Tag: audiobook reviews

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas – Review

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas – ReviewEmpire of Storms Series: The Throne of Glass #5
Also in this series: Throne of Glass, Heir of Fire
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Elizabeth Evans
Length: 25 hrs and 23 mins
Genres: Epic Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

Empire of Storms is the fifth and penultimate book in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass in which a former assassin uses her skills and her magic to save her kingdom.  Being the second to last book in the series, it focusses very much on getting our protagonists into the right place for the finale.

What I liked

The pacing.  Despite the fact that Empire of Storms is primarily focussed on getting the team into place for the final confrontation, Maas managed to keep the pacing brisk and the tension high.  There were several points where I feared for our characters’ lives.  There are several confrontations adding to the tension, even if the end result is moving the pieces across the chessboard.

The characters and their group dynamics.  This is clearly one of Maas’s real strengths as a writer.  I loved the relationships between the characters and their journeys.  It was wonderful that each of our characters has a unique skill set, developed over the course of the series, which will be vital in the cause to defeat Erawan.  If even one person fails to play his or her part, the world is doomed.  I personally have not read the novellas, but I enjoyed the “new” characters who made an appearance and who also must do their part.

Manon’s story.  Once again, as in Queen of Shadows I found myself more engaged with Manon’s chapters than with Aelin’s, at least until the ending.  It is noticeable that Manon’s arc mirrors Aelin’s.  Both start the series as cocksure employees of a leader whose moral bankruptcy does not sit well with our heroines.  A crisis ensues causing a break with said leader, a confrontation which leaves our heroines in a pretty dark place.  Both must now accept their heritage in order to claim their birthrights to aid the cause of freedom.  I really look forward to where Manon’s journey takes her, although I can’t help wishing she’d had as much page space to develop her character as Aelin.

The increase in scope.  In Empire of Storms we learn just how long the confrontation between Team Terrasen and Erawan has been brewing and how much has already been sacrificed.  The potential cost of the war is also laid out, and I have even more love for Aelin now.  I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the final book.

Setup for final book.  I really liked loved Maas has set the pieces for the final book.  Each character is faced with a task or a role to play and each must perform to have a hope of defeating Erawan.  It’s clear that the cost will be high.  She has achieved a wonderful balance between bringing existing plotlines to fruition while leaving a great deal of possibilities.

The narration.  I picked up Empire of Storms in audiobook format specifically for Elizabeth Evans’ narration.  She brings exactly the right amount of sass to Aelin, and her Manon voice is pitch perfect, too.  I would recommend this format.

What I didn’t like

Some modern phrasings.  Occasionally, Maas will use some modern phrases in her writing, such as “haul ass.”  While this probably fits in well with our sassy, modern heroine, the style of the novel is still epic fantasy and such expressions really, really bugged me.  Each time they threw me out of the story.  You may not have the same experience.

The number of romantic pairings.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I LOVED the individual pairings in the series.  They were beautifully developed, with each partner both giving and gaining something from the relationship.  What did frustrate me though was that almost every character seemed to be paired off in some way.  It came across as a little too neat for me.  Of course maybe the gods have put a perfect partner in each of their paths to make up for the hardships and pain they must endure!

Despite these minor quibbles I loved Empire of Storms and gave it five stars out of five.

Speculation on the sixth book

I liked that the story could still go in many different ways in this last book.  Maas could opt for a happy ending or it could be bittersweet.  In any case, I’m calling it now; Lysandra and Dorian won’t make it out alive :o(  The tasks ahead of them are simply too dangerous.  That is only my speculation though and I would be happy to be proven wrong. Let me know what you think in the comments.

five-stars

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray – Review

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray – Review1000 Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
Series: Firebird #1
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Length: 9 hrs and 18 mins
Genres: Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Mystery
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Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray is a YA sci-fi mystery in which teenager Marguerite Caine must use technology developed by her parents, the Firebird, to chase her father’s murderer across multiple dimensions.  She finds out that things aren’t as they first seemed.

