An Audio-Book Review: Six Impossible Tasks Before Breakfast

How to Break a Dragon’s Heart

(How to Tame Your Dragon #8)

By Cressida Cowell

Published by Hachette Children’s Books

Read by David Tennant


The Book:

 Last week I reviewed Adventures of a Brownie, a children’s’ story from the Victorian era. Now let’s looks at a fine example of what is being written for similar aged children in the “Second Elizabethan Era.”

So far, I have reviewed the first seven books of the series and have found them all a lot of fun. These might be marketed for children, but seriously they are not just for kids. There is humor and drama and extremely good pacing. The characters probably could be more complex, but we don’t expect depth out of Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Warner Brothers and their sister, Dot or Phineas and Ferb. However, as a whole, these stories have something in them that will engage the reader on one level or another.

This time our hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III must save his friend Fishlegs from being fed to the Beast because Fishlegs made the unforgiveable faux pas or writing a love poem to a beautiful Viking princess. To save Fishlegs, Hiccup must undertake an impossible task while battling Berserks and dodging Scarers. At the same time, he is being hunted down by an old enemy and must learn the secret of the Lost Throne of the Hairy Hooligans. Oh… and his friend Kamikaze, daughter of Big-Boobied Bertha, Chief of the Bog Burglars, is missing. It might just be that the impossible task is the easy part.

Like the stories that precede it, this one is a lot of fun. As I have said before, forget almost everything you might have seen in the movies that were adapted from these stories. About all they have in common is a few of the names and the fact there are Vikings and dragons and I really think the stories are better. They last longer and are both more dramatic and funnier. Read them for yourself and see if I am not right.


The Audiobook:

Once again, David Tennant. the 12th Doctor Who and one-time Harry Potter villain, reads the continuing story of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III masterfully. Admittedly he did cross the line a coup0le times from dramatic reading to funny voices, but as I once commented about a reading by another Doctor Who portrayer (Tom Baker), the way he does it is what most other readers attempt to do, but fail. When Tennant uses a funny voice, it seems to fit the character so well that I was able to forgive him. Indeed, if other readers did it as well I doubt I ever would have come up with that as a point of criticism.

So, this is a fun story whether relegated to children or also shared with adults and I don’t think I would want to hear anyone by David Tennant reading it.

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An Audio-Book Review: Revenge of the Little People

Adventures of a Brownie
as Told to My Child

By Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (aka Miss Mulock)

Published by

Read by Ancilla, Ted Nugent, swimmi and Christine Blachford.


The Book:

Welcome to the world of Nineteenth Century children’s stories. I don’t know what possessed me to download this one, but thought it might be fun. I think I may be a bit too old to really enjoy this one as much as it deserves, however, but maybe I was expecting something a bit more humorous.

In spite of my own ambivalence, I suspect this is one little boys and girls would love to have read to them. It’s a charming tale of a Brownie, known simply as “Brownie” or “Mister Nobody<” who delights in tormenting the local adults, but also loves to play with the children. Brownie lives in a coal bin and the kitchen staff leaves a bowl of milk out for him each evening (there is heck to pay the night that does not happen), but adults never actually see him so in at least one of the stories the kids take the blame for his pranks.

Because this is a story for children there is no slang and everyone speaks absolutely correctly. I suppose this is to not encourage sloppy verbal habits in impressionable minds although a few Victorian era slang such as “Afternoonified” might have been worked in (I would have had to look it up, but then I did anyway) and nothing was every described as “Bang up to the elephant,” which is not as bad as it sounds to modern ears. Then again, the elephant one probably did not exist until a few years after these stories were written. Still some contemporary idioms, especially from the kids would “Take the egg.”

The stories come off as a bit preachy, which was, sadly, normal at the time, but not as bad as some of the stories of the period could be. These were not written to teach a lesson (“Children, please do not imitate the actions in this story!) but just to be fun,

So, what the heck, try reading them to your young children and see what they think.


