Audiobook Review: The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green

15 05 2013

The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 12)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 31 Min

Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: For fans of the series, The Bride Wore Black Leather should be a lot of fun, completing the story in the style of the previous novel. For me, though, this final novel highlighted many of my issues with the earlier novels and stripped away the one aspect of the series I really liked.

Grade: C-

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

Really people, I tried. I love the Armchair Audies Event. It’s one of the few blogging activities I take part in every year that I am proud of. It’s one of the few things I do on my small little slice of the internet that I think both forces me out of my comfort zone, and also provides a valuable service. Sure, I do Zombie Awareness Month, and participate in things like June is Audiobook Month and Jenn’s Bookshelves’ Monsters, Murder and Mayhem events, but for those things I still control the content on my blog. In many ways what I like about Armchair Audies is that the book selections are out of my hands. Last year, I loved the experience. It was really an awesome experience. I have loved the experience so far this year as well, but it has come with more difficulties. From the moment the nominees were announced, I was a bit flummoxed. You can tell just by the nominees alone that one company made a concerted push to have their titles at the forefront of the selection process. The nominees both in my categories and in other had me shocked, and a bit dismayed at times. It had me doubting the process. Some of that was saved after listening to the two selections from Recorded Books in the Fantasy category, but since then, I have been pretty much under whelmed. My favorite category, Science Fiction was practically all titles I have already listened to. Then came paranormal, which had some really amazing titles, but also one title that was the 12th in a series. Yet, I was going to try. I was going to pool my resources, and listened to as many of the 11 prequels as I could. I had the time management skills, and the determination. I made it to Book 6, and then I just couldn’t. I saw all the other awesome books I could have been listening to instead of this series, which was, in my opinion, mediocre. So, I broke my cardinal rule, and skipped ahead to Book 12, the Audie nominated entry of Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, The Bride Wore Black Leather.

So, I’m going to keep the summary of the book short. Basically, the Nightside series is ending. Some bad guy decides he wants to make The Nightside a 60’s paradise and force The Nightside, where it is always 3 AM, into the light and of course, this is a bad thing, because then where will all the monsters go to terrorize people. Groan… Listen, Simon R. Green’s Nightside isn’t a bad series. I can understand why it has a following. I personally felt like the one story arch was pretty strong, but not strong enough to keep me interested. The thing I like most about this series is the strange camaraderie between an oddball group of characters, and the essence of this final edition of the story was stripping John Taylor away from his friends, thus eliminating my favorite aspect. In fact, the Bride mentioned in the title, John Taylor’s fiancé Susie Shooter doesn’t even show up in the tale until the last 30 minutes of the audiobook. Like most of the series, it’s not bad, just mostly blah for me. As John Taylor freely admits, he isn’t really an Investigator, which sucks for a series about a guy who runs a Private Investigator firm in a strange magical section of London where it’s always 3AM. He’s a guy with a gift that is moved around on a chessboard by unseen forces in order to use that gift. He has a knack for getting out of bad scrapes, which of course, he allows himself to be maneuvered into regularly. He’s a hero with no agency, surviving by the ultimate Dues ex machina, and waits patiently for the villain to reveal his evil plan before stumbling on a way to thwart it. I love the setting of the story, the bizarre world, the blending of speculative fiction tropes and genres, I just never became invested in the plots of the tale enough to give two shits and a half of a giggle. Skipping from book 6 to book 12, you would think you would feel lots of holes in the story and want to find what filled them. Sure, there were holes but only on a few occasions was I in the slightest way tempted to fill them. Fans of the series should love this finale, since basically it’s John Taylor going from character to character he knows and reminding all of us about their sordid relationships. The action doesn’t really take off until the final third, and that mostly consists of some of these same people being magically manipulated into acting like douchebags. For me, well, I can’t gather up enough passion to lambaste and bash this title with snark and clever .gifs, so I’ll just say, if you like The Nightside books, you’ll like it. If you’d rather spend 10 hours watching a marathon of episodes of Gilligan’s Planet, then here’s a link to it’s theme on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sGOfWP2bWk

While aspects of the audiobook drove me up a wall, very little of this was due to the narration by Mark Vietor. He had total command of the characters and the setting, and I thought this performance was much more nuanced than in some of the earlier editions. Yet, some of the problems with the writing in this series become BLINKING RED LIGHTS OF DOOM in the audiobook. The repetition was horrible. If I had to hear John Taylor say "…and then it was the easiest thing in the world…" just one more time I would have laced my head in moth pheromones and sat outside under a porch light while they attempted to mate with my skull. FYI, I HATE MOTHS. I was actually going to keep a running count on how many times Vietor ominously said “The Nightside…” in his patented mustache twirling soft British sneer but instead I invested my time more wisely by picturing Justin Beiber on tour with Menudo. That being said, Vietor was quite good and if you like the series, he’s the way to go. Sure, give him an Audie nomination and everything. I mean, he did read 12 of these things. 





