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. 

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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: Feral by James DeMonaco and B.K. Evenson

4 04 2017


Feral by James DeMonaco and B. K. Evenson

Read by  Kirsten Potter , Brittany Pressley , Erin Spencer , Jorjeana Marie , Hillary Huber

Random House Audio

Grade: B

I was in the market for a good horror novel when I happened upon Feral, and was instantly intrigued by the combination of the writer of The Purge and Evenson who wrote Immobility, one of the smartest Post Apocalyptic novels I have read. I was hoping for a combination of styles, a smart but graphic horror novel. Instead I got another “not really zombies because they are alive” pandemic novel in the vein of DL Moody or about 100 YA authors. Not that it was bad, just not all that original and while the use of gender in the pandemic was intriguing I felt there were missed opportunities to explore the biochemistry behind gender instead of just the “hey, one dude is immune” twist. I think YA fans will find so many familiar tropes better done in other books and adult horror fans won’t find the chills and thrills they are looking for. 

There are definitely some stand out performances by an excellent group on narrators, particularly in Brittany Presley and Kirsten Potter. The problem with the novel came down to its structure. Most multi narrator novels have distinct POVs, yet in Feral it was more muttered often finding one narrator voicing the internal thoughts of a character usually voiced by another.  Being that each narrator has a distinct style, these created a sense of dissonance for the listener. The story may have been better served with a single narrator, creating a more consistent feel to the audiobook. Any of this cast of talented narrators would have been up to the task. 





Audiobook Review: Lola by Melissa Scrivner LoveĀ 

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. 





Audiobook Review: Collecting the Dead by Spencer KopeĀ 

31 03 2017


Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope

Read by P. J. Ochlan

Macmillan Audio

Grade: B-
While I enjoy crime fiction, my least favorite sub genre is serial killers because I find more often than not the books seem to revel in the sadism and gore of the killings. Despite that fact, I decided to give Collecting the Dead, Spencer Kope’s paranormal thriller, a chance based on the paranormal slant and comparison to John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series. On the positive side, Kope doesn’t feel beholden to the overused plot devices of crime fiction. His main character, Magnus “Steps” Craig isn’t some gruff, down on his luck cop struggling with a tragic past and addiction problems. He’s not fighting against a law enforcement bureaucracy that doesn’t understand him. In fact, Kope goes out of his way to present a positive look at the law enforcement community, painting them as hard working heroes in an often thankless job that too often are sabotaged by the people they are fighting to protect. All this, and Steps special abilities separates this from the average cut and dry police procedural. Yet, despite how much I enjoyed Kope’s approach and his intriguing main character, I lost interest in the overall story, the hunt for a serial killer called The Sad Face killer. I found myself enjoying the lighter moments and the interactions between Steps and the nice blend of supporting characters but pretty much uninterested in the overarching tale. This series definitely has potential, Kope sets a good groundwork, creates intriguing characters and offers nice little twists on and often stagnant genre that may appeal to fans of police procedurals and serial killer tales who don’t mind a touch of the supernatural. 
PJ Ochlan does a great job creating the atmospher of this tale. He moves seamlessly between the harsh realities of the procedural hunt to the almost surreal moments when Steps is lost in his past. My only issue is that at times, PJ Ochlan voicing of Steps felt older than the material depicted, at times. He seemed to have a more seasoned feel, yet the author often referred to his youth. Other than that Ochlan’s performance was excellent and vividly brought Kope’s world to life. 





Audiobook Review: Burning Bright by Nick Petrie

30 03 2017


Burning Bright (Peter Ash, Bk. 2) by Nick Petrie

Read by Stephen Mendel

Penguin Audio

Grade: B

In Burning Bright, Nick Petrie’s second Pete Ash thriller, Petrie takes on a lot of hot button topic, Surveillance, drones, privacy, hacking, black budget special operators, military corruption, the influence of technology on our everyday life, survivalism and archery. Many of these topics have been explored better with more focus in other books but here he blends them into a interesting mosaic. Even the things that made his first novel stand out, the crisp action and his main characters PSTD are muted. This, at times leaves the listener a bit befuddled by the plot, not sure what piece is important and, by the end, you’re left with the feeling that there’s a lot of loose ends. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because in a way it highlights the unique nature of Petrie’s highly appealing main character and the reality that the world isn’t always as cut and dry and books portray. As Ash hacks his way through this miasma of modern society, we get even more of a glimpse into his outsider nature. The highlight of a Burning Bright is the budding relationship between him and his quirky new love interest. It’s an adult relationship between two complicated characters who are still coming to terms with who they are. All in all, Burning Bright is a solid effort, with some fun action and lots of developments that create interesting possibilities for the series. If you are already invested in this character than you’ll enjoy the book, but if this would be your introduction to Peter Ash, go read The Drifter first.
Stephen Mendel seems to be one of those narrators whose main talent it seems is to blend into the background and let the listener immerse themselves into the story. He does an excellent job managing the rhythm of the dialogue, giving the interplay between characters a natural feel. He tries his best to guide the listener through a plot that can be a bit murky, keeping you in the game for the next key moment of character dialogue or action. Burning Bright is a worthwhile addition to a series that should appeal to fans of Jack Reacher style, thinking man action thrillers. 





Audiobook Review: Say Nothing by Brad Parks

28 03 2017


Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Read by George Newbern

Penguin Audio

Grade: B

There’s a conundrum that we lovers of mystery and thriller novels face, and that’s the fact that we know we are reading a mystery novel. We know the tricks and literary rules of mystery fiction. We see it from an outsiders perspective, know that that author is just as much a character in the book as the players and we often hold that perspective against the characters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten frustrated with a character in a book, because, dammit, doesn’t he or she realize they are a character in a book! This was the problem I faced with Say Nothing. Throughout the book I wanted to yell at the main character (and may have actually yelled at him causing strange looks from those around me) because he was missing such obvious things that were plain to me, an outside observer who didn’t have any true emotional attachment to the other characters or the distraction of being worried about the fact that my children were kidnapped. I mean, come on dude…. 
That being said, Say Nothing is a top notch thriller that will keep you invested until the very end. It definitely relies heavily on the tropes on the genre and doesn’t break much new ground. There were definitely twists, many of which seasoned mystery readers will see coming but still appreciate their execution. There two small scenes of a child being tortured or injured which may be tough on readers, so beware, but they do serve the plot and are not just brutal exploitation. At times, you too will want to yell at the main character but this is just indicative of how invested you become in his plight. 
George Newbern takes a workmanlike approach to this tale, which was appropriate. Say Nothing didn’t need any bells and whistles, no narrational gymnastics, just straight forward delivery. He keep the story moving, never getting it bogged down and just let the listener absorb themselves in the tale. If you’re looking for a solid mystery novel about ordinary people dealing with an extraordinary circumstances than Say Nothing fits that bill.