Thursday, March 31, 2011

Monster Hunter International - MHI series, Book 1

Why can't we ever fight cute, helpless monsters, like the ones on Sesame Street?"

1. Monster Hunter International (March 15, 2011)–4 out of 5
2. Monster Hunter Vendetta (March 15, 2011)
3. Monster Hunter Alpha (August, 2011)

Narrator:  Oliver Wyman4 out of 5

Length: 23:35, purchased on audible  

Owen “Z” Pitt is not your average 24-year-old accountant from Texas.  He’s a giant of a man, speaks five languages, a marksman, a genius, and paid his way through college by fighting in illegal underground rings a la Fight Club.  He was trained by his war hero father to use every sort of firearm ever since he could walk.  “Glock” may have been his first word. All that gun love paid off when one full moon while working late, Owen got attacked by his werewolf boss, who Owen managed to shove him out of a fourteenth story window.  Now, without a job, with scars he can’t explain, and with the government threatening to kill him if he talks, what’s a gun-totting, scar-faced pencil-pusher to do?

Then comes a $50,000.00 check from a government fund for dispatching the werewolf, and a strange job offer from Monster Hunter International, a paramilitary family business, established in 1895 by gun-loving rednecks in Alabama. They don’t just go after werewolves, but vampires, zombies and every video-game monster target you can think of.  Thanks to the government-sponsored PUF fund that pays bounty checks for dispatching such unfavorables, it turns out to be quite a lucrative business.  It helps that the job offer came from Julie Shackleford, the MHI boss's granddaughter, who reduces the big man to the social skills of an 8th grader.

 "My heart went out to her. Her home was burning down, and her undead mother was intent on drinking her blood. It was a really crappy evening by any standard."

Killin’s my business and business is fine.
Where has all that Lovecraft gone? It’s here, in Monster Hunter International. We don’t just have the usual monster, but monsters of impossible, mind-bending proportions.  The main villain, the “Cursed One,” is not just a mwahaha villain (although, I assure you, C.O. has that market cornered). Larry Correia also lets us inside C.O’s head through his memories in Owen’s ghost-guided dream/nightmares that recall C.O.’s journey from a “mean son-of-a-bitch” conquistador to one very megalomaniacal, unearthly, tentacled, flesh-wriggling being who is intent of stopping time itself. Other monsters were really fascinating as well, but this audiobook is long, and a substantial part of it is spent on describing fights were almost every single villain, and some heros, get killed and regenerate everything back at least twice. That makes for very long scenes.

And the hero?  I think I’m in love. He’s giant. And a gun nut. And an accountant.  If he’s willing to convert to Judaism, I call dibs. Owen Pitt is inherently epic – like Karen Marie Moning's Mac and the amulet. My only criticism here is that it’s really hard to let the listener know how epic Owen is through first-person narration without it sounding over-the-top or silly.  Like when a master vampire tells Owen he has the strongest will of any mortal she’s ever met, or when one guys says to the other that he shouldn’t mess with Owen because he has “one hundred pounds of muscle” on him. Or worse yet, when Julie reads his file and we find out Owen’s a marksman/genius.  It rang silly for me – like Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen, who’s so cool he must have had “hundreds of girlfriends."

Is this book cliché?  Yes, in the best way possible.  It's like 1 part monsterish gore, 1 part comedy, and 1 part all sorts of artillery. It's like Hot Fuzz is cliché, where it is obvious and downright appealing. Guns aside, the best cliché is the boy meets girl connection. Not to give anything away, but Owen falls for Julie pretty hard.  He has a thing for smart gun-totting chicks with glasses, since he’s a scar-faced gun-totter and therefore is attracted to girls with impaired vision. The two have a very middle-school, pg-13 tops, romance, and it totally satisfies that giggling school girl in me. 
 On Narration:
Oliver Wyman is great.  This is the first time I heard him read, and his style is perfect for Monster Hunter International.  He has a rather macho tone with just a bit of immaturity, and again, the term “epic” comes to mind to describe his style. His reading of female voices didn’t make me burst out laughing, which is what usually happens when I listen to male narrators read girls’ voices.  The only thing that jarred me was how seriously Oliver Wyman took those vocal direction. I usually comment on whether narrators do a good or bad job at distinguishing internal monologue with external speak when audiobooks are in first-person, like this one.  The listener has no problem with distinguishing the two in Monster Hunter International, because Oliver Wyman reads the directions in a rather calm soft voice, while reading the actual words with the proper emphasis, instead of splitting the two. So, it’s something like, [sotto voce – ‘My arm snapped. It hurt like a bitch.] “AGH! THAT HURTS!!!!” [sotto voce – ‘I screamed’]  I jumped at least a few times from the dissonance between the internal and the external readings.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Audacious – the Kris Longknife series, Book 5

  1. Mutineer (May 22, 2009) – 3 out of 5  
  2. Deserter (May 22, 2009) – 4.5 out of 5 
  3. Defiant (May 22, 2009) – 4 out of 5  
  4. Resolute (July 28, 2009)
  5. Audacious (July 28, 2009) – 4 out of 5
  6. Intrepid (July 28, 2009)
  7. Undaunted (October 27, 2009)
  8. Redoubtable (February 1, 2011)

Narrator: Dina Pearlman  – 4 out of 5 
Length: 12:41 hours, purchased on audible 

At the end of Resolute, the Navy is done trying to keep Kris Longknife, a princess and a Navy lieutenant, on active ship duty.  Not after Kris removed a war-hawk, maverick commanding officer in Mutineer, and inspired a class-based revolution on Turantic in Deserter, on Hikila in Defiant, and on Last Chance in Resolute.  It isn’t only that no commanding officer wants that sort of a subordinate.  At the end of Resolute, Hank Peterwald the 13th, the son of the Longknife’s arch enemy and greatest political competitor, died after a direct confrontation with Kris, and now the assassination attempts are up.