Audiobook Review: My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diane Rowland

13 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM_thumb

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

Read by Allison McLemore

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Contemporary Zombie

Quick Thoughts: My Life a a White Trash Zombie is an engaging, coming to death tale. It’s an atypical zombie novel that focuses more on character than on any expectation you may have about Zombies. Diana Rowland’s tale is the rare zombie book that I would recommend to my non-zombie loving friends before my hordes of zombie enthusiasts, a fun character study, with a well executed bit of mystery and maybe even some romance along the way.

Grade B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

I never started out as a big zombie fan. Little Bob wasn’t running around pretending to headshot all his little friends, or biting them in a hope to spread his viral infection. Little Bob had better reasons to bite his friends. When I first started to get exposed to the possibility of Zombie fiction, I was a bit hesitant. No matter what type of persona I attempt to foster, I am not a gore for gore sake type of guy. My least favorite scenes in Romero movies are the one where the gangs are getting their entrails ripped out by zombies, or the flesh is being peeled off the necks by the ragged teeth of a pustulant corpsebag . Now, there are some pretty awesome gory moments in Zombie movies and TV shows but, I am more interested in the story and characters then the flesh rending action. I came into Zombie fiction as a post apocalyptic fan and because of this I had a very myopic view of the undead and their purpose. Zombies were not supposed to be characters on their own, but set pieces. Their roles were to serve as the catalyst to the characters post apocalyptic adventure then shamble off screen until needed. I loved books where the zombies only came out at night, so the apocalyptic adventurers had a whole empty playground to do their looting and banditry in, then hole up and find some sort of protection from the undead at night. Then something changed. Maybe I was just going through a change. Maybe I was just suffering ZFS, Zompoc Fatigue Syndrome, but I wanted something more from my undead. I started reading books like Warm Bodies, Raising Stony Mayhall and Zombie, Ohio, where the zombies became characters. I read Dust and started to become fascinated by the idea of Zombie culture. I read The Reanimation of Edward Schuett and realized that zombies may have regret. This opened a whole new area of exploration for me, where Zombies can be more than set pieces, but can solve murders, fall in love and devourer the brains of humans. Well, some things need to stay the same.

When Angel wakes us in the hospital after an apparent overdose where she was found naked on the side of the road by a cop, she knew she had to change her life. When she received a mysterious letter telling her she had a job at the Coroner’s Office as a van driver and if she didn’t stick it out there at least a month she would violate her parole and end up in jail, well, she knew something was up. When she discovered a deep hunger for human brains, she begins to suspect the unthinkable. What exactly happened to her that night, and is it related to the recent string of beheadings that is plaguing her small town? Angel planned on finding out, just as soon as she procured herself enough human head cheese to calm her cravings. My Life as a White Trash Zombie is an atypical zombie novel that focuses more on character than on any expectation you may have about Zombies. I may have been a bit of a victim here of inflated expectations. I had heard so much about this novel that I was expecting, almost hoping to be blown away by it like I have been with some other spins on zombie tales. While I wasn’t utterly blown away, I found My Life as a White Trash Zombie to be an engaging coming of death tale. Interestingly, where I had the most trouble with the novel was the Zombie stuff. There was an almost incongruousness to the tale. When dealing with Angel’s plight to overcome her self fulfilled life as a loser, dealing with her abusive father and loser boyfriend and attempting to take pride in her new job, I loved it. Then I was reminded a little about small things like that she’s a zombie, who needs to find brains, oh, and someone may be killing people or zombies or something, I was like, OK, but is she going to find herself some affordable housing away from her douchebag dad? As a character study, I really, really liked it. As a zombie novel, I was a bit indifferent. It’s not that I don’t like different takes on Zombies, it was just that she really didn’t feel like a Zombie to me. She seemed like she was just this girl who happened to find that the label ZOMBIE most fir her current status.  Which wasn’t what I expected at all. Diane Rowland has created a wonderful protagonist who just happen to need to snack occasionally on human brains in order to not go roguey killey slaughtering all mankind, and of course, to have enough energy for sexy stuff. I’m, good with that. My Life as a White Trash Zombie is the rare zombie book that I would recommend to my non-zombie loving friends before my hordes of zombie enthusiasts, a fun character study, with a well executed bit of mystery and maybe even some romance along the way.

