Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Bookwyrm's Review of Smoke Rising by Craig Halloran

Author: Craig Halloran

Length: 215 pages/5 hours, 10 Minutes (Audio)

Release Date: February 27, 2015/ December 28, 2018 (Audio)

Publisher: Two-Ten Book Press, Inc.

Narrator: Holly Adams

Series: The Supernatural Bounty Hunter, Book 1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

I read this previously when I got the paper copy, but I didn't yet have a blog, so I never reviewed it on here. With the recent release of the Audiobook, I thought a listen and review was in order. 

Sidney Shaw, an up and comer in the FBI, has just been handed her dream assignment. Known as a troubleshooter, she usually gets cases that are outside the norm from the average agents experience. IN this case, she has been given a case on the Black Slate, the secret most wanted list for criminals who don't officially exist. No one has ever been able to run Sidney's new target to ground. In fact, several agent have disappeared or died trying. To help her, Sidney's superiors have given her a wild card: John Smoke. Ex Navy SEAL, ex cop, bounty hunter and now convicted felon after he maimed one of his bounties, Smoke is looking at his sentence being commuted if they can run this bounty down. 

The strong willed Shaw immediately butts heads with the irreverent Smoke, especially since Smoke has no regard for her authority. Running afoul of both internal FBI politics and the corrupt powers of DC, Shaw and Smoke run down their target, only to discover that he is like nothing they have ever encountered before, and that there is so much more below the surface of society than they ever imagined, with repercussions that could rock society if they were ever known.

While there is strong world building and plotting, The characters are where this story really shines. Sidney and Smoke are polar opposites in temperament. She is controlled and calculating, he is brash and reckless. They are both strong, intelligent characters, and that tension between them really moves the story. The secondary characters are well written as well, and the villain, while being fairly typical of the genre, fits into the story well. All in all, there's something in the story for any fan of urban fantasy.

The audio narration is handled by the talented Holly Adams, who I consider to be one of the top five narrators working today. She is excellent creating unique voices for the characters, both male and female, and has an amazing range of tones an pitches to differentiate them. She can also handle any accent, which makes the characterizations even more diverse. Her narrative pacing is fantastic, and you just get right into the flow of  her narration. This is definitely one of my favorites of her work. Definitely in my top 10 audiobooks of 2018.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Author: Christopher Ruocchio

Length: 624 Pages/ 26 Hours, 11 minutes (Audio)

Publisher: Daw Books, Recorded Books (Audio)

Release Date: July 3, 2018

Narrator: Samuel Roukin

Series: The Sun Eater, Book 1

Genre: Space Opera

This is one of those books, with it's fairly long run time of 26+ hours, that I wanted to try and get listened to in just a few sittings, realizing it might be a bit complex to break down over a longer period. Good thing I did, because this books swings all over the place, handling complex galactic politics, combat and personal interactions with equal aplomb.

Hadrian Marlowe, eldest son of a noble planetary governor, expects to be named heir. In a galactic empire that resembles the worst excesses of the Roman empire, this means a life of privilege and wealth, but also having to meet the demands of the empire. The problem is, he doesn't want to be. In the thinking machine tech phobic society he lives in, he would rather train to be a human computer (think Mentats from Dune). Unfortunately for him, his father has other plans. Thinking it would be advantages to have a son in the Chantre, the official church of the empire, worshipping fallen Earth, Hadrian has a future as a church Inquisitor, (the church's sanitized name for torturer), to look forward to. 

Deciding this is not the fate he would want, he escapes his home world with help from the last person he expects. Going into cryo-sleep, he expects to wake up 13 years later, ready to begin a new life. He instead wakes up in a back alley clinic many years later than he expected, on a backwater planet named Emesh. Penniless and weak from years in stasis, his life quickly falls into squalor as he becomes just another penniless vagrant, since if he is caught he will be turned over to the Chantre, which doesn't take kindly to runaways. This lasts for years, until a chance encounter reminds him he has martial training, and he becomes a Myrmidon, a fighter in the arena.

Finding a new life and family in the arena, hiding his past as a noble, Hadrian, called Hade by his companions, is more successful than he dreams. His dreams, however, become part of his downfall, as his native curiosity gets the better of him as he snoops around the arena's dungeon level when he hears they have a captured Cielcin, the only other space faring race and the enemy of humanity, locked away somewhere below. Finding the truth, he is caught in the act, with dire consequences.

