Bob’s Audiobook Report: January Week 2

13 01 2014

Week two of 2014 saw me completing 4 Audiobooks, two from the same series, and two of series that have been sitting on my TBL Pile for a while. Since I have a lot of stuff coming up in January, a move at the end of the month, surgery this week, as well as plenty of other stressors, I have been looking for lighter, more straightforward stories that are easy to focus on. This is why I have been choosing mostly action based series with well drawn characters, because during times like this, I have trouble focusing on highly conceptual plots and esoteric storylines. I like monsters and explosions and aliens and my choices all pretty much hit the mark.

Conspiracies by F. Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack, Book 3)

Read by Christopher Price

Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Suspense Thriller

Grade: B+

All The Rage by F. Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack, Book 4)

Read by Christopher Price

Brilliance Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Suspense Thriller

Grade: B+

I completed two of F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack novels, COMSPIRACIES and ALL THE RAGE. In the beginning of long running series, especially those with a supernatural edge, I always enjoy watching the development of the series mythology. I feel both of these book are important to building the Repairman Jack Mythos, while still pretty much self contained stories. Both were a lot of fun, each giving more incite into Jack, while continuing the frustrating interpersonal conflict between Jack’s desire to be a part of his girlfriend Gia and her daughter’s life, while knowing that he also lives on the edge of society and must feed his need for adventure and violence. I am still less than thrilled with Christopher Price’s narration, especially in comparison to the other narrators in the series. I think his voice is too deep for the character, and while his vocal range is admirable, I don’t thing he ever nails the characters. They always feel just a tad off of what they should be, like listening to a celebrity impersonator, just after listening to the real thing.

Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Read by Kirby Heyborne

Blackstone Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic/Alien Invasion

Grade: B+

Midnight City has been languishing on my mountainous TBL pile for a long time, and with the recent release of the second book in the series, I thought I had to give it a go. Midnight City has a War of the Worlds meets Chtorr feel. A classic Alien Invasion vibe with an esoteric spin and a touch of magic. While marketed as a Young Adult novel, it definitely has a more mature vibe that should fit a large range of readers. It did take me a while to get into the book. Mitchell doesn’t ease you into his world, but throws you right into the deep end, and it takes some time to adjust. But when the book gets moving, it gets bad ass moving, with now stop action in a fascinating apocalyptic setting. Kirby Heyborne’s excellent performance shouldn’t be a surprise to any audiobook fan. His reading is crisp and professional, with just the right amount of edge.  

Semper Mars (Book 1 of The Heritage Trilogy) by Ian Douglas

Read by Ray Chase

Audible Frontiers

Length: 13 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Grade: B+

Military Science Fiction is one of my go to genres when I find myself in a reading slump and just want something fun, fast and furious. MilSF has a way of making fascinating concepts accessible and throwing in lots of pyrotechnics for effect. Yet, not all MilSF hits the spot. My first attempt at a Ian Douglas novel failed miserably. Didn’t like it at all. Yet, the concepts around The Heritage Trilogy seemed fascinating, and I had been looking for more stuff performed by narrator Ray Chase. Semper Mars is jingoistic, HOORAH! near future MilSF at it’s best. Full of lots of Marine history, potential alien tech, World War between the ol’ US of A, and those pesky univeralist United Nations. and clever battles, Semper Mars was just the right listen for my mood. Ray Chase continues to impress. While I think he’s a better 1st person narrator than a 3rd person, his voice is pleasant, and he brings the characters alive. He never hampers the relentless pace of the narrative, and at times can be just as clever with his delivery as a marine with a beer bomb.

Coming Soon: Well, this week I have surgery, so I’m not sure how it will affect my listening. I plan on continuing listening to Repairman Jack, and The heritage Trilogy (currently listening to book 2). I also plan on listening to a book called Noise by Darin Bradley read by Chris Patton. Plan on a bit more print reading this week during my time off.

Bob’s Audiobook Report: January Week 1

7 01 2014

So, I’ve been struggling with what to do with the blog. Without going into the crazy details of my life, spending the 2-3 hours a night writing detailed reviews 4-5 times a week is no longer feasible. Plus, in all honestly, I have discovered that "not blogging" can be just as rewarding "blogging" when your life fills up with stress. I have realized that I am just not a really good blogger. Being a "Blogger" began to feel like a chore, and a label I have no desire to live up to. I never had been that good at challenges, or special posts, or whatever. I just like talking about books.

So, I may try so new things this year. I definitely won’t be posting as often. I don’t plan to get too involved in bloggy type things, outside of things that are pretty much free form, and fit into my "spend less time doing this stuff" mentality. I never want the idea "I want to binge read this series over the next few weeks, but then what would I post on the blog" or even "I really want to read BOOK A but BOOK B is more relevant to the blogoverisity."