In the beginning of Audacious, Kris’s mission is to buy paperweights and similar supplies on the safest, most evolved, civilized planet in the universe, New Eden. So what is Victoria Peterwald, Hank’s twin sister, doing there?  No sooner does Kris land on New Eden then Vicky tries to kill her, and it becomes obvious that not all is well on the economically advanced planet.  For Kris to legally carry her firearms, she needs to document at least three assassination attempts with the police, and even then, they seem hesitant to let her or her entourage of marines to carry.  Even more interesting, ever assassination attempt is swept under the rug, and all involved are reported by the news to have died in skiing accidents.  While investigating the short-leashed media, Kris discovers that only those descended from the first freemen to arrive on Eden have the right to vote.  Others, either immigrant or who descended from indentured servants, have no representation even though they are citizens who work as police officers, teachers, etc. It doesn’t take long for Kris to realize that the status quo government fears she will lead another class-based revolution and has no qualms with her leaving New Eden, even if it's feet first.

Ode to the first two Amendments
Audacious goes back to the wonderful military feel of the original Mutineer. I know not whether Mike Shepherd is politically conservative or liberal, but Audacious can be read as a cautionary tale for any society that considers itself evolved and safe simply because it is technologically advanced.  The major conflict of New Eden, without a doubt, is its lack of suffrage for all citizens, but the reason why living on New Eden is unsafe boils down to a lack of the first two amendments. There is a lack of free press, and the powerful pay dearly to keep the media ignorant of any crimes.  This includes a scene toward the end of the audiobook where Kris has to threaten the life of an official to get medical assistance to a battle scene after the police set up a roadblock, more interested in keeping the media back then letting in ambulances to save lives. The second is the right to firearms.  New Eden is a “safe” society, where no one, not even the military, should have deadly weapons. The problem is that in New Eden, like in most of our cities, those who operate outside the law already have weapons, leaving the law abiding vulnerable.

As I mentioned, the military is back in this audiobook.  There is an inspiring scene where Kris is invited by the marines to jog with them in the morning, but after she is detained by local authorities, a bunch of marines, including one who is injured, join to stand by her.  Kris realizes at that moment that, even though she’s Navy, she has been adopted by Corps.  Kris’s spine straightens when she realizes that they’re willing to die for her and, in return, she’s willing to die for them.  I also enjoyed the scene toward the end of the audiobook when after rendering honors to fallen Marines, Kris and her men leave New Eden to a futuristic rendition of the Marine Corps Hymn.
    From the Halls of Montezuma
    To the shores of Tripoli
    We will fight our country's battles
    On land, space and the sea
This audiobook also gives us a lot more on Abby.  We meet her mother, sister, and niece, and get to see the neighborhood on New Eden where she grew up.  It explains a lot about her motivation and character, and she even gets a possible love interest in this audiobook.

On Narration:
Dina Pearlman’s reading of Audacious reminded me of her reading of Deserter. She was back to a faster pace, the authoritative tone, and the solemnity necessary for war and battle.  I miss her Tommy accent, but there were no Irish or Lorna Dune people, so I was out of luck on that count.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rosemary and Rue: An October Daye Novel, Book 1

1.    Rosemary and Rue (June 8, 2010) - 4 out of 5
2.   A Local Habitation (March 2, 2010)
3.   An Artificial Night (September 12, 2010)
4.   Late Eclipses (TBA)
5.   One Salt Sea (TBA)
6.   Ashes of Honor (TBA)
7.   The Chimes at Midnight (TBA)

Author:   Seanan McGuire  
Narrator:    Mary Robinette Kowal   - 4 out of 5
Length:  11:16, purchased on audible

October “Toby” Daye had it hard growing up.  Being a changeling, the daughter of a very powerful fae and a human dad, she was forced to grow up in faery where she was treated as a second-class stepchild while her mother’s grip on her sanity slowly faded from being ripped away from her human husband. It didn’t get easier when Toby moved to the San Francisco area.  She tried it as human, finding a husband and having a little girl.  Then her job as a knight for the Duke of Shadowed Hills got in the way when the Duke's evil twin cursed Toby into living as a koi for 14 years.  Now, with her bounty-hunting business gone, her husband and daughter refusing to speak to her and her human life basically ruined, Toby refuses to have anything to do with her fae life, working as a night-time checkout girl, and living with two cats by herself returning no calls and dreaming that one day her daughter will call her back. And still, Toby can’t catch a break.  Before Countess Evening Winterrose is murdered, she forces Toby to find her killer and bring him or her to justice.  With no choice to do otherwise, Toby is dragged back into the world of the fae.

Love you more than fairytales: 
Once, about a decade ago, I read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Maybe a few hours into this audiobook, I was getting flashbacks on The Writer's Journey. The structure of Rosemary and Rue is very formulaic, but for the record, that’s a good thing.  All good stories, all interesting plots, have certain features in common. The story, the twist, the archetypes, are all familiar, even mythical.  There is a very strong call to action here in the form of a binding – Toby must find the killer or she dies. There’s a mentor or two, and there are the gatekeepers involved. Less Odyssei and more Tobys, I say!  Overall, the audiobook presents a great mythical journey set in a modern-day fairy tale.  You get gripped from the first of Toby’s mishaps. Although, I have to admit that even though the storyline was very good, I only truly connected with Toby on the second part of the audiobook, after the awesome car scene over the Golden Gate Bridge.