Revealed as a noble to the local Count, he is thrust into the political world of Emesh, a world he loathes but is familiar with. Hiding his identity as just a tutor to the Count's children, he makes an enemy of a powerful priest. He also has a burgeoning attraction to Valka, a foreign Zenologist on Emesh studying mysterious ruins. This is the world he must navigate as outside forces steer him in yet more directions not of his choosing. After he is revealed at last as a noble, his path is even more controlled, and he has a series of life altering events happen, with consequences that will one day be felt across the Empire.

I have always had a fascination with Space Opera. That huge canvas spread across a galaxy, with all the myriad elements of politics, adventure and villainy. This book has those in spades. While it has superficial resemblances to books like Dune, it definitely takes it's own path. Hadrian Marlowe is no Paul Mau'dib. As much as he doesn't like the nobles of the Empire, he still has quite a few noble notions about class and peoples place in society. Bearing a striking resemblance to a Roman despotism, the Empire, separated as it is by distance and the limits of space travel, still manages to act as a cohesive unit. It is an excellent bit of worldbuilding, with much attention lavished on the political and religious systems, as well as the various outsiders. The plot is paced well, letting what needs to burn slow have time to develop, while letting the action set pieces barrel ahead full speed. The author does a fantastic job developing the characters, showing no fear in exposing them, warts and all, making them much more realistic than you would expect. 

The narration was handled quite well by Samuel Roukin. This is the first book I've heard him narrate, but he did an outstanding job bringing the characters and story to life. His narrative pacing is good, and he definitely has a talent for creating memorable, individualized character voices. I look forward to his work in the future.

All in all, this is one of my top five reads of the year, hands down. Any fan of stories like Dune or Deathstalker should find something to enjoy in this book.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of War Aeternus: The Beginning by Charles Dean

Author: Charles Dean

Length: 468 pages/13 Hours, 58 Minutes (Audio)

Publisher: Charles Dean/Soundbooth Theater (Audio)

Release Date: November 2, 2017/ January 24, 2018

Narrator: Jeff Hays

Series: War Aeternus

Genre: LitRPG

I got a review copy of this book a bit ago from the author, but somehow confused it for another title and this one just slipped through the cracks. Thankfully, the author reminded me he sent me a copy, and I am glad he did, because it was an enjoyable LitRPG experience.

Lee is the typical IT drone, making decent money but really just cruising through on autopilot, with no challenges other than raids with his gaming buddies. No challenge, that is, until a "god" named Augustus transports him to what amounts to the setting of a medieval RPG and tells him he is Augustus's new herald on the world, and he is to gain worshippers for Augustus if he ever want to make it home. Unfortunately for Lee, Augustus is being punished by the other players, "gods" of this world, and his herald is sent in at level zero, with a two month disadvantage over his rivals on the world. Not the best way to start a game where the stakes are life and death.

After defeating his first opponent through luck as much as anything else, Lee, who the world system recognizes as an NPC, starts leveling up. Meeting a a bloodthirsty giant firbolg named Donovan, who is a player in the system, Lee starts recruiting followers as he goes, including Ling, an NPC village girl handy with a bow, who suddenly gains independent awareness around Lee. Questing through the area, Lee and his followers must complete the quests to help Lee fulfil his duty to Augustus so he can get back home, all while trying to not get killed by the other god's heralds, all who are more powerful than Lee with their two month head start in leveling up.  This all leads up to Lee's confrontation with another god's herald, sending shockwaves through the game world.

While I think as a genre LitRPG is hit or miss, this was much more a hit than miss. Starting with a meta kind of premise, that "gods" play an RPG on a server hosted by a creator, in which real people are the in game characters, the author makes use of the standard genre tropes but spins them in some creative ways. Lee is fairly standard as a character, but grows into his role, all while silently hoping he isn't doing the wrong thing converting the masses. The secondary characters are fun, if a little cliched. The setting should be familiar to anyone who has ever played an RPG, and that comfort level makes it easier to get into the story. The plot moves along at a fairly brisk pace, and readers should be able to power right though the story.

The narration is handles by the always excellent Jeff Hays. Basically the king of LitRPG audiobook narration, this title is no exception. He is excellent creating various characters in the listeners mind though use of tone, pacing and accents. Donovan especially stands out, as Jeff basically channels his inner Ahnold voice for the rampaging firbolg. His narrative pacing is excellent, and really keeps the listener engaged. Another excellent effort on his part.

