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City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare is the fourth in The Mortal Instruments series of books. The Mortal Instruments is a series of six books, of which five have been already published and divides into two trilogies. City of Fallen Angels kicks off the second half with new threats and new challenges for our protagonists. We start off in a good place – things have been quiet and settled since the events of City of Glass. Clary’s main preoccupation is preparing for her mother’s wedding to long time love Luke and enjoying her relationship with Jace. Naturally, that peace doesn’t last for too long…
It has been some time since I finished the first half of The Mortal Instruments, but Clare’s writing style and wonderful characters immediately drew me back into the world of Shadowhunters, demons, vampires and warlocks. I adore this world and loved reading more of it – I don’t know why it took me so long to get back to it!
What I liked
The worldbuilding – Clare clearly has an excellent grasp of her world. Everything fits together and holds well to its own internal logic.
The characters. While I still retain a slight preference for the characters in Clare’s other series, The Infernal Devices, I still love reading about Clary, Jace, Simon and the Lightwoods. I particularly enjoyed Simon’s journey in this book and his relationships with Maia and Isabelle. Isabelle’s journey, too became more interesting to me in this book.
What I didn’t like
The pacing. I’ve noted slow pacing as an issue for me in several of Clare’s books, and unfortunately City of Fallen Angels is no exception. As I mentioned, it starts off a whole new arc for our characters, and takes a long time to really get moving.
The narration. I really didn’t enjoy the narration for this book at all – I personally found it rather flat. You may of course feel diff
I received The Blogger’s Survival Guide: Tips and Tricks for Parent Bloggers, Wordsmiths and Enthusiasts by Lexie Lane and Becky McNeer free to review though Audiobook Jukebox. This is a how-to guide to assist newbie bloggers in setting up their blog, marketing it and monetising it. Thank you for the opportunity to review this title.
This is the first time I’ve listened to a non-fiction reference book in audiobook format and I don’t think it’s something I will do much of in the future. On many occasions the authors referred to online resources to supplement or backup their tips, and I didn’t find the format a great way to be able to pick up those links. In all fairness the narrator did enunciate very clearly and repeat the urls where necessary, but still for me it was an additional hurdle of the audiobook format. Additionally, with reference books I find I’m more likely to want to refer quickly to a previous or subsequent section in the book – not easy in audiobook format.
What I liked
Good structure. The book is laid out in a series of lessons which cover a specific topic related to blogging; setup, design, marketing, SEO, monetising. Each lesson was well thought out and had a clear goal.
Useful information. It’s clear that Lane and McNeer know their subject. I personally picked up several tips and generally the material is presented in an easy to understand format. Any blogger from a novice to expert would be able to follow the book and pick up some tips.
The narration. I felt Doug Hannah narrated the book excellently. He seemed interested in the material and took care to speak especially clearly when dictating website addresses.
What I didn’t like
I had one major issue with the book.
Too specific information. Let me explain. On many occasions the book tried to guide the blogger through the steps to achieve some purpose with a third party site, for example, Google Analytics. The information was of the style “click on the yellow button that is the third one down on the right hand side.” I appreciate that the authors wished to be helpful, but there is a serious risk that the information will be quickly out of date and no longer useful. That kind of detail could be useful in a web article, but not so in a hard copy or audiobook which by necessity has a longer shelf life.
All in all, despite the good narration, The Blogger’s Guide just didn’t work for me as an audiobook. With the concern I had about being out of date, I have to give it two and a half stars out of five.
Orange is the New Black is the memoir by Piper Kerman detailing the year she spent in a women’s prison. The drug related offences date from 10 years prior to her incarceration and in the meantime, Kerman had built a life for herself with a rewarding job and supportive fiancé. The book has also been adapted into a successful Netflix Original television show, of which I have seen season one, and plan to binge watch season two in the very near future. It should be noted that the TV series and the book, while both excellent, are very different beasts. There is a lot of dramatisation in the TV show not present in the book, which, on the other hand, gives a very thoughtful, measured introspective into Kerman’s emotional journey during her incarceration.
I listened to the audiobook during my coach trip from Montreal to Toronto - a trip of about eight hours - and not only did it hold my attention through the trip, but I wanted to continue listening when I got home.
What I liked
The narration. Cassandra Campbell does an amazing job of providing the voiceover for Kerman’s emotional journey as well as creating distinct voices for each of the people Kerman meets during her stay. You could easily tell who was talking by the voices.
