Audiobook Series Review: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

25 04 2014

For my reviews of the first two in this series, click on the images above

Hammered by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk, 3)

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 4)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 41 Min

Genre:Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

Trapped by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 5)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

Hunted by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk, 6)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: A-

People seem to love The Iron Druid series. In fact, they love it so much that upon discovering that someone may be like two… or four books behind in the series, that person’s status as a blogger and perhaps even their masculinity is called into question. As someone who cares greatly about his image as the manliest of all audiobook bloggers, it was my secret shame to be woefully behind in the various adventures of the titular Iron Druid, Atticus and his canine cohort Oberon. Now, I had, some time ago, listened to and enjoyed the first two books of this series. I even reviewed those books pretty positively, so OBVIOUSLY I should have quickly moved on to the rest of the series.

Yet, I didn’t. I got all sorts of distracted by other pretties. Hot new releases, other series, covers with alien crab walkers on it. I said to myself, Hey, you need to get back to that Druidy thing with the funny dog, and I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah… but this book has cyborg robots in love with Unicorns. Maybe after this book about a small boy and his talking chimp who survive global economic chaos through pluck and bad cockney accents.

Basically, there is too many goddam books for me to listen to them all, and dammit, I listen to a lot of frakkin’ books.

I know, excuses, excuses.

Since 2014, so far, has been the year of the audiobook series binge listen, and since I knew that in the relatively near future, due to a change at work, my listening time may decrease, I decided that if I was ever to catch up on this series, I needed to do it now. Hence, the Iron Druid Binge Listen. I have always been a fan of the binge listen. In fact, it’s my favorite kind of binging, since binge eating leads to health issues, and binge drinking eventually leads to me vomiting next to a merry-go-round in a elementary school playground. Yet, I find that certain types of book series, particularly Urban Fantasy and Horror series are well suited to the binge listen.

OK, confession time. Often times when I start the next book in a series, after the required year long wait, I am totally lost. I don’t know if it’s just the limit of my brains, or the affects of reading 150-200 books a year, but I tend to lose much of the details of a book over time. Even with my most favorite series ever there are characters who I know I should know, and foreshadowing events I should absolutely remember, but instead the details take a long time coming. More than once, I will get like two thirds of the way into a book, and have an “ah ha” moment saying, “Holy shit, that’s who that dude is.” I think this is one of the reasons I’m hesitant about epic fantasy, since by the time book 3 comes out I forgot who 758 of the 760 perspective characters where. This, my friends, is why Cthulhu created the series binge listen.

So, I started the binge listen with Hammered, book 3 of the series. Honestly, throughout most of Hammered, I was kinda “ho… hummm…. this is nice.” I definitively was suffering some of the dissonance of jumping back into the story, and the core part that always stuck out to me in this series was the relationship between Atticus and Oberon, which wasn’t as prevalent in Hammered. It seemed to me that Hammered was that essential book in every Urban Fantasy series where the protagonist goes off to do something incredibly stupid, which they know is stupid, and everyone they trust tells them it’s stupid but they continue to do it for some sort of arbitrary “pride” or “honor” reason and you the reader just knows it’s basically going to unleash the shit storm that they will be dealing with in upcoming books. You know you have to get through the “protagonist acting like a complete nit” book, in order to get to the more awesome “protagonist dealing with the shit storm that acting like a nit unleashed” books. There were two scenes that made Hammered worth it. Atticus’s interaction with Jesus, and the “bonding” sequence where each of the questers told their stories. So while I was less than thrilled with Hammered, I believed there was good things to come.

Thank God I was right!

After the events of Hammered, Atticus has a lot on his plate. Gods want to kill him, Religious whackjobs still don’t trust him, he has an apprentice to train, and Oberon still needs sausages. Tricked benefited a lot from a scenery change, and a whole new mythology to explore. I often cringe when books bring in Native American mythology, because it often comes off as derivative, but Hearne has a way of exploring mythology in creative ways while not diminishing the traditions. Tricked was a fun change of pace, and gave the characters a bit of a breather before the chaos begins, well, if you can consider dealing with evil skinwalkers a breather.

I was both surprised and relieved with the 12 year time jump in Trapped. When Atticus discussed the prophesy of the word burning in 13 years, I was like “Shit, now Hearne is going to write 12 novels each spanned out over a year until we get to the global apocalypse we all are waiting for. WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY WORLD BURING NOW!!!!” Now, maybe he still plans on string out 12 more novels, but at least Ragnarok is looming closer and closer, and this absolutely builds the tension. I really, really enjoyed both Trapped and Hunted. First off, I love that Hearne ended the sexual tension between Atticus and Granuaile with a choice, and not some clumsy fumbling moment where they both finally give into their long repressed passions. I love the interplay between Atticus and the various Gods. Hearne never gives into the Hollywood dulling of the natures of the gods but embraces their utter despicableness. Hunted is a brilliant otherworldly chase novel, that cleverly included some new perspectives, and lots of cool twists and turns that kept me enthralled until the end.

Yet, everyone, let’s be honest. We’d all probably like a Iron Druid novel if the plot was an unadventurous trip to the Laundromat, as long as their were plenty of interactions between Atticus and his hound Oberon. Sure, life and death struggles, battles with the gods, hot druid sex are all fine and good, but without Oberon bartering for sausages and bitches, what’s the point? Oberon makes this more than just another Urban Fantasy series. He imbibes it with soul, acting as Atticus’ insatiable moral compass. I mean, he’s a friggin’ dog and he’s awesome. What else do you want?

