Audiobook Review: Bitterwood by James Maxey

23 04 2013

Bitterwood by James Maxey (Dragon Age, Bk. 1)

Read by Dave Thompson

James Maxey/ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange)

Length: 13 Hrs 55 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Maxey’s tale of revenge and Dragons set in a unique Post Apocalyptic world is finally now available in Audio. Fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and David Gemmell’s Jerusalem man series should cheer this offering by James Maxey. It blends multiple genres creating a fascinating tableau that vaults this classic story from the mundane into something special. 

Grade: A-

So, I need to be a bit upfront with you, my fine readers. One of the reason’s I write reviews like I do is to allow you not to just see whether or not I liked the book, but to know whether or not I am the kind of person whose recommendations have value to you. So, I like to admit my biases, and when I have any ulterior motives I like to be honest about them. So, here is my admission:

I want this audiobook to be a success.

Now, I don’t mean this in the typical "I want an author to do well, because I’m fan" sort of way. I really want this audiobook to be successful because I really want the rest of the series to be produced and this probably will only happen if this book is a financial success for the author. I should also note, the narrator is Dave Thompson, who is a blogger at The Audiobookaneers, a site that I consider sort of a bother blog of mine, run by two guys I really respect.

So, let me tell you a bit about Bitterwood. I first read Bitterwood back in 2007. I loved the book, and reviewed it for my old blog Thistles for Breakfast. Now, I rarely reread books in audio. I have on a few occasions when it has been one of my all time favorite novels, like The Stand, Swan Song and A Gift Upon the Shore or if it’s part of a series that I originally read in Print and I want both a refresher and to get used to the narrator, like I did with The Name of the Wind.  Despite my love for Bitterwood, I never read the rest of the series. Mainly because that was the time when I changed jobs and my reading dropped from about 3-4 books a week, to 1 or 2 books a month. This is also the time I started listening to more audio at about my previous print level. So, since Bitterwoods sequels Dragonforge and Dragonseed never were produces on audio, I never got around to reading them. Now that Bitterwood is available in audio, I really want the others to be produced as audios as well.

Now, it’s been six years, and I have changed a bit as a reader. I have read more fantasy, and the balance between Speculative Fiction and Mystery/Thrillers today is much different for me than it was 6 years ago. I still am not a HUGE dragon fan, but I don’t often run screaming when I see a book is about dragons. This second time around, I loved the world and characters just as much as the first time I read it. In fact, instead of writing a whole new review, I am just going to provide an edited excerpt of my 2007 review with this caveat, I think I may have actually enjoyed the story even more the second time around.  

On the surface, Bitterwood is a typical fantasy revenge thriller. Bitterwood, the main character, is on a mission to kill all the dragons in the world. The dragons rule the earth, and keep humans as slaves or pets. Plus, they killed his family,  so what kind of fantasy character would he be if he didn’t vow to wipe them off the face of the earth. So, for years he carried out his revenge, until, the rumors say, he died with a band of rebels in the Southern Rebellion. Then, years later, during a competition to determine the next heir to the throne, the King’s son is slaughtered, his dead body found riddled with Bitterwood’s signature dragon feathered arrows. That of course, pisses the King off. So, he decides the best way to deal with Bitterwood, and those who harbor him, is to wipe humanity off the map. While many dragons find his genocidal policy abhorrent, few are willing to stand up to the King.

Maxey piles layers and layers on top what seems like a typical fantasy story. He builds one of the most intriguing Post Apocalyptic worlds I have seen in a while, yet, doesn’t dump it all on your head in one big scoop, but doses it out expertly, changing the story both subtly and drastically. By the time you reach the satisfying ending, you aren’t reading the book that you thought you were. One thing that I found intriguing in this book is the dragon’s portrayal. Not being a huge dragon fan, I had no biases or expectations on how dragons should act, yet, if I had to guess, it wouldn’t have been like this. What struck me early was the Anthropomorphism. These dragons displayed some shockingly human traits and emotions that I wasn’t sure how to react. Was this just bad writing? I highly doubted it, being the book was so well written. The dragon characters, no matter how human like, were well developed personas. If fact, their complexity, and political savvy rivaled many of the human characters that show up in the Big Fat Fantasies like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet, as the world became more and more revealed, the dragons become more and more understandable, and by the end, these dragons were exactly what they should be in this tale. Don’t make the mistake of comparing these dragons to what dragons should be. Their character is what is important, not being able to fit them into comfortable stereotypes. Fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and David Gemmell’s Jerusalem man series should cheer this offering by James Maxey. He fills a much needed void in the world of Action Sci/Fi Fantasy.

