Tag Archives: audiobook review

Audiobook Review: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Foxglove_IconWhere do you go after the literally shocking ending of Broken Homes. PC Peter Grant, Britain’s only official apprentice Wizard, had been investigated events at architecturally curious high-rise estate called Skygarden before Ben Aaronovitch pulled a very large rabbit out the hat.

Well it seems that life, and crime, carry on. This time Peter is off to the Herefordshire countryside to see if anything supernatural is involved in the disappearance of two girls and his investigation starts with doing a routine elimination check on a wizard who has hung up his staff.

Aaronovitch keeps the format tightly woven in the police-procedural mode with Peter being the good copper he is and adhering to his training and the fundamentals of police work. One of the strengths of the series is that it reads like crime fiction with magic. To be honest I am surprised by how popular they are outside genre circles as magic and the supernatural play a major part of the plot. But through Peter’s eyes they always feel grounded and accessible.

Peter is also a good narrator of his own adventure though for me that narrative voice is synonymous with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who reads the audio books and he is now my Peter. I mention this mostly as it took me a week to listen to the 10hrs and 45 minutes of audio. I can’t really multitask when listening to an audio book but luckily I had a a 5 hour round trip which topped up with snatches on my commute, and a bath or two to fed my addiction.

I really can’t say what one thing got me hooked. The setting reminds me of home. Getting away from London and into the countryside we’re introduced a wonderful cast of colourful characters. Ben drops some well waited hooks and teases with revelations about Nightingale, Beverly Brook and Molly. Plus Kobna as a wonderful way of saying latin phrases.

This is the first book in the series where Peter is kicked out of the nest of London and away from DCI Nightingale’s protective wing. Like the last book Aaronovitch keeps the plotting focused and narrow – and in a way simplex. You can summarise the who did what to whom and why quite easily at the end. It would it completely spoil your enjoyment if I did but it’s the investigation of the events which makes Foxglove Summer compelling. It’s who does what during an investigation, where the suspicions fall and how you keep a story hungry media fed without them getting a whiff of magic balanced that draws you in and keeps you on the hook.

I only have one small niggle and that’s the wizardly talents that PC Grant has. It’s hard with magic to keep it from being a deus ex machina to pull out and fix things. There is a a great one used here but not by Peter. He’s getting good at impelo to blow things up but I’m craving a little bit more variety in his bag of tricks.

I really can’t fault it. Foxglove Summer is a fun and well told police procedural which manages to keep the magic to investigable levels. Aaronovitch shows no signs he nor Peter is tiring, in fact, here he shows us that his apprentice wizarrd can coming out of his master’s shadow and shines I hope Nightingale keeps having a role as he’s so much fun to read and watch especially as he blows up a barn.

We leave with the story with new questions, which hopefully will result in teasing answers in the next book.

Highly recommended.

Audiobook Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowtiz Read by Derek Jacobi (Orion)

House of silk the new sherlock holmes novel

I might not have ‘read’ House of Silk as soon as I did if it wasn’t for Derek Jacobi. You see Sir Jacobi has been working his way through recording the Conan Doyle originals of Holmes and I’m really hoping that he gets to finish them (he’s got to be 2/3s done). Anyway, I was looking for a way to get back into the Holmes stories a couple of years ago and had some Audible credit. And after listening to a few samples a love affair was born. Jacobi for me is the voice of Watson and my passion for Holmes renewed.

So when I saw that he was reading The House of Silk I couldn’t resist. Now it could have all gone horribly wrong as I’m very used to Doyle’s style and Jacobi’s reading so any failings by Horowitz to get the ‘voice’ right would have been immediately obvious.

And it’s all to the credit to Horowitz that I made it to the end only thinking that Watson was slightly too knowing but never thinking that he wasn’t Watson or doing the job that he has always done; journaling Holmes’s adventures.

What gives it that sense of too ‘knowing’? It’s the framing that’s chosen. This is an adventure that Watson wrote in old age and one that wasn’t to be released until after he’s gone. He is more reflective and judging of the main players but you also get the sense that Horowitz wants you to know how much he knows Doyle’s creation and how he’s being careful to be true to the original and that he has been thinking about the world and the characters and how he could bring them to life.

