Monday, October 26, 2015

The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson

  • Written by: Brandon Sanderson
  • Narrated by: Michael Kramer
  • Length: 24 hrs and 45 mins 
  • Series: Mistborn, Book 1
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release Date:01-22-09
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio

  • It probably says all you need to know, if you know anything about me at all, about this book and this series quality that I'm posting this review as soon as possible so I can get beyond my self imposed rule about not progressing in my audiobook consumption until after I've posted a review. (A rule I've broken already, but hey...I was on vacation!)

    Because I am actually really wanting to start the next book in this series I'm going to cheat a little bit and borrow the author's synopsis. (Who better to describe it anyway?)

    "I came into this book with two big ideas for the plot. The first was that of a heist story, like Sneakers or Ocean’s Eleven involving a gang of gentlemen thieves who each had a distinctive magic power. I wanted to tell the story of how their different magics and abilities worked together for them to pull an incredible caper.

    The second idea was to write a story about a world where the good guys lost. I wanted to take the standard fantasy story I’d read a dozen times, that of a young peasant hero who went on a quest to defeat a Dark Lord, and turn it on its head. What if the Dark Lord won? What if, in the final climactic moments, he killed the hero and took over the world?

    Hence, Mistborn. A thousand years ago, the prophesied hero from lore rose up to overthrow a great and terrible evil. Only, he lost, and the Dark Lord took over and has been ruling with an iron fist for a thousand years. Ash falls from the sky in this barren land, and mists come every night, deep and mysterious. In this setting, a gang of thieves decides that the prophecies were all lies and that they can’t trust in some fabled hero to save them. They decide to take matters into their own hands, and plan a daring heist of the dark lord himself, planning to use the emperor’s own wealth to bribe his armies away from him and take over the empire."

    So there we have it.  A nice twist on the typical 'good guy wins' storyline, as well on a twist as to who plans to set change in motion...a band of thieves.

    I've seen a couple complaints that the characters in the story weren't well developed.  I disagree , but I disagree because I know this is the opening book in a trilogy...well the first trilogy.  As such characters are mostly introduced, and we learn about them as we go.  That said I feel like there was plenty of character depth in this opening book, and I was hard pressed along the way to find a stopping point and not succumb to the 'just one more chapter' temptation.

    I've recently learned that while Mistborn was written and planned to be a trilogy, it seems Mr. Sanderson decided to write a...triple trilogy...that is to say three trilogies in this storyline each occurring in separate times throughout this worlds history starting in an ancient past working it's way through to current day.  The first trilogy is already published and two of the three in the second are also already available and the third is due out in late January 2016.  So I have a lot to look forward to fortunately before this series gets put on my 'hurry up and wait' list alongside The Reckoners and The Stormlight Archive also by Brandon Sanderson.  Needless to say, he is a talented and prolific writer.

    Michael Kramer, who also performed in The Stormlight Archive (along with his wife), did another great performance and (as I've already mentioned I believe) I can't wait to hear more from him!

    If you haven't garnered this by now, if you aren't reading Brandon Sanderson's works you are missing out.  I highly recommend that you rectify this now as you have plenty of options for places to start.  

    Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, by Brandon Sanderson

  • Written by: Brandon Sanderson
  • Narrated by: Kate Reading
  • Length: 2 hrs and 7 mins 
  • Unabridged Audiobook

  • Release Date:10-13-15
  • Publisher: Audible Studios

  • This was the second short story I chose for my vacation trip, again for its short duration matching my layover/flight times.  From Brandon Sanderson's site:  "This novella first appeared in George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’s Dangerous Women." 

    I hadn't heard of the Dangerous Women novella prior to this, but given the authors involved I'll be adding it to my ever growing list.

    As I'm still relatively new to Mr. Sanderson's works I'm only just beginning to be aware of the "Cosmere" and how his works are interwoven into this universe.  Ever since I first began the Dark Tower series by Stephen King I have been fascinated by a writer's ability to create an interrelated story universe, where some characters or events appear and affect other stories/characters in other stories.  Especially those that can do this whilst creating stories that can also stand on their own w/o any knowledge necessarily of the universe or other characters and history within it.

    Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is such a story.  Granted it's a short story, but it is very well done and I chose it because I intended to start the Mistborn Trilogy (OK, well the first Mistborn trilogy, more on that later) and thought this might be a good introduction to that world.  Not so much actually.  Just shows my ignorance of Mistborn at the time.  There are elements though and I did like this short story.

    So this story revolves around our central character Silence.  Silence is the owner of a way stop in what is referred to as a frontier.  But it is a desolate and dangerous place with seemingly simple rules most of the surviving frontier folk know well:

    "Don't kindle flame, don't shed the blood of another, don't run at night."

    It turns out breaking these rules is fatal.  The reason it's called the Forests of Hell is because the dead don't actually leave.  They become what are referred to as shades, and physical contact with them is possible, and deadly.  If such a contact occurs (usually from breaking one of the rules) you become a shade as well.

    Silence's way stop is known as a safe place to rest, eat and drink because of the varied protections in place to keep the shades away.  As the story progresses we hear tales of a bounty hunter named the White Fox who is said to be "the meanest bastard in these parts."  We find out that most of the folks out in the forests are law breakers of varying offenses and the White Fox collects bounties on the more serious of these and turns them in to the 'forts' that are apparently the last bastions of society protected away from the shades.

    This short story leads us through one night in which a bounty is being pursued, and all the ways things can go wrong.  I really enjoyed this story and by its end found myself wanting to know more about Silence.

    Kate Reading performed the version I listened to and it was done well, though in researching this story I discovered that in the Dangerous Women anthology Claudia Black (from Farscape) performed that version and I heard a snippet of that and will definitely want to hear the entire story.  Not a detractor from Kate's performance mind you, I just really like to hear Cladia Black (and most Australians for that matter) speak. 

    Perfect State, by Brandon Sanderson

    Perfect State

    • Written by: Brandon Sanderson
    • Narrated by: Christian Rummel
    • Length: 2 hrs and 4 mins 
    • Unabridged Audiobook
    • Release Date:10-13-15
    • Publisher: Audible Studios
    I spent my vacation time with Brandon Sanderson...ok well I spent my time with some of his works.  He was another of my 'accidental' discoveries that has turned out to be a great find.  Well maybe not found so much as I discovered another NYT best selling author that actually deserves the notoriety.  I've now spent almost as much time listening to his work as that of Steven King, and by the time this year is through he may well surpass Mr.King for the amount of my life I've spent enjoying his work.

    I first listened to one of Mr. Saderson's works via MacLeod Andrews because he did such a wonderful job with the Sandman Slim series I wanted to listen to his other performances.  Enter Steelheart, which turns out (unbeknownst to me at the time) to be in the Young Adult (YA) genre alongside such books as Twilight or Harry Potter for example...and not my typical fare.  It says something that I had listened to the 2 existing stories in The Reckoners series at the time without ever noticing it was supposed to be YA.  It is a fun series, and I recommend it even to those who, like me, tend to stay away from the YA genre.  From there I looked into other works by Mr. Sanderson, and next started the Legion series.  I was pretty much hooked, but after starting the Stormlight Archive series I was well into fandom.  He is now on my list with Jim Butcher for all time favorites.  Speaking of Mr. Butcher...he is also a fan of Brandon Sanderson, and cited just how cool a guy he is when a fan once decried his situation of having to choose between Sanderson and Butcher for a book signing event where the two were scheduled at the same time.  Sanderson rescheduled his signing!  

    How awesome is that?

    This is a short story that I picked to start with for two reasons: It was about the same length as my overall flight time, and it was performed by Christian Rummel.  I had another short story picked out for my trip that I'll review as well but I felt like I needed to start with this book first as it is a purely stand alone story, and the other was loosely in the Mistborn universe...and I kinda have to prepare myself mentally for Mr. Rummel.  Mind you this is reflective only on me and my weird associations in my own head and not at all on his talent or narrative abilities.  It's just that he sounds an awfully lot like another person's character in my mind and every time I listen to Mr. Rummel I start to giggle because I'm thinking he sounds just like *redacted* from that movie where the guy is *redacted* (Needless to say I don't want to impose this relation to anyone else, so I won't mention it here and just deal with my mind and it's oddities.)