So, did I love Dave Thompson’s narration with the heartfelt joy of angels and comfy pillows? Well….No. But, I liked it… I swear, I did. There is definitely a rawness to this production, just a touch of a hiss in the background that isn’t super noticeable except for during breaks when it falls away. Yet, I feel this rawness served the story well. What Bitterwood may lack in the polish of a big time studio production, Thompson makes up for his grasp on the story and these characters. He brings all the vast wonderful dragon characters to life in ways I didn’t expect. One of the reasons I feel I enjoyed this story more was Thompson had a gruffness to his voice that gave these dragons a quality that separated them from the human characters, When I read it in print, I sometimes had trouble remembering that these characters were not in fact human, and this was an issue I never had in the audiobook. I liked that Thompson also knew his limitations and stayed true to a minimalistic style. He didn’t try to go all girlish and falsetto for the kids and female characters. In fact, I thought he did an excellent job with Jandra, just softening his voice, allowing us to know it was a women speaking. This method gave her a soft confidence that worked well with her character. Thompson definitely knows how to tell a story, and the finale of this book came alive in all its gruesome detail. Again, I was mesmerized by the ending, both sickened and surprised by what was occurring, often frustrated with the characters while fearing for their safety. All this came across well in the audio version, with nothing feeling rushed. As I said upon finishing this book, Dave didn’t give me ear herpes. Which is a good thing! I am glad to finally get a chance to revisit this novel in audio form, and am quite happy with the production as a whole.

Note: Special Thanks to Dave Thompson for providing me with a copy of this title for review. Neither his kindness or threats of bodily harm against my person influenced my review of this audiobook. Now, maybe if he offered cookies…

Audiobook Review: Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Folio

18 04 2013

Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Folio (Girl Genius, Book 1)

Read by Angela Dawe

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Gaslight Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Agatha H and the Airship City is a wonderful tale that blends a unique and fascinating world with comfortable tropes and recognizable character creating the perfect canvas for a rollicking adventure. The story is full of uproarious humor, and clever dialogue that more than makes up for the sometimes confusing action and strangely developed romantic subplot. I really enjoyed my first trip into this world, and am quite looking forward to the next entry in this series.

Grade: B+

At this point in my life, I haven’t been blessed with children and being that I am closer to 40 than I am to 37, well, it’s not something I see happening. That being said, I think I would be a good father. I know I would go to elaborate means to make sure my child has the best upbringing. Case in point, I think developing a sense of self esteem is important. Every child should feel special. So, one day, I’d like to adopt a child. I would then gather my resources and move to a country with a monarchy. I would tell my child tales, stories of fallen kings, and great betrayals. I will tell of rumored heroes and a prophecy that one day a descendent will rise to restore order to the kingdom. Some times, late at night, I would wake my child up, telling them we need to leave now, not to ask any questions, just gather your things and hurry. I would give my child an archaic piece of jewelry, perhaps a ring or broach, and tell them never to lose it. Every time the royal family is mentioned, I would make cryptic comments under my breath, about how their crimes will one day be repaid. I would hide old maps, strange trinkets and journals written in old languages around the house, and purposely avoid any questions about them, quickly locking them away whenever my child notices them. And, when they get old enough, I would get drunk one night, and ramble about how their parents would be so proud, then fall asleep in my own filth. The next day, I would have myself arrested by the royal police, screaming at my child to run, to find the old wizard and take him the ring or locket, that he would know what to do. This, of course, would make my child feel special, like every child should.

