Review of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

February 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Brilliance Audio - A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA Monster Calls
By Patrick Ness; Narrated by Jason Isaacs
4 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 23 September 2011

Tags: / YA / fantasy / monsters / nightmares / illness /

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…. This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final story idea of Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself.
Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.

This book is inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd (4 February 1960 – 21 August 2007). Patrick Ness was granted the opportunity to explore these ideas, and soon ideas gave way to other ideas, which yielded this book. There’s a terrific interview that follows the audiobook reading wherein Ness discusses the writing process and challenges he faced in such an undertaking. Ness successfully sidesteps weighty sentiment and delivers emotional authenticity while allowing room for empathy, and it is for these reasons that this book resonates long after reading.

The writing is clean and the story is as deep and layered as you wish it to be. Don’t let the young protagonist fool you. This isn’t your generic YA plastic-wrap fantasy story packed with breathless bubblegum adventure and paint-by-number characters. There are monsters and there is loss. The emotion is real, and Ness allows enough room for empathy to turn, to circle like an unquiet animal that knows the end isn’t far. Couple this with genuine wisdom, and we have a story that demands attention, that successfully spans that artificial genre-based boundary to shake reader out their slumber.

Jason Isaacs narrates the audiobook, and conducts the follow-up interview with Patrick Ness at the book’s conclusion. Isaacs nails the reading. In my opinion the audiobook is flawless, and Isaacs never makes himself known to the listener, rather he is a conduit, something only the very best readers manage to pull off. Too many contemporary audiobook narrators perform the text when all they need to do is get out of the way and read. Thank you, Jason Isaacs.

Posted by Casey Hampton

Review of Alive by Scott Sigler

July 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Alive by Scott SiglerAlive (Generations Trilogy *1)
By Scott Sigler; Narrated by Emma Galvin
Publisher: Empty Set Entertainment
Publication Date: 14 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 44 minutes

Themes: / young adult / survival / horror /
Publisher summary:

A teenage girl awakens to find herself trapped in a coffin. She has no idea who she is, where she is, or how she got there. Fighting her way free brings little relief – she discovers only a room lined with caskets and a handful of equally mystified survivors. Beyond their room lies a corridor filled with bones and dust but no people and no answers.

She knows only one thing about herself – her name, M. Savage, which was engraved on the foot of her coffin. She finds herself in charge. She is not the biggest among them or the boldest, but for some reason the others trust her. Now, if they’re to have any chance, she must get them to trust one another.

Whatever the truth is, she is determined to find it and confront it. If she has to lead, she will make sure they survive. Maybe there’s a way out, a rational explanation, and a fighting chance against the dangers to come. Or maybe a reality they cannot comprehend lies just beyond the next turn.

“A stabbing pain jolts me awake.” So begins the story of a girl on what is an exciting day in her young life; her twelfth birthday. Maybe the pain was just from a dream, she thinks. But when she realizes she is surrounded by “total darkness” and is unable to move thanks to metal bars, she is forced to make a decision. It will be the first of many choices to be made.

Scott Sigler’s Alive is all about momentum and what I like to call structured discovery. With that in mind, I am going to do my best to keep things as spoiler free as possible. Our main protagonist has virtually a blank slate and nothing to help her as she begins her journey. She is thrust into an unfamiliar situation and doesn’t even know her name. Answers will not come easy for her or anyone else she meets on her quest. The unknown is everywhere. The only way is forward. We (as listeners) are inside her head and learn things as she learns them. For the impatient, this could be frustrating, a tad jarring, and bewildering since the story is told not only in first person but in the present tense as well . If you stick with M. (as she comes to be called), you will be rewarded in time. Be prepared for a slow burn which calls to mind British films as far as the pacing is concerned. This isn’t a bad thing since we are normally conditioned to have everything presented all in a rush with no time to process. It is refreshing to have things unfold naturally. You will feel like you are thrown into the deep end but that is okay because so is M. You are not alone.