Kerman’s emotional journey. I really liked the way Kerman took responsibility for her actions that led to her indictment and imprisonment. She made no excuses for her actions. This was especially apparent when she was recounting her interactions with fellow inmates whose challenges included drug addiction. It came across clearly that she was finally making the connection between her own actions and their consequences for those dependent on drugs.
Voyeurism. I admit to definite feelings of voyeurism reading this book. I have never spent time in prison, and I hope never to do so, so it was fascinating to read about the details of day-to-day life in prison.
What I didn’t like
Abrupt ending. I felt the ending was rather abrupt - it ends literally as Kerman walks out of prison after having served her time. I would have welcomed a chapter or two narrating how she adapted back to life as a free woman.
I would heartily recommend Orange is the New Black, both the book and TV series. I gave the audiobook four and a half stars out of five.
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo is the third and final book in the Grisha trilogy. It completes the story of Sun Summoner Alina Starkov and her fight against the Darkling. In it Alina and her group of trusted friends must escape from the Apparat and his ragtag army of religious zealots, and track down the third amplifier, the firebird, before confronting the Darkling. Along the way, Alina learns more of Morozova’s background and his secrets.
I enjoyed Ruin and Rising far more than Siege and Storm, which suffered from middle book syndrome and patchy pacing.
What I liked
The Russian style setting. As in the previous two books, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, I loved the world that Bardugo has created for her characters. The writing and descriptions really give a feel for Russia with a twist.
The characters. We’ve been with these characters for three books now, and I appreciated the way they’ve grown and developed throughout the series. Their changing relationships were also very well drawn. Who would have guessed meeting Zoya in book one just how much Alina would grow to rely on her? I liked that their experiences have left their marks on our characters and that they were not the same people we met in book one. I was particularly sorry not to be able to follow the continuation of Nikolai’s story – I think his ongoing challenges – both personal and political – would make an interesting sequel.
Theme of friendship. Alina and The Darkling are contrasted in that the Darkling having lived a long time and lost everyone close to him is very much alone. Alina on the other hand has a group of friends whom she trusts and who have her back. This theme of strength in community is prominent in this book.
The ending. I really liked the way the ending blended the predictable – the truth about the third amplifier was pretty apparent throughout the whole series – with the unexpected. Yet even the unexpected was plausible, and well within the internal logic of the story, no deus ex machinas here. It also fits nicely the theme of loyalty and friendship overcoming tyranny.
The narration. Once again I loved Lauren Fortgang’s narration. She gave individual voices to each of the characters and brought them to life.
What I didn’t like
Alina’s kickassedness. At one point in the story, when Alina’s situation is pretty bleak, she put on her big girl pants and decides that she’s if she’s going to die, she’s going to go down fighting, dammit, in the manner of other YA heroines such as Hunger Games’ Katniss or Divergent’s Tris. I really liked this. However, that kickassedness isn’t maintained throughout the rest of the book. The rest of the book is more about a group of misfits joined together by friendship to bring down a tyrant. That is also good, too, but I was a little disappointed that Alina didn’t kick butt.
I did enjoy the conclusion to The Grisha Trilogy and gave Ruin and Rising four stars out of five.
Half Bad by Sally Green tells the story of Nathan who is the son of a white witch mother and a black witch father. In Nathan’s world, black witches are hated and feared and Nathan’s parentage makes him a pariah, someone to be caged and studied. To make matters worse, Nathan’s 17th birthday is approaching by which time he must receive three gifts and the blood of a family member – or die.
The story starts off with Nathan in a cage and trying to escape before flashing back to recount his earlier life. The story is told primarily in the first person present, almost stream-of-consciousness – with some diversions off to the second person when Nathan is trying to distance himself from what is going on, such as during torture. The narrative style is deliberately simplistic to reflect Nathan’s lack of book learning.
What I liked
The narration. I LOVED the audio narration of Half Bad, which was done by Carl Prekopp. Written as it is in the first person present, the narrator IS Nathan, and it’s as if the protagonist himself is speaking. This is emphasised by the simple, informal language. My heart rate did shoot up during certain sections because of the writing paired with the narration. This is a book I would definitely recommend enjoying as an audiobook rather than in written format.
The world. I found it interesting that those in the world try to separate witches into black or white, good or evil, when it’s obvious right from the beginning that this is not an realistic worldview. One character tries to claim that the difference is that white witches use their powers for good and black witches not so much. Clearly that is so simplistic as to be laughable. From all the second-hand reports we hear of attacks by black witches, it seems that these incidents were in reaction to white witch activities. Given that the first witches we meet are white witches who harshly curtail our protagonist’s freedoms with regulations reminiscent of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter before imprisoning him in a cage, the reader is not exactly disposed to like them.
