Audiobook Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuval 

21 04 2017


Waking Gods (Book 2 of the Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel

Read by a Full Cast

Random House Audio

Grade: A

I am a 43 year old man who grew up on proper grammar and professional distance. I take my role in the thoughtful analysis of fiction through the spoken word seriously. I am not given to hyperbole or flamboyance in my writings. I am not in touch with the hip slang or latest trending meme. I am not some tech savy YA reviewer who uses emoji and gifs as a modern form of hieroglyphic language to portray their enthusiasm for the latest release from the favorite authors. Giving these limitations as a reviewer, I can best sum up my experience with Waking Gods, the sequel to Sylvain Nueval’s Sleeping Giants as thus…

HOLY SHIT!!!

I truly apologize for the profanity, use of ALL CAPS, and overuse of exclamation points. But really…

OMGOMGHOLYSHITWTFWTFROBOTSOHSHITCOMEONMANOMGOMG!
Ok, I know many of you still like some sort of visual prop to express my delight at this book, so this was basically my emotional state while listening to this audiobook.

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It’s next to impossible to evaluate Waking Gods the novel, and Waking Gods the audiobook experience separately. Honestly, if I simply read the text I am sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed it, but I highly doubt that I would have squealed orgasmically so loud that my neighbors dog started simultaneous humping his Chewbacca throw pillow. Random House Audio has  created a rock and roll blockbuster of an audiobook experience that at times gave me chills, made me cringe and had me jumping up like I was an Ecstasy fueled time traveler at a Nirvana concert.

Fans of Sleeping Giants think they know what to expert. They do, if they multiply their expectation exponentially. Waking Gods is more than an audiobook. It’s an audiobook experience dipped in chocolate, laced in meth, and smashed repeatedly into your brain.

I think I liked it.





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: The World House by Guy Adams

4 02 2015

The World House by Guy Adams

Read by Paul Boehmer

Audible Studios

Length: 10Hrs 43Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: C-

I’m not sure what just friggin’ happened. I mean, I kinda know. There are these characters, and a weird house, and time travel, and god like people, and amnesia, and a cool game of Snakes and Ladders, and I think that one guy is also that other guy or maybe I am thinking about someone else. Oh, and that girl is like maybe autistic, which of course means she has some special ability or perception that will help save the world, or destroy it, or maybe stop the bad guy who I am not sure is really bad because that’s that’s what mentally challenged people do in fantasies… and, well, maybe I’m just an idiot who can’t follow the authors disjointed train of thought. I mean, I get this way with “high brow” stuff where I think I am supposed to get it. Like Birdman, which I guess had moments, but still, I didn’t get it. Like art or jazz or that weird class of philosophy I took…

But…

Shit…

So really, maybe Guy Adams is a genius who created this beautiful mosaic of a novel, full of complexities and layers upon layers, creating a mesmerizing tale that blends generations and genres and I am just too dumb to figure it all out. I know I feel like this when I attempt to read China Mellville and Paolo Bacigalupi, which people I respect tell me is brilliant, but turns my brains to mash, and, well, kinda bores me at the same time making me want to pull out something with explody monsters hunters or time traveling Nazis.

Or maybe Guy Adams just wrote a book that had some brilliant moments, was fun at brief intervals but was mostly a mess that barely held my interest and often left me confused about exactly what the hell just happened.

But maybe not…

I’m confused.

One thing I like about Paul Boehmer is that he has a unique narrative voice. His voice has a tone that reflects an international feel yet isn’t specific to any particular nationality. It reminds me of the subtle accents that many 1800 era American period pieces use, not really modern American or Modern British but somewhere in between. This is why I think Boehmer is excellent in historical fiction and has been underused in the fantasy genre where straight British accents seem to be the preference of audio producers. This is why I thought he was perfectly suited for a book like The World House. But, now I am not so sure he was, mostly because I really didn’t care about the book enough to figure it out. His characters were fine. I often found the perspective shifts were not distinct enough, but this may just have been because I wasn’t invested enough in the characters to realize that they had shifted.

Oh well….

Basically, The World House was a book that constantly had me on the edge of thinking,”Let’s end this and move on to something else” but that little part of me said that eventually there would be this sort of AHA! Moment that pulled it all together and made it worth it. And I guess there was something like that, but by that point I just wanted it all to be over.

