My Top 10 Audiobooks of 2014

8 01 2015

In the past, I used to offer my favorite 20 audiobooks of the year. This, of course, when I was listening to nearly 200 audiobooks a year. In 2014, I listened to maybe 80-90 audiobooks in total, and the idea of doing a top 20 seemed ridiculous. So, instead, I offer you my 10 favorite audiobooks(with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure.). Despite the lower number, my choices were quite hard. I think 2014 was a great year for apocalyptic fiction and my list definitely reflects that.

Choosing my favorite audiobook of the year incredibly hard. I knew it would come down to a battle between two novels. One was a simply mind blowing exploration of Post Apocalyptic fiction. For me, I thought Station Eleven was brilliant, and worked on so many levels. Mandel’s ability to blend together multiple storylines with a menagerie of complex and wonderful characters creating one of the most vivid and fascinating entries into post apocalyptic fiction I have experienced in some time easily made it perhaps the best book I listened to in 2014. Yet, I didn’t have more fun listening to any book as a did Daniel Price’s The Flight of the Silvers. I went back and forth on my decision, but in the end I decided this isn’t a “Best of”list but a favorites list, and he book I enjoyed the most this year, by a hair was The Flight of the Silvers.

Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Read by Rich Orlow

Recorded Books

I should note that not was it my favorite Audiobook, but perhaps my best review of the year.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Read by Kirsten Potter

Random House Audio

Code Zero (Joe Ledger, Bk. 6) by Jonathon Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

What list would be complete without the latest entry of the Joe Ledger series. What makes Code Zero so amazing is how Maberry brings together so much of the series into one book. While it’s book 6 of the series, it is also the direct sequel to Patient Zero and proves why Maberry is the Zombie king.

My Review

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Read by Peter Kenny

Hachette Audio

I loved Harry August. I mean, this book was right in my wheelhouse, like Replay and Life After Life, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a tale of one person living their life over and over. Yet, despite the apocalyptic tone of the novel, it is full of whismy and dark British humor that makes it a unique experience. 

My Review

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Read by Cassandra Campbell

Harper Audio

Bird Box is simply the scariest book of the year. And while there be monsters, Malerman let’s the monsters in your own head fill out the details. Bird Box also benefits from the wonderful performance of Cassandra Campbell. Chilling and wicked.

 

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Read by Josh Cohen

Random House Audio

Any other year, this would have been a contended for best book of the year. It’s an emotional exploration of one man’s character, while dealing with the death of one world, and the creation of another. I loved how Faber created a unapologetic, authentic Christian character who was, while at times frustrating and naïve, a good man. Josh Cohen’s narration was my favorite performance of the year. If you have only read this book, I encourage you to take some time and be mesmerized by a simply amazing performance which is the perfect example of how a narrator can enhance the experience of a book.

 

California by Edan Lepucki

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

On the surface, California seems like your typical Young Adult Dystopian set up, but Lepucki strips away all the clichés and creates a disturbing yet enthralling look at societal breakdown and counter culture movements. California explores the nature of humanity, yet also manages to tell a darn good story.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Read by Finty Williams

Hachette Audio

So, you don’t like zombies? The Girl with All the Gifts may cure you of that unfortunate ailment. Carey once again shows that the undead are not simply the bloated corpse of a one trick pony, but a medium that offers much potential exploration. While good zombie tales are about delicious brains and entrails, great ones are about what it means to be human.

The Three by Sarah Lotz

Read by Andrew Wincott and Melanie McHugh

Hachette Audio

The Three was a novel that often managed to mesmerize me and frustrate me at the same time. Like Bird Box, The Three worked by using your own brain against you. Lotz asks open ended questions, and allowed the twisted brains of her readers to fill in the blanks. This made The Three fascinating to me, because each reader brings their own nightmares into the tale making the experience unique to them.

The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman

Read by Christopher Buehlman

Blackstone Audio

I almost didn’t listen to The Lesser Dead, because, well, meh vampires… and it was read by the author. Well, fucking A Vampires and perhaps the best Author narration I have ever hear. The main character, Joey Peacock, was one of my favorite characters of the year, and if the book ended with your typical horror story bloodbath ending I still would have loved it. But it didn’t and well… wow. Great surprising novel.

