that means.

This is my problem with reviewing something like the Stormlight Archive. I just want to scream, AWESOME! READ THIS NOW. There is so much here that I simply loved about this book, that I can’t even scratch the surface. I want to yell “Dalinar is such a badass” and you just understand what I mean. Or, THANK GOD SHE ASKED HIM ABOUT POOP and you just shake your head knowingly. Because, there is so much here. So many aspects that I want to frantically point out to you like a frat boy looking at Christmas lights while tripping on LSD. And what’s the hardest thing to reconcile, is I may never have read it. So, if you even think you might possible like Epic Fantasy, read this.

If you can listen to two people read a book for almost 100 hours and not once want to stab yourself in the ear with a rusty fork, then those narrators are doing something right. At no point did either Micheal Kramer or Kate Reading make me want to stab myself in the ear with a rusty fork, in fact, their reading made me want to protect myself from any sort of rusty fork in the ear related injury. These two talented narrators brought this story alive in a brilliantly vivid way. I love how you could hear the character development in their voices, with Shallan going from a seemingly flighty naïve girlchild, to, perhaps, the pivotal character of Words of Radiance and Kalidan developing from a man with nothing to live for to a leader of men. Kramer does a wonderful job guiding us through this brokenness and rehabilitation of Kalidan as well as showing us the turmoil of Dalinar’s struggles with his own sanity. Plus, his Bridge 4 character never failed to put a smile on my face. One thing I especially liked about Kramer is he gives his characters a wide range of exotic sounding accents, without falling back onto the annoying Elizabethan feel that many people seemed to think fantasy novels require. One of the problems you face with two different narrators is the dissonance of shared characters. This isn’t too much of an issue here. Sure, Kramer’s Shallan sounds a bit more imperious than Readings, and Reading’s Kalidan a bit younger than Kramer’s, the two POV’s don’t really come together to late in the series and by that time the narrators have had such a strong grasp on the material, you are fully engaged in the story. So, yes, The Stormlight Archive is now my newest Fantasy obsession, so please forgive my creepy book stalking during the wait for the next book in the series.





Audiobook Series Review: The Charlie Hardie Series by Duane Swierczynski

16 09 2013

I first discovered Duane Swierczynski’s series of thrillers featuring former Police Consultant turned house sitter Charlie Hardie like I do so many other great thrillers, on the digital pages of Jen’s Book Thought. Reading her reviews, and investigating the series further, two things stuck out to me. First, that the series had a Philly edge, with Swierczynski being a resident of my fair city, and his hard luck protagonist also a resident in exile. The second thing that stuck out was the genre blending nature of the series, which seemed to be a pretty straight thriller, but perhaps with a few science fiction touches to keep things interesting. So, now intrigued, it still took me a while to finally give the series a go. One of my goals this year was to be les focused on the big new release, and take a chance on the many series I have sitting on the backburner, untouched or never completed. So, with this in mind, I decided to take a swing at the three existing Charlie Hardie novels, listening to all three back to back. I’m really glad I did.

Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardy series is a smash mouth romp, taking the classic Lethal Weapon thriller and giving it a pulp fiction vibe.  It’s a thriller that revels in being a thriller, taking it’s protagonist, the seemingly unkillable Charlie Hardy, throwing him into a life and death situation against a highly organized foe, and basically letting him get his ass kicked, stabbed, shot, electrocuted, drugged and blown up, until he figures out a way to stop the bad guy, or at least come as close as possible. In many ways, it felt like the Game of Thrones of the thriller world, where the givens of any fictional tale are totally thrown out the window, and while you are pretty sure Charlie isn’t going to die, you are never sure what the collateral damage will be. As a Philly boy, I loved the touches. There is a moment where Swierczynski makes a comment about Rocky, saying that he is the ultimate Philly hero, because he gives it his all, yet still loses. Hardie is the ultimate Philly good guy even beyond Yuengling being his favorite beer.  He is morally questionable, willing to smash walls and break faces, yet not very likely to achieve his ultimate goals no matter how hard he really tries. While the ride may be uneven and extremely destructive, it is never boring.

