Review of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyaenko

April 23, 2013 by · 6 Comments
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SFFaudio Review

The Night Watch
By Sergei Lukyaenko; Read by Paul Michael
15 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / Magic / Good and Evil / Supernatural /

Sergei Lukyanenko is a science-fiction and fantasy author, writing in Russian, and is arguably the most popular contemporary Russian sci-fi writer. His works often feature intense action-packed plots, interwoven with the moral dilemma of keeping one’s humanity while being strong.

In The Night Watch, set in modern Moscow, the “Others” live among us, an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. A thousand-year treaty has maintained the balance of power, and the two sides coexist in an uneasy truce. But an ancient prophecy decrees that one supreme “Other” will rise up and tip the balance, plunging the world into a catastrophic war between the Dark and the Light. When a young boy with extraordinary powers emerges, fulfilling the first half of the prophecy, will the forces of the Light be able to keep the Dark from corrupting the boy and destroying the world?

The book is three novellas, linked by their setting and the fact that each is told by Anton, a Light Other who is now getting field experience after being a file clerk for several years. As he gets more experience, the reader learns more about the subtleties and intricacies of the world between Light and Dark. Each of the stories is thoroughly engrossing and although they build upon each other, the first two stand alone fairly well. The third conclusion brings the book’s overall story arc to a conclusion.

The first page of the book has two messages, which are puzzling and amusing as an introduction. However when I had finished the book I realized they also served to sum up how the author uses the different stories and characters:

This text has been approved for distribution as conducive to the cause of Light. — The Night Watch

This text has been approved for distribution as conducive to the cause of Dark. — The Day Watch

Final result: simply fantastic. The way the three stories all look at Light and Dark, treaties and compromises, and even what it means to be unyielding on one side or the other … not only provides a gripping adventure, but food for thought about our own lives.

Audio Notes: I was delighted to find the audio CD available for only $10 and promptly began “rereading.” Narrator Paul Michael has a low key style in reading this book. His dialogue reading features what sound like authentic Russian accents which enhance the book greatly since Anton’s thoughts are read in a regular American accent.

However, I soon noticed that whenever a character spoke there is very little emotion portrayed, no matter how stressful the moment. There are plenty of stressful, action-filled moments and to have them all conveyed in such a subdued fashion drained the color and excitement of the story for me. Eventually, the entire book seemed so colorless that I stopped listening and picked up the print copy to read the third novella.

My husband regularly has conference calls with Russians. Upon hearing my comments, he mentioned that he has noticed a monotonous quality whenever the Russians are speaking English. He attributes it to the difficulty in speaking a foreign language and conducting business simultaneously. Although I was interested to hear this, I neither know nor care whether this is a universal Russian trait. Story narration requires some level of acting to convey the text properly to the ear.

Whatever the reason, I cannot recommend the audio if you want to experience the full flavor of the book.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

April 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Moonstone by Wilkie CollinsThe Moonstone
By Wilkie Collins; Read by B.J. Harrison
21 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: The Classic Tales Podcast
Published: 2012
Themes: / Fantasy / Detective novel / Mystery / Supernatural /

I’ve never been that interested in this book or anything by Wilkie Collins for that matter. Collins had that stigma (for me) of having written “classics” and “the first detective novel.” Which just killed any interest I’d ever have had because classics and “first ever” books are musty, boring, and stale, right?

I know that isn’t true, but I still have a hard time shaking that idea.

However, when B.J. Harrison, narrator extraordinaire of The Classic Tales Podcast offered the first five hours of this book as a free sample I couldn’t resist. I soon gave in and ordered the entire book. I was hooked in just a few chapters.

I really didn’t expect Gabriel Betteredge, the first narrator, to be so funny. He spends his spare time reading and rereading Robinson Crusoe which is his ultimate guide to any tricky decision he must make.

The second narrator is equally hilarious, a maiden aunt whose dedication to the Christian cause is such that she spends a considerable amount of time hiding religious tracts in people’s homes to trick them into reading them. I actually laughed out loud at some of the tract names. Now that I think of it, I knew that Collins and Charles Dickens were good friends and I suppose I should have expected a good sense of the ridiculous.

Not every narrator is humorous but the characterization is strong for everyone. Rachel Verinder’s outburst to Franklin Blake toward the end of the book made me applaud her strong common sense while I sympathized with her situation. I was moved to pity by Ezra Jennings’ plight and delighted in Sergeant Cuff’s penchant for roses.

Harrison’s reading emphasized humor without being over the top and pointed out the pathos without being maudlin. His reading was the key to my thorough enjoyment of this Victorian tale complete with a family feud, a cursed diamond, three untrustworthy Indian jugglers, and a small boy nicknamed Gooseberry.

The ending was of its time and incredible by today’s standards, but I was on tenterhooks as each revelation was made. In fact, I put off listening to a brand new book in a series I love so that I could get to the end of this mystery.

