Audiobook Review: Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

26 11 2012

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

Read by Emily Bauer

Audible Frontiers

Length: 11 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal

Quick Thoughts: Discount Armageddon is full of all the pulpy goodness you will need for a well balanced entertaining read, including plenty of music video action scenes, cool monsters, Aeslin mice, weapon concealing club clothes, an exotic and infuriating love interest, and wonderful characters both human and other.  Anyone looking for a fun new urban fantasy series to sink their prehensile teeth into should give this one a shot.

Grade: B+

If there is anything that fiction has taught me it’s that I am a pretty boring person, from a boring family, living a relatively boring life. I have no deep dark secret hovering over my soul that may one day come back to haunt me. I am a pretty straight forward human being, perhaps, even, if you would have it, a square. My family isn’t in any way aligned with an ancient order or secret society that has magical powers, or controls the banking industry or hunt monsters. While I am estranged from my father, I am pretty sure he really is my father and is in no way a fairy, werewolf or wizard.  No one in my family has been kidnapped by Orcs, sold their soul to the devil or practiced any sort of black magic. I would never make a very good urban fantasy protagonist. Yet, I have learned a lot of things that I think any urban fantasy protagonist should really learn. If, one day, you discover that your real mother is actually a fairy, or that you were hidden away among normal humans because your biological family is involved in a centuries old blood feud with cross dimensional Lovecraftian horrors, here are a few little tips. First, never utter any phrase like, "Well, at least it can’t get any worse" because, you are an urban fantasy protagonist, it probably will get worse. Secondly, that highly attractive member of the particular sex you find you self attracted to who you think is good looking but has drastically conflicting values, well, the sex will be great, but beware, it may lead to existential angst and probably a knock down, drag out alienating fight right after the first time you two bang. Lastly, this is more of a plea. I know you are trying to save the world from entities preparing to end reality as we know it, but, my insurance doesn’t cover the theft of my automobile and if you decide to toss a werewolf through my window, I will probably have to pay for the repairs. I don’t make a lot of money, so please consider us boring squares that before you act.

Verity Price is a woman of many talents. She is a world class ball room dancer, a skilled free runner, a reality TV personality and trained in various forms of martial arts. She also happens to be a cryptozooligist from a family who hunts dangerous monsters while protecting those not guilty of harming human society from an international cabal set on the extinction of Cryptid species. Oh, did I mention she’s also a waitress at a strip club? Of course, despite her desires to just live a normal life, establishing contacts with the Cryptid community in New York and trying to develop a career in Dance, Verity gets pulled into situation that may blow her cover, put those she is sworn to protect into severe jeopardy and quite possibly, kill her. Oh, and there’s a boy, of course. Discount Armageddon is a novel I had been waiting for for a while, and when I found that it finally had been released in audio form, I snatched it right up. Well, it was definitely worth the wait. I had a heck of a lot of fun listening to Discount Armageddon. Verity Price is the type of character who would scare the stuffing out of me in real life, but is a heck of a lot of fun to read about. Quirky, and sarcastic, with killer skills that will either charm you, or kick you ass, depending on the situation. I always get a little fearful of first books in Urban Fantasy and Paranormal series. Often times, an author will build their world in a heavy handed many, using long bits of exposition to explain the mythology of their universe to the reader. In Discount Armageddon, McGuire assumes that her readers aren’t stupid. She simply lets you know, "Hey, this world has monsters in it" and figures the reader will be smart enough to grasp that. McGuire instead focuses on developing a wide array of fascinating characters, and slowly building her world through there eyes, often dropping amusing hints through her characters. Maguire fills her book full of things that I would usually be deathly afraid may lead to girl cooties, things like Ballroom dancing, kissing, and shoes with various heel sizes, but you know what, she does it in a amusing way that serves as an inoculation for any strain of cooties. Discount Armageddon is full of all the pulpy goodness you will need for a well balanced entertaining read, including plenty of music video action scenes, cool monsters, Aeslin mice, weapon concealing club clothes, an exotic and infuriating love interest, and wonderful characters both human and other.  Anyone looking for a fun new urban fantasy series to sink their prehensile teeth into should give this one a shot.

With my long wait for the audiobook version of this novel, I have to admit I was a little disappointed when I learned it was narrated by Emily Bauer. Bauer is definitely a professional and skilled narrator. She reads with a clear concise style and has a great sense of pacing, particularly during complex actions scenes. Yet, her main narrative voice is always the same flavor of perky young adult. Cast in the right production and she is perfect, yet, she is way too often miscast. She’s wonderful at capturing younger, teenage characters, but will often give older, more complex characters a vapid feel. Casting her for Discount Armageddon wasn’t a horrible choice. Verity has a perky quality to her that Bauer’s voice fits at times, but it far too often fell more into the arena of petulant teenager than independent adult with perkiesque qualities. Where Bauer’s deficiency in the character was most glaring was during the more sultry moments of Verity’s internal dialogue. It just didn’t come off believable to me, seeming less like a woman comfortable in her sexuality than a young girl fantasizing about a boy. My other main complain is in her portrayal of Dominic. Bauer used more of an all purpose exotic tone for Dominic than a cultural specific accent, and at times, made him sound like a bad Monty Python character. All these complaints aside, I know that many people love Bauer, and she gives a solid reading here. She just happens to hit a few of my peevish buttons. Overall, I enjoyed the heck out of this audiobook, and most of my annoyances didn’t really distract from the experience.





