Whittier, CA | Member Since 2010
It’s probably important to state right off the bat that I wasn’t a huge fan of Boneshaker. There are several reasons for this, and it should be noted that I read it, and didn’t listen to it, and that may have contributed to my overall feelings. But I like Cherie Priest’s work – in particular, I loved the Eden Moore Southern Gothic Ghost story “Four and Twenty Black Birds” (and if it was available on Audible, I would snatch up that series in its entirety ASAP).
All that to say I came to Dreadnought with some apprehension. So I was thrilled that Priest (and Reading) defied my expectations, and totally rocked me with this book.
There are two keys in play here. First is our protagonist: Nurse Mercy Lynch. I’m not as well read as I’d like to be, but I can’t think of any other SF/F book whose protagonist is a nurse during a war/battlefield. The book opens in a hospital, and closes in another one. It’s set in an alternate history where the American Civil War has lasted over 15 years. While Mercy makes her way across a country fighting against itself, her expertise will be inevitably called upon while everything’s going to hell around her. She’s never far from the wounded and dying soldiers left in the war’s wake. That’s something we don’t see a lot of in genre fiction, and it gives an incredible weight to the violence and action in the story – from her nurse’s perspective, for every great thrilling scene or set piece, Mercy has to deal with the fallout from it all. If bullets fly, her hands will soon be covered in blood because she’s applying pressure to the wounds. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic at all when I say that Mercy Lynch may be one of my favorite female protagonists.
From a hospital to traveling through a moving battlefield, the first few hours of listening to this are just incredibly intense – really, some of the most intense I’ve heard in a while. That’s not to say Dreadnought isn’t a fun book – it is. But I was just surprised (and pleased) by how much weight the fun packed. This book does not let you look away from the effects of war and violence, and I appreciate it for that.
The second, and perhaps most obvious key, this being an audiobook, is Kate Reading’s incredible reading. I enjoyed it so much, I’m halfway tempted to go back and give Boneshaker another shot. Reading’s reading of Mercy is just absolutely perfect – absolutely nailing the tough, weary nurse’s voice. Her lack of care for social conventions, in particular her profanity around a bunch of men (and sometimes women) who find her to be unladylike, is delightful. And she does solid work with the male characters, specifically Union Captain MacGruder and Texas Ranger Horatio Kornman. Unquestionably, the supporting characters, and their interactions with Mercy, are part of what makes this book so enjoyable.
Yes, there are zombies in this book as well, and I found them far more terrifying in this book. In Boneshaker, they’re usually there – an army of undead rushing after our heroes. In Dreadnought, Priest goes a different route, showing us the horror they’ve wrought well before we actually encounter them, which creates a rising sense of dread throughout the novel.
All in all, this book stunned me in the best way possible, and I hope Priest can continue delivering books in the Clockwork Century of this caliber. Hopefully, Reading will eventually come back to read more of them.
Oh myyyyyy, what a fun little bonus! A holiday classic read by the great Geoege Takei! You pretty much know exactly what you're getting with this story, but read by Takei it feels just a little bit warmer and more contemporary.
It's short, it's sweet, it's free. I'm a happy listener!
(If you like Takei, I highly recommend his crazy good narrations on the Shadow Show anthology.)
Oh, this is a fun treat! It's been years since I read James Thurber's best known story - I remembered it being lighthearted, but boy can memories be faulty!
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is really equal parts whimsy and melancholy. It's an ode to escapism and imagination, no doubt (not to mention wish-fulfillment), but in the end even poor Mitty's imagination seems to have it out for him as much as his life does, and is maybe just as empty and frustrating.
Ben Stiller's reading hits all the right notes. He's able to capture the joy of Mitty's different daydreams, but also scales back when we're following Mitty through the frustrations of his real life, and find the sadness that permeates the story, and Mitty himself.
It's a short little story, and it was a delight to hear it here.