So, if you just read my review, and are thinking, "OK, Bob. That sounds good, but should I read it or get the audiobooks?" Good question hypothetical person who actually reads my review, simple answer "GET THE DAMN AUDIOBOOK!" Allison McLemore’s narration really makes this audiobook. It’s light and whimsical when needed, but full of depth as well. McLemore turns Angel from a theoretical construct that exists on paper, into a real not so living, so I guess not really breathing unperson. She gives Angel’s accent the perfect amount of sardonic southern twang without coming off as a bad redneck stereotype. The other characters in the tale were equally as effective, especially her sorta kinda boyfriend Randy and her various coworkers at the coroner’s office. McLemore’s performance is definitely worthy of the Audie nomination and kept me engrossed in this fun tale of a young woman who just wants to have some fun… and eat some brains. 





Audiobook Review: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

15 04 2013

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Read by Renee Raudman

Tantor Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Gunmetal Magic managed to defy my expectations. Despite some issues with the romantic storyline, it was a fast, fun urban fantasy tale full of some badass action, crazed death cults, angry old gods and enough dark humor and likable characters to keep me smiling for most of the listen.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

If you have been following along with my Armchair Audies travels, you will know that I have completed the Fantasy Category and have most of the Science Fiction Category done before the announcements were every made. So we are moving on to probably the most confusing, strange and at times, problematic categories of the lot, Paranormal. With the Fantasy and Science Fiction Categories, there is for the most part, a thematic shared element to the books chose, yet, Paranormal is such an ill defined category that it offers its own slew of problems. The category has 5 nominees, two of which I had already listened to, leaving three strange bedfellows. We have one nominee that is the 12th and final  book of a series I had never even considered reading, one novel about zombies, which let’s face it, is right in my wheelhouse, and finally, what I guess seems like the odd duck of the group, Gunmetal Magic. I have to admit I came into my listening of Gunmetal Magic with a lot of preconceived notions. You see, I have really been surprised by the lack of Paranormal Romance titles in the Paranormal Category, and I’ll be honest, when I read the book was about shape shifters, that the plot involved some troubled romance with some hunky were-something or other and was written by a woman, I made an assumption that this would be a Paranormal Romance title. This of course concerned me for a few reasons. I have nothing against Paranormal Romance, but many of my readers know about my history with sexy dragons. I have documented my personal issues sex in audiobooks and with romance on a few occasions, and simply put, I have a hard time connecting with Romantic plots and with novels where romance is the driving force of the novel. Yet, I was assured by some who I trust that this is an Urban Fantasy, with some romantic elements on line with most novels within the genre, and a hot and heavy animal shifting sex romp where our characters frolic and fornicate, only briefly stopping to handle some sort of plot related issue. Of course, there is still like kissing, and maybe some light petting so I was still wary.