Now, I like to keep my personal feelings about a performer out of my evaluations of their performances, so I will not let my jealousy of the fact the ladies swoon at the mere mention of Luke Daniels name influence my thoughts on that rotten bastards narration of The Iron Druid Chronicles. I have listened to Daniel’s narrate a lot of thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary science fiction novels, and I am always impressed with his ability to tell a good story. He handles characters well, making each one distinct and creating dialogue that feels natural. Yet, I often forget just how wide of a range he truly has. Books like The Iron Druid Chronicles and Martin’s shared world anthology Wild Cards show that Daniels can take on any character, no matter what sex, nationality, genetic mutation, planet of origin, or any other goddam weirdo thing a screwed up author throws at him with ease. I honestly at times thought, “Now, Kevin Hearne is just fucking with him, right?” with some of the voices he had to pull off, but pull them off he did. I truly can’t imagine experiencing this series in any other manner besides audio without a significant decrease in awesomeness, and really, people, we want more awesomeness, not less. So get with it. So, if you have yet to listen to this series, maybe you too should partake in an Iron Druid binge listen.

Audiobook Review: Warbound by Larry Correia

13 08 2013

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Alternate History Urban Fantasy/Steampunk Superheroes.

Quick Thoughts: Larry Correia brings the arc than began in Hard Magic to a natural and completely satisfying conclusion in Warbound. With a combination of amazing storytelling, wonderful characters and one of the best narrator performances I have experienced, The Grimnoir Chronicles has earned it place as perhaps my favorite all time Speculative Fiction Audiobook series.

Grade: A+

Warbound is the third book in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series about an alternate 1930’s where a secret society of magical superheroes called the Knights of the Grimnoir protect humanity against the use of magically enhanced powers for evil. I’m not exactly sure what Larry Coreia’s plans are for the world he created here, but as far as overall story arcs, Warbound serves as the end of the trilogy that began with  Hard Magic. If Correia decided to never again visit the world, I would be disappointed, but in no way left hanging. It’s about as complete of a story as you can get in the series heavy environment of speculative fiction. This being so, it’s hard to simply evaluate Warbound on its own. In order to truly review it it must be examined for how it completes this trilogy. I have used a lot of hyperbole in describing this series. I have called it things like "breathtaking" and "brilliant" and felt tempted at times to chant "THIS IS AWESOME" like some rowdy fan at a wrestling match while listening. In my reviews, I called it "mind-boggling good" and reiterated a fellow reviewer’s comment that this series is "A Perfect example of how good audio can get." I even have called the narration by Bronson Pinchot "my favorite performance by a male narrator this year."  Yet, I have resisted the urge to place it in any overall context until I felt the series has reached some sort of natural conclusion, which in Warbound it has. I mean, endings are very important, and while a bad ending may not affect the fact that I got a lot of enjoyment out of the previous audiobooks, it would affect where I would put this series in my personal pantheon. Now, having listened to Warbound, I can easily declare that the Grimnoir series is high among my favorite speculative fiction series of all time. But wait, there’s more, people. The Grimnoir Chronicles may be my favorite speculative fiction audiobook series of all time. Now, I can think of books and series I may like a bit more, but I can think of no series that has combined an amazing story full of awesome characters with one of the best narration performances of all time. Larry Correia has created an amazing story, and Bronson Pinchot takes this story to a whole other level that I may not have even believed possible until i heard it for myself.

In Warbound, Jake Sullivan, a Heavy who can literally control Gravity, has put together a secret mission to hunt down the Pathfinder, and interdimenrional being that, upon gaining enough power, can lead the great enemy, a predator that eats magic, to earth. With a crew combining Grimnoir Knights and Pirates, they must take a revolutionary new airship into the heart of the Imperium under the control of an imposter Chairman to find and destroy this creature. Back in the USA, magical humans are being forced to wear marks indicating their powers, while being enticed to move into their own cities under the protection of FDR’s government. Meanwhile, Faye, believed by the Knights to be dead, must enter the Dead City of Berlin to find the animated corpse of fallen Grimnoir Knight who can predict the future, to learn the consequences of being The Spellbound. Again, Larry Correia has taken multiple speculative fiction subgenres and blended it with history to create something that is both comfortable, yet utterly unique. The stakes are now greater, and the events spread out across the globe, yet somehow Correia managed to make it feel more intimate and personal than the first two novels. While Jake and Faye are fighting for the world, they are also dealing with their own personal demons. These personal struggles are potentially even more important to their quest to save the world than any actual individual confrontation. Yet, the ultimate confrontation is looming, between the Knights and a creature so powerful that the entity that brought magic to the world and is the greatest force in human history, is the prey to this predator. I love that Correia doesn’t set up the typical good vs. evil, black vs. white scenario, but instead shows on many different scales the true grayness that is inherent in any conflict. Sometimes doing what you believe is right can lead to great atrocities and the corruption of power will often distort even the best of intentions. Every character must evaluate their own essence, and often overcome their own conflicts in preparation for the coming battle. There are so many epic moments in Warbound that they won’t all fit in this review. In any grand finale, there must be some key casualties, and while to the readers will be saddened by it, Correia knows how to make a character go out in a way that has you hollering and cheering between the tears.  Like in almost all his other books, Correia manages to make the epic finale confrontations so huge, that even the combined talents of Peter Jackson, Michael Bay and Joss Whedon couldn’t fit it on their big screens. These are beyond cinematic. Yet, while these finales are full of awesome, perfectly choreographed action, there is an intimate intelligence to it as well. In Warbound, you have a big multiplayer action sequence that is so thrilling and intense it may have sucked a few years off my life, yet you also have a brilliant one on one showdowns, a showdown so big that it quite possible may have been too big for my earthly imagination.  It’s monumentally huge, yet in its own way, quite small. With Warbound Larry Correia brings this trilogy to a natural conclusion that fans will rejoice in yet have them long for more trips to this wonderfully envisioned world. 

I honestly don’t know how Bronson Pinchot does it. He manages to take what is simply an amazing piece of storytelling, and make it even better. On its own, Warbound and the other novels of this series are amazing, yet Pinchot makes this a series that you absolutely need to experience in audio to truly experience it at its best. It amazes me how much depth can bring to these characters just with is voice and pacing. Each character doesn’t just get it own voice, but its own rhythms and cadence that accentuates their attributes. Pinchot proves that there is so much more to narrating than saying the words in a voice that generally matches the characters. He creates with his voice in ways that few others can. He takes a huge cast of characters and makes each one stand out in memorable ways. He brings the action to life in with a visual acuity that rivals any visual medium. The Grimnoir series is, for me, the best meeting of wonderful storytelling with transformative narration I have ever experience. If Warbound doesn’t manage to pull in yet another Audie nomination and win, I will be completely shocked.