Often fantasy fiction relies on escapism through the fantastic, so it’s refreshing when you come across a book like The Fall of the Kings that kind of skewers that the fantastic necessarily equates escape. The Fall of the Kings is very much a left turn from Swordspoint. Instead of centering around the violent, sexy swordsmen nobles contract to fight duels on their behalf, this book focuses on the politics of university and scholarship, trading swordplay for academic debates, with charismatic professors. Really, it’s the Dead Poet’s Society of Wizarding History, and it’s a fascinating study for fantasy fans.
The story is primarily about two men: Basil St. Cloud, a renegade scholar determined on discovering the hidden, taboo truths of the ancient kings (who were overthrown and executed by the nobles hundreds of years earlier) and their wizards. That’s right, wizards. It appears there just might be magic in Riverside, or there once was. And ever since the Fall of the Kings, even the discussion of magic has been outlawed (a detail that neatly explains why magic was so completely absent from Swordspoint). St. Cloud soon enters into a romantic relationship with aristocratic student Theron Campion – the son of the Mad Duke of Tremontaine – who bears resemblance to some of the ancient kings Basel has studied. Together their discoveries and passions concerning the secret truths of magic, the kings, and their wizards threaten to have consequences. To some degree, it puts me in mind of China Miéville’s The City & The City, and M. John Harrison’s In Viriconium (the last novel of the Viriconium cycle). It’s a novel that is very much playing against type, and questioning our typical expectations and desires of the fantastic. Will magic come back to the land? Is that really a good thing?
I’ve talked a lot about this being a sequel to Swordspoint, but I hadn’t realized until about halfway through the book that while this novel takes place some 60 years after The Privilege of the Sword, it was published four years before that novel was. I didn’t find it anywhere near as accessible and delightful as The Privilege of the Sword, or as thrilling as Swordspoint, but I don’t think that’s really the point. It’s a love letter to academia, and I think it’s more challenging than the other two books (and I mean that as a compliment). I’m also somewhat astonished by how little violence there is for the majority of this novel – something that pleases me in a genre that seems to depend on violence in order to be entertaining (and I say that as someone who is usually entertained by good fantasy novels, but also as someone who has noticed a disturbing trend).
Kushner’s narration is excellent (of course!) and the illuminated cast general does very solid work, as does the illuminated cast (I particularly liked the actor who played Justice Blake). I’m pretty bummed this is the final book in the series, partially due to how unique Kushner and Sue Zizza make this listening experience). My only complaint about the narration is a very odd one – it takes a little bit of work to hear Nick Sullivan, who played the deliciously wicked Lord Ferris in the other two Riverside novels, as the romantic historian hero St. Cloud. That’s not to take anything away from how strong his performance is here – it’s nice to hear Sullivan not be such a monster for a change. But Lord Ferris’ shadow always seems to be lingering whenever Sullivan began talking. (Though this was probably emphasized by me listening to this novel right after The Privilege of the Sword.)
In the final analysis, The Fall of the Kings is a unique kind of fantasy novel – one that challenges our expectations concerning magic and escapism in fantasy fiction. While I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as I did the other books in this series, I do appreciate that it did something very different from what we’re used to in fantasy fiction, and I found that refreshing.
I have a serious complaint about Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword: it ended. I could’ve happily listened to 100 more hours of Katherine’s Tom Joad-esque mythology as a swordswoman for the disenfranchised and disempowered. But look, I'm getting ahead of myself. But look again, this book is such a delight!
The Privilege of the Sword is a sequel of sorts to Swordspoint, but you need not listen to Swordspoint to enjoy this book. The story is this: Alec Campion, the Mad Duke of Tremontaine, invites his niece to come live with him in the city for six months and take up sword lessons. Katherine, his niece, thinks it’s just an eccentricity of the Mad Duke’s, and expects she’ll spend much of her time dressing up for balls and falling in love.
