I was disappointed that Wool Omnibus was not read by a narrator who was as good as the material so I found it a real pleasure to listen to Shift Omnibus, an even better book IMO, read by the wonderful narrator of one of my favorite series, Riyria Revelations, Tim Gerard Reynolds. This is what audio books are all about for me; take a great book, paired with an appropriate great voice and then revel in the synergy of listening to a good story made even better in the telling.
If you liked Wool, you will almost undoubtedly enjoy Shift because it answers so many questions presented in Wool. Personally, I liked Wool a lot, but I really loved Shift. It is hard to decide how much of that is Howey's writing which has gotten ever more fluid as the story evolves and how much is the great narration by Reynolds. Probably some of both. Howey writes in a style that is very good for audio because he uses a lot of descriptive language; the man can truly paint a vivid picture. EX: Howey describing a character trying to shake off the effects of cold sleep; "Thoughts and memories reluctantly assembled like exhausted soldiers roused from their bunks in the middle of the night and told to form ranks in the freezing rain." And, Reynolds is one of those narrators whose voice pulls you in until you are not really conscious of the narrator at all so the story just flows and you get pictures in your mind almost like a movie.
Although Shift is labeled a sequel to Wool, it is actually almost entirely a prequel (the time periods of the two books start to overlap toward the end of Shift) and provides much of the explanation for the evolution of the "Wooliverse". It would be a crime to give much of the plot away because Shift is just chock full of those "AHA moments" when you suddenly understand something that didn't make sense or was confusing in Wool. I love being witness to real craftsmanship from an author and I could feel it all the way through Shift - Howey mapping out how this crazy society that I saw in Wool could ever have happened - AND making me believe it!
Great characters, suspenseful plot, wildly vivid settings, and a first-rate narrator - what is not to love about this? Can't wait for Dust (the next, last?, in the Wool series) scheduled to be released in August. Fingers crossed that the audio version is released at the same time with this same narrator!
I am late to the Retrieval Artist banquet, but happily pigging out now! There are many deserved good reviews for The Disappeared so I'd be tempted not to take the time, but I enjoyed this book so much that I just have to add my plaudits to both Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Jay Snyder, the narrator, as well as my thanks to Audible for bringing this to me.
If I rated this book as a police procedural/detective mystery, I'd probably rate it 4.5 stars - police procedural believable and fairly interesting, mystery nicely plotted, very clever, and a little twisty, but not as sophisticated as some. If I rated this book as strictly science fiction, I would probably rate it as 4.5 stars also - terrific detailed world building, no big science blunders, but little hard science. However, The Disappeared is much more than a Sci-Fi Detective Mystery; it is a book that has all the elements for seriously great fiction. When you combine that with top-notch narration from Jay Snyder, you have an audio book that I could hardly stand to it turn off - truly stellar!
* Engaging, believable characters. Men and women who have unique personalities that extend beyond body type or looks; varying levels of intelligence, talents,and flaws; complex emotional and psychological make-ups; diverse backgrounds, ages, and socio-economic levels. It's tough to write good fiction in any genre without good characters and yet it is especially difficult to find good characterizations in science fiction - particularly for female characters.
* Interesting plot - science fiction lends itself to good plots which is one of the reasons I like the genre, but much of it is about colonization and/or battles. I have enjoyed many space exploration type plots, but Rusch's plotting is more about the challenges of life after the initial survival hurdles have been made in space and it was a nice change of pace.
* Setting - The Disappeared takes place primarily in the domed city of Armstrong on the Moon, but Rusch also lines out the politics and the aliens across known colonized space. Her descriptions of Armstrong made me feel like I was there.
* Prose - evocative, but not effusive; truly readable and keeps the story moving.
* Themes - I think all good fiction has to be entertaining, but not all fiction has to give "food for thought". But, if a fictional story makes you think that's a big bonus and there's plenty to ruminate on in The Disappeared. We already know that human societies enact and enforce laws differently. (There are Americans imprisoned in various places around the world for doing things that would not be illegal in the USA.) In Rusch's universe with multiple alien peoples, there is a group that finds death so abhorrent that a person who comes in contact with a dead body is subjected to a cleansing ritual that includes evisceration; a group that takes retribution not on the offender but on his/her loved ones; and a group that subjects even minor offenders to hard labor. You could just avoid contact with those groups to stay out of trouble, but what if they have something really marketable (what if North Korean sat on all the world's diamonds or oil)? The capitalism that lives in most human hearts will find a way to trade for something they want even if there is a great risk in doing so. What if what you believe is moral is illegal - and, you are a cop? What if your style works to make you effective at your job, but keeps getting you into political trouble - can you/should you change?
