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.

Sigh…

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.

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March Audiobook Report

8 04 2014

My March listening was dominated by my decision to Binge listen to the Repairman Jack series. Binge series listening was something I enjoyed doing before I began blogging, but with the drive to keep current, I stopped. Well, f’ that noise. I love a good series binge. It offers interesting insights into the world the author created, and helps a reader like me who tends to lose the details about characters over a long delay. Since the Repairman Jack series is more or less completed and in audio, I gave it a go. Of the 16 books I listened to in March, 7 were Repairman Jack books. The highlight of the month, and perhaps the year was the release of a new Jack Ledger book and a few birthday audiobooks from friends also made the cut. Here is my listens for the month, with some mini-reviews.

Archetype by MD Waters

Read by Khristine Hvam

Penguin Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

While Khristine Hvam does an excellent job bringing this highly textured novel to life, there was something in the structure of the novel that made Archetype a struggle in audio form. The transition between the dream/memory sequences and real time were confusing, and took time to adjust to. The story itself was solid, straddling the line between classic Young Adult themes and adult dystopians like The Handmaids Tale and The Testament of Jessie Lamb, with a touch more science fiction. MD Waters is a strong storyteller, and Archetype offers a thought provoking tale with a few clever twists along the way.

The Alligator Man by James Sheehan

Read by Ray Chase

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Grade: B+

As a fan of James Sheehan’s legal thrillers and a recent convert to Team Ray Chase, I was very excited about The Alligator Man. Sheehan blends the Florida Thriller style of James W. Hall with the legal procedural in an effective manner. I struggled a bit with the storybook reconciliation story between father and son, due to many factors including personal issues. Sheehan doesn’t break too much new ground, telling the story of a Big Firm lawyer looking for redemption, and including some Perry Masonque legal happenings, but all together it works. His character development is superb, and there is enough solid courtroom machinations to please my legal thriller nerd. Ray Chase is again excellent. He struggles early with some breathy female voices, but I think this was more due to the characters than his performance. He has a deep gravely tone that can smooth out in unexpected ways offering surprising range.

Ruins (Partials, Bk. 3) by Dan Wells

Read by Julian Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: YA Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Grade: B+

Dan Wells is one of the few authors I trust to properly end a series, and he does it solidly in Ruins. A good ending answers the questions you need answered while still leaving enough to allow you brain to linger in world the author created. Ruins is a strong fast paced post apocalyptic tale, with realistic characters and lots of cool weirdo shit along the way. As someone who has read a lot of apocalyptic lit, it’s awesome when an author manages to include elements you just haven’t seen before and her wells offers some of the strangest, most fascinating ecological and biological twists since Heiro’s Journey. Julia Whelan gives another solid performance, never getting in the way of this fun story. A strong finish to another quality Dan Wells series.

Eden Rising (Project Eden, Bk. 5) by Brett Battles

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Studios

Length: 9 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic/Pandemic

Grade: B

MacLeod Andrews reading about the apocalypse. Shit, that’s a no brainer. Brett Battles has upgraded the classic apocalyptic adventure series with a well crafted and fun look at a potential man made pandemic. Lots of cool characters, plenty of action and bad guys getting what they deserve makes this a series perfect for those apocalyptic fanboys and girls looking for something to fill their end of days. Plus, did I mention MacLeod Andrews. Dude kicks ass, right? His handling of these diverse characters adds a thrill to the listen, and he drives the pace like a high schooler with a Trans Am.

Already Reviewed:

Review Pending:

Armchair Audies Listens:

Repairman Jack Series:





Audiobook Review: Ex-Communication by Peter Clines

21 08 2013

Ex-Communication (Ex-Heroes, Bk. 3) by Peter Clines

Read by Jay Snyder, Khristine Hvam, & Mark Boyett

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse with Superheroes

Quick Thoughts: With a strange new arrival, a shocking return and an epic, action filled finale, Ex-Communication is about as much fun as you can have surrounded by dead people who want to eat your face. Ex-Communication is a blockbuster movie shot into your brain through your earholes. A fun filled action packed zombie and superhero extravaganza that comes alive in your tastiest brain parts and rattles around in there until the brilliant finale makes it explode out of your skull.

