Audiobook Review: The World House by Guy Adams

4 02 2015

The World House by Guy Adams

Read by Paul Boehmer

Audible Studios

Length: 10Hrs 43Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: C-

I’m not sure what just friggin’ happened. I mean, I kinda know. There are these characters, and a weird house, and time travel, and god like people, and amnesia, and a cool game of Snakes and Ladders, and I think that one guy is also that other guy or maybe I am thinking about someone else. Oh, and that girl is like maybe autistic, which of course means she has some special ability or perception that will help save the world, or destroy it, or maybe stop the bad guy who I am not sure is really bad because that’s that’s what mentally challenged people do in fantasies… and, well, maybe I’m just an idiot who can’t follow the authors disjointed train of thought. I mean, I get this way with “high brow” stuff where I think I am supposed to get it. Like Birdman, which I guess had moments, but still, I didn’t get it. Like art or jazz or that weird class of philosophy I took…



So really, maybe Guy Adams is a genius who created this beautiful mosaic of a novel, full of complexities and layers upon layers, creating a mesmerizing tale that blends generations and genres and I am just too dumb to figure it all out. I know I feel like this when I attempt to read China Mellville and Paolo Bacigalupi, which people I respect tell me is brilliant, but turns my brains to mash, and, well, kinda bores me at the same time making me want to pull out something with explody monsters hunters or time traveling Nazis.

Or maybe Guy Adams just wrote a book that had some brilliant moments, was fun at brief intervals but was mostly a mess that barely held my interest and often left me confused about exactly what the hell just happened.

But maybe not…

I’m confused.

One thing I like about Paul Boehmer is that he has a unique narrative voice. His voice has a tone that reflects an international feel yet isn’t specific to any particular nationality. It reminds me of the subtle accents that many 1800 era American period pieces use, not really modern American or Modern British but somewhere in between. This is why I think Boehmer is excellent in historical fiction and has been underused in the fantasy genre where straight British accents seem to be the preference of audio producers. This is why I thought he was perfectly suited for a book like The World House. But, now I am not so sure he was, mostly because I really didn’t care about the book enough to figure it out. His characters were fine. I often found the perspective shifts were not distinct enough, but this may just have been because I wasn’t invested enough in the characters to realize that they had shifted.

Oh well….

Basically, The World House was a book that constantly had me on the edge of thinking,”Let’s end this and move on to something else” but that little part of me said that eventually there would be this sort of AHA! Moment that pulled it all together and made it worth it. And I guess there was something like that, but by that point I just wanted it all to be over.

Now maybe some time traveling zombies or talking unicorns or sexy dragons….

Audiobook Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

15 04 2014

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Bk. 3)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Grade: C

Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters was one of my most anticipated releases of spring 2014. I loved the first books in the series, particularly in audio. Taylor’s prose was like poetry come to life, dripping magic with every word, brought into life like music through the voice of Khristine Hvam. Even the angst filled forbidden love between Karou and Akiva, the star crossed angel and his lovely monster, managed to keep me entranced. Her world full of angles and demons, of battles spanning time, fate and worlds was unique in a genre filled with stilted cliches. I was anxiously awaiting the final ballad of the trilogy, the last burst of magic that would bring this story to it’s ultimate world changing climax.


I did not love Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Oh, the beauty and magic were still there, and Taylor’s writing still enthralls me, but the final chapter of this trilogy was 12 hours of angst interwove between 6 hours of story. There was stuff I did like. I really liked the new character of Eliza, a doctoral candidate who worked as the assistant for the scientist studying the genetic makeup of a discovered mass grave of Chimera, whose dark past hid secrets to her dreams of monsters and angels. Even though her story arch took some odd turns along the way, Taylor’s prowess at developing strong characters is on full display her. My major problem, beyond the long eloquent ruminations of fated love, was the way the plot was concluded. The Angel invasion into earth was anticlimactic at best. I applaud Taylor for trying to bring an nontraditional closure to this storyline, yet, it’s execution paled in comparison the nature of the set up. The large battle between the Seraphim and the joint rebel Angel and Chimera was totally Dues Ex Machina, even worse it was an off camera Dues Ex Machina in service of an unnecessary twist. All this blunted the tale, allowing the angst to become the driving force of the tale, instead of an influencing factor. Taylor explores some fascinating new physics concepts, adding more Lovecraftian spins and examining the nature between magic and science. It was a wonderful, beautifully formulated thought experiment, and if added in more detail to the earlier novels, or explored on its own in another book, I may have really digged it, but by the time these concepts were fully examined, I was so frustrated with the book and ready for it to end. All criticisms aside, Dreams of Gods and Monsters didn’t diminish my view on Taylor as a writer. It just didn’t offer what I was looking for in a conclusion. I am sure, those who love the tragic love tale between Karou and Akiva, will be thrilled by this ending. I was not one of those people.

