Audiobook Review: The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

2 08 2013

The Darwin Elevator (Dire Earth Cycle, Bk. 1) by Jason M. Hough

Read by Simon Vance

Random House Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Darwin Elevator is Leviathan Wakes meets A Mote in God’s Eye, a rip roaring science fiction adventure with some mysterious alien machinations. Hough creates a complex but intriguing Post Apocalyptic world, and fills it with some truly engaging morally complex characters. The Darwin Elevator is easily my favorite science fiction debut of the year.

Grade: A-

In his infamous 1987 speech to the United Nations, Ronald Reagan discussed how we as a planet would put aside out nationalistic and other petty differences and come together if faced with an alien threat from outside. I’m not sure he was so right. One of the popular themes of post apocalyptic fiction is humanity’s ability to adapt. This is typically portrayed in a positive way, with a plucky group of survivors overcoming world changing events to find a new way to live. Yet, when it comes to adaptation, it’s not just the positive traits that we will take into a whole new world. Humanity has an almost natural ability to ostracize and stigmatize those who are different, whether those differences are physical, emotional, or simply geographical. When natural differences don’t exist, we will find new ways to categorize and label people. We will seek out the ways OTHERS are different from us, even if it’s just the fact that they are others. Classism will still rise. Some people will have more rocks in their garden than their neighbor, and try to use those rocks to gain greater status in the community. Even with a looming alien threat, we would find ways to separate and label each other. In Jason M. Hough’s debut The Darwin Elevator, he creates an interesting arbitrary class structure between “orbitals” those who live in the orbital platforms above the alien build space elevator, and those down below, in the slums and habitats of Darwin. While the Orbitals are pristine and clean, in both mind and body, the citizens of Darwin are a dirty, disgruntled lot full of refugees, religious cultists, and power hungry guards. This separation contributes greatly to the novel, and creates a fascinating background for this action filled novel.

The Darwin Elevator is Leviathan Wakes meets A Mote in God’s Eye, a rip roaring science fiction adventure with some mysterious alien machinations. Taking place in the 24th century Australian City Darwin, the only city immune to an alien plague due to the aura surrounding the space elevator built up by the unseen alien visitors, Hough capably incorporates a post apocalyptic social experiment with some fast paced action creating one of the best science fiction debuts of the year. I knew very little about The Darwin Elevator going in beyond it being a post apocalyptic science fiction novel about an alien plague, so I was a bit surprised to discover that there were… let’s not say zombies, but plague afflicted regressed humans who give into the basest needs and attack non afflicted humans in swarms. Not Zombies… but close enough. As a huge zombie fan, I was delighted by this, and in a way, happy I didn’t know, because in reality, The Darwin Elevator, like the afore mentioned Leviathan Wake, isn’t a Zombie novel, it’s a science fiction adventure novel that just happens to have some kick ass scenes involving zombie-like humanoids. I’ll take that. Yet, the heart of the novel is how humans adapt to change, and how these changes separate them and what it takes to bring them together again. The main character, Skyler heads a team of scavengers, the only team made up fully of those immune from the plague. Due to this ability, Skyler and his team are able to go to places other teams can’t and them on the radar of the Orbital Industrialist and his key scientist, who taps them to help them figure out what is the next step in the alien builder plans. I love the world that Hough has created, the juxtaposition between the two emerging cultures, yet I felt this novel just barely skimmed the surface of its potential. Hough makes a lot of illusions to religious cults, and other groups among the citizenry of Darwin, yet, much of that takes a back seat to the political maneuverings of the factions in the Orbitals. While this probably served the story better I’d love to get down in the grime of the city and learn more about its operation. There is definitely an old school science fiction vibe to The Darwin Elevator, with a well conceived blend of strange technology and engaging, morally complex characters. The ending opens so many possible doors, although there may have been a few too many open ended plot points left in the mix. This open ended conclusion of the novel would have been much more frustrating to me if I had to wait a year for the next edition, but luckily for us, there will be two more books in the series released over the next two months.  The Darwin Elevator is easily my favorite debut science fiction novel of the year, and I shudder in anticipation to see where the series will be heading next.