Harrison is offering the entire book for $5 which is an amazing bargain. I’m sure how long that offer will stand so if you’re interested check out the link above.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry

March 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Assassin’s Code: Book 4 of The Joe Ledger Novels
By Jonathan Maberry; Read by Ray Porter
15.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Horror / Supernatural / Military /

In my trade, confidence is built on a platform whose legs are made up of good intelligence, continuous training, proper equipment, and field support. I had a sick dog, a dead man’s gun, a stolen briefcase, a vampire hunter’s stake in my belt, and a cell phone…

Joe’s dealt with zombies, the island of Dr. Moreau, and the Seven Plagues of Egypt. Surely nothing can surprise him now. At least that’s what he thinks.

After rescuing American college students held hostage in Iran, Joe is contacted with the alarming news that the Iranians want his help in locating six stolen nuclear bombs. Nukes are soon the least of Joe’s problems when he’s attacked by super-powered killers who are probably genetically engineered and may actually be unbeatable. Certainly, it’s the first time he’s been told to “run away” when he calls Mr. Church for orders. The mysterious assassin Violin, with her mommy issues, adds an intriguing element that I liked, although her name made me snicker. Whose side is she really on? Toss in the mysterious Book of Shadows together with an age-old Holy Inquisition* that’s gone off the rails and you’ve got a fast-paced thriller with the usual slight touch of science needed to make us wonder “could it happen…” As usual Joe is sarcastic but has the heart of a warrior so he never quits.

As always, Ray Porter IS Joe Ledger. As I’ve said before, his narration is the reason I wait for the audio books instead of snapping up the printed versions. He’s got a direct, blunt delivery that can go from sarcastic to heart-felt to outraged in 60 seconds. Believably. That’s good because sometimes that’s the way Joe’s day goes.

The fourth entry to the Joe Ledger series piles surprise upon surprise until there are so many moving parts you need a score card to keep up. That’s ok. The ride is most of the fun anyway. It was refreshing to see Echo Team on an assignment that didn’t involve anything supernatural or genetically engineered. It also explained why Joe is sometimes incredulous about the strange situations in which he becomes embroiled. He’s so deep into rescuing college kids that he just plain forgets about his first zombie killing assignment.

Yeah right.

That excuse doesn’t really work for the many times that people who should know better protest, “What? Supernatural? That’s just crazy!” That really is the weakest part of these stories. Shouldn’t Echo Team be surprised if there isn’t a monster or super-villain somewhere in the shadows?

This was a return to the Joe Ledger adventure style of the first book in a way, which I liked very much. It also satisfactorily tied up some loose ends that had been accumulating through the last book or two. Highly recommended for those who enjoyed the previous books.

* Catholics needn’t worry. Maberry plays fast and loose with elements but he’s generally respectful of religions. Any Catholics involved in this were lied to, folks. Lied to!

Posted by Julie D.

Review of The Dead Man, Volume 3: The Beast Within, Fire & Ice, Carnival of Death

January 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Dead Man Vol. 3The Dead Man, Volume 3: The Beast Within, Fire & Ice, Carnival of Death
By Lee Goldberg, William Rabkin, James Daniels, Jude Hardin, Bill Crider; Performed by Luke Daniels, James Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / Horror / Supernatural / Death /

Publisher Summary:

Matt seeks out a paranoid visionary who claims to have defeated an entity just like Mr. Dark. His quest takes him deep into the Michigan woods — and into a bloody siege between warring, paramilitary factions in James Daniels’ THE BEAST WITHIN. In Jude Hardin’s FIRE AND ICE, Matt is trapped inside an industrial plant during a deadly shooting rampage. As the body count rises, the cunning Mr. Dark raises the stakes to horrifying new heights, putting thousands of lives at risk. Matt is working security on the midway in Bill Crider’s CARNIVAL OF DEATH. But when violence breaks out and a fake fortune teller’s dark prophecies suddenly begin coming true, Matt knows that Mr. Dark has arrived and it’s not for the cotton candy…

The Dead Man series of novellas was launched by Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin. Originally conceived as television series about Matt Cahill AKA “the Dead Man,” a man who after surviving being frozen for several months returns to life with supernatural abilities. The project creators dusted off their episode ideas and farmed them out to a series of both new and established authors to let them each give their own novella-length take to the story. Past and upcoming authors include Christa Faust, Anthony Neil Smith, James Reasoner, and in this volume Bill Crider just to name a few.

The audiobooks have been packaged together in groups of three, with each novella spanning approximately 2 compact discs with stories averaging  a couple of hours each. First up on Vol. 3 of the series is The Beast Within by James Daniels. In this tale the Dead Man travels thousands of miles to seek answers in small Michigan town and finds himself caught in the middle of a mini-war between rival factions of a militant white supremacist cult. This the second Dead Man novella to be penned by James Daniels. In fact, his first ever published work Ring of Knives can be found as part of the Dead Man, Vol. 1 Audiobook. In both volumes, James Daniels handles narration duties on his own novellas himself, with his brother Luke narrating the other stories. James and Luke Daniels have both narrated other Brilliance audiobooks with Luke having recorded over 100 different titles including works by Ed McBain, Philip K. Dick, and George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series.