So, for now, 2014 is the year that Bob strips being a blogger. Now, Bob is just some dude who randomly post shit about books he’s been listening to.

One of the things I will try to do, is post a weekly audiobook report about what I listened to that week. It may contain some thoughts, a rating and other unstructured comments.

For the first week of January, I listened to two audiobooks. It was a partial week, so I think 2 is a pretty good number. Here they are:

January 2014 Audiobook #1

Legacies by F. Paul Wilson

Repairman Jack, Book 2.

Read by Christopher Price

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 29 Minute

Genre: Suspense Thriller

Grade B+

Narration: C+

One of my plans for the early part of 2014 is to binge read the Repairman Jack series. I had wanted to do this for some time, but hadn’t because I was so keen on bloggy diversity, and I just had to grab the hot new release, I never did. I had really enjoyed the "early Years" Repairman Jack novels, COLD CITY and DARK CITY, especially the wonderful narration by Alexander Cendese, but hesitated on the series, because I was never quite sure where to start since the Repairman Jack series seems to be intertwined with F. Paul Wilson’s Adversary cycle. Finally I decided to just go with the Repairman Jack Series, and then after I worked my way through a significant portion of that, depending on my enjoyment of the series, figure out what to do with the Adversary cycle.

My other issue was a lack of a consistent narrator.  Joe Barrett, reads the first in the series, while audio veteran Disk Hill reads a few of the latter. Brilliance Audio seems to be filling in the rest with a new to me narrator names Christopher Price. I listened to and enjoyed The Tomb. While it took some time to get used to the new narrator, and I didn’t like him as much as Cendese, Joe Barrett did a solid job.

Moving onto Legacies. Legacies was another solid entry in the series, balancing a straight forward thriller, with a touch a weird physics, and some hints of otherness along the way. Jack is becoming more complex of a character, and while some of the relationship back and forth stuff becomes frustrating, Wilson does a good job developing his working-class Batman-for-hire character in a believable way.

I wasn’t blown away by Christopher Price. I won’t go as far as saying I was disappointed by it, because I thing a lot of it had to do with the fact that this is the third narrator handling this character I had listened to within one month and three books. Price has potential to improve, and I hope he begins to settle into these characters, since he is reading a bunch of novels set in this world.

2014 Audiobook #2

Steel World by B.V. Larson

Undying Mercenaries, Book 1

Read by Mark Boyett

Audible Frontiers

Length: 11 Hrs 45 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Grade: B

Narration: B

For Book 2, I listened to Steel World by BV Larson. Larson writes the goofy and sometimes incredible frustrating, but highly enjoyable military science fiction series, STAR FORCE. Steel World is his newest Sci-Fi series, about a troublemaking but oh, so clever Earth boy who joins the Space Legion to fight as earth’s mercenaries. The concept is both very recognizable, but with interesting twists. Steel World is popcorn Sci-Fi at its Redenbachiest. Lovable, cardboard characters, over the top action, and a young trainee soldier, who happens to find himself at the center of many important events, where he’s the only one who can save the day, and does so to the chagrin of some of his superiors.

Part of me wished that they would have cast someone other than Mark Boyett to narrate this series. Not that he doesn’t do a good job, because he does, but because he is the voice of the Star Force series, so it’s hard to separate that from his performance here. Sometimes, choosing the Fan Favorite to narrate isn’t the right choice. Someone a bit younger sounding would have been preferable, since this book was told from the POV of a starry eyed recruit, but overall it’s a solid listen, especially if you are a fan of BV Larson.

Coming Soon:

I have selected and have been working on my Top 20 Audiobooks of 2013 post, so look for that soon, and tell your friends, neighbors, and nanobots.

Audiobook Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

13 11 2013

Steelheart (Reckoners, Bk. 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult SuperVillian Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness. Steelheart is a good start to an intriguing new series.

Grade: B+

Over the past few years there seems to be a real glut of superhero tales in prose form. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. I am one of those weirdos who loves superheroes, grew up on Superman and Batman and the Superfriends, but never really got into comic books. So, despite all my comic book loving friends telling me about all the awesome, dark and twisted tales being told in the comic book medium, I stuck to my books. Yet, there has always been a part of my brain that loved superheroes, that wanted to explore the many twists and turns people the subgenre can explore, without all the awesome artwork, and trying to figure out just who was supposed to be talking. So, now all these superhero books have come out, from a wide variety of authors exploring many aspects of advanced beings with powers that seem to defy traditional human limitations. So many, that you’d think that one would sort of start getting sick of them or at the very least that the various angles and twists on the genre would be totally used up. Luckily, so far, this hasn’t been the case.

With Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson has once again flipped the genre on its head, exploring the darker sides of enhanced humans, embracing the super but reassigning the concept of heroes. In Sanderson’s world, there are no selfless heroes using their powers for the betterment of humanity. Instead, Epics, people who have manifested superpowers, all use their power to subjugate and rule over those without powers. With Steelheart Sanderson explores the idea of the corruption of power, and looks at whether these powers enhance humanities dark side or some other force is at work.

When David was young, he witnesses Steelheart, the seemingly invulnerable Epic who would come to rule an apocalyptic Chicago with a steel fist, kill his father. He also saw Steelheart bleed. Years later, David dreams of joining the Reckoners, a group of regular humans looking to take down Epics. David believes with their help, he can finally discover the Steelheart’s weakness, and kill him. Yet, when he finally meets up with the group, he finds his desire for revenge and his core belief in the essence of Epics challenged by one intriguing girl, and the group of odd characters.

While Steelheart had a lot of awesome in it, some cool characters, a wonderful set up, and some really brisk, high concept action, overall it felt a bit uneven. At times, I felt it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a Young Adult novel, or an Adult novel. There were definitely a lot of YA tropes used, but they seemed to fit awkwardly within the overall scope of the novel. The use of situational slang came off as annoying, instead of a natural evolution of the world Sanderson created. The fact that everyone used the exact slang in the exact same way, whether they are a younger person who grew up in the world of Epics, or an older person spanner both the pre and post Epic world made it feel a bit forced. The world of Newcago, came off a bit too clever. Luckily, the unevenness of the book was more than made up for by the sheer fun of the novel. You could tell Sanderson was having fun creating new and interesting Epic types, and allowing them to wreak havoc. I also liked the fact that there were no superheroes, yet an almost religions group who believed that eventually heroes will come was a nice touch. Mostly, I enjoyed the way he flipped the concept of "with great power comes great responsibility" on its head, exploring the corrupting influence that may be the true essence of the tale. Overall, despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness.

To make matter even better, one of my favorite narrators, MacLeod Andrews brought his many talents to the reading of Steelheart. Andrews managed to give the book a true blockbuster feel, with characters that jumped, action the ripped across your mind and a feel of something bigger than reality, yet he did it all with a bit of an edge that defied the polishness of most big screen movies. Andrews does a great job with David, a young man hovering between the naiveté of youth and the forced maturity of someone who grew up orphaned in a changed world. Andrews has a way of giving characters a unique spin that makes than stand just a bit taller.  It was a highly affective performance that allowed me to care more about these characters than I might have in print. Steelheart is a good start to what can become a truly intriguing series.

Audiobook Review: Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slattery

11 07 2013

Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slatterly

Read by Paul Heitsch

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America is a head trippy, fascinating near future dystopian full of some awesome characters, wonderful scenarios and laugh out loud humor, yet despite all this awesomeness, the author’s style and my inability to handle the flowing transitions kept me from ever fully engaging with this read. It’s a book I can say was quite good, well written, and full of some very memorable moments, yet overall, I can’t say I especially enjoyed listening to it.

Grade: C+

You ever find one of those books that is so solidly in your wheelhouse that you just know you can’t go wrong. That if you described it to you friends, with the traditional “It’s like this awesome thing, meets this awesome thing set in the universe of this awesome thing” that it just sounds so damn good you salivate thinking about it. Yet, for some reason, it just falls flat for you. This was my experience with Brian Franccis Slatterly’s Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America. I mean, COME ON! Even the title is awesome. Thinking about the book now, I can list tons of excellent things about it. There was humor and adventure, and even a touch of romance. There were ninja duels and explosions and cross country travels in Post Apocalyptic America. Even the set up was pretty awesome. Liberation takes place in a post Economic crash America where the dollar has become so devalued it is almost worthless. Where other countries have called in our debt, and we just can’t pay leading to the collapse of our government. It’s a scarily realistic scenario, and Slatterly plays it out well, describing riots, the lack of resources, and starvation that would follow the fall of the United States. Slattery designs a slow boil apocalypse, one that I found quite intriguing. He deftly shows the rise of robber barons, chief among them a former smuggler names The Aardvark, criminals who already have the system in place to take control of the newest commodity in America, Slaves. The situation has become so dire, that Americans are willingly becoming slaves in order to eat, taking on indentured debts they will never be able to repay. Set within this world is a group of six former criminals who used to target people like The Aardvark with highly complex schemes and robberies. Yet. right before the fall of the US economy, one of the six turned on the one member of the group, the assassin Marco, who was like the glue that held the slick six together and formulated all their plans. Now, Marco has escaped from jail and wants to get the team back together for one last mission, to take down the Aardvark and put an end to the slave trade. I mean, this sounds awesome, right?