As always, I have nothing but high praise for Khristine Hvam. More than once her reading of this novel gave me chills. I highly doubt I would have made it through the 18 hour production if it was read by a lesser narrator. Her performance is music, and beauty and humor in all the right places. I almost enjoyed the long soliloquies on love and fate… well, almost almost… well, not really, but at least there was a bit of sugar to help those bitter pills go down.

Audiobook Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

26 08 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Read by Alana Kerr

Audible for Bloomsbury

Length: 14 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Bone Season simply didn’t live up to my expectations. I think there are a lot of people out there who will love this book, and look forward with baited breath to the next edition of the series. For me, The Bone Season wasn’t the right fit. The things that it did well were the things I was less interested in, and overall the whole thing felt flat to me. 

Grade: C

I am really sick of hearing that so and so is the new JK Rowling. Some new book series comes out that loosely shares some sort of commonality with Harry Potter, or the author happens to have some sort of association with Rowling, and people begin screaming "THE NEXT HARRY POTTER" A seven book series…. THE NEXT HARRY POTTER… magic being performed by people under 40…. THE NEXT HARRY POTTER…. the writer is British…  THE NEXT HARRY POTTER… there’s a character in the book whose name rhymes with Dobby… THE NEXT HARRY POTTER! I hate it! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I hate that the expectations are raised. I hate that authors can’t write original fiction without people comparing it to something else. I hate that it friggin’ works. Whenever someone is touted as the next JK Rowling’s my interests is spiked. I’m not sure why. There are plenty of Fantasy series I love more than Harry Potter, yet, if someone says "THE NEXT STEPHEN R. DONALDSON!" I’m all ho hum but channel the name of Harry Potter, and I’m like a fiend looking for that last bit of crack. I liked Harry Potter. It’s so much fun, and I fell in love with so many characters, but it wasn’t the life changing series that it was for others. I was already a voracious reader, with a love of fantasy. My first boyhood crushes were on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Susan Pevensie. Yet, there is something about Harry Potter, the magical mood, the feeling of being an isolated loner stripped away from everything and sent to a grand magical school where you are in fact special. It’s a feeling I like, and when someone says this latest book may once again allow me to relive that feeling, I can’t help but take notice. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out.

Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant whose spirit can leave her body and search out others, living in a London controlled by Scion, a dystopian government who subjugates those with magical abilities. After a tragic encounter on a train, Paige is taken into Scion custody and transferred to a secret penal colony in Oxford, where she encounters a race of magical beings that have been controlling the government for 200 years. I came into The Bone Season a bit hesitant, but with high expectations. Sadly, my expectations were not realized. I was fascinated by the blending of magical realism and dystopian literature the synopsis describes, and while Shannon’s world building of her magical structure was detailed and at times brilliant, her look at Scion controlled Europe was very weak. The Bone Season started with a bit of heavy handed exposition explaining what Scion was and how it would affect those with magical powers. This opening dragged down the story. I think if Shannon allowed the reader to slowly discover the oppressive government, instead of presenting what it was in a quick infodump, the blending of the two worlds may have been more effective. By the time the novel did take an interesting turn, I wasn’t invested in the characters at all. No matter how often Paige told us someone was wonderful, it rarely actually played out that way on the page, and you quickly began doubting the characters opinion. I also had a hard time with the Rephaim. They were like a weird blending of Vampires and Fae, and neither side was explored well enough to make the blending effective. Instead of a unique race of Otherworldly creatures, I found them a weird mishmash of popular fantasy beings repackaged with a shiny bow to make them look original. I found the weird mix of pretentiousness and self loathing unbalanced. Instead of seeing the natural dichotomy of any sentient beings, it all felt forced into showing us another side of these creatures that was manufactured. The Bone Season isn’t a bad book. Shannon created beautiful visuals, and permeated her tale with a sense of magic. She has some thrilling action, and while I was personally bothered by the romantic tones in the novel due to my personal curmudgeonly attitude, they were understated and probably would appeal to those more open to complicated romantic relationships in fiction.  I think there are a lot of people out there who will love this book, and look forward with baited breath to the next edition of the series. For me, The Bone Season wasn’t the right fit. The things that it did well were the things I was less interested in, and overall the whole thing felt flat to me. 

