Review of The Scarifyers (9) The King Of Winter by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

October 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Scarifyers (9) The King Of WinterThe Scarifyers (9) The King Of Winter
By Simon Barnard and Paul Morris; Performed by a full cast
Digital Download or 2 CDs – Approx. 1 hour 34 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Bafflegab
Published: October 17th, 2014 (PRE-ORDER AVAILABLE NOW)

Midsummer, 1938. When a train porter is frozen to his living room chair (then nearly crowned Miss Croydon), MI-13’s Harry Crow and Professor Dunning are on the case. But what links the unfortunate porter to the equally glaciated peer-of-the-realm, Lord Trumpley? MI:13’s investigations lead them to exclusive gentleman’s establishment, The Tartarus Club, whose membership appears to be rapidly dwindling. What is the secret of the Tartarus Club? Why are the villagers of Thornton Gibbet afraid of a 300-year-old ghost? And why is it snowing in June? As everlasting winter sets in, Crow and Dunning find themselves pitted against their greatest foe yet… THE KING OF WINTER.

Harry Crow, played by David Warner, and Professor Dunning, played by Terry Molloy, make a terrific duo. Though the main thrust of The King Of Winter is towards laughs the imposing voice of Warner is pure gravitas. This is the actor who played “Evil” in Time Bandits, the Cardassian torturer on Deep Space Nine, and the Master Control Program in the original TRON. Seeing him, or rather hearing him, commandeer a pair of tennis rackets for use as makeshift snowshoes is a truly delightful experience. Terry Molloy, though a staple of BBC radio drama, is probably more famous as the actor who portrayed the evil Davros, the creator of the Daleks. In The Scarifyers Molloy plays against the megalomaniacal type he’s so well know for, being a meek professor of occult literature. Together in The King Of Winter Dunning and Crow investigate the sudden freezing of seemingly unconnected men. There are also mysterious disappearing coins, oddly-aproned men (in a certain secret society that controls the entire world), and ribald jokes!

The period root of The Scarifyers series isn’t all that grounds this madcap show. Take, for example, Professor Dunning’s name. Dunning is the protagonist of M.R. James’ most famous story, Casting The Runes. And where The King Of Winter diverges from the mainstream of weird fiction is in the humour – this is very funny stuff what with two royal Georges, two green men, and two Father Christmases kicking each other. In fact, the writers throw in practically every kind of comedy, from thinly veiled ridicule of famous modern public figures, to the poking fun at dramatic convention itself. Personally, my favourite parts are the god-awful puns and word humour. This is particularly evident in this adventure as there’s a Shakespearian stage play in the climax – when a stage-frightened Professor Dunning improvises his rhymed lines, dressed as a tree … well you’ve got to hear it

Worthy of repeated listening The Sacrifyers: The King Of Winter, like its terrific theme song, is rousing comedic fun.

Cast:
David Warner as Harry Crow
Terry Molloy as Professor Dunning
Guy Henry as Charles Blackthorn
David Benson as Alexander Caulfield-Browne and Reverend Spicer
Stephen Critchlow as Prince George and Sir Reginald Flash
Lisa Bowerman as Dr Crook and Miss Lewis Smith
David Bickerstaff as Lord Huntingdon and Roger Dillcock
Alex Lowe as Hartley and King George VI

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Edgar Allen Poe Collected Stories and Poems

October 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Poe Stories and PoemsEdgar Allan Poe – Collected Stories and Poems
By Edgar Allen Poe; Performed by Ralph Cosham
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours
Themes: / short stories / poems / horror / classics/ locked door mystery / suspended animation / mesmerism /
Publisher summary:

Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Edgar Allan Poe. Even so, no one is really sure who Poe was. Many people say that he was as crazy as the characters he wrote about. Others say that Poe was a driven man with a simple wish. He wanted to write and to make a living by his writing. Even though Poe lived a miserable life, he wrote some of the most interesting and original literature ever created. This collection of his stories and poems includes:“The Raven”“The Cask of Amontillado”“The Fall of the House of Usher”“The Pit and the Pendulum”And more!

Table of Contents:
* The Raven
* The Cask of Amontillado
* The Tell-Tale Heart
* The Black Cat
* The Bells
* The Fall of the House of Usher
* Manuscript Found in a Bottle
* The sleeper
* The Man of the Crowd
* The Pit and the Pendulum
* Annabel Lee
* The Man that was Used Up: A Tale of the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign
* The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether
* The Oval Portrait
* Eleonora
* The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
* Berenice
* The Murders in the Rue Morgue

This Edgar Allan Poe collection is accessible, and leans heavy to the short story with a smattering of poetry. Readers will recognize many of the titles, but some may discover new Poe within this volume.

