Review: The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

Review:

dispatcher

My original The Dispatcher audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

 

John Scalzi is an author that’s been in my to-read pile for a while, but I somehow have been unable to get around to reading his work. Thankfully, he and Audible teamed up to produceThe Dispatcher, an audiobook that runs a bit shy of two and a half hours, and which fit nicely into my daily commute.

Scalzi presents a world much like our own in The Dispatcher, with one crucial difference – people who are murdered or who die of unnatural causes automatically come back to life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher. His job is to intervene in a moment of crisis. Say somebody gets hit by a car or is about to die on the operating table. Tony’s job is to kill them in a humane fashion so they can come back to life and get another chance. There are loopholes, of course, because aren’t there always? And some of these loopholes are what drags Tony into a police investigation of another Dispatcher who has gone missing.

This premise of a world where murder is largely impossible is certainly an intriguing one, and it makes for a highly effective, attention-grabbing MacGuffin. While the mystical or theological elements undergirding the premise are inexplicable and unexplained, the effect this odd, new state of being has on the world and daily life is well rendered.

The investigation into the missing Dispatcher is well written, and poses plenty of questions, most of which the author approaches directly and satisfactorily. The real star, though, is Zachary Quinto’s narration. Although he’s best known for his roles in Star Trek and Heroes, this dude can truly and utterly perform a book reading in spectacular fashion. He inhabits the role of Valdez nicely, and demonstrates a wide range of voice talent in tackling the other characters, as well. While the story alone is great, Quinto elevates the material to the next level with his narration. As expected from Audible Studios, the sound quality and production values are top-notch.

The Dispatcher is free through Audible until Nov. 2, 2016, making this a very low-risk investment if you act fast, and one that presents wonderful returns for the price. On his blog, Scalzi noted this freebie is a thank you to his and Audible’s audience, as well as a nice enticement to draw in new readers and listeners. As someone who falls into this latter category, The Dispatcher is certainly a terrific incentive to lure me deeper into Scalzi’s backlist. I may even have to reshuffle a few commitments so I can get one or two more of his titles in before year’s end.

 

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Review: The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

Review: Kill Baxter by Charlie Human (Audiobook)

Review:

kill_baxter

My original KILL BAXTER audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

After saving the world in Apocalypse Now Now, sixteen-year-old Baxter Zevcenko is off to school at Hexpoort to begin his training in magical abilities for recruitment into the ultra-secretive MK6. Unfortunately for Baxter, it’s not going to be a very easy semester… MK6 agents are winding up dead, and rebellion is fermenting within the community of The Hidden thanks to the work of the mysterious Muti Man. Oh, and Baxter has to endure the bullying of The Chosen One who thinks Baxter may have stolen his thunder by doing battle with an interdemensional villain last time around. Hexpoort is, after all, high school, even with a militaristic boot camp bent.

Kill Baxter is seriously entertaining stuff, with a number of laugh-out-loud moments. There’s a passing similarity to the Harry Potter series, as Baxter is a smart and gifted young man, but imminently more foul-mouthed, manipulative, aggressive, and sarcastic than that Hogwart’s fellow. And his best friend is a violent alcoholic. So, yeah, there’s that. Although Baxter is making a conscious effort at being a better man and attending a pornography addiction anonymous group, it’s his battles against the Muti Man that will prove to be the most challenging aspect of his journey toward self-discovery.

Returning to narrate is David Atlas, whose performance I enjoyed quite a bit. He brings a terrific amount of effort to the production, and voices Baxter exceedingly well. He also gives the secondary characters their own unique voices and inflections without hitting any false notes. My only complaint is that there were often some strangely long pauses throughout the narrative, section breaks not withstanding. I often thought Atlas was giving us breathing room between section breaks within a chapter, only to discover he was taking a break between paragraphs. It was a bit jarring, but thankfully this didn’t occur too often during dialogue exchanges. Still, it was enough to make me speed up the play-through, and I found that listening to this audiobook at 1.25X was preferable.

As far as the writing goes, Charlie Human has a terrific voice and puts some interesting spins on his passages. I couldn’t help but smile when one character finally admitted that positive thinking just wasn’t his thing, and a particular sewer monster that figures into the book’s climax was well and nastily rendered. The Baxter books are clearly becoming a series that I’ll be sticking with for the long-haul, and Human introduces a few story threads in Kill Baxter that are clearly setting up a much larger story for the next book. The hints we’re given here have me itching for quite a lot more, and I can only hope that the wait isn’t too long.

 

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

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Review: Kill Baxter by Charlie Human (Audiobook)

Review: Javelin Rain by Myke Cole

Review:

Javelin_Rain

Myke Cole’s Gemini Cell was one of my favorite reads last year, so I was looking forward to Javelin Rain with a lot of excitement.

These two books comprise the opening gambit of a new trilogy that serves as a prequel to Cole’s Shadow Ops series (which I haven’t read, but since these are prequels they’re as good as place as any to start, I think), and like a number of middle entries, Javelin Rain struggles as its own entity. It has to continue the story began in Gemini Cell of Jim Schweitzer, an undead SEAL who has been resurrected by a secret cabal within the US military, and picks up literally seconds after the last page of the prior book. It also has to tell a story that progresses the overarching narrative without providing too much in the way of resolution (because that’s what book three in a trilogy is for!) while also serving as a satisfying entry in its own right.