While it isn't perfect, War Aeternus is definitely a series I can wholeheartedly recommend. Any fan of the genre should be able to find something to enjoy in it.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Hero Hunter: A Superhero Gamelit Saga

Author: Darren Hultberg, Jr.

Length: 237 Pages/ 5 Hours, 53 Minutes (Audio)

Publisher: Darren Hultberg, Jr.

Release Date: August 27, 2018/ October 23, 2018 (Audio)

Narrator: J. Scott Bennett

Series: The Heroes Rising, Book 1

Genre: Superhero/GameLit

As a huge fan of J. Scott Bennett's narration, when the chance to get one of his works on AudiobookBoom came along, I jumped at it. I am also a fan of both Superheroes and GameLit as a Genre, so a mashup of the two seemed like a natural fit. After listening, I can report that it was a good call. 

On the planet of Terrax Prime, with its giant metro areas, the possibility for crime is pretty high. Fortunately, there are people with superpowers to help keep the people safe. While there are supervillains, there are also heroes, some so powerful as to seem godlike. The heroes even have checks on them, as they all work for the planetary government.

But even though there are superheroes, new supervillains always come along. Among that group is the latest threat, Hero Hunter. Merciless in his pursuit of killing superheroes, he methodically tracks and kills them, all in an effort to get to his final goal: Killing the world's greatest superhero as well as the leader of Terrax Prime's superhero development department. Managing to kill higher level heroes, he gets further towards his goal of bringing the leaders he seeks out into the open.

Unfortunately for Hero Hunter, who behind the helmet of his power armor is Aiden Grant, a Technomancer who can control technology, he hasn't exactly flown under the radar. After killing two fairly high level heroes, plans go into action at the highest levels to take him out of play. After being betrayed by someone he trusted, Aiden ends up in the holding facility for supers, cut off from his powers, and at the mercy of one of the men that caused him to become a supervillain in the first place. Managing an escape, with a small army of supervillains at his back, Aiden finally has his chance to face off with those responsible for his ultimate betrayal, with world shaking results. 

The story is a fairly basic revenge story, with a previous betrayal being the impetus for Aiden becoming Hero Hunter. That being said, it actually fit the story very well. I have seen complaints the characters are fairly two dimensional. Considering the book is about one supervillain seeking revenge on the hero community that betrayed him, I'm not sure how much character growth people can possibly expect. I found the characters fairly well rounded, with realistic motivations within their circumstances. The villains were a bit cliched, but still made for good foils for the "villain" Hero Hunter. The use of stats for each Super being readable by his armor's AI is the reason the book fits into the GameLit genre, even though it happens in the characters real world. The plotting is fast paced, and hums along nicely. The worldbuilding is decent, and gives you a good idea of what the characters have to deal wit in everyday life.

J. Scott Bennett does his usual excellent job narrating. He doesn't so much do voices as he changes tones and pitch so that each character is differentiated. his narrative pacing is excellent, and you never feel as though you are bogged down with a monotone. 

I can heartily recommend this book, whether in audio or book format. You wont be disappointed.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Bookwyrm's review of Tournament of Supervillainy by C. T. Phipps

Author: C. T. Phipps

Length: 256 Pages

Publisher: Mystique Press

Release Date: December 2, 2018

Narrator: Jeffrey Kafer

Series: The Supervillainy Saga, Book 5

Genre: Superhero fantasy

I discovered C. T. Phipps when I came across the first book in this series, The Rules of Supervillainy. I was instantly enthralled with the story of a man given the powers of the city's greatest hero, and deciding heroics is for chumps, I'll be a villain instead and make some money! That appealed to me, in the same way Ben Bequer's Blackjack books caught my attention. To say I was anticipating book five is an understatement, and I was not disappointed with the final result.

Through the first four books, Gary Karkofsky, aka. Merciless, the Villain Without Mercy (tm), has had some definite highs and lows, but has always seemed to always just scrape by. Finally, after defeating his nemesis Merciful, his alternate universe doppelganger, along with President Omega, Merciless just wants to settle down to some quality low key supervillainy with his newly re-souled wife Mandy, his other wife Cindy, the villain known as Red Riding Hood, and their daughter . Instead, he is offered a chance to compete in the Primal Fighting Tournament (think Mortal Kombat), with the chance to win the ultimate prize: one unlimited wish. 