Alana Kerr’s wistful Irish tones were definitely beautiful to my ear. She does a good job bringing Paige to life. At first I was surprised by how understated her brogue was, but the character describes attempting to lessen the ethnic tensions by adopting a proper British speaking voice, and Kerr does a good job adapting the character to this. I could have listened to her voice for a long time, no problem, yet having a beautiful voice, and even appropriate character performance isn’t always enough. Where I struggled was her pacing. She read The Bone Season at a slow plodding pace that may have been fine for the world building aspects but suffered when things started happening. I felt tempted at times to speed up the audiobook, partly because I was never fully engaged with it, but mostly because many of the action sequences lacked a sense of urgency in their reading. It was like she was describing events to a room full of students, instead of actually living it, and because of this the listeners never became fully engaged in the world. For most of the book, I felt like a passive, uninvolved observer, when I much prefer to be pulled into the pages of a book, feeling just as much at jeopardy as the characters guiding us on this journey. In The Bone Season, this never happened. 

Audiobook Review: The Ophelia Cut by John Lescroart

12 08 2013

The Ophelia Cut (Dismas Hardy, Bk. 14) by John Lescroart

Read by David Colacci

Brilliance Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 20

Genre: Courtroom Thriller

Quick Thoughts:  Lescroart is a good writer who can create compelling characters, complicated situations and fascinating legal quandaries, but for me, this latest novel just really didn’t make the cut. With an unfocused narrative, unnecessary subplots and so much backstory that regular series readers already knew, The Ophelia Cut made me almost wish I chose the Abridged version instead.

Grade: C

Every time I read or hear an author say something like, “While the book is  part a series, each one can be read as a standalone” I inwardly cringe. I get the point. I really do. The author wants that new reader to walk into a store and grab his latest hardback about Joe Crapper, investigative Plumber, without having to buy The Snake in the Pipes, Floaters and Feeling Flushed first. It’s how they make their money. But, really… you can’t. It’s just not the same experience reading book 3 first, even if each book does stand on its own. Most series characters develop, get involved in relationships, and have an actual life outside of the one novel worthy mystery  per year that they solve, and a good series brings those things into the story making it more than just about somebody solving crimes or getting into adventures. There is a reason why so many people enjoy series, because you develop a relationship with these characters, and if this relationship is not linear, it can cause some strange dissonance. This is why I prefer to read series in order, starting from Book 1. This is why I get really frustrated when I impulse buy a book, and discover it is book 5 of an ongoing series and there was nothing to indicate that fact on the cover. Yet, there is another aspect of the “every story stands alone” school of thought that does a real disservice to an author’s core readers. It’s the many tricks and tools that authors use in each book to establish past relationships and events so that new readers don’t get lost. More and more I complain about ongoing science fiction series that have created “too big of a universe.” I am beginning to see this in mystery and thriller series as well. There are significant events that truly contribute to the actions and motivations of characters and without establishing these in detail for new readers, things just don’t make sense. It’s like the “Previously On” segments of TV shows without the ability to fast forward. As a reader, I want to get right to the core of the story, right to the crux of this tale, without needing to be reminded that 5 years ago Joe Crapper had an affair with Lydia Latrine during a forensic plumbing conference. I mean, as a longtime reader of the Joe Crapper novels, I should already know that shit, right?