Cole adheres to these points fairly solidly, but Javelin Rain gets a bogged down in its own elements. As a middle entry, it lacks the freshness of discovery the prior book possessed, and as a reader I’m no longer thrust into exciting, unfamiliar territory but instead get a lot of the same elements I was already familiar with. This book is basically Schwietzer On The Run In The Forest, and its a scenario that occupies a lot of pages. A side plot introduces Dadou, a new sorcerer inducted into the Gemini squad to kick up their capabilities a notch, and she’s a pretty cool character tasked with working alongside Jawid, resident Binder of souls to corpses. There relationship helps make Jawid a more interesting character here as Cole explores the depth of his religious fervor and the mental brainwashing of his faith.

Mostly, though, this book just lacked the excitement and freshness I found in last year’s novel. The action wasn’t quite as exciting, although Cole delivers a few welcome surprises here and there and lays out enough details to inch us toward the big finish in book three. If Gemini Cell was great (and I thought it was), then Javelin Rain is merely good. It’s readable, and leaves the characters in an interesting place, but it lacks energy. Still, I’m on-board for the long haul, even with slightly dampened enthusiasm.

 

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Review: Javelin Rain by Myke Cole

Review: Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human (Audiobook)

Review:

apocalypse now now

My original APOCALYPSE NOW NOW audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

 

Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now is a wonderfully trippy and complex work of South African urban fantasy. The plotting is labyrinthine, drawing in a number of details that make this world feel rather expansive – there’s a serial killer dubbed The Mountain Man, who leaves a third eye carved into his victim’s foreheads, high school gang wars and underground criminal enterprises, family trouble, and concerns over psychological health – all on top of a healthy dose of supernatural elements. In short, there’s a lot going on here, and plenty to keep this listener supremely interested.

Apocalypse Now Now is the first-person account of Baxter Zevcenko, an egotistical high schooler and self-styled entrepreneur who heads up an illicit ring of pornography distribution catering to the whims of his classmates. He’s a complete holier-than-thou know-it-all, but after his girlfriend, Esme, is abducted by The Mountain Man, Baxter’s search for her leads him deep into the rabbit hole of Cape Town’s paranormal underbelly, and an education that is a far, far cry from the exploits of his typical school day. Baxter is far from loveable, and, in fact, is an outright jerk and oftentimes openly hostile. Human uses this first-person account to tremendous effect, though, particularly as Baxter begins to realize he is not actually at the center of the universe and that the world is quite larger than he ever believed possible. There’s a good bit of personal growth for this smarmy boy and his personal reflections shine through in the first-person narration that might have otherwise been lost in a less focused narrative style.

When Apocalypse Now Now crossed my path, I had figured it would be a fun bit of urban fantasy, and while it definitely is that, I found myself surprised and pleased to discover a story that was much deeper, and much richer, than I had first expected. Throughout the book, Baxter is confronted with the symbol of an octopus, and this is a terrific thematic symbol for the book itself – there’s a lot of complex story tentacles weaving their way through the book. One of the most interesting aspects is the South African mythology and folklore Human puts on display, putting tokoloshes and Mantis gods right at the forefront, which is a welcome relief from the usual zombie and vampire fare that typically dominates American urban fantasy. And while Human does present a fair share of zombies here, they are quite a bit different than the customary undead brain eaters.

Bringing Baxter and his Cape Town locale to life is David Atlas, whose narration is spot-on and wonderfully immersive with a South African accent. He brings distinct voices to the cast, making it rather easy to separate which segments of dialogue belong to which characters – you’ll never be at a loss to tell if Baxter is speaking, or if it’s Ronin, the gruff ex-soldier turned supernatural bounty hunter hired by Zevcenko to help him find Esme. A few times, the narrative is disrupted to shift viewpoints to a female character with interesting historical ties to Baxter, and these segments are narrated by Fiona Hardingham. Her accounts are also expertly handled, and confined strictly to her viewpoint, as if relayed from a journal. Hardingham does a great job with the material, and I wish she had more material to work with; unfortunately, her character only makes a few brief appearances in the book. Atlas and Hardingham make this 10 1/2 hours of listening silky smooth, though, and do a sterling job adapting Human’s words to audiobook form.

Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com

 

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Review: Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human (Audiobook)

Review: Lustlocked (A Sin du Jour Affair Book 2) by Matt Wallace

Review:

Lustlocked

Lustlocked is the second installment in Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour Affair series, which revolves around a New York catering company that caters to the supernatural elements of society.

In the previous book, Envy of Angels, the chefs and crew hosted a diplomatic dinner sponsored by a secret government agency in an effort to stave off war between two demonic groups. Lustlocked picks up on the heels of that event, as the company prepares to host a grand goblin wedding under the supervision of the Goblin King.

