Audiobook Review: Ghost Walk by Brian Keene

30 04 2017

Ghost Walk

Ghost Walk by Brian Keene

Read by Chet Williamson

Crossroad Press

Grade: B

I have had a very sporadic love affair with Brian Keene. Well, at least his books. I’ve loved many of his books, particularly is apocalyptic novels, but have only read a few of his more traditional horror novels. Now that he has a deal with Crossroads Press to release his books into audio, I plan to flesh out my collection. My first foray into this is Ghost Walk, the loose follow up to his novel Dark Hollow. Ghost Walk is a serviceable one-off horror tale of a Halloween Attraction gone tragically awry due to supernatural interventions. Yet, where it truly excels in it’s place in Brian Keene’s larger mythos and in particular, the introduction of one of his reoccurring character, Levi Stoltzfus. One thing you learn quickly in Brian Keene’s scarred from their encounters with the entities from the labyrinth, and the implications of these scars ripple out beyond the ending of any particular book. Ghost Walk is old school horror that truly is horrific.

Chet Williamson is one of those narrators that isn’t always my cup of tea. He has more of the old school style akin to many of the originals big voices of audiobook Narration like George Guidall or Richard Ferrone. I’m not typically a fan of this style yet occasionally, with the right book it works. I though his performance in Keene’s The Complex was outstanding. I wasn’t as enamored here, but as the book played out, and things seemed to get more bizarre and crazy I fell under his spell. Williamson is strongest in this genre, and he delivers a solid performance that is suited to this book.





Audiobook Review: In the Darkness, That’s Where I’ll Know You: The Complete Black Room Story by Luke Smitherd

19 04 2017


In the Darkness, That’s Where I’ll Know You: The Complete Black Room Story by Luke Smitherd

Read by Luke Smitherd

Flying Body Press

Grade: B

I was in a bit of a rut. I had started two very smart, clever science fiction novels and found myself in awe of the writing and impressed with the concepts but not actually enjoying the experience. So I said, screw it, give me something fun. I had downloaded In the Darkness, That’s Where I’ll Know You a while back after thoroughly enjoying Luke Smitherd’s The Stone Man and than forgot about it. I started it as a desperation move, hoping to get my groove back and I’m glad I did. This novel, the complete version of his Black Room was truly a Bob novel, a weird physic novel full of likable everyday characters and awkward romance. Smitherd tells a tale with dark themes balanced out by goofy humor. It was both smart and good fun, never taking itself too seriously just delivering an entertaining read. 
One of the reasons I hesitated on listening to this was that it was narrated by the author. Smitherd has a nice voice but as us rabid audiophiles know, a nice voice isn’t enough. There were plenty of flaws with his reading. His pacing in the beginning was a bit awkward. The biggest issue was with the perspective transitions, they were often too fluid, not allowing you to realize you moved from one POV to another, which lead to a dissonant feeling pulling you momentarily out of the story. Yet besides these issues, I found myself enjoying the narration. He manages the tongue in cheek humor with a British subtlety that perfectly suited the story and his enthusiasm for the story was infectious. While a professional narrator could have enhanced the experience, don’t let the fact that the author narrated the tale scare you off. 





Audiobook Review: The Dark Room by Jonathan Moore

13 04 2017


The Dark Room by Jonathan Moore

Read by David Colacci

Highbridge Audio

Grade B
The Dark Room, Jonathan Moore’s loosely related follow up to The Poison Artist, was not the book I expected. Crime fiction is full of the twisted antihero. Police Procedurals tend to focus on gruff, lone wolf, self destructive detectives who push the boundaries of the law to get justice. So, when I slowly began to realize that the main character of this novel, Gavin Cain was a competent, well adjusted and likeable police detective, I was like… What the hell! The Dark Room is a solid mystery full of noir atmosphere that should delight hard core crime fiction fans. It was well written, full of dark twists, hidden secrets and memorable characters. Yet, like The Poison Artist, I think I respected the writing and appreciated the storytelling more than I actually enjoyed it. It was one of those experiences where I wanted to race to the end partly because I wanted to know what happened, but mostly because I was ready to move on to the next book in my queue. 
So, David Colacci narrated this book. I’m not so sure what else to say. You basically know what you’re gonna get when Colacci reads a book. Typically solid, easily listenable but rarely will you be blown away by his performance. His pacing is solid but his characters are pretty exchangeable and his British accent was at best, dull. Overall, I’d put The Dark Room in the upper tier of crime fiction but I also don’t see it as a book that will linger in my mind for any significant amount of time. 





Audiobook Review: Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

10 04 2017


Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

Read by Jeff Gurner

Penguin Audio

Grade: B+
So, let me give you the synopsis to every Daniel Suarez novel…
HEY GUYS! There’s this crazy new technology! It’s so cool.
Oh, here’s how it’s gonna alter everything you take for granted and probably kill you. 
Poor main character! He’s sucked into something nobody could prepare for.
CRAZY CHASE SCENE! CRAZY CHASE SCENE! 
BANG!
WHIZ!
REALLY BAD GUYS DOING BAD THINGS! HERO DOESN’T KNOW WHO TO TRUST LOOKS FOR UNCONVENTIONAL HELP! BETRAYAL! INTRIGUE!
BIG EXPLOSION!
CRAZY CHASE SCENE!
EPIC SHOWDOWN! 
WORLD CHANGED FOREVER! 
Suarez’ latest continues his trend of causing more arrhythmia’s than a Five Guys Double Bacon Cheeseburger with all those extra fries in the bottom of the bad. It makes the Fast and the Furious franchise feel like an EB White novel. Sometimes, the craziness can be overwhelming, and it takes a bit of adjustment to settle into his near future world but once you settle in you just gotta hold on to the handrails until the ride comes to a complete stop. 
Jeff Gurner must have been genetically altered with larger lung capacity because there’s huge sections of the novel where I’m not sure he ever got a chance to take a breath. Add to that the international locales and ethnically (and biogenetically) diverse cast and Gurner should get hazard pay for this novel, but, as usual, he performed the hell out of it. Suarez pushes the boundaries of what you expect a technothriller to be, and with Jeff Gurner and plenty of oxygen to prevent breathlessness, Audio is the way to experience it. 