I love Dismiss Hardy. Really, I do. He is one of my all time favorite Legal Fiction characters. John Lescroart’s The Thirteenth Juror is one of my all time favorite courtroom thrillers. Yet, over the past few years Lescroart has been branching off his series to stories focused on some of the peripheral characters, like Investigator Wyatt Hunt or DA Wes Farrell and I have found these less engaging. With this and some other  less than stellar recent novels, I have slowly begun to move Lescroart’s status from “Instant Must Listen” to “Check the Synopsis and Decide.” Yet, I was quite excited about his latest novel, The Ophelia Cut. Based on the synopsis, it seemed more like a classic Dismas Hardy Courtroom Thriller. When the Chief of Staff of a city Superintendent is brutally murdered, attention is focused on Dismas Hardy’s Brother in Law Moses, who was enraged after discovering the man had harassed and eventually raped his daughter. While Hardy takes the case, he has his own  agenda in play. Moses, an alcoholic who has fallen off the wagon, has knowledge of a secret that could destroy the lives of many, including Hardy himself. Overall, I found The Ophelia Cut to be, well, strange. The novels pacing was all over the place. It was well past the 6 hour mark before the crime that is the core of the novel even happens. The pacing was so bad, and so much series backstory that regular readers already knew filled the early part of the novel, I almost wished I had listened to the *gasp* Abridged version instead. The investigation, and the time between the arrest and trial felt extremely rushed. It was like Lescroart spent hours reminding us of what is on the line if Moses blabs, how despicable the murder victim was, and then WHAM BAM, we’re starting Voir Dire. I also felt like Lescroart had the opportunity to handle some interesting, and timely social and political issues, like Rape Culture, vigilantism and sex trafficking, and sort of just glossed over them. Now, I don’t need my authors to be preachy but I do think you can explore social issues without having them permeate the plot. Yet Lescroart spent more time on how stupid it was to arrest bartenders who serve underage drinkers than the exploitation of sex trafficking, which plays a significant part in the story. Even the red herrings that Lescroart laced the story with where unfocused, and rarely played any significant role when trial came. It was like Hardy discovered all this stuff, but either decided not to use it or couldn’t and you had to wonder why there were all these tangents early in the novel that had no impact on the end. Why have a corrupt politician in league with a organized crime figure, and a former dirty cop/hit man in the witness protection program dominate the early part of the story if it really had no impact on the trial or the outcome of the novel at all? Lescroart typically writes courtroom scenes full of significance and witness questioning with an almost rhythmic poetry, yet in this one, it falls flat. If this was my first time reading a Dismas Hardy novel I would think him a crap lawyer with very questionable ethics, which goes totally against the character that Lescroart has set up in the previous novels. It wasn’t all negative. I felt Lescroart did a good job setting up the ethical challenges of lawyers, and how outside influences may affect them, even if I don’t think these issues played true in these characters. There was also one moment at the end of the novel that I absolutely loved, and had me looking as some aspects of the book in a new light. Admittedly, Lescroart is a good writer who can create compelling characters, complicated situations and fascinating legal quandaries, but for me, this latest novel just really didn’t make the cut.

Typically, I like David Colacci. It’s been a while since I listened to a novel that he narrated, but I remember him being an engaging narrator with a good handle on the material. Yet, in The Ophelia Cut, I felt his performance was a bit flat. This had me thinking a lot about the relationship between the narrator and the text. Did I find his performance flat, because overall I found the story flat or was it the opposite? Would I have been more engaged with the tale if he read it with more vigor? I’m not sure. I tend to think it’s a combination. Narrators are people to, and sometimes, if they can’t engage with a story it has to affect their performance. I often talk about how you can hear it in a narrator’s performance when they are truly enjoying a book. I think the opposite it true. There was nothing technically wrong with his performance. He has been performing Lescroart’s books for years, and knows these characters. I just think, this one got away a bit from the author, and perhaps, this lead to the narrator, perhaps, not totally bringing his A game. I can’t really blame the guy.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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: 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 Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

25 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Read by Mur Lafferty

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Grade: C

One of the most interesting, often repeated ideas in urban fantasy is the idea that past horror and fantasy greats weren’t actually fiction writers but recorders of a secret history unbeknownst to the public. That authors like Lovecraft and the Brother’s Grimm were chroniclers of events that the so called true histories neglect. I often wonder if years in the future, some apocalyptic surviving remnant of humanity will discover our fiction and believe that we actually lived in a time where Vampires were into sparkly S&M and wizards roamed Chicago yelling incantations and blowing up electronics. I wonder which of out authors will be looked upon as the secret histories of out time. Yet, most importantly, there is a small part of my brain that wonders which of my favorite authors are actually chronicling the mysterious magical undergrounds that some sort of mental block on us normal modern citizen prevent us from seeing. Have our earthquakes and other natural disasters been covers for horrible magical battles among the Fae and humanity, told the likes of Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire? Are there Vampires and Werewolves running around small southern towns that only Charlain Harris can see? Is there a mysterious town called Derry where Clowns and spiders haunt the lives of little children? Is the strange and twisted mind of Chuck Wendig truly just a reflection on the world we live it? God I hope not. Now, I know the likelihood that any of these authors are doing anything more that telling us stories that were planted into their genetic memories by some ancient Saurian aliens species who seeded human life among the stars, but part of me can’t help but wonder what if. What if their stories are real? What if our ancient Lizard benefactors didn’t actually mess with Stephen King’s brain? Yeah, I know, the idea is ridiculous.

