Tag Archives: fantasy

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (unabridged audiobook read by Davina Porter; 32.5 hrs on 28 discs): Claire is vacationing in Scotland with her husband Frank in 1945 when suddenly she is transported 200 years into the past. This is more historical romance than science fiction, and a lot of it is quite unsettling: graphic violence, corporal punishment of children and spouses alike, and lots and lots of sex, much of it very rough. The homosexual characters are all pedophiles, sadists, and/or rapists. I did, however, really enjoy the glimpse of ordinary life in the 1740s, the witch trials, and the comparison of medical practices between the 18th and 20th centuries. I may actually give the second book in the series a try, as the ending of this one implies it may have more to do with actual time travel, changing history, and the like. This book is mostly about Claire’s relationship with Jamie, an intriguing Scotsman whose fate seems intertwined with her own. Which is fine, as far as that goes, but don’t come into this expecting a science fiction tale. That said, if you’re a sucker for 18th century Highlands romance, this is not to be missed.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (unabridged audiobook read by Emily Gray; 12 hrs on 10 discs): It’s the far future, and our narrator is Krina, a sort of being we might consider to be somewhere between an android and a clone. It’s several thousand years in the future, and almost nothing is familiar to someone from the 21st century, from the extreme genetic modifications to the spaceship planets to the monetary system. In fact, I felt like there was too much going on here. I like extensive world-building, especially in science fiction, but I had a lot of trouble keeping up. It didn’t help that many of the differences between Krina’s world and our own were explained in lengthy essays on the different speeds of money, financial fraud, semi-autonomous clones, mermaids, and bats, rather than as a natural part of the plot. Had the people been physically familiar with a crazy economic system (I never quite got the hang of slow money); or barely humanoid cyborg clones living on a planet without needing to organize their economy around slower-than-light space travel; or the plot focused mainly on the interactions between clones, their originals, copied soul chips, and the tricky ethics thereof; or the characters had been either bat-humans or insurance pirates but not both; or even just focusing on the underused Church of the Fragile, a cult dedicated to humans without any physical modifications — any of those alone could have been fascinating. All of them stuffed into a single novel got in the way of the story. I had a lot of trouble following what was going on and keeping the characters straight. There is surely a very specific audience who would love this sort of ultra-exotic science fiction, but I prefer my story/concept balance to be tipped just a little bit further toward the former.

A note on the audio: Gray is a splendid reader, but this was a little strange for me because the audiobook I finished just before this was also read by her, but completely different (one of Jasper Fforde’s delightfully silly Thursday Next novels), so it took me a while to get accustomed to the new crop of characters using her voice.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins (unabridged audiobook read by Paul Boehmer; 6.5 hrs on 6 discs): When cockroaches abscond with his baby sister, Gregor once again finds himself in the Underland, once again risking life and limb to fulfill a prophecy. Mostly this book was just okay. While I can see my younger self enjoying this, as an adult I found the prophecy angle far less interesting than it tried to be. Yes, the prophecy will come true but not in the way you expect it to. That’s just how it always go. And I’d be more forgiving except that that’s exactly what happened in the previous book in this series. I guess if you adored the first book and want that all over again, then you’ll like this one. As for me, I think I’ll be giving the rest of the series a miss.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Gregor The Overlander by Suzanne Collins (unabridged audiobook read by Paul Boehmer; 6.5 hrs on 6 discs): This is sort of Alice in Wonderland for urban kids. When Gregor and his baby sister Boots fall through a grate in the laundry room, they find themselves in an amazing world of pale-skinned but normal-sized humans who live among enormous bats, rats, cockroaches, and spiders. Gregor soon learns that this is where his father went when he went missing more than two years prior, and immediately sets off on a quest to find him. Coincidentally, this all matches up with an old prophecy, the fulfillment of which drives much of the story. It was a decent adventure story and I plan on reading the next book in the series, but the world itself didn’t grab me as much as I’d expected it to. I had a lot of trouble picturing the surroundings for some reason. I did, however, appreciate the way a bunch of relatively overused story elements (underground cities, prophecies, rescues) came together in surprising ways. I liked how you could never be quite sure who to believe. Hopefully the next one is similarly unpredictable.