If you were to ask me to describe Liberation, I would call is Vonnegut’s Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (one of my favorite Vonnegut novels) with the over the top comedic style of The Princess Bride (an awesome book and movie) with a group of characters straight out of the TV show Leverage (pretty damn good show.) And who wouldn’t want to read that? Yet, for some reason, I never became engaged with the story. I think a big part of it was Slatterly’s style. The author used nonlinear storytelling, with a very fluid transitions, often leaving you unsure whether you are in the past or the dealing with current events. You would be fully immersed in a scene or time frame, and suddenly trasnition to another scens with a different character reflecting on the past, or trying to deal with something current, or a combination of both. It’s like there was a solid plot, but someone covered it in grease and I could never get a solid grasp on. Liberation was full of some awesome scenes. There is a wonderful duel between Marco and an assassin that is hired by the Aardvark to hunt him down, which is so stylistically similar to something in The Princess Bride I was expecting one of the characters to yell out “INCONCIEVABLE! I though Slatterly’s ending was brilliant, funny, fast and furious, and just a touch dirty, with  a twist that while utterly destroying my suspension of disbelief, was a whole lot of fun. Yet, getting to these wonderful moments was the hard part. Whenever I felt like I was comfortable with the author’s style, he shifted and changed colors and revealed himself to be just an old man behind a curtain and not a grand floating headed wizard. It was disconcerting, and ultimately unrewarding. I honestly think Liberation is a good book. I believe there are people there who will be blown away by it. Even those people, like me, who struggle with it, will have discovered characters they love and moments they will remember, even if it’s in a mish mashed context of malleable transitions. Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America is a head trippy, fascinating near future dystopian full of some awesome characters, wonderful scenarios and laugh out loud humor, yet despite all this awesomeness, the author’s style and my inability to handle the flowing transitions kept me from ever fully engaging with this read. It’s a book I can say was quite good, well written, and full of some very memorable moments, yet overall, I can’t say I especially enjoyed listening to it.

I’m not sure if some of the transitional flow issues were due to the fact that the audiobook version lacked the visual cues that are implicit in a print novel. Maybe I would have enjoyed this more in print, but I really can’t fault narrator Paul Heitsch. In fact, I thought that Heitsch gave a solid reading, with a strong grasp on the characters, and even managed to capture some of the truly funny moments of the novel.  Slatterly’s often lyrical prose, during some of the more engaging moments, managed to come alive in Heitsch hands. The Slick Six was a very diverse group spanning sex, race and nationality, and Heitsch handled each character appropriately, giving them soft accents and never falling into cartoonist stereotypes. He paced the novel well, particularly the finale, which was the most action packed moment of the book. I think that Liberation had to be a very hard novel to narrate, and despite my overall lack of engagement, I think Heitsch pulled it off as best as can be expected. This was my first experience with both Slatterly the author and Heitsch the narrator, and I’m actually quite interested in exploring more of both of their work.  

Audiobook Review: Guardian by Jack Campbell

12 06 2013

Guardian (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, Bk 3) by Jack Campbell

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers

Length: 13 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Guardian continues the Lost Fleet series, giving us some cool new subplots in a relatively well contained story. Despite an overall lack of dramatic tension during the battle scenes, Campbell creates enough drama in other areas to provide us with another fun spacefaring adventure.

Grade: B+

Sometimes I wish Black Jack Geary would just die. There I said it. Yet, that is an extreme reaction. In reality, I wish he would get his butt kicked, make some stupid costly mistake, or in some way act inappropriately. I like Jack Geary. He’s a good guy. A really good guy. A REALLY REALLY good guy. He is competent and morally upstanding. He has basically won a war, discovered three new alien species, rescued countless numbers of prisoners and won’t even have sex with his wife because it may end up looking bad to the others in his fleet. He faces seemingly endless odds and comes away with all but a few smallest casualties which of course, he suffers and moans about leading his to a crisis of faith because he only saved 99 of his 100 ships against a desperate suicidal enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy him. Poor Black Jack. The Lost Fleet series is awesome. It really is. There’s a whole lot of fun, some cool physics, space exploration, aliens, government conspiracies and even some creepy ghostly stuff, but the core of the series is the battles and how Black Jack has trained his fleet to win. It no longer has become a series about whether Black Jack will pull their asses out of a fire, but just how he’s going to do it. I long for the days where the good guys may not come up with that last minute plan that saves the day. I’d like to see our heroes retreating with their proverbial tales tucked between their afterburners.  Hell, I will even take a pyrrhic victory or two. Or at least a small nose bleed. This problem of over competence in Military Science fictions bugging me. I need a series where out heroes lose nearly every battle. Where they are chipped away at, demoralized and constantly on the run. This was one of the things I loved about Battlestar Gallactica. You knew they would probably survive, you just weren’t sure how many people would die along the way. So, I now need recommendations for Military Science Fiction where out heroes get their asses kicked on a regular basis. There must be a series that meets this criteria!