After leaving her last job due to a disastrous personal relationship with her boss, Travel writer Zoe moves to New York City. In search for a new writing job, Zoe meets a strange group of individuals who seem reluctant to hire her despite her obvious qualifications based solely on their belief that she wouldn’t fit in. Yet, when she finally pressures the owner, she discover’s the staff is entirely made up of monsters of legend and they are writing a travel guide for monsters. The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. I just never really connected with the characters and the world author Mur Lafferty set up. There were some really fun and funny moments, yet it was all filtered through a very unlikable character in Zoe. Zoe came off to me as entitled and pretentious. She seemed to get up in arms when people seemed to talk down to her, but often did the same thing to those around her. It was hard to feel any sort of righteous anger for this character. While some of the other characters, particularly the Zombie coworkers and some of the minor denizens along the way where fun, the majority of the major characters fell into a range between bland, and down right annoying. John the incubus was a pushy sexual predator enabled by his coworkers because it was just part of his nature and when he would get caught with his hand in Zoe’s cookie jar, he got a few tisks tisks then was actually still forced onto her by her coworkers regularly. Zoe’s main love interest happened to also work for Public Works which protected humanity from monsters, yet was incredibly inept and ignorant, and tended to act impulsively, creating more havoc with occasional breaks to condescend to Zoe.  And, of course, Zoe was the oh so special outsider who shows up just in time to save the minority monsters from their own selves and some outside bad guys. All of these criticisms seem harsh and I don’t feel are in any way what the author intended, but it was how it sat with me. I don’t think this was a bad book, it just lacked depths in the things I tend to enjoy in urban fantasy. Zoe’s training was sort of just glossed over, and yet she managed to become the most competent warrior of the group. It just all ended up feeling like a skeevy form of twee, I know there are people out there who will love this book and I would have no problem recommending it. I thought the ending itself was relatively interesting, even if at times I felt like the narrative got away from me. On the positive side, i really liked the actual entries from the Shambling Guide, and probably would enjoy reading that more than this book. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Mur Lafferty also narrates this novel. I often find it harder to judge the narration on books I didn’t really like. I though Lafferty did a serviceable job. She had moments of flair that really brought out some of the better aspects of the novel. I thought as the voice for Zoe, she was perfect, but many of the other characters lost distinctiveness along the way. Her pacing was just a bit awkward. It wasn’t horrible, but just unsettling enough to make me wonder how much more I would appreciate it is it was narrated by Khristine Hvam or Hilary Huber. Now, I did listen to the entire production so she did enough to keep me interested. She has a quirky voice that could be endearing but my lack of connection with the story made the rawness of her reading only stand out more. I actually think I could grow to enjoy her narration and I know she has done a lot of podcasting work in the past, so I definitely plan on keeping an ear out for her in the future.

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: The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

2 04 2013

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens (The Graveyard Queen, Bk.1)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Harlequin Enterprise Ltd./Audible

Length: 10 Hr 52 Min

Genre: Paranormal

Quick Thoughts: The Restorer is a a clever, well written novel that just focused on things I typically don’t look for in a book. Fans of a slower, introspective Gothic style mysteries with light amounts of romance and paranormal elements should enjoy The Restorer.