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski (Charlie Hardie, Bk. 1)

Read by Pete Larkin

Hachette Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 37 Min

Grade: B+

In Fun & Games, Charlie Hardie takes a house sitting gig, and is surprised when he finds a crazed Hollywood actress inside his client house, brandishing a mic stand as a weapon and accusing his of being one of “them.” Initially Charlie assumes that she is just some drugged out paranoid rich girl hiding out, but when the home is besieged by highly skilled operative, Hardie discovers her paranoia is rightly deserved. Swierczynski starts off the series with a gut punch, and keeps on swinging. He throws you right into the action, and allows you to discover the over the top plot in a surprisingly organic way. In almost any other thriller, the series of events would push the average reader’s suspension of disbelief to its breaking point, but somehow the author pulls it off, creating a stylistic bonanza for action fans.

Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski (Charlie Hardie, Bk. 2)

Read by Pete Larkin

Hachette Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 29 Min

Grade: A

Hell & Gone finds Charlie Hardie captured by the secret organization he ran afoul of in Fun & Games, and stuck in a secret prison…. as the warden. Here Hardie becomes a player in a twisted game where the worse criminals in the world may not be what they seem, and he may need to make alliances with people he doesn’t trust in order to free himself from an inescapable prison. Hell & Gone may be one of the most twisted, bizarre and mind numbingly brilliant thrillers I have read in a while. Swierczynski creates a situation that flips the flipped head onto its head, and where every twist just creates the need for even more crazy twists. Hell & Gone was my favorite of the series, and a truly mind fuck of a thriller that redefines the dictionary that contains all the definitions. It’s funny and fresh and so much fun that I am really tempted to read it again. 

Point & Shoot by Duane Swierczynski  (Charlie Hardie, Bk. 3)

Read by Pete Larking

Hachette Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 56 Min

Grade: B

After making a deal with the devil in order to protect his family, Charlie Hardie is trapped in space on an experimental satellite protecting his enemies secrets, when the person  least expected shows up. Charlie must decide whether he should risk it all in order to put and end to the organization that has been making his life a living hell. Point & Shoot isn’t as focused as the first two novels, as Swierczynski attempts to pull together all the loose ends and subplots in order to conclude the trilogy in an acceptable manner. Despite this, the author manages to again take the readers to places they would never expect, and deliver brutal twists that will leave his readers bruised and suffering internal bleeding. The biggest upside to Point & Shoot was seeing a new side to Charlie as the battle becomes much more personal. Swierczynski affectively ends this story arc, while clearing the deck for potential editions in the future is he so chooses.

Narration:

I was a bit hesitant with Pete Larkin at firs. He has a strong, movie star voice full of bravado. It’s a great voice for the series, able to capture the rhythms and dark humor of series giving it that stylistic flair that made the series so fun. Yet, in the beginning I felt Larkin’s voice may have been a bit too strong for the emotional fragile Hardier, and his initial female voices made me cringe a bit. Yet, as the series progressed, either Larkin really grew into the role, or I was so sucked into the tale that I overlooked things that may have bothered me in the beginning. By the end, Larkin became Charlie Hardier and the slew of oddball characters that surrounded him, and delivered a memorable performance worthy of this series.

I was really happy with my decision to listen to these three novels in one solid chunk. I think this allowed me to really appreciate the storytelling, viewing the series from an interesting perspective. Swierczynski managed to create three solid thrillers with an underline mythology and fresh style that pulled it all together. I would love to experience more Charlie Hardie, whether it be prequels about his days taking on the worse Philly crimes lords, or whatever future evil Hardie must tackle.





Audiobook Series Review: The Infinity Ring: Books 1 & 2 by James Dashner and Carrie Ryan

3 07 2013

A Mutiny in Time: The Infinity Ring, Bk. 1 by James Dashner

Length: 4 Hrs 30 Min

Divide and Conquer: The Infinity Ring, Bk. 2 by Carrie Ryan

Length: 4 Hrs 28 Min

Read by Dion Graham

Scholastic Audio

Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Infinity Ring series is a fun science fiction adventure tale, with some likeable kid protagonists, and full of things that would have enthralled me back in my middle school days. For adults, it’s definitely a bit cutesy, and some of the twists are quite obvious, but I think the interplay between Dak and Sera’s perceived history and the realities we are taught add a bit of intriguing mystery to the tale that makes the series stand out.