Simon Vance is one of the best voices in the business, and applies his skills to The Darwin Elevator. You pretty much know what you are going to get with a Vance narration, vivid characters and well paced action all delivered with a storyteller’s flair. I really enjoyed the authenticity Vance gave to the international cast. He never shirks away from a trying accent, or odd mannerism, instead embraces them. The Darwin Elevator takes place in Australia, yet is full of characters from across the globe. The main character, Skyler Luiken, is a Dutch pilot who really comes to life under Vance’s touch. There are many narrators who can do accents, but very few make them feel as natural as Vance does. This may have been the most action packed novel I have heard Vance narrate, and he constantly pushed the pace, adding tension, knowing just when to slow things down to give the listener time to reflect on a big reveal, or new development, The Darwin Elevator is a book the translates wonderfully to audio, and I’m very happy that Vance will once again be in the narrator chair for book 2, The Exodus Tower.

Thanks to Random House Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. Click on the banner below for more posts.

Audiobook Review: Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

23 07 2013

Black Feather (The Black Dawn, Bk. 1) by Joseph D’Lacey

Read by Simon Vance

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I found Black Feathers to be one of the most unique and well executed Apocalyptic Dark Fantasies I have read in a while. D’Lacey manages to create both compelling characters and fascinating worlds from two succinctly different times that manages to play off and influence each other in fascinating ways.

Grade: B+

I have been trying to figure out recently why I find horror books much scarier than movies. I recently gave in and watched the new Evil Dead movie, and I sat through and hour and a half of boring gore, cardboard performances, and gross-out scenes, all of which I found a bit disturbing but never really scary. Then I listen to a book where the scariest image is that of a bird, and, well, I’m a bit freaked out. Yet, let’s face it…. birds are scary. Sure, I’d rather meet a bird in a dark alley that demon possessed blood streaked women with a nail gun, but in a more conceptual ways, birds are scary, particularly dark feathered carrion eaters. First of all, birds fly. That seems like a simple thing, but I can’t think of any trait that less human than the ability to fly. In fact, I am easily creeped out by all flying things. They can operate in more dimensions than us. We can’t hide from them up or down or side to side. They can land on us, peck out our eyes, drop coconuts on our heads, then swoop away into the great beyond. It’s sort of freaky. There is a sort of brazenness to birds, a cocky assurance that while we may have opposable thumbs and the ability to reason, we can’t fly, and those avian bastards just know it pisses us off. The ability to fly gives them an ethereal quality, like that of spirits or souls, the ability to reach into the heavens and become closer to god. Books excel at taking these images, touching the long distant genetic memories, and allowing us to fill in the rest. Movies, well they show us an axe wielding maniac, and we know that soon blood will flow. Yet, once the blade cuts into out skull, there isn’t really much to fear anymore. With birds, we never truly know what those bastards are up to.

In a world of environmental breakdown a new group has arisen, immune form the old laws, looking to capitalize on the breakdown of society. Yet, they fear one thing, a prophecy of a child, stripped of everything he holds dear, sent to find the mysterious figure of legend called The Crowman. Generations later, one girl is given the opportunity to record this boy’s story, yet, her visions allow her to become more than simply a chronicler, but a tangible influence on the outcome of his journey. Joseph D’Lacey’s Black Feathers is an atmospheric dark fantasy that intertwines a gripping post apocalyptic world, with a malleable future that may a bleak vision of out destiny, or a new time where humanity finally learns to live with nature. It’s this very uncertainty that makes this novel more than your typical post apocalyptic tale. D’Lacey has creates two time streams that have become dependent on each other, where the revelations on one may have tangible affects on the other. To do this, he creates two characters, both very different sides to the same coin, the naive boy, Gordon, who is sent on a mysterious mission, and Megan, a young farm girl who is chosen by a dark force to tell his tale.  It’s a fascinating exercise in both world building and character development. D’Lacey has created two very recognizable characters, young people on a quest, yet plays off their stories in new a fascinating way. It’s easy to become instantly comfortable with these characters and this world, without understanding its true nature. D’Lacey forces you to challenge your ideas of the traditional evil forces in fantasy, and accept that one man’s devil may be another man’s savior. Yet, it’s not all an exercise in conceptual writing. D’Lacey creates a very plausible, and completing post apocalyptic world, as well as a more traditional regressed fantasy setting. This was one of these times where plot and concept were both equally engaging. Yet, a few little things bothered me. There is an overall message that I am finding more and more in post apocalyptic fiction, that the mass death of a large percentage of humanity will actually be a good thing. That a society free of technology, and more in touch with nature, is inherently a better one, and if it takes a mass apocalypse, than that is the price we need to pay to save earth. In many ways, in Black Feathers, the earth is the true protagonist, and the evil petulance destroying it is mankind. I understand, and even partly agree with the sentiment, but I also find it troubling.  My only other problem with the book it the abruptness of the ending. While Black Feathers is fascinating, it is not truly a complete tale, and doesn’t work well as a standalone. For those who find this frustrating, I would recommend waiting to more editions to the series are available. Yet, despite these concerns, I found Black Feathers to be one of the most unique and well executed Apocalyptic Dark Fantasies I have read in a while. D’Lacey manages to create both compelling characters, and fascinating worlds from two succinctly different times that manages to play off and influence each other in fascinating ways.