Agatha H and the Airship City is an audiobook version of the novelization of the popular Hugo winning Girl Genius Webcomic series by Phil and Kaja Folio. It tells the story of young Agatha Gray, a student and assistant at the Transylvanian Polygnostic University, who gets swept up in the politics of the region, and finds herself under the thumb of the ruthless Baron Wulfenbach. Agatha H takes place in an alternate history world that blends Steampunk with magical fantasy, where Sparks, mad scientists with almost magical genius, create all types of intricate creations that both help, and wreak havoc on civilization. One legendary family of Sparks is the Heterodynes, great adventurers who battles many of the more dangerous creations and attempt to restore order, but have mysteriously disappeared and their stories are chronicled in popular adventure novels. To be honest, the world is sort of confusing, Brilliant, and colorful and full of so much awesomeness, but initially quite confusing. The novel begins with a bit of exposition that really doesn’t do much for settling the confusing, but as you get to know the characters more, the world begins to fill out, and make a bit of sense. I think that translating between a visual medium and prose contributes somewhat to the confusion. Fans of the Webcomic series should have a bit more ease transitioning into the prose, but those like me who haven’t experience this world before may have to work at it a bit first. Luckily, the book is full of such engaging, wonderful characters and recognizable fantasy tropes, that there is enough to keep you embedded in the story while figuring out the world as a whole. My favorite part of the book is the humor, especially with some more outrageous characters and monsters. There are a group of altered soldiers called Jagermonsters, who are simply hilarious, and Agatha’s interactions with an imprisoned Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer who viewed all events as if they were immersed in the pages of an adventure novel had me bursting out with inappropriate public laughter. The story plays out well, with lots of action, and while many of the twists were telegraphed (hell, the title of the book is a major spoiler) the build up to them was worth the lack of real surprises. My main complaint about the story is the very long action sequence building up to the finale. So much was happening, with so many characters involved, it was tough to keep it all straight. One moments they were trying to escape the airship, the next they are battling magical wasp constructs, then some kissing, some cool inventions, some weird weapons, the Baron discovers Agatha secret, mad scrambles, talking cats, sudden appearances of characters from earlier, a bit of this, some of that a boom, a bang… wait… let me catch my breath. Honestly, part of me is quite tempted to go back and reread theses parts in print because I’m still not sure I got them all straight. Yet, besides this complaint, Agatha H and the Airship City is a wonderful tale that blends a unique and fascinating world with comfortable tropes and recognizable character creating the perfect canvas for a rollicking adventure. The story is full of uproarious humor, and clever dialogue that more than makes up for the sometimes confusing action and strangely developed romantic subplot. I really enjoyed my first trip into this world, and am quite looking forward to the next entry in this series.

There really were lots of challenges in this audio production. Taking a world created in comic book form, and turning it into a prose novel is tough enough, but doing it in such a way that translates well to audio must have been even more of a challenge. There were definite moments where I feel reading the print version of this would have been a better choice, but, then I would have missed out on the wonderful performance by Angela Dawe. She is simply brilliant in her narration, infusing this tale with charm, spunk and so much humor. This book is full of over the top characters, and Dawe never fails to embrace that. I especially love her voices for the Jagermonsters. Not only does she create a voice and pattern of speech for these altered creatures, but gives each individual monster its own twist. The novel is full of a wide range of accents, and Dawe nails them all. She gives Agatha a wise beyond her years, but still naive sort of voice. At first I was a bit worried, because there were moments that Agatha was a bit whiney in the beginning, and Dawe didn’t really pull of the whiney very well, but this was very early in the novel, and by the time we really got it going, she had it all nailed down tight. While the action was at times overwhelming, she paced it well, never racing too far away from the listener. She gave the whole production a comic book feel, with just the amount of over the top antics, without making it feel like a cartoon. It was such a fun and beautiful performance that I am really not shocked she was nominated for an Audie for the next book in the series, which I cannot wait to get my hands on.

Audiobook Review: Anita by Keith Roberts

8 04 2013

Anita by Keith Roberts

Read by Nicola Barber

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 9 Hrs

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

A few weeks ago I tried to rewatch Buck Rogers. It didn’t go well. I loved Buck Rogers as a kid, at least I remember loving the concept of Buck Rogers. I really have few memories of the actual show other than Twiki bidi-bidi-bidi-ing around. All I know I loved it as a kid, and watching it as an adult, well, wasn’t so pretty. Somehow, in the 30ish years since I last watched Buck Rogers, the special effects became horrid, the acting wooden and the stories boring. I find this happens to me a lot with visual mediums. I remember things I enjoyed as a child on TV as being so much better that they actually are and am often amazed at how I could ever have liked it. It’s a bit different with books. I have revisited books I loved as a kid on many occasions. I’ve learned that the experiences of these books are different, yet not really worse, as an adult. Often I find these books are simpler than I remember. The vast lands of Oz or Narnia not as big as I remember. Yet I also find a new beauty in them. Rediscovering the Phantom Tollbooth or James and the Giant Peach allows me to see things that I didn’t as a child. Often, there is both a melancholy sense of loss during these rereads coupled with a new appreciation of what the author did. Often times, I enjoy these tales, not more or less, but on a new level. When I listened to Neil Gaiman introduce Anita, ant talk about the magic of these stories I couldn’t help but wish that I had read these tales when I was younger, when maybe I was a little more open to the magic of these tales. 

