Ashes of Twilight by Kassy Tayler

10634286Why I Read It: I like reading about confined folks who got issues, whether it’s in space or under a dome on ruined Earth.

Where I Got It: From the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are a fan of Logan’s Run and YA, then this book has a lot for you.

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: AudioGO (2012)

Length: 9 hours 25 minutes

Series: Book 1 Ashes

I grew up with Logan’s Run, first the movie and then the series. There were many things I liked about them, including the characters’ needs to live beyond their assigned roles and years. Ashes of Twilight captures that same feel, but without being a duplicate of this classic. Set under a large dome somewhere in Wales, UK over what once was a large coal deposit, Wren MacAvoy struggles to fit in, to make her grandfather proud, and to unravel the hidden reasons for a friend’s death. As a coal miner, next to the lowest of the low in this structured society, she is shunned in most public places above ground and people of her status rarely marry outside of their class. And indeed, their world is very set, having existed under a dome for several generations after a world calamity made the surface unlivable.

With that set up, Kassy Tayler leads us into her world, bit by bit through Wren’s eyes. Indeed, this was one of the things I enjoyed about the writing: the story showed me Wren’s world instead of telling it to me. At 16, she and a few other young friends feel the need to stretch their wings and push for something more. One long-lived question in their lives has been what is beyond the dome wall? Alex challenges the status quo and ends up dead, his last words being, ‘The sky is blue,’ which leads to all sorts of grief and consternation.

Wren has to avoid not only the Filchers (masked folks that will grab a coal miner off the streets), and the city guard, but also her own people’s senior council. Yet she manages to attract the attention of all three plus the city Royals. Indeed, she becomes the focus for the spread of revolution. The intensity and action were sprinkled with Wren’s inner thoughts and concerns, keeping the tension high throughout the book. Along the way, she meets Pace, an aspiring city guard who ends up on the wrong side of a bit of knowledge and needs a place to hide. Young love strikes the both of them. Now, there was really only 1 thing I didn’t care for in this book, and it was the near instant love, yet no sex. Please, a set society trapped under a dome for numerous generations is going to have birth control freely available, or it would have collapsed due to over population after a few generations. It’s OK to be 16 or 18 and in lust and have that lust turn to friendship , and perhaps more later on.

I really connected with Wren and Pace and even a few of the minor characters. I like the use of animals (cats, canaries, and ponies) throughout the story. While I found it a little convenient that Pace is a super athlete brimming with muscle, a sensitive guy, and has great concern for his mum, I still enjoyed his humor and felt he made a descent counterpoint to Wren and her periodic lack of confidence. The ending gave me mixed feelings, but set up the reader for Book 2. On one hand, Wren stayed true to her 16-year-old self; on the other hand the larger picture wasn’t considered by Wren and her friends.

Nicola Barber was the perfect choice for this audiobook. She captured Wren’s voice crystal clear and I enjoyed her portrayal of Peggy, Pace, Alex, and the other young folks. Her ‘Royal’ voice was also fitting.

What I Liked: The cover; structured society trapped under a dome; big freaking secret kept from society at large; Wren’s kindness yet she has survival instincts; Pace’s humor; the characters had fears and shortcomings and this made then more real; Tayler’s storytelling is very approachable.

What I Disliked: Instant love yet no sex (not realistic); mixed feelings about the ending.

H. P. Lovecraft’s Book of the Supernatural edited by Stephen Jones

Why I Read It: I have been trying to expand my reading horizons; with this book it was classic horror that I explored.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy classic suspenseful short stories, check this out.

Narrators: Bronson Pinchot, Steven Crossley, Davina Porter

Publisher: AudioGO (2012)

Length: 16 hours 44 minutes

Stephen Jones, the editor, has presented us with an interesting collection of horror genre short stories, spanning decades, hand picked by H. P. Lovecraft. In this book, Lovecraft provided a a short introduction to each story, sharing his thoughts on the tale and the writer. This collection contains some of the biggest names in the genre, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, and Washington Irving, along with others who dabbled in the genre, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Louis Stevenson, among other authors. Through this collection, I could see the evolution of the gothic and macabre storytelling over the decades.

In the last few years I have read a bit of Lovecraft (Early Horror Works which was odd, entertaining, not necessarily scary), Bram Stoker (Dracula was was heightened tension and dread and I quite enjoyed it), Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle were more subtle than I expected but still enjoyable), Rudyard Kipling (Kim was a fascinating tale of India which I didn’t quite get but entertained me anyway), and Arthur Conan Doyle (I’ve always found his Sherlock Holmes to be a bit predictable and the endings to be abrupt). So going into this book, I had some preconceived notions of what I was in for. Oooops.