Guardian is the third book in Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier series, the spin-off to the popular Lost Fleet series. Captain Black Jack Geary has successfully completed his mission to explore the space occupied by The Enigma, a strange alien species that has been manipulating The Alliance and The Syndicate Worlds during their century long war. Now, Black Jack and his fleet must return home through Syndicate Space with his new alien allies, and a priceless prize ship taken from another aggressive alien species. Yet, a strange quirk in the Hypernet Gate has the fleet traveling through one ambush after another in the hopes to get home. Guardian is another fun space bound adventure by Jack Campbell. Here he  changes it up from more traditional space battles to the fleet dealing with surprise and desperate almost guerrilla style attacks by a subtle enemy who doesn’t want him to succeed but needs to maintain deniability. This creates some interesting moments, but again, very little dramatic tension. You never really feel that the Fleet is in jeopardy, just wonder how they will overcome the latest challenge. While this is frustrating, it really doesn’t diminish the overall enjoyment of the series all that much. To balance this out, Campbell creates tension in other places, like the strange ship with it’s Ghostly defenses, an internal conspiracy against Geary within his own Alliance, a new cocky and comical new enemy and a fascinating look at Earth, which has garnished an almost religious place in the minds of the Alliance. I actually like that there are religious aspects to this series. Too often in far future SF religion is either used as a divisive force, or society has grown past such tomfoolery, Here, Jack Campbell uses a form of ancestor worship as a logical religious system that really is a part of the individuals lives but rarely affects the politics of the times. It’s an interesting look, and one skeptical people like me are comfortable with. I think that the science fiction explorations of this series are beginning to outshine the military aspects, and that is not that big of a deal, unless you are looking for balls to the wall, "once more into the breach" style hardcore Military SF. I do think that Campbell has some interesting subplots, and if played right, things could totally blow up in Black Jack’s face, forcing him to stop being such a nice guy and start unapologetically ruffling feathers and kicking ass. Am I wrong to want things to go bad for him so that I can have a little more vicarious fun? I hope not. Guardian continues the Lost Fleet series, giving us some cool new subplots in a relatively well contained story. The future of this series is a bit up in the air, but I for one am hoping for some dark times ahead for Black Jack and his crew. Yeah, I’m a dick.

What can I say about Christian Rummel that I haven’t already said in my reviews of like the 20 or 100 of his other books I have listened to? Well, I’m sure he’s a snazzy dresser and probably has some kick ass dance moves that make all the ladies swoon, but as a narrator, he pretty much has us all swooning. I enjoy listening to Christian Rummel narrations. You simply know what you will get. Strong characters, razor sharp pacing, and the ability to get a laugh when appropriate, as well as ripping a tear yelling and screaming out of my manliest of eyes. In Guardian, again Campbell provided him with a plethora of characters to play with. It’s funny, there really is not much detailed background on these characters. Who really knows how someone from some future planet is supposed to sound, yet Rummel brings them all to life in a way that just feels right. The Lost Fleet series is a whole lot of fun, and a great series for audio. Fans of military SF who haven’t yet taken the leap, why the hell not?

Audiobook Review: Shadow of Freedom by David Weber

5 06 2013

Shadow of Freedom by David Weber (Honorverse Bk. 14, Saganami Arc Bk. 3)

Read by Allyson Johnson

Audible Frontiers

Length: 16 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: If you absolutely love Weber’s writing, and enjoy battles with no questions about the outcome and no real dramatic tension, just a superior force kicking cocky people’s asses, than Shadow of Freedom should make you quite happy indeed.

Grade: C+

I was thinking about Karate Kid today. I know, what day aren’t the vast majority of humanity thinking about Karate Kid. So, I was thinking about a what if. What if Ralph Macchio started as a poor kid taking on the rich kid establishment through the teachings of a wise Mr. Myagi? What if his training got more intensive to the point where it takes on almost mystical levels? Young Macchio became the ultimate skilled practitioner of the martial arts, able to kick anyone’s ass. His enemies at the Cobra Kai, admitting to his vast superiority become his allies as he enters the wider world. Along the way, he encounters the established greats of martial arts. They all dismiss him as a minor nuisance, a young upstart that needs to be put in his place. Yet, with each boss fight, Macchio reigns supreme, not allowing the bosses to lay a single hand on him. Our Karate Kid is so vastly superior that he kicks their asses before the fights even begins, issuing their ultimate comeuppance. Each new boss hears rumors of the skills of the Karate Kid, but discounts them, leading to their ultimate devastating ass kicking. Macchio is so beyond everyone else that you know he is going to win before there is even a hint of a fight. No need for some strange Crane Bird Stance or mystic injury healing massage, he just shows up, and takes them utterly apart. You know that each win is without drama or intrigue. There is no chance of a loss, and the bosses each make the same stupid decisions. Let’s face it, this scenario sucks, and would be the result of bad storytelling. You may like seeing arrogant bosses getting put in their place, but there should be some drama, a chance for the bosses to at least lay a finger on the young traveling Karate Kid.