Anita is a free spirited young witch, under the tutelage of Granny, who lives on a sort of magical copse on the edge of the modern world. She can change her shape, speak with animals and meets all manner of magical creatures, while dealing with boys in their cars, supermarkets and new technology. Anita is told in a series of short stories as we follow her development growing in her powers while maturing as an individual. Now, this is my first experience with these stories, but in many ways I felt like I did when returning to a much beloved tale of my youth. The stories have a surface level simpleness, obvious morality tales that reflected the time in which it was written, but with hidden moments of depth, and tongue in cheek humor that the younger set may miss. Not that Anita is a strictly children’s book. Its stories are full of magic and beauty that would appeal to younger children, but also full of a sort of 60’s era charm that adults will enjoy. Like many tales like this, Anita can be at times brave and bratty, frustrating and flashy, naive and mature all rolled into one. It’s a coming of age story with a protagonist in a never ending morphing of personhood. She makes mistakes, many of which come back to bite her in the butt later. Her naiveté and free spiritness is both refreshing and off-putting in equal measure. She is a wonderful character at time when not driving the reader just a wee bit crazy. Yet, even better is her crotchety, irascible Granny whose flavor filled patios often masks her deep wisdom. Being this is more of an anthology that a novel, some stories are stronger than others. The best stories involve the conflicts between the modern world and the witching world. There are two noticeable examples, both involving Granny dealing with some new modernity to hilarious yet often disastrous results. Other stories take a bit more work to get into but have their own sort of magic. There were times a story would bore me, but most were relatively short, and the next would grab me right away. If I had kids, I think I would love reading these stories to them, even with Anita’s open but subtle sexuality. These are just the kinds of tales I would have loved as a child, and as an adult, I appreciate their humor, magic and various lessons they teach that aren’t always as cut and dry as the typical morality tale.

This is my second experience with Nicola Barber and one that simply was beautiful to listen to. Barber voiced Anita perfectly, giving her a young, precocious and at times, uncomfortably sexy voice. She captured the carefree attitudes of the young perfectly. Yet, where she really excelled was in her voicing of Granny. It was simply splendid. Honestly, Granny’s patois was so deep and flavorful that it was at times hard to figure out but always wonderful to hear. It was like listening to music, even if I didn’t understand the lyrics, I enjoyed listening to every note. Barber captured the fable-like feel of the tale wonderfully, giving the stories a poetic rhythm that matched the whimsical nature of the tales wonderfully. Even the stories I didn’t find as engaging, just listening to Barber read them made it worth my time. Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.  I’m not sure if I would even have given this one a listen if it hadn’t been for the Audie nomination, but I am definitely thankful I did.

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: The Rift Walker by Clay and Susan Griffith

25 03 2013

The Rift Walker by Clay and Susan Griffith (Vampire Empire, Book 2)

Read by James Marsters

Buzzy Multimedia

Length: 13 Hrs 35 Min

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Quick Thoughts: The Rift Walker is a grand adventure so fun and fast you almost forget about the depths and detail that the authors built into the world. It not just a worthy follow-up to the first novel, but an exponential expansion of what made that novel work. The Rift Walker should please fans of work as diverse as Game of Thrones and The Scarlet Pimpernel or just anyone who loves a strong Princess and the masked hero at her side.

