As a SERIOUS dog lover (I have four and a foster currently and I'm actively involved in Rescue), I take interest in most books about dogs and there are a lot of them lately. Dogs seem to be the latest craze in books - slipping past Angels, almost up there with Zombies, but not quite at the level of Vampires yet. However, a fair number of these books seem to be written by people who don't really have much experience with dogs and "What's a Dog For?" is one of those. John Homans is a journalist so his writing is competent, but he admits that he has truly known only a couple of dogs - both Lab mixes - so he really isn't the ideal candidate in my mind to answer a question like: What's a Dog For? And, he doesn't answer the question in this book - OK, I guess it was rhetorical anyway - but he does do a good job of lining out the basic scientific study of the evolution of dogs and their cognitive abilities, the history of breeding and humane organizations, and the changes in cultural attitudes toward dogs.
This book will be interesting to most dog lovers, but I saw two major short comings. For a book titled, "What's a Dog For?", this book is decidedly short on the history and background of working dogs (other than hunting dogs like LABRADORS - Homans' dog). Search and Rescue, aids to the physically disabled, herding dogs, therapy dogs, police/military duty; there is an almost inexhaustible list of job functions dogs have taken on in history and still do. Homans talks much about how the "emotional side" of dogs and their physical characteristics have allowed them to mold themselves into human society, yet he skims over the fact that dogs (unlike his example of tamed foxes who are also cute and emotional) have made themselves almost indispensable to people independent of what jobs we ask of them or what environments we put them in. (Hey, dogs have gone over the mountains, into the deserts and arctics, across the oceans, and even into space to work with us!!) The fact that dogs always seem willing, even eager, to "partner" with us (even our family dogs protect our person and property) versus just being a pet like a gerbil may have a lot more to do with the dog's success in our society than just the fact that they are cute. Yet, I was still thinking that for scope and entertainment, this book was still a good 4 star until Homans came to the last hour or so and entered the debate on No Kill. Homans seems to ignore the fact that the No Kill movement has resulted in the annual euthanasia rate in the US dropping from 20 MILLION dogs and cats in 1970 to about 3 million today and that many city run pounds are now operating on No Kill principles. The current euthanasia number is still ghastly but hugely improved, yet Homans only reports this change from the perspective of the ASPCA, an organization that will lose its current raison d'être if No Kill succeeds. Homans paints Nathan Winograd (founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center) as a kook and a zealot as characterized by the head of the ASPCA without interviewing Nathan Winograd or anyone active in No Kill. He uses the large Pit Bull population in shelters as evidence that we must continue killing - can't get all those dogs into refuges like Michael Vick's dogs (quotes the ASPCA guy) - but, in fact, Michael Vick's dogs were fighting dogs which most pit bulls in shelters are not AND (this is a big AND), most of Michael Vick's pits were rehabbed and ADOPTED to regular people, not killed and not sent to refuge. So this was a totally specious argument and Homans as a journalist should have caught it. Homans seems to be arguing that a commitment to stop the killing through aggressive spay/neuter programs and education is tantamount to giving dogs person-hood. I just don't agree and I don't think he presented his arguments well in this area.
Ultimately, if you are interested in dogs, this book provides a quick fairly entertaining historical summary. If you actually care about what happens to all dogs in our society, this book presents an incomplete and somewhat skewed picture. If you want to understand dogs better, this is NOT the book - Homans clearly loves his dog, but doesn't seem to have much insight into dogs as a whole. If you really want an answer to What's a Dog For?, get a a dog!
John Scalzi doesn't do a lot of fancy footwork with language (he's not a writer that will give you a punchy new metaphor or a lot of symbolism), but for my money he is one of the best storytellers out there. You can count on Scalzi to give you an exciting plot with a great climax and a satisfying conclusion, characters you can love and love to hate, and a great sense of humor woven into the story to keep things fun and on pace. Lock In is no exception - the story follows Chris Shane, a new FBI agent, and his more experienced and jaded partner, Leslie Vann, as they work to solve a crime and uncover a conspiracy in a world radically changed by a pandemic and the technology that has evolved to cope with the affects of the disease. As much as I enjoy traveling the universe in sci-fi, I love the occasional look at the future from planet side and Lock In does that nicely with a lot of focus on bio-engineering, virtual reality, and software programming as well as a smattering of economics, politics, and sociology mixed into a story that is at heart a fast action police procedural. Scalzi gives you just enough science and logic to buy in to his world without slowing the plot down with too much detail.
I had a little trouble getting started with the story because you enter the story about 20 years after Haden's has struck so although this is a near-future sci-fi and you will recognize some aspects of the world as similar to today, the story begins after the radical changes the virus has wrought and it took me a little time to catch up. Once I did, I couldn't stop - lots of action and great characters. There seems to be some room in here for "the continuing adventures of Chris Shane" and I really hope to see more - I was so sorry when this ended.