Gunmetal Magic is a standalone spin off novel of Ilona Andrews’ popular Kate Daniels Urban Fantasy Series, which focuses on Kate Daniel’s Best Friend Andrea Nash. It takes place in a world where Magic has reappeared, often to nearly apocalyptic results, changing the world’s landscape, reawakening gods and altering many of its inhabitants. Andrea is a Shape-Shifter, a hyena beast-kin who never feels at homes in either the human or shifter worlds. When she is called to investigate a vicious murder that takes place at her sort of Ex-Boyfriend, the Alpha of the local were-hyena pack, job site, she finds her struggles to remain independent of pack increasingly difficult.  I have to say, I enjoyed Gunmetal Magic more than I thought I would It was a fast, fun urban fantasy tale full of some badass action, crazed death cults, angry old gods and enough dark humor and likable characters to keep me smiling for most of the listen. This is, of course, except for the parts that made me want to bang my head repeatedly against the wall to bash out the bad feelings saturating my soul. I found the world Andrews has created to be fascinating. As someone new to the series, it took me a bit to get my head around the changed world, and I wish there were a few more details about it, but since this was an established world, Andrews does a good job of providing just the right amount of information, without going into expositional overload for her returning customers.  I really enjoyed Andrea Nash as the main character. She was the right blend of troubled past, flawed personality, quirky sense of humor and take no shit badassery. My favorite parts of the novel had to be the deepening of her back story, and her internal and political struggles to find her place in the world. Andrews did a great job developing this character, and filling her story in with a bunch of quirky and interesting characters. I thought the overall plot well realized involving a decent investigational process, some cool fight scenes, and an overall mythology which although at times seemed a bit overly complicated, played nicely on the themes of the oblivion of the old gods. Where the novel bogged down, at times for significant portions, was the romantic elements. Simply put, I hated the romantic lead. Hated him with a fury I usually reserve for Martin Short movies and internet news story commenters. He was everything I hate about male romantic leads, the ultimate hunky alpha male, who is a huge arrogant controlling asshole who gets angry when the smart women he loves has a mind of her own, and doesn’t betray all her other relationships because her big manly man wants her to. Oh, but it’s all good, because they have chemistry, he looks really hot, and has enough money to buy her an expensive gift. That totally makes up for his treating her like property. Sure, part of his personality comes from the shape shifting pack mentality nature of his character, and I can see why many readers would like the dangerous brooding asswipe, but I simply wished a fiery death upon him and his essence he wiped from the annals of history so I never had to think of him again. Yeah, he was a bit of a douche. Yet, remove this total jackass from the mix, and I would have had a relatively frustration free, bordering on joyful experience with Gunmetal Magic.

This is my first experience with Renee Raudman outside of her work in a zombie anthology I listened to earlier this year. I found her performance in Gunmetal Magic quite interesting. There were times I felt she had the typical sexy sly delivery that you find in many urban fantasies that center around 20 something females. She infuses her characters with enough southern charm, where appropriate. At times though, her voice had something more to it, a sort of strange slur, that was unique and intriguing and gave the narration an interesting flavor. She managed to make Andrea’s Texas charms sound almost exotic. Her voice really stood out for me, separating her from the typical and making my listening experience that much better.  She also managed to convey the slow delineate manner of Andrea’s thought process, while still giving the action the rapid fire pacing it needed. All together, it’s clear to see why this title was nominated for an Audie based on Raudman’s excellent performance.





Audiobook Review: Anita by Keith Roberts

8 04 2013

Anita by Keith Roberts

Read by Nicola Barber

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 9 Hrs

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

A few weeks ago I tried to rewatch Buck Rogers. It didn’t go well. I loved Buck Rogers as a kid, at least I remember loving the concept of Buck Rogers. I really have few memories of the actual show other than Twiki bidi-bidi-bidi-ing around. All I know I loved it as a kid, and watching it as an adult, well, wasn’t so pretty. Somehow, in the 30ish years since I last watched Buck Rogers, the special effects became horrid, the acting wooden and the stories boring. I find this happens to me a lot with visual mediums. I remember things I enjoyed as a child on TV as being so much better that they actually are and am often amazed at how I could ever have liked it. It’s a bit different with books. I have revisited books I loved as a kid on many occasions. I’ve learned that the experiences of these books are different, yet not really worse, as an adult. Often I find these books are simpler than I remember. The vast lands of Oz or Narnia not as big as I remember. Yet I also find a new beauty in them. Rediscovering the Phantom Tollbooth or James and the Giant Peach allows me to see things that I didn’t as a child. Often, there is both a melancholy sense of loss during these rereads coupled with a new appreciation of what the author did. Often times, I enjoy these tales, not more or less, but on a new level. When I listened to Neil Gaiman introduce Anita, ant talk about the magic of these stories I couldn’t help but wish that I had read these tales when I was younger, when maybe I was a little more open to the magic of these tales. 

