The Sword of Shannara is a fantasy book and a quest story, and as such contains many fantasy conventions: elves, druids, a magic sword, a journey, monsters, battles, perils.
Comparisons to Tolkien are perhaps inevitable, but certainly not necessary. Brooks's work stands on its own.
Enjoy The Sword of Shannara for its characters: each has a fully-realized story arc, from protagonist Shea Ohmsford, to his brother Flick, to their friend the Prince of Leah. Even the wise druid Allanon grows and changes over the course of the story.
Enjoy The Sword of Shannara for its action: the various perils are fast-moving, exciting, and original. Brooks keeps the tension going with hair's-breadth escapes and fast thinking by the characters.
Enjoy The Sword of Shannara for its dialogue: the characters speak naturally, in English that never sounds like bad Shakespeare. Dialogue is a particular gift of Brooks's, one that Scott Brick's narration deftly showcases.
Enjoy The Sword of Shannara for its world: the story takes place on Earth, far in the future, after the Old Race of Man (that's us) has blown itself up. The several races that now populate Earth are different, but have equal purchase in the world and can choose to work together--or not, although not working together is at their peril.
Finally, enjoy The Sword of Shannara for the story. The unabridged version is pretty long, but fun to listen to by yourself or with the whole family. It's always engaging and unlike many modern fantasy series it's never "pulp" in tone. And you do get the whole story. There is no overcomplicated backstory here, and you never have to run for a "companion" to figure out who's whom.
You don't need a degree in Literature to enjoy this book--although I do have one, I don't want to put it to use every time I pick an audiobook. Relax and have fun with Terry Brooks's excellent storytelling!
The postwar era wasn't generally a good time for the "great houses" of England or the noble families that lived in them. Brothers, sons, and tenant farmers were lost or injured; cash flow lessened accordingly. Wartime rationing lasted much longer in Britain after WWII, until 1950, making it hard to throw a grand party. Servants were hard to find, since many young people began to opt instead for the higher pay (and less classist treatment) of factory jobs. The Little Stranger is nominally a ghost story: one of the "ghosts" is the old way of life.
So if you're looking for a Stephen King-style scarefest, this isn't it. The Little Stranger is a creepy, modern gothic tale, in the tradition of The Woman in White or Rebecca, with perhaps a bit of Wuthering Heights thrown in.
Just after WWII, Dr. Faraday has his own practice in the English countryside, near where he grew up. His patients are ordinary country people, but the great house of his district, Hundreds Hall, has long held his imagination. When he is called to the house to examine a servant, Betty, he's sad to find circumstances much reduced. The house has just three residents--the Widow Ayres and her son and daughter--and Betty is the only servant left.
Still curious about the house, he tends to Betty and then has tea with the Ayreses. So begins a friendship that might have been better left unforged. As things go bad over the course of the following year, Dr. Faraday tells us of a house that's as expensive and troublesome as it is grand. In fact, it seems to be less than fond of its residents--and it's got a mind of its own.
This is not a fast-paced story. Instead, tensions build as Dr. Faraday describes the terrible events at Hundreds Hall. We hear a great deal about how helpful he is: Mrs. Ayres, in particular, is constantly mentioning how wonderful he's been to the family, and how much she values his friendship as he makes tough decisions on their behalf.
Part of the joy of this book, therefore, is imagining a different perspective--are things really as Dr. Faraday tells us they are? Another part is the fantastic narration by Simon Vance, who's done a great job on everything from David Copperfield to the latest Terry Brooks novel. (Vance may sound pompous--but just remember, he's acting!)
No shrouded figures are seen; no skeletons dance in the drawing room, and no monsters are hiding under the beds. But I have to say that the end of this story is one of the most chilling I've read recently--and that's coming from somebody who reads a lot of scary stuff! Highly recommended for fans of the Victorian Gothic genre: The Little Stranger has everything you're craving and more.
