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.

Review of The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

March 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Empire Striketh BackWilliam Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back
By Ian Doescher; Performed by a full cast (Daniel Davis, Jonathan Davis, Ian Doescher, Jeff Gurner, January LaVoy, Marc Thompson)
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 18 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 25 minutes

Themes: / Star Wars / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / haiku /

Publisher summary:

Hot on the heels of the New York Times bestseller William Shakespeare’s Star Wars comes the next two installments of the original trilogy: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back and William Shakespeare’s The Jed Doth Return. Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. These two plays offer essential listening for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!

Ian Doescher is back with more Shakespearian Star Wars as he progresses through the original trilogy. The Empire Striketh Back is very similar to Shakespeare’s Star Wars with some minor differences. As before, if you like Star Wars and Shakespeare you will probably enjoy this book…especially if you liked the first one. I think this book comes across a bit more silly than the first which is unfortunate because The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest part of the trilogy and some of that emotion is lost due to the silliness. That said, Doescher once again does a fantastic job putting everything into iambic pentameter and even mixes things up with some prose and even haiku with different characters.

The Shakespeare/literary side of this book is really well done, almost to the point that I would say this book would be a great device for teaching disinterested kids about Shakespeare without them reading Shakespeare. Doescher is more varied in his use of literary tools and explains a few of the differences in this book from the first in an afterward. I really wish that was at the beginning so I could be on the lookout for Boba Fett’s use of prose (I noticed that), Yoda speaking in haiku (I didn’t notice that), and his relying less on the chorus to explain scenes (I noticed this a bit since the characters explained more of what’s happening). The fact that he was able to do the whole book in iambic pentameter (complete with rhyming couplets) and also integrated some haiku is an impressive feat of work. Doescher also makes really good use of soliloquy and aside to explain character motivation for things like the budding relationship between Han and Leia, Lando’s motives, and what R2D2 is thinking at times. This allows him to flesh out things left to physical acting in the movies or description/narration in the novels.

While the book is technically impressive, the writing is approached like Renaissance faire Shakespeare and has a bit of a silliness aspect to it. This works great normally but definitely takes away from the emotion of things happening, especially later in the story (in Cloud City). The main silly aspect that got me was the singing. Shakespeare did have songs in many of his plays but singing ugnaughts and a song from Leia and Chewbacca come across as silly (at least they definitely did in the audiobook). The ugnaughts (picture the pig faced short guys working the incinerator room and carbon freezing chamber of Cloud City) came across like Oompa Loompa’s from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. The Leia and Chewbacca song also comes at a time of great loss and just feels out of place. There is other silliness that works well (a discussion of why places like the Death Star and Cloud City need to have large open spaces adjacent to walkways is one) so just consider me overly sensitive with my Empire Strikes Back. ;-)

I really enjoyed this as an audiobook and think it’s the preferred way to experience this telling of the story. The cast does a great job with all impressions and the music and sound effects are some of the best you’ll find in a Star Wars book. I mainly say that because all the sound effects and especially the music have a place that goes along with what’s happening in the story (I’m big into soundtracks and this was a huge factor for me). I have to admit that I was a little sad that it was over so soon because the performance was very enjoyable. I’m definitely looking forward to the conclusion of this Shakespearian trilogy.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Honor Among Thieves: Star Wars by James S.A. Corey

March 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Honor Among Thieves: Star WarsHonor Among Thieves: Star Wars (Empire and Rebellion)
By James S.A. Corey, read by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 4 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 52 minutes

Themes:  / Star Wars / rebellion /

Publisher Summary:

Nebula and Hugo Award nominees Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck—writing as James S. A. Corey—make their Star Wars debut in this brand-new epic adventure featuring Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia Organa. The action begins after the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.

When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance? When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo—something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect—including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.

But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s x-wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever.