One of my favorite Poe works to contemplate, “The Cask of Amontillado,” still resonates. Two new pieces that struck a pleasing chord were the poem “The Bells” and the short story “Manuscript Found in a Bottle,” which made me grin in readerly delight. I enjoyed most of the selections, and only a few felt soured with age or redundant verbosity.

The audiobook is both wonderful and slightly choppy. Ralph Cosham is the narrator, and his pacing, his timbre, his ability to capture and project Poe’s atmosphere of the strange and macabre renders an intimate listening experience. But it sounds as if the various pieces were lifted from separate audio productions and then spliced together. I distinctly heard discrepancies between selections in recording clarity, recording volume, and the sense that Cosham’s voice reflected the reader at different ages. In one piece, Cosham sounds like a vigorous young man barely out of his thirty’s; in another his voice sounds as if two decades vanished. You should definitely give this a listen, and come to your own conclusions.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

September 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Clean Sweep by Ilona AndrewsClean Sweep
By Ilona Andrews; Narrated by Renee Raudman
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / urban fantasy / Texas / magic / bed and breakfast / werewolves / vampires /

Publisher summary:

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast.

But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….

Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Clean Sweep is an urban fantasy-type book with some interesting twists. Unfortunately, the narrator of the audiobook had a voice that didn’t fit the character and was so out of place that it made the book very difficult to listen to.

Dina is an innkeeper, a woman who runs a B&B in Texas. Her inn has magical properties and she has magical capabilities, her role being that of a neutral protector in a version of Earth/USA that includes normal humans but also has vampires, werewolves, and other magical beasts. The main thrust of the story is that Dina’s inn becomes the site for a showdown between two sides in a big family disagreement, though the book was more than halfway through before any of this became evident. The first half (or slightly more) of the book was world building and character introduction more than it was purely essential to the plot.

In Clean Sweep, Ilona Andrews has some interesting ideas about magic. I think I might be persuaded to read another book set in this world/series, assuming it was quicker to get to the point/didn’t do as much world-building, and assuming that I read it, not listened to it (or that the narrator was someone else). In Ms. Andrews’ world, the magical entities are by and large aliens from other worlds who find themselves on earth for a variety of reasons. What appears to be magic to “normal” people is actually uber nanotechnology or other futuristic technologies at work from alien worlds. There are many aggressive entities, such as the werewolves and vampires, but there are also places like the Inns, the Switzerland’s of the magical world. Innkeepers are to take no sides and to protect whoever signs the contract and pays to be a guest at the inn.

All of this goes awry when some creatures known as stalkers start killing dogs in the town where Dina’s inn is. At first, she believes that a local werewolf named Sean is to blame, but after killing two (with the help of Sean) and studying them, she comes to find out that these creatures may have been hired by vampires as part of a massive (and deadly) family feud. The world-building is mainly done by Dina explaining how the “magic” came to be to Sean, who knows nothing of the history of his species’ home planet or how his species came to earth. Through these explanations and through Dina’s preparations to help protect the vampires who are staying at the inn, the reader learns about other worlds, wormholes, and the true source of “magic.”

The book also has a side plot that was touched briefly upon, a story of Dina’s parents’ inn vanishing one day. Dina does a bit through the course of the narrative to try to find them, but it seems fairly obvious that it’s a side thread to be explored in later books/as a series arc. While most of the book is purely urban fantasy, there are also some hot and steamy scenes that are typically found in romance novels. Many urban fantasy books these days seem to have these scenes, whether they add to the story or not (in this case, not). There is also a possible threat, the local police officer thinking Dina is up to no good, but that thread is unceremoniously dropped just before the main thread of the story picks up, about halfway through. It’s not clear if this topic will be revisited in later books or if it was just an editing miss.

Clean Sweep is a fairly typical, action-packed urban fantasy story. There aren’t any deeper themes or morals to be had from it, though the idea of magic as uber technology is kind of fun. The book, once the actual plot started, was pretty quick to go through and fairly simple/straight-forward. This isn’t a book that’s going to make you think, or require lots of focused reading time to enjoy.

