Some new audiobook reviews

As you probably know, I have an Audible account and listen to quite a lot of audiobooks. Here’s some reviews of my latest purchases, check them out!

comrades at odds review

Comrades at Odds: A Tale from The Legend of Drizzt
UNABRIDGED
by R. A. Salvatore
Narrated by Ice-T

I’ve read a few of Salvatore’s Drizzt books and thought they were really good. I’m also a big fan of Ice-T, either in Law and Order:SVU or his metal band Bodycount – the guy just has a great voice!

ice-t reads fantasy book

Ice-muthaf**in’-T, y’all!

So I saw this short story read by him and I thought it was just such a strange combination that it HAD to be cool.

And it kind of is, but ultimately isn’t the best book you’ll listen to this year.
The story is okay, presumably setting up a new character for later full length novels, but not a lot happens and I felt like this was probably aimed more at fans who are familiar with this era of the stories.
Ice-T’s reading is quite good, but it IS reading. He doesn’t try to act any of the parts and never varies his voice when it comes to different characters. He reads a woman’s lines in the same voice as he reads any of the men’s. To be fair, Ice-T putting on a girly voice would have seemed pretty hilarious so it’s not surprising he avoided it, but it does mean the performance is lacking something.
It doesn’t cost much and it’s overall a decent listen so I can recommend it – just don’t expect too much. You might be better starting with one of Salvatore’s full length novels like The Chrystal Shard.

Rating – 3.5/5

empire

Empire: The Novel of Imperial Rome
UNABRIDGED
by Steven Saylor
Narrated by James Langton

I’ve read some of Saylor’s stuff in the past and enjoyed it so when I saw this very long audiobook for the princely sum of one credit I knew it would be good value.
And it is! It lasts for a long time so will keep you going until the next credit rolls in. But is it any good? Yes, for the most part it’s well written, has interesting characters and is almost a history lesson without becoming boring or dry.
It follows one family, from generation to generation, as they deal with the various emperors and great events that shaped the mighty Rome. It’s all set within Rome itself and it’s mainly about people and political events, so don’t expect battles or heroic centurions. This is no Ben Kane or Douglas Jackson book but it works, mostly, just as well as something more action oriented as it’s so interesting and so well read – the
narrator really does a fine job.
The only downsides for me were a) everything is rather bleak and depressing, with lots of descriptions of people being tortured for fun while the populace lap it up like rabid dogs and b) there’s too much emphasis on the sexual appetites of everyone. It seems like everyone in Rome was either a sadist or a nymphomaniac which might be true for all I know, but it doesn’t make for the most exciting book. At times I felt like it was too depressing and I just longed to listen to some throwaway, light fantasy or something fun by the likes of Terry Pratchett.
But, overall, this is a fine audiobook – great value for your credit, with a nice performance by the narrator James Langton, and, in general an interesting and nicely structured tale.
Give it a try!

Rating – 4/5

azure

Azure Bonds: Forgotten Realms: Finder’s Stone, Book 1
UNABRIDGED
By Kate Novak , Jeff Grubb
Narrated By Kristin Kalbli

I first read this book a long time ago when I was a teenager. So, probably about 25 years or so ago. At the time I thought it was great, so when I saw it listed on Audible I thought it’d be worth a listen. This is one of the old-school, 80’s American fantasy novels a la Dragonlance and, as such, it’s aimed more at young adults than the likes of Game of Thrones. This is no bad thing in itself but some fantasy fans new to the genre might find this kind of book a little twee.
I was happy to find myself enjoying the tale, which is a good one no matter what age you are, and the characters and events were interesting enough to keep me listening right to the end. I’ll buy the second book in the series too at some point, no doubt.
Dragons, magic, sword fights, friendship, a dangerous quest – it’s all here and the fact it’s aimed at teens means there’s some light humour and nothing gets too dark or depressing.
The narrator is okay without being either brilliant or annoying.

Heartily recommended.

4.5/5

macbeth audiobook review

Macbeth: A Novel
UNABRIDGED
by A. J. Hartley , David Hewson
Narrated by Alan Cumming

Narration was very good (can’t beat a Scottish accent, even if it IS from the wrong side of the country here!) and overall I enjoyed this audiobook. A bit light though, it seemed to flick between scenes without much character development. I’ve never seen the play so thought this would be a good introduction but now I’m not fussed about ever seeing it.
Feels a bit like a wasted opportunity, I think the bones of the story could have been turned into a better modern novel.