Yes, that Goblin King. In a fitting and sadly timely homage, Wallace gives us yet one more avenue to prove the immortality of David Bowie’s lasting legacy. Although at the time of Wallace’s writing, Bowie was alive and well, and expected to remain so for quite some time. It’s a sad fluke that Lustlocked just so happens to have released on heels of Mr. Bowie’s death from cancer. This is, however, a wonderfully befitting bit of fan service toward not only Bowie’s iconic character from the film Labyrinth, but of the iconic performer himself. It’s a pleasure getting to “see” the King once more.

As with Envy of Angels and the short story, Small Wars, which acts an inbetweenquel, Lustlocked doses out the humor, providing a keen edge to the affairs and preventing the seriousness of the story from delving deeply in the morose and macabre. While preparing for the grandiose wedding of the goblin prince and his human bride-to-be, some shady bit of spell-casting goes wildly awry and leaves the human guests transformed into horny lizard creatures that threaten to hump to death the entire guest list.

Again, these books are crafted to be sheer entertainment, and Wallace maneuvers a peculiar tightrope with aplomb. This story could have drifted precariously into dark meanness, or perhaps a bit of weirdo erotica, but Wallace averts those traps and sticks to the fun and fantastical side of things, first and foremost. There’s a certain Buffy The Vampire Slayer but for Netflix vibe here that I find really appealing. He also gives his characters brief moments to shine and continues to flesh out his cast in interesting ways, right up to its sucker-punch finale.

I am now feeling the long, heavy weight of the intervening months between now and June, when the third installment releases. I think it’d be a sin to miss what comes next.

 

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Review: Lustlocked (A Sin du Jour Affair Book 2) by Matt Wallace

Review: Small Wars (A Sin du Jour Affair Story) by Matt Wallace

Review:

Small Wars: A Tor.Com Original (A Sin du Jour Affair) - Matt Wallace

SMALL WARS is a short story set in author Matt Wallace’s fresh, new Sin du Jour series. In ENVY OF ANGELS we were introduced to the culinary crew manning the lines and concocting crazy creations for the Sin du Jour catering company, and got a good glimpse at the adventures of the procurement team responsible for tracking down the rare ingredients necessary to feed demonic hordes.

SMALL WARS gives us a larger look at the procurement team, headed up by Ritter, as his band of recipe-minded mercenaries take a hop across the pond and venture into the abandoned mines of Scotland in search for gold. When they run afoul of some tiny adversaries, things go south quick.

At less than 40 pages, this story is a rapid-fire read, and it continues on in the lighthearted, good-natured tone of Wallace’s prior Sin du Jour novel. It’s comical and action-packed, never taking itself too seriously while still maintaining a peculiar and respectful sensibility. The best part is that it gives readers a deeper insight into the men and women that make Sin du Jour run, treating us to snippets of each crew’s history and how they were recruited by Ritter. Fun stuff! This story serves to give a bit more depth to Wallace’s world, filling in some of the gaps in character narratives while we wait for book 2, LUSTLOCKED, to drop in a few days.

If you enjoyed ENVY OF ANGELS, or are looking for a small taste of what this series is about, SMALL WARS is a fine place to begin.

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Review: Small Wars (A Sin du Jour Affair Story) by Matt Wallace

Review: Envy of Angels (A Sin du Jour Affair, Book 1) by Matt Wallace

Review:

envy_of_angels_matt_wallace_tor_book_cover

Darren and Lena are the newest chefs to join Sin Du Jour, a highly exclusive catering company with a highly unusual clientele. Overseen by a Michelin award winner, Sin Du Jour operates on government contract to host diplomatic banquets for – wait for it – demons! Their latest dinner service involves a unique ingredient, and the chefs are the only thing standing against all-out war between two rival gangs of Hell’s finest.

Envy of Angels is a quick, breezy, and very entertaining read. It’s also one of the most unique urban fantasies I’ve read in some time. Although Chuck Wendig’s Mookie Pearl was a tough foodie, Wallace’s crew are all about working the line and getting their hands dirty with flour and an array of other, far more mystical, ingredients. Think Anthony Bourdain by way of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

There’s a rich vein of humor running throughout, despite a subject matter could delve deeply into the darkness. Although a sequence in which the Sin Du Jour Procurement team attempt a heist to steal a fast food chain’s secret recipe carries a richly macabre undercurrent, Wallace still finds the humor in a highly off-the-wall scenario. The tone, at all times, is kept as light as puff pastry.

What really caught my attention, though, were the flashes of insight toward Wallace’s world-building. Sin du Jour and the reality it operates in are subjects I want to read and learn more about. I want to get deeper insight into the government agency that employs them, and the demonic cultures they feed. This is only the first book in what looks to be a long-term project for Wallace, but I’m already supremely captivated even if, at times, this book feels more like an appetizer of things to come, rather than a fully satisfying entree that left me stuffed. But, I’m OK with that simply because this story was a heck of a lot to read. It also helps knowing that the second book, Lustlocked, comes out on Tuesday, because I’m definitely ready for another serving.

 

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Review: Envy of Angels (A Sin du Jour Affair, Book 1) by Matt Wallace