Let me be honest. I wanted to fall in love with this genre that has been around since campfire ghost stories were invented through this book. But I didn’t. At first, I thought perhaps it was just a few of the earlier tales, where all the women are considered somewhat hysterical or silly and need to be protected and rescued. I moved through each story, waiting for that jewel that would be the door into the rest of the book and hence the whole field of the horror genre. Yet the stories overall remained predictable, with the main characters going about normal day to day activities until they glimpse something unusual which is chocked up to fatigue, silliness, perhaps insanity, and usually ending in a way that left so many questions unanswered that the story was not very satisfying.

With that said, if you are already in love with this genre, then you should check this collection out. I found Lovecraft’s introduction to each story to be the most fascinating part of the book – his reasons for choosing each tale, his own fascination or appreciation of the author. It was definitely worth my time to find out that this genre probably won’t be one of my big book loves in life.

The narrators provided an excellent variety in voices for the short stories. I sometimes stay clear of audio short story collections if there is only a single narrator, as I find it difficult to move from tale to tale with the same voice. Several times in this collection, the tale called for a believable scream or hysterical outburst and the narrators did not disappoint.

What I Liked: Lovecraft’s introductions to each story; the variety collected in one book; the audio production itself was well done.

What I Disliked: Overall, the stories were predictable; the ladies were silly or hysterical and needed manly protection or assistance; many of the endings were left so open-ended that they were not satisfying.

As part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, I am going to count this book as horror. This event is still going strong until the end of October, so feel free to hop over there and join the fun.

Emperor: The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: It’s the conclusion to a much enjoyed series.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are into ancient Roman history, Julius Caesar era, then this is a great series for you.

Narrator: Paul Blake

Publisher: AudioGO (2009)

Length: 15 hours 22 minutes

Series: Emperor Book 4

The Gods of War picks up right where The Field of Swords leaves off: Pompey has set himself against Caesar. Pompey has seniority, the Senate backing him, Caesar’s daughter for a wife, and, he believes, the will of the Gods. Caesar has his Gaul battle-hardened troops and a good grasp of the effective use of propaganda. Conn Iggulden spent the bulk of this book on the conflict between these two powerful men and how it nearly tore Rome apart. Julius must live through the betrayal of one of his generals; Iggulden portrayed the motivations and character of both sides in that conflict. I truly enjoyed listening to the author’s rendition of how this bit of history unfolded. Pompey and the Senate flee Rome for Greece, where Caesar must follow, leaving Mark Antony in charge in Rome.

The conflict brings the two Roman armies to blood. Octavian, a young relative of Caesar, is given his chance to show his ability at commanding men in battle and his skill shines through. It was good to see Octavian become a man in this last installment in the series. The conflict eventually spreads to the shores of Egypt, to which about the last quarter of the book was dedicated. Due to the fascination with Cleopatra, this may be the most well-known episode of Caesar’s life (remember that Elizabeth Taylor film?). Julius actually took a holiday in Egypt, for roughly 6 months, traveling the Nile, sightseeing, and most likely bedding the young ruler of Egypt. They eventually had an offspring, which raised all sorts of conflict back home in Rome, to which Julius had to eventually return.

If you ever watched or read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or the more recent HBO series Rome, then you know how this story ends. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who missed out on this classic story, but I will say that I was very satisfied with the book. I felt that the motivations, fears, hopes, and desires of all the main characters were well laid out, giving the reader a very plausible rendition of how and why history fell out the way it did.

Paul Blake provided a decisive and strong voice for Julius Caesar. I also appreciated that he used the Latin pronunciation for the Roman names (such as using the ‘w’ sound for names spelled with a ‘v’). However, I sometimes could not tell when he was using his feminine voice and would have to pay extra attention to the dialogue to track when Cleopatra or another female was speaking.

What I Liked: I have long been fascinated with this period in history and I was well satisfied with this author’s rendition of it; the internal conflict of those who love yet envy Caesar was well portrayed; the battles, while detailed, were not overly gory.

What I Disliked: I would have liked to hear more about Mark Antony and why he was so favored by Caesar; the ladies were few and had limited roles and unfortunately limited depth in this series.