This being the audio version of the 368 page novel, the narrator is very important; this can’t be over stated. He or she has to convey all the emotions of not only M. but anyone else, help pull us into Sigler’s world, and adapt to the fluidity of the story. Luckily, Emma Galvin is more than capable of handling the various subtleties. Words change meaning, (the names of certain objects for example), as does the physical and emotional landscape. This is Scott Sigler at his best. The perilous puzzle is well constructed, contains a myriad of vivid descriptions, and keeps you guessing throughout. If this were done as a film, first person point of view would be highly appropriate for the presentation.

If William Golding’s Lord of the Flies comes to mind while you are listening as it did for me, the comparison aptly fits. Questions are explored in depth. What is a leader? What makes a good one verses a bad one? Are we destined to repeat the mistakes of those that who have gone before or can we as a society break the cycle? How and where does a religious/belief system fit into the equation? Do we follow something because of blind faith or because we connect the dots? How do we handle fear? What is the right way to address conflict? Should we hold ourselves accountable because of the choices we have made or should we chalk things up to mere accidental outcomes? When does the life of an individual outweigh the lives of the entire group?

This story doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. Long-time Scott Sigler fans may be asking themselves, “Is there gore?” The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.” However, this isn’t bloodshed and carnage purely for the sake of it. Everything serves a purpose even if we don’t understand it’s function when we come into contact with it at first. In the same token, things are presented with a deft sensativity to the target YA audience. There are many, many lessons to be learned. There’s a lot for teachers to work with if this book were to be used in a school environment.

As far as the science in this book, I can’t say much without revealing plot points. I will say, however, that technology of all sorts is represented nicely. Scott Sigler’s attention to detail, (another one of his trademarks), is present but skillfully subdued because of the limited knowledge of the main character. Observations are kept simplistic unless finer details are absolutely necessary.

If you are looking for a complex story that has mysteries within mysteries to be solved and a well-rounded cast of characters including a strong (yet vulnerable) female protagonist, this book is definitely for you. While the slow burn approach and the first person, present tense narrative may irk some listeners, the payoffs and the overall journey getting to those rewards make it all worthwhile. This being the first book in a trilogy, there is a true sense of discovery as the scope of things expands and the stakes are raised. Loose ends are tied up to a degree by the novel’s conclusion but the dust is far from settled. It is a claustrophobic roller coaster ride with many jolts, bumps, and twists along the way. Alive by Scott Sigler gets five out of five coffins.

Posted by Allen Sale.

Review of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

May 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Firefight by Brandon SandersonFirefight (The Reckoners #2)
By Brandon Sanderson; Performed by MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 17 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / YA / fantasy / magic / superpowers /
Publisher summary:

Brandon Sanderson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Words of Radiance, coauthor of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and creator of the internationally bestselling Mistborn Trilogy, presents the second book in the Reckoners series: Firefight, the sequel to the #1 bestseller Steelheart.Newcago is free. They told David it was impossible, that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart—invincible, immortal, unconquerable—is dead. And he died by David’s hand. Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers. Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it’s the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David’s willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic—Firefight. And now he will go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

I really liked Steelheart and this book was a good continuation of the story even though I didn’t like it quite as much. A new location, different situations, new epics, and even worse similes come together for a new adventure for David and The Reckoners. If you enjoyed the first book you will almost certainly like this one too…unless you throw the book through a window due to one of David’s many terrible similes.

The story is kind of similar as Steelheart except that it takes place in the remnants of Manhattan where many strange things are happening. I had more trouble following the details of the world this time around because the descriptions of the world are a bit harder to imagine. The world as described is really interesting in concept but it’s hard to follow sometimes with how things actually play out.

Sanderson is known for magic systems and he is no slouch here. The new powers and weaknesses of epics coupled with the the heck is going on with Calamity (the light in the sky that coincided with people attaining super powers) makes for interesting developments in the overall plot. I do like how Sanderson always has a plan for developing the magic system with each book and we definitely learn more in this book. I still really love the concept of a world with super heroes that are all corrupted – it’s such an interesting spin on the normal super hero story.

On the audio side of things MacLeod Andrews does a fine job narrating the story. He does some good voices that fit the characters well and puts sufficient emotion in his delivery. I think the audio version of this book is a great way to experience it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

September 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

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.