    If you are curious about Mr. Sanderson, but not ready to commit to a long story/series this is a great place to start, in a couple hours you'll get an idea for his style and some of his imaginative stories.

    Perfect State is the story of a man who has conquered the world and everything in it and is lord master (haha, inside joke to other Sanderson readers) of all he surveys.  Yet he has be given a task he dreads...he must go on a date.

    This sets the stage for the humor in this story, our 'hero' Kai (God-Emperor Kairominas) must go on a date with another woman who has conquered her world and has achieved just as much as he has.

    I found this to be the perfect companion for my flight, and a well told story.  And to spite my odd associative memory Christian Rummel did a good job with this and keeping all the characters voices isolated and consistent.

    If you are familiar with Brandon Sanderson then you already know you will enjoy this story, if not then this is a good sampler to introduce yourself to him and his many wonderful stories.

    The Cartel by Don Winslow

    The Cartel

    • Written by: Don Winslow
    • Narrated by: Ray Porter
    • Length: 23 hrs and 24 mins 
    • Unabridged Audiobook

    • Release Date:06-23-15
    • Publisher: Blackstone Audio
    The Cartel is a novel that follows the story started in The Power of the Dog.  Though this novel can stand on it's own you really owe it to yourself to start at the beginning so you can have more depth of knowledge to the events that are mentioned in the past of this story, and really gain some insight into our two primary characters and their codependent relationship.  As you can see in the time for this audiobook these are not short stories.  :)

    I discovered Don Winslow quite by accident and not in the recommended order.  :)  This usually isn't a good experience, but in my case stands as testimony to Mr. Winslow's writing talent.  

    The first book I read was The Winter of Frankie Machine.  It's the story of an ageing mob hitman who is attempting to enjoy his retirement but is pulled back into his old life again. 

    I enjoyed the story and looked in to Winslow's other works and began the Neal Carey series, again out of order, with The Trail to Buddha's Mirror the second book in that series which I've also enjoyed and got back in the right order.  The Neal Carey series is supposed to be semi-autobiographical of Winslow's life as a private investigator, and is a very good series. 

    The Kings of Cool and Savages (also made into a movie) novels are another set of stories based on drug trade, use, and the unfortunate outcomes of both.  Though I found the movie version of Savages to be somewhat lacking if you don't have the backstory provided in The Kings of Cool, it was a decent effort to convert a book to the big screen.  A process I typically loathe as they are either only similar in title, or they leave out significant plot points, but this is nothing new.  Winslow was involved in this Oliver Stone movie so I suspect that helped out a lot.

    To cut my ramblings short I'll summarize with this:  Don Winslow's work is definitely worth reading.

    Winslow's vast and illuminating look at the DEA's war on drugs spans 40 years in these two combined novels:  The Power of the Dog, 1975 to 2005, and The Cartel 2005 to 2015. 

    This novel goes deeper into the dynamics of the cartels, and the fight between the *families* to maintain control of the drugs and therefore the fortunes. The massive amounts of money are mind-blowing (El Chapo was listed by Forbes as one of the most wealthy and most powerful); the levels of corruption are almost unbelieveable. 

    The pages contain torture, beatings, gang rapes, and beheadings.  It's graphically violent, but not sensationalized, because Winslow uses the violence to drive across a point:  This is where your drugs come from and this is what your monies fund.

    The most impressive thing to me in this book and the former The Power of the Dog is the amazing amount of research put into it.  Winslow researched for over 15 years to write what has been praised as a magnum opus on the Mexican drug cartels.

    The focus on Juarez was especially interesting to me as I had spent a lot of time in and around that city back in 1999 and while I was vaguely aware of the drug spawned killings and trafficking across the border this book gives a deeper look into what was transpiring and why Juarez became a literal ghost town in the early 2000's.

