Review of Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

April 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Code Zero by Jonathan MaberryCode Zero (Joe Ledger #6)
By Jonathan Maberry; Read by Ray Porter
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: 25 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 16 hours

Themes:  / Horror / Zombies / Terrorists / Covert Intelligence /

Publisher summary:

For years the Department of Military Sciences has fought to stop terrorists from using radical bioweapons—designer plagues, weaponized pathogens, genetically modified viruses, and even the zombie plague that first brought Ledger into the DMS. These terrible weapons have been locked away in the world’s most secure facility. Until now. Joe Ledger and Echo Team are scrambled when a highly elite team of killers breaks the unbreakable security and steals the world’s most dangerous weapons. Within days there are outbreaks of mass slaughter and murderous insanity across the American heartland. Can Joe Ledger stop a brilliant and devious master criminal from turning the Land of the Free into a land of the dead? 

Code Zero, a Joe Ledger novel from Jonathan Maberry, is the exciting direct sequel to Patient Zero.

This is the worthy sequel to Patient Zero.

At one point, Rudy Sanchez says that “this has done something fundamental to the American people.”

I’ll tell you this. It did something fundamental to me.

It was exciting, suspenseful, terrifying, and haunted me in my dreams and at random moments in my day.

And it was satisfying. Very satisfying.

I’m not sure Maberry can top this. Though I’m already looking forward to his next attempt to try.

It’s been six years since Joe Ledger was secretly recruited by the government to lead a combat team for the DMS,  a taskforce created to deal with problems that Homeland Security can’t handle. That story was told in Patient Zero. This was where we met a group of terrorists who had developed a bio-weapon that turned people into zombies.

Every year since then, like clockwork, Joe and Echo Team have returned to battle a variety of seemingly supernatural foes, all developed by villains who are somehow going to make boatloads of cash off of the terror.

The action-packed stories are full of evil super-villains, noble heroes, smart mouthed quips, a smattering of philosophy about “good guys and bad guys” and heart. Lots of heart. All this is told at a roller coaster pace that barely allows you to breathe until you get to the end.

I love them.

In many ways, this book is similar to the rest of the series. Mother Night, a villain you love to hate, is a super-genius anarchist who’s strewing chaos throughout the country over Labor Day weekend. She’s got the DMS’s computer tied up in knots and old evils that were defeated in previous books are now popping their heads up all over the country. Losses are high and the odds are very much against Ledger and his team. We know Joe will win. It’s watching it happen that makes it fun.

It is superior to the other books, I think, because the pacing is more measured and there is more character development. I also enjoyed the flashbacks into the DMS’s years before Joe joined them.

But in one very important way Code Zero was very different for me.

I felt a level of anxiety that was all out of proportion. Maberry is an expert at ratcheting up the stakes until you just can’t see how anyone decent is going to survive the maelstrom. I was used to that. But somehow this felt different. I got a bit jumpy. I couldn’t quit thinking about the horrific chaos during the day when I had to put the book down. Maberry has his finger on the pulse of the evil that Americans today know all too well … that lurks below the conscious level of our lives … violent chaos that can strike without a moment’s notice. Shootings at Fort Hood, restaurants, schools, and more have changed the mood of our country and made Mother Night’s chaos resonate more deeply than usual.

Along the way, he looks at why people choose good or evil. Code Zero is full of people choosing to save the world or burn it down. In most of the cases, the motivation comes down to something that Maberry does not name, but which I will make bold to label: love. We want to know we matter, that we make a difference, that someone “knows” us. Not for our accomplishments but simply because our “selves” matter.

Mother Night gives it a different name, and she may not tidily fall into this definition but, let’s face it, she’s super-villain crazy. I believe that her ultimate fate bears me out. It shows most in Maberry’s final scenario at the end of the book as the answer to Rudy’s statement that the chaos ”has done something fundamental to the American people.

Truly this is a great book, especially for the shoot-em-up genre. It is also probably one that can be read as a stand alone without reading the others that came before.