Grade: B+

If you’re anything like me, you have probably had plenty of those late night, half drunk conversations with friends about some pop culture geeky subject like who is hotter Han Solo or Chewbacca (Chewie) or how every time Kirk beams down to the surface to bed green women and fight aliens the transporter is actually killing him and feeding his soul to the great old squid gods. Of course, on those nights were you are just a bit less drunk, you have more normal conversations like who you would most like to headshot in a zombie apocalypse or what superpower you would want most. For me, the headshot conversation is pretty easy (Hitler’s Venezuelan Clone) but I always struggle with the super powers thing. Whenever someone asks me what super power I would want, I usually freeze up, then sputter out something stupid (Ummm… teledynmanics, I mean thermokinesis) because I really don’t know. I mean, sure, it obvious that there are lots of cool superpowers that seem to defy the laws of physics, like flying, or shooting beams out of your eyes or the ability to eat 500 hotdogs when you weigh 120 lbs, but honestly, the characters that often have these powers seem like prats. Sure, Superman has all these awesome powers, but what I’d really want is his camouflage glasses that makes everyone around him too stupid to realize that he’s Clark Kent, and somehow manages to fool even the CIA’s facial recognition software (I assume, or they’d be using him to assassinate the leader of the Illuminati or Justin Beiber.)  Honestly, my favorite superhero characters have always been those who suffered some personal tragedy leading them to become highly skilled at a multitude of human tasks, but have no actual enhanced skills, Of course, when people ask you what superpower you want and you answer "I want someone I love to be brutally murdered by a corrupt politician leading me to devote my life to learning a uniquely special skill set from an old master in order to hunt them down in the darkest shadows of night" even my closest friends look at me funny. So, I just usually end up answering Anti-entropy, because, it makes me seem smart even though I have no idea what it would do but when they ask me what I mean, I just tell them it’s too complex to explain.

Ex-Communication is the third novel in the series that pits superheroes against ravaging hordes of the undead. The last bastion of humanity is holed up in Los Angeles, fighting a constant battle against the encroaching hordes that have fallen under the control of a powerful super villain named Legion. If dealing with the zombies isn’t bad enough, within the compound, elections are coming, tension between the superheroes and the regular folk are increasing and one hero who could wipe them off the face of the map is beginning to act a bit unstable. Peter Clines manages to top himself once again in this series that just seems to get better and better. With a strange new arrival, a shocking return and an epic, action filled finale, Ex-Communication is about as much fun as you can have surrounded by dead people who want to eat your face. Honestly, I have enjoyed this series. Both Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots were fun but with both novels, it took me a while to adjust to the story. With Ex-Communication I was instantly engaged, and Clines kept me hooked for the entire ride.  I think that Clines had a bit more flexibility in this tale, since he has already competently built his world and told the majority of the origin stories of his heroes. This allowed him to play with his THEN… NOW… format a little more, with much better affect.  All his characters seem to have taken on more depth, moving beyond just being pretty cool superheroes, to actually seeming like real people. He introduces one new charac6er through a series of THEN segments that actually have the reader a bit disoriented and confused, until the click comes, and it’s like, HOLY SHIT I GET IT NOW! THIS IS AWESOME! Even better this character goes on to be one of the best of the novel, and the most fun to watch develop. I also like that Clines took the time to add some more fantasy oriented mythological spins to his story. He balances the growing religious adaptations of the survivors between bizarre cherry picking of Biblical references to a more open and inclusive religious experience, then throws in some surprising bits of religious historical mythology to make things even more intriguing. Part of me was sad when one of those threads was nothing more than a brief side trip in the ultimate plot, but it was still pretty cool. The final battle was pretty epically awesome. Clines writes cinematic blockbuster fight scenes, and continues to put together some of the best finales that simply come alive in your brain. Ex-Communication has all your favorite characters, with some new ones, doing all your favorite things in delightfully awesome ways while battling an enemy that could very well kick all their asses. Clines even manages to throw in some open ended twists that make the reader reevaluate a lot of what they assumed earlier. It was all well done, and the most fun I have had in this series yet. Ex-Communication is a complete tale, yet leaves enough threads to make me very excited to see where this series goes next.