Grade: A

Today, I want to talk about a specific literary type that has been increasingly driving me crazy and that is the douchebag. It seems every book nowadays has to have a douchebag in it. Now, for those of you who aren’t as accomplished in the vagaries of literary terminology, a douchebag is a character that is on the same side as our hero, tends to be skilled and useful and has a great potential to become a true leader, yet ruins it all by acting like a complete assnozzle. This person often has earned the respect of a key group, yet manages put all that respect in jeopardy by acting like a pretentious shitbird. This person is typically, but not always, a male character of an adult level who instead of taking valuable information provided by someone who was placed in a specific situation to gain such information chooses not to utilize or believe it because it comes from someone who they just can’t find it in their heart to believe because they are a women, or a teenager, or someone from a lower class or differing ethnicity, but in reality it’s simply because it conflicts with their own beliefs and may prevent them from taking an action, no matter how potentially disastrous, that they have already decided to take. Basically, they are a condescending bigoted asshat wasting their potential because their minds are just too small to consider anyone else’s opinion valuable particularly by those who they have simply decided are unworthy for arbitrary reasons. I hate douchebags. I seethe with a righteous anger every time they make their totally despicable bombastic and ultimately stupid pronouncements. What’s worse is, often times, the douchebag has the potential to redeem themselves, but then continue in their own douchebaggy ways, and when this way leads to disaster for them, they are shocked. They are amazed that this person they discounted doesn’t wilt before them, giving into their bullying ways. What makes it worse is, this person could have everything, if they just treated people with a bit of respect, and when they don’t they blame it on the person they bullies, badgered mistreated and overlooked. This is why, often when the truly evil character gives it to the douchebag, you sort of end up cheering for the bad guy, because everyone likes to see the douchebag get got.

The Rift Walker is the follow up to the Audie nominated The Greyfriar, the first book of the Vampire Empire trilogy. As The Rift Walker begins, Princess Adele, still longing for The Greyfriar, is set to marry Senator Clark to cement the alliance between Equatoria and America for the upcoming war with the Vampires of the British clans. Clarke, who is, well, a bit of an arrogant jerk, is frustrated with her delays, and pushes for a quick wedding. When The Greyfriar learns Vampires are planning to attack the wedding, he must act thus setting off more potential for adventure, and daring do. The Rift Walker is another rip roaring action packed novel that blends modern day fantasy with the classics, creating one of the grandest adventure tales today. Honestly, The Rift Walker is just pure fun. Sure, there’s drama and intrigue and a little bit of that kissy kissy romance stuff and I often found myself frustrated by character’s actions or enraged at another shocking betrayal, but the underlining feel of the entire novel is fun. As I followed The Greyfriar and Adele on their adventures, I couldn’t help but reminisce on those days watching movies staring actors like Errol Flynn where our heroes threw themselves into every adventure, but with just a bit of style that you don’t seem to find anymore. Add to that political maneuverings like a Game of Thrones-Lite, yet still full of brutality and twisted evil. The Rift Walker moved us away from the savagery of the Vampire Courts and showed us that the remnants of humanity can have just as much animalistic brutality. The action took us from the cities of Equatoria to the mountains of Africa, with individual daring, large scaled epic battles and unleashed magic galore.  We met new clans of both humans and Vampires expanding the already fascinating world the Griffiths had created. If you can’t tell, I absolutely loved listening to this audiobook. There were moments I simply wanted to cheer as if I was in a packed movie house, forgetting I was simply an audience of one. One of the things I love is how it turns the whole masked hero and damsel in distress trope on its head, even poking fun at it at times. Adele does just as much rescuing as her supposed champion, and is full of a power even greater than any man within these pages. She is the true hero of this tale, and any man who dismisses her, does it at his own peril. The Rift Walker is a grand adventure so fun and fast you almost forget about the depths and detail that the authors built into the world. It not just a worthy follow-up to the first novel, but an exponential expansion of what made that novel work. The Rift Walker should please fans of work as diverse as Game of Thrones and The Scarlet Pimpernel or just anyone who loves a strong Princess and the masked hero at her side.

There is only one thing that is keeping me from grabbing the print version of the third book of this series, The Kingermakers, which is currently available in print and that’s the excellent narration of James Marsters. Really people, I want to know what happens next, but I must wait until the tale is in the more than capable hands of Marsters. Marsters makes the action of this novel simply leap off the page, and right into my brain. He has a way of bringing the story alive, making me feel as if I was flying through the air with the vampires, or slogging my way through the dangerous mountain overpasses with the human armies. One of the things I find interesting about this world is how all the traditional ethnic understanding is thrown for a loop. Due to the migration after the Great Killing, where the great kingdoms of humanity moved into the tropical regions to escape the vampires, Equatoria becomes a hodgepodge of ethnic groups, of European, African, Middle Eastern and South Asian descents. This gives Marsters a bit of freedom and creativity in the blending of accents and he makes great use of it. Each locale is given its own bit of flavor, with Indian, Middle Eastern and African tilts as well as the traditional European standards. Marsters creates so much out of the canvas the author’s provide, creating a beautiful and unique twist to this fantasy world. His true gift is in his pacing, creating a cinematic feel for this story. The Rift Walker is a wonderful production, a great blending of content and performance and definitely one of my top listens of this year.