The use of fantastic elements in Rosemary and Rue is pretty phenomenal. I’ve mentioned before here that I enjoy imaginative use of the fantastic in paranormal books, but I particularly enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s take on some of the more interesting fae.  For example, the kelpie you meet in the book is fascinating – a large black horse with glowing red eyes that just happens to smell like the sea, and of course have very, very sharp teeth. But what sets this kelpie apart from let’s say Patricia Briggs’s kelpie in the Mercedes Thompson series is that we don’t actually interact with Seanan McGuire’s kelpie.  This one is just part of the background of San Francisco’s other world. Oh, and there is nothing cuter than the idea of the rose goblin – a kitty cat covered with rose thrones that rattles them when it gets upset.  I, for one, always wished more cats were like porcupines.  It’s also nice to see a few more tales, tiger stripes, and fox ears on characters outside of anime.
Rose Goblin by Alicia "Kat" Dillman

However, I had this terrible feeling of sadness throughout the audiobook.  I’m hoping that as the journey progresses the listener might get to see Toby return to a more normal world, where she might be reunited with her human family, or find some sort of a happy existence beyond constant nightmares, living alone barely on minimum wage, in fear for her life.  Throughout Rosemary and Rue, it seems like the universe is out to kick Toby when she’s down.  Even the title itself is a terribly sad reference in the book that you only understand at the very end.

On Narration:
This is the first time I’ve heard Mary Robinette Kowal read.  She is also the author and narrator of Shades of Milk and Honey. It was an excellent reading, very appropriate for the character. The narrative voice is light and young-sounding, but with enough of an edge to pass for what I would consider the voice of a half-fairy, tiny, light, bounty-hunting kickass woman.  There are a lot of interesting accents, and moments of injury and weariness in the audiobook, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s reading carries the emotion.  My only criticism is that some of her more interesting or intricate accents, for Tybalt and Lilly, for example, require her to slow down her reading and enunciate very carefully, which does drag out certain parts.

Other Comments:
There are spoilers in this Review.  If you have already listened to this audiobook, read the book, or hate surprises, please click/continue below:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Men of the Otherworld: A Collection of Otherworld Tales

Novellas in Collection – 3.5 out of 5
  • "Infusion," narrator Malcolm Danvers (short story, released 2005) 
  • "Savage," narrator Clayton Danvers (novella, released 2003) 
  • "Ascension," narrator Clayton Danvers (novella, released 2003) 
  • “Kitsunegari," narrator Jeremy Danvers (novella, published 2009 in Men of the Otherworld)

Author:   Kelley Armstrong 
Narrator:    Charles Leggett - 3 out of 5
Length:   11:08 hours, purchased on audible 
Among the humans live werewolves.  Men only, who are born with the gene that manifests after puberty.  They exist under the radar, living longer than humans, their aging slowed by the werewolf gene. Their society is loosely policed by the American pack – a singular, barely functional group that is dedicated to keeping the existence of werewolves a secret by killing all mutts (non-pack werewolves) whom they happen to cross.

In the 1940’s, Malcolm, a werewolf, is seduced by a strange Asian woman who gets pregnant after one night and runs away with their son, Jeremy.  The son is a wolf, but not completely.  Unlike Malcolm, he is quiet, almost a pacifist, and Malcolm can’t seem to beat the werewolf back into his boy.  But Jeremy sees the bigger picture when, for the first time, a young boy turned werewolf is discovered by the pack living by himself, abandoned in the Bayou of Louisiana.  Clayton was seven, or so about, when Jeremy found him living in the swamp, socialized him, and took him home to upstate New York. Clayton survives as the only child werewolf, growing into a passable human, and takes Jeremy’s side as father and son clash over who will take over the American pack.   
On Narration:
This audiobook is read by Charles LeggettI haven’t listened to his narration before, but he’s very competent with the voices, which are almost exclusively male in this collection.  His Cajun accent seems alright, but I’m not very familiar with the way it’s supposed to sound.  His general reading is sincere and believable. My only criticism is that I had a hard time between the external and internal dialogue from Clayton’s point of view. For example, when Jeremy takes Clayton to the airport, Clayton recognizes a plane, but I did not realize he said it out loud until Jeremy responded.  Kind of makes you wonder how much of the internal dialogue was really internal.
Domestication of Wolves to Men:
There are spoilers in this Review.  If you have already listened to this audiobook, read the book, or hate surprises, please click below:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Bone Yard: A Body Farm Novel, Book # 6

1.         Carved in Bone
2.         Flesh and Bone (January 24, 2007)
3.         The Devil’s Bones (February 5, 2008)
4.         Bones of Betrayal (February 27, 2009)
5.         The Bone Thief (March 23, 2010)
6.         The Bone Yard (March 8, 2011) - 4 out of 5

Narrator: Tom Stechschulte - 3.5 out of 5 
Length: 9:40 hours

FTC Disclosure:  Harper Collins Publishers has graciously provided me with an audio version of this book for reviewing purposes.  Aside from this courtesy copy, I have received no payment or services in exchange for this review.  

Dr. Bill Brockton is a world-renowned forensic anthropologist – yes, like the chick from Bones – who teaches at the "Body Farm" in Tennessee, an institution for hands-on training in forensic science. It is summer when Dr. Brockton gets a call from a former student and a forensic specialist with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, asking for his assistance with her sister’s murder investigation.  An investigation that Angie St. Claire is conducting on her own after the small-town cops in Georgia deem her sister committed suicide by laying down on a couch and sticking a shotgun down her throat hours after she and her husband had a fight.  Bored to death with classes over, papers waiting to be graded and articles waiting to be written, Dr. Brockton rushes to the assistance of his student.   While visiting Northern Florida (more southern Alabama really), an old skull from a murdered child is discovered and the Florida police ask Dr. Brockton to take a look. As the bones start piling up and witnesses start getting killed off, a diary from the 1960s shows up to light the way.