Kushner creates an incredible supporting cast – including the standout Artemisia, another young woman Katherine’s age – who initially seems like she might become Katherine’s bosom friend, but instead becomes her foil. Artemisia gets the life Katherine thought she wanted – the dresses, the balls, and the suitors, but as she plays out her role in society, she soon finds herself trapped by everyone she thought she loved. Meanwhile, Katherine is trapped training as swordsman and bodyguard, a job only men are generally allowed to perform. But with this more masculine job, she’s given more opportunity to make her own choices. Chief among these is saving Artemisia’s honor, and then defending it. The rest of the supporting characters are great too – from Lucius Perry’s relationship with his mysterious mistress to Marcus – Alec’s servant. They all feel like real characters, with real depths and desires, and I didn’t want to stop spending time with them.
Kushner also weaves in “The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death,” a story within the story (as well as a play). Katherine and Artemisia write letters to each other, signing their names as characters to the play – Katherine as the swordsman, Artemisia as the damsel, adding a delicious extra layer of subtext. This story is as much Katherine's coming of age and beginning to understand her desires, as it is a swashbuckling romance.
Both Kushner and Barbara Rosenblat narrate the novel to perfection – Kushner reads the passages that are told from Katherine’s perspective, and Rosenblat reads those from the other characters. They are supported by an illuminated cast, and I think this is the best cast of the Riverside stories. Felicia Day (who unfortunately doesn’t get quite as much time as one would hope) voices Katherine, and shines whenever she's reading. But the absolute stunner is Joe Hurley, who completely captures the Mad Duke of Tremontaine’s drunken, hedonistic, washed-out rock star voice, a wild voice that’s hiding a beautiful soul beneath. Kushner really rounded out Alec’s character in this book, and Hurley is impossible not to love in the role. When he’s verbally sparring with Nick Sullivan’s villainous Lord Ferris, sparks fly. I could listen to them arguing with each other for hours with Kushner’s barbed dialogue. Neil Gaiman’s cameo as a wild artist is an additional delight.
The Privilege of the Sword is just about everything you could ask for in a novel – it’s exciting, funny, sexy, and one of the most fun audiobooks I’ve listened to all year. It’s an empowering story that subverts a lot of society’s gender roles, and it’s also incredibly fun. If this is being preached at, I want to go to church every Sunday, and then every other day of the week too.
(Originally published at the AudioBookaneers)
It should be a walk down the street, but on a father's trip to buy some milk for his children's cereal (and probably also his tea), aliens show up (as they do), and kidnap him. Dad escapes by breaking the time space continuum and lands himself on a 17th a pirate ship, and here - things get a little weird.
Throughout the rest of the book there are vampyrs, time traveling dinosaurs, exploding volcanoes, oh-so-self-fulfilling prophecies, and other fun things.
Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk is at the exact opposite end of his fiction as The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I'm all for it. I love that Gaiman can write something as staggeringly powerful and hauntingly personal as The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and then turn around and bring us something as absurd and silly as this. It's a Dahl-esque tour with Dad as hero, with a stegosaurus inventor riding shotgun in a hot air balloon (sorry! Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier). It reminded me of James and the Giant Peach and Gaiman's own The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish as well as his poem "The Day the Saucers Came." If you enjoyed those books, this one's right up your alley. It's a fun book, completely devoid of anything creepy/scary, and I can't wait to listen to it with my children.
Gaiman himself narrates it, and really, who else could possibly read it as well as him? He's a commanding reader, and it's great to hear him cut loose and be silly for an hour.
Professor Steg, the stegosaurus inventor says it best: "Where there is milk, there is hope." Well here, there be milk. And lots of it.
I more or less enjoyed reading Gatsby back in high school. Reading it now as an adult, it’s easy to see why the book is considered such a classic. It’s a critique of the American Dream – that you can become whatever you want to be. It’s a story of the disenfranchised taking a shot, and being put down for it. It has a memorable cast of characters – most of them loathsome (Tom Buchanan most of all – he’s a raging knot of contradictions, and a great foil for Gatsby). There’s some intense social commentary – part of what we loathe so much about Tom is his classism and racism. The former I think has probably been easy for Americans to loathe for a long time; the latter is easy for us to loathe today, but keep in mind this book was written in the 20s, a good 40 years before the Civil Rights movement. (You go, Fitzgerald!) Also, and this is emphasized in the audio format – it’s a very short, economic book, and at under 5 hours, packs a pretty mean punch.