The only major negative is with the audiobook specifically. Dina is supposed to be a 23 year old woman living in Texas. Unfortunately, she sounds like an old grandmother from the deep south. The voice and the description of the character just don’t align. The narrator’s voices for the men were surprisingly good, but her overall voice just sounded old and tired. In parts where there was a lot of action, she actually sounded even worse, over dramatizing her voice acting. I actually thought she was going to die a few times. It was downright uncomfortable and annoying to listen to, and I cannot recommend the audiobook. If another book in this series is released, I may give it a go in print/Kindle, but won’t be listening again unless the narrator changes.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Rift Walker by Clay and Susan Griffith

September 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Rift WalkerThe Rift Walker (Vampire Empire #2)
By Clay and Susan Griffith; Read by James Marsters
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours

Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy / post-apocalpyse / humanism /

Publisher summary:

The Rift Walker is the second installment in the Vampire Empire book trilogy. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, this tale of courage, sacrifice, and heroism takes place against the backdrop of an age of steam and rational humanism, where the social elite have rejected religion and spiritualism as nothing more than quaint superstition.

Brutal Vampire Clans rule half the world keeping human herds for food, and Princess Adele, heir to the throne of Equatoria, is faced with grim choices. War is imminent and her marriage to the odious Senator Clark of America will cement an alliance uniting the Equatorian Empire and the American Republic. This integration of war machines is to be the opening volley in the campaign to reclaim the Northern Hemispheres. Unfortunately, Adele’s betrothed has a bloodthirsty war strategy, one the Princess finds as repulsive as the actions of the vampires they fight.

Moments in advance of the Princess’s marriage to the Senator, the Geryfriar, legendary champion of the human resistance, rescues Adele before vampire assassins can murder her. While on the run from the agents of Prince Cesare, the acting Clan Lord of the Northern Vampires, Adele seeks to discover a way to protect her beloved Equatoria and prevent the genocide Clark intends to implement, all while trying to free herself from an unwanted marriage. Meanwhile, Cesare’s agents have struck deep at the heart of Equatoria and will stop at nothing to keep Adele from ascending to the throne.

Treachery abounds; friendship, loyalties, and allegiances are tested. Will Princess Adele be able, with the help of her beloved Greyfriar, her devoted guard and faithful officer Anhalt, and her mentor Mamarou, to turn the tide before human civilization is forever shattered?

This review is going to read a lot like that of the first book in the series, The Greyfriar. If you read that book and enjoyed it, you’ll like this one too. Where the first book was kind of (Zorro + Beauty and the Beast + Vampires), this one kind of leans more toward Romeo and Juliet. The protagonists love each other but everyone from their respective houses pretty much hates on the other. Wrap all that up with another fantastic narration by James Marsters and this book is over before you know it.

I still like the way these books are written. The vocabulary and use of idioms gives the story an older feel that matches the semi-steam punk world where the story takes place. More of the less important characters even show a bit more depth in this story which was pretty nice. I like that there was clearly a bit of a plan in writing the trilogy and that some things were revealed in this book that I was wondering about since the first one.

I had some minor plot issues with the story but overall the whole thing went by very fast. This is in the description of the book so whatever: I don’t understand why the Greyfriar swoops in to the save the princess when he uncovers a plot to kill her and her betrothed….instead of trying to save them both or ration out the situation without making frenemies. I’m sure it’s something like “all he could think about was saving her” or “he didn’t know who to trust” but the way it was carried out didn’t really work well for me. There were a few other moments like this but they’re minor gripes at best.

As for the audio side of things, James Marsters did a fantastic job. You’ll once again hear many voices you recognize from Dresden but I didn’t have any problem keeping things straight in my head. I started this series because it’s read by him and I’m definitely not sad at the decision.

Book 3 here I come!

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

September 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fool's AssassinFool’s Assassin (Fitz and the Fool #1)
By Robin Hobb; Narrated by Elliot Hill
27 hours, 18 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 12 August 2014
Themes: / fantasy / assassin / fool /

Publisher summary:

FitzChivalry – royal bastard and former king’s assassin – has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past…and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one.

When I first heard confirmation that the rumors of a new Fitz and Fool series were true, I was full of mixed emotions. I loved Fool’s Fate. I’ve enjoyed all of Ms. Hobb’s books but that is the only one I’ve given 5 stars too. I was just so satisfied with how it ended. There were questions, but all the big things were resolved in the end.

So would this book ruin my favorite book? Well not yet, but it certainly hasn’t alleviated my fears that the events of this trilogy might tarnish things for me.