I listened to two more in The Retrieval Artist series before I could make myself stop to write a review and I am still totally taken with Rusch's writing and her universe. "Retrieverse" keeps expanding in interesting and unusual ways and Flint and DeRicci continue to evolve and grow. As a great topper, Jay Snyder, nice narration/good characterizations, continues as the narrator throughout the series. Most sci-fi enthusiasts will enjoy The Retrieval Artist and most readers who appreciate finely crafted fiction independent of genre should be entertained.
I haven't read a lot of Stephen King because I am not a big fan of the horror genre, but when King goes a little easier on the adrenaline pump, I really like his writing and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is one of those. How do you make 9 days in the life of a lost 9 year old engrossing? King does it by creating a character who is not only likable, but charmingly flawed, and totally believable and he sends this character on an emotional and spiritual journey at the same time she must find her way back in the very real physical world. The baseball metaphor and Anne Heche's truly brilliant performance further enhance the narrative. This one will stick with me.
I had to use this line from the book as the title of my review because, a. it's funny and will give you an idea of the ironic/sardonic tone of the book, b. it conveys the "every man" status of the protagonist, Mike Ross, who recognizes this sentiment when he gets the brush-off.. Mike acquires a "gift" to see ghosts and interact with them via a cornea transplant following major injuries in the Iraq war. Mike not only has war wounds to overcome, but he's short, broke, and uneducated. He'd like to use his new abilities to make some money, but his efforts, while useful in protecting the living and assisting the dead, almost never pan out with much moolah. And Mike's new talents greatly hamper his love life and family relationships (see title above) so ultimately, this guy is no Gary Stu! After listening 1/2 way to two books (one sci-fi, one fantasy) in a row where the primary protagonist was all that and a bag of chips (Atlas/Adonis rolled into one, every woman falls at his feet, yada, yada), I was thrilled to pieces to meet Mike Ross; a guy who doesn't get anything for free and yet keeps trying - my kind of hero.
In this urban noir fantasy, Jim Bernheimer not only provides some realistic living men and women, he borrows from the gangster and Civil War eras to populate the world with some memorable ghostly characters. This is a fast paced adventure that stands well on it's own, but definitely made me want to read the sequels.
Jeffrey Kafer does a great job at invoking the dry, wry tone of the noir story and provides good characters voices as well. Nice performance!
Some reviewers have compared this to Dresden, but Dead Eye actually reminded me more of the nicely done Felix Castor series by Mike Carey. If you like urban noir, if you enjoy a hero who's only human, if you like your ghosts to have a bit of moxie, and if you like a bit of history thrown into your fantasy fiction, you'll like Dead Eye.
Our Lady of the Islands was a real breath of fresh air. Two central protagonists, both female and both middle-aged and these two women wrestle with the common problems of many of us in the middle while engaged in an enthralling fantasy adventure. Sian Katte is a successful business woman with grown children and grandchildren; Arian is the wife of the Factor (leader of the Islands Nation, Alizar). Sian is thrust into a mission for the butchered god which leads her to cross paths with Arian. The two women not only must deal with political and religious factions that stand in the way of their goals, but also deal with all the same issues that most of us in the middle years grapple with:
When passion dies down, will friendship and respect sustain the marriage commitment?
Evolving relationships with adult children
Juggling professional and personal priorities
What do I want to do with the rest of my life? What is my purpose?
Evolving relationships with adult siblings and other family members
Unlike so many fantasy novels, this is not a coming of age story and there is little romantic angst or impetuous or petulant behavior. The emotional conflict in the book is primarily the reassessment of spiritual, emotional, physical, and professional issues that most middle-aged people have to tackle. What makes the book rock, is that these women are going through their mid-life crises in the middle of a world in turmoil and while on the run so there is truly never a dull moment.
The prose in Our Lady is fluid, dialog rings true, and all the characters, male and female, are well drawn and believable. Allyson Johnson provides a good performance as the narrator.
Jay Lake died of cancer while working on this book with Shannon Page. I read that Shannon Page is continuing the sequel with another collaborator. Our Lady of the Islands stands well enough on its own, but I enjoyed it so much that I am looking forward to more.