Now maybe some time traveling zombies or talking unicorns or sexy dragons….





Series Review: The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

14 04 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 45 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 48 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Big sweeping epic fantasies and I don’t always mesh well together for many reasons. First, magic tends to annoy me. I think it can be all kinds of cool when some crazy old sorcerer unleashed hellfire and damnation down upon the wicked, but when every problem is solved by a twinkle of the nose or some demon released from the nether regions, and magic becomes more important than characters, I lose interest. And while I love characters, after the 300th one appears in their cardboard cutter glory, and they are all named, Taragon, Sharagon, Sh’othan, Larry of the Sharaghon Forrest, Troctadon, Bill, Z’Atmothathalogabn, and… I WANT THEM ALL TO DIE. Also elves. OK, in the right context, elves can be sort of fun, but when they show up in their Tolkenesque glory in the first five friggin’ minutes of a book, I tend to want to scream GO BACK TO MIDDLE EARTH YOU POINTY EAR BASTARD! Maybe I’m speciest, I just don’t trust them. Yet, when I do fall for an Epic Fantasy, I fall hard. I fall like a YA protagonist after just meeting her first Vampire. I lie awake wondering if the book will call me the next day. I wonder if I read the book too much it will think I’m creepy, but still go back to it over and over again. I have spent months, reading and rereading Fantasy series. I have spent hours refreshing author’s websites when they are supposed to announce when the next book is coming out. This is why I am often hesitant to jump into a big fantasy novel. It becomes either my bane or my existence. Luckily, this is why god created other awesome people to motivate you into important life decisions like dedicating 100 hours of your life to listening to the AWESOMEST SERIES EVER. So, yeah, thanks. You know who you are.

So, what is The Stormlight Archives series by Brandon Sanderson about. Well, I’m not going to even try. If I could do justice to a summary that would truly give you an idea of the nature of this book, I would be a much better writer than I am and probably should concentrating on trying to fuck with people’s brains they way Sanderson did with mine. I think often, especially with hard core readers, there is a sense when reading where you think… “You know what… I could do this.” With Sanderson my reaction was “How in god’s name did some human being imagine this with his brain thing than manage to transport it from the twisted regions of his mind to words on a page. WHAT FOUL MAGIC IS THIS?” Truly, Sanderson has created a world that is truly breathtaking. From the otherworldly creatures that react to the emotions of the people, to a shattered land serving as the field for a massive battle. It’s full of dark beauty, fascinating magic, deep secrets and something tickling along the edges of the narrative letting you know there is even more than you can possibly imagine. Yet, the true beauty of this novel is the characters. Sanderson tells the traditional fantasy origin story in an entirely unique way. He creates a character, strips them down to their core, then builds them back up piece by piece. Along the way, they become real to you. Not just some powerful mage, or savvy political leader, but a real broken person, with flaws who manages to pull you entirely into their world. Sanderson surrounds his key players with an assorted menagerie of colorful characters, allowing you to see the growth of his protagonists through how they affect those around them. Bridge 4, a collection of slaves forced to carry bridges in suicidal battle runs, is one of the most wonderful group of characters I have read in a while. Their transformation from beaten down slaves, to an effective unit is so brilliant, it makes you almost want to to start running these death marches yourself.

Then there is the action. Holy shit, the action. There were moments where I just had to stop where I was and absorb some scene of pure baddassery. I became so mesmerized, I ignored those around me for the much more interesting people performing crazy ass action in my brain hole. I’m lucky I was never in the middle of traffic when these scenes came, because it’s hard to finish listening to a book after a F150 runs you down. The Stormlight Archives is the rare fantasy novel that is about war, but never glorifies it. Sanderson allows us to accompany his characters into the battles, giving as an intimate look at chaos, letting us see the full horrors of these event. Yet, there is some level of hope at play within the context of the team, and the players assembled. These are characters that make each other better, that build each other up, become a true family of choice, setting the basis to allow the events to build. The individual fight scenes rivaled the visual splendor and choreography of the best superhero films. These fights go beyond the “so and so punched so and so in the face” battles, but took place in multiple dimensions that break the laws of physics, yet never become muddled or obfuscated. Sanderson creates a vivid conflict in your head, and leaves you breathless as you follow each movement, each action and each new mind bending discovery.