The pacing. Given that our hero is under a deadline – to receive his gifts before his 17th birthday or die – the pacing and narrative tension is kept high. It always helps the pacing when the protagonist has to chase down a McGuffin – in this case, someone who can grant him three gifts and the blood of a family member. Incidentally, it’s not made clear to me whether the consequences of meeting this deadline would be as severe as Nathan believes – the point is, he believes it. The action sequences are interesting being written in the first person present. This was the point at which my own heart rate increased notably.
The protagonist. I did like Nathan – despite his lack of book learning, he is pretty shrewd I look forward to seeing how he upsets the Council’s worldview in future books.
What I didn’t like
The romance. For me, it just didn’t gel – it felt forced. My issue was that Nathan didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Annalise before falling for her. OK, she is one of the few non- family members who is nice to him, but still, this subplot just didn’t work for me. (In all fairness, I should point out I rarely like the romance in YA.)
I would certainly recommend Half Bad – especially as an audiobook – and gave it four stars out of five.
Ironskin by Tina Connelly is a retelling of Jane Eyre with a fantasy twist. Unlike similar classic/fantasy blends such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Jane Slayre, Ironskin avoids the humorous side of such a juxtaposition and plays it relatively straight. It tells the story of Jane Eliot, a young woman who must wear an iron mask to contain the effects of a injury sustained in the war against the fae. Although the war is long over, she is still very much an outcast and takes employment with one Mr. Rochart looking after his young daughter, Dorie. Dorie, it seems, has also been affected by the fae.
What I liked
The adaptation. This version, while not following the exact plotline of Jane Eyre, does an excellent job of maintaining the characterisations and emotional beats of the original story. Like Jane Eyre, our Jane Eliot lives at the fringes of her society, and this has a large influence on her character. Edward too, is very similar to the Edward Rochester of the book – his guilt for his past is a block in his admitting his feelings for Jane. Ironskin focusses mainly on the Jane/Edward relationship and hits most of the same emotional beats as the original with the love, betrayal and reunion. I didn’t feel Ironskin came quite up to the emotion of the Jane Eyre ending where Jane is finally reunited with Rochester. The fae side of the story was nicely woven in along with this key relationship.
Beauty as a theme. This is an interesting theme woven throughout the novel. Jane, physically scarred as she is by the Great War, is very sensitive to this, especially as she sees the “pretty ladies” who congregate around Edward. She must decide how best to compete for the love of the man she adores. The whole fey beauty becomes a major plot point.
Supporting characters. Although it focusses on Jane and Edward, I did enjoy the supporting characters in the book, especially Poole (half dwarven!) and Dorie. I liked how Jane’s relationships with them are developed through the book.
The narration. I was drawn to Ironskin as much by the plot as the audio narration sample. When deciding whether to buy the Audible book or the Kindle ebook I often listen to the sample. I loved Rosalyn Landor’s voice and narration in the sample and she did not disappoint in the least. I loved the entire narration. Maybe it’s because I am British (soon to be Canadian!), I generally warm to British narrators more than American ones. Landor narrates this with a wonderfully rich received pronunciation accent and brings a lot of life to the tale.
The pacing. With the focus on Jane’s time at the manor, the story moves along briskly. Like in the original, there are several hints at Rochart’s secret, and this keeps the audience intrigued.
What I didn’t like.
There was little I disliked about Ironskin. There were a few occasions where a more modern turn of phrase was used which I found a little off-putting, but other than that I really enjoyed it. Ironskin is the first in a series of books set in this world. The second, Copperhead, follows Jane’s younger sister, Helen. To be honest, I’ll probably give that a miss as the character of Helen rather irritating in Ironskin and I have no interest in following her story. However, the third book, Silverblind, due out later this year follows a grown up Dorie. Now that I am interested in, and will certainly pick it up in audiobook when it’s available.
I gave Ironskin four and a half stars out of five.
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige was one of my most anticipated reads of the season. I read and loved the prequel - No Place Like Oz - and indeed my desire to read Dorothy Must Die sent me into a reading slump for a while as nothing else hit the spot. Having read it, I can say that, while there was a lot to enjoy about Dorothy Must Die it didn’t quite live up to my anticipation.