And without giving away too much it’s certainly a case that Holmes would get himself involved in. An agitated gentleman turns up unannounced at 221B Baker Street asking for Holmes’s help. The man is being stalked by a scar-faced man. Intrigued by his plight Holmes and Watson’s investigations takes them via Boston (though only in told tales) to top of British society and they have no idea what their investigation is going to uncover.

If you’ve listen to the Holmes/Horowitz special of The Readers you might have heard the interview with Horowitz by Simon and heard Horowitz’s top five Holmes short stories. At the time Simon had read it and I hadn’t finished it, which I now realise put him in a really awkward position.  The same position I’m in this review… what to reveal.

The answer is not a lot. It’s a mystery and what this man brings into the life of Holmes and Watson is revealed as you read. There are some great moments. Horowitz has poured all his good ideas and chucked in the kitchen sink to make sure gets as much mileage as he can from his one-off officially sanctioned adventure.

And after getting to the end I really want him to write another but I don’t know how he could manage it without it feeling like it’s a ‘lesser’ adventure.

As always Derek Jacobi does an outstanding job bring life to each of the characters by voicing each on differently. There is much more to add. He’s perfect.

If you’re a fan of Holmes or intrigued by him The House of Silk is definitely something to read as not only do you appreciate how clever a character he is and how clever Horowitz is but also (re)ignite a passion to read all his other adventures (just like I’m doing).

Mini Audiobook Review: Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz)

BenAaronovitch MoonOverSoho

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith again reads the words of Ben Aaronovitch as we return to apprentice magician and wizard Peter Grant, who again takes us to the London that we all know is there under the surface. You know the one with jazz vampires, which is fortuitous considering Peter’s dad is a jazz loving trumpet player with a title in jazz scene.

Book two in the series (Rivers of London was the first) finds Aaronovitch more relaxed and leisurely, which is a blessing and a curse in some ways. It’s a blessing as the we get to see a different side of Grant as he isn’t as action hero as Rivers of London but we also get to see less of the colourful characters that littered the first one. Though we do get a few nice cameos.

We also get less knocking on doors, so less of the police investigation, and more relationship building, but you know I like it for that. It shows that Aaronovitch isn’t repeating a formula. Instead he’s investigating his characters and their history more. We get to see more about the history of ‘The Folly’ and where all the wizards may, or may not, have gone.

I did realise one of the major twists earlier than I would have liked and I think that twisting in one more smaller thread into the story might have delayed that. But that’s only a minor distraction as I really enjoyed the voice of Grant. Both Holdbrook-Smith and Aaronovitch versions. Especially Peter having a practical edge to everything and not getting too airy faery about the mystical world he finds himself in. And I’m definitely not going to look at one of those carnival fortune telling heads the same way again.

What was really touching was following the effect on Lesley of the events of River of London and how she and Peter deal with it. And what really hit it home was Kobna doing Lesley’s voice and remembering it from Rivers of London before her life changed. Thankfully she’s strong on the inside.

One of the best urban fantasy series in years. One that is a must read if you love London (ror the idea of London) and want to see what could be happening just below the mystical surface

Audiobook Review: The Voyage of The Sable Keech by Neal Asher Read by William Gaminara (UK Tor)

Voyage of the sable  298B5D  1

Following on from the events in The Skinner (see my review) we are back again on Splatterjay. Now the last book left a few loose ends and even though Splatterjay has moved on in the last ten years those ends are immediately obvious. But we are here to follow the construction and the inaugural voyage of the Sable Keech, which, unsurprisingly, brings together the cast of The Skinner as well as a few interesting additions.

Now Asher is kind and clever writer as you don’t need to have read The Skinner in order to understand or enjoy this, but I think you should, so I’m not going to spoil it for you by revealing too much of the background to The Voyage of the Sable Keech. Suffice to say Splatterjay is a very dangerous place to be in that book and it focuses on unfinished business.

This time we focus on Taylor Bloc, a reification, who sets sail on a voyage of resurrection for himself and his fellow Kladite followers. As this is happening Janer is working for a hornet hive mind to stop another hive mind agent from obtaining deadly sprine. And to top it off Erlin upsets a whelkus titanicus causing it to rise from the deep. And that’s not all as the prador, Vrell, turns up in the Prologue and sticks around becoming a target for a much bigger threat.