From what I understand, based on comments and reviews, Audible has some production issues with Ex-Communication, particularly editing errors dealing with the multi-narrator style but they were fixed. This is something I want to mention first, because there were still some errors. Now, I’m not sure if I just got the older version, or if there was one that was worse, but along the way there were few occasions when a male voice read a female character’s dialogue (unlike the rest of the novel) and at least one repeated line.  Yet, these little blemished were the only scars on an otherwise excellent production with three talented narrators. Jay Snyder has the voice of a blockbuster movie. This doesn’t always fit when he is voicing a regular Joe character, but he is simply perfect for this series. He is the anchor that holds the production together. Boyett balances him with a gruffer, older voice that manages to shove a little humanity into the production. Khristine Hvam is always wonderful to listen to, and her grasp on these characters is great. Her work on the new character was so fun it reinforced my wish that Clines provide more chapters from female POVs just so I we can get to hear more Khristine Hvam. Ex-Communication is a blockbuster movie shot into your brain through your earholes. A fun filled action packed zombie and superhero extravaganza that comes alive in your tastiest brain parts and rattles around in there until the brilliant finale makes it explode out of your skull.





Audiobook Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

1 07 2013

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, Jenna Hellmuth

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Time Travel Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Shining Girl is a novel that never allows you to get comfortable. It shifts and blends, leaving you feeling disconcerted and disturbed but utterly enthralled. Beukes combines the elements of paranormal time travel and crime fiction in a way that lifts this novel about the typical, making it truly special.

Grade: A-

I have to admit, there was a small part of me that was hesitant about Lauren Beukes latest novel, The Shining Girls. Mostly I was excited. Very, very excited. For a while it was my must have novel of the summer. Let’s face it, this one falls right into my wheelhouse, a time traveling serial killer. I love time travel novels. I love crime fiction. And I especially love novels that blend my favorite subgenres together into something unique. The Shining Girls was like a gift from some deity saying “Hey Bob, here’s a book you will love.” Yet, part of me was still worried. There was one lingering aspect of the novel that had me concerned, the setting. I have nothing against Chicago. In fact, I think it’s one of the best settings for a crime fiction novel, full of political corruption, superstitions and colorful characters. Yet, my first experience with Lauren Beukes was her wonderful Johannesburg set Zoo City. One of my favorite aspects of Zoo City was a look into a city, although quite changed by Beukes magical shift, that I have rarely encountered in fiction. It offered something unique, beyond Beukes fascinating mythology, to see it play out in a setting I have known existed in mostly a theoretical level. When I learned Beukes was setting her next novel in Chicago, I was like “…but… but… Chicago isn’t in South Africa. I have read tons of stories that took place in Chicago!” I was worried we would be given a touristy glimpse of Chicago where we got to experience the Cubbies, and Ditka jokes and oh my gosh… they love Polish sausage. Yet, I guess I shouldn’t have worried. Sure, I missed the Johannesburg setting but Beukes time shifting trip through Chi-town offered a unique glimpse at this city that I have rarely encountered before.