I may joke a bit about the almost shamanistic loyalty of many of Simon Vance’s fans, but in truth, there is a very good reason why so many people love his narration. The man is a true storyteller. Black Feathers is a great example of how talented Vance is at his craft. He doesn’t need to jump through any vocal hoolahoops, in fact, he barely sounds like he’s breaking a sweat, yet he manages to capture just the right tone in his reading. Vance creates just the right feel for Black Feathers. He creates a mood that is at times dark and mysterious, yet with an excited feeling of adventure. It’s like the soothing tone of your grandfather right before he tells you a scary story. His smoothness only makes the imagery and poetry of D’Lacey’s writing all the more affective. His characterizations come off as natural, from the sneering hunters, to the young boy and girl finally coming into their own through dark circumstances. It all just works well together, making Black Feathers a truly disturbing yet fascinating listen.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: The Books of Blood Volume 1 by Clive Barker

17 05 2013

The Books of Blood: Volume 1 by Clive Barker

Read by Simon Vance, Dick Hill, Peter Berkrot, Jeffrey Kafer, Chet Williamson, and Chris Patton

Crossroad Press

Length: 6 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: With each tale of The Books of Blood, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights.

Grade: B+

Nearly 25 years ago, after receiving my first paycheck as a 15 year old working a horrible job doing phone surveys about soda and car repair, I walked into The Oxford Valley Mall’s Waldenbooks and bought my first adult books. Before this moment, I had very little control over the books I could read. Most I got from the public or school library and they had to be cleared with my mother. The few times I got my hands on unapproved books, like when my cousin slipped me a copy of Lord Foul’s Bane, I was caught, scolded for introducing satanic things like magic into my brain and forced to return to my copies of The Three Investigators or Agatha Christie or steal copies of my sister’s Danielle Steel or VC Andrews novel, secure in the thoughts that incest and sexual abuse was in no way as devastating as magical rings and Giants. Now, here I was, unsupervised, with my own money, ready to buy my own books. I picked out three novels, one was Stephen King’s It, which of course I loved. I had read Cujo and Christine before, which were, unbeknownst to my mother, available in my school library, so I knew what I was expecting. I also picked up a novel by a new to me author named Dean Koontz, The Bad Place, which sent me into a voracious need to read all his books. Finally, I picked up Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game. The Damnation game scared the hell out of me. I’m not sure I really got the surreal horror style, and some of the images truly disturbed me. I think I may have been too young at the time for that novel. I wanted tales with monsters and kids in peril, and strange weird science fictioney stuff, and I think Barker’s tale was a little beyond me at the time. It would be years later before I returned to one of his novels, the Fantasy tale of Imajica, and was blown away buy his writing.