Scientific Suspenseful Heartbreak:
A) The Science
In many ways, this series and this novel blur the edges of reality and fiction.  The author’s afterword explains in detail exactly which parts of this novel are true, but even without giving anything away, the basic science underlying the novel is factual.  First of all, Jefferson Bass, like Ilona Andrews, is really a pen name for two writers.  One of the authors, Dr. Bill Bass, like the fictional Dr. Bill Brockton, is a world-renowned forensic anthropologist.  The Body Farm, at which the fictional Dr. Bill teaches, is a place that the real Dr. Bill founded, officially known as the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility. Because the real Dr. Bill writes a first-person point of view of the fictional Dr. Bill, there’s tons of information on forensic science that’s accurate, or at least sounds accurate to me. For the most part, this was well done, but like in A Discovery of Witches, the academics are sometimes a bit too much, and although I appreciated it, my mind did wonder.

B) The Suspense 
The book is a mystery and a thriller, but I’ve listened to plenty of mysteries and thrillers that fail to engage the reader.  The Bone Yard works.  It’s all in the pacing.  So you’re listening to the scientific information, to the description of the scenes, to the description of the hotel, of a memory, and then the sentences start getting clipped. The descriptions start slowing down, and zooming in. It’s almost as if there’s that creepy background music behind the words. You know that something’s coming around the corner, and when it does, you still jump. There aren’t many such situations in the book, but when they pop up, they catch you.

C) The Heartbreak 
Early in the audiobook, Dr. Bill describes watching a documentary on child soldiers of Sudan, and how listening to something so horrible done to a child made it difficult for him to sleep at night.  That’s a precursor to some of the parts of this audiobook.  When the police start to suspect that the skull they found dated back to the 1960s, I was a bit disappointed.  It’s hard for a listener to connect to a tragedy that happened far away or long ago.  That’s where the diary comes in. Jefferson Bass does a great job writing from the point of view of a very young boy. Of course, it’s written much better than most adults can tell a story, but the voice is sincere and authentic.  It grips the reader immediately. You empathize with the boy, feeling what he feels.  And that’s pain.  The main conflict hurts to listen to don't listen to it before going to bed.

On Narration:
This is the first time I listened to an audiobook read by Tom Stechschulte, and the first thing I noticed was how much he sounded like an adult Tom Hanks.  His voice has a nice tenor to it that works well with the narrative tone in The Bone Yard.  It’s part film noir and part professorial. I was a bit put off by Tom Stechschulte's female voices are off, but inauthentic female voices are rather usual for male narrators.  That aside, Tom Stechschulte’s villain voices are epic.  He actually puts a slight growl in the reading.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Defiant - the Kris Longknife series, Book 3

  1. Mutineer (May 22, 2009) – 3 out of 5
  2. Deserter (May 22, 2009) – 4.5 out of 5
  3. Defiant (May 22, 2009) – 4 out of 5
  4. Resolute (July 28, 2009)
  5. Audacious (July 28, 2009)
  6. Intrepid (July 28, 2009)
  7. Undaunted (October 27, 2009)
  8. Redoubtable (February 1, 2011)

Narrator: Dina Pearlman  – 2.5 out of 5 
Length: 15:11 hours, purchased on audible

In Mutineer, summarized here, Kris Longknife proved that she is Navy in the 24th century and one of “those damned Longknifes” after she removed her maverick commanding officer, thereby stopping a war with Earth.  In Deserter, summarized here, she embraced her role as Princess Kris, the granddaughter of King Ray, a legendary war hero who reluctantly took the newly created throne of the U.S. (United Sentients – about 90 planets) after the Society went belly-up.  At the end of Deserter, the Navy promoted Kris to man her own tiny ship, the Pf 109. 

At the beginning of Defiant, Kris is commanding a misfit crew, holding up her own.  Things are looking up until Kris is arrested. The political climate has turned as Kris’s father is removed from his post as prime minister of the planet Wardhaven.  In the midst of political squabbling, no one except Kris notices the Peterwalds pulling the strings.  The politicians’ eyes open only under threat of invasion, and it is up to Kris to lead a suicide mission to preserve Wardhaven’s freedom and independence.

How many of them can we make die?
In this review I noted that Mutineer was a bit disjointed, where parts of the story stood on their own and didn’t really fit together that well.  In some ways, Defiant goes back to that formula. 

At the start of Defiant, I was expecting Down Periscope. Instead of giving Kris a real command, the Navy makes her commander of an experimental ship full of misfits no one else wants.  I thought it was going to be funny and cheeky, just like the movie, except in space.  That expectation was quickly squashed when Kris is arrested.  The way Mike Shepherd described that arrest is worth a second listen.  It’s very, very well written. It’s written with so much feeling, so much emphasis, that I expected the arrest and trial to be a focal point for the entire novel a la A Few Good Men.  Again, this expectation was quickly dispelled when Kris is sent on a diplomatic mission to a planet Hikila (planet Hawaii), which turns into a hostage/terrorist situation.  I was pretty shocked at how little time and energy Mike Shepherd spent on Kris’s rehabilitation from the arrest.  About 8 hours into the book, Kris returns from Hikila and maybe five minutes of the audiobook are dedicated to a summary recounting of how while she was away a few people from Olympia talked to the media and charges were dropped.  I would have loved to hear this part in detail.  Instead, we have Tom and Penny’s wedding leading right into the major conflict of the book: the invasion.

Disjointedness aside, the invasion was wonderful. Mike Shepherd finally uses that third-person narration to get away from Kris and present us with the enemy.  The enemy becomes much more realistic and the conflict more suspenseful. When Kris and her team start the plotting, the strategy talk, the prep work for the major conflict 6 hours to the end of the book, I wondered how it could be possible that anyone would expect a listener to hang in there for that long just for one fight. I was sure I’d get bored.  Boy, was I wrong. Around 5 hours to the end of the book, a feeling started in the pit of my stomach, that feeling you get when you are a few hours away from giving a big speech – excitement and worry.  Dread and anticipation.  About 4 hours to the end of the book, I could not stop listening.  I stay up until 2 a.m., on a Tuesday night, to finish the audiobook.  Best part about listening to Defiant not in the car or at the gym, but on my computer?  When Tom hits up the theme to the battle – “the March of Cambreadth” – I hit up youtube and listened along on repeat at a low volume.  