Audiobook Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

7 04 2017


American War by Omar El Akkad

Read by Dion Graham

Random House Audio

Grade: A
There is this odd debate going on about “message fiction” vs popular fiction. It centers around the idea that some authors are more concerned with the message than writing a good story. I think it’s odd because the best stories, no matter if they are complex character study or grand adventures full of laser guns and hovercraft battles, make you think. American War manages that balance brilliantly. I was enthralled with the tale from the moment I hit play, invested in the characters and intrigued by this scarily plausible near future world. I told myself that I was going to focus on this aspect, the fact that this was a great tale, well told. I’d leave all the discussion of how important this book is, how timely it’s slow burn multifaceted dystopia highlights the current events and the divide in American culture. Yet, what I didn’t expect was how I was affected by the ending.
Basically, Omar El Akkad’s novel fucked with my head. It seemed to use my perceptions against me and forced me to reevaluate much of my worldview. What’s brilliant about American War was it caused me to look at things I believed intellectually and challenged them emotionally. We often use the language of our culture to distance ourselves from the reality of debate and that comfort is stripped away from us in this novel. He challenges us to ask ourselves, what if the thing you fear is also the thing you love? By the end I was left feeling awkward and conflicted and weirdly, a bit guilty for just how entertaining I found the experience. American War is the most effective American dystopia since Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and one that both frightened and entertained me. 
Many narrators can effectively perform a tale, but I think what divides the good from the great are the little moments, the small touches that make it more than just listening to someone tell are story but pulls you into the tale. This is just one of the things that Dion Graham excels at, a laugh, a small pause or stutter, an unexpected affectation that takes a character beyond the words on a page and makes them real to you. Add this to his impeccable pacing and rich voice and American War becomes more than just a book, but a full sensory experience. 





Audiobook Review: Most Dangerous Place by James Grippando

6 04 2017


Most Dangerous Place (Jack Swytek, Bk. 13) by James Grippando

Read by Jonathan Davis

Harper Audio

Grade: B

Jame Grippando’s Jack Swytek series follows the tried and true legal thriller formula of boring white dude surrounded by a cadre of diverse quirky characters saves the world or, at least solves the case. As a boring white guy who likes legal thrillers, it’s a comforting ride with familiar characters. Not that the subject matter is always comfortable, in Most Dangerous Place Jack defends the wife of friend who may been involved in the brutal murder of the man who raped her. Throw in some corrupt Argentinian politics, dark family secrets, a controlling ex boyfriend and a conflicted prosecutor and you get a decent legal thriller that doesn’t break much new ground but will keep you invested in seeing how it all plays out. 
This was an interesting one for me as far as narration. Part of me wondered at first if having a female narrator take on the few chapters centered on Jack’s client, an Argentinian women who spent much of her time in Europe and Hong Kong would have been better, but since the entire book was written in the third person, and with Jonathan Davis’ mastery of the series regulars I felt continuity was probably preferable. Davis is a narrator that series regulars are comfortable with, and he continues his strong performances with this latest edition. 





Audiobook Review: Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love 

3 04 2017


Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Read by Roxana Ortega

Random House Audio

Grade: A-
Hey, there’s a new book out by one of the writers from Person of Interest!”
SOLD!
“Don’t you want to know what it’s about?” 
NO! FEED INTO BRAIN NOW! 
The great thing about Person of Interest was that each week you didn’t know what kind of episode you were going to get, you just knew it would be badass. This was my experience with Lola, a Machiavellian drama set against the Los Angeles gang culture that breaks many crime fiction conventions. Now, I’m not going to pretend that having a women as the secret leader of a gang is something special. It’s an interesting plot point, that has been done in some manner many times before. It’s the execution that makes Lola stand out. We get to see much of the world through Lola’s lens and her interactions break away from what we expect. Her perspective of “good vs bad” colors the narrative not as a judgement but as assignment of roles and she can respect those who play in those roles and distrusts those who step outside them. Lola isn’t some archetype, she plays out her role, makes mistakes along the way yet becomes her own character. The plot moves fluidly despite a mix of active and reactive moves by Lola. Here she’s her own person and even her agency is taken from her, she fights to get it back with mixed results. The beauty of the tale is that it’s not pretty. Plans never quite work out they way they should and things don’t tie up nicely. It’s all dirty and real and most importantly, a damn good story I didn’t want to stop listening to. 
Narrator Roxana Ortega gave a performance worthy of the material. Her ability to switch from the fluidity of Lola’s speech to the harsh straight forward prosecutor to the other characters that peppered the tale was impressive. Each character didn’t just have its own voice but its own rhythm. Lola is as an action tale but it also highlights how the American city isn’t homogeneous but a symphony of cultures and Ortega was the conductor.