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.


Audiobook Review: Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig

22 04 2013

Spirit of the Century presents Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig (Dinocalypse Trilogy, Book 1)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Audible Frontiers

Length: 7 Hrs 56 Min

Genre: Superhero Pulp Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Dinocalypse Now is the literary equivalent of a decadent dessert. It is pulp fiction at its finest, a fun story full of wonderful characters told in a way that makes every moment of the novel count. If you don’t have fun listening to this novel, than you, Sir or Madame, have no soul.

Grade: B+

I was going to start this review by saying that I used to watch the Superfriends all the time when I was a kid, but that’s not precisely true, I still watch the Superfriends. Well, I watch it with my nephews and with the special needs kids I work with… since I bought the DVDs for my nephews and the special needs kids I work with. I still love the show, whether it’s Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog or Zan, Jayna and space monkey Gleek. I loved Mr. Myxaptl and Bizzaro Superman and that flying Darth Vader head, and the fact that the Superfriends kept robotic copies of themselves just in case they had to fake their own deaths. Almost all of my superhero knowledge came from that show. I almost never read comics, the medium just doesn’t work for me and so I never really experienced the dark side of superheroes. They were always these all powerful uber-men who were stoic and morally true and dispensed out morality tales to kids and laughed at corny puns even childhood me thought were lame. They were about as close to perfection as you could get, like Jesus with X-Ray vision. They were never really human to me. Their morality tales held little sway, because these were perfect examples of the greatest of humanity so they knew not to vandalize their teachers room or they may end up falling down a broken elevator that someone unwisely left open with nothing but a small sign to prevent such a thing from happening. So, recently, I have been on a bit of a Superhero kick, trying to explore different, darker angles of these mighty heroes, from authors like Larry Correia, Adam Christopher, Peter Clines and many more. Now, I would like to say this is why I decided to listen to this latest audiobook release by Chuck Wendig, and sure, it had some bearing, but people, the book is called Dinocalypse Now. It has psychic dinosaurs, Conquering Sentient Apes, a potential world ending invasion and is narrated by Oliver Wyman. PLUS, superheroes… How could I NOT listen to this one?

When the Centurions, a group of "potent heroes of action" discover an assassination plot against FDR, what they weren’t expecting was an invasion by mind controlling psychosaurs, because let’s face it, no one ever expects an invasion by mind controlling psychosaurs. Yet, this is just the first wave of an attack, being orchestrated by Gorilla Khan, the conquering Ape, father of the Centurion advisor Professor Khan, and aimed directly at the Centurions. Now, those who manage to escape the trap, Jet Black, Sally Slick, Mack Silver "The Silver Fox" and others, must band together with Professor Khan to save the earth from Gorilla Khan, and a powerful enemy working behind the scenes. This book is set in the 1920’s Alternate history world of the Spirit of the Century RPG but no prior knowledge of the world is needed. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of the novel is the constant reference to other adventures, each one seeming crazier and even more over the top than the last. Now, I know more and more we are recommended to eat well balanced meals full of proteins and whole grains and the like, but every once in a while we must simply splurge on something decadent. Dinocalypse Now is like chocolate wrapped in bacon wrapped in THE GREATEST THING YOU EVER STUCK IN YOU MOUTH! It’s got everything you want in a great pulp fiction novel, like Jet Packs, Pterodactyls, Atlantis, Cavemen, soppy romance, women with tools and dirigibles, plus a plethora of things you didn’t even know you wanted. Wendig, who wrote some recent favorites of mine like Double Dead and the Miriam Black series, continues to impress me. He is simply a storyteller. It amazes me how much he can get across with such an economy of words. The action just leaps of the page, because there are no superfluous words holding it down. He deftly captures the rhythms of the speech of that time combining the sharpness of the 1920’s setting with ostentationsness of heroes. I really liked how these heroes seem just like you or me, just a bit enhanced, with the heroic ability to fling themselves into danger with abandon. There are no Supermen or Green Lanterns with extraordinary powers, just people who are a little faster, a little stronger but are mostly heroes because they choose to be. There are even little moral lessons, particularly in the development of Professor Khan, who steals the show, and Mack Silver, but it’s not beat you over the head moralistic life lessons, but true character development that serves the story. And really, this is the key impressive fact of Dinocalypse Now, every crazy moment, every wonderful character and well crafted phrase serves the ultimate goal of this story, to give the reader one hell of a good time. And I had one hell of a good time listening to this tale. Dinocalypse Now is the literary equivalent of a decadent dessert. It is pulp fiction at its finest, a fun story full of wonderful characters told in a way that makes every moment of the novel count. If you don’t have fun listening to this novel, than you, Sir or Madame, have no soul… or perhaps just different taste in entertainment than me.