Audiobook Review: Hair Raising by Kevin J. Anderson

9 08 2013

Hair Raising (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI, Bk. 3) by Kevin J. Anderson

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Paranormal Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Hair Raising is another monstrously hilarious trip to the Unnatural Quarter where Bearded Ladies can find true love and Cockatrice Fights can turn you into statues. If you have yet to visit this world, Hair Raising is the perfect point to jump into the rumble, whether you are a full time monster enthusiast or just like your paranormal creatures once in a blue moon.

Grade: A-

I often hear people say, "Hey Bob, you’re a funny guy! You should be a comedian." I guess I can be funny. I like to make jokes ranging from the ridiculously corny to the highly offensive, and often said unthinkingly at socially inappropriate times. I have been know to make people snort out in laughter, or complain to an authority figure about my insensitivity, both of which I am quite proud of. I even managed to get my brother Dave to laugh so hard that my aunt thought he was crying. Unfortunately, this happened to occur right in the middle of my Grandfather’s funeral. Yet, it’s not easy to be funny. My ability to come up with a well timed quip can often seem natural, but I often give my eternal editing process a real run for its money. Yet, this doesn’t mean I should be a comedian. While it’s not easy to be truly funny, it is really, really hard to write funny. It’s tough to find something that is universally humorous, and not just funny it the right (or absolutely wrong) situation. Sometimes I try to be funny when I write my reviews. Sometimes, I think, I even succeed. But it’s not easy. For example, after reading Hair Raising, I thought the perfect way to open this review would be a hilarious zombie joke. I like jokes. I like zombies. How hard would it be to pull those two great loves of my life together and tell a really awesome zombie joke? Hell, Kevin J. Anderson has filled this series with some of the corniest and obvious zombie jokes ever, so I should be able to pull off one gut buster. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It’s not easy to think up jokes, or zombie puns, or even take popular jokes and twist them into hilarious plays of our beloved shambles. I just couldn’t pull it off.  Oh, I came up with some strange ideas. Things that resemble jokes, just lacked the one essential element. They weren’t funny. Luckily, this isn’t something that Mr. KJA suffered during the writing of Hair Raising, another joke filled entry is his fantastically fun Zombie detective series. This book, my friend, is funny.

In Hair Raising, our favorite Undead Detective finds himself embroiled in a squabble between full time Werewolves and their monthly counterparts. Both sides claim to be the TRUE werewolves, and it doesn’t help matters that someone is going around, drugging and scalping full time werewolves. Yet, despite being dead, he still needs to make a living wage, so Dan Chambeaux must also work other cases, including a mad scientist who keeps getting defective body parts for a used parts Emporium and another zombie who is being sued for Child support yet denied access to his son. This should be enough, but Dan is suddenly a celebrity when the book, Death Warmed Over, a fictional account of his cases becomes a hint. With all these distractions, can Dan, his partner and his ghost girlfriend prevent a full stage werewolf riot? Kevin J Anderson once again unrestrainedly unleashes every corny joke, monstrously bad pun, and twisted monster trope as he guides us though another adventure in the Unnatural Quarter. I really cannot think of a better way to spend 9 hours of your life. In a would crowded with over serious fiction, dealing with world altering topics, it’s nice to have a series that just lets you sit back and have a good time. Hair Raising is full of so many awesome colorful characters, from biker werewolves to a magical tattoo artist with a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” mentality. These characters, on top of Anderson’s regular rotation of series regulars, make every moment of this book jump off your preferred listening device. One of my favorite things about Hair Raising is they very meta nature of Dan Shambles new celebrity. While I felt the case this time around was a bit weaker, and sort of obvious, the peripherals situations in this edition of the series make it highly worthwhile. Dan Shamble gets to visit the world horror convention where he is now a star. Anderson gives fandom a mild spanking, but it’s all in lighthearted fun. And despite the fact that the major twists were a bit telegraphed, there were a bunch of little bonus twists along the way to make up for it. There were so many moments to love in this book, with rumbling werewolves, simply horrid customer “service”, zombie flatulence, cockatrices and the world‘s worst hairstylist, and it all comes together in a action filled finale. Hair Raising is another monstrously hilarious trip to the Unnatural Quarter where Bearded Ladies can find true love and Cockatrice Fights can turn you into statues. If you have yet to visit this world, Hair Raising is the perfect point to jump into the rumble, whether you are a full time monster enthusiast or just like your paranormal creatures once in a blue moon.

Phil Gigante continues to do some of his best work in bringing this series to life. While it’s known that his voice can make the ladies swoon, and his pacing puts the thrills in thrillers, what originally turned me into a huge Phil Gigante fan is his sense of comic timing. He delivers the funny like the most seasoned practitioner of all things jovial. He managed to turn some of Anderson’s groaners into full bodied howlers. One thing I really loved about this edition was how descriptive Anderson is with his characters and how Gigante nails them EVERY FRACKIN’ TIME. For me, one of the highlights of this performance was a minor peripheral character describe to be like Edith Bunker. I swear it was like the man channeled Jean Stapleton. I couldn’t stop laughing. In fact, I think I would be willing to pay real American cash money to hear Gigante perform both parts of Those Were the Days by himself. And this was just one of many awesome moments, including a pretty killer mad scientist maniacal laugh, and a menagerie of otherworldly characters. This is one of those series that people just need to experience in audio. I know I could never read a Dan Shamble mystery and not hear the dulcet voice of Phil Gigante in my head, so might as well go for the real thing.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey

8 08 2013

Kill City Blues (Sandman Slim, Bk. 5) by Richard Kadrey

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Harper Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Kill City Blues is a Dantesque ride through a true retail hell. While  mostly a set up novel to the coming epic confrontation, Kill City Blues is in no way a let down. It’s a chance to hang out with a group of some of the most intriguing characters in Urban Fantasy today, before they quite possibly need to end all of existence.