John is a mid-level functionary at some company or other, sitting in a meeting at the head office in Manhattan. Suddenly everybody gets an alert text to the effect of "Stay in your homes! The dead are coming back to life!"
Of course everybody cracks up laughing and the meeting goes on. But when it ends, reality barges in--the alert text wasn't lying. Worse, John's wife is about to give birth down in Georgia: 900 miles away. He has to get back there. John and his tough new friend, former soldier Kyle, are facing a lot of clogged roads, bandits, and of course there's that whole zombie problem. Will they make it in time?
If this sounds like a "road story," that's what it is--a road trip movie in book form. John and Kyle get into and out of trouble as they go on any way they can, siphoning gas, meeting some new people, and making stops that, in hindsight, were probably not such a hot idea.
Fans of this genre will probably recognize most of the mise en scene from elsewhere--but so what? First-time novelist Davis keeps the story going, with plenty of hand-to-hand combat and close calls. 900 Miles is imaginative without being over-the-top. And it's not too depressing, either, thanks to protagonist John's grimly humorous outlook.
One issue--in terms of the actual writing, Davis is hardly Henry James or T.S. Eliot. But again, so what? For me, the story's movement made up for any grammar problems. Besides, this is a zombie novel; when I want something literary, I'll go shop in the literary fiction section.
Narrator Jamison Jones does a competent job; I could tell he was as interested in what was going to happen next as I was. Overall, a fun ride and definitely worth a credit. Looking forward to the next installment in this series!
I didn't think there were any more possible takes on zombies. I was wrong. I like the genre, but I never saw THIS coming.
Melanie lives in a facility with some other "special" kids. She loves pictures, history, Greek myths, and especially her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau. Each day of learning is fun--and all days are just like the others. Until one day when everything changes.
I won't give more details: they wouldn't be spoilers, exactly, but the events of the book unfold in such an unconventional way that each reader should experience it individually. This is well-trodden ground, and yet that's the genius of this book: just when you're expecting a familiar chain of events, something completely new shows up and puts you way off course.
Most books I've read in this genre focus exclusively on humans; you don't get much of the other point of view, and you wouldn't expect it to be so nuanced--or scary. Melanie's like any kid, but she's also NOT like any kid, and the comparison can be very creepy.
Melanie alone was enough for four stars from me. The book does have flaws--for one thing, it takes a while to really get rolling. The opening sections aren't boring, fortunately, but they felt static, and I began to wonder when something was going to happen. The character development also felt a little slow, and Carey's prose style, while literary, doesn't have the exciting flow I'm used to from other suspense and horror authors.
But as the story developed, I began to get more and more interested with every horrible little surprise that came up. By the end, I was completely glued to my player, all the way through to the absolutely chilling end--yikes! The last hour was utterly and completely different from what I had expected, in a very good way.
The narration by Finty Williams is fantastic, especially the voice for Melanie--little-girlish, and yet also terrifying when necessary. Highly recommended for those looking for a more thoughtful (but still scary) zombie experience!
This book has been coming up in my recommendations for a long time, but I always skipped it. When I listened to the Audible sample it sounded as if the book's world-building was terrible or even non-existent (which is because it's not from the beginning of the book!) Further, descriptions of the book's 80s nostalgia were kind of a turn-off: as a member of Gen X, I'm not always very nostalgic about the 80s.
But I had a credit, and I like Wil Wheaton--so when I read the Audible Essentials review of Ready Player One, I thought I might as well try it. Boy. Was I ever wrong about what this book would be like!
In 2045, Wade Watts is a child of the new era, a teenage orphan living with his aunt and a bunch of other people in a derelict trailer. The planet is a dump and most people are jerks, or worse. The only place he can find peace is OASIS, a Second Life-style digital game environment where he attends school, goes on adventures, and hides from the drag that reality has become (and where Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctorow are elected officials!) The game's creator has been dead for several years, leaving behind an in-game easter egg hunt: the winner gets his entire multi-billion dollar fortune! But nobody's had any luck. Until now.