Review of The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

November 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Girl Who Soared Over FairylandThe Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland #3)
By Catherynne M. Valente; Read by Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher: Dreamscape
Publication Date: 1 October 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 23 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / YA / children’s / fairy / coming-of-age /

Publisher summary:

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

This was a lovely third book in the Fairyland series, where September has struggled to return to Fairyland and is wondering if you can ever really go back. The characters left behind in Fairyland have struggled too, missing her and loving her. Life apart is not always easy.

September meets a few versions of Saturday and starts to question whether she gets choices in her life, and between that and the nostalgia of childhood and facing being a grownup and what that means for her fairy land and fairy friends, this book is a bit tinged in sadness. It also includes Valente’s amazing imagination that we’ve seen from her poetry to Palimpsest (still my favorite) to the very underdiscussed Prester John books.

This is the first book of Valente’s that I’ve listened to, and Catherynne M. Valente is a marvelous performer of her own work. Her voice has the versatility of an old-Hollywood actress, with moments of great rich depth. I feel like going back and listening to everything she’s ever read. Her performance enriches her worlds, and I highly recommend the audio.

The Fairyland books are highly recommended, starting with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.  Perfect for kids, young adults, and adults who can still dream.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

The SFFaudio Podcast #217 – NEW RELEASES/RECENT ARRIVALS

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #217 – Jesse, Tamahome, Jenny, and Marrisa VU talk about audiobook NEW RELEASES and RECENT ARRIVALS.

Talked about on today’s podcast:
Hammer Chillers, Mr. Jim Moon, British audio drama horror anthology, Hammer Films, Janette Winterson, Paul Magrs, Stephen Gallagher, the official physical list, spaceship sci-fi, Honor Harrington, David Weber, Audible.com, Horatio Hornblower in space, broadsides and pirates, gravity propulsion, Steve Gibson, a telepathic treecat, Lois McMaster Bujold, Luke Burrage (The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast), David Drake, S.M. Stirling, 90% of Lois McMaster Bujold’s sales are audiobooks, Sword & Laser, a girl writer, Prisoners Of Gravity, religion, J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin isn’t Tolkien deep, secondary world, The Curse Of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, Blackstone Audio, Paladin Of Souls, Miles Vorkosigan, low magic vs. high magic, high fantasy, Westeros world vs. Harry Potter world, the Red Wedding (and the historical inspiration), the guest host relationship, John Scalzi, Redshirts, Agent To The Stars, The Human Division, The Ghost Brigades, Old Man’s War, William Dufris, Wil Wheaton as a narrator (is great at 2x speed), snarky comedic Scalzi stories, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Kirby Heyborne, Fuzzy Nation, Andrew L., Starforce Series, Mark Boyette, military SF, Legend: Area 51 by Bob Meyer, Eric G. Dove, traditional fantasy, epic fantasy, conservative fantasy, elves princes quests, fewer tattoos more swords, Elizabeth Moon, Graphic Audio, truck drivers, comic books, westerns, post-apocalyptic gun porn, Paladin’s Legacy, Limits Of Power, elves, simultaneous release, Vatta’s War, horses in space, The Deed Of Paksenarrion, Red Sonja, non-beach armor, Elizabeth Moon was a marine, sounds pretty hot, Any Other Name, the split-world series, Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, The Assassination Of Orange, Terpkristin’s review of The Mongoliad Book 1, The Garden Of Stones by Mark T. Barnes, books are too long!, books are not edited!, cut it down, self-contained books, find the good amongst the long and the series, Oberon’s Dreams by Aaron Pogue, Taming Fire, Oklahoma, urban fantasy, Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig, Adam Christopher, blah blah blah quote quote quote, “Wow I’ve never read anything like this before!, a head like a wrecking-ball, cool artwork, Lovecraft sounds like the book of Jeremiah, Net Galley, a Chuck Wendig children’s book, Under The Empyrean Sky, The Rats In The Walls, “two amorphous idiot flute players”, Old Testament Lovecraft, Emperor Mollusc Vs. The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez, lucky Bryce, Legion by Brandon Sanderson, we have sooo many reviewers!, Deadly Sting by Jennifer Estep, Jill Kismet, Flesh Circus by Lilith Saintcrow, Nice Girls Don’t Bite Their Neighbors, a vampire child, B.V. Larson, The Bone Triangle, Hemlock Grove (the Netflix series), True Blood, Arrested Development, House Of Cards, House Of Lies, The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu, Angry Robot, the Angry Robot Army, a complete list, Peter Kline, in the style of Lost, The Lost Room by Fitz James-O’Brien, Myst, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Joyland by Stephen King, Hard Case Crime, Charles Ardai, HCC-013, Haven, The Colorado Kid, setting not action, mapbacks, Iain M. Banks died, the Culture series, Inversions, Player Of Games, Brick By Brick: How LEGO Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy Industry by David Robertson and Bill Breen, Downpour.com, At The Mountains Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, Edward Herrmann, Antarctica, Miskatonic University, The Gilmore Girls, M*A*S*H, 30 Rock, The Shambling Guide To New York City by Mur Lafferty, New York, great cover!, Spoken Freely … Going Public in Shorts, Philip K. Dick, Edgar Allan Poe, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Turetsky, Xe Sands, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, a time-traveling serial killer, Chicago, Jenny’s Reading Envy blog, fantasy character names, Ringworld by Larry Niven, Louis Wu, The Shift Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey, The Wool Series (aka The Silo Series) by Hugh Howey, a zombie plague of Hugh Howey readers, why is there no audiobook for Fair Coin by E.C. Myers?, The Monkey’s Paw, YA, Check Wendig on YA, what is a “fair coin“, rifling through baggage, dos-à-dos, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman, Coraline, The Graveyard Book, Odd And The Frost Giants, The Wolves In The Walls, Audible’s free Neil Gaiman story, Cold Colors, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar, Audible download history and Amazon’s Kindle 1984, the world is Big Brother these days, George Orwell, dystopia, BLOPE: A Story Of Segregation, Plastic Surgery, And Religion Gone Wrong By Sean Benham, The Hunger Games, Philip K. Dick, The Man In The High Castle, alternate history, Antiagon Fire by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., William Dufris, what podcasts are you listening to?, Sword & Laser, Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Sword & Laser‘s interview with Lois McMaster Bujold, ex-Geek & Sundry, Kim Stanley Robinson, KCRW Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt, The Geek’s Guide To The Galaxy, Writing Excuses, A Good Story Is Hard To Find, the Savage Lovecast, WTF with Mark Maron, depressed but optimistic, Maron, Point Of Inquiry, Daniel Dennet, Neil deGrasse Tyson, S.T. Joshi, how do you become a Think Tank, a weird civil society thing, Star Ship Sofa’s SofaCON, Peter Watts, Protecting Project Pulp, Tales To Terrify, Crime City Central, the District Of Wonders network, Larry Santoro, Fred Himebaugh (@Fredosphere),