My 2014 Honorable Mentions

 

Defenders by Will McIntosh

The only reason Defenders didn’t make my top 10 Audiobooks, is because it’s not available in audio, which is a travesty. Defenders was easily my favorite print read of the year. McIntosh took pulp fiction to a new level. His economy of word created stunning imagery that defies logic.

Favorite Binge Listen:

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive , Bk. 2) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer & Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

So, for someone who is a bit hesitant to take on Epic Fantasies, binge listening to 100 hours of epic fantasy was a daunting task. But Dammit, The Stormlight Archives are everything I love about fantasy including stuff I didn’t realize I loved about fantasy.

Here are some of my other favorites of the year.





Audiobook Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

12 11 2013

Parasite (Parasitology, Bk. 1) by Mira Grant

Read by Christine Lakin

Hachette Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Science Fiction/Horror

Quick Thoughts: In Parasite, Mira Grant takes a bizarre concept and makes it horrifically realistic through well researched science. Full of fascinating concepts, wonderful characters and plenty of dark humor, Parasite is a truly compelling listen.

Grade: A-

In the start of a new series, Mira Grant once again blends genres, taking a concept that seems almost bizarre on its face, grounding it well researched and surprisingly realistic science creating a scenario that is more horrific than traditional supernatural horror. While the story is utterly unique, Grant revisits many themes that made her Newsflesh series stand out, skewed family dynamics, untraditional romantic bonds, a society that adapts to drastic scientific change and characters that break away from norms in delightful ways. In PARASITE, a revolutionary change in health management, developed as a responsive to the Hygiene Hypothesis, has genetically engineered Tapeworms controlling and monitoring the health of individuals. Sally Mitchell received one of the top of the line, early prototypes of the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard, due to her father’s high level position as a Government Scientist. After an accident that leaves her seemingly brain dead, Sally miraculously recovers, despite a nearly total loss of memory. Now, Sally must undergo regular testing by SymboGen, as well as her parent’s obsessive protective care, while she attempts to live a normal life. When a strange sickness begins to affect some with the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard, Sally finds herself pulled between her family, the man she loves, and the shady company that may have saved her life.

It’s no surprise that based on the concepts of potentially sentient tapeworms that I would absolutely love this book. Well, I did, for many reasons. Mira Grant has become the closest thing to the modern day Stephen King for me, and author who manages to thrill and horrify me on a consistent basis. What surprised me most about Parasite wasn’t the well written action, the fascinating science, or the mind numbing high concept plot, it was the humor that Grant infused throughout the novel. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Grant’s novel managed to elicit several inappropriate laugh out loud public moments for me. Sally Mitchell as a character was fascinating, but also managed to be a bit awkward and frustrating at points. Unlike Georgia from the Newsflesh series, while Sally was impressive and strong in her own way, she was quite naive, and even at times whiny. Yet, Grant filled out her cast with characters that balanced Sally out. Grants characterizations are superb, and the number of memorable, crazy, yet fully fleshed out characters was impressive. I love how every relationship in this book is pushed in interesting ways. Sally’s unique relationships with her family, boyfriend, coworkers and even the scientists at SymboGen are not just peripherals of the series, but informed the story in wonderful ways. While I loved Parasite, it wasn’t the perfect novel. It suffered a bit from being the obvious first book in a series. While many questions are answered, the story didn’t have the feeling of being a self contained story that Feed, the first Newsflesh book, managed to have. The big reveal at the end of Parasite was only truly a surprise to the main character. Yet, despite this lack of closure and the telegraphed twist, Grant does a lot with this story and does it well. I’m quite excited to see where this story goes. Again, Grant has created a wonderful world, which offers her plenty of places to play in, and I for one really enjoy watching Mira Grant play.

This is my first experience with Christine Lakin as narrator, and she did an excellent job with the story. Lakin found the right balance between strength and self doubt that peppers Sally’s personality. She read Sally with a quiet strength that was almost stoic at times, allowing the moments of emotional flair to have more impact on the listener. You could just feel Lakin having fun as she voiced Tansy, one of the more colorful characters of the series. She captured the comic absurdity of the character without turning her into a cartoon character. He pacing was brisk yet smooth, allowing the action to push the narrative without being forced. At times some of the lesser characters came of a bit cardboard, but the more colorful standout characters in the book truly came alive in Lakin’s hands. Mira Grant continues to impress me, and I will be waiting trepidatiously yet with growing childish glee for the next entry in this series,





Audiobook Review: Roads Less Traveled: The Plan by C. Dulaney

14 05 2012

Roads Less Traveled: The Plan by C. Dulaney

Read by Elisabeth Rodgers

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 9 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Roads Less Traveled: The Plan is a realistic, accessible Zombie thriller that can easily bridge the gap between fans of the darker, Permuted Press Zombie style and those younger fans who were introduced to Zombie fiction through authors like Ilsa J Bick and Amanda Hocking. Dulaney reminded me that with strong characters, deft plotting and well drawn action, the classic zombie survival tales can seem as fresh as when I first opened the pages of The Rising.