Honor Among Thieves is a great Star Wars book. This is the second book of the Empire and Rebellion trilogy but fear not, there is no overarching plot to worry about and the only thing relating the two books so far is just that they take place between Episodes 4 and 5. The plot is pretty decent but whatever it may lack is completely made up for in the characterization and interaction of the characters I didn’t realize I was missing in other Star Wars novels. The charisma feels a lot more like the character interaction from the original trilogy than any other time period in the books. The main short coming of the novel is that nothing major can happen in this book because it is essentially a side adventure that takes place between Episodes 4 and 5 of the original trilogy. I would recommend this book to any Star Wars fan whether or not they’ve read any Star Wars novels before.

As you can tell by the cover, this story mainly follows Han Solo as he goes on a mission to extract the Rebel Alliance agent Scarlet Hark from deep cover in the Empire. He struggles along the way with how far he is willing to go for the Rebel Alliance and whether he thinks they could become as controlling as the Empire they are trying to usurp. Scarlet Hark kind of takes the place of Leia as this strong, attractive female that Han can verbally parry with as they go along in their adventure. Luke and Leia are present too but in more of a limited capacity for much of the story.

Speaking of verbal parrying, James S.A. Corey does a great job with the character interaction in this story. One of the reason why I haven’t really liked the prequel trilogy is that the characters felt stiff toward each other, even those that were supposedly falling in love. As I said earlier, this novel follows much more closely in the vein of the original trilogy where the characters banter with each other and feel like they have much deeper relationships or a history that this novel builds on. Other Star Wars books are great (particularly the ones by Timothy Zahn), but they rarely have this kind of warm interaction between the characters. There is some genuine humor and even some silliness in this book asidde from the common slight comic relief normally present in Star Wars books. I would say that this part of the novel was so good that I’m actually going to go read some James S.A. Corey novels just because I enjoyed the writing style so much in this book.

As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson does a great job with the voices as usual. The impersonations of well known characters are well done and new voices are quite entertaining. I particularly enjoyed his Hunter Maas voice because it was perfect for the swagger of that character. The novel also gave some great moments for Marc Thompson to use some great surfer dude and valley girl voices that were pretty great for the characters. His voices for Scarlet Hark and Leia were so similar though that they were hard to tell apart, especially when in the same conversation. As for Chewbacca, I think other books use canned sounds (pretty sure) but some of his parts in this book are more….unique…and all of his parts are done specifically for this book. This can be good at times but I kind of found it distracting because it didn’t sound like the Chewbacca I’m used to. The sound effects and music were just about as good as you’d expect from your typical Star Wars novel.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Lockdown: Star Wars (Maul) by Joe Schreiber

February 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Maul Lockdown Star WarsLockdown: Star Wars (Maul)
By Joe Schreiber; Read by Jonathan Davis
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 24 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Star Wars/ Sith Lords / horror /

Publisher summary:

Set before the events of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, this new novel is a thrilling follow-up to Star Wars: Darth Plagueis.

It’s kill or be killed in the space penitentiary that houses the galaxy’s worst criminals, where convicts face off in gladiatorial combat while an underworld gambling empire reaps the profits of the illicit blood sport. But the newest contender in this savage arena, as demonic to behold as he is deadly to challenge, is fighting for more than just survival. His do-or-die mission, for the dark masters he serves, is to capture the ultimate weapon: an object that will enable the Sith to conquer the galaxy.

Sith lords Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious are determined to possess the prize. And one of the power-hungry duo has his own treacherous plans for it. But first, their fearsome apprentice must take on a bloodthirsty prison warden, a cannibal gang, cutthroat crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and an unspeakable alien horror. No one else could brave such a gauntlet of death and live. But no one else is the dreaded dark-side disciple known as Darth Maul.

Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown is a Science Fiction/Horror prominently featuring Darth Maul that shows some of the darkest sides of prison life and organized crime the Star Wars universe has to offer. The story and characters are interesting but the sheer violence really seems to be the main point behind this novel. Don’t discount that “horror” part either – this book features some serious violence, gore, and other things that will make many cringe…especially with some of the sound effects that accompany the audiobook version.