The Books of Blood is a short story collection told in a framework of stories written into the skin of a huckster medium when he was brought into investigate strange haunted house. This first volume had five unique and diverse tales spanning the themes of horror. I have always enjoyed short story collections, although I rarely listen to them in audio. One thing that impressed me with this collection is that for each story, I made an assumption early on in the tale, and each time Barker took the story in ways that surprised me. Most surprising of all was the dark humor that infused some of the tales. With the gruesome framework of the series, I was expecting a full on assault of dark and horrific tales and while he delivered on that, he also managed to make me laugh along the way. My favorite tale of the collection had to be The Yattering and Jack, a story of a battle of wills between a gherkin salesman and the demons assigned to drive him crazy. This story was full of such fun, funny moments that I didn’t expect some of the twists along the way. Being that it’s Zombie Awareness Month, it was nice to see that there was a story dealing with the living dead of a sort. In Sex, Death and Starshine, a struggling theatre is putting on a production of Twelth Night staring a vapid soap actress. When a strange accident befalls the star, the director finds the most odd of replacements, who finds an audience all her own. I loved this story. It started out strange to me, but I was instantly thrust into the story through a menagerie of outrageous characters. The Midnight Meat Train started as a traditional New York City serial killer tale, but takes a strange turn. Talking about strange, the last two tales had some of the most bizarre horror imagery I had ever read. and I won’t even describe them here because it may lessen the impact for those who end up reading.  With each tale, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights,

Audiobook producers tend to take two approaches when casting anthologies, they either hire a single narrator to read all the tales, or they cast each story. Luckily, Crossroads Press took the later approach to casting, bringing in a strong group of narrators, each suited to the tale. Chris Patton started it off with the framework tale. Despite it being short Patton pulled all the creepiness out of the tale, and slung it right into the faces of the listeners. Jeffrey Kafer read The Midnight Meat Train. What I enjoyed about Kafer’s reading was that he didn’t fall into traditional stereotypical voices. I hate when a character runs into some conspiracy spouting dude at a bar in NYC and they make him sound like a West Virginian hick. Kafer created authentic characters and had a keen sense of pacing as the train sped to it’s horrific finale. Dick Hill was the perfect choice for The Yattering and Jack. His precise pacing accentuated the humor of the tale, upping each absurd moment to the max. Peter Berkrot’s reading of Pig Blood Blues gave me chills, balancing the matter of fact protagonist of the story with the ethereal tones. Sometimes when you become familiar with a narrator, you start imagining them in the role of the protagonist of the story you are reading. So, I wasn’t happy hearing Simon Vance describe the sexual encounters of Theater director Terry Calloway. Other than that, Vance gave his typical performance, which is spot on. The highlight of his story was the theatrical Mr. Litchfield which Vance captured perfectly. Finally, there was Chet Williamson. This was my first time listening to one of Williamson’s narrations, and I felt he had just the right raw creepiness in his tone. Honestly, this story, In the Hills, the Cities, was probably the tale I struggled with the most. It took me a bit to get into, but Williamson’s reading of the stunning finale was paced wonderfully creating one of the most strangely beautiful moments of the audiobook. The Books of Blood is an excellent audio production of one of the masters of horror. Even the stories that I struggled with managed to find a place in my nightmare, thanks largely to the excellent work of the narrators.

Special Thanks to Crossroad Press for providing me with a copy of the title for review.


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Audiobook Review: 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden

6 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden (Check out the Full Story Listing After the Review)

Read by Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Bernadette Dunne, Paul Michael Garcia, Kirby Heyborne, Malcolm Hillgartner, Chris Patton, John Pruden, Renée Raudman, Stefan Rudnicki, Sean Runnette, Simon Vance, and Tom Weiner

Blackstone Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Zombie Anthology

Quick Thoughts: 21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. Some of the top tales come from new to me authors like Mark Morris and Amber Benson with a special shout out to Chelsea Cain. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts

Grade: B+

So, I was thinking about a good way to explain an excellent and diverse Zombie anthology, because I know the concept is so complex that it needs explaining, and the phrase that popped into my head was “Zombie Smorgasbord.” Oh, boy. When I was in high school, back in what some people refer to as “the 90’s” or what many of my fellow bloggers may call “before I was born” I worked for a now defunct Buffet restaurant. I started as a dishwasher, worked my way up to pots and eventually became a skilled line cook. I never made it out of the kitchen of course because, as my boss at the time explained it, “You have a face for back of the kitchen work.” Back then, I really wasn’t that into Zombie lit. It would be about another 12 years until I read Brian Keene’s The Rising and became a huge Zombie fan. Yet, it was about the time I was working my way through The Stand, and Swan Song for like the third time each, and I totally thought that working at this Buffet would give me a leg up when it came time to load up on supplies for that cross country apocalyptic road trip. So, where was I… oh yeah…? Zombie Smorgasbord. So, when this phrase popped into my mind, so too did wonderful variety of images. I pictured a bunch of Zombies shuffling past a serving table full of entrails, brains and a variety of limbs. I see a plainly decorated establishment where a zombie works the carving station, carving [insert grotesque image here]. I see stalls full of zombies available for the choosing, carefully managed by the FIFO system where the nastiest maggot infested zombies are at the front and the fresher, nearly human looking zombies are in the back. You see, this illustrates my point, a good Zombie anthology is full of a variety of awesome and disturbing, but mostly awesomely disturbing stories for our twisted flavorful brains.

21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology edited by Christopher Golden full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. This anthology is packed full of some of my favorite authors including Brian Keene, Jonathon Maberry and Thomas E. Sniegoski, some authors I have always wanted to read including SG Browne, Amber Benson and Duane Swierczynski and new to me authors that I must now check out like Ken Bruen, Mark Morris and Stephen Susco. So, now onto the stories. The anthology started out with an intriguing tale of a society adapting to a world with zombies called Biters by Mark Morris. It was a wonderful start to the anthology and put me in the right mind. Then it hit me in the head with a creepy and a bit sardonic poem by Chelsea Cain which, along with the performance of the narrator Cassandra Campbell was one of the highlights of this audiobook. Since there were about 20 tales in all, I won’t mention them all, but for there’s something here from all zombie fans. There are more traditional Zombie Outbreak tales like Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry, Couch Potato by Brian Keene and The Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen, some interesting twists on the undead like Devil Dust by Caitlin Kittredge, Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski and Tender as Teeth by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynsk, and some really bizarre tales like The Drop by Stephen Susco, Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson and Carousel by Orson Scott Card.  Sadly, not all the tales were winners. Two of bigger draws for this anthology, Kirt Sutter and Daniel H. Wilson were a bit of a disappointment. I thought Sutter’s tale was simply bizarre, and not in a good way, and while Wilson’s tale, which takes place in the world he created in Robopocalypse, started off well, it lost its way. Yet, most of these tales were a lot of fun. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts.

Like the author list, 21st Century Dead was a mix of narrators, many of whom I am familiar with, while others I have wanted to experience for a while. As I said earlier, Cassandra Campbell’s reading of “Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-So Horror Story” was delightful and my favorite moment along the way. Scott Brick’s reading of The Drop creeped me out, making a strange story just a bit stranger. It was nice to once again listen to Tom Weiner read a Jonathan Maberry tale. Really, this anthology was just full of excellent performances, including tales read by Chris Patton, Bernadette Dunne, Simon Vance and Paul Michael Garcia. It was a little interesting to hear Sean Runnette reading a non-Tufo Zombie tale, but the story was perfect for his sense of humor. The biggest kudos for this production must go to whoever cast the audiobook. Blackstone did an excellent job placing just the right narrator with the right story.


Zombies are good for you: an introduction by Christopher Golden
Biters by Mark Morris
Why mothers let their babies watch television : a just-so horror story by Chelsea Cain
Carousel by Orson Scott Card
Reality bites by S.G. Browne
Drop by Stephen Susco
Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson
How we escaped our certain fate by Dan Chaon
Mother’s love by John McIlveen
Down and out in dead town by Simon R. Green
Devil dust by Caitlin Kittredge
Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen
All the comforts of home : a beacon story by John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow
Ghost dog & pup : stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Tic boom : a slice of love by Kurt Sutter
Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry
Tender as teeth by Stephanie Crawford, Duane Swierczynski
Couch potato by Brian Keene
Happy bird and other tales by Rio Youers
Parasite by Daniel H. Wilson

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

Audiobook Review: Safe House by Chris Ewan

12 12 2012

Safe House by Chris Ewan

Read by Simon Vance


Length: 10 Hrs 53 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Safe House is a smart, well paced and highly enjoyable thriller with just the right amount of twists to keep things interesting. Ewan proves he knows how to tell a good story without relying on clichéd tricks and smoke and mirrors, just a solid plot with engaging character. This is my first experience with Ewan, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last.