Grade: A-

I’m not sure how my God-fearing, drag me kicking and screaming to church three days a week mother of my childhood would have reacted if I told her that one day, one of my favorite literary characters would not be a single Lucifer, but a trio of characters who held the title of the Prince of Darkness. Nowadays, mom has resigned herself to the fact that I’m a Stephen Kind loving, hard rock playing fan of all that is dark and spooky, and just shakes her head and deals. I mean, hell, I’m an adult, if I want to ride the highway to hell, I guess that’s my call.  Yet, if I had revealed this side of me back in the days where I sat happily in the church basement singly "The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me" as a precursor to another felt board telling of Joseph and his coat of many colors, that secretly I would have loved to seen Joseph’s coat among the looted wastelands of a post nuclear America full of dragons and unicorns and robot zombies, then I probably would have been rushed to the local exorcist who I think was named Pete. You see, where I grew up, it was never Mick Jagger declaring his sympathy for the devil, but Greg X. Voltz and the boys of Petra singing "Angle of Light, I see your glow in the night, but you only bring darkness to my soul" or those wonderful guys who make up The Lost Dogs asking the important theological questions, "Why is the Devil Red? Why ain’t the Devil Blue?" Yet, all this anti-diabolical propaganda instead fostered a fascination with Lucifer and his hordes of fallen angels. I have read lots and lots of fictional explorations of hell, the devil, angels and demons, and by far my favorite depiction of the underworld and its leader is in Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. I love his depictions of Lucifer, whether it be the original suave Fallen angel who held the role, the newest incarnation who was at one time, at least in part God, and even Stark’s poor attempt to hold the role. Honestly, I think if Richard Kadrey was my Sunday School teacher, church would have been a heck of a lot more fun. Of course, I’m not sure how much mom would have appreciated it, but at least Pete would get lots of business. 

As you begin Kill City Blues, you simply know that Richard Kadrey is building the series up to an epic confrontation between the powers of this universe, and some Lovecrftian demons who may have been the original powers of our reality until the entity we call God stole it away for them, but like any continuing series, this means he needs to set all the pieces in place with a few set up novels. Because of this, I was expecting Kill City Blues to be a bit of a let down, the calm before the storm. While, in fact, Kill City Blues is a set up novel to the big war to come, it in no way let me down. In Kill City Blues, Stark, and his cadre of complicated cohorts are on a mission to relocate the Qorama, a weapon capable of killing the immortal. Stark once had possession of this device, but the rogue angel Aelita stole it away from him and hid it in the depths of Kill City, an abandoned Mall taken over by a strange menagerie of beings and souls.  Now Stark has a lead on it, yet he must take a Dantesque trip through a true retail hell, Kill City. Kill City Blues is another excellent hardcore trip through the otherworldly side of existence. Sandman Slim remains one of the most original characters in Urban Fantasy, and even though his edges have softened a bit, he is still a harsh as that first shot of whiskey. Kadrey does a lot in this novel. While the core story is the search for the Qorama, along the way we get to see Stark get into a bit of a power struggle with the Lucifer’s, take a trip into the coldest corners of hell to rescue a friend,  fix some of his strained relationships, and forge some intriguing new alliances. Kill City Blues lacks some of the focus of the traditional Urban Fantasy. Kadrey surrounds the core of his story with little side trips, yet these side trips give the tale it’s heart, and allows for moments of humor to balance out the rocket fueled pace, and apocalyptic import of Stark’s mission. This style gives the tale a vivid reality where not everything moves straight from A to Z, but need to make a few out of order alphabetic pitstops that would drive the most anal muppets to drink  Kill City Blues felt almost like a recharging for the series. It’s offered some true vital tasks for the continuing storyline, but also allowed us to hang out with these characters we love for another fun adventure, before they quite possible need to end all of existence.

One of the biggest pleasures of audiobooks is when a narrator becomes the true voice of a series, to a point where you just can’t imagine it without that voice. For me, MacLeod Andrew’s whiskey soaked sneering voice will always be Sandman Slim. Andrew’s totally embodies this character to a point\ where I can’t help wondering if perhaps he spent some of his own time vacationing in hell. One of the true talents Andrew has is his ability to naturally transition between a large cast of quite different characters. It can’t be easy to slip between Socal girls, old French thieves, crazed underground hillbillies, angels, demons, defrocked priests, god, talking disembodied heads, the devil and other assorted hellion and earthly creatures, and have it all sound natural.  Yet, Andrews pulls it off, allowing you to feel like you’re immersed in some infernal coffee klatch. Andrew constantly drives the pace forward, turning the underground Kill City into a otherworldly amusement park on a rollercoaster ride that never slips the track but still manages to scare the crap out of you. This series turned me into a fan of MacLeod Andrews, and I love every chance I get to return to it. It’s one of my must listen to annual audio experiences, and really, dammit, it should be one of yours as well.

Audiobook Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

1 08 2013

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Read by Patrick Lawlor

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Chuck Wendig’s Blue Blazes reads like a desperately thrown haymaker, it doesn’t always need to land solidly to knock you off your feet. Luckily, more often than not, Wendig connects with a nose breaking wallop and follows up with enough gut punches to leave you reeling.