What I liked
The protagonist. I really liked our protagonist, Amy Gumm, and enjoyed following her journey. She is a strong, kick-ass heroine, yet is dealing with her own internal demons and has her own buttons that can be pressed. Coming from Kansas as she does, she is the reader’s inroad to Dorothy’s Oz. Many parallels are drawn between Amy and Dorothy; both are originally from Kansas, both were feeling trapped in their mundane lives with little escape from their farm/small town before their arrival in Oz. Both are sensitive to the magic that is all around in Oz.
The worldbuilding. While it’s fair to say that L. Frank Baum did a lot of the heavy lifting in his creation of the world of Oz, Paige has added her own twist to the world. Baum’s Oz is clearly identifiable in the book, but there is a much darker twist to it with Dorothy’s influence. It’s based on the children’s novels rather than the 1939 Judy Garland film in that there are characters mentioned who are in the books not in the movie, and also that the original slippers are silver not red. I would suggest you read No Place Like Oz first before coming to Dorothy Must Die to get an idea of the background.
Good vs Wicked and Trust. The question of trust and whom to trust and whom not to trust comes up too many times for it not to be a major theme in the series. Amy is working for the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked and is repeatedly advised by the operatives not to trust anyone. It’s clear that they don’t trust Amy either, keeping her in the dark until the last possible moment. It’s a common trope in good vs evil fantasy that the good guys always win because they trust their colleagues to have their backs and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good whereas the bad guys are too busy looking out for themselves to implement any cohesive plans or trust their colleagues to work with them. Although the so-called wicked have come together in Dorothy Must Die they don’t have that trust that good guys have. It’s an interesting twist and I look forward to seeing how it plays out in subsequent books.
Writing style. I did enjoy Paige’s writing style. It came across as fresh and immediate and really brought me into the story.
What I didn’t like
Pacing. Here we come to the main problem I had with Dorothy Must Die; the pacing was off. For a significant chunk of the first half of the book Amy is training with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked yet, due to trust issues mentioned above, has not been given a goal to work towards except the vague Dorothy Must Die. This section drags on far too long and really slows the book down. I would encourage you to work past this section though - it improves a lot once Amy is working on a more specific goal.
Misleading marketing. HarperCollins’ blurb for Dorothy Must Die contains the following:
"My name is Amy Gumm—and I'm the other girl from Kansas.I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.I've been trained to fight.And I have a mission: Remove the Tin Woodman's heart.Steal the Scarecrow's brain.Take the Lion's courage.Then and only then—Dorothy must die!"
If that is the blurb you’re using to hook readers into the book, it might be a good idea to have your protagonist actually work towards that goal in that book and not have it be a supposed finale twist that Dorothy can’t die until the Tin Woodman, Scarecrow and Lion have been neutralised. Clearly, it’s a blurb for the series as a whole not just Dorothy Must Die. When reading the book please bear this in mind so that you are not frustrated at the end.
The audio narration. In general I really liked Devon Sorvari’s narration. She really brought out Amy’s strength of character and kick-ass attitude. However there were long pauses left at the end of each paragraph - long enough to be very noticeable and very irritating. I kept wondering if I’d reached the end of a chapter.
In general though I really enjoyed Dorothy Must Die and will definitely continue with the rest of the series. Amy is a really great character and I love the world of Oz. I look forward to seeing more.
I gave Dorothy Must Die four stars out of five.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher is the sequel to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a retelling of George Lucas’s space saga in the style of William Shakespeare. I would strongly recommend picking this up as an audiobook rather than ebook or hard copy – Random House Audio’s production is top notch with an excellent cast. It is far more like a radio play than an audiobook and the excellent cast does a wonderful job of telling the story.
What I liked
The source material. The original Star Wars trilogy is a darn good story. It contains a lot of strong themes which would have been as relevant in Shakespeare’s time as today: love, betrayal, youthful impetuousness, struggle against tyranny. Doescher therefore has a strong base on which to base his adaptation. It also isn’t too jarring, for example, when Han rails against Lando’s betrayal in Shakespearean language as it is a theme and emotion found in many of Shakespeare’s works.
Yoda. On my first listen through I was a little disappointed that Yoda didn’t sound too different from the other characters. In the movies, he has a unique speech pattern and I was hoping that this would be reflected in Empire Striketh Back. It was only on reading Doescher’s commentary that I realised Yoda was speaking in haiku! Darn I wished I’d picked that up first time. This is intended to reflect Yoda’s role as Luke’s master – or sensei – in the mystical force giving an eastern feel to it. Brilliant. Appropriate and brilliant.
The production. Random House Audio has gone full out to make this a radio play rather than an audiobook. We have a strong cast, sound effects (including the iconic swish of the lightsabres) as well as snippets of John Williams’ memorable soundtrack. It all combines to make it a wonderful listen.