A note on the audio: Boehmer read the “geographic voices” quotes in Don’t Know Much about Geography by Kenneth C. Davis, which I wouldn’t have even noticed except that I just listened to it. Just a strange coincidence.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore (unabridged audiobook read by Chris Henry Coffey; 8.25 hrs on 7 discs): When his father has a stroke, Ephraim’s family moves to Maine to live in his ancestral home, a place called the Water Castle because his family used to bottle the local spring water and sell it. The town of Crystal Springs is full of unusually talented people, which makes Ephraim feel even more out of place. Soon, however, he begins to suspect there is something strange going on in his family’s home. With the help of some new friends, he investigates a legacy that goes back more than a century. Tied into all this are the North Pole expeditions of Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, and Frederick Cook. This mix of fantasy and history and mysterious old houses is right up my alley. I liked this story as an adult, but I would have loved it in middle school. I was forever hoping for secret passages and magical relics to uncover. The story took a little bit to really get going, and the ending was a little abrupt (without technically leaving anything hanging), but otherwise it was a lovely little tale.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris: On the spine of my copy, this book is categorized as “fantasy/mystery.” Which is only partially true. I mean, sure, there are a few murders to be solved but mostly it’s about what it’s like to date a vampire. Sookie is a telepathic waitress with the reputation of being crazy because she has trouble blocking out the continual chatter of other people’s thoughts. I appreciated this little detail, actually – usually telepathic characters have to actively read people’s thoughts, as opposed to being constantly bombarded by them. Her life is turned upside down when a sexy vampire shows up in her tiny town and acquaintances start turning up dead. It’s a quick and mostly entertaining read, and while I am mildly curious about the vampire politics only hinted at in this volume, I feel no desire to continue on with the series. It didn’t draw me in enough: I wasn’t emotionally invested enough in the characters to care who committed the murders, and I’m honestly not all that interested in Sookie’s love life. But I can still see the appeal to fans of “paranormal romance” and “romantic suspense”, and it’s always nice to expand my pop culture lexicon a little bit.

Side note: this book is about a psychic woman who falls in love with a vampire and/because his are the only thoughts she cannot hear. Twilight is about a psychic vampire who falls in love with a human woman and/because hers are the only thoughts he cannot hear. Both include love triangles involving shapeshifters. Both have protagonists who lose their virginity to vampires. I’m not accusing anyone of plagiarism; it’s just a weird set of coincidences.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz: Once Upon a Time, all fairy tales were connected. That’s the long and the short of this book, which follows the lives of Hansel and Gretel from their parents’ first meeting through the gingerbread house and beyond. I wasn’t familiar with any of the tales besides the classic gingerbread house, but they were all told like regular fairy tales, with things happening in threes and characters not having names and things like that. What makes this memorable, though, are the constant interruptions by the narrator to comment, explain, or (most often) warn of/apologize for the violence. The original Grimm tales were pretty bloody, and while this book leaves nothing out, it doesn’t dwell on the gore either. If you like fairy tales you’ll probably enjoy this one, but be sure to heed the narrator when he tells you to make sure there aren’t any little children around for certain parts. That said, older children would probably get a kick out of it.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld: We might call them vampires, but in Cal’s world, they’re called “parasite positives,” or peeps. They have similar symptoms: an aversion to sunshine and other familiar things, a thirst for blood, an affinity for rats, that sort of thing. Shortly after starting college in New York City, Cal spends the night with a woman and winds up a carrier of the disease himself – all the special powers without the nasty side-effects – and is later recruited to help hunt down all the women he’s infected. The idea of vampirism-as-disease is not new, but I’d never seen it done quite like this before. Every other chapter is about real-life parasites, so if you’re squeamish about such things, you probably want to skip those parts. Personally, I found it all fascinating (if a bit stomach-churning at points), and I enjoyed Cal’s adventures as a peep hunter as well – like many of Westerfeld’s characters, he’s quite likable. I’m looking forward to the sequel, as the story is clearly ramping up to something big.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

Reckless by Cornelia Funke (unabridged audiobook read by Elliot Hill; 6.75 hrs on 6 discs): I had a little trouble getting into this one. Jacob and Will’s father disappears through a magic mirror when they’re children, and Jacob spends most of the rest of his life making trips to the Mirrorworld to search for him. At some point Will joins him and is attacked by the Goyl, a race of stone beings who can cause men to turn into them. Will’s skin begins turning to jade, and Jacob – with the aid of Will’s girlfriend, Jacob’s werefox friend, and an unfriendly dwarf – sets off to find a cure for this supposedly incurable affliction. In the meantime, the Goyl are deeply interested in finding Will, as the famed jade-skinned Goyl is supposed to fulfill a prophecy. The Mirrorworld is an interesting mixture of classic fairy tales and other more unusual fantasy elements, brought together in a realm that is both familiar and quite new. I hope to give the next book in the series a try. Funke’s Inkheart trilogy started quite slow but the latter two volumes were un-put-downable so I have high hopes for this one. The world and characters are quite promising, and there is clearly quite a lot more of the story waiting to be told.

A note on the audio: Hill was fine, but for some reason I found his voice entirely too easy to tune out.

Obstacles by Chris Reardon

Obstacles by Chris Reardon: Alcott is a doctor providing live-in care for a terminally ill boy to whom he forms a deep attachment. When he is given the opportunity to save the boy’s life in exchange for his own, he accepts and is then whisked to a fantasy realm where he and others in his same situation must pass a certain number of challenges to earn the right to perform the life exchange. The plot is more or less what you’d expect, though I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of the twists.

Alcott is quite the chatty narrator. He shares his every thought and emotion, often multiple times. The whole thing reads like a teenager with a thesaurus who found inspiration while on vacation in Florida. Everyone acts like a teenager, their reactions strangely amplified. People aren’t pleased; they’re ecstatic. Irritation becomes fury. Nervous becomes terrified. Everything is the most superlative it’s ever been, and everyone’s always yelling, yelping, or wailing.

In short, I think this book was published too soon: it needed to go through another few rounds of edits first.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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