Anita is a free spirited young witch, under the tutelage of Granny, who lives on a sort of magical copse on the edge of the modern world. She can change her shape, speak with animals and meets all manner of magical creatures, while dealing with boys in their cars, supermarkets and new technology. Anita is told in a series of short stories as we follow her development growing in her powers while maturing as an individual. Now, this is my first experience with these stories, but in many ways I felt like I did when returning to a much beloved tale of my youth. The stories have a surface level simpleness, obvious morality tales that reflected the time in which it was written, but with hidden moments of depth, and tongue in cheek humor that the younger set may miss. Not that Anita is a strictly children’s book. Its stories are full of magic and beauty that would appeal to younger children, but also full of a sort of 60’s era charm that adults will enjoy. Like many tales like this, Anita can be at times brave and bratty, frustrating and flashy, naive and mature all rolled into one. It’s a coming of age story with a protagonist in a never ending morphing of personhood. She makes mistakes, many of which come back to bite her in the butt later. Her naiveté and free spiritness is both refreshing and off-putting in equal measure. She is a wonderful character at time when not driving the reader just a wee bit crazy. Yet, even better is her crotchety, irascible Granny whose flavor filled patios often masks her deep wisdom. Being this is more of an anthology that a novel, some stories are stronger than others. The best stories involve the conflicts between the modern world and the witching world. There are two noticeable examples, both involving Granny dealing with some new modernity to hilarious yet often disastrous results. Other stories take a bit more work to get into but have their own sort of magic. There were times a story would bore me, but most were relatively short, and the next would grab me right away. If I had kids, I think I would love reading these stories to them, even with Anita’s open but subtle sexuality. These are just the kinds of tales I would have loved as a child, and as an adult, I appreciate their humor, magic and various lessons they teach that aren’t always as cut and dry as the typical morality tale.

This is my second experience with Nicola Barber and one that simply was beautiful to listen to. Barber voiced Anita perfectly, giving her a young, precocious and at times, uncomfortably sexy voice. She captured the carefree attitudes of the young perfectly. Yet, where she really excelled was in her voicing of Granny. It was simply splendid. Honestly, Granny’s patois was so deep and flavorful that it was at times hard to figure out but always wonderful to hear. It was like listening to music, even if I didn’t understand the lyrics, I enjoyed listening to every note. Barber captured the fable-like feel of the tale wonderfully, giving the stories a poetic rhythm that matched the whimsical nature of the tales wonderfully. Even the stories I didn’t find as engaging, just listening to Barber read them made it worth my time. Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.  I’m not sure if I would even have given this one a listen if it hadn’t been for the Audie nomination, but I am definitely thankful I did.





Audiobook Review: All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

18 03 2013

All Men of Genius by Lev AV Rosen

Read by Emily Gray

Recorded Books

Length: 17 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Steampunk Romantic Comedy

Quick Thoughts: All Men of Genius is a mad capped screwball comedy of manners flipped on its head and infused with mad science, gender politics and of course, robots, or, well… automatons. It was just so much fun, with layers upon depths upon layers yet never becoming even the tiniest bit pretentious. I enjoyed All Men of Genius so much that I don’t think my words have even done it half the justice it deserves.  So, go, listen yourself. You’ll like it.

Grade: A

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

One of the things I love about Armchair Audies is that even though I chose to take on the categories that most match my typical genre reading, there are always selections well outside my typical comfort areas. This year, it is especially true of the Fantasy category which has six titles I had not read or listened too previously and only one author I have read before. One of the most intriguing titles for me, because it was simply something I probably never would have selected on my own was All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen. If this is the first time you have stopped by the old ‘lobe, let me explain. My typical niche in the reading world surrounds dark horror and fantasy, science fiction and violent thrillers with an obsession with post apocalyptic, and dystopian fiction and of course, zombies. Sure, I am perfectly willing to step outside of my comfort zone, but there is typically a hook to it, some catalyst that points me in the direction of a book. I have personally never been a fan of Jane Austen or the modern day romantic comedy which I personally believe owes a lot to Austen. I tend to be outwardly skeptical towards plots that surround romance, although I’ve been known to get caught up in it from time to time like anyone else with a soul. While I have read some Cherie Priest, a little Tim Powers and others that fall into the Steampunk subgenre, it’s usually some other aspect of the tale that hooks me in. So, honestly, a Victorian Steampunky Romantic Comedy was probably never going to walk a natural path into my mountainous "To Be Listened To" pile no matter how many robots may appear. Yet, this is why I take on such projects. Not just because I am an audiobook uber-fan, but because sometimes, pushing my boundaries is a good thing. Plus, well… robots.