Shadow of Freedom is one of the latest in the spinoff series that examines the Honorverse and the wars of the Marticoran Empire, but away from the main action, and centered on peripheral characters. It’s sort of serves more as a sequel to Torch of Freedom and the Saganami arc than the main arc of the narrative, yet I don‘t feel it fits comfortably into any particular part of the story.. Shadow of Freedom focuses on the Talbot Quadrant, an out of the way segment of the Empire that recently broke away from the Solarian League. This in the growing war between the Manticorans and the Solarians the Talbot Quadrant has become more strategically significant. Yet, the conflict has been a direct result of the manipulative hand of the shadowy Mesa Alliance, whose secret plans are now beginning to surface. The political and military scenario at this time in the series is so complex and vast that Weber needs nearly half the novel to set things up, making sure his readers are up to date. It’s a murky situation, and at times it feels like Weber’s universe and his conflict has just gotten too big. When he finally gets down to action, it’s basically a repeat of the last few Honorverse novels, where the Solarians doubt the ability of the upstart neo-barb Mantorians and dismiss the rumors, than get their asses complete kicked just like the time before… and the time before. There is no dramatic tension, just the satisfaction of arrogant people getting the snarky grins wiped off their faces… oh, and maybe just a bit dead as well. The only moments that really add to the overall Honovorse story deals with the breakdown of the plans of the Mesa Alliance, and this is a relatively small slice of the tale. I like the characters, and Weber writes strong action, but it’s all basically rehashed scenes that may offer a bit of fun, but does nothing to move the plot towards any sort of resolutions. I enjoyed the tale, once things got moving, but wanted so much more. I will be interested in seeing if the bits of information given to us by Weber in this novel have any impact on the storyline. It almost seems like a spinoff series that serves simply to give us another book to buy. If you absolutely love Weber’s writing, and enjoy battles with no questions about the outcome and no real dramatic tension, just a superior force kicking cocky people’s asses, than Shadow of Freedom should make you quite happy indeed.

Allyson Johnson has a solid grasp on Weber’s world and gives another fine performance. One of the overall issues of the series is that Weber uses such a broad set of characters from many different planets, with no real cues on their accents that narrators basically just makes it up. Johnson uses an array of American, European and Asian accents for her characters. Yet, the issue comes in with series consistency, when other narrators take on the other spinoff series. I wish they would allow Johnson to just continue to read the entire series. I am comfortable with the choices she makes, and she stays relatively consistent after some questionable pronunciations early in the series. Johnson does a great job with the action, and kept me from falling asleep during the long bits of monologue style exposition that Weber uses to remind us what’s happening. For fans of Weber’s series, as long as they don’t expect too much, Shadow of Freedom is a decent listen. Those frustrated with the current direction of the series thought, will only have their condition exacerbated.

Audiobook Review: The Becoming: Revelations by Jessica Meigs

31 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Becoming: Revelations by Jessica Meigs (The Becoming, Book 3)

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 12 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Becoming: Revelations is a strong finale to the trilogy, giving us a completed story yet setting us up for future explorations of the Michaluk plagued world. Meigs creates compelling characters and thrust them into a devastating world, allowing them to show their cracks. With each new edition, the world of The Becoming becomes more and more intriguing.

Grade: B+

One of the things I try to do each Zombie Awareness Month is to provide tips and tricks for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse based on my in-depth experience of listening and reading other people’s stories.  Yet, I feel like I have neglected one key crucial demographic, the Zombie Apocalypse Bad Guy. Not everyone will be a plucky survivor looking to stay alive while struggling with the moral quandaries of the new situation. A few of you may turn out to be one of the many varieties of human scum that will plague the Wastelands, and you too will need tips on Survival. Yet, how do you know if you are a bad guy? Well, if your Zombie survival strategy is to outrun other Survivors, you are a normal human. If it’s to kneecap other survivors so the hordes get to them first, you are probably a bad guy. Do you have a pit of Zombies pets that you use to threaten your fellow survivors with? I’m leaning towards Bad Guy. If your idea of an Engagement Ring is a dog crate and handcuffs… Total Douchebag Bad Guy. Bad Guys can also include Mad Scientist performing experiments on the living, crazy dudes with armored Zombies, Scumbags who rob women and children and leave them on the side of the road, and anyone who’s Post Apocalyptic Soundtrack is a mixed tape with Kenny G and Nickleback on it. So, as a bad guy, you may get a crazy smart idea, like, “Hey, let’s kidnap the good guy’s girlfriend and make him come to us.” This is a classic Bad Guy ploy. Suggestion though, not all women are easily kidnapped and held. Try to avoid kidnapping say, bad ass former IDF snipers, because if you do, it will probably be you who needs to be rescued.