I listened to the audiobook read by Ray Porter who was superb, as usual, at portraying Joe and every other character along the way. In this book Porter dialed his urgent, driving, delivery down some and thank goodness for that. The action was intense enough without being shoved over the edge of the cliff by a continually urgent tone. Porter also was more nuanced and thoughtful in his reading than I recall in previous Joe Ledger books. If this sounds odd when considering our heroes are fighting off zombies, it actually worked to make me consider the full horror being faced. Once again, kudos to Ray Porter. He’s the reason I always choose audio for the Joe Ledger books.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic

April 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic by David J. SchwartzGooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib
By David J. Schwartz; Narrated by Janina Edwards
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 21 October 2013[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 11 minutes

Themes: / urban fantasy / mystery / community college / magic / secret agents /

Publisher summary:

Meet the newest professor at Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, Joy Wilkins. She may suffer from face blindness, but Joy can still recognize people by reading their auras — a skill that comes in particularly handy for her real work as an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs. Her mission: to discover the source of weaponized demons being trafficked through the quaint school on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and to locate her predecessor, the school’s missing History of Magic professor. But just as her investigation gets under way, the brutal murder of Joy’s handler — and mentor — sets her on the trail of a secret society known as the Thirteenth Rib. With the clock ticking down to the next attack, Joy will have to find new allies and uncover ancient secrets if she’s going to have any chance of defeating a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the entire world.

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib (hereafter referred to as Gooseberry Bluff ) is a book that had a lot of good ideas, but suffered a bit on execution. I was originally attracted to it because it seemed like a cross of modern urban fantasy with mystery–and in many respects, it was just that. The issues I had with it are more about how it wrapped up the various plot lines, and what was left to the imagination.

The premise is simple: Joy Wilkins is the new professor of history at Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic (GBCCoM), but she’s also an undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs (FBMA). Joy’s job as an agent is made somewhat more difficult by the fact that she has face blindness; luckily, she is very good at reading auras, so her disability isn’t the end of the world. Very few people (relatively speaking) are good at reading auras. She is assigned to GBCCoM ostensibly to investigate the disappearance of the previous history professor, Prof. Drake, and to investigate the source of demon trafficking within the school. There are some other side stories in the book, and some character- and world-development that is done through the course of the narrative.

The characters are rather interesting and varied. Schwartz emphasized diversity in his characters, something relatively few authors seem to feel comfortable with, and that’s to his credit. The characters–whether they’re the narrator (Joy, the face-blind African American woman who’s also an agent in the FBMA), Andy (the transgender assistant who is biologically a male but self-identifies and dresses as a female and prefers to be referred to with feminine pronouns), the gay president of the college, the Indian FBMA case handler, or the (apparently stereotypical white male) FBMA case handler, to name a few–are all believable and deeply developed. On the one hand, it felt like Schwartz may have been trying “too hard” to be SO DIVERSE but on the other, the diversity and the character traits opened up by this diversity were well-handled; rarely did it seem like a character was diverse just to be diverse.

The world didn’t need much development in general, given that the book takes place in modern-day “Gooseberry Bluff, MN” (a city on the St. Croix river). The rules for the various types of magic weren’t particularly well-defined, but this book wasn’t as much about the magic as it was about the mystery, so that can be forgiven. When needed, such as when explaining the demon-summoning, the rules were at least internally consistent.

The biggest issue I had with the book is that it had a lot of plot lines, and they weren’t all wrapped up particularly well. In addition, perhaps because of all the parallel plot points, the wrap-up to the main story line felt rushed. Some of the plot lines were:
-The main plot line, Joy trying to solve the disappearance of her predecessor at the school and the demon-trafficking
-Related sub-plots of assassination attempts and trying to determine why Joy’s FBMA case manager is trying to keep her off the job
-The president of GBCCoM’s time away from the school
-A romantic relationship between two other professors at the school
-A student (Margaret) who is very strong, magically-speaking, but very novice
-Another professor at the GBCCoM trying to bring back her sister’s soul