Rating – 3.5/5

eagles at war ben kane audiobook review

Eagles at War
UNABRIDGED
By Ben Kane
Narrated By David Rintoul

I’ve been a big fan of Ben Kane’s since his very first Forgotten Legion series, and I was reading his first Spartacus novel in the hospital just after my son was born. I really wanted to check out this new series of his, but I don’t have much time to read these days so the Audible version was downloaded as soon as I had a spare credit.
The narrator is excellent, really putting himself into the tale and acting rather than simply reading which I really enjoy.
The tale, based on a true story, is a good one, with a few nice twists and turns, some good characters and an ending that sets up the rest of the series very nicely. I liked the way the author made me wonder who I should be rooting for – who was the “goodie” and who was the “baddie”? In most books that is very clear cut but here you empathise with both sides and that elevates this work above the usual run-of-the-mill action romp.
If I have a criticism it’s the fact that a certain character was blind to what was coming, even when it was pointed out to him on more than one occasion. It seemed so obvious that it made the guy in question come across as a bit of a fool but I suppose this is something authors must deal with when they choose to write about true events and people.

Overall, another great book by Ben Kane, although I personally liked the Spartacus novel better and will be downloading the second in that series next.

Rating – 4.5/5

Don’t forget, if you have an Audible or iTunes account, check out my own audiobooks, they’re all excellent, honest!

 

best robin hood novel

Click the pic to check out my own audiobooks!

 

 

Advertisements

Self-published/ indie authors? What do you think of them and what can we do differently?

Question for you all: self-published/ indie authors – do you read them (other than me, obviously!)?
I must admit, although I’m one myself and I like to think my books are alright, I DO still feel pleasantly surprised when I read something by another indie and find that it kicks ass and isn’t riddled with childish spelling errors. It’s a stigma that is hopefully being eroded as people like Kevin Ashman, Gordon Doherty and Mel Sherratt sell increasing amounts of books, gain more critical acclaim and in some cases win deals with the likes of Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, but it’s still definitely an issue for authors like me.

lbf 2

Mel Sherratt and myself at the London Book Fair in 2014.

I employ professional cover designers for my artwork and an incredible editor who’s worked with people like Jilly Cooper, Bernard Cornwell and Ben Kane to try and make my books good value for money but for every indie that does that, there’s certainly one or two that don’t think it’s worth the money (or simply don’t HAVE the money to employ professionals) and just put their books out in what’s essentially an unfinished state. It makes all of us look bad.

Things are changing though – even traditionally published authors are starting to put out books on the side that their publishers maybe didn’t have a place for. Glyn Iliffe continued his fantastic Odysseus series without a trad-publisher, Douglas Jackson put out his War Games by himself, and my favourite book of of 2014, A Day of Firewas self-published by the authors. It gives us all a real freedom to try things we might otherwise not have been able to (my own novella Knight of the Cross, for example, was a fun spin-off I’m sure a traditional publisher would have had no time for).

Glyn Iliffe, author of the excellent Adventure of Odysseus series.

Glyn Iliffe, author of the excellent Adventure of Odysseus series.

So…have you read any self-published books recently and if so – were they any good? Were they worth the money?
And most importantly…what can we, as authors, do to convince readers a self-published book is worth a punt?

A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii review

A Day of Fire review

by Steven A. McKay

It’s nice being a writer. Sometimes other writers ask you to read their book before it’s even been published which is a real privilege, especially when it’s Ben Kane doing the asking.

I’ve been a fan of Ben’s Roman novels for years now – I was even reading his Spartacus on my phone when I was in hospital last year waiting for my son to be born!

He’s been supportive of my own writing too so I was more than happy to take a look at A Day of Fire, the new novel he’s written in collaboration with five other hugely successful historical fiction authors.

I must admit I was a little apprehensive when I started the book. Of the six contributors, Ben was the only one I’d ever read before. And on top of that, the idea of a book written by so many different people seemed like it might be a disjointed affair, with varying styles clashing and no real sense of unity.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

The first chapter/section, “The Son”, is written by Vicky Alvear Shecter and follows a young man learning about love and sex. I was drawn in immediately, despite the fact I wouldn’t normally choose to read about this kind of subject. The characters seemed real and it was a good way to start, with the suggestion of tremors just beginning to affect the city.

The second part, “The Heiress”, by Sophie Perinot, was similar to the first but this time we mostly follow a girl, with more lessons in love. Wait! If you’re like me, that sentence might have put you off, but you shouldn’t be. The tremors are growing and so is the tension. This is very powerful writing – in my notes I’ve put “10/10 – Excellent!” at the top of the page for this section. This isn’t your typical Mills & Boon romance, this is historical fiction at its very best.

Ben’s chapter, “The Soldier”, comes next and it’s a timely departure, taking us into the world of a retired old legionary who hopes his gladiator will win and earn him enough money to pay off his debtors. The focus here isn’t on the power of sex, it’s about money. There’s a very funny part which lightens the mood of the whole piece as things really start to get dangerous and people begin desperately trying to leave the doomed city.