Doescher’s Notes and Commentary. I the ebook edition I also possess, Doescher adds some commentary explaining some of the creative decisions he made while writing Empire. This, combined with the teachers notes provides a fascinating new insight into the book.
What I didn’t like
There was nothing, I tell you, nothing i disliked about The Empire Striketh Back. I already have The Jedi Doth Return on pre-order. As the trailer says “these are the books you have been looking for.”
So, after 48 hours of audio, here is my full review of Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. This is volume two in the planned 10 book series of The Stormlight Archive and is the sequel to Way of Kings.
I really enjoyed Words of Radiance. However, it was by no means perfect. For once I’d like to start with what I didn’t like about the book.
What I didn’t like
The dialogue. Not all the time, but on many occasions I found the dialogue too… modern. Every time I heard “yeah” or “guy” or “awesome” I cringed inside. I imagine Sanderson was trying to convey a sense of informality and friendliness between the characters, but for me I was immediately thrown out of the world of Roshar into modern day North America. Perhaps that’s a purely personal reaction, but it did spoil the experience for me. it was especially jarring in the audio version.
The pacing. I don’t mean the pacing within the book itself – I didn’t have a problem with that. I’m referring to the fact that we’re only at the end of book two and already we have the Everstorm about to turn back and cause major destruction as well as turn all the parshmen slaves into Voidbringers. Most fantasy series tend to have such destruction towards the end of the series. Wheel of Time’s Last Battle was in book 14. We still haven’t seen the threatened zombie apocalypse in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and we’re on book five of seven. I just have to wonder where Sanderson has left to go in the Stormlight Archive. Now, it could be that the Everstorm turns out to be only a minor threat to Roshar and that Odium is the equivalent of the Last Battle. We’ll have to see. Sanderson is well known as an Architect type writer in that he has everything planned out meticulously rather than a Gardener like George R.R. Martin who allows the story to develop more organically, so I will have to trust that he knows what he is doing.
What I liked
The structure. Words of Radiance follows the same structure as Way of Kings. This involves a prologue, then switching between three or four tightly focussed viewpoints, one of which expands a character’s story with flashbacks. Additionally the main sections of the book are broken up by Interludes from minor characters to provide information otherwise not available to the reader. This worked very well. It kept the pace brisk, allowed us to really get to know the main PoV characters but added new insights through the Interludes.
The Radiants. This book focuses on the re-establishment of the Knights Radiant which is a major story arc throughout the book. This provided a wonderfully cohesive theme across all the PoVs and interludes. Naturally, we expected our main characters Kaladin, Shallon and Dalanar to be well on the way to becoming Radiants and we were not disappointed. What was nicely done though was the path by which they are working towards that goal. There was some wonderful character development in this regard. I was also interested in the sort of anti-Radiants being collected by Darkness; we see this through the Szeth and Lift Interludes. This looks to provide some interesting conflict in books to come.
Worldbuilding. Sanderson continues to build upon his world of Roshar. I enjoyed his development of the Radiant/spren connection, although I’m still not quite certain I understand about the various types of Shardblade (live spren? dead spren? bonding?) so if anyone can clarify that for me I’d be very grateful. I particularly appreciated the development of the Parshendi through Eshonai’s Interludes – I found it fascinating and moving. Such a pity about the timing. I imagine the story would have been very different if Eshonai had met with Dalinar before going into the storm.
The narration. As usual Kate Reading and Michael Kramer do a wonderful job narrating the books. Given that the book is over 48 hours, it’s nice to have a switch up of narrator. I was amused that both seem to consider the Herdazians British!
Despite the few flaws I mentioned, I did enjoy Words of Radiance. I wouldn’t’ say I loved it, or that it’s the best book I’ve read this year, but I gave it a solid four stars out of five.
In short, this is the most brilliant piece of writing I have read in a long time. I am a big fan of the original trilogy Star Wars movies and it’s just incredible how well they work in Shakespearean language. Doescher studied Shakespeare and is also a big sci-fi geek and his understanding of both media comes across very well. The dichotomy of the sci-fi content in old fashioned language adds a real interest to the writing. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun to play “spot the (adapted) Shakespeare quotation.” For example, we have “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not” referencing Hamlet’s thoughts on Yorrick.
I have both the audiobook (narrated by a troupe of Shakespearean actors including the author himself) and I strongly recommend experiencing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars in audiobook format rather than the written word. The cast really brings it to life.
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