I picked this book up partly because of this concept and partly because I’ve enjoyed books (Star Wars) by Claudia Gray.  Thanks to Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice I picked up both the Kindle book and the audiobook, narrated by Tavia Gilbert.  Most of the time I listened to the audiobook which was amazing.

What I liked

The concept.  I found this a really intriguing premise for a novel, moving into alternate dimensions to solve a murder mystery.  Gray comes from a sci-fi background and clearly has a firm handle on it.  It was a lot of fun when Marguerite jumped into a new dimension trying to work out what situation she was in! I’m not certain that I’d agree with the Orphan Black comparison; the main – only? – similarity is that characters frequently find themselves having to impersonate other people and to think on their feet to work out what’s going on. 

The audio narration.  Tavia Gilbert did an awesome job of narrating this book.  Her accent work was impeccable.  There’s a funny scene early on where Marguerite has fun with her current doppelganger’s accent.  That came across really well in audio format.  My one frustration with this is that often the accent “spoiled” in some way the leaps into new dimensions.  From the voices it was often clear where Marguerite had landed long before it was revealed in the text.  

The worldbuilding.  The fun thing with this concept is that Gray gets to build several worlds; the multiple alternate dimensions into which Marguerite leaps.  It would be too spoilery to name them all, but each of them is beautifully developed with supporting characters, rules and challenges for our protagonist.  The fact that Gray’s travel system has limitations was particularly well done – as in fantasy, often it’s the limitations in the magic system/technology which can generate the most interesting conflicts for the characters.  I loved that the dimensions had varying degrees of technological advancement which made things interesting.

The pacing.  Gray keeps the plot moving along fast, with new information and revelations keeping our protagonists – and readers – engaged.

What I didn’t like

The characters.  I found Marguerite somewhat bland.  The way her loyalty seemed to be so easily won and lost did not sit easily with me, and the revelations of the villains was a little too obvious.  The fact that Gray reverted to the trope of “the special”, our protagonist having unique traits which make her the only person capable of foiling the evil plot is rather disappointing.

Despite these flaws, I really loved 1000 Pieces of You and gave it four and a half stars out of five.  I will certainly be picking up the sequel soon.

four-half-stars

Reading catchup part 3 – December 5th 2015

The final part of my reading catchup series in which I discuss Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Winter by Marissa Meyer and Soundless by Richelle Mead.

Reading catchup part 3 – December 5th 2015Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Also in this series: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Fairest - Levana's Story
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Various
Length: 15 hrs and 25 mins
Genres: Epic Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a new series set in the same world as her Grisha Trilogy, which I loved.  One of Bardugo’s strengths as a writer is her worldbuilding – and that continues in this new outing.  Instead of a Russianesque setting, the action moves to a place reminiscent of Amsterdam in its Golden Age.  The characters were interesting, but in an ensemble book like this, they aren’t always given the time to be as fully developed as a single protagonist novel.  I look forward to seeing where the series goes and will certainly keep up with it.

I gave Six of Crows four stars out of five.

Reading catchup part 3 – December 5th 2015Winter by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
Also in this series: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Fairest - Levana's Story
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Length: 23 hrs and 30 mins
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Young Adult
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

Winter by Marissa Meyer is the fourth and final book in the Lunar Chronicles series and was one of my most anticipated reads of the year.  This final book was loosely based on the Snow White fairytale and tells the story of Princess Winter of Luna as well as continuing the stories of Cinder, Scarlet and Cress and their attempt to overthrow the evil Queen Levana.  I must admit I was ever so slightly disappointed in Winter – perhaps my expectations were a little too high.  Meyer had done her setup so well in the previous books, so at times it felt as if I was just watching things play out as expected.  On the other hand, this being the last book in the series did mean that all bets were off and I was concerned for our protagonists’ survival at various points.  Once again though I did love the fairytale mashup – the way in which Meyer has adapted the various fairytale tropes – like Snow White’s glass coffin into a sci-fi setting is brilliant.  Our heroines continue to be kick-ass and I did enjoy how it all came together.

I gave Winter five stars out of five, mainly for my love of the series as a whole.