Grade: B+

I have always been more of a fan of brute force methods. It’s not that I am some big strong bruiser, because I am not, nor do I lack the intelligence for cleverness, it’s just I believe that sometimes the simple solution is often the best. Today’s books are full of complicated heroes who use their wits and resourcefulness to outsmart ruthless criminals. This is always fun, seeing some badie get their comeuppance based solely on the wit and resourcefulness of our everyday heroes. Yet, the literary world is also full of brilliant evil geniuses. These brilliant brainiacs come up with these overly complex plans that require everything to fall into place in just the right way in order for our heroes to fall into their perfect trap. They have big goals, and these goals are achieved through their almost balletic machinations. These plans are so perfect, that they ensnare our smart heroes in such a way that they can’t even think their ways out. This is why I like brute force heroes. There is a sort of cleverness to simplicity. Sometimes, all it takes is to punch the smarmy bastard in the kisser then run like hell. Sometimes, a randomly tossed Molotov cocktail in the chaos of a fight is more effective than the most intricately placed block of C4. I think so many times heroes over think thing. They spend so much time coming up with complex plans to battle the villain’s complex plans, that the best solution escapes them. Let’s face it, sometimes the best way to bring down a ballet, is to just push over one of the dancers. I like to apply these principles to all aspects of my life. I’m no writer. Put me in a war of words with those who sling words for a living, and I will lose. I won’t tell you about sentence structure, or narrative flow or any of that stuff. I like the brute force, Chris Farley method… "Remember that time when the big dude just punched the bag guy right in the face…. THAT WAS AWESOME!"

Mookie Pearl is a thug. Honest, with a name like Mookie Pearl, how could he not be? Mookie is a connected man with THE organization, an organized crime syndicate in New York City. For the most part Mookie is muscle, a big leg breaker, the kind of intimidating force you send in when the best solution is the punching kind. Yet, Mookie is also connected with his army of mole men, underground dwellers who have knowledge of the Down Deep, the subterranean cities of goblins, the dead and old gods, with access to mysterious drugs that open users up to various supernatural abilities. Mookie has always been loyal, but when a shuffle in management leaves him on the outs, and with his reckless vindictive daughter stirring things up, Mookie may finally have found a situation he can’t punch his way out of.  Chuck Wendig’s Blue Blazes reads like a desperately thrown haymaker, it doesn’t always need to land solidly to knock you off your feet. Luckily, more often than not, Wendig connects with a nose breaking wallop and follows up with enough gut punches to leave you reeling. I love the Blue Blazes. I loved that Wendig did things that really should have come of corny or contrived, yet through a sort of literary self awareness, actually seemed fresh. There is a sort of retro feel to The Blue Blazes, with characters just a bit too colorful surrounding a man who is a dark chunk of granite. Mookie, by being Mookie, makes all the other characters around him glow just a bit brighter. Mookie isn’t a good guy. He’s a criminal, a neglectful father, and really, not all that clever. Yet, he has a solid core that he doesn’t violate, and a penchant to get things done. With so many of today’s anti-heroes being unrepentant douchebags who use their own complicated lives and self doubt as excuses for their horrible behavior, it was nice to have a character with self awareness enough to realize what type of person he is, and not try to excuse it. Then there is Nora, his petulant, bratty little hellhound of a daughter, who is playing well over her head to rectify her daddy issues. Oh, how I wanted to hate Nora. I just couldn’t. She was delightfully misguided, a bad ass chick held back by her own inability to deal with her issues. The interactions between Mookie and Nora were frustratingly fun. At times The Blue Blazes felt like a stew of all the things that Chuck Wendig wanted to fit into a novel, but had to cut out. An orgasmic romp through a twisted authors most bizarre imaginings. Part horror, part fantasy, with of strange creatures, rolled girl gangs, colorful criminals, and a dead stunt drivers with a souped up quad, The Blue Blazes is a freakish tour through a weird alternate New York City, and one really messed up family.

Audiobook narration isn’t always about having a wonderful, pitch perfect voice. It’s about finding the right feel for a book. This is exactly what Patrick Lawlor does in The Blue Blazes. Lawlor doesn’t read the book, as much as sneer it, flinging it from the page into the reader’s general direction. There is a brutal gruffness to his reading, and almost anti-poetry. Lawlor captures Wendig’s brute force descriptive language perfectly. In The Blue Blazes, a flower is a flower, and a stone is a stone, and Mookie is a big, thug. There is no need to flowery metaphors. Lawlor just goes at the prose, reading is with a machine gun pacing, firing each moment at you with a staccato burst. It was the perfect delivery for this novel. Lawlor’s voicings were not often very distinctive from one character to the next. He uses a few, traditional New York thug voices for the characters, yet, he manages to make each of the feel right. He did a good job with the singsongy nature of Skelly, the leader of the roller girl gang’s retro diction, and capturing Nora’s petulance. All together it was a lot of fun to listen to. The Blue Blazes won’t win any prizes for elegance, but it was the right narrator paired with the right novel, making it a really fun listen.

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

Audiobook Review: Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

29 07 2013

Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

Read by Khristine Hvam

Audible, Inc.

Length: 9 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest is a twisted take on the Hero’s Journey and Greek Mythology set in a wonderful world which is like our own, but so very not. It’s a fun, funny tale with wonderful characters that’s full of things that would appeal to a broad range of listeners making it the perfect summer family road trip listen. Doesn’t hurt that it’s narrated by one of the best in the business, Khristine Hvam.

Grade: B+

I have always been a huge fan of road trips. I love to drive down the open road, in total control of everything. I can stop where I want, listen to what I want, basically, it’s the closest I have to freedom in this world full of responsibilities. The longest road trip I was ever on was a 20 hour drive to a music festival in Illinois, sadly, this was back before I was driving, so I had to serve as the passenger. This isn’t as fun. As the passenger, you have a role to fulfill. You must keep the driver awake, capitulate to their will as far as eating, breaks and listening. When I finally was old enough, every once in a while, when I felt a bit trapped in, I would just pick a direction and drive. It would be a bit of a mini-vacation, an imaginary day where you could pretend you were free of the world, a lone traveler on the concrete rivers of America. I never cared if I got lost, or stuck in traffic or even had the slightest clue where I was heading. It was my escape. Of course, this was back in the days when gas prices were hovering around $1 a gallon, and my truck was relatively new. Now, my truck is over 15 years old and gas is flirting with the $4 dollar a gallon price tag. Yet, I still love to drive. My most recent road trip was just over a year ago when I drove to visit my brother and his family in Huntsville, Alabama. I had made this drive once before, drove straight through the day on very little sleep. It was crazy and a bit reckless, and a whole lot of fun. On the way home, I took many side trips, and excursions, choosing scenic routes over the humdrum of the major highway. There was something truly epic about that road trip, luckily, though, it was taken by my own choice, and not under the curse of a malevolent hamburger god. That would just suck.