    Winslow looks at the events and steps into them. He submerges himself and the reader across the border and into the towns.  He explains the social and economic structure.  He tells the people's story, their genealogy; he gives the town's history, and he narrates the struggles and fights with the cartels.  Even the cartel head must deal with the destruction he has caused, one moment wistfully recalling the beauty of a different Mexico, and then sending his wife to America to give birth and get citizenship. (another fiction that is true)

    Winslow's fictional parallel runs staggeringly close to the truth with his creation of the Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin, Ad├ín Barrera, shadowing El Chapo.  The Cartel is fiction based on facts, and with the years of research put into these works,  the real question in the end is what really is the ratio of fact to fiction?

    Ray Porter is an excellent performer.  I have found many books based solely on the fact he was performing them. (He is one in a very select group of performers I'll follow based solely on the strength of their abilities.  R.C. Bray is another that I will always recommend highly.)
    He does an excellent job with the accents and separation of character voices.

    Again I highly recommend these two books and Ray Porter.

    Prepare yourselves...

    I've been on vacation, hence the lack of posts.  Fear not though, I have still been reading and am preparing a bevy of reviews on what I've been listening to.  

    Sunday, October 11, 2015

    White Trash Zombie Gone Wild by Diana Rowland

    White Trash Zombie Gone Wild
    Written by: Diana Rowland
    Narrated by: Allison McLemore
    Length: 11 hrs and 18 mins 
    Series: White Trash Zombie
    Unabridged Audiobook

    I like zombie stories.  I can come up with lots of reasons why, but it usually boils down to this:  I like problem solving.
    Fewer things involve more problems to solve than a zombie apocalypse...that said...these aren't that type of zombie story.

    This is the latest book in the White Trash Zombie series, book five actually.  I've really enjoyed this series, especially the growth of our primary character Angel Crawford.  Angel starts off as a teenage delinquent with the usual problems of drug and alcohol abuse and a long police record.  The twist here is that instead of her turning into a zombie being the end of her life and the subsequent end of the world it actually saves her life, and in more ways than one.

    In this series we are told the story from the point of view of the zombie, and how the zombie parasite actually gives Angel a second chance at life.  One of those benefits includes drugs and alcohol no longer having any effect on her, and her mystery good samaritan getting her a job in the local morgue.  This is handy as it allows her easier access to human brains in a non-violent way.

    So in this latest story we find Angel in yet another bind, this time we are back in what seems to be a regressive state.  In the aftermath of her mission to New York we discover Angel is again suffering from her addictive personality and has a new drug addiction problem.  This drug however does affect zombies, referred to as a 'mod.'  The problem is that even though the mod does have many positive effects, it is addictive to the parasite.

    Initially I was afraid we were retreading an already resolved storyline, but what I have since come to admire is Rowland's ability to use the very real problem of addictive personalities and why so very many addicts fall back into drug abuse after getting 'clean.'

    I was also pleased to get some more background and development of another recurring character  in the story, Nick.  Nick is a co-worker at the morgue who was initially hostile towards Angel, but has since become a casual friend, and as we see in this story perhaps something more.

    Allison McLemore performs again and does an excellent job.  At this point I'm going to be trying out some other books she preforms outside this series just on the strength of her performances in the WTZ series.

    If you like ZA stories, be aware there is no apocalypse here, there are however very well developed characters  and stories that are well paced and hold your interest.

    The Aeronaut's Windlass: The Cinder Spires, Book 1 by Jim Butcher

    The Aeronaut's Windlass: The Cinder Spires, Book 1
    Written by: Jim Butcher
    Narrated by: Euan Morton
    Length: 21 hrs. and 46 mins

    Unabridged Audiobook

    I will make no pretense here; I am a big fan of Jim Butcher’s work! The Dresden Files are what first got me interested in him, and I haven't yet tried Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series, so The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first book of Butcher's besides The Dresden Files that I've read. And I was reminded why Jim Butcher is one of the few authors that I will read, and highly recommend to others, whatever is available.