Another fascinating element that Sanderson sneaks into the plot is the self defeating nature of isms. His society is built on highly structured class-ism based on the arbitrary physical attribute of eye color. The division between the Noble Bright Eye class, and the peasant dark eyes, creates levels of conflict that plays out in multiple ways throughout the tale. Sanderson shows how such and arbitrary class structure creates self defeating scenarios and ingrained suspicions among people who are essentially good and should be allies. It adds a level to the tale, that while on surface seems almost cliché, yet Sanderson subverts the clique effectively making it unique in his hands. Also, I found the division of labor between the sexes to be quite interesting. Men have deemed reading, writing and scholarly pursuits to be feminine qualities, when they focus on the more physical. So, while women are viewed as subservient, they control the knowledge, and well, we know what that means.

This is my problem with reviewing something like the Stormlight Archive. I just want to scream, AWESOME! READ THIS NOW. There is so much here that I simply loved about this book, that I can’t even scratch the surface. I want to yell “Dalinar is such a badass” and you just understand what I mean. Or, THANK GOD SHE ASKED HIM ABOUT POOP and you just shake your head knowingly. Because, there is so much here. So many aspects that I want to frantically point out to you like a frat boy looking at Christmas lights while tripping on LSD. And what’s the hardest thing to reconcile, is I may never have read it. So, if you even think you might possible like Epic Fantasy, read this.

If you can listen to two people read a book for almost 100 hours and not once want to stab yourself in the ear with a rusty fork, then those narrators are doing something right. At no point did either Micheal Kramer or Kate Reading make me want to stab myself in the ear with a rusty fork, in fact, their reading made me want to protect myself from any sort of rusty fork in the ear related injury. These two talented narrators brought this story alive in a brilliantly vivid way. I love how you could hear the character development in their voices, with Shallan going from a seemingly flighty naïve girlchild, to, perhaps, the pivotal character of Words of Radiance and Kalidan developing from a man with nothing to live for to a leader of men. Kramer does a wonderful job guiding us through this brokenness and rehabilitation of Kalidan as well as showing us the turmoil of Dalinar’s struggles with his own sanity. Plus, his Bridge 4 character never failed to put a smile on my face. One thing I especially liked about Kramer is he gives his characters a wide range of exotic sounding accents, without falling back onto the annoying Elizabethan feel that many people seemed to think fantasy novels require. One of the problems you face with two different narrators is the dissonance of shared characters. This isn’t too much of an issue here. Sure, Kramer’s Shallan sounds a bit more imperious than Readings, and Reading’s Kalidan a bit younger than Kramer’s, the two POV’s don’t really come together to late in the series and by that time the narrators have had such a strong grasp on the material, you are fully engaged in the story. So, yes, The Stormlight Archive is now my newest Fantasy obsession, so please forgive my creepy book stalking during the wait for the next book in the series.





Audiobook Review: The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor, Part 2 by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

7 04 2014

The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor, Part 2 by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Read by Fred Berman

Macmillan Audio

9 Hrs 35 Min

Grade: B

I’ll admit it, I was a little grumpy when I reviewed The Walking Dead: Fall of the Governor PART FRIGGIN’ ONE. Maybe some of that grumpiness rubbed off or maybe it was the expected Ledger Lag that I experience after listening to the latest Joe Ledger novel, but The Walking Dead: Fall of the Governor PART FRIGGIN’ TWO failed to captivate me as completely as the past entries in the series, in particular The Road to Woodbury. Not that it was bad, it wasn’t. For the most part, especially in it’s further development of the Lilly character and it’s intense battle at the jail, this was good stuff. Yet, it took a long time to develop. The bridge scenes between Part 1 and Part 2 seemed unnecessary. The early parts of the novel was full of unnecessary in your face foreshadowing that felt almost as insulting to the readers as television mood music. There was also a level of frustration that I think came from being more aware of the over all Walking Dead story arch. The authors do a good job at giving many of the Woodbury folk a heroic bent, and gave logical reasons for their hatred of Rick and Michone’s group, but I couldn’t help be feel a growing sense of frustration as these good people made obviously bad choices. At some point, you wanted someone to have an “Ah Ha” moment, but you knew it wasn’t happening. There is much unevenness to the Governor’s character in a storytelling sense. I felt his mounting instability should have been more evident to those around him, and being the brutal post apocalyptic world I struggles to see why some people would have continued following him. Heck, a simple ice pick through the other eye socket could have save a whole mess of people. On the positive side, the epic prison battle truly came alive, and the final moments of the Woodbury crew had true emotional impact. Bonansinga does the world justice, and despite some flaws delivers a solid exciting tale that should thrill fans of the series.