Helen, a tall, dark haired…. umm.. dark furred… oh hell, she’s a minotaur, almost gets sacrificed to her bosses god who was recently incarnated into some raw hamburgers. Now she’s faced with a tough decision, go on a sacred quest for this god and possibly bring doom down onto the world resulting in thousands of horrible deaths, or be utterly destroyed. Luckily, Troy, her practically perfect coworker, has also been pulled into the gods path, and now she gets to spend some quality time with him. With the help from shadowy agents from the Federal Questing Bureau and a three legged dog, Helen and Troy set out on an epic quest, in a kickass roadster with very little direction. Once again A. Lee Martinez has taken an almost slapsticky premise and produces a fun, funny and utterly engaging tale well beyond the boundaries of normal. Martinez has created fascinating world like ours in many ways but decidedly not in many others. Here, Minotaur work in fast food restraints and Orcs spend their leisure time when not working as accountants and mechanics, as polite motorcycle enthusiasts, who secretly desire to unleash their inner ravenous hordes. Martinez doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up his world, he just acts like it assumed that the gods treat humanity as playthings, and the laws of physics are ridiculous religious beliefs. He throws references around willy nilly, where you the reader are like, “Wait.. What now?” as he quickly moves on to other topics with a bit of a wink. It’s frustrating and funny and perfectly sets the mood for this tale. Helen and Troy are wonderful characters, a minotaur with body issues crushing on the boy whose biggest problem is that everyone thinks he’s so perfect that no one takes the time to get to know the real him… who is perfect. Helen is a character that you just can’t help but love, and Troy one you want to hate… but you just can’t, because he so damn nice and always says the perfect thing. The quest itself is a totally twisted and hilarious mishmash of the Hero’s journey and Greek legends. While the ending is overall a bit predictable, there are enough small surprised along the way to keep readers guessing.  Martinez’s humor works so well, because he’s not trying to tell jokes, just telling a ridiculous story in a way that you simply wish was reality, even if a bit over the top. For fans of A. Lee Martinez, you get what you expect, a funny ride through genre tropes full of unexpected twists, re-imagined classics scenarios and totally likeable characters. For those new to Martinez, well, jump on the bandwagon. Martinez consistently provides genre books that stand wonderfully on their own, and open the door to wonderfully strange new worlds that you wished were real.

Khristine Hvam is one of my favorite narrators, simply because she finds just the right tone for each book she reads. With Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest she embraces the lighthearted nature of the tale, giving it an almost breezy feel with an emphasis on bringing these wonderful characters to life. She never tries to sell the humor, just delivers the world in a tone that says, “Hey, this is how it is… ain’t it grand.” I was especially glad that she allowed Helen to sound like a typical young adult, and didn’t try to turn her into some gruff, caricature of a Minotaur. This allowed the listener to get to know her as the person she is, and not the monster she is perceived as. Since much of this novel takes place in her head, that was essential to maintaining the feel of the book. Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest is the perfect summer listen. If you just happen to be heading out with you family on a big road trip, this title has plenty that can appeal to all members of you family, some young adult angst, action, witches, monsters, orcs, a touch of romance and most importantly, a three legged dog. Who doesn’t love a three legged dog?

Audiobook Review: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

25 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Read by Mur Lafferty

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Grade: C

One of the most interesting, often repeated ideas in urban fantasy is the idea that past horror and fantasy greats weren’t actually fiction writers but recorders of a secret history unbeknownst to the public. That authors like Lovecraft and the Brother’s Grimm were chroniclers of events that the so called true histories neglect. I often wonder if years in the future, some apocalyptic surviving remnant of humanity will discover our fiction and believe that we actually lived in a time where Vampires were into sparkly S&M and wizards roamed Chicago yelling incantations and blowing up electronics. I wonder which of out authors will be looked upon as the secret histories of out time. Yet, most importantly, there is a small part of my brain that wonders which of my favorite authors are actually chronicling the mysterious magical undergrounds that some sort of mental block on us normal modern citizen prevent us from seeing. Have our earthquakes and other natural disasters been covers for horrible magical battles among the Fae and humanity, told the likes of Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire? Are there Vampires and Werewolves running around small southern towns that only Charlain Harris can see? Is there a mysterious town called Derry where Clowns and spiders haunt the lives of little children? Is the strange and twisted mind of Chuck Wendig truly just a reflection on the world we live it? God I hope not. Now, I know the likelihood that any of these authors are doing anything more that telling us stories that were planted into their genetic memories by some ancient Saurian aliens species who seeded human life among the stars, but part of me can’t help but wonder what if. What if their stories are real? What if our ancient Lizard benefactors didn’t actually mess with Stephen King’s brain? Yeah, I know, the idea is ridiculous.