Some things that I didn’t appreciate so much as a 14 or 17 year-old which I found fascinating as an adult: that the whole story is set during Prohibition, and what a bizarre and broken era that was. There was so much booze flowing, so much partying, so much philandering…it’s ridiculous to me that the United States thought it would be moral to outlaw alcohol. I was also surprised by how funny it was when it wasn’t such a downer – particularly at Gatsby’s parties. There’s a scene where we find a man sitting in the library of Gatsby’s house and the stranger says: “I’ve been drunk for about a week now and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.” That line just tickles me in so many ways, and I enjoyed discovering Fitzgerald’s sense of humor this time out.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives a very solid narration as Nick Carraway, our portal into Gatsby’s world, who proclaims he’s “the only honest man he’s ever met.” Gyllenhaal’s performance isn’t a flashy one, and I think that’s a wise choice on his part – it matches the understated power of the book, and let’s Fitzgerald’s prose carry the story. He’s received a lot of praise for his reading of this novel, and it’s well-deserved.
The Great Gatsby continues to be a serious book with a lot on it’s mind, and was a treat to revisit.
(Originally published at the AudioBookaneers)
In Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned Cities, the American Dream has shifted into an apocalyptic nightmare, and its legacy is a devastating cycle of violence ripping the country into warring factions. The surviving casualties are quickly drafted into the oppressing armies to perpetuate the cycle of violence. Armies made of children.
The Drowned Cities is a story about child soldiers, the seduction of violence, and survival and it’s the most brutal, unrelenting story I’ve read or listened to in a while time. Like Bacigalupi’s other books, it’s drenched with social commentary that manages not to get in the way of the story or come off as preachy. Instead, we see the effects of rhetoric as we’re thrust through a violent, possible future.
I made a conscious decision to listen to this book without listening to Ship Breaker, which shares the same world with this story (though not any characters), and it held up just fine on its own. If anything, it made me very anxious to go listen to Ship Breaker.
We follow several children – a girl named Mahlia who lost one of her arms to a group of soliders and is apprenticed to the town doctor; Mouse – a boy, who knows the swamps and terrain; Ocho – a wounded soldier boy; and a genetically engineered monster named Tool. Mahlia and Mouse discover Tool dying in a swamp after an escape from one of the armies, and do their best to nurse him back to health. Mahlia hopes that Tool might be their ticket out of the war-torn environment of the Drowned Cities. Unfortunately, the half-man’s been a tool of war mongers his whole life, and is violently opposed to being chained again.
At one point, Mouse and Mahlia get split up, and it’s interesting to see how both of them have to accept violence to survive. They both become child soldiers, in a fashion. Something Bacigalupi did incredibly well was give the murderous squad of soldier boys a sense of humanity. It’d be easy to play them as wicked, child-like monsters absent of concsciences, but Bacigalupi captures their lost humanity in painful way, showing us they’re victims as much as anyone else, and I was surprised by how much I ended up caring about their fates, despite all the horrible atrocities they’d helped commit.
This is my first experience with Joshua Swanson as a narrator, and he was more than up to the task. It’s not a flashy narration, and Swanson is smart enough to realize it doesn’t need to be for it to be as compelling as it is.
All in all, The Drowned Cities is a violent, gut-wrenching listen, about how violence and rhetoric effect children. It is not for the faint of heart, but it’s an absorbing listen, and highly recommended.
(Originally posted at the AudioBookaneers)
Grim Tides finds Marla exiled from Fellport due to the events in Broken Mirrors, and could easily be seen as a new opening chapter of the series. She's working as a private investigator in Maui with Rondeau, but the game and stakes have changed. Essentially, a bunch of Marla's former enemies (and friends) have gathered together to take revenge on Marla. If the last book was Age of Apocalypse, this is the Return of the Sinister Six.
