Review of Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

September 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

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

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
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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.

Review of The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

September 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Magician's LandThe Magician’s Land (The Magicians #3)
By Lev Grossman; Read by Mark Bramhall
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 5 August 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 16 hours, 27 minutes

Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizard School / Meta Fiction / Alternate Worlds /

Publisher summary:

Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of grey magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Netherlands, and buried secrets, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory – but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.

This series gets better book by book. I liked the story of the first but didn’t like any of the characters. I liked the story of the second and the characters grew on me quite a bit. This third book to the trilogy is definitely my favorite of the three. The story is interesting and has some throwbacks to the previous installments, Grossman’s dry humor is completely on point, and the characters are the best of this trilogy yet. My favorite part is Grossman’s use of humor throughout the book and his breadth of imagination with the use of magic throughout the book. Grossman brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion that you should definitely experience if you’ve already read the first two books of the series.

If you’re even considering reading this book, I’m sure you’ve already read the first two (if not, I’ll wait here while you go take care of that). Quentin is left shut out from Fillory so what is he to do with himself? Surprisingly enough, he does NOT turn into the miserable wreck of a creature he became after graduating in the first book – thank goodness for that. Quentin seems to have grown quite a bit from his past adventures and finds more purpose in his life. It’s really cool to see him develop that way across the books.

Grossman adds a few other point of view characters in this novel and all were nice additions to Quentin’s typical somber tone. You get to find out what other members of the old gang are getting up to as Grossman approaches the climactic conclusion of the trilogy. I particularly like Plum, a brilliant student at Brakebills that also gets involved in the adventure. Those who read Dangerous Women will recognize part of her story from Grossman’s submission to the anthology.

Grossman’s writing comes off smooth and natural. His dry tone and humor stand out as in the first two books and the book was completely enjoyable. He makes references to other works of fiction and modern influences like Harry Potter without feeling forced or making the book feel like it will be dated. There are some points in the plot where things come together far too well by happenstance, but that doesn’t hurt the story too much if you don’t focus on it.

As for the audio side of things, Mark Bramhall continues to perform his role as narrator superbly in this book. He handles the tone of the book so well – executing the voices of characters with all the sarcasm or droll tone you’d expect from these characters. Such simple ways of saying the lines Grossman has written actually made me laugh out loud in some places (“Wands out Harry”). I will definitely be looking for other books narrated by Bramhall.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Breach Zone by Myke Cole

September 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Shadow OpsBreach Zone (Shadow Ops #3)
By Myke Cole; Read by Korey Jackson
Publisher: Recorded Books
Publication Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 54 minutes

Themes: / military sci-fi / special powers / flying /

Publisher summary:

In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign ” Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’ s ever known. In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’ s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil.

Breach Zone is the conclusion to the Shadow Ops Trilogy, which begins with Control Point and Fortress Frontier. As much as Control Point is Oscar Britton’s book and Fortress Frontier is Bookbinder’s, Breach Zone was firmly Lt. Col. Jan Thorsson’s, aka “Harlequin.”

This is an interesting perspective. I doubt Harlequin is close to the top of anyone’s list of favorite characters in the series, but after seeing the world from his perspective, the Jaime Lannister effect takes place. Not only do you begin to respect his actions, you begin to see that he’s changed quite a bit through this whole ordeal from his initial stark, rule-following persona.

I can’t deny, I wanted to see more of Oscar Britton and Allan Bookbinder. They’re present, just not in the forefront as they once were, but I really enjoyed their powers and wanted to see more of each at play. At the same time, I, somehow, never really thought of the implications of being an Aeromancer and I can’t say I’d complain if I was suddenly given the power of FLIGHT. Not to mention control over the elements such as wind, lightning, and generally the power of Zeus. Yeah, that’s cool too.

Overall, Breach Zone is an excellent conclusion to the entire trilogy. The action is superb and the setup through the trilogy is just about perfectly satisfied in this final volume.

My only real complaint I have is with the audio narration of this novel. I have to admit that at first I thought the narrator, Korey Jackson, was perfect for the part. He’s great at the different voices, does the military stuff well, and he’s convincing. What could possibly go wrong right? Well, first off, he reads really slowly. A book this size is normally 9 to 10 CD’s, but this one is 12. I thought the book was just longer at first, but I checked it against the printed version and it’s not really a typical 12 disc size novel. Believe me. I know this.

If I had the ability to speed it up, I would have used it. As a reviewer, however, I tend to avoid speeding up audiobooks because I want to be able to  hear a book in its natural state. But what the slow-reading narrator does is kill a good amount of the tension. It’s hard to believe that events are ramping up when the narrator doesn’t seem to care.

At the same time, he sounded detached. This could have been a result of the slow reading or very closely tied, but he just seemed to be going through the motions and I didn’t hear the passion like I hear in the really good narrators.

Luckily, the strength of the narrative shines through and for the parts that didn’t require a high degree of tension Jackson was great. Honestly, his voices were spot on and I can tell why he was chosen.