Audiobook Review: Devil’s Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

11 09 2012

Devil’s Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

Read by Emily Bauer

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 19 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Devil’s Wake is a fast paced, often terrifying Zombie tale with Young Adult elements, but strong enough to keep an Adult Zombie enthusiast interested. While not a groundbreaking novel of the genre, the author’s do add some interesting twists to the end that make the series potential great. The true strength of the novel is its characters, and I look forward to seeing where they go in the future.

Grade: B

I was recently involved in a friendly debate over at Kristilyn’s Blog called Reading In Winter. Kristilyn was taken part in Zombie week, but in her feature discussed how she preferred Vampires to Zombies. Now, followers of this blog know, I am a avid supporter of Zombie fiction. This year alone I have listened to close to 30 Zombie novels. As a supporter of the undead I felt a need to come in on the side of rotting shamblers. Yet, I feel what the issue came down to was a fundamental difference in what people want from their monsters. I am an old school horror guy. I want to be scared by my monsters. Alone in the dark alley, late at night, when I encounter a monster, my impulse will to be run screaming into the night, or at least take up arms are destroy that which wants to devour me. I want no distractions. Specifically, I don’t want to pause for a moment and considerer the romantic possibilities that I might have with the monster. Kristilyn is quite right when she says that zombies are rotting, smelly, ugly creatures with decaying limbs, and that this makes them utterly undatable. Yet, for her this is a negative. For me, it’s a matter of survival. I am a typical male who is highly influenced by the attractiveness of the opposite sex. If zombies were not the putrid, disgusting bags of human waste they are, I may be momentarily distracted by their physical attributes, and end up locked in an embrace, with said zombie pulling out my entrails for a tasty hors d’oeuvre. It seems that monsters are no longer evaluated by their menace to our personal safety, but whether or not they are sexy. Vampires, werewolves, merman, and fallen angels definitely seem to achieve sexiness. Zombies, well, not so much. Yet, when the dead began to rise, with their putrid smell and decaying limbs, we may very well be happy that they have lost the sexy.

Kendra has lead a pretty sheltered life. Her parents have protected her from most of the nasty experiences in her life. Yet, when a freak interaction between the flu shot and a new weight loss gimmick leads to a devastating disease, and when those who die from that disease begin to rise up and attack the living, Kendra is no longer protected. Eventually, Kendra is on her own, until she meets up with a group of juvenile offenders who served there sentences working as camp counselors. Together they travel a nightmare journey through a changed world looking for a rumored safe haven in California. I went into my reading of Devil’s Wake pretty cold, based more on the reputation and past works of the authors then the synopsis of the story.  It really wasn’t what I expected. First off, Devil’s Wake was definitely more Young Adultish then I had expected. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just a note on the style and theme of the novel. The focus of Devil’s Wake is on the young characters, and even has a bit of that teen-angsty romance. This is something I enjoy, when done well, but some people may find this aspect frustrating. Luckily, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, do this pretty well. The highlight of this tale for me was the characters. The authors bring together a strong cast of diverse characters, unlike what you see on most Zombie novels. I found it refreshing to have authentic portrayals of characters of color, yet, without the authors needing to beat you over the head with it. These were simply real characters in a horrible situation. Barnes and Due’s zombie outbreak scenario was pretty boilerplate for the genre. Long time zombie apocalypse fans won’t find to much groundbreaking in this area of the book. Yet, the authors throw in some interesting twists in the evolution of the zombies that while only briefly explored in this novel, offers a lot of potential for future editions in this series. Yet, this is a series. My major criticism of the novel is that I felt no sense of closure with the plot. I expect novels in a series to have an open ended ending, but I always like some loop closed in each book. Here, the book simply ends, with not much accomplished. If this is something that frustrates you, you may consider waiting until future editions of the series are released. Luckily, the next book in the series is released early winter 2013, so no need to wait too long. Overall, Devil’s Wake is a fast paced, often terrifying Zombie tale with Young Adult elements, but strong enough to keep an Adult Zombie enthusiast interested. While not a groundbreaking novel of the genre, the author’s do add some interesting twists to the end that make the series potential great. The true strength of the novel is its characters, and I look forward to seeing where they go in the future.