The Becoming: Revelations is the third book in Jessica Meigs Becoming Series, and the one that closes out the first main arc of the series. After the events at the close of Ground Zero, the survivors of The Michaluk Virus are holed up in a safehouse licking their emotional and physical wounds. When a mysterious enemy kidnaps one of the group, it sets off a series of events that reveals deep secrets that goes back to the very origin of the virus. With Revelations, Jessica Meigs has moved her series more into Mira Grant territory, full of science and twists on the typical zombie tropes. While still full of adventure and plenty of zombie action, Revelations is less about surviving the rise of undead and more about adapting to the changed world. So much Zombie fiction deals with the here and now, and Revelations has enough of that in it to make any thriller fan happy, but there is a real look to the future that offers very interesting avenues for exploration in future editions that you may not get in the typical zombie survival tale. One of the main thing I have liked about Meigs writing is her ability to show true tension filled human interaction in a highly stressed situation. At times her characters act like real assholes to each other, yet there is an unmistakable bond there even within the more contentious characters. Even the romantic subplots are murky enough, full of confliction and a concern for the future, to feel more than just some kissey kissey in a sea of death. Meigs doesn’t take it easy on her characters, showing us at any point in the story one of our favorites can be taken off the board with little or no warning. At points, I questioned her main antagonist. Her decisions seemed so scattershot, so illogical that I felt she was too unbelievable and questioned why anyone was following her. Yet, I shouldn’t have doubted Meigs. She created a reasonable explanation for her badies actions that was much more than a Bond villain monologue. She even managed to make us feel a little sympathy for the cold hearted bitch. At times it felt like Meigs was playing the worse game of chess in the world, scattering all her pieces across the board, then attempting to find some way to bring them all together. Luckily, she managed to pull it all off, bringing things together for a strong climax. The Becoming: Revelations is a strong finale to the trilogy, giving us a completed story yet setting us up for future explorations of the Michaluk plagued world. Meigs creates compelling characters and thrust them into a devastating world, allowing them to show their cracks. With each new edition, the world of The Becoming becomes more and more intriguing.

I think it says a lot for the narrating skills of Christian Rummel that I just listened to two of his audiobooks in relative proximity to each other and didn’t suffer any sort of cognitive dissonance wondering why a Battlecruiser Captain was fighting Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Atlanta. Rummel again brings his strong characterizations and spot on pacing to Meigs Apocalyptic world. He has a strong grasp of these characters, although I did feel Ethan had a bit more of a country twang than I remember in the first two novels. This, of course, probably better suited the character, and further helped delineate him from Brandt, which was something I remember struggling a bit with in Book 1. Where Rummel really shines is in all the mayhem and craziness of the climatic scenes. Meigs packs a lot of emotional punches into the mix of action and zombie mayhem, and Rummel finds just the right balance to deliver these moments. I have grown to really enjoy these characters, even when they totally frustrate and annoy me, and much of the credit goes to the excellent narration skills of Christian Rummel. Now, we must wait and see where they all go next.

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:

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


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: The Undead Haze by Eloise J. Knapp

2 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month


The Undead Haze by Eloise J. Knapp (Cyrus V. Sinclair, Bk. 2)

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 8 Hrs 33 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Undead Haze is a solid Zombie Apocalypse tale that separates itself from the horde by the unique and oh, so twisted mind of its main character. Knapp blends a character driven survival tale with some awesome hardcore zombie gore into one seamless gift for Zombie apocalypse aficionados. In this Knapp manages to prove her first novel was no fluke, and cements her place as one of the top writers of the genre.

Grade: A-

We are a society that is obsessed with labels. It seems everybody, ourselves included, are looking for easily defined labels to slap on ourselves to explain our dysfunctions and behaviors. When I was in college, I took the Myers-Briggs test twice, and both times I came up borderline Extrovert and Introvert. This actually stressed me out for a good period of time. Eventually, I met with one of my advisors, and she gave me some good words of wisdom, "Do be too concerned with labels, you get to choose what you want to be." Now, I believe there are many people who have certifiable personality and psychiatric conditions, but I think many more have chosen what they feel they are and then become self fulfilling prophecies. I know, during some of my key moments of development, when I was dealing with the many issues that we go through, I tried to find something to smack on my forehead, and declare to the world, "THIS IS WHAT I AM! THIS EXPLAINS ME!" I’m sort of glad it never really took, that I went through a period of rapid change, of breaking away from how I was raised where labels never stuck. One of the reasons I really embraced Apocalyptic Fiction was that it appealed to my Introverted side. To live as the last man on earth with all those toys waiting to be picked up. It was a natural progression of my childhood fantasies of being locked by myself in a toy store over night. Yet, as I grow, and seek more balance, I realize that true heroes of Apocalyptic Fiction are those who learn to work with others, even if it’s a small group of close people. One of the reasons I loved The Undead Situation was because of the journey of self discovery that Cyrus V. Sinclair is on. He truly is one of the most fascinating characters I have experienced in Zombie fiction. Cyrus’s self diagnosed sociopathy is sort of my pop culturally defined Introversion extrapolated to an extreme point, and then placed into the most extreme of all situations, a Zombie apocalypse.

