My May Audiobook reviews

Aye, I know it’s June but these are the audiobooks I was listening to during May! Check them out, starting with the penultimate book in the epic Dune series.

Heretics of Dune, by Frank Herbert

Narrated by Simon Vance

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I think most people would agree the Dune series peaked with the first, phenomenal book, then it was downhill from there. This one is book five and by now the reader/ listener is wondering where it all went wrong. How could that first book be SO damn awesome while the later ones are, well, boring and pretty directionless. That’s not to say this is complete crap – no a couple of the characters are actually very good and about two-thirds into it things start get interesting with some nice action and some really good ideas.

To me, it’s like Herbert had this amazing idea for a vast, sprawling epic in his head but it just never translated onto the page and I’m left wishing for Paul Atreides, the Harkonnens and something more than Bene Gesserit politicking and psychology that really makes little sense.

I seem to remember reading the novels as far as this one then giving up on the final book, Chapterhouse Dune – I already have that one in my Audible library so hopefully it’s not as bad as I remember!

Narration here is, as always with Simon Vance, top class. Great reader.

Rating – 3/5

The Elfstones of Shannara

By Terry Brooks, read by Scott Brick

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I was really looking forward to this after listening to The Sword of Shannara recently. My memories of reading these as a long-haired teenager were that this one was even better. My experience as a bald forty-year-old was a little different in that I found this rather drawn out and laboured compared to the previous book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great story and the relationship between the two (or three) main characters is quite touching. I just felt like it could have been edited down into something shorter and tighter, but the story is a good one. There’s less focus on the druid Allanon here, and it’s no longer merely a clone of Lord of the Rings, but I think the author was trying to stretch his wings just a little far and possibly avoiding those old LotR tropes too much. Again, though, my old memory tells me the next book in the series, The Wishsong of Shannara, was the best of the trilogy so I’m looking forward to that one!

Scott Brick’s narration is great, with no weird cockney accents this time around.

Rating – 4/5

From fantasy magic to a real life magus…

Aleister Crowley – Man, Myth and Magick

by Simon Ashe, narrated by Cliff Truesdell

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First off, let’s just get one thing out of the way – Aleister Crowley referred to himself as “Holy Crowley” for a reason. So anyone narrating a book about him should really be getting that right. Crowley rhymes with Holy, despite what Ozzy Osbourne sang.

Now, to the book. It’s alright. It basically covers everything you already knew about the “wickedest man in the world” if you’ve ever read ANY biography of him. They all basically say the exact same things but each author has their own slant on it depending on whether they admire or revile him. I’m not entirely sure which side of that fence this author sits – he DOES bring some new information to the table though, which I’ve never heard before but I’m pretty sure it’s not true. Ashe seems to have used a source who is less than reliable for many of his facts so what you’re left with is the same old rehashed tale with a few new facts which I believe are just plain wrong.

Crowley was a pretty horrible human being with some bizarre ideas but his life makes for an interesting tale and, despite his many flaws, he managed to write some truly inspirational stuff so a fairly unbiased audiobook about him can only be a good thing.

This one isn’t expensive and it’s a decent introduction to Crowley if you’ve never read anything about him before but I’d recommend you start on paperback or Kindle with the excellent biographies by Lawrence Sutin  or Richard Kaczynski. You can also explore many of his own books and writings for FREE at the fantastic Hermetic Library

Rating – 3 out of 5 unicursal hexagrams

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More non-fiction now

King Arthur – History and Legend

By The Great Courses, narrated by Prof. Dorsey Armstrong

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My new series follows a warrior druid in the time King Arthur is supposed to have lived, when the Romans had left Britain and invaders were attacking the country on all sides, so I thought it would be good to check this out. I have always had a big interest in the Arthurian legend and this is a really good refresher.

It amazes me that this whole industry has grown up around a “man” when the only real evidence for him is a couple of vague references in histories written long after he’s supposed to have lived. Was he real? I highly doubt it. There’s more evidence for Robin Hood than there is a historical Arthur but that’s not the point is it? It’s a brilliant legend that draws on all sorts of cultures and has touched so many people’s lives.

This audiobook is a good listen – the narrator really, really knows her stuff but she’s not some boring old professor, she is fun and interesting and has a rather nice voice! She points out the absurdities in the various versions and tales but obviously deeply respects and loves the subject and it leads to a good listening experience.

I haven’t learned anything that I’ll use in my new series but I’ve still enjoyed this one a lot.  A good companion to Bernard Cornwell’s excellent Arthurian books (the series that inspired me to write my own Forest Lord novels).

