Audiobook Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

23 03 2017

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependencey Series, Bk. 1) by John Scalzi

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Studios 

Grade: B+

Everyone has that friend who is a bit over-the-top goofy, tries too hard to be clever and fit in with the cool geeks. Maybe they swear too much, or make a joke that’s not quite appropriate for the situation but it’s all a mask for the fact that they are incredibly smart. Well, that’s basically a Scalzi novel. At times, it just feels like he’s trying to hard. Ships named after song lyrics, bad puns, lots of swearing but all of that is just noise distracting you from the fact that The Collapsing Empire is actually a smart, fun science fiction novel. The Collapsing Empire is the start of a series but it’s also a pretty well contained novel on its own that comes to a satisfying conclusion. The characters can be frustrating at times but all find different ways to surprise you. Fans of Scalzi will eat this up, while others will try to make all types of serious literary criticism while not quite managing to suppress a smirk. 

Hey, it’s Wil Wheaton! Rare is the perfect Wil Wheaton performance but there’s just something engaging about his style. Sometimes he emphasizes the wrong word or his voice pitches up into the whiney range. All his female characters feel like they are either 5 or 50, but when Scalzi kicks up the snark Wheaton delivers. You can’t help but enjoy his wry humor and the obvious fun he has while narrating and that makes up for most of his flaws. 

Audiobook Review: Extracted by RR Haywood

23 03 2017

Extracted (Extracted Trilogy, Bk. 1) by RR Haywood

Read by Carl Prekopp

Audible Studios

Grade: B-

So first the positives…

I loved the premise of this novel, Haywood isn’t the first to use the idea historical extractions, hell, Bill and Ted did it to help pass a high school class, but Haywood adds enough of his own little touches to make it work. I like that he didn’t use existing historical figures but created his own characters from different timelines and created them well. His characters may have been built on existing action hero tropes, but those tropes exist for a reason. Haywood’s action scenes were crisp, well choreographed and highly visual. The scenes just popped in your head and kept your heart pounding. Yet, my favorite aspect of the book was the wry, subtle humor. Haywood didn’t go for the easy joke, but used tricks of timing and dialogue. It lightened some of the dark moments of the book, and endeared the characters to the listener. 

The biggest positive of the audiobook for me was the brilliant performance of narrator Carl Prekopp. Where other narrators would have muddled the humor of the novel, Prekopp enhanced it. His comic timing and ability to seamlessly switch from dark moodiness, intense action and witty banter kept the listener engaged even when the story itself sagged. As an American I sometimes struggle with British narrators differentiating characters but with Prekopp his characters were so vivid that this was never an issue. His pacing was fast and furious when needed to be, guiding the listener through intense actions, keeping them invested to the final resolution. It was one of my favorite performances in a while and proof that the right narrator can transform a book from ok to kick ass. 

Now the negatives…

This 12 hour audiobook was 8 hours of awesome broken up by a 4 hour chunk of frustrating. I tend to love those montage scenes of units training together, bonding, becoming a cohesive group yet in Extracted the author made an interesting choice with one of the characters that while understandable and perhaps even, if executed properly, unique enough push the book beyond the typical sci-fi actioner, here it just didn’t work. A large chunk of the book revolved around a character falling into a state of self doubt and depression. While the author did a good job explaining why this happened, it just seemed to get the story bogged down in the mire. I went from feeling emphathy for the character to wanting to punch him repeatedly in the face to get him to stop whining. It felt like the emotional rollercoaster that caregivers go through, symphathy followed by frustration followed by shame. This could have been effective if done differently but it seemed to just drag on, almost making me want to fling the audiobook away and spend the rest of the day listening to Korean pop music. 

My other negative, and part of this is my fault. I should have known this was the first book in a trilogy, but I didn’t and as I got to about hour 10 and realized we were no where close to even thinking about the ultimate resolution of the tale my heart began to sink. There are two kinds of trilogies, a large book cut into three smaller books, and three interlocking tales that have internal plot resolutions but feed into an overarching mythology. Sadly, this was more of the first kind of tale. By the end of the book, there’s no true resolution and you feel no closer to understanding or resolving the underlying issue of the novel. Sure, there were resolutions between the characters, and some anticlimactic reveals but the book was mostly a 12 hour introduction to the players. Despite my issues though, I’m invested enough in these players to be willing to continue the ride. 