Harper Curtis is a brutal killer from the past, who finds a strange house that opens him up to strange future worlds, where he encounters girls who shine only for him. He knows the house wants him to kill these girls, he just doesn’t know why but once he kills them all, this should be revealed. Kirby Mazrachi survived a brutal attack that the police believe was random, but she is sure is the work of a serial killer. Together with a former homicide reporter now covering the Cubs, she pieces together a series of brutal murders that could lead her to her attacker. The thing that I love about the Shining Girls is how both aspects of the novel work so well on their own. Strip away the strange paranormal house and time traveling elements, and you have a solid Crime Fiction novel on par with Michael Connelly’s The Poet or Warren Ellis’s Gun Machine. Strip away the crime fiction elements, and you have a seriously spooky ghost house story on par with such dark fantasists and Stephen King or Robert McCammon. It’s how Beukes layers these two elements together that elevates The Shining Girl beyond solid examples of these genres, to something brilliant and utterly beyond simple classification. Beukes has it set up so not even her characters know what kind of book they are in until it all crashes together in a breathtaking finale. Unlike most Serial Killer tales, this isn’t some Cat-and-Mouse game between a brilliant serial killer and those attempting to stop him. Instead, it’s almost as the players are working on their own puzzles, dealing with their own pasts, and putting together their pieces towards goals that eventually force them to the inevitable conflict. It’s not that there isn’t an procedural investigatory arc, there is and it’s quite strong in it’s own right, yet, Kirby and Dan don’t really know what they are looking for, so it’s like that are trying to make a picture out of pieces from many different puzzle boxes. Beukes doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up the mythology of the eerie house that sends serial Killer Harper on his time tripping spree. Instead she tickles around the edges of the paranormal, having the house be a tool not even the wielder understands. He knows he has a mission, and he understands that the girls are shining and must be extinguished, yet even he doesn’t truly understand the whys and hows. In many ways, he is also part victim, while a sadistic and brutal one. It‘s hard to say how much of his mission came from The House, and how much he becomes The House‘s mission. This sort of fluidity may be frustrating to some readers who want solid answers, but I found it to add to the disconcerting charm of the novel. The Shining Girl also reeks of authenticity. The city of Chicago comes alive in a way that you can’t find on tourist guides and her characters just feel real. Even the murder scenes are full of visceral imagery and meticulous detail that gives you insight into both the victim and the perpetrator. The Shining Girl is a novel that never allows you to get comfortable. It shifts and blends, leaving you feeling disconcerted and disturbed but utterly enthralled. Beukes combines the elements of paranormal time travel and crime fiction in a way that lifts this novel about the typical, making it truly special. The Shining Girl is a novel I will be thinking about for a long time, too of tem late at night as the darkness begins to creep into my dreams.

Hachette Audio has really made a name for itself by putting together some of the best multinarrator productions in the industry. In The Shining Girls, Hachette has brought together some of the best narrators in the business, and combined them with some new narrators with lots of future potential. All the narrators gave strong, solid performances. Khristine Hvam, as Kirby, is stellar as usual, and Peter Ganim deftly captures the charming yet unstable Harper Curtis. Jay Snyder has a brilliant, crisp almost perfect voice, and the work is so on point that you never really feel any disconnect when the narrators shift. Yet, I think this was also my problem with the audiobook version of The Shining Girls. At times, particularly with Snyder’s work, it seemed all too perfect. Jay Snyder has the vocal equivalent to movie star looks, and I would have loved to see a bit more flavor and grit in his performance of down and out reporter Dan Velasquez. Dan was ethnically Hispanic, and while I don’t expect him to sound like he just came up from Tijuana, I would have liked just a little Hispanic edge in his voice. I though the work of the smaller roles, particularly that of Joshua Boone and Jenna Hellmuth added just the right counterpoint to the other narrators. Dani Cervone was also strong, but her voice was a bit close to Hvams, which didn’t allow it to stand out as much as the work of the other two. Overall, the audio production was excellent. It was well paced, sounded crisp and in the end served the story well. Any issue I had came down ultimately to listener preference.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





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: Fuse by Juliana Baggott

14 03 2013

Fuse by Juliana Baggot (Pure Trilogy, Book 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam, Casey Holloway, Kevin T. Collins, and Pierce Cravens

Hachette Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: With Fuse, Baggott took everything I had expected from a follow up to Pure, and threw it out the window creating a vivid and visually stunning follow-up that made me care about these characters.

Grade: A-

One of the problems when you become obsessed with a specific subgenre of fiction is trying to find a balance between originality and classic themes and images you love. As an obsessive fan of post apocalyptic fiction who attempts to read anything that even remotely fits into the category, I love when I find a truly strikingly original idea, yet I also love when an author reminds me of previous experiences within the genre. It’s hard not to turn the whole reading experience into a sort of mathematical exercise "Oh, it’s the whole roving gang of cannibals trope" -1pt.  “Oh, wait, these cannibals are psychic muties who can only live off the specific prions within human flesh" +2Pts. Last year, when I read Pure, I loved the original concept that Juliana Baggott. Pure was full of some of the most strikingly beautiful, all together shocking and darkly poetic images I have experienced in Post Apocalyptic fiction. Yet, I also was left feeling a little bit cold by the end of the experience. I’m not sure why. It was possible that her Apocalyptic world was so unique that it almost had a different flavor than I tend to enjoy within the genre. This is why I was a bit hesitant going into Fuse. Then Baggott began throwing classic images at me, with new twists. "Oh, an apocalyptic amusement park named for some twisted clown." +2pt’s. "Oh, wait, she’s not going to even let our characters go in and mingle with the mutie carnie folk." -1pt.  "Fused escaped zoo animals in a devastated Washington DC." +3Pts "Hold on there, an apocalyptic Airship journey up the East Coast, and across the Atlantic.’ JACKPOT!!! Of course, in the end, the math is meaningless, since I give letter grades in my reviews…. or is it…?