Grade: A-

Listen up kids, I’m going to let you in on a bit of a secret. No matter what your parents tell you, or what that Public Service Announcement that some television station plays between their latest sitcoms espouses, sometimes peer pressure is good. Of course, if your peers are encouraging you to recite the ancient spell they found in a dusty old book written in Latin, or if they want to taunt the mysterious new kids at school for his pale skin and fang like teeth, then your problem isn’t peer pressure, your problem is really crappy peers. I for one, find most of my peers within the book blogging community to be quite lovely, and when I hear them talking about a book or an author that has brought them joy, I feel pressure to share in that experience. Despite the fact that we have very different tastes, and that she has an obsession with a certain British narrator, whenever I hear Jennifer of The Literate Housewife talk about a book or series she loves, I pay attention. For the past year or so, I have witnessed her enthusiasm over a series of books called "The Good Thief’s Guide to [Insert City Name]" Now, my initial reaction was that I thought it was an interesting idea to write a travel book for people who enjoy the act of theft, yet are generally good, but that really isn’t the type of book that usually interests me. Of course, with a bit more research I discovered that this was actually a fictional series with a gentleman thief and mystery writer as its protagonist. Even further research led me to the discovery that this same author, Chris Ewan, had a new standalone thriller coming out with an intriguing plot, that had also landed on another of my favorite bloggers "Best of 2012" list. This is the kind of peer pressure I can get behind.

After a motorbike accident on the small Isle of Man, Rob Hale wakes up in the hospital with signs of a possible traumatic brain injury. When he questions the doctors about fate of his passenger, a beautiful women he had just recently met, he discovers that she never made it to the hospital, in fact, there is no evidence she even really existed. Despite assurances that this mysterious blond was just side effect of his injury, Rob is sure she exists and is in some sort of trouble. I have always enjoyed tales of unreliable memory where a lone protagonist is forced to question things he just knows are true and this is what initially drew me to Safe House. Yet, what I discovered was a solid thriller, with some really engaging characters and a unique setting that gave it a real intimate feel. While the plot was, like most thrillers, a bit overly complicated at times, it all falls together nicely. Chris Ewan writes with the sort of everyman flair that I really enjoyed. He takes a main character that is basically just your mundane regular Joe, and puts him in a situation where on the surface he seems totally out of his league, but by the sheer force of his will, manages to make things happen. I really enjoyed the fact that Rob wasn’t any sort of highly skilled operator, and while there were conspiracies on top of conspiracies within the plot that forced him into risky situations, he wasn’t like some loose ship in a storm, he acted when he needed to. Not to say that it was easy for Rob, Ewan puts that poor guy through the works, heaping mental and physical abuse on him, and not even rewarding him with a gratuitous love scene. At least the poor guy had a good dog.  Ewan adds a lot of color to his tale through his peripheral characters, particularly Rob’s parents and grandfather, yet deftly incorporates them into the overall story, making each moment of the matter. I also really enjoyed the action in this novel. This wasn’t the over the top, car chase and shoot em outs that plague modern movies, but smart subtle, yet sometimes quite brutal action that moves the story in the right directions. Safe House is a smart, well paced and highly enjoyable thriller with just the right amount of twists to keep things interesting. Ewan proves he knows how to tell a good story without relying on clichéd tricks and smoke and mirrors, just a solid plot with engaging character. This is my first experience with Ewan, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last.