Illyria College was the most exclusive scientific college, where the brightest young minds gathered to explore the sciences in creative ways. Well, the brightest young male minds. More than anything, young Violet Adams wanted to attend Illyria to further train her gifted mind in the mechanical sciences, so, of course, as all brilliant young minds do, she hatched a scheme. She would apply to Illyria, and most certainly attend, under the guise of her twin brother Ashton. Yet, while she planned for many a pitfall, she never even considered the greatest of all complications… love. First off, I want to tackle my biggest issue with this novel, and that, of course was me. I don’t think I was properly prepared for the mad hijinks, the pure fun, and the surprising depths of this tale. I also felt like Rosen crammed this tale full of tributes to a genre I am dreadfully unread in, which includes not just Austen, but Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare and that for ever level I of this novel I so very much enjoyed, there were two that I simply missed. All Men of Genius is a mad capped screwball comedy of manners flipped on its head and infused with mad science, gender politics and of course, robots, or, well automata. At times, I felt like I was listening to two separate novels intertwined by some strange experiment, yet, somehow manage to perfectly fall together, against all my expectations. At the core, this was a novel about relationships, and Rosen packs it full of so many colorful untraditional relationships, you couldn’t help but find one or more to really cheer for. What I liked about his style of entanglement, is it was just as much about caste and station as it was about gender roles and sexuality. You had Ashton, who worried about the propriety of romance with one of his servants, and a conniving actress finding more than she expected in her romantic schemes. Rosen told tales of young love and old love, and even some young/old love, with class, race and gender all pushed and smooshed and tangled together, in ways that made it show that sometimes these things don’t matter in love, except when they do. Yet, all this is peripheral to a tale of romance, science, revenge and egomaniacal madness involving a brilliant young women whose deception and genius affects the lives of the master of Illyria and his young ward. It has all the brilliance and frustrations of your typical romantic comedy, including the misconceptions, misapprehensions and miscommunications inherent to the greatest of over the top schemes. Rosen explores many themes you find in many modern day movies and televisions series, yet in a bright new twisted way, that you just can’t help but love. Add to all this one of the craziest, robot filled action sequences as a cap to the all the fun that you couldn’t help but feel all types of giddy thrills experiencing it. I so loved the pure mad fun of the ending that I could even accept the Hollywoodeque style epilogue, because, really, it just felt it had to end that way. I enjoyed All Men of Genius so much that I don’t think my words have even done it half the justice it deserves.  It was just so much fun, with layers upon depths upon layers yet never becoming even the tiniest bit pretentious. And, also… have I mentioned the automata. Because call them robots or automata or whatever your little heart desires, I still call them awesome.

Emily Gray, the narrator of All Men of Genius really had her work cut out for her. This novel was full of so many characters, some of them low keyed and restrained while others wildly over the top. Add to this a protagonist who was a maybe not quite proper young British Lady of some standing attempting to speak as a young British man of some standing, although at times slipping and sliding through the ranges of her voice. So, yeah, this wasn’t an easy task, and really, with a narrator who was too over the top, or two low keyed, or who just really didn’t grasp the characters, this production had every chance of being an audiobook trainwreck. Well, it wasn’t. It was a wonderful performance by a talented narrator. I truly believe that the key element to Gray’s narration was her understanding of the characters. She manages to portray each character as I feel the author intended. I believe each character had a battle between outward appearance and their true essence, and Gray captured this important struggle perfectly accentuating the themes of the novel. Also, I was happy to see, that with such a crazy final sequence, Gray kept the train well on the tracks, allowing the action to come alive, but never to get away from the listener. All Men of Genius was wonderful melding of performance and material, and one that can appeal to a wide range of listeners. Yes, even you. So, go, listen yourself. You’ll like it.





Audiobook Review: Heroes Die by Mathew Woodring Stover

12 03 2013

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover (Acts of Caine, Book 1)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Audible Frontiers

Length: 22 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I found Heroes Die to be an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a brilliantly conceived world, but was unable to really connect with the characters until the end of the book. There’s tons of action, magic, gore and intrigue and the final third of the book is full of clever twists that makes up for any flaws early on.

Grade: B

2013 Audie Nominee for Fantasy

One of the terms that I read often in reviews and have used myself is "likable" when it comes to describing characters. One of the major criticisms I can give a book is I didn’t find the main character likeable. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that that probably isn’t the best term for it. Some of my favorite all time characters are far from likable people. In fact, some of them are downright scumbags who I wouldn’t let clean my toilets, let alone kick back on my couch to watch my DVDs. Yet, despite my respect for great people, those wonderful morally upright citizens who selflessly give of them selves and are always quick with a kind word and a helping hand, I rarely like these types as book characters.  One of my favorite all time characters, Thomas Covenant, is an scumbag, whiney rapist who only survived because of the willingness of his friends to sacrifice themselves for him and The Land he doesn‘t truly believe in. Yet, when Covenant isn’t on the page I miss him. He has a presence and the tale never feels complete unless he’s there. This is what I want out of characters, a sense of presence, and an investment in what they are doing. I want to wonder what’s going on with them when they are off screen, wonder how they will react when the story switches to another perspective. Mostly, I want them to be interesting, flawed and human. Well, unless they are robots, or aliens or something, but at least somewhat relatable. So, screw being likable characters. You don’t need to wipe your feet before entering my head, just try not to get too much blood on the floor.