It’s no secret that Oliver Wyman is one of my favorite narrators, and I simply must give a shout out to the sick minds who cast these audiobooks for Audible, because he was really the perfect choice for Dinocalypse Now. I mean, we know the man can do voices. I would venture to guess that the number of voices bouncing around in his skull would make Sybil shake her head in wonder. I find it important to find one quality of Wyman’s narration to point out in each review, instead of simply a laundry list of awesomeness. With Dinocalypse Now, Wyman is a human Cliffhanger machine. He manages to channel his inner "Meanwhile at The Hall of Justice" voice and end each chapter in a way that made you think that the world would come to a gruesome end if you didn’t continue on to the next chapter THIS. VERY. MINUTE.. This was simply perfect in creating a comic book feel for this novel. Wendig’s writing style is perfectly suited for audio, precise matter-of-pact pacing that allowed the listener to follow the action and Wyman just enhances this effect with his solid narration. This is a team that should be paired up more often, despite the potential for inter-dimensional chaos when they are. Luckily for us, this is the first of a trilogy, so there will be more Wendig and Wyman. I know I will be listening. 

Audiobook Series Review: The Nightside by Simon R. Green

19 04 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. OK.

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

The Story:

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

Narration Review:

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

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

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B

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

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

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: C+

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

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

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 6 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

[Not Yet Reviewed]

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

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B

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

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

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

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

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

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

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

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

The Human Division Listen-A-Long: Episode 13: Earth Below, Sky Above by John Scalzi

12 04 2013

Earth Below, Sky Above by John Scalzi (The Human Division, Episode 13)

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Length: 2 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B+


Episode 12: The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads

The Audiobookaneers Episode 12

Welcome to the BIG TWO HOUR SEASON FINALE of The Human Division Listen-A-Long. First off, I want to thank Dave from The Audiobookaneers for being my Listen-A-Long partner. If you haven’t been checking out his thoughts, then you deserve to be sucked out into the vacuum of space without a life protecting Leotard.

I am very happy to hear that John Scalzi has signed a deal for a second season, because this truly makes this feel like a season finale, and not just the end of a book told in a serial manner. I really grew to like these characters, and knowing I should see them again next season makes this parting so much easier to take. Now, on to my thoughts on Earth Below, Sky Above.

I think that any Finale episode, whether it be the end of a TV series, or the last novel in a series, has a greater responsibility and should be evaluated not just as a standalone episode, but also in how it closed out the series. As an episode, Earth Below, Sky Above was awesome. The episode focused on the all important, what we have been building up to all season, conference on Earth position on the CDF and the "B-Teams" role in the negotiation. The first half was fun, sentimental (Harry returning to Earth for the first time) and full of humor, including a fun scene were Harry shows up some meathead soldiers who want to pick a fight with him based solely on the color of his skin (green.) The second half was full of crazy explody action in Space, and on Earth’s Space station. Scalzi knows how to write some of the most accessible, and visual action and he truly gave these scenes a big time blockbuster movie feel. It was so much fun to listen to.

As a finale, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. One of my biggest issues with the series as a whole is that the enemy lacked a face. Scalzi does a great job setting up this mysterious cabal that seems to be pitting Earth, the CDF, and The Conclave against each other for some secret agenda which may simply be the end of the CDF, but may not be. Yet, we never really see any actual conspirators, or if we do, they quickly killed off. I was hoping for some level of reveal, perhaps the theorized spy within CDF, or some player at some level of the conspiracy. Especially with the announcement of the second season, I thought it would be nice if our nameless cabal at least was given a name. Yet, the enemy remained conceptual. That being said, Scalzi did manage to pull a lot of threads together, pulling in bits and pieces of the entire series to bring about this stunning conclusion.

Can we all take a moment and raise our glasses to Mr. William Dufris. I really enjoyed the work he has done on this production, and in this final episode, he once again gave a seamless performance. Scalzi’s writing doesn’t always transfer perfectly to audio and Dufris does a great job minimizing any clunkiness. I loved his ability to slow down the chaos of the devastation of Space Station, allowing us to feel these small heartfelt moments with Harry, Schmidt and Coloma. I really enjoyed experiencing this serial in the audio format. Now, for the long wait to Season 2. What will become of our heroes during the hiatus?

One final note and it’s a suggestion to Mr. Scalzi. There is a series of books called The Dead Man, and while it’s not really a serial, it is episodic storytelling. For the audio version of The Dead Man series, each edition starts off with a Bad TV style theme song. So, I call on Mr. Scalzi, and Audible to create a The Human Division Theme Song to be included in the audio versions. I know Mr. Scalzi, being the literary rock star he is, probably hangs out with the likes of Bono, Axl Rose, Harry Connick Jr. and Paul McCartney, so one of these rock stars should help you put together something on your Banjo. Or, even better, have Seanan McGuire write and perform a little ditty for you. Don’t make me start one of those online petitions.

Thanks to everyone who bothered to stop by a read my thoughts on this series. Remember, I’m here all year round!

Audiobook Review: Appalachian Overthrow by E. E. Knight

11 04 2013

Appalachian Overthrow by E. E. Knight (The Vampire Earth, Bk. 10)

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hrs 33 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Appalachian Overthrow is a deliberately paced look at Kurian Occupied Earth through the outsider eyes of the Golden One Ahn-Kha.   I think some fans of the series will be frustrated with the slower paced style, but I wasn’t one. I enjoyed this opportunity to get to know one of my favorite character a bit better, while also getting to see a different side to the world Knight has created.