If there is any narrator that frustrates me more than Emily Bauer, I’m not sure who it is. I really like Bauer’s narrations. I have experienced some excellent work by her, and find her pacing to always be spot on. It’s just, she is often miscast in novels. She has a perky, soprano voice that is quite appropriate for novels from a younger teenage POV. In Devil’s Wake, I thought her voice was simply OK for Kendra. Kendra is described as "Disney Channel Black" and Bauer’s voice was fitting, but I thought there could have been better choices. I would have loved a narrator with a little more grit in their voice. While Bauer was OK for Kendra, the other characters just weren’t as effective. I felt the older characters, especially Kendra’s grandfather came off too plain. The teenage boys had a bland quality as well, not as jarring as the adults, but I would have loved more edge to their voices as well. For the average audiobook fan, I think Bauer’s precise pacing and listenability will work well. Yet, for those of us looking for more that just a pleasant voice, but for authentic characters and tones that match the tale, Bauer’s performance won’t be quite as appreciated. 





Audiobook Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

24 05 2012

Enclave by Ann Aguirre (Razorland, Bk. 1)

Read by Emily Bauer

Macmillan Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 53 Min

Genre: Young Adult Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Ann Aguire accomplished what she sets out to by creating a fascinating post apocalyptic world, filling it with characters you can cheer for, and adding enough betrayal, conspiracy and romance, that it is sure to capture the attentions of young adult readers. Yet, for me, I would have been willing to sacrifice the fast paced nature of the narrative and even a bit of the action in order to examine the world she created with a bit more depth.

Grade: B-

There are a whole lot of different types of Apocalyptic and Post Apocalyptic fiction. I have always preferred the Pre to Post near Apocalyptic fiction. This details the characters journeys from society as usual through an apocalyptic event and onto trying to adjust to the new situations and set up a new order.  Then there is the far post apocalyptic tales. These stories take place years, decades or even generations after a major cataclysm, and the world is still shaped by these events. One of my favorite aspects of the Far Post Apocalyptic novel is the evolution of history of the apocalypse and what lead up to it. Often in these far future societies, those who control the information, control society. They adjust the information to best suit their purposes. Religious societies will use the apocalypse as proof that society had failed God at some point, and that in order to survive people must adhere to a strict religious code. Information can serve many purposes. Societies can teach that they are the only survivors, keeping their citizens stuck to one spot, in fear that if they leave, they will die. While history isn’t always written by the victors, in post apocalyptic society, it usually is written by those who manage to survive. One of the reasons I choose Enclave as a listen is I haven’t read too many far future apocalyptic fiction with a zombiesh feel. How would society evolve with the constant threat of changed humans to deal with?

Enclave tells the story of Deuce, a young huntress in an underground city enclave. Having just achieved her Name Day, Deuce is paired with Fade, an outcast who spent years surviving on his own, to patrol the tunnels around their home protecting the Enclave from Freaks, feral humans with a taste for human flesh. A series of circumstances, including a dangerous mission leads Deuce to start questioning everything she’s been taught. Aguire has created a complex and interesting world in this young adult post apocalyptic adventure story. I was fascinated by The Enclave, and how it set up its form of society. As Deuce leaned more, and the scope of her world grew larger, it was interesting to see things through this sheltered, naive girl’s eyes. Yet, this was one of the rare recent occurrences where the young adult nature of the novel failed to connect with me. The novel seemed all too often to be surface level, presenting interesting scenarios, but never really dealing into them. Every time something interesting came to be, before we could really examine them, we transitioned to a new situation. This wouldn’t have been too big of an issue if Aguire hadn’t created such interesting societal microcosms, which could have used broadening. Yet, this sort of societal extrapolation was sacrificed to the gods of adventure and pacing. There is a lot of action in Enclave, yet the action is so quick, and final that there never seems to be much tension. While the fights were not one-sided, their brevity seemed to almost make them feel that way. These characters were in many life threatening situations, I just never felt they were. As with many Young Adult novels, the romantic tensions seemed forced, throwing in a potential suitor for both Deuce and Fade, to add obstacles for possible romantic entanglements that I never really believe. Ann Aguire accomplished what she sets out to by creating a fascinating post apocalyptic world, filling it with characters you can cheer for, and adding enough betrayal, conspiracy and romance, that it is sure to capture the attentions of young adult readers. Yet, for me, I would have been willing to sacrifice the fast paced nature of the narrative and even a bit of the action in order to examine the fascinating world she created with a bit more depth.

As narrator, I feel Emily Bauer did a good job translating the character of Deuce as written. Despite being a talented Huntress, Deuce could be quote naive and petulant, and Bauer’s characterization captures this well. I wish. I think the audiobook would have been a bit more listenable if the character was a bit more mature, because the often whiney undertones of Bauer’s characterizations could become annoying despite the fact that it fit the character. That being said, Bauer never let’s you forget that Deuce and Fade, by the standards of our society, are quite young, and her voicing of these characters offers a stark contrast to the desolation of the apocalyptic landscape. Bauer definitely handled the fast past narrative with ease, pacing the novel crisply but never allowing it to get away from her, The action scenes came off smoothly, allowing the reader to easily follow the action. While Enclave won’t make my favorite list, the world she has built is interesting enough to have me willing to move on in the series.