So, I have things to say about Simon Vance, and since it’s been a while since I reviewed one of his audiobooks, I thought this would be a good forum. I personally think that the reason Simon Vance does so well with his narrations is he enjoys winning Audies, Earphones and starred reviews, as well as bringing hours of entertainment to his loyal fans through his masterful storytelling. There, I said it. This is actually my first time listening to Simon Vance narrate a book that isn’t speculative fiction, and I was quite interested to see how someone who I trust to bring fantasy worlds to life handles the real world. Vance does a wonderful job with Safe House. What I really liked was the introspective tone he gave to Rob’s character. With all the wildness of the plot, Vance used his voice to ground the character, allowing us to experience his thought process. It was almost as if Rob was the port in the storm for us, and Vance built off that to allow us to keep everything in perspective. My favorite moments in the audiobook were the bits of humor that surfaced throughout the production. There was one particularly moment, when Rob was trying to extract important information from his unfocused grandfather that was just priceless, and impeccable performed. I also loved that Vance seemed to capture the flavor of the Isle of Man. There was almost a leisurely pace to his reading, letting us know that this was no city thriller, and that the character’s are going to take there time and figure this thing out. I really enjoyed Safe House, and while I may not be ready to join the Simon Vance cult, he’s definitely someone I trust to tell me a darn good story.

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

Audiobook Review: The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan

24 04 2012

The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan (A Land Fit For Heroes, Bk. 2)

Read by Simon Vance

Tantor Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: While The Cold Commands doesn’t work as well as a standalone novel as the Steel Remains did, Morgan’s compelling characters and crisp action allows this bridge novel to achieve more than just setting up the finale. The Cold Command establishes the characters credentials for the task they must undertake, offering interesting character reveals, and deepening the bonds between this unique trio.

Grade: B

The Cold Commands was nominated for a 2012 Audie Award in the Science Fiction Category.

I have to admit, I have a horrible record with epic fantasy. All too often, I will read the first book in a series, and enjoy it, but when the next books come out, they get put on the backburner, and eventually overwhelmed by my TBR pile. The Big Fat Fantasies have really rarely been my favorite type of read. I rarely come into a series because I read some synopsis and am instantly drawn to the material. Things like magic, elves, dragons, and wizards aren’t buzz words that brighten my heart. The majority of the traditional fantasy novels and series I have read have been either recommended to me, or are by authors I have discovered through their other speculative fiction work. One of my issues is that often Fantasy novels are just so long. In the time it takes me to listen to one novel in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, I could have listened to 5 normal sized audiobooks. So, while I have listened to the first two volumes of David Anthony Durham’s Acadia series and enjoyed it, I have yet to fit in the nearly 30 hour finale, The Sacred Band.  I have listened to exactly one of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law novels. I totally mean to continue and complete these series, but for some reason my easily distracted brain gets drawn to the five other books I could be listening to. Over two years ago I listened to Richard K. Morgan’s first foray into more traditional fantasy, The Steel Remains. I really enjoyed the story, and its complicated main character Ringil. Yet, I’m not sure if I would have taken on the second novel in Morgan’s Land Fit for Heroes saga if it wasn’t for armchair Audies. Yet, again, taking on this challenge of listening to all the nominees in the speculative fiction categories of the Audie Awards gave me the motivation I needed to take on an audiobook I was already interested in.

At the start of The Cold Commands, Ringil’s attempts to go home after the events of The Steel Remains are not successful. He is again a hero in exile, roaming the land, sticking his nose where it really doesn’t belong. When he finds himself in the midst of a slave revolt, he again must run for his life. Eventspush his towards familiar allies, who are in all too familiar trouble. The early parts of The Cold Commands suffers greatly from being a second book in a planned trilogy. Morgan did such an excellent job tying things up in The Steel Remains, that there is a sort of listlessness in the action of the early parts of the novels. Luckily his trio of main characters, Ringil, Archeth, and Egar Dragonbane are interesting enough that the seemingly randomness of their actions is offset by the handling of the situations they get into. Morgan writes some of the crispest fantasy action sequences. Often time in Fantasy, the hand to hand brutal sword fights become sort of a blur to me, but Morgan’s writing is lean and mean and easily visualized. For me, it wasn’t until the Ringil and Archeth’s storylines begin to merge, that the novel begins to take on some cohesion. While much of the novel is setting up the epic quest to discover the dark force that is rising up, which will obviously be the focus of book three, the second half of The Cold Commands has some big reveals for Ringil, and Egar, and some hints of things to come for Archeth. One of my favorite aspects of The Land Fit for Heroes is Morgan’s ability to poke fun at the genre. Whether it be an immortal’s snarky rant about "The One" or Ringil’s incredulity at being called a farm boy, Morgan offers a lot of dark humor and not so subtle jabs at often overused Fantasy tropes.  While The Cold Commands doesn’t work as well as a standalone novel as the Steel Remains did, Morgan’s compelling characters and crisp action allows this bridge novel to achieve more than just setting up the finale. The Cold Command establishes the characters credentials for the task they must undertake, offering interesting character reveals, and deepening the bonds between this unique trio. 