Grade: B

Set in an Alternate Timeline where history is slightly altered from our own, The Infinity Ring series tells the story of two brilliant kids Dak Smyth and Sera Froste, who manage to perfect Dak’s parents’ time travel device, and are sent on a mission to restore the timeline from the manipulations of a shadowy group. As the world falls into chaos, Dak and Sera along with a surly teenage language expert Riq, must discover the inconsistencies of the time line to restore order. The Infinity Ring series is a fun action filled time travel adventure perfect for children looking to learn about history outside of what you would read in a text book. There is an almost afternoon TV feel to the story, and I think adults will be able to have some fun with the series despite some rather simple character development and well telegraphed twists. I have listened to the first two novels, the first of which takes our heroes to the time of Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic, which in their timeline is interrupted by a successful mutiny. What I found interesting about this first story was how Dak and Sera was forced to battle against history as they know it, which painted Columbus as the villain in their history. I actually enjoyed book two even more, due to its more obscure historical epoch, dealing with the Viking Invasion. I found the second book, Divide and Conquer, full of some truly fun and funny scenes, plus, a dog. I always like a dog. All together, I found both books to be fun a science fiction adventure tale, with some likeable kid protagonists, and full of things that would have enthralled me back in my middle school days. For adults, it’s definitely a bit cutesy, and some of the twists are quite obvious, but I think the interplay between Dak and Sera’s perceived history and the realities we’re taught add a bit of intriguing mystery to the tale that makes the series stand out.

One of the big reasons I decided to check this out was that it was narrated by Dion Graham, and it’s so outside the typical Dion Graham audiobook experience I have had previously that I was intrigued to see if it would even work. Well, Graham brings such enthusiasm to the reading, infusing it with a sense of fun adventure. It’s not easy for adult narrators to voice kids, but Graham doesn’t go all squeaky and annoying, instead just puts a lot of energy into his voice, mimicking the competing enthusiasm and cynicism in children’s voices perfectly. The historical elements gives Graham a lot of opportunity to create various accents and characters which he takes full advantage of.  There is a truly cinematic feel to his reading where all the characters come alive and you find yourself more than just a bystander but fully immersed in all the action and history. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this series as much in print, but Graham adds so much to the story, you can’t help but sit back and enjoy the ride.





Audiobook Series Review: Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo

22 05 2013

It’s no secret that I have become a fan of Mark Tufo. The experience of being a Mark Tufo fan is a unique on, one that needs its own clever name, like Tufooties or Tofunguys. Being a fan of Mark Tufo is like being a fan of your friend’s band. They may be raw and do things that mainstream rock bands would scoff at, but they are having so much fun doing it that it’s infective. I haven’t loved every moment. I found the novella that comes between the two man arcs of the series a bit on the head shakingly dumb side, but this is because Tufo is a risk taker, and isn’t bound by convention. This is a man whose main character, Mike Talbot, appears as a main character or some iteration of his exists in almost every series he has created. It’s a strange sort of multiverse that that I find fascinating.

The Zombie Fallout series has been a strange, wild ride. The original Zombie Fallout was a funny, disgusting, politically incorrect, horrifying relatively traditional initial Zombie Outbreak story, with only hints of things to come. The first three novels of the series started to flesh out the underlying mythology of the novel while Michael and his assortment of friends and allies attempt a cross country journey from Colorado to Maine, with some stops along the way. Along for the ride is Tommy, a strange boy that could be labeled special, who is more special than any of them can imagine.  In the initial book, Mike meets a strange, almost aware Zombie woman, and something about her just doesn’t sit right. He decided to not to kill her, and will regret that decision for the rest of the series. This woman is more than just a zombie, and more than just human and becomes the main nemesis of the series, focusing on and desiring the utter elimination of Michael and everything he holds dear.