Heroes Die is the first novel of The Acts of Caine series. This series is a blending of science fiction and fantasy which tells of a future where actors are transported to an alternate plane of existence called Ankhana, where they get into adventures, perform magic and mayhem, all for the pleasure of the audience who experiences it through a virtual reality like set up. Caine is perhaps the biggest star of his time. His kill first then ask questions later mentality make him a must for real time viewers of his adventure. Yet, on earth the only real thing in his life, his marriage with a fellow actor has fallen apart. When his estranged wife disappears during an adventure, the studio calls in Caine, and says that they will send him to Ankhana to rescue her, only if he’s willing to assassinate the very powerful emperor. It took me a long time to get into Heroes Dies. A really long time. I found both worlds, the fantasy setting of Ankhana and the real Earth dystopian caste system to be fascinating, yet, I really didn’t like the main character. OK, actually I hated him. I just couldn’t find myself invested in his struggles or interested in his methods. I found that the main baddie, an egomaniacal Emperor with a dark new power, was much more of an interesting character, and I actually agreed with his disdain for the interference of the Actors. Even the characters within the tale couldn’t seem to find a viable reason to do away with the Emperor. It wasn’t until the story shifted perspectives to his estranged wife in her alternate guise as Pallas Rill, did the story start gaining track for me. After that, Caine began to change becoming less of the charge into battle with your sword raised type character to a more cerebral plotter. Also, Stover began to change to focus more to the evils of the Earth system, and began revealing the true bad guy of the story. This is where Heroes Die really begins to take off. The Final third of this book made up for many of my problems with the first third. I never really bought into Caine, but slowly I began to understand and became more invested in his quest. The interesting thing is, my development as the reader took the same path as Caine, realizing what the book was really about didn’t happen to late, when Caine began to really get a grasp on the true issues of his world. So, despite some trouble connecting, in the end I felt I had a net positive experience with Heroes Die. The ending has some real clever twists that were more about revealing the true nature of people and the world then any sort of "Aha!" moment. Overall, I found Heroes Die to be an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a brilliantly conceived world, but was unable to really connect with the characters until the end of the book. There’s tons of action, magic, gore and intrigue and the final third of the book is full of clever twists that makes up for any flaws early on.

Whenever I start a new audiobook, I like to announce it on Twitter to all the fanfare and pomposity of my small group of followers. When I started to tweet about Heroes Die, I wanted to announce that it was read by Uncle Stefan, because, I can’t but feel, whenever I start one of Stefan Rudnick’s narrations, like I’m sitting down ready for my big burly uncle with his booming voice about to tell me some deep and dark visceral tale of battles and monsters and warrior maidens. Heroes Die is the perfect vehicle for Stefan Rudnicki. He voices Caine with a booming over the top masculinity, yet also manages to tap into Caine’s alter ego’s insecurities. Heroes Die is filled with just the right kind of murder and mayhem that is Rudnicki’s bread and butter. You haven’t truly experienced someone being slowly eviscerated by a magic sword until you have heard it described by Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki simply brought Ankhana alive for me. While struggling through the early parts of this book, Rudnicki was the perfect guide, making these world’s interesting for me, and keeping me in the game for the huge payoff at the end. He managed to make the action scenes feel even more intense, the political maneuverings more cunning and the characters more real. Mostly, he did what he does best, he told the story.





Audiobook Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

5 03 2013

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelation, Bk. 1)

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Recorded Books

Length: 22 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Theft of Swords managed to be two sides to an intriguing coin, both a light heated traditional fantasy tale, as well as a unique spin on traditional fantasy with surprising depth. Sullivan manages the old hook and spin, getting you in the door, then locking it and laughing evilly once you are trapped inside, ready to tell you a tale you may not have been expecting.