Audiobook Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

21 03 2017

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Read by Anna Bentinick, Josie Dunn, Bea Holland, Huw Parmenter 

Macmillan Audio

Grade: B

If you’re planning on reading this book but haven’t yet then don’t read this review. I mean, really, stop now. I’m serious…

You still here? *Shakes Head*

Honestly people, if you’re at all interested in this book, just read it. I can’t promise you’ll love it, but you’ll definitely have a reaction to it. But, reading any review about it will affect you, even one that tries to avoid spoilers because the fact that the potential for spoilers exist is in itself a spoiler. Just one of those literary paradoxes.
So, I didn’t love this book. At times I found it very frustrating. I didn’t like the characters or understand their motivations. The author used a lot of POV tricks which placed the reader in an almost omniscient observer role which while clever also never allowed you the distance from the reality of what was happening to find any character to root for. The weird obsessive love triangle push the boundaries between true love and delusional behavior. Yet, there was something compelling about the story, something simmering underneath the surface that kept you invested. 

Then came the ending.

Here the author is treading dangerous waters. If you truly loved the delusional love triangle story, I think the ending would just piss you off. But, if you found it all frustrating then the ending works. It either destroys the story or saves it, and for me it was a big acrobatic goaltender sports highlight real sort of save. It was shocker that left lots of questions followed by a totally unexpected shocker that answered them. It’s the ending that made the journey and justified all the work that it took you to get there.

Now, the narration. In truth, I didn’t get it. Now, none of the performances where bad, in fact they were all quite good. Yet, what I didn’t get was the use of multiple narrators who, at least to my unrefined American ears, all sounded the same. It’s hard to evaluate because I’m not sure who took on what role or when the narrator changes came. Honestly, if you told me it was all the same narrator I would have been like “Duh, of course it was.” Yet, whoever did whaterever here, it was good.

Audiobook Review: The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel

16 03 2017

The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel

Read by Scott Brick

Podium Publishing

Grade: B+

The Last Tribe is a rare bird of a novel, a book I enjoyed immensely but not sure I would recommend to anyone but the most hardcore of post apocalyptic fans. The Last Tribe is The Stand without the good vs. evil paranormal subplot. It’s devoid of any narrative tension or conflict driven plot. It’s simply a story about normal decent people surviving a nearly complete pandemic without any ideological agenda. It’s is so vanilla it’s nearly translucent. It’s the anti-Walking Dead. You want action… sorry. You need conflict… look elsewhere. You love tales of anti-governmental libertarian preppers whose predictions of the collapsing civilization come true allowing them to play out their survivalist fantasies in an orgy of gunfire, well, maybe keep browsing. Manuel’s take is a bare bones examination of the genre’s roots more in line with Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon  than today’s testosterone drenched hero fantasies. Manuel even jokes on the biggest flaw on much of survival fiction, the almost ridiculous amount of luck survivors would need to actually thrive post apocalypse. The Last Tribe is the coziest of cozy catastrophe’s and I enjoyed every minute of it. 

The Last Tribe was nominated for Best Male Performance Audie, so I go into this asking myself if this is one of the best performances of the year. Simple answer, no. Scott Brick, with the right material, can make poetry out of mush. He’s brilliant in guiding a listener through esoteric prose, and capturing the rhythms of a novel whether it be high concept science fiction or action packed thriller. Yet, multi character epics require multiple regional dialects and tons of character differentiation isn’t typically where he shines. Brick gives a great performance and definitely makes some of the boring moments shine, but this is far from one of the best, in fact, I can think of two or three Brick narrations that are more worthy, particularly Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year or Justin Cronin’s City of Mirrors. With those novels, I fail to see any other narrator improving on his performance but I can think of a few that may be better suited to a novel like The Last Tribe. 