Like many books by Ms. Hobb, things start out slow. I don’t mean that in a negative way, however. Somehow she is able to write in such a way that I don’t mind the day to day life of her books. Despite my trepidation, it just felt nice to be back with characters I love. If you’re looking for a lot of action or a flashy start, you’ll be disappointed. I imagine that anyone picking up this book is already going to be a Robin Hobb fan and used to her style.

More than anything, Ms. Hobb’s writing is able to evoke strong emotions in me as I read. Love, anger, happiness, frustration. Few other authors can make me despise a new character so quickly or completely. Similarly Fitz continues to frustrate me with the way he does things in a way that is just all too human. Often times the protagonist in a fantasy book faces external adversity and rises to the occasion. Meanwhile Fitz is frequently his own worst enemy. Poor Ms. Hobb loves putting him through the ringer too, and this book is no different.

I had three issues with this book. First, the series is called Fitz & Fool. The book is called Fool’s Assassin. So why did it take so long for us to see the Fool? He’s mentioned often enough, but I want to spend time with him just as I am spending time with Fitz. So far this series seems a lot more like Farseer than Tawny Man in that regard.

The second thing was the addition of a POV besides Fitz. I guess I’m a very jealous reader. I originally hoped it was a one off thing early in the book, but when it turned out to be a regular thing it bothered me. I felt robbed of time I could be spending with Fitz. By the end of the book it grew on me and I came to look forward to those chapters nearly as much as I did the Fitz ones.

The final issue I had was the ending. I know this is the first book of a trilogy, but I hate cliffhanger type endings, and this one seemed pretty bad to me. If you’re the type of person who hates waiting for the next book, you may be better off waiting until the final book is either published or has a release date. It’s going to a be a LONG wait for me until book 2.

Overall I really liked, but didn’t love this book. I’m still pretty nervous about what may happen next. I think that above all shows how great a writer Ms. Hobb is to fill me with both a sense of anticipation and dread for the next book in the series.

As a narrator, I really didn’t like Elliot Hill much at first. He grew on me by the end though. I don’t normally hear characters speaking in my head as I read and haven’t had any issue listening to books I had previously read and finding the voices wrong.

I did here for some reason. Fitz just didn’t sound right to me. Same thing with Molly. Bee seemed fine, but really she sounded almost like Molly. I liked his voice for Chade though.

Mr. Hill does a few voices and accents and does a fine job of it. It just took me a very long time to get used to. By the end though I seemed to get over it. I likely won’t do the audio again unless I get another review copy, but I’d guess many people won’t have the same issues I did with it.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Bellwether by Connie Willis

September 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

BellwetherBellwether
By Connie Willis; Narrated by Kate Reading
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Publication Date: February 2009
[UNABRIDGED] – 6 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / pop culture / scientific discovery / chaos theory / Robert Browning / office assistants / fads /

Publisher summary:

Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennett O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep. But a series of setbacks and disappointments arise before they are able to find answers to their questions – with the unintended help of the errant, forgetful, and careless office assistant Flip.

This is my favorite Connie Willis book, hands down. She blends pop culture, scientific discovery, chaos theory, Robert Browning, fads and an infuriating office assistant to produce a book where thinking for oneself gets you blank looks of incomprehension. Willis’s books come in two flavors, either funny or grim (as she herself describes her serious works). This is definitely one of the funny ones.

This was written in 1996 so it is interesting to see that certain fads have evolved and that some have floated away. (It’s been a long time since I thought about Pet Rocks or mood rings, for example.) Listening to the audiobook, I realized that it gave me a real sense of perspective on a lot of things that drive me crazy by reminding me that these are simply the most current fads (Paleo / gluten-free diets, smart phones, SnapChat, etc.).  These too shall pass although the chaos will probably remain. And I’m actually okay with that.

Kate Reading’s narration really brought the book alive. I especially enjoyed her characterizations of Flip, Management, and Shirl, all of which added extra fillips of humor to the story. Having read the book several times before listening, I was impressed how well she captured the main character that I “heard” mentally. I will definitely be listening to this the next time I need a dose of anti-fad sensibility.

This is a light, fun book which nonetheless has a core of common sense and deeper meaning.

Why do only the awful things become fads? I thought. Eye-rolling and Barbie and bread pudding. Why never chocolate cheesecake or thinking for yourself?

Posted by Julie D.

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