What could make self diagnosed sociopath Cyrus V. Sinclair leave the safety of his isolated cabin and throw himself amidst the undead hordes risking his life and the life of Pickles his ferret? Well, just one thing, Blaze, the hardcore, kickass woman he met, then abandoned after a devastating car accident. Yet, finding one women among the ruins of Apocalyptic Washington is nearly impossible, and it doesn’t help that the crazed leader of a cannibalistic gang with a taste for redheads seems to think that Cyrus should be his prodigy. But Cyrus is determined to succeed, no matter how many innocent people die in his wake. The Undead Haze picks up right after the cliffhangerish ending of The Undead Situation, and quickly immerses us again into Eloise J. Knapp’s world of some of the most twisted, amoral, crazy assed Zombie Apocalypse characters in the genre today. Oh, and those are the good guys. In fact, there really aren’t any good guys in The Undead Haze. Even the nicest, most considerate character barely bats an eye when he has to brain someone with a crowbar just for making too much of a racket. In Walking Dead terminology, The Undead Haze is all Shanes and Merles and absolutely no Ricks. This is a good thing people. I loved Cyrus so hard in The Undead Situation, so hard I thought it must have been a fluke. I typically despise the amoral, hardcore characters in Zombie Novels and movies. I hated Shane. Yet, I love Cyrus. The Undead Haze just made me love him even more. Eloise J. Knapp’s apocalyptic world isn’t groundbreaking. There are fast and slow zombies, twisted fucks, cannibals and religious crazies, yet when you filter it all through the skewed perception of her main character, it feels fresh and new. Knapp has definitely shown progression as a writer. Her action scenes are crisper, and more visually stunning than The Undead Situation, and she finds a way to pull the dark beauty out of her settings. I think the overall imperative of The Undead Haze where Cyrus has a mission about more than just his personal survival helped in the pacing of the novel. There is a constant pushing, a noticeable desire to move the plot forward that you can feel in this story that is often lacking in Zombie series which often it seems each book is just about getting to the next book. Here, there’s a goal, and it creates a self contained storyline that can stand on its own. The Undead Haze is also darkly funny. Cyrus’s voice is so fresh, so without the need to blunt his thought process that the shear audacity of it made me laugh out loud at times. Cyrus said some things that, in any other character’s mouth, would be head skakingly corny, but for Cyrus, they turn into gold. The Undead Haze is a solid Zombie Apocalypse tale that separates itself from the horde by the unique and oh, so twisted mind of its main character. Knapp blends a character driven survival tale with some awesome hardcore zombie gore into one seamless gift for Zombie apocalypse aficionados. In this Knapp manages to prove her first novel was no fluke, and cements her place as one of the top writers of the genre.

I am often amazed when a narrator, after a multiyear break between books, can just perfectly recapture the voice of a character. If I remember correctly, The Undead Situation was my first experience with Kevin T. Collins as a narrator. I remember thinking while listening that he was channeling JD from the movie Heathers for his reading of Cyrus, which was PERFECT!  Then I wondered, hey, maybe he just naturally sounds like JD. Now, that I have become a big fan of his narration through multiple genres of audiobooks, I can attest that Collins has range, and that he is totally the voice of Cyrus. Collins reads The Undead Haze with a harsh crudeness. A slap you in the face style that made each moment, each untimely death, each visceral image, each poorly considered quip feel like a punch in the gut. Collins doesn’t simply read to you, he sneers at you, and damn it, you just accept it, perhaps even revel in it. Collins transitioned his pacing perfectly, from Cyrus’s introspection to the rapid fire action scenes, bring every moment alive. There were even a few moments where I even actually kinda felt emotional type things, but we won’t talk about that. Forget I mentioned it. I do have two small issues. So much of the voice of the novel takes place inside Cyrus’s head, and sometimes it was hard to determine what was internal dialogue and what was vocalized, until the character told you or you saw a reaction from another character. Also, there was a few, not many, but a few, what I like to call "gurgle blurps." Some strange sounds that were like throat clearing, lip smacking that probably could have been edited out. Other than those small quips, this production was excellent. Kevin T. Collins has so become Cyrus V. Sinclair that I really hope I don’t run into him during the Zombie Apocalypse.