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

3 07 2013

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

Length: 4 Hrs 30 Min

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

Length: 4 Hrs 28 Min

Read by Dion Graham

Scholastic Audio

Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction

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

Grade: B

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

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





Audiobook Review: The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

10 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan (Forest of Hands and Teeth, Bk. 2)

Read by Tara Sands

Listening Library

Length: 11 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Dead Tossed Waves is another unique spin on undead literature full of vivid images, well conceived characters and a darkly beautiful world. Carrie Ryan manages to change the voice of her series seamlessly while still delivering on the promises set up in the first novel.

Grade: B+

There are three major aspects of Zombie Apocalypse literature, Zombie Outbreak, with humanity dealing with the initial outbreak, Zombie Apocalypse, dealing with the first generation Survivors of the initial onslaught, and Societal Adaptation, how society generations later has changed to live with the realities of an undead world. I am always quite fascinated by the Societal Adaptation aspect. It probably one of the least explored Zombie Apocalypse themes. We have seen many different takes, from societies built on fear and superstition, to others almost making the act of hunting zombies a rite of passage. I have always been fascinated by religious adaptations to zombies explored in literature, and wondered often about how I would form my own apocalyptic death cult. This is often how I spend my time. So many apocalyptic death cults simply do it wrong. Now, I get the accessorizing of the de-jawed zombies on chains. That’s pretty badass, but must they wear black or white ceremonial garb. It seems like you would just stick out like a sore thumb. I think my ritual death cult would use forest or jungle tones. For us, our castes would be named after the greats of Zombie fiction like Keene, Maberry, and Grant as part of a pantheon under the all powerful god Romero. Each caste of the cult would have their own patron saint. The Maberry caste would walk around in carpet body armor, while the Keene caste would perform regular exorcisms on their Zombie accessories. The Grant Cast would be a group of disgraced scientist attempting to create a zombie Red Heifer and Golden Zombie Calf. Last year, for Zombie Awareness Month I listened to The Forest of Hands and Feet, and based on that knew that Carrie Ryan should definitely have a place among the patron saints of my death cult but I plan on waiting until finishing the series to see exactly how her caste’s belief structure should manifest itself, because when organizing an apocalyptic death cult, research is key.

Gabry has lived her entire life within the safety of her small harbor town. Her mother, once a stranger to the town, whose strangeness is a source of shame for Gabry, runs the lighthouse and keeps the shores safe from the undead that wash up with the tide. Gabry always feared leaving the walls of her town, but one spontaneous decisions leads to disaster and forever alters her life and unlocks the secrets of her past. It’s no secret that I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I was actually quite shocked by how much I loved it. That being said I was still a bit hesitant about continuing the series. I thought that the first novel of this series was so brilliant and different that it would be nearly impossible to continue it without a major change in tone. Well, I was right. What I wasn’t right about was that it would affect my overall enjoyment of the novel. Carry Ryan does something that is quite hard to do, complete alter her world, and her voice, yet still create a novel that is almost as compelling and heartbreaking as the original. Now, I still have to say I like the original better, but The Dead Tossed Waves is a totally worthy follow-up.  Ryan explores a whole new aspect of the world she created. In many ways, The Dead Tossed Waves in The Forest of Hands and Teeth told in reverse, instead of a novel about an isolated young women discovering there is more to the world than she thought, The Dead Tossed Waves starts as a broader novel, and slowly becomes more intimate and personal. The key to this story is the personal development of Gabry, as she learns more about who she is and what she is capable of. My only complain about the novel is the repetitious moments of self doubt by Gabry. Every time something bad happens, and I promise you, a lot of bad things happen, Gabry went on a huge pity fest listing the many reasons why it was all her fault and how she simply is responsible for all the world’s woes. It was probably true to character, but it became a bit much at times and influenced the pacing of the novel. And of course, there was the dreaded lovey dovey angsty love triangle. It also sometimes became a bit much, but it was just original enough where I didn’t feel like bashing my head in with a ball peen hammer. The Dead Tossed Waves is not as much of a standalone as The Forest of Hands and Teeth, there is a definite direction for the next novel, and an intriguing one at that. In fact, my original plan was to wait and review the finale for next years Zombie Awareness Month, but I’m not quite sure I can wait that long. The Dead Tossed Waves is another unique spin on undead literature full of vivid images, well conceived characters and a darkly beautiful world. Carrie Ryan manages to change the voice of her series seamlessly while still delivering on the promises set up in the first novel.