In this series, it has been the tale of two narrators with Fred Berman. I was less than delighted with his almost emotionless performance in The Rise of the Governor, complete with some annoying mispronunciations, but I thought he really stepped it up in The Road to Woodbury. In the overall Fall of the Governor arch, Berman does a solid job. Not as good as the second book, with a few weird pronunciations and small pacing issues, but when the book gets ramped up, Berman take in full force. His reading is worthy of the tale, and he gives the finale a much needed emotional boost. While I still don’t understand the decision to split the last book into two parts, The Walking Dead fans will definitely be pleased with the ending of the book series.





Audiobook Review: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

25 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Read by Mur Lafferty

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Grade: C

One of the most interesting, often repeated ideas in urban fantasy is the idea that past horror and fantasy greats weren’t actually fiction writers but recorders of a secret history unbeknownst to the public. That authors like Lovecraft and the Brother’s Grimm were chroniclers of events that the so called true histories neglect. I often wonder if years in the future, some apocalyptic surviving remnant of humanity will discover our fiction and believe that we actually lived in a time where Vampires were into sparkly S&M and wizards roamed Chicago yelling incantations and blowing up electronics. I wonder which of out authors will be looked upon as the secret histories of out time. Yet, most importantly, there is a small part of my brain that wonders which of my favorite authors are actually chronicling the mysterious magical undergrounds that some sort of mental block on us normal modern citizen prevent us from seeing. Have our earthquakes and other natural disasters been covers for horrible magical battles among the Fae and humanity, told the likes of Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire? Are there Vampires and Werewolves running around small southern towns that only Charlain Harris can see? Is there a mysterious town called Derry where Clowns and spiders haunt the lives of little children? Is the strange and twisted mind of Chuck Wendig truly just a reflection on the world we live it? God I hope not. Now, I know the likelihood that any of these authors are doing anything more that telling us stories that were planted into their genetic memories by some ancient Saurian aliens species who seeded human life among the stars, but part of me can’t help but wonder what if. What if their stories are real? What if our ancient Lizard benefactors didn’t actually mess with Stephen King’s brain? Yeah, I know, the idea is ridiculous.

After leaving her last job due to a disastrous personal relationship with her boss, Travel writer Zoe moves to New York City. In search for a new writing job, Zoe meets a strange group of individuals who seem reluctant to hire her despite her obvious qualifications based solely on their belief that she wouldn’t fit in. Yet, when she finally pressures the owner, she discover’s the staff is entirely made up of monsters of legend and they are writing a travel guide for monsters. The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. I just never really connected with the characters and the world author Mur Lafferty set up. There were some really fun and funny moments, yet it was all filtered through a very unlikable character in Zoe. Zoe came off to me as entitled and pretentious. She seemed to get up in arms when people seemed to talk down to her, but often did the same thing to those around her. It was hard to feel any sort of righteous anger for this character. While some of the other characters, particularly the Zombie coworkers and some of the minor denizens along the way where fun, the majority of the major characters fell into a range between bland, and down right annoying. John the incubus was a pushy sexual predator enabled by his coworkers because it was just part of his nature and when he would get caught with his hand in Zoe’s cookie jar, he got a few tisks tisks then was actually still forced onto her by her coworkers regularly. Zoe’s main love interest happened to also work for Public Works which protected humanity from monsters, yet was incredibly inept and ignorant, and tended to act impulsively, creating more havoc with occasional breaks to condescend to Zoe.  And, of course, Zoe was the oh so special outsider who shows up just in time to save the minority monsters from their own selves and some outside bad guys. All of these criticisms seem harsh and I don’t feel are in any way what the author intended, but it was how it sat with me. I don’t think this was a bad book, it just lacked depths in the things I tend to enjoy in urban fantasy. Zoe’s training was sort of just glossed over, and yet she managed to become the most competent warrior of the group. It just all ended up feeling like a skeevy form of twee, I know there are people out there who will love this book and I would have no problem recommending it. I thought the ending itself was relatively interesting, even if at times I felt like the narrative got away from me. On the positive side, i really liked the actual entries from the Shambling Guide, and probably would enjoy reading that more than this book. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Mur Lafferty also narrates this novel. I often find it harder to judge the narration on books I didn’t really like. I though Lafferty did a serviceable job. She had moments of flair that really brought out some of the better aspects of the novel. I thought as the voice for Zoe, she was perfect, but many of the other characters lost distinctiveness along the way. Her pacing was just a bit awkward. It wasn’t horrible, but just unsettling enough to make me wonder how much more I would appreciate it is it was narrated by Khristine Hvam or Hilary Huber. Now, I did listen to the entire production so she did enough to keep me interested. She has a quirky voice that could be endearing but my lack of connection with the story made the rawness of her reading only stand out more. I actually think I could grow to enjoy her narration and I know she has done a lot of podcasting work in the past, so I definitely plan on keeping an ear out for her in the future.