I have liked Wil Wheaton's narration each time I've heard him, but I think he has matured as a narrator and is even better now. He doesn't really do "character voices", but he has the perfect emotional inflection for the dialog and the narrative both. Since this story is mostly told first person from the POV of Chris Shane, Wheaton was a good fit.
The novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome, which is at about 2:15 on the second download is terrific also. It is the story of how the virus struck and spread, the government and medical community response to it, the outcomes of the disease, and the beginning stages of the technology developed to cope with Haden's Syndrome. This is told sort of documentary style with a whole cast of narrators (including some of the really fun ones like Luke Daniels and Bronson Pinchot) and reminded me a little of World War Z. The novella is recorded after the book, but you could read these in either order. The book is much more action packed so it's probably a more exciting way to learn about Haden's, but I think I would have liked to have heard the novella first because I would have had a better understanding of Lock In from the beginning. Either order really is OK; neither the book nor the novella would spoil the other.
Very entertaining and a little thought-provoking - highly recommended!
If I could choose one phrase to summarize this masterpiece, I couldn't do better than the title of Jan's review - "Not written - crafted...exquisitely" (nicely said, Jan!). Although APFOM has an interesting plot and a shattering ending, if you read this book just for the story, you will miss the best part; APFOM is truly a modern classic with some of the best and most engaging use of literary devices and provocative thought I've ever seen. To list a few:
1. Enveloping and evocative use of setting - both historical and geographic - to set the tone and pacing
2. Masterful use of the first person form. First person is challenging when you want to portray detail for many characters. A Prayer not only provides detail characterization for a great cast of eccentrics, its primary protagonist is not the POV character. In lesser hands, the reader would not be able to relate to Owen Meany with all his strangeness when portrayed only from the POV of his friend, John Wheelwright, but Irving not only slowly makes you understand Owen, but truly love him.
3. Foreshadowing, allusion, and symbolism so subtle and finely woven into the narrative that you will not realize until the ending that you have been told repeatedly what is going to happen and still the ending is gut-wrenching and shocking and inevitable.
4. Some of the most insightful commentary on religion and faith that I have ever read in fiction. The beautiful, tragic, and repulsive aspects of religion are all woven into this narrative with little jewels of wisdom scattered throughout. One of my favorite quotes, "My belief in God disturbs and unsettles me much more than not believing ever did. Unbelief seems vastly harder to me now than belief does, but belief poses so many unanswerable questions." In the end, A Prayer is a real tribute to active Faith.
I read the book many years ago when it was first published and I think it can be advantageous to see this book in print to understand how Irving wrote it (Owen's dialog is in all caps and Irving often throws a word said in Owen's voice into the middle of John's sentences) so you will appreciate the phenomenal narrative interpretation of the book by Joe Barrett - truly an outstanding performance of a challenging book. I have had a permanent place on my bookshelves for APFOM for years, but not re-read it just because the ending is hard. However, I couldn't resist the audiobook when it was on sale and now I realize I should have picked it up long ago because it is more than worth full price. If you have read the book, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audiobook - you will not be disappointed. And, Irving packs so much beautiful prose and food for thought in this book, it is one that really should be read or heard more than once.
Steampunk that works on every level with alternate technology woven seamlessly into the plot (not just tossed in for effect) with a mash up of genres (melodrama, alternate history, paranormal, horror, romance) and flavored with a bit of everything (romantic comedies of the 40's, Dr. Frankenstein, Regency tales, etc.). The plot sizzles and steams until all these bits and pieces gel into a wonderfully fun and cohesive story that will have a permanent home in My Library. It would be a spoiler to detail anymore of the plot than provided in the Publisher's Summary, but the premise of a disease that causes gender change in a person during a era when genteel people would never mention the word gender much less sex and in a time when men held most of the property and power and women were not guaranteed basic human liberties obviously provides a setup for some interesting conflict. T. Aaron Payton (pseudonym for Tim Pratt) has used this terrific premise to lay out a very engaging story that is fun and funny while still providing some food for thought. I have liked some of Tim Pratt's previous books, but I'm glad I didn't realize Payton and Pratt are the same person before I read the book because The Constantine Affliction is a major cut above and I'm really glad this book is a "Book 1" because I want much more of this. The characters are well developed (I could so picture Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell or Katherine Hepburn playing the leads in this), the plot is crazy but coherent, the biological bent of the alternate technology is a nice new twist on steampunk, and John Lee's narration is truly great. Even if you have given up on steampunk (because, hey, there is a lot of it that isn't very good), I'd urge you to try this one - first rate entertainment!