After leaving her last job due to a disastrous personal relationship with her boss, Travel writer Zoe moves to New York City. In search for a new writing job, Zoe meets a strange group of individuals who seem reluctant to hire her despite her obvious qualifications based solely on their belief that she wouldn’t fit in. Yet, when she finally pressures the owner, she discover’s the staff is entirely made up of monsters of legend and they are writing a travel guide for monsters. The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. I just never really connected with the characters and the world author Mur Lafferty set up. There were some really fun and funny moments, yet it was all filtered through a very unlikable character in Zoe. Zoe came off to me as entitled and pretentious. She seemed to get up in arms when people seemed to talk down to her, but often did the same thing to those around her. It was hard to feel any sort of righteous anger for this character. While some of the other characters, particularly the Zombie coworkers and some of the minor denizens along the way where fun, the majority of the major characters fell into a range between bland, and down right annoying. John the incubus was a pushy sexual predator enabled by his coworkers because it was just part of his nature and when he would get caught with his hand in Zoe’s cookie jar, he got a few tisks tisks then was actually still forced onto her by her coworkers regularly. Zoe’s main love interest happened to also work for Public Works which protected humanity from monsters, yet was incredibly inept and ignorant, and tended to act impulsively, creating more havoc with occasional breaks to condescend to Zoe.  And, of course, Zoe was the oh so special outsider who shows up just in time to save the minority monsters from their own selves and some outside bad guys. All of these criticisms seem harsh and I don’t feel are in any way what the author intended, but it was how it sat with me. I don’t think this was a bad book, it just lacked depths in the things I tend to enjoy in urban fantasy. Zoe’s training was sort of just glossed over, and yet she managed to become the most competent warrior of the group. It just all ended up feeling like a skeevy form of twee, I know there are people out there who will love this book and I would have no problem recommending it. I thought the ending itself was relatively interesting, even if at times I felt like the narrative got away from me. On the positive side, i really liked the actual entries from the Shambling Guide, and probably would enjoy reading that more than this book. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Mur Lafferty also narrates this novel. I often find it harder to judge the narration on books I didn’t really like. I though Lafferty did a serviceable job. She had moments of flair that really brought out some of the better aspects of the novel. I thought as the voice for Zoe, she was perfect, but many of the other characters lost distinctiveness along the way. Her pacing was just a bit awkward. It wasn’t horrible, but just unsettling enough to make me wonder how much more I would appreciate it is it was narrated by Khristine Hvam or Hilary Huber. Now, I did listen to the entire production so she did enough to keep me interested. She has a quirky voice that could be endearing but my lack of connection with the story made the rawness of her reading only stand out more. I actually think I could grow to enjoy her narration and I know she has done a lot of podcasting work in the past, so I definitely plan on keeping an ear out for her in the future.

Audiobook Review: The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green

15 05 2013

The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 12)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 31 Min

Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: For fans of the series, The Bride Wore Black Leather should be a lot of fun, completing the story in the style of the previous novel. For me, though, this final novel highlighted many of my issues with the earlier novels and stripped away the one aspect of the series I really liked.

Grade: C-

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

Really people, I tried. I love the Armchair Audies Event. It’s one of the few blogging activities I take part in every year that I am proud of. It’s one of the few things I do on my small little slice of the internet that I think both forces me out of my comfort zone, and also provides a valuable service. Sure, I do Zombie Awareness Month, and participate in things like June is Audiobook Month and Jenn’s Bookshelves’ Monsters, Murder and Mayhem events, but for those things I still control the content on my blog. In many ways what I like about Armchair Audies is that the book selections are out of my hands. Last year, I loved the experience. It was really an awesome experience. I have loved the experience so far this year as well, but it has come with more difficulties. From the moment the nominees were announced, I was a bit flummoxed. You can tell just by the nominees alone that one company made a concerted push to have their titles at the forefront of the selection process. The nominees both in my categories and in other had me shocked, and a bit dismayed at times. It had me doubting the process. Some of that was saved after listening to the two selections from Recorded Books in the Fantasy category, but since then, I have been pretty much under whelmed. My favorite category, Science Fiction was practically all titles I have already listened to. Then came paranormal, which had some really amazing titles, but also one title that was the 12th in a series. Yet, I was going to try. I was going to pool my resources, and listened to as many of the 11 prequels as I could. I had the time management skills, and the determination. I made it to Book 6, and then I just couldn’t. I saw all the other awesome books I could have been listening to instead of this series, which was, in my opinion, mediocre. So, I broke my cardinal rule, and skipped ahead to Book 12, the Audie nominated entry of Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, The Bride Wore Black Leather.

So, I’m going to keep the summary of the book short. Basically, the Nightside series is ending. Some bad guy decides he wants to make The Nightside a 60’s paradise and force The Nightside, where it is always 3 AM, into the light and of course, this is a bad thing, because then where will all the monsters go to terrorize people. Groan… Listen, Simon R. Green’s Nightside isn’t a bad series. I can understand why it has a following. I personally felt like the one story arch was pretty strong, but not strong enough to keep me interested. The thing I like most about this series is the strange camaraderie between an oddball group of characters, and the essence of this final edition of the story was stripping John Taylor away from his friends, thus eliminating my favorite aspect. In fact, the Bride mentioned in the title, John Taylor’s fiancé Susie Shooter doesn’t even show up in the tale until the last 30 minutes of the audiobook. Like most of the series, it’s not bad, just mostly blah for me. As John Taylor freely admits, he isn’t really an Investigator, which sucks for a series about a guy who runs a Private Investigator firm in a strange magical section of London where it’s always 3AM. He’s a guy with a gift that is moved around on a chessboard by unseen forces in order to use that gift. He has a knack for getting out of bad scrapes, which of course, he allows himself to be maneuvered into regularly. He’s a hero with no agency, surviving by the ultimate Dues ex machina, and waits patiently for the villain to reveal his evil plan before stumbling on a way to thwart it. I love the setting of the story, the bizarre world, the blending of speculative fiction tropes and genres, I just never became invested in the plots of the tale enough to give two shits and a half of a giggle. Skipping from book 6 to book 12, you would think you would feel lots of holes in the story and want to find what filled them. Sure, there were holes but only on a few occasions was I in the slightest way tempted to fill them. Fans of the series should love this finale, since basically it’s John Taylor going from character to character he knows and reminding all of us about their sordid relationships. The action doesn’t really take off until the final third, and that mostly consists of some of these same people being magically manipulated into acting like douchebags. For me, well, I can’t gather up enough passion to lambaste and bash this title with snark and clever .gifs, so I’ll just say, if you like The Nightside books, you’ll like it. If you’d rather spend 10 hours watching a marathon of episodes of Gilligan’s Planet, then here’s a link to it’s theme on Youtube:

While aspects of the audiobook drove me up a wall, very little of this was due to the narration by Mark Vietor. He had total command of the characters and the setting, and I thought this performance was much more nuanced than in some of the earlier editions. Yet, some of the problems with the writing in this series become BLINKING RED LIGHTS OF DOOM in the audiobook. The repetition was horrible. If I had to hear John Taylor say "…and then it was the easiest thing in the world…" just one more time I would have laced my head in moth pheromones and sat outside under a porch light while they attempted to mate with my skull. FYI, I HATE MOTHS. I was actually going to keep a running count on how many times Vietor ominously said “The Nightside…” in his patented mustache twirling soft British sneer but instead I invested my time more wisely by picturing Justin Beiber on tour with Menudo. That being said, Vietor was quite good and if you like the series, he’s the way to go. Sure, give him an Audie nomination and everything. I mean, he did read 12 of these things. 