Part four, “The Senator”, by Kate Quinn centres around someone ‘important’ for a change, and for all his wealth, power and influence he’s shown here to be just as inconsequential as everyone else in the face of the falling rocks and showering ash that’s drowning Pompeii. There is much horror, sadness and savagery in this piece but I still found it a strangely uplifting and hopeful chapter.

E. Knight’s penultimate section, “The Mother”, shows us a pregnant mother-to-be, trapped with the rest of her family as the volcano destroys their home and her baby tries to come to life in a city that’s destined to die. Despite the horribly depressing premise, the love and warmth of the interactions between the family members keeps things from becoming oppressive.

The last chapter, “The Whore”, is by Stephanie Dray and is a stunning, moving finale that closes things perfectly. We have two sisters trying to escape the dying city, helping those around them without even knowing at times why they’re doing it. As the end approaches, the fear and sense of futility is never far away, but when it finally comes the over-riding emotion isn’t despair, but HOPE.

I feel honoured to have been able to read this incredible book before almost everyone else.

It tells the tale of a truly momentous historical event – one that we still talk about two-thousand years later. But here we see the people, feel their hopes, fears, dreams, regrets, lust and love. History is truly brought to life.

Yes, in places it’s sad and it’s a wonder that the whole thing isn’t overcome with the sense of depression, given the subject matter. As the city, and its populace, dies we see real human goodness at work as families and strangers come together to try and help one another and the reader is left, not with a sense of futility, but with a sense of hope.

I went into this expecting it to be alright, since Ben Kane was involved. In the end I found myself reading the most moving book I’ve read since I first read Jon Fowles The Magus almost a decade ago. Each one of these authors deserves a huge amount of praise for putting this impressive piece of art together. Do yourself a favour and pre-order this excellent book NOW!

UK readers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

 

 

USA readers:

http://www.amazon.com/Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

A Day of Fire – Q&A with Ben Kane

Next Tuesday, November 4th, A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii will be released. It’s a collaboration between Ben Kane, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter. I’ve read an advance copy of it and will post my review here at the weekend. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to talk to one of the book’s authors, Ben Kane (I’d love to have interviewed them all, because they all play an equal part in the book’s success but there’s not enough hours in the day!).

Read on….

ben-kane

Ben Kane

Hi Ben, thank you very much for taking part in this Q&A session. I’ve just finished your new novel, A Day of Fire which is a collaboration between yourself and a few other histfic authors and describes the last days of Pompeii. First of all: why Pompeii? It’s been done before, probably most notably by Robert Harris in recent years. Were you confident you’d be able to come up with a story that added something new to the mix?

Pompeii remains one of the most identifiable events in all of history. The attraction of writing about it was too great to resist. I didn’t really think about whether we’d add something new – I was so thrilled to be writing about it that I didn’t care! Hopefully, we will have added a layer of poignancy to the story, by writing about six different characters, and their families/friends/enemies.

There are six of you in total, that have each written a section of A Day of Fire. How exactly did the project come about? Was one person responsible for gathering you all together and driving it along?

It was the brain child of Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray and Sophie Perinot, I believe. They’re all friends. Kate recruited me – when she asked, I said yes at once.

pre-order-cover-elizaknight_adayoffire_hr

Did you know the other authors before you started work on the book? I have to be honest, I’ve not read any of their other work, but I plan on changing that now!

I ‘knew’ Kate Quinn a little from a couple of internet fora, but I had never met the others. It’s great that you will now be checking out some new authors because of our book.

How was the synopsis worked out? Did one of you take the lead to come up with a basic plan, then everyone throw in their own ideas before you all settled on the outline?

We followed the timeline of the eruption – and weaved our stories around that, being careful not to have them ALL about the crunch event!

Pompeii - Garden of the Fugitives, image by Lancevortex

Pompeii – Garden of the Fugitives, image by Lancevortex

Obviously you’ve written quite a few of your own novels by now, so how did you find this project? It must have been really strange to try and fit your piece in among the others without it being too stylistically different or losing track of the overall plan.

In this respect, I was lucky. Due to the way the project unfolded, I wrote my story before anyone else, which meant I didn’t need to think of anyone else’s stories. When they had finished their pieces, I had to change a few things so that they all meshed together, but I found that fun and interesting rather than annoying.

Just some of Ben's books

Just some of Ben’s books

Your own chapter is different from the others, with the focus on an old soldier rather than a bride-to-be or a prostitute kind of thing. I thought it provided an interesting – and welcome – change from the other pieces and came at just the right time. Was this done on purpose?

Yes and no. I could have written about a serving soldier – those are my usual characters – or a civilian. I decided to go for a mix between the two – a veteran, with a gambling problem. I hope it worked.

Now that it’s about to be released, what do you think of the book overall? Where does it stand in your canon of work, in your opinion? I must admit I found myself welling up at certain points, it’s so powerfully written.