The wonder in Asher’s writing is how he lays down several threads, like the ones above (though there are more revealing ones), and starts twisting them all together. Even the seemingly superfluous but educationally insightful chapter openings on Splatterjay’s flora and fauna are important pieces in the puzzle.

And Splatterjay and the changes in biology caused by its virus to its evolution is very much an overriding personality in this connected series. On first sight it is a backwards place that doesn’t allow the technology of the Polity to have become widespread, which is why the Sable Keech has to rely on sails, both fabric and living, rather than turbines and grav-motors. But by having world that doesn’t have all the Polity’s technology it makes for a much more exciting and primal tale.

This is every much a tale of survival in a brutal and unforgiving environment. Most of the inhabitants are infected with the Splatterjay virus which bestows long-life and resilience on its host but it will also make dramatic mutations on them if they are injured or near death like morphing a tongue into that of a leaches or replacing a lost head with a leaches mouth.

The theme of life, death and survival are explored from several angles in individual stories that come together on the Sable Keech’s voyage. The hive mind agent that Janar is chasing mission is seemingly to obtain sprine, the only thing that can kill Hoopers, the name of Splatterjay’s humanoid inhabitants, outright. Sprine is also an important part of the world’s burgeoning economy. Erlin continues her struggle with having a long, and maybe immortal life. And the prador, Vrell’s, immediate survival is under-threat from a much bigger enemy.

You can tell that biology, its implications and evolutions, are a passion of Asher’s (and if they aren’t he does a great job of faking it) and what makes this stand out from a run-of-the-mill SF novel to one of mastery is that his characters are dense and weighty, his environment feels like a scientific possibilities and  his storytelling skills keeps everything tight, flowing and gripping.

I’m curious about where he’s going to take the next one, Orbus as I’ve got no idea what he has planned (and no I don’t want to read the blurb to find out ;))

Now, so far, I’ve not mentioned the audio side, which isn’t in anyway any comment on William Gaminara’s reading. In fact it should be seen as a ringing endorsement as he really brought everything to life. He gives all the characters their own voice and inflection. With my favourite the personalities of Sniper when played off against the Warden. Gaminara has in some ways spoiled this series as I’m fixated on listening to him read Orbus to me rather than read it myself. He has definitely added another dimension to Asher’s work and one I greatly enjoy.

The Voyage of Sable Keech is not all plain sailing by any means. You don’t need sickbags, unless you’ve got a weak stomach, just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Neal Asher’s new [non Polity]  novelThe Departure (Owner Novel 1) is out on 5 September 2011

Audiobook Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch with reader Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Gollancz)

Ben aaronovitch rivers of london

London and urban fantasy seems to come up enough for it slowly to becoming a trope (or a cliché depending on your love/tolerance but a cliché that works in my opinion). Not only is London a diverse and internationally recognised city it’s old enough to have a life of its own.

And it’s that heartbeat that powers Aaronovitch’s tale (as all good urban fantasy about London does). This time we get a police procedural mixed with the supernatural as Peter Grant probationary police constable’s career takes a different turn when he comes across a body and a while later comes to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last Wizard in England.

Now listening to a book does give you a different feel for it as the reader in your own mind doesn’t get a look in. I have to say that I love being read to and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith encompasses not only Peter Grant but the other characters he voiced along the way. He has a gruff London accent as he read but could easily  sound creepy as he read the dialogue of… oh I’d better not say. But it was very atmospheric especially towards the climax.

There was a point when I was reading that I wondered what the opening had to do with what was going at that point as we seemed to have moved into something unrelated. I didn’t have to wait long. Aaronovitch played me like a fiddle. For a debut (though it’s not his first novel as he’s written a few tie-ins) I’m impressed by not only story which has lots of twists and turns to be compelling and surprising but also the atmosphere and character he injects. Aaronovitch truly captures the spirits of London.

From the opening you’d have to wonder where the rivers part of Rivers of London comes from but Peter and the audience are introduced quite expertly to the power of the Thames and its many children.