I picked up this volume of short stories in a sale. I didn't have high expectations because I am not a huge fan of the short form, but there were several writers included that I liked so I gave it a try. And, most of the stories are pretty good, especially Ilona Andrews' and Jim Butcher's. But I got a total shock from Rachel Caine. I have read some of Caine's books, but have never been overly impressed. However, her short story, Even a Rabbit Will Bite, is just about as good a short story as I have ever read - right up there with some of my favorites of Edgar Allen Poe and that is saying something. She builds and destroys a whole world in one brief story, makes the reader care deeply about some very odd characters, and left me with a tale I will never forget. It is especially nice that this great story is perfectly narrated by Suzanne Toren (bravo, Ms. Toren!). This is such a great short story, it makes the whole collection totally worth a credit.
I am not sure why this nice turn on time travel is listed in Mystery/Suspense because I think it would much better fit in Science Fiction since time travel isn't just a device in this book, it is central to the plot. And, although this couldn't qualify as hard science sci-fi, the scientific explanation of the time shifting methodology and paradoxes is handled with some decent logic. Since I don't read a lot of mystery, I am glad this book showed up on a Daily Deal or might not have seen it and I really enjoyed the book. Almost any specifics about this largely plot driven novel would be a spoiler so I will just say this story totally grabbed me. Cristin Terrill does a wonderful job of weaving together parallel past/future story lines and through most of the book she kept the shifting time lines in logical order and explained the time paradoxes well. Only two small criticisms: 1. After keeping the threads straight through the many plot convolutions, there was a glaring error in the ending, 2. There are at least 3 scenes in which a character could have taken immediate action to get the desired result, but paused (like a bad movie) to explain and then missed his/her opportunity. Meredith Mitchell's narration was well done and added to my enjoyment of the story.
All Our Yesterdays was an engaging read and I'd like to try more from Cristin Terrill.
I have heard about The Haunting of Hill House for years, but never read it. But it is on Charlaine Harris' list of favorite books so when Audible had it on sale, I picked it up. Since it is a bit of classic, I'm not sorry I listened to it and Bernadette Dunne's narration is so very good I can't consider it a total loss, but I am glad I didn't pay full price. There is very little action and I didn't find it very suspenseful either. The characters are reasonably interesting, but the only backstory you get in detail is for Eleanor who seems to be psychologically damaged and absolutely drowning in self pity. The more I knew about her, the less I wanted to know. There is some superb spooky mood setting, but any real suspense is undermined by an unbalanced central character who steals the show from anything paranormal or horrific.
Reviews are just opinions and I appreciate anyone who takes time to write one. With all due respect though I have to disagree with the comparison of this series with the Dresden Files. Both series are urban fantasy with a magic-wielding male protagonist and that is about all they have in common. If you are looking for the multi-layered characters, intricate plots, fascinating magical system, snappy dialog, and interesting settings that have developed in the Dresden Files, you won't find it here. Hellequin may interest you if you like the graphic novel format - it reads much like a graphic novel translated to book form with a whole series of action scenes strung together, cartoonish characters (voluptuous women, violent men), and very little use of setting. (The story uses multiple periods in history and multiple geographical locations and yet is never evocative.) I am all for an action-packed novel, but the action sequences in Hellequin are all the same - someone is kidnapped and tortured, some woman throws herself at Nate (our "hero") and they have sex, Nate beats up the bad guy. There is some graphic sex, but no sexual tension in the story. There is a lot of action, but no suspense because Nate wins hands down against every "critter". The magical system is inconsistent and Nate seems to find a new power around every corner.
I usually really like James Langton's narration, but I agree with another reviewer that he was the wrong choice for this book. His posh British accent doesn't work with an anti-hero who is long on violence and short on finesse.
I got the first two books in an Audible 2-for sale and they were OK for the price. I won't get anymore in the series. If you love Dresden, you won't necessarily love Hellequin. (You won't even know what Hellequin is until book 2.)
Sixty-One Nails is a nice introduction to a new series, The Courts of Feyre. This opening book is set primarily in modern-day London with a likable everyman protagonist who suffers through the world's toughest midlife crisis. Sixty-One Nails blends the tropes of urban fantasy with old-school folklore about the Fey and Feyre (how many ways can you spell Fairy - let me count the authors) and mixes in some fascinating English history to create a unique fantasy adventure. The plot is fast paced with a lot of action, but not a lot of violence. The city of London, the surrounding countryside, and the rich English history are all used quite effectively to set the tone and to drive the plot. The writing is strong with a lot of evocative language to build great mental pictures to enhance the story.