Grade: B+

As much of a lover of zombie fiction as I am, I do not have a Zombie plan. Sure, I probably should have some sort of game plan in place when one of the many apocalyptic scenarios decided to fall upon my world. The problem is, I’m a normal, lower middle class guy living in the death trap of suburban sprawl. Heck, I don’t even live in the nice, more isolated suburban areas, but right smack up against the 5th largest city in the country.  Oh, to make matters even better, I live in a smallish ground floor apartment, surrounded by plenty of people who when they become ravenous flesh hungry skin jobs, will have no problems smashing through one of the many man sized windows to enter my apartment and find a Bob-sized snack. So, if by some stroke of luck, I can find a way of getting to my vehicle, parked a good couple of football fields away, down a narrow sidewalk, then I’d probably end up in the congested traffic trying to flee this area. Now, luckily, we have plenty of major highways connecting in this area, to bleed off a lot of the traffic, and I am quite familiar with the back roads of my area. So, maybe I have a shot, but a plan. Nope. What plans can a guy who lives in the suburban sprawl, with a bad knee, who has never fired a gun, nor is a highly trained ninja, pirate or masked dark knight really make, besides bugging out and hoping to find someone capable to take care of me, and kill all the pesky undead trying to eat my tasty flesh. 

I’ll be honest, I never was really sure I wanted to listen to Roads Less Traveled: The Plan. Did I really want to spend 10 hours listening to some rural resident talking about their wonderful plan, and scoffing at all us stupid city folks? Because that’s what I expected. I have read quite a few apocalyptic novels where some people fully prepare themselves for the apocalypse and disparage those who didn’t while bragging about their Survivalistic savvy. I had downloaded Roads Less Traveled a while back from Audible, yet it sat there in my library mostly ignored and forgotten. The reason I had considered listening to it was because I had good experiences with the Permuted Press female authors, like Eloise J. Knapp and Jessica Meigs, so I was hoping that trend would continue. So, Zombie Awareness Month has rolled around giving me the motivation to dust off the old digital copy and give it a whirl. Frankly put, I enjoyed the hell out of Road Less Traveled. It’s actually quite hard for me to put my finger on what I liked about it. Dulaney doesn’t really break much new ground here. She combines a lot of different classic Zombie Apocalypse themes, bringing about something that is just a whole lot of fun. Sometimes, in my search for a new and unique twist on the genre, I lose sight of what drew me to these types of stories, then I listen to something like Roads Less Traveled, and I remember. Dulaney tackles the apocalypse with an accessible writing style, a willingness to take some risks and a well developed and interesting female lead. Dulaney shows us the zombie fiction can be dark and realistic without relying solely on viscera, gore and depravity. Kasey is one of the strongest female leads I have encountered, yet she is also unsure of herself and vulnerable. Now, this isn’t a perfect novel, there are some development issues with some of the lesser characters, and a few narrative leaps that left me a bit disoriented, but these quibbles are minor when compared to the many thing done right. Roads Less Traveled: The Plan is a realistic, accessible Zombie thriller that can easily bridge the gap between fans of the darker, Permuted Press Zombie style and those younger fans who were introduced to Zombie fiction through authors like Ilsa J Bick and Amanda Hocking. Dulaney reminded me that with strong characters, deft plotting and well drawn action, the classic zombie survival tales can seem as fresh as when I first opened the pages of The Rising.

Elisabeth Rodgers gives a standout performance in her reading of Roads Less Traveled: The Plan. Rodgers is a new to me narrator, and her performance was one of the reasons I engaged with this title so quickly. Now, I am no experts on accents, so I can’t really say whether it was authentic, but her soft, measured southern tone she gave to Kasey, and the vocal cues she uses made the character really come alive for me. I did have some trouble early on delineating some of the male characters, particularly Zach and Jake, but as they became more defined in the text, I was able to grasp the subtleties of each of their personalities through Rodgers characterizations. Roads Less Traveled: The Plan was an excellent audiobook production and a must listen for hardcore fans of Zombie audiobooks.