That’s it for this time. I’m currently listening to Ben Kane’s second Spartacus adventure. I was reading the first one on my Kindle app when my son was born three years ago – he had a touch of jaundice and we had to sit with him while he was under the sun lamp in the hospital. I read that novel to pass the time. That’s the kind of attachment to a book someone never forgets.

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Is that Ben himself on the cover?

So far I’m loving this second book as much as I did the first but this time I have the added awesomeness of Michael Praed. Praed was, of course, Robin Hood in the 1980’s TV series Robin of Sherwood which was a big influence on my own novels so this is an interesting experience to say the least. Friar Tuck from that series, Phil Rose, even wrote a foreword for my novella Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil (and read it out too for the Audible version!) so to hear THAT version of Robin reading a Ben Kane book is pretty weird. He’s great though!

Check out my reviews in the next few weeks to find out more.

Oh, I managed to snag an advance ebook copy of Glyn Iliffe’s final Odysseus novel Return to Ithaca so expect a review of that in the coming days. I’ve been a fan of those since they came out years ago so it’s quite sad to think this is the last one. Pre-order it here: http://amzn.to/2snylMT

Return to Ithaca (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audible audiobook review roundup Jan 2017

Here’s a few short reviews of the audiobooks I’ve been listening to over recent weeks. Check them all out on Audible!

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

Read by Simon Vance although his name isnt listed first in the credits for some reason

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I enjoyed this but, let’s be honest – only the first book in this series is truly a classic. Herbert’s writing style is good and the narration is absolutely fantastic but the story here is only good rather than great. Paul Atreides is still here and so are many of the other characters we bonded with in Dune, but this is a shorter book.
Still highly recommended, but maybe only worth 4 stars rather than the 5 Dune deserved.

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

Read by Simon Vance

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Well, you know I MUST have enjoyed Dune Messiah because I straight away moved onto this, the next in the series! Paul is gone (or is he…?) and we follow his children in this book. There’s not a lot of action but the politics and psychology of the tale are really well done and this is a worthy successor to Dune Messiah.

It’s still not as good as Dune though!

Another 4/5.

HP Lovecraft The complete omnibus vol 2 

Read by Finn J.D. John

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I bought this because the previous audio collections of Lovecraft I’d bought didn’t include certain stories for some reason. At the Mountains of Madness for example, which I really wanted to hear (bear in mind I’ve read all Lovecraft’s stories multiple times over the years).

The narrator here initially struck me as really good, to the extent I thought about buying volume 1 too. But for some reason, after a few hours listening, I’m not really drawn into this collection. It’s not the stories that are at fault because The Shadow Over Innsmouth and my favourite Lovecraft tale ever, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, are included. These are really excellent stories but…I don’t know what it is. The narrator has a great voice, he acts out the parts very well and it should be great but, for some reason I seem to switch off completely when listening to him and before I know it I’ve missed half the story and need to replay it!

The previous Lovecraft collection I listened to used a variety of narrators and, at the time, I didn’t understand what the point was but now I think it may have been a good way to hold the listener’s interest.*(See my review of that collection at the foot of the page!)

I really don’t know how to rate this – the tales are fantastic, the narrator certainly seems good but I’m bored listening to it and it’s NOT spooky even when I listen to it on my own, in the dark, out in the middle of nowhere around Glasgow when I’m at work!

Weird tales indeed….

Mort by Terry Pratchett

Read by Nigel Planer

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I love Planer’s reading of Pratchett’s stories so much, he is perfect for them and this is no exception. As usual, the sound quality is horrendous, but other than that this is a good tale that will make you laugh (does anybody remember laughter? – I hope you read that in a high-pitched rock god’s voice). Death himself working as a cook in a greasy-spoon cafe is great as is the titular hero wondering WTF is going on as he slowly morphs into the grim reaper. Hugely imaginative as always with Sir P!

4/5

The Cross and the Curse by Matthew Harffy

Read by Barnaby Edwards

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Longtime friends and followers of mine might know that I endorsed Harffy’s debut novel, The Serpent Sword. That was a self-published affair which garnered enough interest and sales that Matthew was taken on by a major publisher, Aria, and this is the resultant sequel.

The tale is quite straightforward with love, action and beautifully written prose aplenty and, combined with a really good narrator, makes for a great listen. It gets especially nasty (in a good way!) about two-thirds in and things really start to come together there.

I felt a little as if this was a bridge between the first book and the next, setting things up for what’s to come for the rest of the series. That’s no bad thing and there is enough to keep your interest up throughout although I did miss a bit of humour. The events are dark and gritty and the characters know it – but it would have been nice to have a bit of childish banter between the men just to lighten things. As it is, the word I kept thinking of as I listened was “earnest”. The dialogue is earnest, the characters are earnest and the prose is too. I was wishing someone would fart or stand in a dog turd but sadly there’s no slapstick silliness here!