Grade: B+

David Valentine is one heck of a compelling character. I first encountered David Valentine over 10 years ago when I discovered a series called The Vampire Earth while browsing my local Borders Book and Music. This was back when I was very skeptical of Vampires and having the word Vampire on your book did more harm than good, in my eyes. Through 9 books I have followed the adventures of this character, as he battles the Kurian Overlords, kills reapers, deals with the often tricky politics of the Free Zones and often seems to single-handedly save the day. Yet, this isn’t wholly true. While Valentine has had to deal with a lot of tough situations and often take on dangerous, almost suicidal missions, he is not always alone. Along the way, he has picked up plenty of friends. These peripheral characters have added a lot of color to Valentine’s world. It’s a motley crew he has put together, including a devious and beautiful provocateur, an older Haitian Cook, a Reaper raised outside of the Kurian influence, a former Quisling, and most notably a Golden Haired alien brought to this planet as a work force for the new overloads. So, for nine volumes, Valentine has done most of the heavy lifting, but now it was time for someone else to pick up the load. Not that the series has become totally stagnant. I enjoyed the last entry of this series, and was interested in seeing what would happen next. Yet, sometimes a bit of change is good. Sometimes, the world you have grown to love could use another perspective. When I discovered that the newest edition of this story would be told from the perspective of Valentine’s closest friend, the Golden One Ahn-Kha himself, I was excited. Here was an opportunity to get a fresh perspective on this compelling world from one of my favorite peripheral characters.

Appalachian Overthrow tells the story of Ahn-Kha, an alien transported to Earth by the brutal Kurian, stripped of everything he loved, and looked at by most humans as barely more than a beast. Yet, thanks to David Valentine, he had found a place in the resistance, fighting against the Alien Oppressors who use Vampire like Avatars to suck the life force from their human cattle. When a dangerous mission leaves him captured behind enemy lines, he must attempt to survive, hide his true nature until he can find a way to escape. Sent to work in the mines of coal country, Ahn-Kha finds himself a key figure in an uprising that could forever alter the balance of power in the region. EE Knight has taken a big risk with Appalachian Overthrow. This novel isn’t just a change in perspective, but a whole different style of story with an entirely new voice. Appalachian Overthrow is a less focused novel, with less of an emphasis of key battles or single missions. Instead, it tells the story of a slow boiling disquiet among the people and Quislings of the Coal Country through the non-human eyes of Ahn-Kha. The first person perspective is much more idiosyncratic than the earlier novels. This isn’t truly the Ahn-Kha we have grown to love, seen through the eyes of Valentine, but a more rich, yet intimate version where we get a peek into his mind. The novel has a lot more exposition than the previous novels, giving us a much more detailed look at the inner workings of a Kurian controlled zone than we had seen previously. In many ways, it feels more like a future history/memoir than the typical post apocalyptic adventure style that the previous novels have utilized. Yet, did it work? For me, it totally did. I loved the change in voice, the slower pace and more intimate style. It felt like Knight really gave us a chance to see his world before he started to let his characters start blowing it up. There were moments where the story began to drag a bit, and the details became a bit overwhelming, but usually these were quickly followed by some quick burst of action. One of the most noticeable differences of this novel was that the action came in quick bursts, rather than long detailed battles. Knight still managed to get in a lot of his staples, with some great Reaper fights, some smart guerilla style battles and some skirmishes with the zombie like Ravies, yet there was a much more unfocused, oral tradition style storytelling involved. While I typically preach the idea that series should always be read in order, despite what the author or other fans may say, Appalachian Overthrow serves well as a standalone, not dependent on the past events of the previous nine novels. Appalachian Overthrow is a deliberately paced look at Kurian Occupied Earth through the outsider eyes of the Golden One Ahn-Kha.   I think some fans of the series will be frustrated with the slower paced style, but I wasn’t one. I enjoyed this opportunity to get to know one of my favorite character a bit better, while also getting to see a different side to the world Knight has created.

Christian Rummel returns as narrator for this latest edition of The Vampire Earth series. I think a lot of the idiosyncratic feel of the narrative voice of this novel came from the delivery of Christian Rummel. He read Ahn-Kha as someone comfortable with the language, but not native born to it. There was definitely an alien feel to the reading that gave this novel just the right touch. Rummel uses a rich deep tone, yet doesn’t hesitate to pull out all the stops for his character. Appalachian Overthrow is full of a nice mix of characters, allowing Rummel to use a full range of accents, as well as giving voice to some non-human characters. It would have been easy for Rummel to fall into the rapid fire pacing of the previous novels, but instead, there is an almost languishing reflective rhythm to his reading, as if he’s a tour guide, carefully showing you all the key areas of the tale. While Appalachian Overthrow may not be the best entry of the series, it offers a chance to see The Vampire Earth from a whole new perspective.