I really can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since listening to my last Simon Vance narration. Simon Vance is a veteran of the industry, and as I understand it from my twitter timeline, his voice can make ladies swoon. While I didn’t swoon to his reading of The Cold Command, it definitely helped me make my way through some of the slower parts of this novel. Vance reads The Cold Command with a soft confidence. He has the ability to slow down his reading, especially the ending of the sentences, to give greater impact to what he is reading. This works particularly effectively during the action scenes which can often come off rushed and confusing, instead the narration allows the reader to visualize each stroke of the sword, and spray of blood.  One of the toughest things about narrating Fantasy novels is that there is no easy reference to accents. Being that these are fictional settings in a fictional world, the narrator must create various accents for the characters and keep them consistent. Vance achieve this feet, bringing the characters alive by tailoring authentic sounding accents to the personalities of his characters. The Cold Commands wasn’t as instantly compelling as The Steel Remains and there were some muddled and murky moments. It helped having a talented and engaging narrator like Vance leading us through the murk.

Audiobook Review: Paul is Undead by Alan Goldsher

28 05 2011

Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion by Alan Goldsher

Read by Simon Vance

Blackstone Audio

Genre: Zombie Mashup

Quick Thoughts: A hilarious novel that probably would have worked even better if I was more of a Beatles fan. Simon Vance’s narration itself makes this title worth a listen.

Grade: B

Full Disclosure: I am not a Beatles fan. I mean that in the most literal sense of the word, fanatic. I like the Beatles, I even own some of their music, but I am not a fanatic about them. I don’t know much of their history and lore. It even took me a while to realize the title of Paul Goldsher’s zombie mash up novel was a reference to the infamous “Paul is Dead” incident. The Beatles were my mother’s band, not mine. Because of this, despite encouragements from people, and good reviews, I was hesitant on listening to Paul is Undead. Now, if there was zombie mashup novel featuring Bono and the Edge, I’d probably jump on it right away, yet I was concerned that I would miss jokes and references that would diminish my enjoyment of the novel. Yet, three weeks of listening to mostly Zombie Apocalypse novels gave me a taste for something different. Plus, I believed that a review of Paul is Undead by a non-Beatles fan could actually serve a purpose. Jus how well would a Generation of Love novel translate over to us Gen Xers?

First off, Paul is Undead is a hilarious novel. I found myself often laughing out loud. Told in an interview style that reminded me of mocumentary films like A Mighty Wind, the interplay between interviewees made for some true comedy gold. Not every joke worked. There were plenty of references I didn’t get, and a few I actually had to look up on the internet. For a true Beatles fan, these moments would probably have been quite funny, but the comic impact for me was lessened by needing to research them. For example, Goldsher made quite clever use throughout the novel of the phrase “toppermost of the poppermost” which I didn’t know, until I looked it up was a sort of call and response between John and the other members of the band. I enjoyed the zombie elements of the novel. They were unique and quite detailed. I had expected Goldsher to do the, “so they are zombies, let’s move on” thing but instead he spent a lot of time building his zombie mythos. Some Beatles fans may find these moments disturbing, while Zombie purists will scoff at Goldsher’s mythos, but I found Goldsher’s Liverpudian process to be a fascinating twist on zombie lore.

The true highlight of the audiobook for me was the narration of Simon Vance. From his spot on American accent to his impeccable comic timing this was the perfect match up of narrator to novel. I was glad that the producers didn’t go with the multi-narrator option. More and more, novel like this will use multiple narrators, but Vance impersonations of the fab four’s iconic voices, as well as his vocalizations of the multiple other characters, including Mick Jagger, were so well done it was like he was a one man narrating team. For non-Beatles fans, the narration itself is worth the price of admissions. Part of me wished I was more of a fan, because it would allowed me greater overall appreciation of this novel, yet there is enough here to please even cynical Coldplay fans.