Audiobook Review: Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar

1 05 2012

Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar

Read by John Lee

Tantor Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zombiestan, with its international setting, non traditional zombies and fast paced action gives the zombie subgenre a fresh new spin and a novel that I feel can easily appeal to hardcore zombie fans and those new to undead literature. I will definitely be seeking out more of Dhar’s work, as well as broadening the international scope of my zombie reading choices.

Grade: B+

Last year, I got schooled in an interview with Mira Grant. Well, not really schooled in a negative way, just educated. Before reading Feed, I had only really read one Zombie related novel written by a female author. I asked her about that, and she went on to tell me about other female authors writing about zombies. Since that point, I discovered a multitude of female zombie authors and read many, including works by Eloise J. Knapp, Jessica Meigs, Sophie Littlefield and others. Recently, I listened to Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar, and realized that almost all of my Zombie readings and listening have been by American and UK authors and set in those countries. While there is something comforting about a tale being set in places familiar to you, a change of setting can breathe new life into a genre. This is one of the reasons I was instantly drawn to Mainak Dhar’s Zombie Apocalypse novel Zombiestan. As someone who has listen and read a lot of Zombie Apocalypse novels, I am always looking for a new spin that can offer up a new angle on genre. Not that I dislike traditional zombie tales, I just feel mixing up anything, whether it be books, movies, or food, will keep things feeling fresh. I was unfamiliar with Dhar’s work before discovering the upcoming audiobook version on the Tantor website, and it reconfirmed my belief that Tantor is doing an excellent job bringing lesser known, independently published Zombie tales into the audiobook world.

In Zombiestan, Mainak Dhar takes a nontraditional look at the Zombie Apocalypse. After an air strike on a secret meeting of high level Al Qaeda leaders, Taliban soldiers searching through the rubbage get infected with the a strange pathogen. As they begin to travel, they spread the disease, which transforms them into raving animalistic killers. While they very much act like traditional rage zombies they retain some level of organizational memory and cunning. As the devastation ravages through Afghanistan and into India, an American soldier meets up with an aging romance novelist, a young gamer, and a teenage girl with her 2 year old brother. Zombiestan is a fast paced journey across a land full of lawless survivors and raging biters. Dhar uses classic post apocalyptic and zombie scenarios, yet puts an interesting new twist on them to create the rare novel in the genre that just seems fresh. While Dhar is not the first to use the motif of the changing and evolving undead, his biters have an added creepiness factor as they scream "jihad" and set up traps for the survivors. Unlike many zombie novels, the biters are a constant threat, and the survivors find no real safe refuge when they take to the street at nighttime. This constant pressure on the group pushes the tension and adds to the pace. If I had any complaints at all about the novel it’s that often, despite Dhar doing an excellent job developing the bond between the survivors, he felt the need to tell us they were bonding, which was really unnecessary. It seemed like at times he felt unsure he was getting his point across, so he needed to tell us what it was. But he had no cause for concern, because the situations he created for his group and their developing relationships were obvious enough. Dhar even managed to throw in a bit of romance, and made if feel right which is something that is hard to do in a fast paced apocalyptic novel such as this. Zombiestan, with its international setting, non traditional zombies and fast paced action gives the zombie subgenre a fresh new spin and a novel that I feel can easily appeal to hardcore zombie fans and those new to undead literature. I will definitely be seeking out more of Dhar’s work, as well as broadening the international scope of zombie reading choices.

John Lee is one of the top narrators in the business, especially when it comes to world spanning epics, and international casts. Lee brings his command of accents, and excellent pacing to Zombiestan, elevating the text in a way only the best narrators can. Lee captures the creepy feel of the biters, with their screams of “jihad” and ever present danger. Lee never rushes the story, allowing the authors pacing to push the narrative. He brings an organic feel to the dialogue, seamlessly slipping from one accent to another, which cannot be an easy thing to do. One of the reasons I was excited about this novel was that lee would be narrating, and he didn’t let me down at all with his performance. Zombiestan is an early contender for my favorite zombie audiobooks of the year, and one I hope gets the appreciation it deserves. Hopefully this excellent production will help create a new fan base for this promising independent author. 

Note: A special thanks to Tantor Audio for providing me a copy of this title for review.