Audiobook Review: Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff

7 09 2012

Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff

Read by Stephen R. Thorne

AudioGo

Length: 1 Hr 41 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection is a production that is definitely worth a listen. It’s a quick and dirty slice of the Zombie apocalypse that fans of the genre should have a whole lot of fun with.

Grade: B

I really don’t know the history behind the whole "found footage" style of storytelling. I know my first real experience with this style was The Blair Witch Project. Blair Witch came out when I was in college. I remember heading down to The Ritz in Philadelphia during its initial limited run not really knowing what to expect. Now, remember, I was young and impressionable back than, and easily manipulated by the machinations of the big screen. Basically, what I am saying is this movie scared the crap out of me. While intellectually I knew this was just a movie, it felt real to me. Now, I am much older and wiser now, and have experienced the dog crap that is known as Blair Witch 2, so, no longer can the "found footage" style manipulate me so blatantly.   Sure, I saw and loved Chronicle but, I never had any problem keeping my sense of reality. I am beginning to think the whole Diary/Blog style of novels is the literary counterpoint to "found footage." Diary style novels take a step beyond the traditional first person POW, stripping away another level of reality so it seems that we are reading the actual words written by our main character. It’s a fun style when done right, but sort of obnoxious when done poorly. Yet, I think there is a reason why these types of stories sometimes don’t translate to audio very well. I think it’s because narrators are often too good. Sometimes, it seems the audiobook is too flawless, like they hired a professional studio with a trained actor to bring their diary to life. This is because, well, that exactly what is happening. Yet, in Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff, AudioGo attempts to truly bring the found footage style to Audiobooks.

Caught in the midst of an outbreak of a necrotic infection, Dr. Robert Twonbly, a hematologist from Seattle, records his flight from his laboratory to a community in North Canada and his attempts to avoid the zombies that now pestered the land. His recordings, made on a hand held recorder, and his journal are eventually discovered by Canadian officials and are one of the few first person accounts of survival amidst the chaos of the initial zombie outbreak. I found Zombies to be fascinating on many levels. The story itself will not break much new ground. It is a basic Zombie Apocalypse survival tale told in a first person stream of consciousness style. The story itself is notable for two things. First, I found the probably cause of the outbreak, a food additive that made foodstuff more desirable, an interesting twist. Second, the author does a good job showing the mental deterioration of the main character due to the high stress situation.  This is the second found footage, false document style Zombie novel I have listened to recently, and while I enjoyed the scientific slant of The Zombie Autopsies, Zombies had a much more human story. There is definitely a real sense of dread and despair to this story. It emotional manipulations are often obvious, but affective. In essence, if you are looking for some groundbreaking spin on Zombie literature, you won’t find that here. What you will get is a quick fix of zombie mayhem, told in an intriguing style. It’s basically, just enough zombie fun to keep the hardcore fan sated. 