This book wasn't much like anything else I've read recently: it's part mystery, part quest-legend story, part love story, part fairytale, and part dystopian-future novel. I was afraid it might be depressing, but it wasn't--not at all. Events moved quickly, and the humorous tone kept me laughing out loud. The nostalgia itself turned out to directed mostly toward geeky stuff that I remember fondly, like arcade games and old computers. Puzzling out what might happen next was an additional bonus--I was so proud of myself when I got a crucial reference before Wade did!
Wil Wheaton does a great job on narration. The only thing I was a little disappointed with--it caused me to knock off a star--was the character development. Wade, and especially his friends, come off as somewhat two-dimensional. Perhaps that's because the events of the book are such a wild ride. I could not stop listening! I ran the batteries out in my headphones and was forced to dig through a junk drawer to find an analog pair so I could keep going. That's how determined I was to find out what would happen next.
Overall I recommend this book if you are looking for an exciting and fun science fiction adventure that's also close to home. If you recognize the headline for this review, you're definitely going to like Ready Player One.
Writers of zombie fiction face a problem--you've got your band of survivors, but then what? Most authors keep their protagonists shuffling forward, foraging food, picking among the ruins of civilization. Sometimes there's a small community, and the focus shifts to petty power struggles that keep me hoping the apocalypse won't ever arrive. Occasionally this strategy works (Robert Kirkman), but more often, it just gets depressing.
Not so with Manel Loureiro's Apocalypse Z. In this final installment, our Spanish lawyer, now in Mississippi, faces something even more terrifying than a horde of undead: an unhinged Evangelist dictator backed up by a skinhead army. Even worse, another army is arriving from the other side of the world to do battle over the last inhabited town in the United States. It's up to our lawyer, along with Lucia, Pritchenko, and faithful feline Lucullus, to stop it all in time to save what's left of the planet.
There aren't a lot of marauding undead in this novel--Loureiro focuses on humans this time, with exciting and sometimes sad results (with so few humans left, it's pretty disgusting that they'd kill and mistreat each other!) But there's just as much excitement as there was in the last two books, as the trio get in one imaginative scrape after another. It was impossible to guess what was going to happen next as the twists kept on coming.
The ending did not disappoint here: clearly, the author knew when to end the series. Still, I wish there were more on the way--I'm going to miss these characters! I'll also miss Nick Podehl's fantastic reading, which brings all the emotion and excitement you'd expect from such a story, along with well-done accents that never sound cartoonish.
I highly recommend this suspenseful, insightful series for its excitement as well as its exploration of how horrible and wonderful human beings can be. Five stars all the way!
I've noticed a lack of good old scary stories in the last few years. Gory shock value is all over the place, and that's fine for what it is, but I've often wished authors would spend more time on their characters' psychology. Bird Box turned out to be just what I've been looking for.
Malorie and her sister have moved into a house together when reports start to come in from all over the world: normal people are glimpsing something that instantly turns them into crazed killers. While the Internet boils with theories, people gradually stop driving, stop shopping, and finally they just barricade themselves in their homes with the doors and windows blocked. Society eventually falls apart, yet Malorie finds hope and musters the strength to go on. But she can't live like a prisoner forever, so she begins a terrifying blindfolded journey to what she desperately hopes will be enduring safety.
I have to say it took me a good half-hour to get into this one. The narrator didn't really do it for me, with uneven reading volume and more angst than seemed necessary. It didn't help that Malorie imbues even the most boring object with intense dramatic feelings.
But I'm really glad I spent the time, because Bird Box turned out to be one of the best books I've listened to for a while. After the first chapter or two, we meet the real Malorie (not just the dramatic one) and hear her story--which is compelling, to say the least. By midway through, I completely understood the feelings those objects brought up, and the angst, too.