Grade: C+


2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

Dear Book, it’s me, not you. I know, I know, that sounds horribly cliché but I assure you that my use of a horribly cliché breakup device does not in any way reflect upon you. Sometimes, it’s not meant to be. You have to admit, we didn’t come together in the traditional way that a book and its reader comes together. I listened to you because you were nominated for an award and I chose to take part in an event where we listen to all the nominees. While this is a wonderful thing, sometimes it makes for an unlikely coupling. Nothing you did was wrong. It’s just the things you did well were not the things I look for when listening to a book. I am a strange guy, with weird tastes. I like Ghosts and mysteries, which you have, but I like more tangible ghost and a more linear procedural mystery. It doesn’t mean what you did was wrong, just not what I am looking for in a paranormal tale. One of the things I believe is that as a reader I need to understand myself, what I like and what I enjoy, if I am going to be able to properly recommend books to others. I also need to be upfront about that to my readers. I need to allow them to get to know me, so they can understand that just because I really didn’t enjoy a book, doesn’t mean they won’t. While I do not believe I am particularly skilled at critical analysis, I think I can tell a good book from a bad book, even when I don’t enjoy it. So, let me assure you that you weren’t a bad book, just not right for me. What made matters worst was I was already eyeing another book. I admit the my excitement for the book I was going to listen to next, made me want to hurry up and get through you, and so I may have looked past you a bit. Yet, I hope my review here will help you find a better reader, one who you are more suited to. You deserve that, book.

Amelia Gray is a Cemetery Restorer who just happens to see ghosts. Her father, who shares her ability, has set up rules for her to avoid interaction with ghosts and those haunted by them. When an attractive but haunted police detective calls on her to assist in an investigation of a brutal murder, Amelia finds that her rules haven’t prepared her for this man she is drawn to. So, if you haven’t figured it out, The Restorer just wasn’t the right book for me. First off, I’m not exactly sure how to label this book. It was a paranormal tale that had romance in it, but was unlike the few Paranormal Romances I had listened to previously. The romance was awkward and mostly chaste, taking place almost entirely in Amelia’s inner dialogue, except for one brief interaction. I think this was one of my major issues with the book, while there were a lot of external things happening, the majority of the book takes place within Amelia’s mind. Now, she was an interesting character, but sort of naive, definitely unsure of herself, and had a strange sort of unbalanced initiative. Sometimes she would be hesitant, or just not be at all interested in acting, while other times she just threw herself at the problem with no abandon or, well, logical thought. I think I just didn’t get her world. That she would wait to now to begin questioning her father’s rules and his mysterious past seemed strange to me. It seemed like she was told this is how it should be, and didn’t let that bother her until now, when her attraction to a man made her rethink everything. There seemed to be an internal illogic to the whole thing, not that it was unrealistic, because humans don’t always react too logically to things, but it was just frustrating for me. I found the big twist to be so telegraphed that I believed that there was no way my suspicions could actually be right because it was too obvious. One of the major reasons I never connected with this novel is that I typically enjoy the procedural aspects of an investigation, even including the paranormal aspects, and this novel focused more on the internal aspects of Amelia’s reactions to the investigation than the actually nit and bolts attempt to find the killer.  The true exploration was of the character of Amelia, and the murders and strange doings were a catalyst for that exploration. Overall, I found The Restorer to be a clever, well written novel that just focused on things I typically don’t look for in a book. Fans of a slower, introspective Gothic style mystery with light amounts of romance and paranormal elements should enjoy The Restorer.

One of the things I have no issues with is the wonderful narration. Hvam infuses this novel with just the right amount of southern charm that you just can’t help but find infective. She handled the soft quiet of Amelia well counterbalancing it with some more vivacious characters. Hvam also handled the few scenes utilizing a distinct Patois well, making it sound organic and not affected. She captured the overall mood of the novel well, giving it an understated creepiness, that get’s amped up during key moments. While her female characters were definitely stronger than her males, she gives the main male character a quiet charm that highlighted his broken nature. I think one of the main reasons I stuck with this tale, despite it not being something that would typically appeal to me was the excellent work done here by Hvam.

Audiobook Review: Day By Day Armageddon 3: Shattered Hourglass by J. L. Bourne

3 01 2013

Shattered Hourglass (Day By Day Armageddon, Bk. 3) by J. L. Bourne

Read by Jay Snyder

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thought: Shattered Hourglass was a decent military Zombie novel, with great ideas that just never seemed to pay off. On its own, it had some fun moments, but as a piece of the overall story, it was a disappointment. Yet, I have faith in Bourne, and while I may not like how he went about it, this novel does tie up most of the loose ends of the other books, perhaps leading once again to the more intimate style he excels at for the next novel.

