I ignore genre labels. Some of my favorite books are outside my genre comfort zone. Listening to audiobooks is still reading. Not theater.
I had read a few audiobooks and had even joined Audible. But until I read this book I did not understand the magic of the format. Before reading this book I had no interest in1) romance 2) science fiction or fantasy and 3) time travel genres. I'd heard enough about the series that it piqued my interest because I loved historical fiction. Especially the period of time I knew the book covered. And I always found the challenge of tackling a big book rewarding.
This book changed so many of my perceptions of genre and reading format. While I still argue that though there is definitely a romantic and sexual relationship at the books core, it was only one part of the adventure. It still doesn't fit the romance genre to me, but it did such a good job of weaving romance and sexuality into the adventure it made me curious to read more traditional romance novels and see if they handled the topic as well. They didn't, but I discovered other good books I never would have tried of not for Outlander.
Likewise, other than Anne Rice's Vampire series which I had read many years ago, this was one of my very rare ventures into fantasy-science fiction. Setting aside my understanding of reality to accept someone else's is always difficult. But reading Outlander and the subsequent books in the series, I found myself trying to work out in my mind how this might have happened. It encouraged me to explore this genre more thoroughly as well. Even more surprising, it made me evaluate my perception of "time", what it means and how it works. I found myself paying more attention to physics and the study of the time and space relationship.
The twists and turns of the plot kept me turning the page just like the best mysteries I read. While reading the book there were enough unanswered questions, clues and short glimpses of scenes or events that caught my attention and made me store them away to remember "when all was revealed." But all was not revealed at the end and I found myself turning over these clues and snippets, trying to determine their significance, what I thought they meant and what their purpose was. One requirement of a great book is that you cannot get it out of your mind after you turn the last page. This book met that criteria. I thought about it for weeks.
Most importantly I learned that other voices can bring a whole new level to the reading experience, if it is the right voice for the right book. I would have enjoyed this book regardless, but if I read it myself and heard my voice in my head the characters would never have come so alive as they did in Davina Porter's voice. This is a perfect marriage of book and narrator. I was so surprised when I later discovered more about Porter's age, experience and background. She made a 21 year old Scotsman come to life. Her voice is Jamie to me. She handled each character wonderfully, although it is the first and only time I have ever listened to a book or series of books and thought a woman narrator did a better job on the men's voices than she did on the women's. I have loved hearing how the narrator has aged the character's voices throughout the series. You hear the young Jamie in the middle aged Jamie's voice, but you also hear the growth and maturity. I have accepted the narrators in the Lord John series, even when the book includes Jamie and actually think they are narrated well. But I am not certain I could accept another narrator for future Outlander books.
Finally, my initial interest in this book was from a historical fiction viewpoint. A good historical fiction novel, by Bernard Cornwell or Sharon Kay Penman sticks to as much historical fact as possible but presents it in an engaging and relate-able format. It makes you interested enough in the times and events that you will endure the dry-er, less lively recitation of facts of that same event or time in a nonfiction book, just to learn more. Outlander and this series delivered that in spades.
It is difficult for me to be objective about Elizabeth Hunter's books. I am not a huge fan of her primary genre - sci-fi fantasy. But the genre is the last thing I am thinking about when I am buried in the midst of one of her books. I can become so engrossed and wrapped up in them, it is difficult for me to point to the one thing that sets her books apart. Her characters are always well developed and sympathetic (even the bad guys), her plot is logically laid out, but not overly predictable, her prose flows smoothly and her books are always well-edited.
Shifting Dreams was no exception. I read this in ebook format several months ago, before it became available on Audible. I was so impressed with her Elemental World series I wanted to read everything she had ever written. I liked it so much the first time I was eager to listen to it as soon as the audiobook was available. The plot revolves around a quirky little southwestern town with a "magical" spring - drinking from it gives some people and their offspring the ability to shape-shift. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of how that actually works, she focuses on the inter-relationships in a town that is full of eccentric and unique characters, with the least of their eccentricities being the ability to shift into another creature. And by allowing her characters to shift into several different species, many of which don't co-exist well in the wild, she adds another layer of complexity to the inter-relationship difficulties. She doesn't capitalize on this aspect too much in the first book, but seems to be laying a foundation.
The characters at the center of the story are sympathetic, each coming to the relationship slightly damaged with considerable baggage. The kids weren't too cute or too annoying, but seemed pretty realistic - at least as realistic as the plot would allow.
The narrator did a good job. My only criticism is that she wasn't Dina Pearlman. Just like the voice of Molly Harper will always be Amanda Ronconi to my ears, Elizabeth Hunter now speaks to me in Dina Pearlman's voice.
There are a couple of ebook novellas that provide some background to the series that I recommend reading. If they become audiobooks, I will reread them. The sequel to Shifting Dreams is now out in ebook format. I am going to try to wait until it is in audio format to listen to it.
realize that saying a book is "interesting" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but this book is actually just that - interesting. It has received so much hype this year, and the publisher's blurb piqued my curiosity just enough that I decided I had to read this, even though I don't usually like dystopian books.
I did like this book. Primarily because it kept my interest. There were several threads and several time lines and experiencing the author tie them all together was fascinating. I appreciated the way she made a man who died before the world altering event even occurred a major character in the plot. As if she recognized she was taking the reader off into the unknown, so she used this character, who lived and died in the world we all live in, to keep us grounded in the here and now.
I would assume that if I was one of the lucky survivors of a plague that wiped out 99% of civilization, and I am not sure that would qualify me as "lucky", the last thing I would worry about was keeping orchestral music and Shakespeare alive for the dwindled masses. But maybe that is what survivors of an apocalyptic event should worry about. And a museum dedicated to now useless human accessories like cell phones and credit cards seems almost cruel.
The book was full of unique twists that when thought about seem obvious. Who hasn't been stuck in an airport so long they began to believe they lived there? So why wouldn't survivors see an airport as a natural home. And if you knew the world was about to end wouldn't the perfect fantasy running through your mind be that you had a grocery store all to yourself and you could fill up an unlimited number of carts without worrying to the damage to your credit card.
It would have been easy for the author to fill pages with the expected fighting, blood and gore. But she dealt with the fact that the human race was being wiped out gracefully. And by allowing the reader to contemplate this fact one death at a time, rather than en masse, made it more plausible and easier to accept.
I actually ended up finding the authors view of a post-apocalyptic future rather attractive and not terribly scary. Except for the part about the prophet and his followers. I would hope that if I survived such an event all of the prophets and zealots would not survive with me, nor would the survivors be inclined to create new ones.
If I had one criticism of the book - or maybe I should say one question to ask the author it would be - what happened to all the cows? Animals evidently weren't affected by the virus, because dogs and deer survived. And the survivors are perpetually killing deer and eating venison. None of them would have to have traveled too far to find cows or cattle. Or pigs or chickens for that matter. Those would have been far easier to kill than hunting deer. And fried chicken, country ham or a sirloin steak would have been a familiar tie to the past.
The narration fit the book. The narrator did a very good job. I enjoyed the author's writing style and pace. I highly recommend the book.