The Audiobook:

A mixed bag as is often the case when there are multiple readers. Some were quite good, however and put the perfect amount of joy and wonder into their voices to match the exuberance of Brownie. One read much too slowly to my way of thinking. It felt like I had to go in and extract the words from that reader’s throat, but all told this was a pleasant experience.

So, it’s a children’s story, written for the amusement of young kids and for the most part is read for them as well.

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An Audio-Book Review: The Magical Middle Ages

Deryni Rising

By Katherine Kurtz

Published by Audible Frontiers

Read by Jeff Woodman


The Book:

I’m not sure how I avoided reading any of this series back when I was in college and it was fairly new. I will admit that by the time I started writing my own stories I was rather tired of medieval-based fantasy and perhaps, just perhaps, that coolness toward that subgenre began earlier than I have previously thought.

Even more amazing that I had not read this is that I have met Katherine Kurtz (well, actually, I met Mistress Bevan Fraser of Sterling, her persona in the Society for Creative Anachronism) when we were both visiting Baton Rouge, LA. I must admit to having made a bit of an ass of myself on first meeting. A friend of mine had picked Ms. Kurtz up at the airport and was having the time of his life introducing her to the various people at this particular even, but to his utter surprise, when he got around to introducing me, her reaction was something like, “Oh! I’ve heard of you.” Well this was a surprise to me too. In the SCA I have had a reputation as what I hope is a constructive troublemaker and sometime later I did serve as a regional (Kingdom) and corporate officer, but at the time not a lot of people knew who I was outside those few places I had lived.

Naturally, my first instinct was to reply, “It’s not true! None of it!” to which she replied that what she had heard was good, so I just shook my head and repeated, “It’s not true! None of it!” Later, the next evening a few of us spent a long evening discussing Welsh castles and how some of her favorites appeared in the Deryni series.

In any case, normally when I have met, and liked, an author, I have gone out of my way to pick up something he or she has written (if I haven’t already) but for some reason, this fell through the cracks of my mind until now.

Well, it was worth the wait. It is set in a medieval land much like Wales (actually Gwynedd is a part of the real Wales so I just assume it was meant to be set in Northeastern Wales albeit one with a magic-using race living more or less side-by-side with normal humans with whom they can interbreed… so, technically, they are human too, just ones with special abilities) It is story of ho, following the death of his father, the king, Prince Kelson and his Deryni supporters managed to get him safely crowned King of Gwynedd despite the machinations of various others.

Much of what is in this book is considered cliché and hackneyed, but one should remember that it certainly was not at the time it was written. That other authors have jumped on the Medieval fantasy wagon should not detract that is was a much more sparsely populated genre when Kathryn Kurtz published this in 1970. More recent authors have delighted in writing grimy, gritty worlds and many readers seem to feel that such worlds are more realistic, but for me, this is the sort of fantasy writing style that got me into the genre in the first place. For me it was a breath of fresh air. The dialogue sounded like things real people might say and the people, even the evil ones seem like people, not cut-out paper figures reciting dialogue. The characters could do with some fleshing out, but heck, I think this was her first book and for a first, this is very good.

Kurtz’s world is vivacious and real, even if set in a fantasy setting and I had no trouble getting my bearings right from the start. Now that’s masterful fantasy writing!


The Audiobook:

I’m not sure if Jeff Woodman’s reading does the story justice. He just seems to be spending too much time making it sound super dramatic and while there is drama involved in the story line he does not seem to be hitting the right notes. It is as though he said to himself, “Dammit! I’m going to make this sound dramatic if it kills me!”

He’s not bad, but he only puts in a good performance, not an excellent one. Never having listened to him read before I decided to look him up and it seems that there are quite a few listeners who have enjoyed some of his other readings, so I will have to find one of them sometime soon.

So, we have a really good fantasy epic written in the style of the late 60’s and early 70’s that is fun to read and an audio experience that is passable but does not quite shine.