The volume’s second contribution is written by author Jude Hardin and is entitled Fire and Ice. Matt Cahill takes a temporary job on one of his itinerant stops and finds Mr. Dark’s hand at work even at factory that produces industrial-strength cleaners. Instead of chapters, the action takes place as the clock ticks away giving the narrative a “real-time” feel that translates very well to the audiobook format leading into the final story of the volume, Bill Crider’s Carnival of Death where the carnage visit the circus environment with all of the obligatory elements: a palm reader, snake lady,and of course Mr. Dark himself. Each author gives their own unique spin on the character and story making for entertaining listening while keeping with the dark and violent nature of this horror series.

“The Dead Man” music video: :

Review by Dan VK.

Review of In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill

October 21, 2012 by · 1 Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Horror Audiobook - In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe HillIn the Tall Grass
By Stephen King and Joe Hill; Read by Stephen Lang
Approx. 90 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Horror / Separation / Supernatural /

Cal and Becky are brother and sister, born 18 months apart, and inseparable. It’s said that there was never a cross word between them. They stop by the side of the road one day after hearing a cry for help from a field full of tall grass. They go into the field to help, but the moment they do they are supernaturally unable to find each other. They can’t find the person that cried for help either, but they are not alone in the grass.

Some stories stay with you. This is one of those. By creating main characters that were so emotionally close, Stephen King and Joe Hill delivered an experience of the horror of separation to their readers. This story would be tough to watch if it were a film – it’s grisly, gory, and this is a terrifying situation.

Stephen Lang narrated admirably. He had my attention to the very last sentence.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Joe Ledger: The Missing Files by Jonathan Maberry

August 22, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Horror Audiobook - Joe Ledger: The Missing Files by Jonathan MaberryJoe Ledger: The Missing Files
By Jonathan Maberry; Read by Ray Porter
4 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Short Stories / Supernatural / Horror / Bio-engineering /

The description for this brief collection of short stories says “… author Jonathan Maberry fills in the blanks in his action-thriller ‘Joe Ledger’ novels.”

This isn’t something I’d have picked up myself and, frankly, wouldn’t have bothered if it weren’t sent as a review book. I am usually disinterested in add-on short stories that sew up “loose ends” of novels or serve to tell us what a character’s been doing between one book and the next. In my experience, those are toss-offs and these days, what with 99-cent stories on Amazon, they just serve as money grabbers.

However, we all know I’m a sucker for Joe Ledger and I absolutely love the narrator’s way with these stories so if I wasted a few hours on mental cotton candy so be it. Also I was mildly interested in what seem to be two stories that aren’t connected to any novels, “Deep, Dark” and “Material Witness.”

Countdown: The prequel to Patient Zero and it told me nothing I didn’t learn in the beginning of the book. Honestly, it seemed as if it were a story prospectus given to a publisher to gain interest.

Zero Tolerance: The second story added a little to Patient Zero‘s ending since it could have been called “What Happened to Amirah.” (Pardon my spelling as I’ve only heard the audio for the novel.) Worth paying for? Not to me.

Deep, Dark: With the third story we get to something interesting. As is the case in Joe Ledger novels, it teeters on the knife’s edge between probability and supernatural/horror fiction. The Army has a little problem in one of their underground complexes. A little bio-engineered problem. It’s just a “bug hunt,” as it goes in one of my favorite lines from Aliens, but one that has righteousness on its side.

Material Witness: This story was more interesting than anything preceding it (or following, as it turned out … yes, foreshadowing!). However, that was mostly because Maberry was filling us in on another series of his: the creepiness that is Pine Deep, Pennsylvania. Imagine the house from The Shining, but … it’s a whole town! Maberry’s melding of the two worlds was rather intriguing but not enough to make me want to get whatever book it was he wrote about Pine Deep. For one thing, spoilers abound. I wonder if I already knew all about that “world” if the story would have kept my attention as it did.

Dog Days: The final story and the one which was the test of whether Maberry had improved at short story writing or whether the previous two just created interest because of the unfamiliar material. Yep. Choose door number two. It wasn’t a terrible story, just extremely easy to figure out as Joe Ledger goes to settle a personal grudge against the world’s deadliest assassin. The most interesting thing about it to me was the introduction of Ghost, the wonder dog. One feels (at least I do) that this should have been a prequel or flashback in The King of Plagues. I especially feel this since I spent much of the beginning of that book wondering what the heck happened to Ledger’s cat and why only one or two sentences gave us the dog’s history. This almost reads as discovery writing or something that was edited from a book. Ghost is ok, but he is definitely “made” to be Ledger’s dog, as he is a Wonder Dog with super-canine reflexes and understanding.

Summing up – these files could’ve stayed missing. It’s only four hours long but that is four hours you could use on something uniformly good.

Posted by Julie D.

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