On Narration:
I’ve reviewed Dina Pearlman’s reading of the Mutineer here and the Deserter here. In both audiobook reviews, I enjoyed her rendition.  I had issues with her reading of this audiobook.  It started on Hikila.  When good narrators give any Native American (or sensei - don’t ask me why) accents, they always slow down the speech.  Unfortunately, Dina Pearlman didn’t just slow down the speech for the Hikila natives – she slowed down Kris’s speech, everyone's speech. Even Kris's internal dialogue became slow and over-emphasized from then on. It made the story sound insincere. That aside, what really killed it for me was her reading of “the March of Cambreadth.”  Mike Shepherd dedicates about 2 hours integrating that song to the major fight.  He quotes all the lyrics.  He has Tom discuss a false history of the song and lets the listener know that it’s from the 21st century. He reiterates the chorus with Kris and her crew screaming along.  They shoot on the song’s command, for crying out loud! And Dina Pearlman reads the lyrics with the cadence you would use when playing “patty cake” with a toddler.  Now, I know not everyone is Marguerite Gavin, who as I mentioned here actually made up tunes in her reading of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan/Hollows series and sang songs that never existed for the enjoyment of the listener and enhancement of the audiobook.  And even fewer books are like the first few Anita Blake audiobooks produced by Penguin Audio that have sound effects (background music, shotgun sounds, footsteps, etc.).  But this tune is integral to the most important part of Defiant, and the audiobook format provides an incredible opportunity that the text cannot.  Moreover this song is a simple Irish-like tune, very easy to hum, and very easy to find on youtube.  I certainly never heard of it before listening to this book, and a google search got me everything I needed. The audiobook’s treatment of “the March of Cambreadth” is lacking - it's an opportunity missed - and, sadly, Dina Pearlman read the song like a cheerleader spells “be aggressive.”


Monday, March 14, 2011

Deserter - the Kris Longknife series, Book 2

  1. Mutineer (May 22, 2009) – 3 out of 5
  2. Deserter (May 22, 2009) – 4.5 out of 5
  3. Defiant (May 22, 2009)
  4. Resolute (July 28, 2009)
  5. Audacious (July 28, 2009)
  6. Intrepid (July 28, 2009)
  7. Undaunted (October 27, 2009)
  8. Redoubtable (February 1, 2011)

Narrator: Dina Pearlman  – 3.5 out of 5 
Length: 14:02 hours, purchased on audible  

In Mutineer, summarized here, Kris Longknife proves that she is Navy in the 24th century and one of “those damned Longknifes” after she removes her maverick commanding officer, thereby stopping a war with Earth. Now, she is not only a 22-year-old daughter of the prime minister of the planet Wardhaven, but a “Princess” as she is the granddaughter of newly crowned King Ray, a legendary war hero who reluctantly took the newly created throne of the U.S. (United Sentients – about 80 planets) after the Society went belly-up at the end of The Mutineer

In the beginning of Deserter, for her heroic mutiny, Kris finds herself both promoted and shunned.  Sure, she saved Earth and stopped a war, but what Navy commander wants a subordinate with an insubordinate reputation?  Who wants a princess for an underling? Even her best friend and fellow Naval officer, Tommy, puts space between himself and trouble-prone Kris, taking a vacation without inviting her along.  No sooner does Tommy take off than he is kidnapped to the non-U.S. planet Turantic - a pawn to trap the princess. With a new side-kick governess from Earth, her sexy Secret Service body guard, and an improved personal pet computer, Kris must use her charms and her reputation to get herself and those she loves off Turantic alive.
"She almost smiled at that. Girl meets boy.
Girl invites boy into a world shaking conspiracy." 
Planet Traps & Booby Traps:
I swear, I wrote this review before I read the sequel. It's purely coincidental that Deserter seems to address everything I found lacking in Mutineer. In Mutineer, I found Nelly, Kris’s personal pet computer, to be not fantastic enough (probably a bit less powerful than the newest Android).  In Deserter, Nelly gets a major upgrade.  Nelly now docks into Kris’s head and talks with Kris mentally.  Nelly also starts developing a personality, one of a spoiled Justin Bieber fan.  In Mutineer, Kris seemed more a soldier than a 22-year-old chick.  In Deserter, with no military-appointed mission to follow, our heroine gets a lot more fem.  Thanks to Kris’s new governess, we have some serious wardrobe changes, clothes descriptions, and other womanly upgrades. Push-up bra? About time!

I had felt that Mutineer lacked cohesion – not Deserter.  This audiobook has a number of subplots, but they tie to together smoothly, and dip back to Mutineer, making the story flow easily from her arriving like a princess on Turantic via a Titanic-like luxury cruise ship to her going incognito as a poor Arabic boy with a limp in the midst of Turantic’s Islamic community. She seamlessly goes from a whore, to a maid, to a pregnant girl in a burqa. I also felt that Mutineer lacked the politicking I expected from a prime minister’s daughter.  There’s so much of it in Deserter: the royal “we,” the dressing up, the appearances.  Oh, and finally, things get sexier as well as more sophisticated.  There’s tension, there’s flirting – no sex, but it’s not really needed.  Also, I love the more-developed assisting character - Jack, the bodyguard, becomes a fixture in Kris's life, and Abigail becomes the Q to Kris’s Bond.  Hence the booby traps – actual falsies that turn into bombs.