Grade: B+


2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

It’s Armchair Audies time *cue cheers* and once again I embark on my journey through the speculative fiction categories. This year, I am starting with the Fantasy Category, and am listening to them in order of length. So up first is the epic fantasy The Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan, the first book in the Riyria Revelations. Last year, one thing I complained about in the Audies Fantasy category was a lack of epic fantasy. In fact, the only titles nominated that was even closely related to epic fantasy was Richard K. Morgan’s The Cold Commands and it was nominated in the Science Fiction category and Walter Moers Rumo & His Miraculous Journey which featured a dog like protagonist, which is far from traditional.. Yet, honestly, I was sort of relieved as well. Epic Fantasies are a huge commitment. They tend to be door stopper novels, in huge series. Now, I don’t mind a 40 -50 hour audiobook, but if I have to listen to 10 40-50 hour audiobooks to get to it, then there’s a problem. I also have to admit, I’m quite picky when it comes to Epic Fantasies. Even though I loved Lord of the Rings, often my mind goes blank when I hear of elves and dwarves and the like. I’m not even sure why. Outside of Tolkien, I never really got into big fat fantasies until The Dark Tower tickled my fantasy fancy, and I discovered Stephen Donaldson and George R. R. Martin, and by this time, the Wheel of Time series was at something like 100,000 pages and 2,000 hours in audio, and I wasn’t going to jump into that mess. So, instead I jumped on the occasional new series, like Rothfuss’ Kingkiller series, and The Lies of Locke Lamora, So, I was quite interested when I saw a real honest to goodness Epic Fantasy had been nominated, and it was the first of a series. Mayhaps I would find another series to enchant me.

Theft of Swords tells the story of Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, two gentleman thieves who find themselves mixed up a Kingdom’s murky royal succession, and century old church conspiracies. I think if I could pick just one word to explain my feelings about The Theft of Swords it would be "comfortable: yet, that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Sullivan writes a classic fantasy tale full of all the tropes that fantasy fans have come to both love and loathe. There are plenty of Tolkenesque qualities, even *gasp* Elves and Dwarves, yet, I didn’t find myself turned off by it. Sure, there was an initial cringe when I heard tell of elves, but as the story played out, I though the inclusion of Elvin mythology worked here. I think that Sullivan made a conscience teffort to tell a light hearted fantasy tale in the first portion of this tale. As a reader, I didn’t need a lot of character development and world building, because in many ways I felt like I already had a grasp on the character and world, and we could get right to the cool adventury type stuff. Yet, slowly, Sullivan began filling in the edges of his world, adding more depth and mystery to the tale. He handed out the pieces bit by bit, so they became integrated with the plot of the tale. Now, this book is actually two novels combined into one volume. I really enjoyed the first story, titled The Crown Conspiracy. The plot, while light and fun still had me guessing along the way. The second tale, Avempartha, had more depth and, while still relying of traditional tropes, started to break the story into some intriguing new areas. I found the true beauty of the tale was the way the two pieces fit together, and seemed to set up for more to come in the future volumes. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my need to tackle all these Audie nominees, I would have been tempted to jump right to the next volume of the series. Theft of Swords managed to be two sides to an intriguing coin, both a light heated traditional fantasy tale, as well as a unique spin on traditional fantasy with surprising depth. Sullivan manages the old hook and spin, getting you in the door, then locking it and laughing evilly once you are trapped inside, ready to tell you a tale you may not have been expecting.

This is my third experience with a novel narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds. My first experience, his reading of Donaldson’s Against All Things Ending intrigues me, but it was his performance in John Connelly’s The Infernals, which I called my Favorite Narrator Performance of 2011, that turned me into a fan. Reynolds has a good voice for Medieval Fantasy, and he puts it to good use here. I thought he was much better suited for the world that Sullivan created than to Donaldson’s The Land. He captured the characters of Royce and Hadrian well. There was definitely a risk of these two thieves coming off a bit caricature in the early part of the novel, but Reynolds manages to give them a distinct voice that served as character development, while Sullivan filled them out on the page. I really enjoyed his reading of Myron the monk. He gave him a quirky feel that both captured the devastation of the monk’s tragedy, while also adding a bit of humor. One of the biggest challenges for any narrators in epic fantasy, where the world exists solely in the mind of the author, is to find the authentic tone to the novel. In many epics, the world has its own voice, and becomes its own character, and Reynolds does a great job capturing this voice. The only complaint I had was hardly Reynolds fault. There is a heck of a lot of characters in this tale, and many of them from the same family, so at times these characters ran together. Yet, Reynolds makes this a rare occurrence, when it could have been a lot worse. Overall, this is a fun start to an intriguing series, and definitely worthy of the award it was nominated for.