Fuse picks up after the shocking ending of Pure, with Pressia, Bradwell and El Capitan searching for more answers and Partridge and Lydia trying to come to terms with life outside the Dome. Yet, when the Dome releases a young girl, now made pure, telling those outside they will start killing hostages if Partridge isn’t returned, the group must each make decisions that could affect not just them, but their world. Once again, the story is told from four different perspectives, giving as unique looks at events that are taking place. I really wasn’t sure what to expect going into Fuse, so not so surprisingly my reaction was totally unexpected. After a bit of time to readjust to the tale, I found myself totally absorbed in this world. Whatever coldness that there was in my initial take of Pure left fairly quickly. Instead, I simply couldn’t get enough of the tale. Baggott totally flipped the script on much of her world, pushing her characters in directions I hadn’t expected. My least favorite POV in Pure, that of El Capitan and his fused brother Helmut, became my favorite. My favorite POV in Pure, Lydia, created the most conflict for me. I still loved her character and valued her perspective, but she lost a bit of her agency, being easily manipulated by a group whose motives made me uncomfortable. The frustrating romantic entanglements of Pure became more confusing and complicated, yet even more integral to the plot. Baggott added some new strangeness to the tale, especially in Partridges tale that I simply loved. It was all strange because everything I didn’t like about Pure turned into the highlight of Fuse for me. I think one of the things that helped for me was that Baggott continues to create a unique scenario, yet also added in the classic Apocalyptic roadtrip which gave the story a grounding point I could be comfortable with. I think that Baggott’s world may have lost a touch of its luster here, but her characters became much more interesting. Heck, there were even some incredibly touching moments, particularly between Bradwell and El Capitan, that if I was the sort of person who had like feelings and stuff, I may have been a bit moved. The ending of Fuse was even more stunning than Pure, with one of the most disturbingly unexpected moments I have experience in a while. Honestly, I was a bit blown away by Fuse. My reaction was unexpected. I was prepared to be let down, and when I wasn’t, well, I didn’t know how to react. With Fuse, Baggott took everything I had expected from a follow up to Pure, and threw it out the window creating a vivid and visually stunning follow-up that made me care about these characters. Who’da thunk it?

I really wasn’t surprised when I learned that Pure was nominated for an Audie. It was far from my favorite science fiction audiobook of 2012, but it was a beautiful production. So it was no surprise that Fuse was also wonderfully produced. Again, each perspective was taken on by a different narrator, giving each character its own flavor. Last time I highly praised the performances of the female narrators. Khristine Hvam continues to capture the dark poetic beauty of Baggott’s world while giving voice to Pressia’s internal conflicts. I really loved the awkward, almost exotic pacing Casey Holloway gave Lydia’s perspective. There was almost a robotic feel to it that set her character apart from the others in the tale. Yet, this time, surprisingly I think the guys outshone the gals, which was something I hadn’t expected. New to the series, Pierce Cravens took over the Partridge perspective, capturing the young mans conflicts to come to terms to what he learned about his father perfectly. He counterbalanced Lydia with a smooth flow that made her perspective even more striking. Kevin T. Collins though, got to sing. Sing a quite creepy song that still gives me chills. His performance of the El Capitan perspective was wonderful. His voicing of Helmut was something special, and I think added a level of depth to the interplay between brothers that may be missed in the print text. Collins has slowly begun to become one of my favorite narrators, and the work he does here is stellar. I may have choked up a few times during some scenes, maybe… but you can’t prove anything.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

20 11 2012

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Bk. 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Days of Blood & Starlight left me totally breathless. Taylor creates her worlds with poetry, twisting our perceptions of the genre with each word, creating something both comfortable and unique with a magician’s touch. Fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bones will not only have their anticipations paid for with this novel, but they should be totally blown away.