This series has been compared to Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred stories (by me, actually, in that previously-mentioned endorsement!) but, although settings and time period are similar, the writing is completely different in The Cross and the Curse. Fans of one author will enjoy the other I’m sure, as both are absolutely brilliant.

5/5

Finally,

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Read by Luke Daniels

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The narrator here sounds so much like the guy that did VH1’s “Behind the Music” that I kept expecting him to say something like “Dave Mustaine’s drug use spiralled out of control and left Megadeth in a state of limbo. When we return…!”

But he never did and, Googling the guy it seems he’s got nothing to do with “Behind the Music”. It was quite off-putting for a while but I got into it soon enough and I started really enjoying the narration. His voices are really good, nailing the 60’s hippy stoner in particular, and it leads to a great listening experience although it’s quite short.

The story is Dick’s usual mindf**k that leaves you scratching your head wondering if reality is as real as we’re led to believe, with twists and turns all over the place. Some of which don’t make much sense but you can forgive that because it’s such an interesting book.

It’s a slow burner but stick with it because by the end of it you won’t want it to stop! I still want to know what happened next!

5/5
Next time I’ll be listening to Bernard Cornwell‘s The Flame Bearer and the final two books in the Dune series so keep it here…Also, don’t forget the final book in my Forest Lord series, Blood of the Wolf, is now available from Audible, read by Nick Ellsworth as usual. Save a credit for it, it’s an incredible listen!

 

 

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*The Necronomicon by HP Lovecraft

Read by various. This review is one I posted originally on Audible.co.uk

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“Eldtrich and unspoken horror…no, wait!”

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, I’ve loved it! I assume you already know Lovecraft if you’re looking at this so I’ll review it with that in mind.
The stories are well read and, although it’s not quite as creepy as reading them yourself, it’s still great and…come on, you get about 65 stories here, for ONE CREDIT?
That has to be (at the mountains of) madness!

What did you like best about this story?

I sometimes work at night and driving around the dark, wintry streets of Glasgow, often out in the sticks, with this audiobook playing in the background….brilliant!

Which character – as performed by the narrators – was your favourite?

Some of the narrators are great, some not so much.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I locked the doors in my car when I was listening in the dark….who knows what lurking horror might have crept up on me?
Lovecraft is never terrifying or shocking in a 21st century way, but his writing is always creepy and sticks in your mind. This collection does a fine job of bringing that crawling chaos to life.

Any additional comments?

Considering I got this for one monthly credit I honestly can’t complain. There’s 60-odd stories, all professionally read and that is just great value for money. I’ve read the stories dozens of times myself over the years and yet still found myself wanting to listen more to this to see what happened next. And I’ve only listened to the first few stories so far! Can’t wait until I hear the likes of “Shadow Over Innsmouth” or “The Call of Ktulu” (oops, sorry, I’ve got Metallica on just now, got mixed up for a sec!).
Needless to say, if the quality drops I’ll edit my review but for now I just wanted to post my thoughts as there’s not a lot for other listeners to go on.
Trust me – if you’re a fan of HPL give this a go.

5/5

Audiobook Reviews October 2016

Here’s my regular round of reviews from my recent Audible purchases. A couple of fantasy books and a couple of true classics, with a kids book at the end! But are any of them worth your time and money? Read on and find out…

 

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First up is The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. This is the sequel to The Name of the Wind which I raved about not long ago as it was the best fantasy novel I’d read/ listened to in years. And, for the most part, this second book continues the series in similar, great fashion. It is insanely long (42 hours!) so you are getting quite incredible value for money if you use a monthly credit for this thing and, like the previous story, the narration is perfect. Rupert Degas has a huge repertoire of voices and accents and he’s just a pleasure to listen to. The best narrator I’ve ever heard? Yes, I think so!

The story is a good one, with our hero Kvoth now a bit older, a bit more settled in himself and he has some great adventures in this tale. However, I found myself becoming a little bit irritated this time around as our hero is a master at EVERYTHING. From playing his lute to bedding women to fighting like a samurai to throwing magic around like a young Gandalf (yes, he’s still a teenager)…it becomes ever harder to suspend disbelief. By the time he’s seduced a Goddess and she’s found him the best lover ever you start to remember this is just a book, Kvoth isn’t a real man, and it’s hard to remain lost in the world Rothfuss has so diligently crafted.

But overall this is still a five star listen and highly recommended.

