This was my first Audible download, but it took me over almost two months to finish, in part because the tenor of the stories was all very similiar and the narrator spoke so quickly that the unfamiliar names were difficult to pay attention to, and as the book is filled with unfamiliar sounding names that made the book hard to pay attention to.
I'm not sure if the stories were as strange as they seemed because I missed key parts or if there really were leaps of narriative glossed over in the writing.
As the summary says, this is the first of a 10 book series, and it kicks things off well.
Narration first. Mr. Juliani has an excellent reading voice, and managed the feminine voices without much trouble. There were sections when it seemed like the reading was on 1.5x speed, but for the most part the tempo was just about right. I'll be more likely to pick up something with him reading.
I have had a number of people recommend Zelazny to me as a Science Fiction author, and as someone who's more into the new Sci Fi than the older works, I was hesitant to give him a go. As I've matured, my reading tastes have changed to prefer character development, especially internal growth, to broad social commentary, which is what I was expecting given the people who were recommending Mr. Zelazny's work.
While this was neither social commentary, nor quite about character development, it was still a good story. The hero of the story starts off with no clue who he is, and as he uncovers more about his past, the story sucks you into a larger scale plot.
It wasn't the story type that I typically like, and yet I like it anyhow, which I find to be the mark of a good storyteller.
This was an enjoyable listen - the actual story was engaging and the narration enhanced the story.
However, anyone looking for romance should probably skip the sex scenes. While well written -- and they are well written -- the acts depicted read more like rape fantasy enactment pornographic sex than romantic sex. I believe the kink community calls it "consensual non-consent". There's also a male on female sodomy scene that's just as graphic as the rest of the sex. If those hit your "off" spots, fast forward is you friend - the rest of the story makes up for it.
And in case you're wondering, the difference between porno sex and romantic sex is (1) how much the sex is about physical satisfaction versus emotional satisfaction, and (2) whether there's any lead up to the sex (as in, enjoying the skin-to-skin for it's own sake) or just wham-bam, let's get to the money shot, scream-for-me-baby.
The Story Contents:
Death by Dahlia, by Charlene Harris (read by Nicola Barber)
The Bleeding Shadow, by Joe R. Landsdale
Hungry Heart, by Simon R. Green (read by Ralph Lister)
Sticks and Stones, by Steven Sailor
Pain and Suffering, by SM Stirling
It's Still the Same Old Story (a Kitty Norval Story) by Carrie Vaughn
The Lady is a Screamer, by Khan Iggeldan
Hell Bender, by Lori R. King
Shadow Thieves, by Glen Cook (a Garrett PI Story)
No Mystery, No Miracle, by Melinda M. Snodgrass
The Difference Between a Puzzle and a Mystery, by MLN Hanover,
The Curious Affair of the Deo Dundle, by Lisa Tuttle (read by Nicola Barber)
Lord John and the Plague of Zombies, by Diana Gabaldon (read by Ralph Lister)
Beware the Snake (an SBQR Story), by John Maddox Roberts (read by Ralph Lister)
In Red, With Pearls, by Patricia Briggs
The Edackian Eagle, by Bradley Denton
(Apologies if I misspell an author's name. Not all were listed, so I wrote how it sounded.)
Overall, I think this was a good way to get introduced to a lot of different authors, and if you like even just three of the authors you find then it'll be worth a credit to pick it up.
Each of the narrators worked on different stories, with Phil Gigante doing the bulk of the talking - if no narrator is listed above, it's safe to assume it's Phil's gig. I gave 3 stars because Phil sucks at imitating female voices, and he tries a bit too hard to perform the story, which has mixed results. He's competent, and if you like the booming style of 1950's era radio you'll probably enjoy a lot more of his performances than I did. I found Ralph Lister to be closer to a 4 star narrator and don't recall enough of Nicola's performance to comment beyond that she didn't detract from the stories she read.
As to the file organization, each story spans several chapters, but each story starts with a new chapter section, which at least makes getting around easy enough. Each story also starts with about a minute or two of author blurb - accomplishments and a "further reading" list, that sort of thing.
The narration didn't get in the way of the story, and the voice was not unpleasant. It was not a stand out performance, but neither was it a detraction.
On to the story. One of the big paradoxes of the horror genre is that if the monsters are as bad-ass as they're written, their failure to openly rule the world requires a lot of handicapping. Ms. Bishop avoided the paradox by building a world ruled by the monsters. I found it pretty interesting, and mostly well thought out.
There were some stylistic choices that were off the beaten track which might cause some minor irritation for a person who prefers the more regular stylings, such as an investigator's backer who is only ever referred to as "Mr. Big Wig". I think going in with the expectation that the styling of the story will be different may improve the listening experience.
All in all, I found it quite enjoyable and finished it (all 18 & 1/2 hours) in a day and a half because I really didn't want to stop hearing what came next. I look forward to more in the series, if only to see what comes next with Meg and Sam (Simon's nephew).
I confess, Ms. Raudman is one of my all time favorite narrators. She does an excellent job of giving each character their own voice, her speaking voice is fun to listen to, and her pacing and diction are top notch. In fact, I came upon this book when looking for more tales narrated by Ms. Raudman. :)
Story-wise, this was a fun romp pulling in some new takes on classical fairy tale memes like the Wise Animals, Heroic Princes, and Evil Step Families. It resonates well with that genre while also being fairly novel.
First off, kudos to Ms. Potter - her reading was excellent, her voice was pleasant and, frankly, if her reading hadn't been as good as it was I would have turned the book off sooner.