No science fiction works without a great plot/concept driving it and The Three-Body Problem has zero problem on that score - an experiment, done out of a kind of desperation, actually results in first contact with an interstellar alien community and sets up a pending crisis. But even a great concept still needs good characters, setting, and fluid writing to make for a great sci-fi read.
I didn't have much trouble with setting. This first book of a trilogy draws on the Chinese Cultural Revolution, past and current geopolitics, and current and theoretical quantum physics to set the stage for the saga - interesting, with plenty of potential to sustain the trilogy. My only quibble with the setting used was with the sequences that take place within an on-line game. It is in the game that characters attempt to resolve the Three Body Problem and I found those segments of the book to be rather dull and confusing. No doubt some of the information in those sections will come into play in later books, but they read like bad dream sequences where you don't have any context to make sense of what is going on. And, there is no plot or character development happening during those passages so I just wasn't engaged during those sections.
The flow of the writing feels a bit choppy, but I would chalk that up to the fact that this is a translation. The translation seems pretty good in that the meaning is clear, but English and Chinese are such very different languages there is bound to be some loss of fluidity. Ultimately, my biggest difficulty with The Three-Body Problem is the characters. The book starts with Ye Wenjie during the Cultural Revolution and she is a very interesting character throughout the book and the only character that is ever really fleshed out. Much of the book is from the POV of Wang Miao, a character that gets little back story and is hard to connect with, and none of the other characters is more than sketched. The Aliens may have some potential in the sequels, but ruthlessness is about the only characteristic they show in this first book.
Luke Daniels does his normal phenomenal job of creating great character voices which is a huge help with a book with unfamiliar names and he adds much to making this a good listen.
Bottom line, The Three-Body Problem is challenging, but intriguing and I will listen to the sequels when Audible has them available.
He might well have twisted Russian folklore to tell a story much like Egg & Spoon - witty, charming, a little food for thought, and just plain fun. I don't know why this book is listed as "Teens" because like the best of "fairy tales" or fables, this is a fantasy yarn that could be enjoyed by any age listener and the ultimate hero is Baba Yaga (yes, you heard me, scary old Baba Yaga saves the day), who is ancient! The story is a bit slow picking up speed in the beginning as the characters are introduced, but gets fun and adventuresome fairly soon. I think if I had actually read the book, I would also think some of the length could be edited. However, listening to this book performed by Michael Page is a real delight - what an artist! So, the length in the audio book is not a problem. I'm SO glad Audible had this on a Daily Deal because the teen classification might have caused me to miss it otherwise.
I picked up "Paw Enforcement" on a Audible Daily Deal and it was just fine for the price. It's not a great book; the only character I really liked was Brigit, the dog, and much of the police procedural of the story doesn't ring true. However, the story is set in Fort Worth (a city I know well and is seldom used in fiction) and the author did a decent job of using the city in the story and portraying its personality accurately and I loved that she used a mutt as the police dog since most working dogs are purebreds, although many mutts have the potential. The author goes a little over the top on the snarkiness, but the story is entertaining and requires no major mind exertion so it makes for a good "beach read" - one of those books that works when you want totally passive entertainment. It's not as good as the Stephanie Plum books, but reminds me a bit of that series and might have some potential to get better. Coleen Marlo was OK as the narrator, but as another reviewer mentioned, she's a bit heavy handed with the sound effects.
I absolutely LOVED this little allegorical tale that reads like a regency story as told by Aesop. You really don't need any summary of this story; the plot is right out of Jane Austen with all the class consciousness, priggishness, and blatant sexism of 19th century England, but all the norms of behavior have been translated to dragonkind. In addition, Walton addresses servitude/slavery, religious influences (I loved the CofE and RC analogous dragon religions), and racism in a way that Austen never did. Like Austen's stories, "Tooth and Claw", is fun and entertaining with fabulous characters, subtle satire, and a very tidy ending. Unlike Austen, Walton exposes the truth of a highly dysfunctional and abusive society by using an animal illustration much like Aesop in his Fables. Philostratus said of Aesop, "...he by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events." And indeed, Walton tells some great truth while she entertains us with dragons.
John Lee provides a wonderful performance of the story making this an all around terrific audiobook!