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: Cold City by F. Paul Wilson

4 03 2013

Cold City by F. Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack: The Early Years, Book 1)

Read by Alexander Cendese

Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 19 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Cold City is a fun thriller that tells the story of a young hero finding his place in the world. It’s a good blend of fast paced shoot ’em up action and cerebral plotting that manages to keep a strong flow. The characters are full of color, and the humor jumps off the page despite some dark situations. This is my first experience with Repairman Jack, but I am sure it won’t be my last.

Grade: B+

A few years ago, when I was a relative newcomer to the world of Urban Fantasy, a friend of mine recommended two series to me, The Dresden Files and Repairman Jack. At first, I was planning on starting the Repairman Jack series, because, well, I thought the name was pretty cool. Honestly, that’s the kind of well informed decisions I tend to make. You know that whole book/cover judging conundrum, well, throw some robot monkeys or hybrid Gorillaroos on your cover, and I’ll probably buy it even if it’s just a repackaging of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Yet, here comes the problem. While I am often arbitrary about my book purchases based on cover, cool author name or impressing the ladies, as an audiobook consumer, I do my research. I was a bit confused about the order of the Repairman Jack books, yet I came to discover the audiobook releases were sporadic, with some holes and inconsistent narrators. I am one of those weird guys who like to read a series in order, even if an author declares that each book can be read independently. It’s a strange quirk of mine. Also, I do prefer consistent narrators for a series, but am willing to deal with a narrator change, because that’s the business. Yet, when I discovered that Dresden had a consistent narrator, and that it was James Marsters, I went with Dresden. Yet, I still couldn’t get past the cool name. Repairman Jack. I’ve always thought the name Jack was pretty badass. Jack Bauer, Jack Bristow, Jack Reacher, heck, even Jack Ryan had his moments, and this particular Jack was a Repairman. I’m not so handy around the house, so, yeah, that had to be cool. So, upon learning that F. Paul Wilson was releasing a prequel Trilogy to this series that solved some problems. I knew I could listen without too many chances of spoilers, nor the need to learn the mythology, plus, I imagined the trilogy would use the same narrator. So, I was totally in, my maiden Repairman Jack journey, if you will.

Cold City starts in New York, as a young man named Jack, fresh off a family tragedy, is trying to disappear into a new life. At first I was a bit taken aback. As the story started, I did feel I was missing some back story on the character. I did some research and discovered that Wilson had written a YA series based on this character. Luckily, Wilson does a good job filling in enough details to give you a sense of where the character is, without forcing you to go through a big bout of exposition. The novel starts off with Jack in a bit of trouble, with some machete wielding former coworkers looking to resolve some personal issues. This leads Jack into looking to get a weapon of his own, which in turns leads to some interesting contacts, and a new opportunity. This is the interesting thing about Cold City, while the plotting is consistent, and the story compelling, it is more a series of events, where Jack meets some interesting people and gets mixed up in the machinations of some bad people. The driving force seems to be more luck, whether good or bad. Without actually knowing much of the mythology of The Repairman Jack, I can see why Wilson took this approach. I imagine many of the characters and organizations at play in Cold City, become significant later in the series, and for fans of the series, seeing just how Jack got mixed up in these things had to be cool. For someone new to the series, it works as well, because it wasn’t dependent on knowing what has already been written. Sure, there were probably little nuggets that a new reader will miss along the way, sort of Easter Eggs for the regular reader. Cold City wasn’t what I had been expecting. It was more of a straight thriller than an Urban Fantasy or Paranormal tale, but it was quite effective at what it was. I really liked Jack as a character. He had the right blending of grit and naiveté, a cool customer, with room to grow. Wilson put him up against some real badies, and while Jack was able to work around them, he wasn’t any superman, but someone dealing with evil in a human way. Cold City is full of colorful characters who add a lot to the tale. My only warning is that this novel has to be looked at as the first of a series. There are many ends that aren’t tied up as the book comes to a close. If you need a clean ending, you won’t get it, but in my opinion, it’s worth it for the potential I can see in the series as a whole. Cold City is a fun thriller that tells the story of a young hero finding his place in the world. It’s a good blend of fast paced shoot ’em up action and cerebral plotting that manages to keep a strong flow. The characters are full of color, and the humor jumps off the page despite some dark situations. This is my first experience with Repairman Jack, but I am sure it won’t be my last.

This was also my first experience with Alexander Cendese as a narrator, and I was quite impressed. In fact, his style reminded me quite a bit of one of my favorite narrators, MacLeod Andrews. He has a young voice, perfect for a 21 year old protagonist, but also with a bit of gravel that gave Jack a definite edginess. He managed to capture the tragic nature of the character as well as his naiveté while also giving him a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  I also think he made a conscience effort to give some of the other characters recognizable voices, the mafia goombah, the old Yiddish gent, while still filling their characters out as more becomes revealed about them. He captured the humor just right without it ever becoming cartoonish. The action scenes were well paced and visual, allowing the listener to picture exactly what was going on. There are a few other titles that have been narrated by Cendese that I had been on the fence about, but listening to Cold City makes me much more confident about giving them a shot.

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