Rating – 5/5

twins

Another fantasy book, this time from the Dragonlance mythos. I always thought the mage Raistlin, and his big, dull-witted twin Caramon were the best characters in the whole series and this particular trilogy is ideal as it follows them on an adventure through time. My biggest issue with 80’s fantasy is how twee it often is – when people are dying there’s always some element of slapstick or silly one-liners that destroy any suggestion of realism and make them seem like more of a children’s story. Time of the Twins isn’t as bad as some of the Forgotten Realms books in that regard, and Raistlin is a nice, dark character, utterly selfish and nasty but, irritatingly the kender, Tasslehoff Burfoot (even his name is twee!) tags along and brings that annoying element of misplaced humour to proceedings. Occasionally the authors use the kender in a more interesting way – when bad things happen and the childlike character is upset it really does add an extra edge of horror. In general though, I wish fantasy authors would forget the comedy characters.

I loved this book when I first read it as a teenager and to be fair it’s still a good story. Certainly worth a listen even if the narrator misprounces words and names  which is not his fault as someone should have been proof-listening and pointing out the many errors.

Rating – 4/5

sherlock

Now to the first of the stonewall classics – Sherlock Holmes! This is another long one representing enormous bang for your buck at FIFTY EIGHT HOURS!

I’m a huge fan of the Jeremy Brett TV series from the 80’s and 90’s and, for me, Brett is and always will be the real Holmes so I wasn’t sure how I’d like someone else’s voice reading the dialogue but I needn’t have worried. Simon Vance is perfect and runs Rupert Degas close as one of the best narrators I’ve heard yet. He has that refined, upper class accent that works so well with the setting and he has just enough voices to make it all hugely entertaining. I actually stopped listening to this at one point because I was enjoying it so much that I didn’t want it to ever end! Although in saying that, I have found myself not enjoying the later stories to the same extent but I’m not sure if that’s fatigue or because Doyle’s latter-day Holmes stories simply weren’t as good as the earlier classics.

Still, for such a long book, read so well and featuring two of the best characters ever created, this is one of the best Audible buys around.Do yourself a favour and use one of your credits for this!

Rating – 5/5

dune

The next of the true genre-defining classics is set in a far different time and place to Holmes’s London but I was really pleased to realise it’s also read by Simon Vance! There’s some other voices who chime in here and there making this something of a more lavish production, but overall it’s just Vance and he does a fine job again.

Dune is a strange book – I first read it when I was about 15 and thought it was a boring pile of crap. Then I tried again a couple of years later and it blew me away. I returned to it once more in my thirties and again loved it. The rest of the series isn’t so great, especially the later books, but this first novel is so good if you’ve never read it before please give it a try.

I suppose the hero, Paul Atreides, is similar to Kvoth in the way he’s so good at just about everything but here it seems natural. I have already used my latest credit to buy the sequel, Dune Messiah, so look out for my review of that in due course although at only 9 hours it’s much shorter than Dune which clocks in at around 21 hours.

The book inspired an excellent Iron Maiden song – “To Tame A Land”, check it out HERE where it’s backed by parts of the not-so great movie…Frank Herbert HATED heavy metal so wouldn’t let them call the song “Dune”, unlike Patrick McGoohan who was happy to allow them to call another song “The Prisoner”.

Rating – 5/5 again!

I’ve listened to some excellent audiobooks in recent weeks although I also bought the Forgotten Realms “classic” Pools of Radiance which I always fancied as a kid but never got around to reading.

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I’m not even going to bother with a review for it but I won’t be trying any more from the series. It was like watching someone else play a bad computer game. Anyone a fan of this series?

 

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Finally, something a little bit different! My 9-year-old daughter loves books too and has started listening to Audible which I buy extra credits for. I must admit, being a thrifty Scot I rather grudge using a credit for a kids book as they generally last for about 1-2 hours! But my daughter has really enjoyed some so I asked her to write a little review for her favourite so far.

The World’s Worst Children by David Walliams

Reviewed by Freya McKay

The narrator (David Walliams) spoke very clearly and had good expressions in his voice. It was disgusting when the boy picked his nose and made it into something even more disgusting! My favourite character was one of the girls who always did naughty things and blamed it on her wee brother. They are all very naughty! This book is very interesting  and I sometimes wonder how the writers comes up with such good stories.

 

So there you go, I hope you’ll check out some of these and enjoy them as much as Freya and me. If you are waiting to use a credit on the fourth and final book in my own Forest Lord series, Blood of the Wolf is in production right now. Nick Ellsworth returns to voice Robin and John and the rest of the crew and I cannot wait to hear it!

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