Shadow Ops is one of my favorite series of recent years. I dearly hope Myke Cole heads back into this world some more because it’s filled with awesome. The superpowers are deftly done, and the politics are highly believable. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill meathead novel. There’s great action and it keeps you thinking as well. I’ll be reading anything and everything Myke Cole puts out.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of The Folklore of Discworld

September 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Folklore of DiscworldThe Folklore of Discworld: Legends, Myths, and Customs from the Discworld with Helpful Hints from Planet Earth
By Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson; Narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 59 minutes

Themes: / folklore / discworld / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

Most of us grew up having always known when to touch wood or cross our fingers, and what happens when a princess kisses a frog or a boy pulls a sword from a stone, yet sadly some of these things are beginning to be forgotten. Legends, myths, and fairy tales: Our world is made up of the stories we told ourselves about where we came from and how we got here. It is the same on Discworld, except that beings, which on Earth are creatures of the imagination – like vampires, trolls, witches and, possibly, gods – are real, alive and, in some cases kicking, on the Disc.

In The Folklore of Discworld, Terry Pratchett teams up with leading British folklorist Jacqueline Simpson to take an irreverent yet illuminating look at the living myths and folklore that are reflected, celebrated and affectionately libelled in the uniquely imaginative universe of Discworld.

The Folklore of Discworld is as capricious and lovely a reference book for the Discworld series as the Discworld itself. It seems to drift between our world and the Discworld with a strangely organic ease, and, given the breadth and depth it covers, doesn’t assault the listener with too much. Instead it reads like any of the other books in the Discworld series, with light, comforting reassurances to the reader that everything is just exactly where it needs to be.”

Posted by Trant Thumble.

Review of Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

September 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

ConquestConquest (Chronicles of the Invaders #1)
By John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard; Read by Nicola Barber
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 33 minutes

Themes: / aliens / YA / wormhole / romance /

Publisher summary:

The Earth has been invaded by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilized, yet ruthless alien race.  Humanity has been conquered, but still it fights the invaders. The Resistance grows stronger, for it is the young people of Earth who battle the Illyri.

Syl Hellais, conceived among the stars, is the oldest alien child on Earth, the first to reach 16 years of age. Her father is one of the rulers of the planet. Her future is assured. And Syl has hidden gifts, powers that even she does yet fully understand.

But all is not as it seems. Secret experiments are being conducted on humans, the Illyri are at war among themselves, and the sinister Nairene Sisterhood has arrived on Earth, hungry for new blood. When Syl helps a pair of young Resistance fighters to escape execution, she finds herself sentenced to death, pursued by her own kind, and risks breaking the greatest taboo of her race by falling in love with a human.

Now the hunter has become the hunted, and the predators become prey. And as Syl Hellais is about to learn, the real invasion has not yet even begun.

Apparently aliens are the new vampires and I guess I’m a sucker for aliens because this is the second YA book about aliens I’ve read in a year’s time.

In this one, out of nowhere, a wormhole appears at the end of the solar system. This spells the doom of mankind because an alien race has come to dethrone mankind, thus, Conquest.

Except, while these aliens take over the governments of Earth, they have also brought technology which can not only cure diseases such as cancer, but expand the human lifespan. I’ve hit on this topic recently, but here it comes again, are the trade-offs worth it?

What makes this one different?

This one takes a different spin than I was prepared for. Usually, and especially with a name like “Conquest,” it’s a story of survival, of a rogue squad who’s fighting back. While there is a bit of that, this story mostly follows the aliens themselves, in fact, one of them who is the first born alien on earth.

So instead of a fight for the world, you really get a bigger glimpse of the nature of the aliens, the culture, and the political machinations and infighting of the political parties.

This is good and bad.

Why it doesn’t quite work

Well, first, why did it work. I thought this was a great take on the alien story … at first. It’s almost like reading a fantasy book because you’re reading more about the society of this alien species and getting to know them and on the side you get some of the story of the rebel humans fighting against them.

What doesn’t work is that some of the tension is gone or really never intended to be there. I know it’s not really fair, but I expected more of a fight, which is there, but it’s in a very small degree. The culture is interesting but I can’t say I cared all that much about it, but that’s probably for a different reason.

The Characters

The characters are for the most part, quite bland. I did listen to this on audiobook, so that could account for some of this, but by the end of the book I was still having to remember and figure out who some of the main people were. You get to know the main character, Syl, who’s as interesting as a prepubescent teen can be to a non-creepy male of 30 (spoiler, there’s not much we have in common).

But, by the end of the book, I really should have been able to keep track of the insurgent boys who help Syl out in the beginning and play a big part in the story, or Syl’s best friend who also played a consistent part in the story.

Again, it’s not all the novel’s fault, I take some of the blame, but I don’t think it’s all mine.

I enjoyed many parts of this book, but for the most part, it didn’t work for me. The alien societies were interesting, but a tad boring. The characters were mostly flat. I wanted to read this because I have some friends who are huge into John Connolly, but I’ll have to check out some of his other works for an actual understanding.

2.5 out of 5 Stars (Okay to good)

Posted by Bryce L.

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