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An Audio-Book Review: A Long Time From Now in a Star System Far Away

Great Sky River (Galactic Center #3)

By Gregory Benford

Published by The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Read by John Polk

The Book:

I wanted to like this book. IU really did. Gregory Benford is widely considered to be one of the greats of Science Fiction and other reviewers, when I looked them up, seemed to think this was a good book. I am just not one of them. No accounting for taste, maybe.

My first thought about this book as it began was, “What the heck is going on?” After that I wondered why the characters all sounded like something out of Orwell’s 1984. While both questions were eventually answered more or less, I did not find them satisfying answers and the clipped “Newspeak” sort of talking was, at best, annoying and at worst, distracted from the story. What’s worse is that it took roughly half the book just to get a handle on what the situation was.

Even then the story is not really to my tastes, although it really should have been. In any case, the humans of this world belong to six different tribes each named after a chess piece, although I am not sure if they remember what Chess is. Each adult as a sort of rite of passage has some of the “aspects” of former tribe members implanted in them. These aspects seem to be actively thinking collection of memories of the now-dead people they represent so while the ragtag remnants of mankind might not understand technology they sort of remember how to use it. Their world has been conquered by the Mechs (Meks? I’m not sure how it is spelled since I have only listened to it) who are a robotic people/ It eventually the Mechs have a use for humans, or at least parts of them but for the most part humans are a sort of vermin whose population must be controlled.

At one time, the humans lived in large settlements called “Citadels,” but the Mechs crushed them during a period known as “The Calamity.” Now, some years later, the Bishop Clan is wandering and still looking for a safe place to live. They eventually meet up with a bunch of Rooks and one woman who might be the last Knight and then they stumble on a new sort-of Citadel – more of a small town with delusions – in which some the Kings live. That pretty much sums up the first half of the book. The rest of the book involves how one man of the Bishops had to deal his both his own leader and the leader of the Kings as well as a “Crafter” Mech who works with the Kings and try to put up a defense against a new mysterious Mech called the Mantis. FTR, until the end of the book there is no hint as to whether these are the last humans left in the Universe. It certainly seems that way during most of the book.

I won’t go into more detail, but to me the end felt like it was where the second chapter should have started. There was a struggling, both internal and external to get there, but not a lot of action. What the story does have Are some very interesting and different ideas as to what a Mech culture might be like. In some ways I wondered if Mechs would have had philosophy and art as they do here, albeit a different sort of art that the humans do not appreciate (nor do I, for that matter_) and they even have a sort of substitute for religion, albeit one that is based on their own immortality and higher beings among them who really do exist. Okay, it’s not religion, really, but it feels like it fits the cultural niche religion does for humans.

Loads of interesting ideas, but I did not think there was much of a story to hold it together. Definitely a case of a story that should have been a novelette in length at best.


The Audiobook:

John Polk delivered a reasonably good reading of this story. It was firm and even and quite easy to listen to. If I have any complaints it was that he left no vocal clues as to who was talking when there was dialogue going on. I realized I have also complained about readers who rely on “Funny voices” so perhaps I am being inconsistent, but I think there is some room for vocal variety without sounding like a reject from the Looney Toons recording studio.

In part, I think the blame goes to the author since all living humans in this story talk exactly alike, all recorded aspects of humans talk alike, although not like the living ones, and the Mechs all sound like the other Mechs so there is not a lot of room for variety, but it might have been nice to be able to tell whether a man, woman or child was speaking without listening to the verbal tags in the dialogue.

However, this is not a strong complaint and it really was much better than if he had resorted to funny voices. So, all told, while the reading was good, I was not satisfied by the story itself. It kept me waiting for action that only came in fits and starts and was always too understated and isolated by long plodding passages that left me muttering at the sound system, “Oh just do something already!”

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An Audio-Play Review: Hey, Barkeep! I’ll have a Shot of Yakov’s Elixer!

The Inspector General

By Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol Translated by Thomas Seltzer

Published by

Performed by a full cast

The Play:

According to the translator’s note, “The Inspector General,” (or simply “The Inspector”) and other reviewers is one of the great pieces of Russian literature, all the more amazing because it is a comedy. It has been performed and adapted numerous times since its original performance in 1836.