Note: Thanks to Buzzy Multimedia for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Princess of Wands by John Ringo

21 03 2013

Princess of Wands by John Ringo (Special Circumstance, Book 1)

Read by Suzy Jackson

Audible Frontiers

Length: 11 Hrs 29 Min

Genre: Paranormal Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: If my role as your resident audiobook blogger was to offer you critical analysis of the writing, character development and world building of the author, then I could probably nit pick every aspect of this book. Yet, that’s not my job. My job is to say, if the idea of a Christian Soccer Mom who teams up with a Pagan Call Girl, Wiccan Practitioners and Buddhist Monks to battle evil monsters for a secret Monster Hunting agency using the power of their personal faith appeals to you, then by all means, add A Princess of Wands to your reading list.

Grade: B

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

There is a popular quote that often finds its way to science fiction boards that says, "There is a technical, literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. The term is ‘idiot’." The problem is this is hard to do. It’s getting even harder now that every author has a Twitter, a Facebook and/or a blog where they actually state their beliefs. I’ll admit, I can be an idiot. I often have a hard time when an author has a character repeatedly espouse certain beliefs to not believe the author shares at least a version of that belief. The difference for me is, I really don’t care. If a book contains things in it which I find extremely offensive to the point where it affects my ability to enjoy it, I simply won’t read it whether this belief is something the author actually believes or not. For example, I won’t read a book where the sexual exploitation of children is in any way justified. This doesn’t mean I believe an author actually believes this without further exploration, I just won’t fill my brain with stuff like that. Conversely though, I really don’t care about an author’s politics or religion. I may vehemently disagree with something an author believes, but if he tells a good story, and isn’t overtly pushing his beliefs onto people, I’m cool with that. I know this level of disconnect isn’t shared among readers, and I accept that. It’s just, I’m politically moderate. I could probably find something that I vehemently disagree with with almost every author and since I like books, well, I need that level of disconnect. I don’t want characters in my books that are simply a reflection of me. I want to read books about Right winged Christian soccer moms, who believe things that right winged Christian soccer moms believe. What I don’t want is a book about a right winged Christian soccer mom whose beliefs are tempered to reflect some sort of more comfortable world view. All this is to say, I often find John Ringo’s work uncomfortable but I still read him. Why, you ask. Because he writes books about huge battles between humans in mechanical battle suits and carnivorous centaur like aliens. He doesn’t really need to be an Obama supporter to do that.