Broken Mirrors is probably my favorite of the Marla Mason books. That said, I enjoyed this book about as much as possible. Marla navigating the Ka'anapali shores, tromping through the seven sacred pools, and holing up in an office in Lahaina was a breath of fresh air. I loved seeing characters familiar, even from the oddest places (a favorite character of mine from one of Pratt short stories non-Marla Mason short stories showed up unexpectedly, which left me grinning like a daiquiri drinking fool.) While I'm excited to see what happens in Bride of Death (the next installment) I'm a little bit sad that Marla won't get more time on Maui.
This could have been the closing of the series - there's a lot of closure to events in this story as well as the previous stories, but I'm happy Pratt's decided to continue. His writing is breezy, and the relationships his characters have with each other is why I keep coming back - I love hearing them talk and banter and rib each other. And I love hearing it all channeled by Jessica Almasy. The combination of Pratt's Marla Mason and Almasy's reading of her is a perfect marriage of material and narration, and I'm so excited for them to continue to do more stories in the Marla Mason series.
A good series is like the perfect comfort food. You know more or less what you're going to get if you've been here before, and you take pleasure in that familiarity. The Marla Mason books are my comfort food. I love the wicked sense of humor and no-nonsense Marla provides, and I love the way Jessica Almasy reads her. I could be up for a dozen more adventures of this character.
Broken Mirrors finds Marla Mason at odds with her few friends and confidants as she attempts to do the impossible - resurrect her slain apprentice, Bradley Bowman. Resurrection turns out to be impossible, so Marla opts for the next best thing: removing a different Bradley Bowman from an alternate universe. Unfortunately for her, this has a couple of unexpected consequences: 1) The B-Bowman isn't so keen on being taken from the universe he was in, and 2) Marla's own alternate - the Mason, and her murderous associate Crapsy (alt. Rondeau) are also pulled into Marla's universe.
While our Marla and Rondeau take the B-Bowman back to his own universe, and agree to aide him in fighting a revolution, the Mason and Crapsy go on a killing spree that leads them all the way to an unprotected Fellport. In the Mason, Marla finds her most dangerous foe - a darker, more vicious version of herself. And I think it's probably the best villain of the series.
It really feels like Pratt was pulling out all the stops with this one. This was the first of the Marla books that he self-published, and I suspect he realized that it might very well have been the last (thankfully, it isn't). We see characters that we've gotten to know over the past four novels (and short stories) fall, which was more of a punch to the gut than I expected. On the other hand, traveling to the alternate universe and seeing a lot of characters that have appeared in and/or died in the previous books was a sheer joy. It's the Marla Mason equivalent of Days of Future Past or Age of Apocalypse (which Pratt said he read for "research." Yes, we all feel so much woe for how hard it must be on him to write these books.)
All in all, Broken Mirrors is as much fun as it could possibly be, and a must for fans of this series.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels like none of Gaiman’s previous novels. It’s easily the most personal of his novels, tightly focused, and brief – like childhood remembered by an adult. It’s a story of memories as tangible as the sea – we know they happened, we even swam in it, but the waves continue to roll, and the landscape is seemingly ever changing. It’s memories as mythology, and it’d be cynical not to fall under it’s haunting spell.
It’s also a meditation on mortality, as told by a nameless narrator who has returned to England for his father’s funeral. Because of that, it’s impossible not to divorce our image of the narrator as Neil himself, giving this book a fantastical yet autobiographical sense – even moreso as an audiobook – which is part of the point. Readers and fans familiar with Gaiman via Twitter and his blog may remember reading about similar familiar events referenced in this book, although their memories will be distinctly different from what occurs in the story.
As one character says: “That’s the trouble with living things. Don’t last very long. Kittens on day, old cats next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together.”
Memories should be cherished and treasured, like dreams, but perhaps they shouldn’t be completely trusted. And it’s what we do with those memories that count.
In spinning this story, Gaiman has woven himself into a new mythology all his own. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a reminder to adults of the wonders and mysteries of childhood, and encourages us to find those same pleasures as adults. It reminds us that just because we’re grown up, doesn’t mean it’s over, and we may still witness wondrous and mysterious things.
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