The real star of this book is the author's handling of his themes: fear, bravery, putting faith and trust in others and yourself. All those things can be scary, but sometimes you just have to face them anyway, even when you're blindfolded. Malorie and her friends give it their best, with varying results, in an evocative illustration of what it's like to be part of a group of survivors.
Throughout the book, Malorie's memories of the past alternate with her frightening present, creating suspense that made it really hard to stop listening. I did the last three hours in one go, putting off bedtime again and again.
There isn't a lot of how-and-why here, and logic nitpickers ("That couldn't possibly happen! It'd be more like..." etc) will probably be driven insane. But if you're looking for real horror, Bird Box is a sustained scare that will keep you thinking long after the book is over.
Most zombie apocalypse stories I've read were set in the USA. Apocalypse Z takes place in Galicia, a rainy region in Northwestern Spain best known for the historic area of Santiago de Compostela. It's a refreshing change that makes for an exciting zombie yarn.
A widowed lawyer and his cat, Lucullus, watch nervously as things go bad in Russia, then the EU, then everywhere. The lawyer blogs his struggles at first, and then is forced to change to paper when the Internet finally dies. He and Lucullus leave home and bravely traverse Galicia, taking out "those THINGS," as he calls them, searching desperately for any kind of safety.
All the regular zombie tropes are present here, but the story is made exciting by the fact that our hero is just some guy--sometimes brave, other times terrified, but able to use the knowledge he has to get by and survive. If you're at all familiar with Spanish culture, another dimension is added: the lawyer is a definite Spanish "type," so the story becomes more of a question of what would this average guy, the guy you see every morning on the train going into the city, what would he do if there were an apocalypse?
Some sections of the story didn't go fast enough for me--our hero was a little waffly at times, agonizing too much over decisions. But he is a lawyer, so maybe the overanalysis is a kind of professional hangover from normal times. Mostly, I was hooked--I had to find out what was going to happen next. And as an animal lover, not listening all the way through wasn't an option: would Lucullus make it? There was no way I could skip the answer to that question!
I can't say enough about the narration, beautifully done by Nick Podehl who did such a fantastic job on The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Podehl makes the fear, disgust, and sadness really come through. His Spanish pronunciation is pretty good, too.
If you're looking for a zombie story that's a little different, this one is a great choice: a little less John Wayne and a lot more guy-next-door, Apocalypse Z will keep you listening through to the end. I can't wait for the next volume in this saga!
I rolled the dice on this one, based on reviews--and I was definitely NOT disappointed!
In a dystopian future world where remnants of past technology still hang on, Three is a drifter, a scavenger, a hunter, an all-purpose badass. But he's also a little bored. Something's missing--and then, as he sits in a bar, drinking away his latest payoff, a woman and her son appear, begging him for help.
Their journey takes us through first-time author Jay Posey's intriguing futurescape: blasted cities, frontier villages, safehouse bunkers, all places to hide from the terrifying Weir who walk only at night. Some human badasses also stalk the trio, and the action keeps going from almost the very start as Three and his charges get into and out of one scrape after another.
Some of those scrapes are standard fare for a SF/apocalyptic novel, but the author kept the tension going through the characters themselves. Each has secrets that can make or break any situation they get into, so even when I was able to guess what might befall the travelers, I couldn't tell how things were going to shake out.
The world itself was pretty interesting, too, combining elements of a standard post-apocalyptic setting with a Gibson-esque cyberpunk tone. We never find out what happened to the world we know now, but that isn't a big deal, as the details of the future world stand in for a full-on explanation.
Luke Daniels narrates this competently, with an Eastwood-ish voice for the title character. Overall, exciting and very fun. Looking forward to the rest of this series!
Horror fiction is in kind of a weird place right now. There's the old classic stuff, where the horror is all in the mind, and then there's the plain gross-out stuff. A lot of the first type hasn't aged well--the things that scare us now are so different than they were back then. And the gross-out kind, while fun, can get boring after a while: another eyeball falls out, another arm gets torn off, but does anything actually happen?