So, Princess of Wands…. I’m not really sure where to start. OK, so there’s this mom, you see. And she’s like Blonde, and chesty, but really modest about it. She’s got these annoying bratty kids she loves, and an oafish husband who she respects as the head of her household, even though the dude really doesn’t deserve it (learn to cook something, jackass.) Oh, and she loves Jesus. A Lot… I mean, a whole frakkin’ crapload. This Jesus love is important, because, you see, she takes a little breather from said bratty kids and douche bag husband, and gets mixed up in this town full of yokels who are trying to bring about the incarnation of some weird demon lizard thing. Oh, I forgot… she knows karate or something… and she is totally bad ass with guns, although she’d never say badass out loud because Christians don’t say that. So, you’re following me right… this Christian Soccer mom becomes this totally awesome monster hunter infused by the power of Christ working for this secret organization…. when her husband let’s her. Really, this was a frustrating one for me. I liked Princess of Wands. I did. I really even liked Barbara Everette Episcopal Monster Hunter. Growing up in a Christian home, her viewpoints, from her submission to her husband, to her Pro-Life beliefs are things I understand even when I don‘t agree with them. Plus, she really was much more open minded about things than people I know. I think Ringo did a great job creating this character who was true to her beliefs, however unpopular, had actual faith, yet was for the most part non-judgmental and flexible without violating her nature. I know many people would hate her, but I really didn’t. Yet, I totally had mixed feelings. Princess of Wands is actually two novellas and a short story, all connected in an overlapping narrative. This is a style that Ringo has used before, and I’m comfortable with it. The middle story, which takes place during a Literary conference, caused me some issues. Ringo infuses this tale with so much inside baseball that part of my brain was trying to figure out who these characters may really be based on instead of actually following the plot. There is a sequence where Barbara goes around, interacting with various sorts in the conference, as they give these long professorial soliloquies on things like why women prefer fluffy fantasy over hard science fiction, and I wanted to scream, and bang my head repeated against a stack of Larry Niven Hardbacks, not because I found the annoying things his characters were saying indicative of the author’s beliefs but because I wanted to know WHO THE GODDAM DEMON INVOKING SERIAL KILLER WAS! Yet, at times, I really enjoyed this book. There was humor, and action and John Ringo’s brand of over the top writing that’s like a madassed clown on meth who crashed his tiny clown filled car into a bayou full of hybrid croco-walruses. (Wait, I think that last part may have been a dream I had, oops, sorry.) Princess of Wands was a rollercoaster ride of SHUT THE HELL UP PLEASE KEEP TALKING SHUT THE HELL UP dialogue between warring parts of my brain. If my role as your resident audiobook blogger was to offer you critical analysis of the writing, character development and world building of the author, then I could probably nit pick every aspect of this book. Yet, that’s not my job. My job is to say, if the idea of a Christian Soccer Mom who teams up with a Pagan Call Girl, Wiccan Practitioners and Buddhist Monks to battle evil monsters for a secret Monster Hunting agency using the power of their personal faith appeals to you, then by all means, add A Princess of Wands to your reading list. Hell, I may even read the next book in the series.

So, let me say this right off THIS BOOK WAS NOMINATED FOR AN AUDIE AWARD. When I first read the list of nominees, I’ll admit, I was sort of shocked. While I’m not sure I would call myself a John Ringo Fan, I am a John Ringo Reader (well, except for his Paladin of Shadows series which I just can’t stomach.) That being said, my first thought when seeing that Ringo was nominated was that Suzy Jackson must be narrator incarnation of The Wiccan Mother of something to pull this one off. Well, Suzy Jackson was good. Really good. Not blow your mind good, but solid, pleasant voiced, infused with humor professionally good.  Suzy Jackson reads this story as it should be read. I really liked her voice. It was definitely the standard soprano American style similar to Emily Bauer, but with more warmth, maturity and moments of depth. When Barbara was talking of her beliefs, her faith in God, Jackson sounded authentic. I really enjoyed her self editing, where she would start to cuss then stop herself. It just came off naturally. She handled the prayers, and church speech with the right inflections and rhythms. As someone who grew up in a conservative church, there is an almost patois to the American Church goer. A way a certain phrase is said is often just as important as the words, and Jackson’s reading of this novel had me wondering if she grew up in a similar church as well. So, yes, I am still surprised that A Princess of Wands was nominated for an Audie. Yet, the book is what it is, and delivers on what it is supposed to be, and Suzy Jackson does her job well.

Audiobook Review: All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

18 03 2013

All Men of Genius by Lev AV Rosen

Read by Emily Gray

Recorded Books

Length: 17 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Steampunk Romantic Comedy

Quick Thoughts: All Men of Genius is a mad capped screwball comedy of manners flipped on its head and infused with mad science, gender politics and of course, robots, or, well… automatons. It was just so much fun, with layers upon depths upon layers yet never becoming even the tiniest bit pretentious. I enjoyed All Men of Genius so much that I don’t think my words have even done it half the justice it deserves.  So, go, listen yourself. You’ll like it.

Grade: A

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

One of the things I love about Armchair Audies is that even though I chose to take on the categories that most match my typical genre reading, there are always selections well outside my typical comfort areas. This year, it is especially true of the Fantasy category which has six titles I had not read or listened too previously and only one author I have read before. One of the most intriguing titles for me, because it was simply something I probably never would have selected on my own was All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen. If this is the first time you have stopped by the old ‘lobe, let me explain. My typical niche in the reading world surrounds dark horror and fantasy, science fiction and violent thrillers with an obsession with post apocalyptic, and dystopian fiction and of course, zombies. Sure, I am perfectly willing to step outside of my comfort zone, but there is typically a hook to it, some catalyst that points me in the direction of a book. I have personally never been a fan of Jane Austen or the modern day romantic comedy which I personally believe owes a lot to Austen. I tend to be outwardly skeptical towards plots that surround romance, although I’ve been known to get caught up in it from time to time like anyone else with a soul. While I have read some Cherie Priest, a little Tim Powers and others that fall into the Steampunk subgenre, it’s usually some other aspect of the tale that hooks me in. So, honestly, a Victorian Steampunky Romantic Comedy was probably never going to walk a natural path into my mountainous "To Be Listened To" pile no matter how many robots may appear. Yet, this is why I take on such projects. Not just because I am an audiobook uber-fan, but because sometimes, pushing my boundaries is a good thing. Plus, well… robots.