Realizing there are definitely entities he doesn't want with that wish, Gary, along with his crew, enter the Tournament. Upon arriving at the interdimensional equivalent of Han's Island from Enter the Dragon, Gary and company meet some of the other contestants. Included in this group are Jane Doe, Weredeer shaman (I Was A Teenage Weredeer), Cassius Mass, former Fire Count in the Archduchy of Crius (Lucifer's Star), and Agent G, cyborg assassin (Agent G series). All these characters belong in other worlds in the author's various series, crossed over for this event. All these characters are trying to keep the grand prize out of the hands of Entropicus, the ender of worlds, who just wants to destroy the universe.

As the tournament progresses, Gary discovers the stakes are even higher than he knew, since there are cosmic entities much higher on the food chain than he is with a vested stake in the results. Gary will have to go through enemies and allies alike to be able to take the ultimate prize, and the ending is nothing like he expected, with a twist you just won't see coming. The revelations for some aspects of his personal life are also completely shocking.

Like his other books, which all have impressive worldbuilding and plotting, the characters are where this series really shines. From the impressive development of Gary and the rest of his crew, to the various villains and secondary characters, C. T. Phipps lavishes attention on the smallest character details, and you really get into the heads of the various characters. This is just one of those series that gets better with every installment. If you are like me, you will definitely be anticipating the next book!


Now that I have finished the audio version of the book, I have to say this is probably my favorite bit of work that Jeffrey Kafer has ever worked on. He really brought his "A" game, infusing life into already well drawn characters to create something special. He even got to add his own forward to the audiobook, explaining their process developing these books in a hilarious way. It shows how the team of Phipps and Kafer work so well together. I can't recommend the audio version of this book highly enough!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Steel, Blood and Fire by Allan Batchelder

Author: Allan Batchelder

Length: 550 Pages/ 18 hours, 34 Minutes (Audio)

Publisher: Allan Batchelder/ Blancsanglier Productions Ltd. (Audio)

Release Date: January 2, 2013

Narrator: Christopher Selbie

Series: Immortal Treachery

Genre: Grimdark Fantasy

Sometimes you get recommended a book by a friend that you are kind of on the fence about. I admit my friend's description of this book was a bit vague, and I just kind of forgot about it. I came across it a few months later and decided, why not, I have a hole in the TBR list. After reading the paper version and listening to the audio  version, I am beyond glad I did. Otherwise, I would have missed out on what is one of, if not my most favorite, fantasy characters. Tarmun Vykers is just one of those characters that even though they are in no way a hero, they still appeal all out of proportion to what they should. With that, lets get this review rolling.

Tarmun Vykers. The Reaper. death on two leg's, whos sword has killed whole peoples if the legends are to be believed. Unstoppable warlord. Kingdom conqueror. Right up until that all ended when he ran up against the Virgin Queen's army and was defeated. Captured, tortured, having his hands and feet cut off, the stumps healed, then dumped in the woods to fend for himself, dying a slow, painful death. Only the Reaper won't die that easy. After months of crawling around, barely surviving in the woods, Vykers comes across a cave with a skeleton in it, the skeleton of a mage named Arune with the spirit still attached. Offering Vykers the chance to be whole again if he agrees to let her bond with him until she can find a body of her own, Vykers agrees, and the history of the world changes with that decision.

So begins the next chapter in Vykers's story, as Arune forms hands and feet of magic for Vykers, and he heads towards civilization again. After running into a patrol of the Queen's soldiers, Vykers is brought before the monarch, who offers him a chance for life, as a threat to existence is currently rampaging across the continent, killing everything it comes across.  That threat is called The End of All Things, a mage of immensely vast power, who revels in the death and destruction his army creates. He is literally trying to live up to his name, and the Virgin Queen's kingdom is next on his agenda. Tarmun must, with some new allies, retrieve an item that just might turn the tide, if it even exists.

While Vykers and his companions go on this quest, the End's sister, a healer named Aoife, is on her own journey to try and end her brothers reign of evil. Meeting unexpected allies along the road, she brings her own magic to the fight against her brother. On another road, a small group of mercenaries, lead by Long Pete, ends up in the Queen's Army, only to be split up and captured by The End's army. This leads to some revelations about a few of the parties members that have world shaking repercussions.

As Vykers returns from his quest, the End has all his pieces in place to make his move. This leads to an amazingly well written penultimate battle scene, with so much action its amazing he kept it all straight! He did, though, and it leads to some fantastic action, loss, betrayals, heroics and huge magics. The final showdown between the Reaper and the End is just brutal combat poetry, and leaves plenty for another book in the series.