The story is about the people (especially the corrupt officials) of a small town in Russia during the reign of Nicholas I who, on learning an inspector will soon arrive from St. Petersburg, mistake a mere civil clerk (who by happenstance comes from St. Petersburg) for the soon-to-arrive inspector. The clerk, a wastrel of the first water, has lost all his money gambling and has been attempting to bully the landlord of the inn he is staying at into providing him free room and board. So when the local mayor comes to his room, the wastrel lies like a professional rug and brags about his highly placed contacts in St. Petersburg, which is exactly the sort of thing the mayor expects to hear.

Naturally the wastrel is able to extract “loans” from nearly everyone who believe they are merely bribing him in the usual manner. The local official bribe him to see them in a favorable light while the local merchants bribe him to send the mayor off to Siberia or some such. While there, the Mayor’s wife flirts with him even as he woos their daughter. Eventually, convinced by his valet, that it is too dangerous to stay in the town any longer, the wastrel leaves in a coach with the fastest horses in town. Meanwhile the Mayor uses what he thinks is his new prestige to bully the local merchants even as the local postmaster arrives with a letter written by the false inspector, mocking the whole town (yes, the postmaster opened supposedly personal mail of someone thought to be an Inspector. While everyone in the room is arguing at the very end, a message from the real inspector arrives, demanding to see them all.

I have to admit I originally downloaded this play to see how close it was to the Danny Kaye movie of the same name. The answer: the Danny Kaye movie is as loosely adapted as it can be without including at least some elements of the original. Kaye’s character is a bit of a schlep, but an inherently honest one who was kicked out a Gypsy band for not being dishonest enough and the movie’s story takes place in Napoleon’s empire, not Russia. Both, I think are enjoyable, but Gogol’s play is a fun and biting satire of corruption at every level of government and, sadly still applies today just as much or maybe even more so.

There is a note on the Librivox site that the play does include some anti-Semitism, which for the time it was written is not surprising, but frankly I find myself more insulted by Jules Verne’s Jewish character in Off on a Comet or Shakespeare’s Shylock.

An audio-only performance, by necessity is going to lose the entire visual aspect of a play, but they included a narrator to read the stage directions in the script as it went along. Some of the time it was hardly necessary, but most of the time it helped and I guess that is the sort of thing you either do none or all of.

So, all told, this really is a masterful play and the performance was enjoyable.

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Two More Books in Print!

I am happy to announce that two more of my books are now available to purchase either in paperback or various electronic formats.


The Wayfarers, Book 8 : An Island without a Shore

In the Series conclusion, Kazani Basan, Chanya Sanai and Raff Cawlens must lead a team of Wayfarers and Kenlienta Elders in a monumental mission to stop a rogue human city from destroying the global ecology before others choose to engage in open warfare.


Corrected Visions-Thumb

Gaenor’s Prophecy, Book 2: Corrected Visions

Artur, Gaenor and their allies must prepare the World against the continuing aggression from The Holy Empire, formerly known as the Southlands. They have already conquered several technologically advanced nations in lightning-like strikes and are now adapting their newly captured technology into weapons unlike anything the World has ever seen. To hold them off the rest of the World must stand united, but not everyone sees the threat.

These titles, and most of my others, can been purchased at as well as, the iBookstore, Barnes& and other major outlets. For more information on all my stories please visit my website at

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An Audio-Book Review: Now, Where Did They Park That Thing?

The Lost Starship

By Vaughn Heppner

Published by Audible Frontiers

Read by David Stifel


The Book:

This is the first book by Vaughn Heppner I have read. It’s not bad, but it reads like an author’s first book. I’m not sure if this was his first, but it feels like it ought to be. First let me give praise where it is due, however.

The story starts out well with a good solid action scene that introduces us to the main character, Captain Maddox, who may or may not be more than he seems. He is a member of Star Watch Intelligence and his first job to which we are observers is to get into a duel with a spoiled local brat, who has had some sort of enhancement therapy that makes it an unfair fight with most of his opponents. Well, it’s not much of a spoiler, but one thing leads to another and the rich brat is killed. Maddox’s assistant is sent to a prison planet and Maddox is being chased by assassins hired by the brat’s rich daddy.