Now, I gave the story 2 stars because it has the bones of something worth listening to. There was just a lot of crap that needed to be dropped to get down to those bones. The most offensive of that crap, at least to me, was the underlying assumption that the world would be a better place if we just went back to the bad old days of the manly protector taking care of his (enslaved by law and social customs) woman.
Don't get me wrong: I like burly men with strong protective instincts - when they respect women as being more than just pets with sex-toy perks.
As I stated, Ms. Potter did an excellent job narrating this tale, to the point I was able to just roll my eyes at the cheap-shot pseudo-moralizing about modern American eating habits, city vs. country living rudeness, &ct., and go along with the main plot points - until the patriarchal swill got so over the top I deleted the book with 30 minutes remaining to the end.
If it had been a paperback, I would have used the book for fire starter.
First off, I loved William's character in the first book of the series, On the Edge, and as much as I enjoyed that book - in fact I think it was a phenom listen - I was rooting more for William than Declan to be the romantic lead. Cherise is definitely a better match for him than Rose, the heroine from On the Edge.
My main reason for rating this one lower than I rated On the Edge is the introduction of a spy thriller theme. It just didn't suit my tastes as well as the first novel's more "Questing Hero" theme. Also, William didn't have as much opportunity to break out the uber bad ass blasé that got me rooting for him in the first novel, though he did have ample opportunity to do bad things to very bad people.
Very much worth the listen!
The narration made the male lead sound a bit too much like a brainless brawn, but the writing does lend itself that kind of stereotyping. It's a bit of a beauty and beast story, and the heroes probably shouldn't have been drawn from some weird melting pot of religious / mythological iconographies if the author was trying for the kind of suspension of disbelief that the "fantasy" genre is famous for.
That said, if you're looking for a fun, fluffy listen it's not bad.
The male lead - his sense of community and responsibility was easiest to identify with.
I find I really have a hard time listening to men trying to mimic female voices, and Bellmore read the male lead in a way that conveyed a sense of brainless brawn. The characters were recognizably distinct, and the narration was worth the sale price.
This ain't Shakespear, and with that kind of expectation, it's enjoyable.
On the plus side, each short story was its own chapter so you can easily get between parts of the book. The index of stories is below, along with particular remarks.
On the overall, I enjoyed the writing, and found the narration to be professional, but disappointing. As I told my husband, the narration quality was like when you're used to working with a 20 year veteran contractor and then you start working with someone who only has maybe 2 or 3 years on the job – the rough patches that the 20 year man smooths over by instinct the younger pro is still learning how to sand. The male narrators went a little too far into the film noir style for my tastes, and Ms. Van Dyck spoke too quickly with a lack of dramatic sense. It was rather like listening on fast forward. Ms. Hendrix reminded me of Tavia Gilbert's irritating voice, but with a more refined sense of dramatic speech.
1) Retribution Clause, written by Ilona Andrews, read by Marc Vietor
Overall: 4 Performance: 3 Story: 4
I think I'm so used to Renee Raudman reading for the Andrews' stories that any other voice is starting at a disadvantage. However, of Mr. Vietor's two performances in the book, this is the better.
2) Bigfoot on Campus, written by Jim Butcher, read by Jonathan Davis
Overall: 4 Performance: 4 Story: 4
This was, in my opinion, the best performance of the book, and while I wasn't quite getting into the Harry Dresden character, that was more about the character's archetype than any fault in the reading or the writing.
3) Holly's Balm, written by Rachel Caine, read by Jennifer Van Dyck
Overall: 3 Performance: 3 Story: 4
Ms. Caine is now on my list of authors to check out. The story was good, and this was probably one of the better performances by Ms. Van Dyck.
4) Snow Job, written by Carole Nelson Douglas, read by Gayle Hendrix
Overall: 3 Performance: 3 Story: 3
I am not a film fan, so a lot of the points just didn't hit it for me.
5) Outside the Box, written by P. N. Elrod, read by Jennifer Van Dyck
Overall: 3 Performance: 2 Story: 4
The reading on this one was so fast forward all the way that the only drama came from the writing.
6) How Do You Feel?, written by Simon R. Green, read by Marc Vietor
Overall: 2 Performance: 3 Story: 2
I think Mr. Vietor did a decent job with a crummy story in this one. The writing was sooooo over the top terrible that I'm wondering if it ever went through a real edit or just got passed through proof readers and stamped "good to go" simply because of the author.
7) There Will be Demons, written by Lori Handeland, read by Gayle Hendrix
Overall: 3 Performance: 3 Story: 3
This was pretty much a "meh" story for me. It maybe needs a longer format to flesh out things like why the heroine is a fairy instead of a fallen angel, and other oddities shoe-horned in.
8) Cherry Kisses, written by Erica Hayes, read by Jennifer Van Dyck
Overall: 4 Performance: 3 Story: 4
Ms. Van Dyck managed to slow down enough for some drama to come into her reading for this story. While there were some troupe moments in the plot, the whole of it was fun.
9) The Arcane Art of Misdirection, written by Carrie Vaughn, read by Gayle Hendrix
Overall: 4 Performance: 3 Story: 4
Set in the Kitty Norville universe, this tales tells more about the day to day adventures of Odysseus Grant, and is up to Ms. Vaughn's usual standards of quality story crafting.
Story wise, this was a wonderful blend of imaginative new magical worlds, relatable characters, and a captivating story well told. I'm inclined to think that Andrews built a better world with this series than with the Magic Bites series, which has also been a joy to listen to.
Narration wise, Renee Raudman did a masterful job of giving each character their own voice, especially the boys. Though she does occasionally over fill her voice with the drama of a situation for my taste, her pacing, intonations, the timbre of the voice, and the overall experience of listening to her tell a tale is a treat for the ears.
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