    Instead of my poor attempt to describe what this story is about let’s hear from the Man himself from a recent talk he gave at Google (this is almost an hour long, but the idea is related in about the first 5 minutes):

    With that out of the way, let’s get into what we have with this introduction to what promises to be a much longer story and larger universe of The Cinder Spires.  For fans of Butcher’s work (and really who isn’t?  No seriously, who?  Because we should talk.) you will be pleasantly drawn into another of his creations.
    What impresses me is that I was told by someone else who is familiar with the Dresden Files that had I not told them Jim Butcher wrote this they’d never have guessed it was him.  This impresses me because very often authors, while still writing different stories, have a familiarity to the way they write them.  Stephen King is an example of this to me.  I am a fan of King’s as well, but I can almost always recognize his way of storytelling, even in such diverse works as comparing the Dark Tower stories to the twin stories of Desperation and The Regulators the latter written by his ‘alter-ego’ Richard Bachman to Carrie you can find similarities in them.  Don’t get me wrong, again I really like King’s works, especially his rainy day persona Richard Bachman, but it strikes me that much more that Butcher is able to create something so distinct.

    We are introduced to a myriad of characters and situations that ultimately culminate into the beginning of a war between these airborne nation states.  Even though this is a beginning I feel we get to see character growth and good development of story.  We get enough to know there must be a deeper, richer history to this world.  We get the occasional reference to the builders and lost arts that helped construct the Spires everyone lives on now.  I have lots of questions, and anticipations for where we’ll be taken in the next story.
    This is my first experience with Euan Morton, but I think he did very well with the multitude of characters and situations, and never had trouble distinguishing one character from another.  Speaking of characters I’ve seen several people claim that the cat was their favorite character, personally I liked the cat’s human best, but I relate to the underdog, socially maladjusted characters best for some reason…but I digress.

    This was a great story, and well performed.  I highly recommend it as the future for the Spires looks rife with adventures to come!

    Thursday, October 1, 2015

    The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson with multiple performers

    The Kind Worth Killing

    Occasionally I take a break from books in a series and opt for a standalone book.  I gravitate toward books in series because I have a bit of an addiction, and serial books give me many hours of enjoyment knowing the next ‘fix’ isn’t far away.  To demonstrate; I was listening to the final hour of this book whilst standing in line for the signing of Jenny Lawson’s latest book “Furiously Happy.”  

    Though I typically stay in the Sci Fi/Fantasy genre’s I also like a good mystery. (See “Your Next” by Gregg Hurwitz, narrated by Scott Brick )
    I qualified with both the book reference and “good” because I’m a little picky.  I’m picky because my mind, for better or worse, won’t disengage my analytical processes so I often figure out things well in advance.  If that’s too easy for me, it’s not that good.  So now you have been forewarned that I’m a hard person to please we’ll move on to this story.

    I discovered this book and Peter Swanson via Audible’s “Daily Deal” which works well for me as I can experiment with new author’s/genres w/o a large expense.  Peter Swanson is apparently a new-ish published author and this is his second book.  I haven’t listened to his first “The Girl with a Clock for a Heart” ( but I was happy enough with this effort that I’ll likely check it out.

    We open this story in a bar in an airport where we meet 2 of our characters as Lily introduces herself to Ted and they begin to talk.  This talk progresses into a game of “Truth” where they both agree to absolute honesty.  Ted admits he’d like to kill his wife, who he recently saw cheating on him with their contractor who’s building his wife’s dream house.  And so starts the story.  Along the way we learn there is a lot more to Lily than she lets Ted know about, but you know it’s mostly little stuff everyone likes to keep to themselves…like the fact she’s a serial killer.  Little stuff.  :)

    The story builds momentum as they meet again Stateside and plot and plan murder together.  Just as we think we know where this story is going…BAM…plot twist!  

    This story has lots of twists and turns in it and are very well executed…until the ending.  Now I want to be clear here that this is strictly subject to my feelings on stories.  But my feelings for the ending of this story are similar to my feelings on that fondue restaurant The Melting Pot.  I am not a fan…look I go out to a restaurant to eat food prepared  for me not by me.  

    This story's ending is left open to the reader's imagination.  I really don’t care much for ambiguity, like the crappy finish to the HBO Series The Sopranos, this story left me with a distinct lack of completion.

    Overall though it’s a good story, with multiple performers which really helps to isolate each character's inner monologue and story.  I’m certain there are plenty of folks who like open ended finishes to stories.  I’m just not one of them.