On Narration:
I’ve reviewed Dina Pearlman’s reading of the Mutineer here. In Mutineer, I felt that Dina Pearlman did a great job with internal dialogue versus external dialogue. This becomes more important in Deserter since Nelly and Kris now talk both externally and in Kris’s mind.  On a textbook, that’s easy to figure out.  In an audiobook, it’s all Dina Pearlman’s skill.  I also enjoyed her treatment of the Arabic accents. The way she read the lines of Apu and his family was both humorous and solemn.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mutineer – the Kris Longknife series, Book 1

  1. Mutineer (May 22, 2009) – 3 out of 5
  2. Deserter (May 22, 2009)
  3. Defiant (May 22, 2009)
  4. Resolute (July 28, 2009)
  5. Audacious (July 28, 2009)
  6. Intrepid (July 28, 2009)
  7. Undaunted (October 27, 2009)
  8. Redoubtable (February 1, 2011)

Author: Mike Shepherd 
Narrator: Dina Pearlman4 out of 5 
Length: 14:26 hours, purchased on audible

In the 24th Century, Kris Longknife is a 22-year-old daughter of the prime minister of the planet, Wardhaven.  She is also one of “those Longknifes” – a family with a formidable military and political reputation, having living grandfathers who are legendary war heros.  She should be smiling at bureaucrats, kissing babies and shaking hands at balls.  Instead, Kris is a newly minted naval officer, exploring space while trying to make her way up the ranks on her own merit.  In the beginning of The Mutineer, Kris saves the life of a little girl in a hostage situation, only to learn that the entire conflict was a staged trap to have the daughter of the prime minister of Wardhaven killed.  Dodging assassination attempts, Kris must go to the planet Olympia to help feed a distressed, lawless planet, while the universe is on the brink of civil war.
Join the Society’s 24th Century Navy; see the Universe:
This book has some really wonderful elements. First of all, it's sci fi/high fiction, so we're in the 24th century, on a few different planets. Even so, it's more a military novel, following the Navy career of Kris Longknife and the political structure of the Society among over 100 planets that have human life expansion. We don't see any aliens, and most fantastic elements have to do with computers and technology. I should mention that the book was written in 2004, meaning that Nelly - Kris's personal (pet) AI computer - is probably a bit less powerful than the newest Android.

Be it as it may, the story is excellent, and very, very military. If you're into the politics of internal command hierarchy, or into rescue and humanitarian distress mission, it's a fun read. It's also interesting to hear a man write a story where the heroine is a 22-year-old female. He gets a lot of things right, but I think it's more because she's a soldier, and Mike Shepherd was Navy himself, so he knows a thing or two in the regard.

My only real criticism is that this book was a lack of cohesion - it seemed to be separated in three parts: rescue mission & return home (very well done; we really understand Kris's history from the mission, and we get a good understanding of her family - the prime minister family of an entire planet - from her return home); humanitarian mission on Olympia (this part sags. It tells us a lot of Kris's character and leadership abilities, but it gets too bogged down in the moral implications and reflections on a soldier's duties); and mission to attack (this is the crowning moment and the name-sake of the book).  Unfortunately, these three parts don't meld too well. I would have liked to see a bit less soldiering, a bit more politicking, and maybe even a love interest beyond one guy asking Kris out to lunch.

On Narration:
Dina Pearlman is excellent. If you are familiar with Jeanne C. Stein's Anna Strong series, or Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series, you know what I mean. She does a wonderful Irish accent, which takes up a good half-hour of reading when the Highlanders visit Olympia. She also does a great job with internal dialogue versus external dialogue. At times in the book, Kris makes comments basically to herself. Since the book is written in third-person, the way Dina Pearlman reads these lines versus external dialogue is very important to the listener, and she does it successfully.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Discovery of Witches

It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.

·         A Discovery of Witches (March 2011) – 2 out of 5
·         Two more books anticipated in the future

Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda  – 4 out of 5
Length: 24:02, purchased on audible
Diana Bishop, a descendent of Bridget Bishop of Salem, had sworn off witchcraft after her parents were murdered in Africa under the suspicions of being witches when she was 7 years old.  A tenured 35-year-old professor teaching in Oxford, Diana was working in the Bodleian Library on her key-note address on the topic of alchemy when she inadvertently opens an archaic manuscript that no witch has been powerful enough to call upon in centuries.  Overnight, Diana’s life is threatened as the three groups of preternatural creatures (demons, vampires, and witches) will stop at nothing to get their hands on the book.  Under the protection of another Oxford professor – the vampire Matthew Clairmont –  Diana embarks on the greatest discovery of their kind.

Paranormal Identity Crisis:
In my opinion, A Discovery of Witches suffers from an identity crisis.  What is it? A love story or a paranormal conspiracy-theory-type mystery?  On the one hand, it’s basically a very adult, very grown-up Twilight, where instead of students in high school, Diana and Matthew are professors at Oxford.  Instead of dates at the movie theatre, on the beach, or in a meadow, we have yoga, teatime in England, and dancing at a French chateau. The audiobook aspires to that same Twilight feeling – the chaste love affair of two star-crossed lovers who should never be together, but fall for each other early on in the story and spend a good deal of the rest of it kissing, hugging, and nothing more.  On the other hand, A Discovery of Witches aspires to also be a mystery/thriller a la The Da Vinci Code.  Again, the plot centers on this incredible discovery that Diana, a professor with special powers, is on the verge of splitting wide open that can change the direction of the way creatures (demons, vampires and witches) have viewed their past, and change the course of their future.  Like in The Code, there is an established hierarchical system of witches and a congregation of creatures who seek to stop Diana from making this discovery even if it means war.

Most paranormal/urban fantasy novels skimp on the research.  That’s not the case here. It helps that Deborah Harkness has released two non-fiction historical books, and also teaches history at a university level. This understanding of history really shines through. 

