An Audio-Book Review: Strrrrretch!

Sorceress of Darshiva

Book 4 of the Malloreon

By David Eddings
Published by American Printing House for the Blind
Read by Hal Tenny

The Book:

Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. This entire book definitely counts as a part of the middle. In fact, it is so “Middle” that I got to the end thinking that not much had actually happened. Oh, sure the central cast of characters went places and did things, but the plot points of this particular volume would have filled a much thinner book (and the books of this series tend to be fairly thick) so that much of the time the book is filled with the chatter of the characters pretty much going on about the same things they had been going on about earlier in the series.

For example, as has been the case in the previous books, they are all in a hurry to catch up to Zandramas who had kidnapped Garion and Cenedra’s son. So, do they move with all due haste? You might think so, but once again, we see Silk getting repeatedly obsessed over his business matters, even to take the time to haggle with and cheat the people he is doing business with when he might save time with a straight answer or two. We see various conversations with pig farmers, idle fishermen and drunken noblewomen that while, yes, some vital information is gained, the character then go back and repeat what they learned to others, often with unnecessary details. There is a lot of repeated conversations on the philosophy of quests and prophecies, most of which is a rehash from earlier too, so that by the time I reached the climactic scene at the end I could see that most of the book was filler so that this would be a five book series, rather than a tetralogy.

About the only other purpose for all the filler scenes is to show the reader just how large the world is and how long it takes to get from one place to the next when on horseback. That, by the way, sounds a lot like stuff my high school teachers might have told us to make dusty and poorly written books of the 19th and early 20th Century sound like great works of literature. (Side note: have you ever noticed how high school reading lists seem to have been crafted to actually discourage literacy? I could give examples, but I’ll save that for some other time).

All those gripes aside, I did enjoy the story even if all the characters appear to be too clever by half at times and somewhat two dimensional. It is a perfect example of how character development is not always a requirement for decent fantasy and science fiction. However, I have found that this particular part of the story is less interesting now that I have read the entire series, although even on first reading, I knew where they were ultimately heading (the “Place that is No More”) the moment I opened the third volume. Actually, I knew that the first time the phrase was used, but did not know where it was and wondered why they did not, especially Belgarath who had been around at the time when it was sort-of destroyed. Well, at 6,000 years of age, I suppose he must be prone to memory lapses when the plot requires it.

So, anyway, I think the series in general tells a fairly interesting story, but this part of it lags at times and if I had to guess, I’d say it was badly stretched out so it would be over 400 pages and roughly as thick as the rest of the series.

 

The Audiobook:

My copy is of the same series as the previous volumes of this series and Hal Tenney is both a talented reader. So, everything I’ve said before about him still applies. He reads very well and is easy to listen to although I do disagree with some of his vocal choices. Belgarath sounds more and more like a confused old man which is in opposition to how he is portrayed in Eddings’ writing, although Silk no longer sounds like a human weasel as he did in earlier books. That mean no points of consistency, but I appreciate not hearing the voice Tenney used for him earlier. However, most characters sound fairly normal most of the time and while I still disagree with his pronunciation of Zandramas, I’ll admit that maybe I’m wrong.

So, while very stretched and full of verbal fluff, it’s not a bad continuation of the series and Tenny reads it well.

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An Audio-Book Review: Ah, the Salt of the Earth… sort of.

Teckla

Vlad Taltos Book 3

By Stephen Brust
Published by Audible, Inc.
Read by Bernard Setaro Clark

 

The Book:

I recall not enjoying this story as much as some of the others in this series when I first read it. Darned if I know why. If anything, I liked it better this time around.

This series was definitely not written in chronological order, but this third book seems to come directly after the first one (The second is a prequel from some time much earlier when Vlad first meets his wife and is killed by her.) This time around we get to know much more about his wife, Cawti, when it appears she has fallen in with a group of social revolutionaries concerned with the civil rights of the Easterners (humans) and the Drageran peasants (Teckla). Vlad finds himself trying to tread a neutral path between the revolting peasants and the Empire to which as a Jhereg noble he is supposed to be loyal. Naturally there is a severe strain on their marriage especially when the Imperial troops are sent in to deal with the peasant protests.

It seems obvious Brust is attempting to tackle the issue of civil rights and seems to mix in themes from the French Revolution and more recent socialism, although such movements seem very out of place in the Adrilankha of Vlad Taltos. Part of the problem, for me, is that it takes place in an empire that is young and vibrant (actually it is thousands of years old, but it is at the beginning of a known cycle when everything is fresh and renewed). Had this been near the end of a cycle (in a time of a Decadent Phoenix as the Dragaerans would call it) or during that time between cycles (an interregnum) it might have worked better as a story. Here it just does not seem to fit.