Grade: A

I have a bit of a bone to pick with Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Earlier this year I took part in the Armchair Audies, listening to all three of the speculative fiction categories, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal. For the event, you were to listen to your categories, and choose who you feel would be the winner. So, I undertook this task, listening to 10 Audie nominated books, having already listened to 6 of the nominees before they were announced, within a few months. I put a lot of effort and thought into my picks, and I pretty much nailed it. Well, nailed it in two of the categories. In the fantasy category, I had predicted that Jonathan Carroll’s Land of Laughs would win for a multitude of reasons. While it wasn’t my favorite of the lot, I thought it would be the one that most resonated with the judges, plus, having the backing of audiobook and fantasy legend Neil Gaiman. Looking back, I really should have realized how off base I was. I let myself get caught up in the bells and whistles of the awards program without thinking of the emotional resonance. I enjoyed all of the entries in that category, but months later, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, despite some small quibbles, probably stuck with me the most. Add to that the beautiful and haunting performance by Khristine Hvam, in the clear vision of hindsight, it should have been an obvious choice.

Karou, now aware of her own tragic past finds herself at the center of a millennium old war that could determine the fate of two worlds. Stripped of her family and betrayed by her love, Karou must balance the needs of her people with her desired for peace and a normal life. I have to admit, despite how much I enjoyed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I was a little hesitant to start Days of Blood & Starlight. While I found the beginning of Daughter of Smoke and Bone to be brilliant, and Karou a wonderful character, I found the second half of the novel, a sort of otherworldly Romeo and Juliet tale, to be less engaging. Not being a huge romance fan contributed a lot to this. Add to this, the fact I struggled to get back into the story at the beginning of the book. This often happens to me in with second books in multi-character exotic fantasies, especially when I have listened to and read around 100 books between. What I had no problem getting into was Laini Taylor’s writing style. Days of Blood & Starlight is beautifully written. Taylor writes like the best lyricist, creating musical poetry with her words, creating her world with a sweep of aching magic. It has a way of being both melancholy and uplifting like only the greatest songs can. There were moments were the poetry infused story telling gave me chills, even before I was totally sold on the story. Luckily, after finding my place within the story and properly reintroducing myself to the characters, the story captured me. Captured me totally. Days of Blood & Starlight is part military fantasy, part romantic tragedy and with a dash of portal fantasy, all blended into a unique cautionary tale of death, war and xenophobia. It contains many classic themes of fantasy and science fiction, blended into something utterly unique and engaging. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but at some point I fell in love with this tale, affecting me in an exponentially greater way than Daughter ever did. What made the experience even better was the wonderfully executed ending, with brilliant twists that opens up so much potential for the next entry in this series. Days of Blood & Starlight left me totally breathless. Taylor creates her worlds with poetry, twisting our perceptions of the genre with each word, creating something both comfortable and unique with a magician’s touch. Fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bones will not only have their anticipations paid for with this novel, but they should be totally blown away.

I’m not sure if I can adequately portray just how wonderful a performance Khristine Hvam gives with this book. There were moments where the combination of her narration and Taylor’s words simply gave me chills, and I am not one prone to chills. The narration was so perfect she even got me to laugh out loud during the Author’s dedication page, which, in all honesty, I often find kind of strange in audiobooks. Whatever special form of magic Taylor is infusing her words with, Hvam captures with her own sort of vocal magic. The world Taylor has created is so exotic, full of strange characters and it is all presented to us in vivid detail through Hvam’s voice. Whether it’s the slight purr of a feline Chimeara, the angelic yet sadistic tones of a cruel Seraphim, or the beautifully rendered Eastern European accents of Karou’s best friend, all the characterizations were just spot on. Her pacing was luxuriously musical, finding the poetry rhythms of Taylor’s writing with ease. I even enjoyed the little musical touches that Hachette added to the production. They were simple yet effective, giving the production a fairy tale tone. If you are in anyway trying to decide between print and audio for this novel, I highly recommend you give the audio version a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.