The premise of the novel is that Darth Maul goes to a prison undercover for Darth Sidious to find an arms dealer running out of that prison. The prison makes money by running a gambling racket pitting inmates against each other in fight to the death. The twist is that Sidious has forbidden Maul from using the Force so that observers don’t know he is really a sith lord in disguise.

When you were a kid, did you ever sit around with friends talking about who would win in a fight between two of your favorite comic book characters? Batman vs. Superman, Wolverine vs. Cyclops, etc? Those would sometimes devolve into arguments like, “well what if Batman didn’t have kryptonite while fighting Superman” or something like that. Well this novel is the Star Wars equivalent of that in which Darth Maul is pitted against a gamut of different creatures from the Star Wars universe that get more and more difficult. While the danger of these fights is definitely recognizable, this becomes more of a question of how Darth Maul defeats his foe than if he will survive since we all know when his character really dies.

Truth be told, I did not realize this novel was horror when I first started it. Joe Schreiber also wrote Death Troopers and Red Harvest but I didn’t realize this until I was a bit into the book. Star Wars is not a universe in which you’d expect to encounter horror but I have to say that Schreiber pulls it off well in this book with a fairly believable premise. It didn’t feel like a horror novel shoe horned into the Star Wars universe. My only gripe would just be that some things mentioned are more from our world and felt like anachronisms in a Star Wars novel. They didn’t detract much from the story but nagged me a bit at times.

Jonathan Davis did a great job as usual with his work in the Star Wars universe. There weren’t really any impersonations for him to work with here except for Maul and Sidious so voices were mainly left up to him to make up. The sound effects and music were up to par with any Star Wars novel but I have to say, they really went big on the squelching, breaking, smashing sounds that accompany many of the violent/gore filled scenes in the book…to the point that I think I may have cringed a few times.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Vision of the Future by Timothy Zahn

February 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Vision of the Future Star WarsVision of the Future: Star Wars (The Hand of Thrawn Book II)
By Timothy Zahn; Narrated by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 26 hours, 22 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes:  / Star Wars / New Republic / Thrawn /

Publisher summary:

The Empire’s master plan is under way. The New Republic is on the verge of civil war and the rumor that the legendary Admiral Thrawn has returned from the dead is rallying the Imperial forces. Now Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and their allies face the challenge of their lives. They must infiltrate a hidden fortress filled with Imperial fanatics, rendezvous with a double-dealing Imperial commander, and journey into enemy territory to learn the identity of those responsible for an act of unthinkable genocide. But most important of all is the truth about Thrawn.

Vision of the Future is 2nd book of The Hand of Thrawn duology. Zahn always does a great job with Star Wars and does not disappoint here. Is the New Republic going to enter a civil war over the atrocities some Bothans helped commit? How is the New Republic going to react to these rumors that Grand Admiral Thrawn is back from the dead? Will Luke manage to save Mara and discover the secrets behind these strange craft being spotted? What or who is The Hand of Thrawn?

So many questions to answer and it’s no surprise that this book is kind of long for a Star Wars book. The book keeps up a steady pace and does manage to resolve all the different threads and plot points introduced in Specter of the Past. There are many different threads at work in this book but Zahn manages to juggle them well. At one point I got the feeling that more than half of the threads involved characters trying to recover a copy of the Caamas document in their own ways which felt like a lot. At least they were all good reasons to have some crazy adventures.

All in all I’d say that you can’t go wrong with a Zahn Star Wars book but I would definitely start with his Thrawn trilogy (starting with Heir to the Empire) or Allegiance.

Marc Thompson does a great job with impressions of all our favorite characters and the special effects are great too. There was some great use of music during more sensitive moments that helped bring them to a nice crescendo. The pirate’s voice sounded just like ones you’d find in the Caribbean – which was interesting, and the Caamas apparently have an island accent. There were a few times I found the sound effects a bit distracting but overall they are awesome.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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