Review of The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City

July 28, 2015 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Blumhouse House of NightmaresTHE BLUMHOUSE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES: The Haunted City
Edited by Jason Blum; Read by Various
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 7 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours

Themes: / horror / short stories / ghosts / demonic possession / violence / murder /

Publisher summary:

Emmy Award-winning producer Jason Blum has ushered in a new dawn of horror with franchises like Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Insidious, and Sinister. Now he presents THE BLUMHOUSE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES: THE HAUNTED CITY, a stunning collection of original, terrifying fiction from a unique cast of master storytellers.   

Contents include:

“Geist” by Les Bohem
“Procedure” by James DeMonaco
“Hellhole” by Christopher Denham
“A Clean White Room” by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
“Novel Fifteen” by Steve Faber
“Eyes” by George Gallo
“1987” by Ethan Hawke
“Donations” by William Joselyn
“The Old Jail” by Sarah Langan
“The Darkish Man” by Nissar Modi
“Meat Maker” by Mark Neveldine
“Dreamland” by Michael Olson
“Valdivia” by Eli Roth
“Golden Hour” by Jeremy Slater
“The Leap” by Dana Stevens
“The Words” by Scott Stewart
“Gentholme” by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Do you enjoy ghost, demon, and gore-lit? If yes, then you’ll enjoy this collection of stories ranging from psychological horror to down and dirty violent bloodletting. I feel this anthology does a nice job at covering the various bases in this subgenre, and for those of you interested in such reading material, I think you’ll enjoy the reading experience.

I’m not averse to reading stories that are violent or haunted by ghosts, but I need good writing. Some of these tales are fine examples of solid craft and storytelling. “A Clean White Room” by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill was a delight in the forward lean immediacy of the story. “Gentholme” by Simon Kurt Unsworth is an excellent story rendered in a pleasing unfolding of character exploration, and while the ending is a little flat, it was a pleasure to read.

Regarding recommendations? Yes, if you are a fan of these types of stories. No, if you are only an occasional horror reader. This is not a good collection to start on. It is a great collection if you’re looking to add to your already substantial horror reading catalog.

Several different narrators collaborate on this audiobook. I couldn’t find a list of the readers, but I think all deliver an outstanding reading. I was impressed with the audio quality.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

April 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

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 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

October 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

WHOLE STORY AUDIO BOOKS - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg LarssonThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
By Stieg Larsson; Read by Saul Reichlin
Audible Download – Approx. 18 Hours 50 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Whole Story Audio Books
Published: May 2009
Provider: Audible.com
Themes: / Mystery / Murder / Intrigue / Political Intrigue / Hacking / Violence / Sex / Sweden / Politics / Feminism /

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own family. He employs journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

Better to read than to listen…maybe. There are too many characters in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and we get to know all their names and all their breakfast habits, no matter how minor a role they play in the story. And like the overdeveloped minor characters, there are also many overly lengthy descriptions and over-described scenes that are not key to the plot. It may be that both the character and the storyline problems that I describe are more distracting in the audiobook version than in the print book. After finishing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo I started reading the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire, in paperback in order to compare the experiences. I still notice the excessive detail in the paperbook, but it is a more minor annoyance than in the audiobook. At first I thought my discomfort was because The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a translation from Swedish, but I recognized that the translation is seamless. The only other Swedish books, in translation, that I recall reading are those of Astrid Lindgren and, if memory serves, they weren’t nearly as cluttered as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. A quick look at the paperbook edition of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo revealed that the print edition comes with a genealogical table for keeping track of the numerous members of the Vanger family.

On the whole the almost 19 hours of listening is pleasant enough. There is no doubt that the main character is compelling, the plot interesting and that the reader, Saul Reichlin, is brilliant – but as an audio experience it can be daunting – at least without carrying around a character map.

[Here’s one!]

The Vanger Family Tree

Posted by Elaine Willis

Review of The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

September 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Bade Itself by Joe AbercrombieThe Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One)
By Joe Abercrombie; Read by Steven Pacey
Audible Download – 22 Hours 18 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Published: 2010
ISBN: 9781409111443
Provider: Audible.com
Sample |MP3|
Themes: / Fantasy / Sword and Sorcery / Dark Humor / Revenge / Violence /

For a couple years now, Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy has been at the top of my to-read list, but as I’m a slow print reader, the series inevitably yielded to more readily available audiobooks. Imagine my delight, then, when I recently realized that Orion Publishing Group had published the series in audio last June. The wait was worth it. The opening volume, The Blade Itself is a darkly humorous tale full of antiheroes and intrigue. Abercrombie’s strong writing and wry wit set The Blade Itself a cut above other novels in the reactionary subgenre of fantasy spawned by George R.R. Martin.