Reading catchup part 3 – December 5th 2015Soundless by Richelle Mead
Format: eBook
Pages: 272 pages
Genres: Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

I admit I’d been initially reluctant to pick up Soundless by Richelle Mead, despite my love of her Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series.  This is because some of the reviews I’d read were mixed at best. I had originally been intrigued by the concept of a deaf girl living in a soundless world begins to hear again and embarks on an adventure to save her community.  

As an exploration into discovering a sense of which your community has no concept, the book is wonderful.  I just loved the way in which Fei comes to terms with her new hearing.  The way in which she struggled to conceptualise the new experience was beautifully written.  I’d have liked to have read more of this.

However the whole community rescue plotline is not developed to nearly the same extent.  The book is very short – well under three hundred pages – and this is the aspect which suffered the most.  The book could have done to have been twice as long.

I gave Soundless three and a half stars out of five.

In other news, I am particularly excited this week as my husband and I have booked our tickets for Chicago in May 2016 to attend BEA, the Book Expo of America.  Yay!  This will be my first time attending and I’m so looking forward to it – I’ve heard BEA described as Disneyland for book nerds. If any of you have been before and have tips, please let me know in the comments.

four-stars

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – Review

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – ReviewThe Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Davina Porter
Length: 18 hrs and 10 mins
Genres: Dystopian, New Adult, Young Adult
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

The Invasion of the Tearling is the second in Erika Johansen’s YA Tearling fantasy trilogy.  It continues the story of young queen Kelsea Glynn as she prepares to deal with the aftermath of her actions in the first novel, The Queen of the Tearling.

I’ll start this review by stating that I hadn’t actually intended to continue with this series, given that I had significant issues with Johansen’s worldbuilding and character development in the first book.  However, I recently read the book blurb which indicated to me that Johansen was taking clear steps to address some of the issues with the worldbuilding at least and so I decided to give the series a second chance. 

What I liked

Additional point of view character.  For this second outing, Johansen has added a second point of view character, Lily.  Lily is a woman from the pre-Crossing era who has a strange connection with our protagonist, Kelsea.  Through her eyes we learn more about the history of the Tearling’s founding and what led William Tear to strike out to begin his utopia.

I absolutely loved Lily’s story and, personally, I was far more engaged with her plight than Kelsea’s.  These sections were wonderful both from a plot point of view and character development.  Throughout, I really found myself rooting for her.  This section of the book reads more like a dystopian novel than the traditional fantasy of Kelsea’s section, but it worked very well.  

It should be noted that Lily’s section deals with some issues which are far grittier and more adult than those generally found in young adult or even new adult books, and was written in a more adult manner.  Lily is notably older than Kelsea and is in a different life stage.  It could well be that’s why I connected more with her, as I too, am older than your average young adult protagonist!

Lily’s character development was beautifully written.

Kelsea’s romantic life. Often in YA, this can be a particularly problematic area, with the romance either subjected to the inevitable love triangle or so overblown with stars and rainbows it becomes intolerable.  I get it.  First love can be awesome.  Too often though YA authors portray it through rose-tinted spectacles.  Johansen’s portrayal of this part of Kelsea’s life felt grounded in reality and was excellently written.

In general I found Kelsea more consistently written in Invasion of the Tearling than she was in Queen.  I particularly enjoyed how the connection between her and Lily played out.

The pre-Crossing history.  The promise of learning more about the founding of the Tearling was what drew me back in to give this series a second chance and Johansen certainly made good on that promise.  I loved what we got, but I’m not one hundred percent convinced, though, that she has allayed the concerns I had from the first book.  I still can’t see the logic in why Harry Potter survived the Crossing but the internal combustion engine didn’t.  We still have a lot to discover, so I’ll suspend final judgement on this aspect until after the final book.

What I didn’t like

Additional point of view.  Yes, I know I had this listed in part of my Likes; let me explain.  The two main point of view characters are in different worlds, and are at different life stages and more, importantly, are written as such.  It feels almost like two completely separate books, and I’m not certain that they are targeting the same audience.