The true payoff of the experience is the style of the audiobook. Adapted from a graphic novel, the production has a lot of obstacles to overcome. The biggest negative to the whole production is that you don’t have the illustrations. I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of the original work as a supplement to the audio production. What AudioGo does here is impressive. They create a true "found footage" feel with this production. The audiobook is not pristine, there is often background noise, low res hissing, and clunking sounds, like you would expect to hear when listening to something taped by a crappy little recorded. Narrator Steven R. Thorne does a good job giving the production a real feel as well, stumbling over his words, sighing and sometimes cutting off his own recording. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it is authentic enough to be worth the distractions. It really is one of the first effective translations of this style to the audiobook format. Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection is a production that is definitely worth a listen. It’s a quick and dirty slice of the Zombie apocalypse that fans of the genre should have a whole lot of fun with.

Note: Thanks to AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” Theme. Click on the image below for more information.





Audiobook Review: Clawback by Mike Cooper

27 08 2012

Clawback by Mike Cooper

Read by Henry Leyva

Penguin Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Financial Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Clawback was a fun melding of financial and action thrillers with a highly likable hero and plenty of thrills and spills for action fans. Cooper has created a character that I hope to see again, even if it means I have to figure out just exactly what a hedge fund is.

Grade: B

I’ll be honest, when it comes to big money and Wall Street, I know almost nothing. I have the normal banking accounts, a 401 K, and a big jar I throw my spare change in at the end of every day. Ask me about stocks and bond, hedge funds and futures, and I will just point at you and laugh like an idiot. I may spout the company line about White Collar crime, predatory lending practices and the many other ills that seemed to have been responsible for some of our economic woes, but in no way do I totally understand exactly how things are in the toilet. My vast knowledge of high finance comes from a few Stephen Frey novels I have read. So, I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about taking on Mike Cooper’s financial thriller, Clawback. With fiction, I like to stick with things I know, or at least have a layman’s understanding of. I may not know all the intricacies of the law, but I know enough where I can have some semblance of an understanding about what should happen during a criminal tries. This is why most of my thrillers are either legal thrillers, or just about some lone badass kicking people’s asses for some understandable crime. Yet, the idea behind Clawback intrigued me. While I really don’t understand high finance, I do understand the idea of wanting to strike back. In Clawback, someone is killing off investment bankers, in particular, bad investment bankers. While I may not understand exactly how these people may have lost their costumer’s money, I can totally understand the raw desire to get back what is owed you.

Silas Cade is not your typical accountant. Fresh off a stint in the Middle East, Silas is now the go to guy when someone in high finance needs an account settled, in ways that skirt legality. When a series of investment bankers are killed after losing a whole lot of money, Silas is brought in to find who is behind the murders. Yet, the deeper Silas gets into the case, the more he realizes that things may not be as cut and dry as they seemed. Clawback is a complicated game of shifting money and loyalties that features an engaging and likable main character. While the plot often threatens to go off the rails, Cooper manages to keep the story grounded by focusing on his man character and his intriguing love interest. Silas Cade is the perfect blend of shadowy past, with present day everyman liability that makes him carry this tale. Cooper manages to surround Cade with a mixed bag of interesting characters, including a well conceived financial blogger who catches Silas’ eye. Whiles some of these characters are crisp and well developed, others become a bit one dimensional at times. One thing that truly surprised me about Clawback was the depth and detail Cooper put into his action scenes. For a plot that was often about ledgers, margins and futures, whatever those things are, there was a heck of a lot of edge of your seat action. The action was well choreographed and highly visual, adding a lot of tension and fun to the overall read.  While at times, I wasn’t exactly sure what the true motivations behind the crimes were, or the complicated financial issues being addresses, I knew very soon things would get all explody and I can clap my hands and cheer for Silas like a trained monkey. Now, in all honestly, Cooper does do a good job explaining some of the more complicated elements of the plot in a way readers even with only cursory knowledge of finance could figure out. Clawback was a fun melding of financial and action thrillers with a highly likable hero and plenty of thrills and spills for action fans. Cooper has created a character that I hope to see again, even if it means I have to figure out just exactly what a hedge fund is.

This was my first experience with Henry Leyva as a narrator, and I think he did a really good job. I always prefer first person narrators who actually sound like real people and not professional voice over artists, and Leyva accomplishes this with Clawback. Leyva’s voice gives Silas Cade a strong noir feel, while managing to sound modern not dated. His female voices were not quite as strong, but he defiantly took the low key approach, softening his voice, instead of trying too hard to sound feminine. This made me adjust to his female characters pretty quickly. Leyva offers a good range with the peripheral characters, whether they are common hoods, professional soldiers or big wig investment bankers. His pacing was sharp, bring the action scenes to life and allowing the reader to follow with ease. Leyva hits a lot of the right notes with his performance in Clawback, and is a narrator I will be keeping my eye out for.