Much of this first book is really about Niall Petersen (Rabbit), a middle-aged Joe Blow coming to terms with who he really is and what he will really do with the rest of his longer than expected life wrapped up in a truly engaging plot and the evolution of this central character is interesting and believable within the fantasy context. There is a romantic thread in this first book which does not factor much until the end of the book, but unfortunately, I think it may be a bigger part of the rest of the series. I say unfortunately because I really enjoyed listening to Rabbit's evolving relationship with his mysterious mentor much more than I enjoyed the more trite romantic relationship with the less mysterious and less powerful girlfriend.
Nigel Carrington is very pleasant to listen to and his voice seems to be a good fit for both the style and setting of the book.
With some reservations about the romance introduced at the end of Sixty-One Nails, I intend to continue with this adventure now that Audible has added two more in the series. Most readers of Urban Fantasy will like this new twist to the genre - recommended.
I have only one negative thing to say about this new Stroud series - Book 2, The Whispering Skull, is not due for release until September 2014 and I want it now! The Screaming Staircase is a wonderful beginning to the new Lockwood & Co series and shows promise of being every bit as engaging and well-written as the oh-so-funny Bartimaeus series. Once again, Stroud gives us a classy "young adult" book that you can comfortably share with a younger audience that is still very entertaining for a seasoned fantasy reader. In Bartimaeus, the young male main character is challenged by demons while the young protagonists of The Screaming Staircase are both male and female with Lucy Carlyle taking the lead role and ghosts are their paranormal challenge. While the Lockwood kids are not as cleverly snarky as the characters in Bartimaeus, they are witty and charming in their own right and have a nice balance of kid type flaws (willfulness, egotism, etc.) mixed with compassion and a good internal moral compass that you didn't see as much in Bartimaeus. Lucy Carlyle is as well-written a young heroine as I have met in fantasy since Garth Nix's Sabriel and Lirael - she's smart and vulnerable and very easy to identify with and root for.
Miranda Raison is a great choice as narrator. Her rather melodic voice and pleasant English accent fit perfectly with the setting, ghost-laden London, and she capture the essence of Lucy quite well. Raison does nice character voices and I really enjoyed her performance.
Whether or not you have young listeners to share with, anyone who enjoys paranormal fantasy will have fun with The Screaming Staircase.
Note: Although this is supposed to be a standalone novel, I don't believe anyone would be able to follow the story without reading the Black Jewels trilogy first. And, if you read this book first, you may never read another Anne Bishop book so don't start Black Jewels here.
I really enjoyed the original Black Jewels trilogy so I didn't worry much that there were no reviews of this prequel and picked it up with high expectations. What a disappointment - absolutely pathetic. I would normally return a book this bad, but I wanted to post a review just to warn others. I now realize why there were no reviews even though there are many people who have read it. Any time you post a critical review of a beloved author, you get slings and arrows, but just in case anyone is interested before listening to this dud, I will brave it and advise you to SAVE YOUR CREDIT for something better.
Everything I liked about the original trilogy - engaging characters, intricate magical system, grand world building - is gone. Everything I was afraid might be in the original trilogy and was happy to find it wasn't there, has made it into this book. Women who behave like naughty 3-year-olds sulking and pouting and men who find that idiocy attractive and "handle" women like they were children even though the male characters are written to be just as immature and stupid as the female characters. Jared's big romance is the driver for the whole book and even if I liked Romance as a genre (which I don't), this is a REALLY lame romance with two of the most boring characters of all time. The only male character in this novel with the kind of fascination factor of the original is a "walk-on" appearance of Daemon and there is not a single female character that comes anywhere close to being as engaging as Jaenelle, Surreal, or Tersa. In addition, Bishop's writing, that I found rather pedestrian in the trilogy becomes truly lame in the Invisible Ring. Some cringe-worthy samples that will give you a flavor of this rather painful listening experience:
"He'd said goodnight to Lady Cuddles and woke up to Lady Grumpy." (ugh)
"I should take you over my knee and wallop some consideration into you." (Said by a grown man to an unrelated grown woman - I do not have words for how much I despise this kind of interaction between male and female characters in novels.)
""It knocked me down", she said, pouting. She sounded like a little girl whose best friend has snatched her favorite toy." (This is Bishop's description of a grown woman, gray-jeweled witch after using her magic. I'm betting Surreal would have called up her stiletto to use on this girl!)
Like the other Black Jewels books, this one is heavy on the sadism, but unlike the original trilogy, the sexual perversions and tortures are almost totally gratuitous and do nothing to further the plot or character development. And the constant discussion of "Moon Blood" and "Virgin Nights" was it's own kind of torture for me. The book is 400+ pages and I'm guessing the word "bitch" must be used an average of 2 times per page. Throw in a generous helping of "slut" and "whore" and you can probably tell that the misogyny quotient for this novel is huge and it's just a lazy, tedious, manipulative way to make you hate the bad guys.
The Invisible Ring not only doesn't measure up to the original Black Jewels trilogy, it is just plain bad.
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