Audiobook Review: The Impossible Fortress by Jason RekulakĀ 

9 03 2017

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Read by Griffin Newman

Simon Audio

Grade: B

It seems Nostalgia is in and Jason Rekulak’s The Impossible Fortress has it in spades. Full of 80’s pop songs, movie and tv references, ancient computer archaeology and enough snarky omniscient humor about what is to come, The Impossible Fortress is a bittersweet, often silly coming of age tell that splendidly relives the 80’s for us so we don’t have to. As someone who lived the actual experience of being an unpopular, awkward teenager in the late 80’s this book should be perfect for me. The problem is that awkward teenage boys are incredibly annoying and Rekulak captures this perfectly because I was in a constant state of annoyance with these characters. It’s like I wanted to reach into my past and slap these boys in the face maybe with a few quick jabs at me as well. I escaped my awkward 80s childhood and really don’t want to go back. Each kid was unreasonably obnoxious. When simple solutions to their problems presented themselves they choose convoluted plans then chose even more convoluted plans to solve the problems that arose from their initial recklessness. Rekulak may have done his job too well. This may be a fun novel for people who observed peripherally the life of awkward, unpopular 14 year old boys in the 80’s but the reason God created whiskey was so I can beat the memories of those days into the deepest corner of my brain reserved for prepubescent unrequited crushes and Phil Collins songs. 

I have mixed feelings about Griffin Newman’s performance. Like the 14 year old main character, his pacing was awkward. He read like his voice was cracking and he wasn’t quite sure which word in a sentence was supposed to be emphasized. This was seemingly a stylistic choice which at times worked to fit the narrative but at other times took me out of the story. I appreciate what he was trying to do, and for the most part it was effective, especially as he began to feel more comfortable in the story. I give Newman credit, most narrators are unwilling to take the risks he did with this story and when it worked, it made the tale even better. But when it didn’t it just emphasized how annoying these boys were to me. I think Newman has a bright future as an actor and narrator even if I didn’t love everything about The Impossible Fortress. 

Audiobook Review: The Burning World (Warm Bodies Series) by Isaac Marion

8 03 2017

The Burning World by Isaac Marion

Read by Jacques Roy

Simon & Schuster Audio

Grade: B+

When Isaac Marion published Warm Bodies authors were just beginning to truly explore what they can do with the Zombie genre beyond the typical Romero style outbreak scenario. Warm Bodies was a game changing novel that threw out all the rules. Marion blended dark comedy with classic themes right out of Shakespeare and Austin to spin the genre into a whole new direction. Over 6 years later Marion picks up the story where he left off, in a genre saturated with classic examinations and new twists and continues the story of R and Julia. Yet, now Marion doesn’t try to flip the genre on its head but instead takes on the classic Post Apocalytic road trip and resistance story using that to examine  the priorities of humanness and community. Marions writing fluctuates seemlessky between crisp and breezy, and his dark humor takes center stage. Throughout the novel he pokes fun at his own book and the “Love will conquer all” theme. The story it self is clever and full of intriguing possibilities. His slow reveal on R’s past is effective but almost anticlimactic. The Burning World doesn’t break the zombie sub genre or ever pervert it all that much but Marion tells a damn good story that left me wanting more.

Part of me wanted not to like Jacques Roy because he wasn’t Kevin Kenerly but my old curmudgeonly ways were won over in the end. He was less stylistic than Kenerly but this suited Marion’s broader scope and more traditional storytelling. I loved Roy’s portrayal of the creepy antagonists. He had a strong grasp of the humor of the tale knowing when not to take it too seriously. His pacing was strong, particularly in the rapid fire dialogue that took place during the crew’s cross county adventure. The Burning World is simply a good apocalyptic tale told in a unique style with characters you’ve grown to love, performed well. 

Audiobook Review: The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons

7 03 2017

The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons

Read by James Patrick Cronin

Brilliance Audio

Grade: B

I think it’s telling that before I sat down to review this book I had to reread the summary to remind myself what the story was about. The Short Drop wasn’t a bad book, it’s an entirely serviceable thriller that I enjoyed listening to but in the end it was forgettable. Gibson Vaugh is a likeable enough character but it’s another case of an author telling you they’re some brilliant progeny of social engineering but shows you him acting pretty dumb throughout the novel. The mystery plays out on the clever side of paint by numbers and the ultimate show down offers enough ingenuity to leave the reader satisfied that it was worth the effort before happily moving onto their next book.

This book was nominated for an Audie so my expectation of being blown away by the narration may have weighed down my opinion. James Patrick Cronin is a good narrator. Early on in the novel his cadence seemed a bit to staccato, nor matching the rhythm of the book but that became less noticeable as you became a little more invested in the novel. His dialogue is strong and his characters distinct but all in all, nothing about his reading makes it stand out in the genre.