When the Tekla (and Easterners) protest and the phoenix guards are sent in I kept thinking, “Well, this will be short work for the Phoenix Guards,” but the leading voice of the Teckla keeps saying (all too smugly) that the Teckla far out-number the guards. Perhaps so, but they have none of the training and are more likely to scatter and run for their lives when encountering the well-armed and disciplined guards.

However, I decided to ignore that and take the story as it came. It’s not a bad story even with its flaws. There is some good character development for Vlad (and Cawti) as they come to terms, each in their own way, with their status as humans in a land ruled by Dragaerans and with their personal relationship with each other.

The Audiobook:

Clark’s readings are consistent. The voices he has chosen for his characters do not change from book to book and most are well-chosen, although I still have immense troubles with Vlad’s Jhereg familiar, Loiosh, sounding like Peter Lorre on a bad day. I know Vlad and his colleagues comprise Adrilankha’s underworld and, essentially, Vlad is a minor don in the Dragaeran mafia, but that always jars me.

Loiosh’s voice aside, however, this was enjoyable to listen to and a fairly good story if taken on its own terms. The moral: Just enjoy and do not over-think it.

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An Audio-Book Review: You Light Up My Life!

Stalking the Dragon: A Fable of Tonight
John Justin Mallory Book 3

By Mike Resnick
Published by Audible Studios
Read by Peter Ganim

The Book:

I thought I had only read the first of this series, but it turns out this story was amazingly familiar to me, so I must have read it at once point or other. On the other hand, I did not recall the ending, so that’s okay. Besides, it is not like I only listen to the recordings of books I have not written. As readers of this blog might have figured out for themselves, I listen to just about anything regardless of whether I have read the original, of age of the book, of quality, etc.

Anyway, John Justin Mallory, the realistic private eye – the sort who does not pummel his way through hundreds of gun-toting adversaries while seducing a dozen curvaceous women – is back for another case that must be solved in a single night (although I think this time, he has until the following afternoon) when the Grundy (the powerful demon who controls all of the fantasy Manhattan this story takes place in) hires him to get a toy dragon to the prestigious East Minster Dragon Show.

Okay, I skipped ahead of the details – first he is hired by the owner of said dragon to find her, but it gets complicated… of course. Along the way we learn a lot about show dragons. For instance, each one has its own favorite foods and some are amazingly picky about what they will eat. This one, Fluffy, will only eat elephant-shaped chocolate marshmallow cookies. Offer a Rhino-shaped one and no dice.

The story, like its predecessors, involves Mallory, the office cat (a catgirl named, Felina), his partner and a bunch of others accumulated along the way as they track down the dragon and get it to the show on time so that the Grundy’s entry can win the competition fair and square because he may be the epitome of evil, but he is also a sportsman. Go figure.

The story is well-crafted and also a nice piece of satire that entertains from beginning to end even if the ending was predictable… well, predictable if you have read the others in the series.

 

The Audiobook:

Peter Ganim’s reading of this series continues to be in the “Classic Hard-boiled Detective” manner which works here even though Mallory is not the cliché fictional detective (that most mystery writers try to avoid using if I am going to be honest). As I said in my review of Stalking the Unicorn, comedy needs to be treated seriously and the narrator of a comic novel needs to remember he is the straight man. Ganim does this perfectly and never steps on the jokes as Mallory treads his way through the fantastic version of Manhattan.

So, I enjoyed this story a lot. I thought it was better than the second book and possible on a par with the first. I did grow a bit tired of the goblin street venders. That was a joke that got old quickly in the first book and has not aged all that well along the way. However, Mister Resnick had made them such a staple of life in his version of NYC that they had to remain ubiquitous. One does have to wonder where he walks in New York, however. I’ve been there often enough and never found the street venders anywhere near so aggressive…

Posted in Adventure, Audio Books, Books, Fantasy, Mike Resnick, Mystery, Reviews, Satire | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

An Audio-Book Review: Our Story Continued…

The Bronze of Eddarta

Book #3 of the Gandalara Cycle

By Randall Garrett and Vickie Ann Heydron
Published by Audible Studios
Read by Paul Boehmer

 

The Book:

This book picks up with the second volume left off. The second (The Glass of Dyskornis) did not really end in a satisfying manner to me. It mostly just stopped. Had there been a large neon sign saying “To be continued” that came with the book it could not have been more obvious. I know that this is common in long story arcs, but a good author should try to at least bring a story line to a good stopping point and not just stop writing. On the other hand, I have to admit that I have done the same thing a few times, so knowing what best practices are, is not the same as following them…

Anyway, this time I was better satisfied as our heroes; Rikardon, Tarani and (oh heck! I’ve forgotten the third name… well, he’s a somewhat cardboard cut-out character… so far at least) continue on to recover the Ra’ira (a sort of magical stone that enhances psionic powers in those that have them). There continues to be the inevitable John Carterish nature to the story; Rikardon has a sort of natural ability to resist all but the strongest psionic control due to his unique “double mind,” but at least he is not the greatest warrior on any world and capable of jumping as though wearing seven-league boots.