Jo Walton's murder mystery set in an alternate history Post-WWII England is a little unsatisfying since there a couple of "loose threads" and true justice is at best postponed. I would also argue a bit with the alternative history. In this version of World War II, the US never enters the war and Britain negotiates a peace settlement with Hitler to avoid invasion by the Germans. The chances that the Japanese would not have pulled the US into the war with attacks on China and the Philippines even if they had not hit Pearl Harbor are slim. (There's a reason all that Navy might was amassed at Pearl Harbor in the first place!) And the isolationists in the US would not have been able to hold out against the military-industrial complex (hence the Lend/Lease Act) forever. Having read the whole trilogy, I felt like Jo Walton's view of a alternate history reflected a rather Euro-centric point of view throughout and she discounts countries with vast natural resources and large populations like China, the US, and Russia and doesn't even address the enormous change in the world economy that oil and natural gas created. World War II may have marked the end of colonialism and the shift in world power, but the war was only one element of that change. Leaving that aside, I think this book and the series truly does succeed as a cautionary tale and gives the listener much to ponder.
The ineffable slide into Fascism that comes with great fear and ignorance in the citizenry at large can be seen everywhere - witness the Patriot act (the fear of terrorism negates the rights of the individual), or Russia having freed itself of communism, but still mired in regional/ethnic conflicts is now quickly sliding back into totalitarianism. Jo Walton's trilogy beautifully illustrates the poem, "First They Came" by Pastor Martin Niemöller. And whether or not you buy into this possible alternative to history, it is abundantly clear that a world where Hitler wasn't stopped would be ugly.
Walton's prose is very nice and she uses setting extremely effectively to help drive the plot. The city of London, the surrounding countryside (and its denizens), as well as the very class-conscious society all play a part in the tale. In each of the 3 books in the series, Walton tells the story from a woman's POV in first person and a man's POV in third person. The woman changes in each of the books while Detective Carmichael is in all three. John Keating and Bianca Amato both do nice turns in narrating alternate chapters of this first book. Amato is much better here than I've heard her before - no breath sounds - and her voice is perfect for Lucy.
I'm not sure Farthing would satisfy the true murder mystery aficionado, but if you enjoy the what-ifs of alternate history, or have an interest in WWII, you will probably find this book and the whole series worthwhile. You should know going in that this first book isn't really meant to stand alone. It has a rather disconsolate conclusion and the real story spans all 3 books in the trilogy.
I got Working Stiff on sale and for the sale price it was a decent buy. This non-fiction first person account of a young woman's introduction into a fascinating profession is quite interesting and occasionally even engaging, but it read like a story with unrealized potential. The narrative moves back and forth in time and is often disjointed. Some chapters are simply one case description after another; most have a brief explanation of the crime or death scene, a more detailed review of the autopsy, and little or no case resolution information particularly for the homicides. (Melinek repeatedly closes a story with, "I never knew what happened to so & so" or "I never learned if charges were filed".) Although I have spent my long career in technology, I have a degree in BioMedical Science so I enjoyed the autopsy detail (sounds way more interesting than straight on anatomy lab dissections), but I didn't learn much new and in giving the reader so little information on how the ME's findings are used, much of this seemed a bit purposeless. I realized that there's a good reason that famous fictional biological forensics (ie Quincy or Bones) is coupled with police and legal work. Who really cares that there's a notch on a bone if you don't know whether that info sent the bad guy to jail?
In addition, Melinek and her co-author husband, sort of randomly throw in information about her personal life with her husband and kids, but none of those pieces provides much enlightenment or enhances the narrative. It just makes the book seem even more disjointed and like the authors were searching for a unifying theme without success.
Tanya Eby did NOT help this audio book at all. Her voice is fine and since this is non-fiction, I think she'd have done better just reading it straight up. Unfortunately, she attempts to give characters unique voices and her voices (especially for men) are really bad and pull the listener out of the story. (Eby actually voiced one of the women using that awful made up "MidAtlantic" accent that was so popular in 1940's Hollywood!) And, although I can appreciate the difficulty of proper pronunciation for a book with MANY medical and biological terms, it's the narrator's job to get those right if that's what the author wrote. Eby frequently mispronounces words like ketamine and trabeculae.
Ultimately Working Stiff reads like it was written by someone who without choice became part of a world event and then capitalized on that tragedy to sell a book that doesn't really have anything unique or important to say about that event or about being a Medical Examiner. The book is too short in length and substance for me to recommend it at full price.
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