The central theme of the first three books is Michael’s love for his family, and the loyalty to those in his inner circle. It’s not a clean apocalypse for the Talbot clan, the lose people along the way, suffer grievous injuries and even supernatural style psychic attacks. They lose a member of their group to Eliza, thus beginning the second arch of the series where the group goes on the offensive and takes the fight to Eliza. 

Last year, I listened to and reviewed all the first Three Zombie Fallout novels and the bridge novella. You can Click on the cover images below for my reviews. This year for Zombie Awareness Month, I decided to listen to a review the next three novels all in one series post.

The First Arc

The Second Arc

Zombie Fallout 4: The End Has Come and Gone by Mark Tufo

Read by Sean Runnette

Tantor Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 11 Min

Grade: B+

Zombie Fallout 4 got the second arc rolling on the right foot. Mike and his friends and family are on the offensive looking to end Eliza and rescue one of their own. Along the way we reunite with some old friends and make some new. This had a lot of the feel of the early novels, yet told from multiple points of view, eventually all coming together for an amazing heart stopping finale. While the pacing at times was uneven, the ending was thrilling and brilliant and opened up a whole new avenue of exploration for this series. We even get to see some more in the evolutionary process of the zombies, which doesn’t bode well for out survivors. Long time fans of the series will find a lot of payoffs here, including the final resolution of one characters story. The End Has Come and Gone was a furiously fun novel with all the perfect Mike Talbot touches.

Zombie Fallout 5: Alive in a Dead World by Mark Tufo

Read by Sean Runnette

Tantor Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 9 MIn.

Grade: B-

I found Zombie Fallout 5: Alive in a Dead World a bit disappointing. Now, it was still a lot of fun, but it did little to move the overall story forward, and focused a lot on some really annoying characters, particularly an old surly woman who for a moment I almost started to like until she turned into the spawn of Satan’s Evil Twin and another women who helps out Mike and his group, but has some of her own issues. Mostly, I felt Michael being away from his family and somewhat socially isolated in this tale contributed a lot to it’s disappointing tone. Michael is at his best when surrounded by his family, and here there were times where he just didn’t seem himself, for good reason. There were some especially gruesome moments, particularly one involving some cats, and some real emotional scenes, but I found the darker tone, lack of forward progress and focus on unlikable characters to hurt the book over all. I should add, the epilogues, while important to the mythology of the book just didn’t work for me as well this time.

Zombie Fallout 6: ‘Til Death Do Us Part by Mark Tufo

Read by Sean Runnette

Tantor Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 51 Min

Grade: B+

Whatever issue I had with Book 5 was more than made up for in Zombie Fallout 6: ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Mark Tufo pulls it all together in the excellent completion of this arc of the series. The highlight of this novel was the fleshing out of Eliza’s History leading up to her final confrontation with Michael. Along the way, we meet an interesting new character names Azile, and have a fun Zombie Road Trip and Zombie siege all in preparation for a kick ass finale that pays off for the listener as well as sets up the series for some new explorations. While there may have been a few bumps along the way, Tufo more than justifies the trust his fans put in him to create a fun yet nauseating Zombie apocalypse tale with characters you grow to love. I look forward to seeing where the series goes next, with so many tantalizing possibilities.

Narration

Sean Runnette may possible be Mark Tufo’s alternate universe twin, I’m just not sure which is the goateed evil version. It’s almost scary how well Runnette captures Michael Talbot and his band of family and friends. I have not listened to Runnette in other books, and it always takes me a moment to convince myself that Michael Talbot hasn’t become a narrator. I will always remember my first reaction when I started the first Zombie Fallout. I was totally, Who the hell is this guy? He sounds like Ray Romano with a head injury. It only took me a little while to realize just how perfect that was. Runnette seems to have truly grown into this world, bringing each character alive in special ways. Where he truly shines is capturing Tufor’s sarcastic and often corny sense of humor, making it feel authentic. For me, Zombie Fallout wouldn’t have been the same without Sean Runnette.