At first blush, the world of the First Law Trilogy looks like your average fantasy world. The bulk of the action takes place in Adua, capital city of The Union, a land with a dotard king facing imminent war on two fronts: the newly-unified North and the Gurkish Empire to the South. The city, and especially its central citadel the Agriont, is teaming with ambitious councilman, posturing soldiers, and brutal inquisitors. The North, as one might epect, is a sparse unwelcoming land peopled by warrior clans recently unified under the iron fist of King Bethod. In The Blade Itself we see only snatches of the Gurkish Empire, but it follows the usual desert formula for southern kingdoms. (Why do most fantasy series seem to be set in the Northern hemisphere?) This opening volume hints at an intricate magic system that underlies and informs the world, but so far it’s rather underdeveloped.

The viewpoint characters bring this seemingly run-of-the-mill fantasy world to life in vibrant color. Each character is an antihero, in some sense of the word. Like George R. R. Martin, Richard K. Morgan, and other recent writers, Abercrombie is writing against the tropes of the traditional good-versus-evil format of epic fantasy. Unlike some other writers in this vein, though, Abercrombie rarely seems too self-conscious about what he’s doing. Logen Ninefingers, dubbed the “bloody-nine” in the North, does not read like an anti-Aragorn, nor does Bayaz, First of the Magi, read like an anti-Gandalf. Rather, they’re fully developed characters in their own right.  Then there’s San dan Glokta, survivor of a horrible ordeal of torture at the hands of the Gurkish Empire who has in turn become a torturer for the inquisition. Rounding out the cast is Jezal, a headstrong noble youth determined to win the year’s fencing contest. With the exception of Jezal, these characters have endured tremendously hard lives, so naturally their thoughts aren’t filled with sunshine and butterflies. This is a dark book.

The fun lies in watching these characters come together and interact with one another. As in any good book, too, it’s fun to watch these characters, who we’ve come to empathize with even if we don’t actually like them, overcome their internal and external challenges. The most obvious case is Jezal and his fencing contest, which is brought to a most satisfying concentration. Then there’s Glokta, trying to stay afloat in the political post of Inquisitor, all while struggling merely to get out of bed. Then there’s Logen, fleeing his reputation as the “bloody-nine.” And at the heart of it all is Bayaz, First of the Magi, whose story hints at the direction the series may ultimately take. Bayaz, though not a point-of-view character, drives the plot in many ways, either subtly or overtly manipulating events to suit his needs.

If the book has a weakness, it’s the ending. Endings are always tricky things to pull off, especially in the first novel of a trilogy, where an author must bring the present volume to a satisfying conclusion while enticing the reader to continue with the series. Unfortunately, Abercrombie leans too far towards the latter. While the last hour or two of audio will be a treat for fans of vividly-depicted action sequences, they’re light on any satisfying story development. The ending certainly isn’t bad, it just left me a bit disappointed. On the other hand, it also did its job in whetting my appetite for the next volume.

As alluded to earlier, the standout character in The Blade Itself is perhaps Abercrombie’s deft writing style. Admittedly, it took some getting used to. I remember complaining on Twitter back when I first had a go at reading the print edition that the book was too full of sentence fragments and “said bookisms.” I stand by that complaint. The thing is, the style really fits the world and especially the characters. The dialogue reads like you’re sitting in on the conversation, especially under the standout narration by Steven Pacey. And while I’m not personally a fan of long action sequences, there’s no doubt that Abercrombie writes them masterfully. You can feel every bone-jarring sword blow and taste the tang of blood in the air.

I approached this audiobook with some hesitation. I feared that no narrator could match Michael Page’s performance of Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold. At best, I feared, I’d be disappointed; at worst, I wouldn’t even be able to listen to the book in its entirety. Fortunately, Steven Pacey is equal to the task of narrating such an ambitious work. His narration walks the fine balance of capturing the characters’ voices–literally and figuratively–without calling too much attention to them and thereby detracting from the story. The toothless Glokta, for instance, speaks with just a hint of a lisp, a slight slurring. Every now and then, his narration moves a touch too far toward the dramatic, but for the most part it’s spot on.

The Blade Itself, if it were a film, would carry a solid R rating, and therefore isn’t for everyone. Strong language and violence abound. Under its dark veneer of brutality, however, the novel shines with complex characters, compelling writing, and a story that, though not yet fully baked, promises to yield great rewards in subsequent novels.

Posted by Seth Wilson