The audio narration.  I had a bit of a problem with the audio narration.  The book is narrated by Davina Porter, who, don’t get me wrong, does a great job.  My issue is that she is best known to me as the narrator of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  Ms Porter has a distinctive voice and half the time I kept expecting Jamie Fraser to come sauntering into the scene.  That was my personal issue though and it may not be one for you.

In summary then, I found Invasion a stronger book than Queen of the Tearling.  That’s not to say it’s perfect by any means.  I’m still not completely certain Johansen can pull together a completely cohesive overall story arc by the end of the trilogy, but I’m invested enough that I want to read book three to find out.

I gave Invasion of the Tearling 3.5-4 stars out of five.

    four-stars

    Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – Review

    Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – ReviewFirefight by Brandon Sanderson
    Series: The Reckoners #2
    Format: Audiobook
    Narrator: Macleod Andrews
    Length: 11 hours 39 minutes
    Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Young Adult
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    Evelynne's rating: four-stars

    Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the second in his YA contemporary fantasy trilogy Reckoners about ordinary humans turned megalomanic villains when they received superpowers.  It continues the story – begun in Steelheart – of David and the Reckoners who aim to bring down the despotic Epics.  If you enjoyed Steelheart, you’ll likely have fun with Firefight – it’s more of the same.  It continues on the theme of power corrupting and strength of spirit perhaps overcoming this.

    What I liked

    Expanded world and character set.  In this instalment David and the Reckoners leave Newcago, the location of the first book, to go take on a new Epic, Regalia, in Babylar, in other words, New York.  It’s always fun when an author takes you new places, and Sanderson’s world building is excellent.  His take on New York is unique and adds to the whole scope of the novel.  As well as new locations we also meet new characters.  They are a lot of fun and and are reasonably fleshed out.

    New layers in the whole origin of the Epics plot.  In this book, David learns more about the cause of the Epics’ superpowers and their weaknesses.  I imagine we’ll learn even more in book three, Calamity.

    The pacing.  As with most of Sanderson’s works, the story moves along at a brisk pace with something always going on.  It helped keep my interest in reading.

    The narration.  This is one of the first audiobooks I have listened to since getting my hearing aids.  It was narrated by MacLeod Andrews who did a great job of bringing the characters to life.  

    What I didn’t like

    David’s dodgy metaphors/similes.  At first in Steelheart this quirk was cute and funny.  By the end of the first book it was getting very old.  By the time we reached Firefight I was truly done with it.  I hope it’s moderated considerably in book three…  It was beginning to drive me nuts.

    I did enjoy Firefight – it is a fun, easy read – and I gave it four stars out of five.

     buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Audible

    four-stars

    Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb – SPOILERS Review and Speculation

    Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – Review

    Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – ReviewOrange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
    Format: Audiobook
    Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
    Length: 11 hours and 14 minutes
    Genres: Autobiographies/Biographies
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    Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

    Orange is the New Black is the memoir by Piper Kerman detailing the year she spent in a women’s prison.  The drug related offences date from 10 years prior to her incarceration and in the meantime, Kerman had built a life for herself with a rewarding job and supportive fiancé.  The book has also been adapted into a successful Netflix Original television show, of which I have seen season one, and plan to binge watch season two in the very near future.  It should be noted that the TV series and the book, while both excellent, are very different beasts.  There is a lot of dramatisation in the TV show not present in the book, which, on the other hand, gives a very thoughtful, measured introspective into Kerman’s emotional journey during her incarceration.

    I listened to the audiobook during my coach trip from Montreal to Toronto – a trip of about eight hours – and not only did it hold my attention through the trip, but I wanted to continue listening when I got home.  

    What I liked

    The narration.  Cassandra Campbell does an amazing job of providing the voiceover for Kerman’s emotional journey as well as creating distinct voices for each of the people Kerman meets during her stay.  You could easily tell who was talking by the voices.

    Kerman’s emotional journey.  I really liked the way Kerman took responsibility for her actions that led to her indictment and imprisonment.  She made no excuses for her actions.  This was especially apparent when she was recounting her interactions with fellow inmates whose challenges included drug addiction.  It came across clearly that she was finally making the connection between her own actions and their consequences for those dependent on drugs.  