Overall, this book is enjoyable but it’s very, very long.  It’s a bit like the great works of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens – great characters, wonderful plot, lots of emotions, but boy do you have to work through some parts of it to get there.  Listening to this audiobook felt like a marathon. Usually, when only two hours remain to an audiobook, I have to fight myself to turn off the book so I can get some sleep.  With this audiobook, at two hours until the end, I had to talk myself into finishing it. It is not surprising that many reviews are positive – with a book you can skip and skim over pages of description.  With an audiobook, however, there is no skimming. You have to listen to every single word of that 24 hours.  Every word of description.  If there was an abridged version available, I’d highly recommend it. As is, I’d still recommend it, but with some reservations.  It’s worth a listen, but just know what you’re getting into before you start.

On Narration:
This is the first time I’ve listened to Jennifer Ikeda read an audiobook, and I was impressed.  She is particularly good with accents (French, British, and Irish), and has a very naturally expressive voice.  Nothing over-the-top, but very believable. Her voice has just the right amount of emphasis to keep you from falling asleep while it’s soft and feminine enough to be consonant with the heroine in A Discovery of Witches.

Other Comments:
This section contains SPOILERS.  If you have already listened to this audiobook or if you hate surprises, please click below to continue reading.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Green-Eyed Demon – the Sabina Kane series, Book 3

    1.     Red-headed Stepchild (April 1, 2009)
    3.     Green-Eyed Demon (March 1, 2011) – 3.5 out of 5

“Exhale. Squeeze. Explosion. Chaos.”
Author: Jaye Wells
Narrator:  Cynthia Holloway3.5 out of 5
Length: 11:12 hours, purchased on audible 

Sabina Kane, a rare half-vampire half-mage assassin, spent the first 53 years of her life living in L.A., doing the dirty work of the Dominae, the governing body for vampires led by her maternal grandmother.  Her world is turned upside-down after her twin, a Mage Oracle, announces to the dark races her prophecy – that Sabina will unite the dark races.  But not everyone wants peace.  The Dominae want war, so that they can resurrect to gods of the past.  Now, as Halloween draws closer,  time is running out.

At the beginning of Green-Eyed Demon, Sabina’s twin has been kidnapped by the Dominae, and the only way Sabina can save her life is to either trade in her own or to kill everyone responsible.  Sabina travels to New Orleans to save her twin, stop a war, confront the gods, and come to terms with her past. 
Sabina Kane’s To Do List:
1.         Perform voodoo ritual on evil owl;
2.         Find out who sold us out to the anachronistic  
      cast vampires;
3.         Make amends with lesbian werewolf;
4.         Rescue twin; 
5.         Murder grandmother.

Dangerous Plot Curves Ahead:
I’ve previously reviewed second book hereJaye Wells keeps the best parts of Mage in Black in this third audiobook, from her fast-paced “from the frying pan into the fryer” plot twists, to the loveable Giguhl taking another bullet in the tush.  There are also new elements in this book that build and improve on the previous ones.  For example, Jaye Wells adds a bit more depth in her humorous characters.  Specifically, we are introduced to a fairy – in more ways than one - named Brooks/Pussy Willow.  I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t listened to the audiobook yet, but this character grows in complexity.  For me, however, both Sabina and Adam remained static throughout the three novels.  Also, Jaye Wells builds on those lovely plot twists that make the listener come back for more. Green-Eyed Demon has an honest-to-goodness mystery plot, where Sabina must figure out who among her new community in New Orleans is a traitor to the Dominae.  Mage in Black had a mystery plot with regard to which mage was trying to kill Sabina in New York City, but in my opinion it wasn’t a very successful mystery because the listener sees it coming.  Not so in Green-Eyed Demon. The resolution to the mystery in this audiobook is what I call an “Oh!” moment.  That’s when the audiobook presents enough suspects with enough motives that you don’t see it coming, but there is also enough foreshadowing specific to the perpetrator that you kind of should have.  The result is that when the book reveals who’s responsible, you actually, audibly, say “Oh!”  

On Narration:
I’ve previously reviewed Cynthia Holloway’s reading of this series here. There’s not much to add.  I still feel that Cynthia Holloway’s voice is great for this series, although not as spot-on as with a few other popular series in the genre.  I also think that the voice is young and feminine enough to makes the Sabina Kane series appeal more to a younger audience than the one probably targeted, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

River Marked – the Mercedes Thompson series, Book 6

Native American Folklore & Suspense

Books: First five books in the series. 
1.      Moon Called (2006)
2.      Blood Bound (2007)
3.      Iron Kissed (2008)
4.      Bone Crossed (2009)
5.      Silver Borne (2010)
6.      River Marked (2011) – 4 out of 5

Author:   Patricia Briggs 
Narrator:   Lorelei King - 5 out of 5

Mercy Thompson is a VW mechanic who lives in an old trailer in the Washington State Tri-Cities area.  She's also a half-Native American “walker” – a natural-borne coyote shapeshifter who can talk to the dead.  For all of her almost 30 years of life, Mercy thought she was the last of her kind having learned that vampires rendered walkers all but extinct. In her life, Mercy never met her father or his people.  In River Marked, this changes.

In the beginning of River Marked, Mercy is finally mated to Adam, her sexy alpha werewolf neighbor for the past 10 years.  Mercy’s friends and family orchestrate a surprise wedding for her, and Adam – her now husband and mate – surprises her with a honeymoon in the forest at the Columbia Gorge.  He borrowed the trailer and the idea from Uncle Mike and, as Mercy points out, you can never trust the fae.  Mercy is right. There is something in the Columbia River.  It is an ancient water-monster, insatiable and horrifying – very cthulhu.  And it wants Mercy. 

Native American Folklore & Suspense:
I’ve previously reviewed the first 5 audiobooks in this series here. As I pointed out, Patricia Briggs does an incredible job researching and weaving in historical folklore, especially with regard to the faeries who in Mercy’s world have revealed themselves to the public. We’ve seen every kind of fairy in the prior books, but we haven’t seen any Native American folklore, with the exception of Mercy herself.  This audiobook delves right in. River Marked includes the different tribes in the Washington area (Mercy is half Blackfeet), and includes the spirit animals of Thunderbird, Snake, Wolf, so on and so forth, and, of course, Coyote.  We learn a lot about Mercy as she learns a lot about herself.