I really like it. At the start, I was a little wary – I hadn’t read the work of most of my co-writers. However, I found their stories to be great reads. I have no idea how it stands in my canon (no one’s ever said that before!) of work. Only my readers can judge that. I’m so pleased it touched you!

Pompeii and Vesuvius, image by High Contrast

Pompeii and Vesuvius, image by High Contrast

And A Day of Fire is self-published too. I find this a big surprise, to be honest. I’d have thought the publishing houses would have been fighting one another to put this out there! Not just because it’s a good book, but because each of you has a ready-made audience.

There’s a story in there…we did have a mainstream publisher on board for a while, but they pulled out for a number of reasons. Rather than continue to waste time looking for another publisher, we decided to self-publish and see what happened…

What’s next for Ben Kane? Any plans to write more books with other authors? You and your mate Anthony Riches could probably come up with something good, eh?

Ha! I would love to write other books with other authors – it’s finding the time. For the moment, I am sticking with my next novel, Eagles at War. That’s set in Germany, in 9 AD, and concerns the disastrous battle in which Rome lost 3 legions. It’s out in April 2015.

Speaking of Mr. Riches, how’s the Romani Walk fund-raising going? You have a new film out soon, isn’t that right? Are you, Tony and Russell (Whitfield) going to do it all over again next year?

(For those of you who don’t know, the #RomaniWalk is a mad event that I’ve done for the last two years, walking silly distances for charity, wearing even more silly amounts of Roman armour.) We raised over £26,500 this year, which is about £7,000 more than last year. Not bad! We had a film made of the walk, yes, which is looking for a home! We may or may not do another walk next year – it depends a little on the TV situation. 2016, definitely!

Ben, Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield in full Romani Walk mode!

Ben, Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield in full Romani Walk mode!

Thanks for talking to me, Ben, I hope A Day of Fire finds a huge readership. It honestly deserves it and, considering the price it costs for the Kindle version histfic fan have no excuse not to buy a copy!

Thanks very much for interviewing me, Steven, and for reading and enjoying the book. Cheers!

A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii is out on November 4th, but you can pre-order your Kindle copy NOW from these links. It will also be available as a paperback on the 4th if you prefer that format. Do yourself a favour, don’t miss this brilliant book, and be sure to check back here over the weekend to read my review!

UK readers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

USA readers:

http://www.amazon.com/Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii by Ben Kane et al

I’ve been very lucky to get an advance copy of a new book, Day of Fire – a novel of Pompeii by some of histfic’s finest writers, including Ben Kane who’s supported me since before Wolf’s Head was even published.

I wasn’t sure how well the book would work, being a collaborative effort with sections written by different authors and, to be honest, I’ve never read any of the contributors’ other work (apart from Ben, obviously).

I’m glad to say I’m loving it. I mean really loving it. I think it’s safe to say this one of the best books I’ve read in the past five years at least – it’s fantastic. Which is just as well, as it would have been pretty awkward for me if I’d thought it was shit after agreeing to review it…

You can look forward to a Q&A with me and Ben in the next couple of weeks, before I post my review.

In the meantime, you can pre-order the novel on Amazon. It’s only £3.15 in the UK (I assume it will be the same ludicrously low price in the rest of the world). Click the cover image below to check it out!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

My editor

Bernard Cornwell. Ben Kane. Jilly Cooper!

I don’t really know why, but I haven’t made much of the fact I hired an editor to work on Wolf’s Head who had previously worked on best-selling books by the above authors. Ben Kane helped me find her and I was overjoyed to find out she had worked on some of Cornwell’s King Arthur novels, not to mention so many other huge sellers by the likes of Jilly Cooper.

My original first draft of Wolf’s Head was quite different to how it ended up. There was a mystical old wise-woman (a nod to David Gemmell there) and it was only 80,000 words in length. That first draft ended up changing a lot after my editor, who I hired at my own expense, read it through. I added a LOT more historical detail (the sections with Sir Richard and the Earl of Lancaster were all new) and the word count went up by 17,000 to hit almost 100,000.

I paid a fair amount for her services, as you’d expect, but I was more than happy with the results. MORE than happy, as my reviews and sales have shown – Wolf’s Head is now a good read.

Lots of self-published books never see an editor, they’re just put out there. Like my cover designers, I wanted to hire an editor that would make the most of my manuscript. Hopefully I did that.

Bernard Cornwell? Ben Kane? Jilly Cooper!

I must note though, my editor only went over the original, first draft. The changes made afterwards were all my own so if there are mistakes or whatever in the finished book, they are all mine. Self-publishing has its limits.

Now, as we enter the festive season, and I haul out the Jethro Tull “Christmas Album” for another few weeks, Wolf’s Head has been available for five months and has sold almost 10,000 copies worldwide. I’m sure much of that success is down to my editor.
I hope she’ll look over The Wolf and the Raven once it’s finished in the next month or so.