Zombob2ZAM_thumb

2013 Zombie Awareness Month





Audiobook Series Review: The Nightside by Simon R. Green

19 04 2013

One of my fears, when taking on an event like The Armchair Audies, is that I am going to find myself with a title that is part of a series, with hundreds of hours of listening to get through before even having to listen to the novel. Just so you understand me, I am not very OCD. I don’t keep my CD’s stored alphabetically or my books organized by color and size. Yet, when it comes to reading, I hate taking on a series out of order. It drives me crazy when an author mentions a little bit of something that happened in an earlier novel that I don’t know about. So, of course, this year, the wonderful people behind The Audies decided to nominate The Bride Wears Black Leather by Simon R. Green, the 12th and final novel in The Nightside series. Yes, the 12th. This means there are 11 novels previous to this one, full of back-story and events that culminate in this series finale. Roughly 70-80 hours of audio, produced through Audible, which means I won’t find them at the Library now be able to request them through the publisher.

Simply put, I would have to buy and listen to 11 other audiobooks on top of the 16 books in my category, all before the last week in May. Really can’t see that happening.

Luckily, through some Audible sales, and clever time managing, I knew I would be able to get some of the books of the series listened to before that date, maybe even most. Yet, the tough part was deciding which of the novels of the series to read. Every series, particularly in the Urban Fantasy genre, has books that are key to the overall story arch and others that are more standalone throwaway novels that can safely be skipped without making you unable to follow the overall tale being told. The key is figuring out which stories to listen to. So, I decided to be smart, and go the Simon R. Green forum and ask the fans. So, I posed the questions, telling them how I need the final book in the series, and was wondering what they believed to be the key entries in the series that must be listened before listening to the final book. I received two responses.

The first told me that I really don’t have to read any of the firs novels, that I probably would miss out on some of the tale by not knowing the backstories of the characters, but the plot stands alone pretty well.

I guess this could helpful, except for the fact that it didn’t answer the question I asked.

The second response told me I should probably read the first book.

Yeah. OK.

So, instead, I decide to try and figure it out on my own. At this point, I have listened to five of the books in the series. I skipped one (Book 3) which seemed pretty self contained and not sure where I am going to go from here. I thought I would give my overall impression on the series so far, and maybe some quick thoughts on each book I have read. As I finish further books in the series, I may edit in thoughts later, so if you are interested at all, feel free to check in down the road.

The Story:

The Nightside a paranormal Noir Urban Fantasy series that takes place in a secret area of London where it is always 3 AM and the streets are filled with monsters, old gods, creatures of myth, escapees from other dimensions and any other creepy otherworldly thing you can imagine. John Taylor was born in the Nightside. His mysterious mother betrayed his father, and his father drunk himself to death. Throughout his life, a mysterious enemy has been trying to kill him, while others look at him like a dark powerful prince. He has one strange gift, the ability to find almost anything, a gift that serves him in his role as Private Investigator. He eventually escapes the Nightside, but is drawn back in, returning to his home and the friends he left behind. Yet, someone still is trying to kill him, and he still knows nothing about his not quite human Mother and her plans for him and the Nightside.

My Thoughts:

Really, this is one odd series. I have a lot of mixed thoughts about it. I love the setting. In fact, it can be argued that the true main character of the series is not John Taylor but The Nightside itself. It’s full of so many interesting and bizarre characters each with their own powers and motivations. I love it’s blending of fantasy and science fiction, which included gods and fairies along side with robots, time travel and alternate futures. Yet, I find the plots and overall structure frustrating to the point of annoyance. Taylor rarely truly investigates things, just is moved around the board by various other powers. His only true contribution is his gift, which he can’t use because it will draw the attention of his enemies, except for of course, when he decides to use it. It’s the ultimate Dues Ex Machina, and it’s quite annoying at times.

There is an overall arch of the first half of the series that deals with his mother and her plans for the Nightside. This plays out over thee books (Books, 4,5,6) and is decently executed. Green does a good job introducing random elements in earlier books and having them become significant later. At this point, I have just completed this cycle within the series and am intrigued to see if the next novels become simply stand alones, or if he continues building overall arcs through multiple novels.