By using Grant as a novice magician (it’s better than transferring to the Case Progress Unit) we get to see the revelations that Peter is exposed to as well as seeing him introduce those concepts to his friend and colleague WPC Lesley May who is on bottom of the mundane side of murder investigation.

Aaronovitch packs a lot, but not too much, into his tale. Avoiding cliché and creating new myths of his own. I’ll never look at the Thames quite the same again.

The only negative I can think of is that even though the next one, Moon Over Soho is out I’ve got a wait for a little while until it’s read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith but I have a feeling that it’s going to be worth it.

Audiobook Review: The Skinner by Neal Asher (Tor UK)

Skinnerafc thumb

Review in a sentence:

Sci-fi on the high seas exploring long lives, betrayals and sentient sails.

The trouble with having a wide circle of tastes in reading can sometimes feel like working through that moving belt in sushi bar. It’s hard sometimes to resist the new foods right in front of you in order wait for what you’ve had before and loved to come around. Especially when you trust the chef to serve only foods that you’ll like.

Or at least that’s my current excuse for why I’ve been filling my time with new to me authors rather than working my way through author back catalogues. That and last year I got into the silly habit of reading more than one book at a time. It really doesn’t work.

And The Skinner became a victim of that failed multi tasking and in some ways it’s also the solution. This is the first audiobook review I’ve done. But The Skinner isn’t my first audiobook.

What got me into audiobooks was joining the gym last year and needing something to listen to. Music just doesn’t do it for me. But audiobooks fill my mind and keep my going on treadmills and weight machines. Or they did now I’m more likely to listen on breaks and whilst relaxing in the bath.

Anyway, after two goes at getting into The Skinner on paper and failing to get past 149 pages on the second go I found it on Audible a couple of months ago. Now I always have to listen to them and decide if the narrator is absorbing or annoying and William Gaminara is absorbing and perfect for this book.

Partly why he worked for me because of not only the voices he uses but he also gives them accents – the sea captains remind me of gruff Scotts, the mercenaries as Africans – which you may feel is stereotyping but it’s more about encompassing character and attitude. And it adds texture.

But an absorbing reader needs material is what Gaminara has to read at that really makes something worth listening to or not. And the story of The Skinner is multifaceted to say the list. To start with you have Erlin, searching for an ancient sea captain who can teach her a meaning to life, Janer, bringing hornets and their Hive mind to Spatterjay, and Sable Keech, on a vendetta to avenge the events of the past.

Each of these three character are distinct in their backgrounds and their reasons for being on Spatterjay and their connections to the Polity universe.  The Polity is an AI led technologically advanced society. Spatterjay is not part of the Polity but does fall under it’s protection and has it’s own warden AI, which is handy as the alien Prador are about to interfere in Spatterjay affairs.

I can’t decide my favourite thread but I’m torn between that of the warden and Sable Keech but only because the bits that contain the warden and his subminds were fun to listen to especially the fighting banter. Keech being the investigator of the tale is the most active and his explorations give the context to not only the origins of the skinner (as a character) but also the current state of Spatterjay that has remained the same for several hundred years.

Though this story is all about changing the status quo on this brutal world. Asher is clever how he shows this brutality from showing a character having his guts spilled out from a wound opening his stomach only to be walking around as if nothing happened a short time later as well and from de-fleshed fish that swims away quite happily afterwards.

Splatterjay contains a complex virus that not only repairs it’s hosts but also converts them into leech like creatures if they aren’t careful and all the creatures of Splatterjay are susceptible in some way with most carrying the virus.

Now a world filled with character that hard to kill and a character called the skinner you might be able to imagine what could happen. But whatever has happened is in the past but is part of the reaons for Sable Keech’s arrival.

This is very much a book of transformation and survival. And through each of the threads all the main and several of the secondary characters go through their own transformations as they try to survive.

Asher’s skill is not only in creation but using those ideas, even in a book that’s mostly about boats to look into the meaning of life and the potential for humanity as well as using some awesome weapons and technology.

Luckily this only the beginning as The Voyage of the Stable Keech (again read by William Gaminara) carries on from where this one finishes but I have no idea where that ship is sailing mostly because Erlin, Janer and Keech are internally and in some cases external changed by their journey so far and I think Asher has a few more secrets as well as tricks up his sleeve.