Not too many people are hitting the midline these days: psychological exploration of fear mixed with just enough yuck to keep things interesting. But this guy, Nick Cutter--he's right on top of that balance beam in The Troop.
Scoutmaster Tim and his troop of five boys set off for a remote location off the coast of Prince Edward Island (which itself qualifies as remote!). Everything's going great--for a little while. And then, almost immediately, things begin to unravel when a stranger arrives. A really strange stranger. Suddenly, everything is falling off the edge of normal, especially the scouts themselves.
Fans of earlier Stephen King novels may recognize the structure: everything's fine and then the Bad Thing shows up, making everyone show their true, ugly colors. But this book reads like a later King actually wrote it, especially in the characterization. The boys start off as templates: bully, nerd, weirdo, kid with issues at home, normal (if confused) kid. And then stereotypes vanish as personalities evolve and blur under the stress of the situation.
Other reviewers have mentioned that parts of this book are just plain disgusting. I actually yelled out "Oh, gross!" on the bus at one point, causing my fellow passengers to look around cautiously. But even the gross stuff wasn't just there for effect--it was disgusting, squishy, and smelly, yes, but it was also truly horrifying. Suddenly I remembered what "spine-tingling" actually means. Yikes!
The only issue I had with this edition, and it was a little issue, was the production value. The narrator was fine, but I heard a few page-turns and there were parts where the sound level dropped for a few seconds. But like I said, it was a pretty small issue.
I can't remember the last time I read a book with virtually no boring parts. This book didn't have any that I noticed. I wandered around with my earbuds on for an entire day, completely glued to the story. I kept listening for "tells" that might point to Stephen King actually writing this book--apparently it's a first novel, but that was hard to believe because it's just so good (I don't think Stephen King wrote this...but I can't be entirely sure!). If you love horror that's really horrifying, and you don't mind some squishy parts, you will love The Troop.
I've read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction in the last few years. Usually zombies show up, or vampires, or else it's like Mad Max where bands of yahoos roam the wasted countryside, bringing destruction and disorder. Pat Frank's "Alas, Babylon" brings us a different scenario--for a dystopia, this is pretty utopian.
Randy Bragg is a lawyer in Fort Repose, Florida. He's kind of mooching along and drinking too much. Then the bombs fall. The world changes, and Randy changes with it as he finds himself responsible for leading a group of friends and family. Together, they work to survive in the Contaminated Zone. They're lucky--Fort Repose was too far away from the blast zones to get much radiation. With the help of a strong wind on The Day, as they call it, crops and water are spared. It's a matter of working with what they have left.
It's here that the book's original publication year (1959) becomes evident. Blacks and whites are suddenly desegregated--the significance of that may be a puzzle for younger readers, who may not know of awful stuff like "Colored" drinking fountains. They use the CONELRAD system for getting their information--horribly flawed, CONELRAD was replaced in 1963.
Perhaps strangest of all, people seem awfully polite. Fights are few, and the Fort Reposians immediately begin to help each other out in a town-picnic, chore-wheel kind of way. Drama is infrequent. Even the yahoos (who do eventually show up) don't use the f-word. I've heard of worse circumstances in a modern-day high school.
The main lessons of the book are still useful, however. One is, prepare for disaster--physically and mentally; don't expect your hair dryer to work! Another: just because the world changes, it doesn't mean you can't change yourself for the better. And, perhaps most important: stick together and show each other kindness; friends and family are all you really have, especially when the world is a mess.
I can imagine that this book was pretty scary for the Mad Men-era people who read it first. But as I listened to Will Patton's comfortable Carolina accent describing the fear and devastation, I realized why Pat Frank wrote this book--the Fort Repose survivors aren't scientists or world leaders. They're just regular small-town people, and they make it. You can, too.
Recommended for anyone interested in history--whether alternate or real.
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