If any of that was necessary to Maddox’s story, it is not made clear in this particular book. There are less convoluted means to push the story, but maybe that gets explained later in the series. Supposedly he needs to be a fugitive to give him an excuse to go looking for the last battleship of a long-dead space-faring race without being followed by the real bad guys of the series, the New Men.

The New Men are genetically superior humans who represent what might eventually be a new species of human (but since they can breed with normal humans, they are not yet a separate species. Don’t believe me? Try looking up the scientific definition of species – part of that includes no breeding between populations (or if there is breeding, non-fertile mules are the result) After that w=you can try looking up the difference between a Theory and a Hypothesis for the next time some nitwit say something is only a theory and thus has no proof… Sorry about that; it’s a sore spot for me.

Anyway, these New Men appear to be genetically superior to the mainstream population of Earth and its surrounding stellar systems and come from somewhere in the “Beyond” which is out past the boundaries of the united worlds collective Maddox is part of. Worse, they are amazingly arrogant and conceited and also bent on conquering (and probably destroying) all lesser humans. Why is not certain. One could look at empires of the past and how they expanded by conquest, but when you think about it, they could only expand by conquest. The situation we see in this book suggested there are plenty of stellar systems into which the New Men can expand without bothering to wage war. It seems foolishly wasteful to fight space battles when there are world out there for the taking. Perhaps they have religious reasons for what they are doing, it does sound more like a crusade than a necessary war of conquest.

Then there is the dysfunctional crew he puts together. Sorry, while I thought they were all pretty good characters, I could not see them being able to work together. In fact, for the most part they don’t. What we have, however is a set of clichés. There’s the alcoholic who is the best pilot in the galaxy that Maddox has to turn around. Then we have the inflexible, stick-to-the-regulations lieutenant, the anti-social super arrogant, super-genius scientist, the engineer who comes from a high-gravity world so we get the muscle-man (although in this case it’s a woman, and the engineer in the same character) and, finally, the old sergeant who backs up Maddox at all times while muttering that he’s getting too old for this. Of them all, the sergeant is the only one I would choose for a team (and that includes Maddox who is a classic lone wolf if I ever saw one.)

I also got a bit confused by the author’s grasp of military titles. At the end of the book some of the characters are promotions but at least one goes from a navy rank to an army or marine rank. Since there was nothing before that point to indicate how ranks work in the Star Watch I sort of assumed the sergeant was a marine of some sort and the others had naval ranks, but perhaps the Star Watch has a hodgepodge of ranks and next book someone will be promoted to centurion.

In any case, if you put aside the weaknesses, I think this is a solid space opera and in spite of my complaints, I did enjoy the story. If only it hadn’t just stopped without resolving any of my big questions about how the world works there and just who Maddox was.


The Audiobook:

I have also never listened to David Stifel before, but I have no complaints. before, but I have no complaints. He did a fairly solid job and while he did vary his voice more than many readers might have, he was consistent and never quite ranged into the realm of funny voices.

I use the term “funny voices” a lot and I suppose I really ought to define it even though to me it seems obvious. Quite a few professional readers, understanding that a good performance means that each character’s voice is clearly delineated from the others will include funny-sounding voices (some that would be considered over the top in a cartoon) whether to be by making them high and squeaky or low and rumbling or just so hoarse you ache to hand the poor fellow a throat lozenge. Most non-professionals prefer to simply read, rather than perform a book, which is a good choice if you are not an actor, but sometimes an actor just cannot help but go above and beyond any normal-sounding human voice. Now a reader can go too far when failing to vary a voice too, but in my experience, most of the time when I have trouble distinguishing characters it is because the author failed to give those characters different speech mannerisms.

In any case, Mister Stifel does a fairly good job reading the story which, while it does have its faults is still a solid adventure story. Hopefully, this series improves as it goes along.

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