In the end, the main plot line was wrapped up but the sub-plots weren’t particularly discussed. I was left thinking that the case manager is just a jerk (he was certainly painted that way), but a lot of time was devoted to him. The main plot line was wrapped up, though with a lot of things falling into place “at the right moment” or Joy “figuring it out” suddenly at the end. The other plot lines were not specifically wrapped up–in fact, one of them was left wide open (the last one I listed). It seems like Schwartz spent so much time doing the world-building, that by the time he needed to wrap up the story, it felt rushed. I wasn’t exactly sure how Joy connected the dots or what exactly happened.

The narration by Janina Edwards was pretty good. There were a few times when I had to back up my recording and re-listen to a few sentences, but I think that was more attributed to awkward phrasing or unusual words than the actual narration. When I closed my eyes, I could see a confident African American woman as Joy–I actually had the picture of my 7th grade reading teacher in my head (thank you, Mrs. Barrett!). If you’re one who likes to listen at greater than normal speed (1.25x, 1.5x, 2x), you might have a hard time–I did. But the book was short enough that I didn’t mind listening at 1 or 1.25x speed.

It will be interesting to see what (if anything) else Schwartz does with this world. I would like to know how some of the other plot lines wrap up, and why Margaret seemed so “important” in this book. I would hope, though, that in future books, less time is spent on world-building and more time is spent telling the story evenly, so that it doesn’t need to end up rushed as this one did at the end.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

April 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Murder of Crows by Anne BishopMurder of Crows (The Others #2)
By Anne Bishop; Narrated by Alexandra Harris
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication date: 4 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hrs and 13 mins

Themes: / urban fantasy / blood prophet / feathers / shape-shifting /

Publisher summary:

After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more. 

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murders of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders whether their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or of a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

The book was wonderful. I loved how the story expanded beyond Meg, Simon and the Courtyard. In this story we get to see a lot more of the world and are introduced to a plethora of new characters. The only sad thing about the expansion of the new world is I miss getting to read more about some of the characters we met in the last book like Jake and Winter. The plot for this story is fairly straight forward so with all the new introductions and new places it was easy for me to keep track. While the story expanded it did so by going deeper into the politics and relationships between humans and the others.

My favorite thing about Anne Bishop’s writing is her focus on relationships. It is fascinating to watch Meg and Simon figure out how to be friends. Simon is a wolf and he is unsure how long he wants to hold his human skin, he also worries that being human so much is changing him. Meanwhile Meg is a blood prophet who has never been able to make choices and with so much turmoil happening her need to cut is greater than ever not to mention she is finding it a challenge to not accidentally break her skin. Likewise there is the relationship between Simon and Monty, Monty struggles to understand the terra indigene’s outlook on things without alienating the humans. Then Monty has his own issues with his daughter which I hope gets resolved because it just breaks my heart. While I could go on and on the point here is how these character’s interact with each other just makes the story even better.

The narrator for the book was Alexandra Harris. She has quite the smooth voice and while I enjoyed listening to her narrate and perform the voices of female characters, I did not care for her work as voicing the male characters. She also read a bit slower than I would have liked and so I solved that by speeding it up on my ipod. In a perfect world she would be partnered with someone like James Marsters and for me this would have been the perfect audio book.

Posted by Dawn V.

Review of The Witches by Roald Dahl

April 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Witches by Roald DahlThe WitchesBy Roald Dahl; Read by Miranda Richardson
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours, 28 minutes

Themes: / children’s fantasy / witches /

Publisher summary:

This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches. Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches are the most dangerous of all living creatures on earth. There’s nothing they hate so much as children, and they work all kinds of terrifying spells to get rid of them. Her grandson listens closely to Grandmamma’s stories – but nothing can prepare him for the day he comes face-to-face with The Grand High Witch herself!