River Marked starts out much slower than the previous books.  After the wedding, there is a ton of information.  The action builds up a lot slower and the result is haunting suspense.  Unlike the previous books, parts of River Marked aren’t just entertaining but down-right terrifying.  In one part, for example, Mercy hears about the death of a girl whose brother tries to save her.  The girl says “it’s so peaceful here” and then the brother discovers her body below her waist has been ripped off.  The way it’s described in the audiobook is nightmare-inducing.  The prior books had scary moments and scary monsters, but they didn’t haunt you like these scenes.

On Narration:
This is what makes a great audiobook: great writing plus great reading. I’ve already gushed about how much I love the way Lorelei King narrates the Mercy Thompson series here. She doesn’t disappoint in River Marked.  I mention above that parts are very suspenseful, and that’s a result of the way the book is read.  One example is a scene in third-person that recounts the river monster taking over a school teacher who leads her family to their death in the river.  In the middle of this dream, Lorelei King adds Adam’s voice, disjointing the dream with “Mercy” over and over again, while the narration ignores him until Mercy wakes up.   When this scene began, I thought I was in a different audiobook.  Lorelei King reads the scene with a new voice, giving life to a new character and her new family.  It is exactly how the scene should be read.  Then, when Adam’s voice starts breaking in to the internal dialogue, it brings not only Mercy back to her reality, but the listener back into River Marked. It becomes obvious that the scene is a dream. I recommend listening to that specific scene twice just because of how technically perfect the reading is.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mage in Black – the Sabina Kane series, Book 2

1.                  Red-headed Stepchild (April 1, 2009)
2.                  Mage in Black (April 2, 2010) – 3 out of 5
3.                  Green-Eyed Demon (March 1, 2011)

AuthorJaye Wells  
Narrator: Cynthia Holloway  3.5 out of 5

Sabina Kane, a rare half-vampire half-mage assassin, spent the first 53 years of her life living in L.A., doing the dirty work of the Dominae, the governing body for vampires led by her maternal grandmother.  Her world is turned upside-down when she finds out that her grandmother barely tolerated her existence, considering her nothing more than a useful abomination. At the end of Red-headed Stepchild, Sabina discovers that her paternal side of the family – the Mage side – did not disown her at birth, but were kept ignorant of her existence until Sabina assisted Adam, a sexy mage, in shutting down the Dominae’s operations of kidnapping mages to steal their blood.

At the beginning of Mage in Black, Sabina arrives in New York City to live among the mages if only as a form of revenge against her grandmother.  Along with her for the ride is Adam, whom she would date if he was only not a mage, and Giguhl, her demon familiar.  Sabina discovers powers she never thought she’d learn, and forms a relationship with a twin sister, a reflection of what she would have been had she grown up loved.  But shortly after Sabina arrives in the Big Apple, it becomes apparent that someone wants her dead and that it has something to do with the Hecate Council about to declare war on the Dominae.

An Adult Book for a Young Adult
Is it wrong to recommend a novel with so much sex and violence to young adults?  I hope not, because I highly recommend this one to the late high school, early college listener. This is one audiobook I would have absolutely loved at 18.  Why? It’s fast.  The pace is not even a gallop, it’s a full throttle. You just hold on and go for the ride.  Sabina arrives in New York, someone tries to kill her. She goes to the park, someone shoots her, and then she gets attacked by wolves.  She goes to a nightclub, meets an old flame, and punches him in the face.  There are ebbs in tension, but the flow changes every ten to fifteen minutes, which is too fast to become bored with any one scenario.

Another reason why I would recommend this novel to the younger audience of the urban fantasy/paranormal reader is the tone of the book.  Sabina Kane and her twin are 53 years old, but they are consistently referred to as “child,” “girl,” “brat,” and other terms that make them sound like they are 16.  And Sabina lives up to it. She is brimming with good old-fashioned teenage angst and related abandonment/acceptance issues. Her internal dialogue is pretty advanced, but everything in quotations comes right out of high school.

On Narration:
This series is read by Cynthia Holloway, who has a very feminine, young-sounding voice with a teenage cadence to it.  Cynthia Holloway also narrated the Karen Chance’s Cassandra Palmer series and Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series.  She has a light sound to her voice that adds to my perception that this book would appeal to the young adult listener.  Personally, I was much more impressed with her reading in the Morganville Vampires series.  Her voice as Claire, Eve, Myrnin, and even the vampires, was spot-on.  For some reason, the voices in this novel seemed too similar at times, even between male and female voices.

Other Comments:
This is a big improvement on the first novel in the series stylistically.  Jaye Wells keeps the wonderfully quirky and hilarious characters, like Giguhl, the demon (who can change form into a hairless cat and gets shot in the ass among other similarly embarrassing injuries), and keeps the deliciously twisty and turny unexpected plot revelations.  And best of all, she ditches most of the unnecessarily elaborate and passive internal dialogue that was present in Red-headed Stepchild.  It still shows up from time to time in Mage in Black, but must less so. 

I did not enjoy the cliff-hanger ending.  Cliff-hangers are not that uncommon in this genre.  They are found at the end of the first books in the above-mentioned Morganville Vampires series, and also in Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning. However, in those books, the cliffhanger was for a secondary plot development with the primary plot for the book being completely resolved.  I suppose Mage in Black is similar because we find out who was trying to kill Sabina toward the end of the book.  However, the cliffhanger has to do with the war between the dark races, and it seems that this was something the book was building up toward from the beginning of Sabina’s arrival in New York. I would have liked to have seen it through to the end.  Luckily, Green-Eyed Demon was released yesterday.