The story is solid, if a bit vintage in style, but that is much of what I like about it. A lot of more recently-written stories gets gritty where it is not entirely necessary all in the name of a “Realism,” that is only sometimes necessary. Some authors, I think, do not realize that we all have different world-views and not everyone enjoys a dystopia. (I may have said this before, but I find dystopias to be a lazy form of writing. It is easy to find dramatic tension where everything is wrong. It is much more challenging to build it credibly in a world where life is neither perfect nor perfectly imperfect… but that’s me.) The world Rikardon finds himself in, while a fantasy construction is neither good nor evil. It is made of different people living their lives in different ways. Yes, there are outlaw types and there are those who oppose them and there are those who simply mind their own business. It feels like a real world even with the fantasy elements.

I will not give away the ending, but this one stopped in a better, and more reasonable spot than the last one, so, yes, this was a better story.

 

The Audiobook:

Paul Boehmer always puts in a solid performance when reading and this is no exception. Like last time, I was somewhat unsettled by the way he pronounced some of the alien names, but, also like last time, I have to admit that I could be totally wrong about those same pronunciations. You take your shot at alien names and hope that others agree with the way you imagine them.

So, this was an enjoyable story and it was well-read. I look forward to the next volume.

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An Audio-Book Review: The Phrase “Household Chores” Takes On a New Meaning

House of Many Ways

By Diana Wynne Jones

Published by Recorded Books

Read by Jenny Sterlin

 

The Book:

This is the second sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle and fits the mood and feeling of the first book better than Castle in the Air did. The setting is vaguely Western European rather than Middle Eastern and the connecting characters (Sophie, Howl, their son, Morgan and the fire demon, Calcifer) appear sooner in the story than last time although, once again, they are supporting characters.

The main protagonist this time is a young woman named Charmain (Miss Charming) Baker who has been brought up in what her mother feels is a “respectable” family, although bakers must be held in higher regard in the Kingdom of High Norland than in most places as her surname comes from the fact that her father is a baker. I mean it is a respectable trade, for certain, but her mother and aunt put on the airs of high aristocracy. In contract, the King and his daughter, Princess Hilda (who was one of the captured princesses in the second book) are much more down-to-earth. And then there is Waif, a magical “Enchanting dog,” who adopts Charmain, and Peter Regis, the apprentice magician of Charmain’s uncle, the Wizard of High Norland.

When Charmain’s uncle falls mysteriously ill, she is sent to take care of his cottage and on the way encounters the evil Lubbock, an evil man-like insectile creature that lays its eggs in the bodies of unsuspecting men and women (usually a fatal experience) but fortuitously escapes unharmed. Charmain knows nothing about her uncle’s magical house or of magic at all. She does not seem to have any really useful knowledge at all (apparently doing chores or making your own tea is not respectable according to her mother) save that she is an avid reader and would like to be a librarian. Peter is really not much more useful. He knows a bit of magic and frequently gets it wrong, but has little common sense.

Without giving it all away, Charmain gets a job helping the King and Princess and soon finds herself (along with Sophie and the others) working toward solving the kingdom’s many problems.

It’s a fun story, very well told and my only complaint is that the author wrote no further stories in this series before her death, although she continued to write other stories as long as she could. However, the three books together make for a nice trilogy and maybe that is best. It leaves the rest of us to imagine the future adventures, and misadventures of Sophie, Howl and the others in their world for ourselves.

 

The Audiobook:

Jenny Sterlin’s readings always make me shift gears in my head. I think the majority of narrators seem to be men and most of the women who read audiobooks, in my experience, seem to sound like they are somewhere in their late twenties or early thirties. Ms. Sterlin has a warm, natural sounding voice and she reads in a manner that I recall hearing my mother use when reading to young children. It is engaging and draws me in every time even if I generally need a few minutes to adjust at the start of each book.

So… The book is a lot of fun to read and to listen too. Nice combination!

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I Scored a Bag o’ Crap!

(I was going to post my review of Diana Wynne Jones’ House of Many Ways this week, but something exciting happened (see below) so instead I’ll blog about that. Tune in next week for the review)

Now, if you do not know what a Bag o’ Crap (aka a BoC), there is a website called Woot.com. It is currently owned by Amazon.com, although I’ve been frequenting it since long before Amazon cast its entrepreneurial eyes on the land of flying monkeys and odd stuff for sale. In any case, Woot sells a lot of different stuff; some is good, some is silly, most of the time it’s a pretty good deal. I first came across them because they had far too many original t-shirts I wanted.