In The Witches, a seven-year-old boy and his grandmother must use their cleverness to stop an evil witch conspiracy. It’s a lovely, funny and nightmarish tale. In the prologue, there is a direct warning to the children reading: witches are all around us but are disguised as kind and normal ladies… and they hate children and want to squelch them.

“For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. … She might even – and this will make you jump – she might even be your lovely school teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of your cleverness.”

It might seem a little mean to scare children like that, but then again it’s no lie that some very cruel people disguise themselves as regular kind people, so maybe this is a theme that should appear in more children’s books.

The whole story is told from the little boy’s perspective, after he is orphaned during a trip to visit his grandmother. The family car skids off the road and crashes into a rocky ravine, killing both of his parents, and next day as they mourn, his grandmother distracts him from the tragedy by telling him all about witches: they’re real, she tells him, and they’re hidden among us, and she knows at least five children who have been taken by them.

An odd way to comfort a recently orphaned boy, but lucky too, considering the witch-encounters lurking in his near future.

The audiobook narration is beautifully performed and complete with subtle sound effects like chirping birds and the crackling of a fireplace. I found the witches’ screechy voices difficult to listen to in one chapter and had to adjust the volume a little now and then, but this wasn’t a problem overall. The grandmother’s voice is especially well narrated: I loved her accent, and her consistently warm and affectionate tone.

The cigar-smoking grandmother was my favourite character. She is not fazed by anything and has a kooky alternative streak when it comes to caring for children. At one point she offers her little grandson a puff of her cigar, and when he reminds her he’s only seven, she says, “I don’t care what age you are. You’ll never catch a cold if you smoke cigars!”

I’ve tried not to give away too much in this review because The Witches is so much fun to discover, and it has some unusual twists and turns. Definitely worth listening to… it’s funny and magical, with haunting little tales hidden within the main story.

Posted by Marissa van Uden

Review of Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

March 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Veronica MarsVeronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1)
By Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham; Read by Kristen Bell
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 25 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 42 minutes

Themes: / crime / mystery / kidnapping / girl detective / spring break /

Publisher summary:

From Rob Thomas, the creator of the television series and movie phenomenon Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling mystery series that picks up where the feature film left off. 

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case. Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

This is a book for Veronica Mars fans, to listen to after seeing the crowd-funded movie (I watched it last weekend and was not disappointed! While I’ve been watching Kristen Bell’s new show, House of Lies, I miss Veronica and her many mishaps). The story picks up a few months after the movie ends, and Veronica is still in Neptune when a college student disappears during the Spring Break season.

Logan is missing for the entire story (for reasons the movie details) but another person from Veronica’s past shows up that I wasn’t expecting to see again. I hope in the future we see more new characters because I personally am getting a little weary of some of the same old people, but maybe I do not fully appreciate the importance of repetition in a girl detective narrative.

The audio is great fun because it is read by Veronica herself, Kristen Bell.  Her voice carried us through the narration of the tv show and movie, and having anyone else read the book would have been a real tragedy.  She does different voices for the characters, as well as distinguishing the narrative voice from the character of Veronica Mars. I hope they continue to have her read the future Veronica Mars audiobooks (and I hope there will be future Veronica Mars books).

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

March 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

steamRaising Steam (Discworld #40)
By Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 18 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12.5 hours

Themes: / fantasy / Discworld / machines /

Publisher summary:

Change is afoot in Ankh-Morpork. Discworld’s first steam engine has arrived, and once again Moist von Lipwig finds himself with a new and challenging job.

Like other novels in the Discworld series, Raising Steam has a tasty mix of internal referencing, matter-of-fact world bending, and playfulness. Exploring the idea of what the industrial revolution may have been like in a world with magical powers and creatures beings (oh the trollmanity), Pratchett also somehow manages to sneak in the occasional sharply satirical quip (quite a feat given the fantastic nature of the Discworld).

I found that the reader in the audiobook provided a good listening experience as his reading neither distracted from the plot nor made the book boring.  Raising Steam was an overall good reading experience that seemed to slide easily into its place among the Discworld series.

Posted by Trant Thumble.

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