Note: Thanks to Penguin Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Remains of the Dead by Iain McKinnon

3 05 2012

Remains of the Dead by Iain McKinnon

Read by Karl Miller

Audible Frontiers

Length: 7 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick thoughts: Remains of the Dead is a devastating Zombie novel which leaves the reader no place to hide, and no shelter in the storm. It is a true sign of the relentless nature of this book that I have run out of euphemisms to use to describe it. For hard core Zombie enthusiasts, Remains of the Dead is a must have addition to your library. 

Grade: B+

There seems to be a real push recently to reinvent the Zombie. This is totally not a bad thing. Genres should be pushed to the edges, experimented on, mixed up, mashed together and turned on their head. Yet, there is nothing wrong with the traditional zombie tale. So many tales today use Zombies as a sort of vehicle to push the Survivors to some sort of stronghold where they are forced to stay. These tales use the zombie as a catalyst, but are essentially about the Survivors. While they wait for the flesh eating monsters to break in, they live and they love, they let their strange ways and beliefs influence their changed world. These stories are about respite. A break from the brutality that has changed their world. Yet, in some novels, there is no break. You are in the midst of things, surrounded on all sides by the ravenous undead. If you stop, hesitate for just a moment, you will become dinner for the hordes. While these tales are about the chase, they also give a glimpse into the survivors. The Zombies here are not set pieces, but an ever present danger, and this sort of constant stress brings out the best and worst in humans. For these survivors, the ultimate goal is escape, whether it be to a safe haven, or from the barrel of a gun. This is the world of Iain McKinnon’s Remains of the Dead.

While Remains of the Day is the follow up to McKinnon’s Domain of the Dead, it is a novel that stands very well on its own. Remains follows a group of soldiers and civilians after they are left behind during the rescue attempt that removed the characters of the first book to safety. These survivors must find a safe place to hole up until the helicopter can return to save them. Sadly, for them, so such place exists. Remains of the Dead is one of the fastest paced zombie novels I have experienced. It is the definition of non-stop zombie action. In fact, the pacing was so relentless I was scared to even pause my MP3 player for a second in fear that I may miss a key moment in the story. Throughout the story, no character is safe, no refuge truly secure and there is seemingly no end to the action on the remotest of horizons. Of all the novelist writing Zombie fiction today, McKinnon is the closest in my opinion to the feel and traditions of classic Romero. The Zombies are a force by their sheer numbers. Any slightest pause and the survivors would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of carnivorous cannibalistic undead. There is a saying that quantity has a quality of its own, and this is spelled out in spades in Remains of the Dead. As the characters move from place to place you can feel their stress building. McKinnon is so relentless in his onslaught that you as the reader/listener feel like you are losing it along with the characters. In fact, if I had any complaint, it’s that I felt the ending was more of a pause in the action that an actual resolution. I still had that on edge feeling as the novel wrapped up, unsure of what was in store for the few surviving characters. Remains of the Dead is a devastating Zombie novel which leaves the reader no place to hide, and no shelter in the storm. It is a true sign of the relentless nature of this book that I have run out of euphemisms to use to describe it. For hard core Zombie enthusiasts, Remains of the Dead is a must have addition to your library. 

I was quite critical of Karl Miller’s narration in the first novel of this series. I felt it was someone lifeless with bland characterizations. Well, Miller impressed me in his reading of Remains of the Dead. I truly think this book, whose characters are a bit better defined and easier to visualize than the first novel, was a better fit for Miller’s strengths as a narrator. His characterizations weren’t world changing, but appropriate and easily delineated. Miller managed the breakneck pace of this novel perfectly, allowing for the action to flow naturally. Nothing seemed forced or rushed, and the action was read in a manner that allowed the listeners to easily follow what was going on. The highlight of his reading for me was his ability to display the emotional turmoil of the characters as the book progressed. You could just feel them breaking down as things just piled on top of them. Remains of the Dead is another exciting audiobook from Iain McKinnon, and one that can be enjoyed whether you’ve listened to Domain of the Dead or not.





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.