Illyria College was the most exclusive scientific college, where the brightest young minds gathered to explore the sciences in creative ways. Well, the brightest young male minds. More than anything, young Violet Adams wanted to attend Illyria to further train her gifted mind in the mechanical sciences, so, of course, as all brilliant young minds do, she hatched a scheme. She would apply to Illyria, and most certainly attend, under the guise of her twin brother Ashton. Yet, while she planned for many a pitfall, she never even considered the greatest of all complications… love. First off, I want to tackle my biggest issue with this novel, and that, of course was me. I don’t think I was properly prepared for the mad hijinks, the pure fun, and the surprising depths of this tale. I also felt like Rosen crammed this tale full of tributes to a genre I am dreadfully unread in, which includes not just Austen, but Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare and that for ever level I of this novel I so very much enjoyed, there were two that I simply missed. All Men of Genius is a mad capped screwball comedy of manners flipped on its head and infused with mad science, gender politics and of course, robots, or, well automata. At times, I felt like I was listening to two separate novels intertwined by some strange experiment, yet, somehow manage to perfectly fall together, against all my expectations. At the core, this was a novel about relationships, and Rosen packs it full of so many colorful untraditional relationships, you couldn’t help but find one or more to really cheer for. What I liked about his style of entanglement, is it was just as much about caste and station as it was about gender roles and sexuality. You had Ashton, who worried about the propriety of romance with one of his servants, and a conniving actress finding more than she expected in her romantic schemes. Rosen told tales of young love and old love, and even some young/old love, with class, race and gender all pushed and smooshed and tangled together, in ways that made it show that sometimes these things don’t matter in love, except when they do. Yet, all this is peripheral to a tale of romance, science, revenge and egomaniacal madness involving a brilliant young women whose deception and genius affects the lives of the master of Illyria and his young ward. It has all the brilliance and frustrations of your typical romantic comedy, including the misconceptions, misapprehensions and miscommunications inherent to the greatest of over the top schemes. Rosen explores many themes you find in many modern day movies and televisions series, yet in a bright new twisted way, that you just can’t help but love. Add to all this one of the craziest, robot filled action sequences as a cap to the all the fun that you couldn’t help but feel all types of giddy thrills experiencing it. I so loved the pure mad fun of the ending that I could even accept the Hollywoodeque style epilogue, because, really, it just felt it had to end that way. I enjoyed All Men of Genius so much that I don’t think my words have even done it half the justice it deserves.  It was just so much fun, with layers upon depths upon layers yet never becoming even the tiniest bit pretentious. And, also… have I mentioned the automata. Because call them robots or automata or whatever your little heart desires, I still call them awesome.

Emily Gray, the narrator of All Men of Genius really had her work cut out for her. This novel was full of so many characters, some of them low keyed and restrained while others wildly over the top. Add to this a protagonist who was a maybe not quite proper young British Lady of some standing attempting to speak as a young British man of some standing, although at times slipping and sliding through the ranges of her voice. So, yeah, this wasn’t an easy task, and really, with a narrator who was too over the top, or two low keyed, or who just really didn’t grasp the characters, this production had every chance of being an audiobook trainwreck. Well, it wasn’t. It was a wonderful performance by a talented narrator. I truly believe that the key element to Gray’s narration was her understanding of the characters. She manages to portray each character as I feel the author intended. I believe each character had a battle between outward appearance and their true essence, and Gray captured this important struggle perfectly accentuating the themes of the novel. Also, I was happy to see, that with such a crazy final sequence, Gray kept the train well on the tracks, allowing the action to come alive, but never to get away from the listener. All Men of Genius was wonderful melding of performance and material, and one that can appeal to a wide range of listeners. Yes, even you. So, go, listen yourself. You’ll like it.