While the worldbuilding with this book is definitely strong, and the plot really keeps the reader engaged, the characters are what makes this book shine! Tarmun Vykers, vulgar, amoral, ruthless, but still strangely likeable has a lot of secrets that are slowly being reveled, and he is just a fantastic character. The main secondary characters like Arune, Aoife and Long Pete also had a lot of time lavished on their character development, and even characters like the Queen have some interesting developments. The villain, The End of All Things, is the perfect Grimdark villain. Ruthless, merciless and completely insane, he is just such a larger than life character with secrets of his own, slowly revealed throughout the book. I think this is the kind of dark fantasy gem that can appeal to a wide swath of fantasy readers.

The narration is handled by Christopher Selbie. I was unfamiliar with his work before this, but I found him to be a very good narrator. He has excellent pacing, and never drags into monotone. He uses a variety of tones and accents to create individual characters you want to listen to. Definitely a top notch effort I can heartily recommend.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon by Moira Greyland

Author: Moira Greyland

Pages: 632

Release Date: December 12, 2017

Publisher: Castalia House

I had this review half finished when I realized, in going into the pasts of both Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, I had inadvertently made them seem at least a bit sympathetic. The problem with that is, no matter how horrible the abuse they dealt with when they were younger, that in no way excused the utter horrors they perpetrated with so many

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a wildly popular, well respected icon of both Science Fiction/Fantasy, having written The Mists of Avalon, as well as a feminist icon. She was also a monster who horribly abused her children and either aided and abetted or turned a blind eye to the abuse her husband, noted numismatist Walter Breen, committed to both the children and to many young people, most boys. This book, an unflinching look at the life their daughter, Moira Greyland, and the abuse she suffered at the hands of people that should have loved and protected her, casts light onto the dark, dingy corners of sci-fi fandom, as well as showing the lengths people will go to sweep the misdeeds of their idols under the rug.

Starting with a look at the history of both her parents, Moira details the abuse they both dealt with as children and young adults. This abuse, from a variety of sources, led them to make questionable personal decisions throughout their lives, and left them with moral compasses that had no north to point to. This ended up leaving them a philosophy that they could do as they pleased, regardless of the consequences their actions had on other people. Walter's abuse of children, especially boys, is covered in painful detail over a number of years, and Marion's willful ignorance of the extent of the early abuse is also detailed. Moira also details her own sexual abuse at the hands of both Walter and Marion, in scenes so vivid it both horrified me and left me in tears.

Moira also details the results of the years of abuse. Her struggle with her own sexuality, as her mother insisted that being a lesbian was a necessity, and punished her when she showed any traditional feminine traits. This even included interfering with the way she walked! Moira details her pattern as she got older of falling into bad relationships, being sexually assaulted several times by people not her own family, since she had no filter to determine who was a threat to her, it having been destroyed by years of abuse. She struggled with her feelings in various relationships, since she felt drawn towards men, even though her mother pushed her towards a lesbian lifestyle as the only "natural" lifestyle. This all led to a critical breaking point, when Moira had to make the most life changing decision of her life.

That decision was to turn her father in to the police over his abuse of boys. What followed was a long, traumatic experience, as her mother was also dragged into the light as, at the very least, turning a conscious blind eye to what was going on, if not actively covering for him. Walter ended up convicted of multiple counts, and ended up dying in prison. Marion would slowly decline with dementia over a number a years until her death.

After years of struggle, Moira found a measure of  happiness, meeting her husband and finding solace in religion. After years of following in her mothers footsteps with Pagan religions, she discovered Catholicism was what worked best for her, giving her a measure of peace not known before in a spiritual sense.  She would continue her life long love of the harp, performing and teaching it to others. 

This entire book is a testament to the power of human will to overcome even the most horrible of circumstances.  It is also a condemnation of a large chunk of the SFF community of the time, who chose to overlook and ignore the clear warning signs that all was not right in the Breen/Bradley household, including a big name sci-fi author married to one of Moira's uncles, who did nothing to end the abuse. Written in an stark, engaging, matter of fact style, it is a page turner, even as you read of the horrors detailed within. The last chunk of the book is the court transcript from the Breen abuse trial, which shows Marion's indifference and complicity, and frankly, warped world view, which allowed this all to continue. Although a difficult read due to subject matter, it is also an important read, and I highly recommend it.