    Voyeurism.  I admit to definite feelings of voyeurism reading this book.  I have never spent time in prison, and I hope never to do so, so it was fascinating to read about the details of day-to-day life in prison.  

    What I didn’t like

    Abrupt ending.  I felt the ending was rather abrupt – it ends literally as Kerman walks out of prison after having served her time.  I would have welcomed a chapter or two narrating how she adapted back to life as a free woman.

    I would heartily recommend Orange is the New Black, both the book and TV series.  I gave the audiobook four and a half stars out of five.

    buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Audible, eBooks.com

    four-half-stars

    Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence – Review (Spoilers for Broken Empire trilogy)

    Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence – Review (Spoilers for Broken Empire trilogy)Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
    Series: The Red Queen's War #1
    Also in this series: The Wheel of Osheim
    Format: Audiobook
    Narrator: Tim Gerard Reynolds
    Length: 14 hours and 37 minutes
    Genres: Epic Fantasy
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    Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

    Prince of Fools is the first in a new series – The Red Queen’s War – by Mark Lawrence who wrote the Broken Empire trilogy.  This new series is set in the same world as The Broken Empire, but focusses on a different set of characters.  Emperor of Thorns was one of my top reads for 2013, so I had high expectations of Prince of Fools – I’m happy to say it lived up to them.

    What I liked

    The setting.  Both Red Queen’s War and Broken Empire trilogy are set in a world which is strongly implied to be ours many millennia after a cataclysmic event (the “thousand suns”) in which magic plays a part.  Some references to our world bleed through but often in an almost unrecognisable form.  It’s a great deal of fun spotting these references.  These are very subtle – for example our protagonists meet a circus elephant, who is, of course, called Nellie.  A week later I still can’t get the children’s song out of my brain and now you can’t either.  You’re welcome.  

    Anyway to return to the setting.  One very interesting choice Lawrence made with the Red Queen’s War trilogy is to set it concurrently with the events of Broken Empire.  Certain events make it clear where in the events of the narrative of the first trilogy this second series is set.  Indeed, the protagonists of Prince of Fools actually cross paths with those of Broken Empire at one point.  This intersection of storylines doesn’t seem to have affected either at this point, but it will be interesting to see if there are more such instances.  

    Choice of antagonist.  Another interesting aspect is that it is implied that both series share the same Big Bad.  Given that those of us who have read the first series believe we know how this ends, some  good questions are raised.  Did Broken Empire end the way we think it did?  What will Jal’s role be?  Will there be a different threat for Jal to face in the end?   I should point out that it is not necessary to have read Broken Empire to enjoy Prince of Fools, but it will add extra layers to the enjoyment.  

    The characters.  One of Lawrence’s real skills as a writer is in writing three dimensional, fully developed characters and he has done the same here for Jalan Kendeth.  Jalan is very different to Jorg Ancrath of the Broken Empire, but still a very engaging character.  Whereas Jorg was a broken spirit even from when we first got to know him, Jal is perfectly content with his life and focussed on little more than his own pleasures and self preservation until he is drawn into this adventure against his will.  At this point, Jalan himself wouldn’t claim much depth of character beyond his interests in women and wine, but there are hints of good character development and knowing Lawrence’s writing, there is an interesting character arc ahead of him.  I look forward to seeing where it goes.

    I also enjoyed the contrasts between Jalan and Snorri.  They are portrayed as being complete opposites in every way, both physically and character wise.  Jalan is dark haired and better suited to running away than fighting, whereas Snorri is tall,  blond and built like the Hulk.  Personality wise, Snorri is straightforward, honourable and focussed on others, whereas Jalan is definitely more self centred.  There are many light/dark references to the two of them and I look forward to seeing how that plays out in future books.

    The narration.  The narration was done by Tim Gerard Reynolds and while I enjoyed it, I would say it was competent rather than fantastic. 

    What I didn’t like.

    There was nothing I didn’t like about Prince of Fools.  I gave it four and a half stars out of five,

     buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Audible, Indiebound

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    four-half-stars
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