Stan
Beyond the valleys, green and grand,
Peek the frightened eyes of the weak colossal Stan,
the giant boy of infant lands.

Stan grasps with Herculean hands the pinnacle peaks,
Clutching feebly with avalanche force.
It’s azure bulky hides his enormous and titanic hulk
From the frightening lights of the big small city.

Stan’s fantastic feet,
Like ocean liners parked in port.
His colossal thighs,
Like thunderous engines resting silently for a storm to come.
His tremendous teeth like hoary skyscrapers shaking in an earthquake,
like a heavenly metropolis quivering beneath a troubled brow,
above a wet Red Sea of silent tongue.

Stan, insecure in his cyclopean mass,
Feels fear for his future beyond the warm chill range of the bowl-like hills
That house his home and heart.

Stan fears a fall filled with
Judging eyes,
Whispered words,
Of mockery and shame.

How could city slick students stand Stan’s pine scented skin?
His dew dropped pits dripping down in rivulets turned to rivers!
And what does a giant know of school and scholarship?
What can mere tests, of paper and pen, say
For the poor and friendless figure who quakes and sighs
Behind the too small mountain looming high over
A big small city to which young Stan has never been?

SFSqueeCast, vague positivity, Charles Tan, SFFaudio could use more positivity, Hypnobobs, Batman, weird fiction, Peter Cushing, The Gorgon, Christopher Lee.

Stephen King's Joyland - Mapback

Posted by Jesse Willis

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