One of the things I loved about the original of this series was Vane Millon’s exotic and totally unique narration. I will say, part of my hesitancy about this series is that each novel has a different narrator. Yet, as each novel seems to come from a different perspective character, this decision makes sense. While Tara Sands has more of a traditional YA narrator style, I felt her voice was appropriate to the setting. While the perspective character of the first novel needed to stand out, Gabry’s attempts to fit in with her society made Sands approach appropriate. Sands delivers a smart, well thought out performance. Her characters were strong and distinct, but more importantly, she managed to capture the rhythms and poetry of Ryan’s writing, I especially enjoyed her delivery of the climatic scene. She filled it with just the right amount of tension, never rushing the narrative but still creating a sense of urgency. She somehow managed to tap into my inner fear of heights and allowed me to keep holding my breath until I knew the outcome of the character’s crazy adventure. My only point of contention was with the pronunciation of the name Elias. Not that it was pronounced wrong, just not as I expected, and it took me a but to put the sound and name together  This is my first experience with Tara Sands’ work, and I felt she really delivered.





Audiobook Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

30 05 2012

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Read by Vane Millon

Listening Library

Length: 9 Hrs 31 Min

Genre: Young Adult Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The Forrest of Hands and Teeth exceeded all my expectations. It’s a beautifully told tale that takes many risks, most of which pay off well. It has a classic, almost historical feel, which you don’t find often in Zombie fiction.

Grade: A-

One of the most fascinating topics when discussing Post Apocalyptic fiction and the potentials of a Post Apocalyptic culture is religion. I had a very religious upbringing, and while I don’t spend nearly as much time in church or other religious pursuits today, religion still greatly influences many aspects of my life, Religion often get lots of bad press, unfortunately, because it also has the ability to uplift human kind, to make them better than their animalistic nature. The problem is that religion is often abused. Some of the worst atrocities and injustices committed by men where done in the name of religion. There are many great and diverse Post Apocalyptic novels that deal with the roles of religion in rebuilding and shaping society after a cataclysm including Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, Sterling Lanier’s Heiro’s Journey and Orson Scott Card’s Folk on the Fringe. What I like about these books is that religion itself isn’t demonized, although people within the religious power structure do commit heinous acts. In Post Apocalyptic settings, religion can be used as a tool for suppression of knowledge. It is often shown as a perversion of good intentions, the apocalypse came about because man had lost their way, and the only way to get back on track is strident adherence to the will of God. This is always a dangerous road, because what truly is the will of God is subjective, and in the end, religious domination in post apocalyptic settings becomes about the will of man.

In The Forrest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan introduced us to Mary, a young girl living in an isolated gated community generations after a Zombie Apocalypse. Mary’s society is run by the sisterhood, who control all information about the rise of the unconsecrated and society before the collapse. After Mary’s mother is bitten by one of the undead, Mary is forced to move in with the sisterhood where her curious nature, and desire for the boy who is promised to another puts her in conflict with the sisterhood’s stern leader. Carrie Ryan’s writing has an old fashion classic feel to it that reminded me of Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter. I found the character of Mary both sympathetic and frustrating. Like many young adult and romance leads, I found Mary to be quite selfish, choosing to value her desires over that of the good of the others. The difference here is this is something Mary acknowledges. Her character has depths to her that I found refreshing, and I could easily forgive her selfishness based on the fact that any control of her life is out of her hands. She must wait for either her brother to bring her until her home, or a man to ask for her hand in marriage or she would be turned over to the sisterhood. She is given a stark, uncompromising choice of life in the sisterhood, or death, which in reality is no choice. Mary, and in particular her womb, is treated as a commodity a tool to propagate society, and she has to either accept this as her role, or rock the boat by looking for more. I really couldn’t blame Mary for the choices she made, and found her character fascinating. Ryan’s prose is often deliberate and sharp, and she creates a lot of tension with an economy of words. This works well with the action sequences, allowing the listener to easily follow what was going in in situations that can get quite muddled. The Forrest of Hands and Teeth exceeded all my expectations. It’s a beautifully told tale that takes many risks, most of which pay off well. It has a classic, almost historical feel, which you don’t find often in Zombie fiction.

Vane Millon’s narration was weirdly paced with strange pauses and inflections and early on in the narration she almost seemed uncomfortable with the narrative. She has an offbeat, exotic alto tone that was unlike the typical voice used by narrators in books featuring young female protagonist. I have to say, I totally loved it. Millon’s voice, with its early unsurity, and strange, almost vibrato tone brought a classic feel that perfectly matched the style of the novel. Her voice only highlighted the depths of Mary’s character. Something about Mary just felt different and this worked well to highlight a character breaking away from the accepted in a controlled civilization. I imagine there will be many who feel Millon’s narration less than stellar, yet, I found it refreshing. I am sort of sick of the squealing, high pitched, almost whiney voices often used in young adult novels. Sometimes that is appropriate to the text, here is wasn’t. I am sort of sad to see she has very little narration work on her resume, because based on her performance here, I would definitely want to check it out.