Narration Review:

Marc Vietor does a great job reading this series. He reads it with a sinister light British accent and a sneer that makes me imagine him twisting the ends of his large handlebar mustache. There are so many strange and colorful characters that he brings to life with wicked glee. Yet, the overall experience of listening to this audiobook series can be kind of annoying. The writing is so repetitive, using key phrases and terms over and over and unlike print you can’t just skim over them. I honestly think you can cut a good two hours out of each audiobook version by just eliminating any phrase that ends with the word “…Nightside.” Every character doesn’t just have a name, but a strange title, or phrase that is specific to them, and is used multiple times in each book. It can’t just be Razor Eddie, but “Razor Eddie, the punk God of the Straight Razor.” OK, I get it. Can we get back to the story involving Tommy Oblivion the effete existential detective and Shotgun Suzie aka Suzie Shooter aka "Oh Christ, it’s her, Run!" ? So, yeah… the production has some issues that get annoying, but Marc Vietor does some really cool things with it, and it’s easy to see why fans of the series are really taken with his work.

Something From the Nightside by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 1)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B

It all starts when a beautiful women walks into John Taylor’s office seeking his help and talking of things he’s trying to forget. The first novel of this series is in its essence and introduction to The Nightside, with its thin plot almost an afterthought to the fascinating setting. There are some cool moments within this tale, yet it’s surrounded by some very predictable twists, a stunning lack of asking important questions by someone who is supposed to be a Private Investigator, and lots of rambling exposition. Overall it works, but just barely. I enjoyed more what the authors seemed to be setting up for future editions of the series more than anything that actually happened in this book.

Agents of Light and Darkness by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 2)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: C+

When Johyn Taylor is asked to find the Unholy Grail, the last supper cup of Judas Iscariot embedded with the ultimate evil, all hell breaks lose. Literally. Angels and demons descend on the Nightside and John Taylor and his friends must deal wit obstacles at every turn in order to complete the job. I found this edition to the series to be a letdown, a pointless side trip in the overall story. Again there was some nice moments, but on the most part I was frustrated with the lack of direction in the series when finishing this.

Nightingale’s Lament by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 3)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 6 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

[Not Yet Reviewed]

Hex and the City by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 4)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B

When lady Luck hires John Taylor to investigate the origins of The Nightside, major powers set themselves against him. John Taylor knows he needs to be careful because this investigation is too personal, and may lead him on a course to his mother and the dark future his investigation could unleash. With Hex and the City the series gets back onto track, giving us the first real look into the overriding mythology of the series. While the investigational process is kid of annoying, basically going to more and more dangerous characters to ask for information, the many reveals and interesting twists along the way make up for it. While the action is lighter, the tone of the book is much more engaging.

Paths Not Taken by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 5)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

In order to stop his mothers plans, John Taylor and friends must travel through time to learn the true origins of the Nightside. Hex and the City was a lot of fun, and perhaps my favorite book of the series so far. I think I have begun to get used to Taylor’s clumsy attempts to actual Investigate, and just had fun with it. It’s an interesting trip full of wrong turns and interesting interactions, and while the finale was a bit of a let down, it set it up from a pretty kick ass showdown for the next book. Greens humor shines through with this entry more so than in the previous novels.

Sharper Than a Serpents Tooth by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 6)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

War has come to the Nightside. John Taylor’s mother is back, and her plans to change the Nightside into her vision is wreaking havoc. Yet, Taylor knows that if he tries to fight her directly it could lead the bleak future he visited previously. Now, he must get advice from enemies, and join up with those who don’t trust him to save The Nightside. This is the finale of the big story arc involving John Taylor’s mother, and Green pulls it off well. It’s full, of dark humor, brutal battles and lots of mayhem. The conclusion pays off well, yet leaves me wondering just where the series will go next.

Note: Further editions of the series will be added as they are listened to an reviewed, so feel free to check back later.