Grade: C

Back before Zombie Audiobooks were all the rage, there was Day By Day Armageddon. Of course, this was only two years ago, and sure, there were Zombie Audiobooks before that, but I think JL Bourne’s epistolary Zombie novel was one of the first that really thrust the genre into the mainstream, capturing the imaginations of bludgeoning horror fans and creating a sense of excitement for our shambling undead brothers. Day By Day Armageddon was the novel that introduced me to Permuted Press, probably the premiere publisher focusing on post apocalyptic horror and zombie titles. Permuted did a great job discovering Independent Zombie authors and giving them a platform to broaden their base. Then, with their deal with Audible, began bringing the Zombie genre to the audiobook format. J L Bourne’s series, with its military feel and diary style has often been imitated, yet few have matched it. It’s an intimate glimpse at the apocalypse through the eyes of a military deserter who faces incredible odds, nuclear irradiated zombies, the unpredictability of the survivors and a secret conspiracy to find safety and comradeship in the changed world. Yet, I know I, as well as other fans looked towards book 3 with a hesitant tension. The way that Bourne ended Beyond Exile, the second book in the series, expanded the world in such a way that you knew there had to be a move away from the style that the fans of the author embraced so well. It was a logical move for the author, whose military knowledge and detailed mythology required a broader world. It was the right thing for Bourne to do with the series, but it was also a bug risk. A risk that may not have paid off as much as the author hoped.

I really hate the whole “I wanted to like this novel, but was disappointed” type of review, but this was where I found myself after listening to Shattered Hourglass. There were many great moments, some crazy badass scenarios, and a fascinated expanded world that made Shattered Hourglass a pretty solid military scifi Zombie thriller. Bourne blends some unique science fiction elements with classic zombie themes, that as a fan of both genres I really enjoyed, Yet, as a follow up to Beyond Exile and the Day By Day Armageddon world, too much was lost. I could have dealt with the change from a singular first person perspective, to a multi character third person tale, if Bourne used it to further build on the chemistry and develop the relationships of the characters we grew to love in the first two novels but instead, the characters are broken up, spread across the globe, and relatively isolated from each other. Also, Bourne has a lot of great ideas, but with the move from first to third person the writing suffered. With the first person story, the big jumps in time could be explained, but in Shattered Hourglass, the flow of time was confusing, often times leading me to thing I missed something. Shattered Hourglass felt more like a series of outline points that failed to transition properly. Not that the book was bad. We met some great new characters, and Bourne’s action is full of an authenticity that many other military themed novels lack. Yet, what really frustrated me was the ending. It seemed to me that Bourne was going places with each setting, setting up a big final moment for every character, and then just sort of skipped over it. It was sort of like, “We got to China, [stuff happened], we completed out mission.” Yet, what I was really waiting for was the stuff. I wanted more stuff. I had actually thought that the whole novel was a set up for the next in the series where we would get all the stuff, but, wham, bam, it was over. Shattered Hourglass was a decent military Zombie novel, with great ideas that just never seemed to pay off. On its own, it had some fun moments, but as a piece of the overall story, it was a disappointment. Yet, I have faith in Bourne, and while I may not like how he went about it, this novel does tie up most of the loose ends of the other books, perhaps leading once again to the more intimate style he excels at for the next novel.

Jay Snyder is one of the most technically proficient narrators out there. He is a master of pacing, giving the novels he reads the feel of a cinematic blockbuster. Give his a well described character, with vocal quirks and he will deliver. Fill your story with a bunch of underdeveloped, cookie cutter characters, and you will have trouble distinguishing one person from the next in Snyder’s reading. For Shattered Hourglass, we had both situations. There are some awesome, well developed and quirky characters interspersed between to pretty standard stereotypical white male military typos. This fact leads to an unbalanced feel, often contributing to the lack of discernable transitions in the story. Audiobook fans the rely on vocal and pacing changes when the novel transitions from perspective to perspective may have trouble at times with Shattered Hourglass, like I did. The overall performance of Snyder was excellent, but his style only accentuated some of the problems with the writing. I think this audiobook may have benefited with more of a quirky independent style than a Cinematic Blockbuster style of reading. Shattered Hourglass is a must listen for fans of the Day By Day Armageddon, just beware that it may not be the follow up you were hoping for.