Every so often, then have what is called a “Woot-off” in which a limited number of items are posted for sale until they sell off and then are immediately replaced by something else, enticing you to keep coming back all day to see what’s up now. During these Woot-offs and other special events they sometimes, and without warning offer what they call a “Bag o’Crap” (currently selling for $9.99 when available). They are usually very hard to get because thousands of Wooters are all trying to get them at once, and there is no telling what might be inside them. Woot has this to say about the Bags;

THE HOLY CRAP COMMANDMENTS v6.0

  1. Thou shalt not be all upset when you find out what’s in this box and how you didn’t even need it in the first place.
    II. Thou shalt not expect more than THREE crappy items of dubious origin and the titular bag.
    III. Thou shalt do thou’s part and go post about thy bounty in the forums, be thy feelings positive or negative or even if thy cat wanders into the shot.
    IV. Thou shalt go right up there and read these commandments a second time before thou has a breakdown about all the junk thou wasted money on. We call it crap for a reason, you know

And they only promise the bag will include:

  • (1) Crappy Item
    (1) Crappier Item
    (1) Really Crappy Item
    (1) Bag of some sort
    ​(1) Realization that you are not living life the way it was intended to be lived

So, imagine my joy when on the recent Prime Day (actually, on the second day of Prime) I finally, after years and years of trying, managed to get one of those elusive Bags o’ Crap. This was the congratulatory letter I received;

YOU DID IT! You scored a Bag ‘o Crap (BoC) with all the random crud that we could sweep off the warehouse floor… Uh, I mean all the finest wares that we carefully curated just for you, [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE FOR FEELING OF PERSONALIZATION]!!! We’ve been around for 15 years and we know how to disappoint people with pinpoint precision, so please appreciate all the hard work it took to throw stuff in a box and slap a shipping label on it just to elicit amazing reactions from you like, “Huh? What the heck am I gonna do with 89 fidget spinners and a purple paper clip??” It’s like we’re some sort of artists or something.

Then came the long wait as I watched the tracking info on my order. All I knew for certain was that the official shipping weight was 5.70 pounds. Then it arrived in my local UPS depot and somehow took over a day to travel from there to the local USPS office (approximately half a mile away), but at last my crap arrived. As per Woot’s request to post the results on social media, many lucky Wooters have made You Tube videos of the opening of their boxes (NB: the BoC comes in a box with the stuff plus a bag tossed in – unless they forget the bag – just so no one can sue for false advertising), but I don’t have a You Tube channel, so instead I shall post what I find in the box as I pull each bit of crap out of it. Let’s go!

1 – Blue Woot Monkey Tote Bag – claiming to have been used for dirty socks – Smells new.

1 – Graduation Autograph book – I last graduated decades ago, but this is a pretty good one.

1 – pair of touch screen gloves – a bit small, but they fit. Neat. I didn’t know that was a thing.

1 – Blue plastic electric job box (new work style – I might find a use for that…

1 – Dog leash and collar system – my sister might use this.

1 – box of plastic forks – Well, I’m about o go camping. They’ll come in handy.

1 – Thermal tailgating bag – with the Ole Miss Logo on it. Well, I did get my MA degree at Ole Miss, so…

1 – empty mustard squeeze jar – yes, that’s useful too.

1 – telescoping massage tool and back scratcher. Who doesn’t need one of these?

1 – Pink manicure set. I’d like to think I am secure in my masculinity. Not high quality, but looks tentatively useful.

1 – Some sort of charm bracelet with the KU Jayhawk on it. – Okay – the promise of crap is hereby fulfilled.

1 – A Woot chip clip (for Factory Reconditioned Chips) As I said, I’m about to go camping, so, useful.

 

And that’s it. All told, a pretty good haul, I think. I look forward toward competing for the next BoC to catch my eye.

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Two New Books Available

I have just published two new books in paperback and various electronic formats:

The first is the same series conclusion to Gaenor’s Prophecy; A New World Revealed that I released in electronic format back around the first of May this year.

New World Revealed-ThumbThe Empire of Vohnider has become more aggressive than ever and has blended high technology with magic in their push to conquer the world in the name of their gods. The magic is of a sort no one outside of Vohnider has ever seen or contemplated, but now Gaenor of Narmouth, her colleagues and friends most find a way to counter it or all will be lost.

 

The second is the latest installment of A Plethora of Deities, Stacking the Deck: Jokers.

Jokers-thumbTrouble is brewing all across The Divine Plane and in the Mortal World as well and the League of Pantheons turns to the demoness Jael for help. Can even she and her increasingly strange team of gods, goddesses, spirits and other supernatural creatures solve the problem this time?”

Both books are available, along with my others in print and electronic formats via http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/jonathan27 and will soon be available from other outlets such as Amazon.com, the ITunes Bookstore, Barnesandnoble.com and many other popular places to buy print and electronic books.

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