Audiobook Review: Rusty Puppy (Hap and Leonard Series) by Joe R. Lansdale

5 03 2017

Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale 

Read by Christopher Ryan Grant 

Hachette Audio

Grade: B+

After 12 novels, numerous novellas and short stories and a tv series, it’s hard to review this book. If you’re into the series you’ll read it and since Lansdale is one of the most consistent authors out there, you’re gonna like it. No one writes best friend banter as sharp and realistic as Lansdale and that’s the foundation that makes this series work. Lansdale can write a story about these two grocery shopping and discussing breakfast cereal and I’d read the hell out of it. What makes matters better is he writes with such precision that it’s like he uses a scalpel instead of a pen, cutting away the fat and just leaving pure story. Rusty Puppy is solidly a Hap and Leonard book, with many of the growing number of series characters ducking out of the spotlight and letting the boys do their thing. It’s great to see such a tight tale at a point where too many series get bloated down with peripherals. Rusty Puppy is another winner is one of the most consistently fun series out there. 

I tend to be skeptical of the new guy when they take over for iconic characters but Christopher Ryan Grants soft Texas twang and strong narrative voice hits all the right notes. I can easily see a narrator turning our heroes into hillbilly cartoon characters but Grant finds the humanness of this duo that long time series fans have already embraced. Hopefully we’ll hear plenty more from these two with Grant serving as the voice of the series. 

Audiobook Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Ellison

3 03 2017

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Read by Angela Dawes 

 Brilliance Audio

Grade: A

Around 10 years ago, before the Hunger Games, before the glut of self publishing,  before the sociological unease brought the  psychic foreshadowing of a Trump administration, before whatever triggered this saturation of dystopian literature to flood the world, any time I saw a new apocalyptic novel I squeeled with childish glee. Since I was 13 and I found a battered copy of the original version of The Stand at the Grundy Memorial library, I loved this genre of fiction. To me, despite there being many great classics, the genre was always defined by my experience with three novels, The Stand, Robert McCammon’s Swan Song and A Gift Upon the Shore by MK Wren. These books filled me with hope and dread, and showed me I can love and hate the same character. I can’t help but judge books in this genre by the standard created by these experiences. Very few novels have even come close. 

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife once again reminded me why I loved these books. Full of human characters thrown into a inhuman world, this novel showed us the best and worst of humanity. I loved that the main character was unique and complicated in her humanity and not just some uber prepper living out some childish fantasy. Elison made me uncomfortable, made me question my own preconceptions and presented not an escapist fantasy but a stark and compelling vision of a potentially dark future. Yet despite the darkness, there was enough of a glimmer of light in the distance that I couldn’t help but willingly trek my way down that tunnel. At moments I was reminded of The Stand and A Gift Upon the Shore but The Book of the Unnamed Midwife didn’t just build on ashes of the genre classics but forged its own new path. 

I’ve always thought that there were narrators skilled at the youthfulness of YA novel while others had the maturity to handle more adult literature yet Angela Dawes is the exception that excels at both. One of the biggest areas of critique for any narrator his their ability to voice the opposite sex but here Dawes must voice a female character pretending to be male and she does it perfectly. She captured the nuance of this novel revealing aspects I may have missed reading it and turned the potentially awkward epistolary aspects of the narrative into an almost rhythmic poetry. She had me enthralled from the beginning and kept me anxiously waiting for each new leg of the journey. 

Audiobook Review: Beneath the Skin: The Sam Hunter Collection by Jonathan Maberry

21 02 2017

Beneath the Skin: The Sam Hunter Collection by Jonathan Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Grade: B

Years ago I read Like One of the Family and instantly became a fan of Maberry’s Sam Hunter character. This collection of five stories features Sam Hunter, Maberry’s very unique ex-cop turned Private Investigator. While each story works well on its own, you can’t help but feel that Hunter is a key player in Maberry’s mythos. On the negative side, each story follows a similar formula, so they may be better experienced individualally then one after another. Yet, this is a small quibble since the formula was created by Maberry.

Ray Porter is a personal favorite of mine and is perfect for these stories. He even managed to capture the Philly grit for this Philly native and pronounced all the local towns in the proper Philly way. It was a little hard to separate Ray Porter as Joe Ledger from Ray Porter as Sam Hunter here but largely because I’m in such Ledger withdraw I hear his voice in my sleep whispering to me in R’lyehian.

Audiobook Review: The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens

20 02 2017

The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens 

Read by R.C. Bray, David Colacci and Amy McFadden 

Tantor Audio

Grade: B+

2017 Audie Nominee in Mystery

There’s something special about a mystery where you think you basically have it pretty much figured out and the author still manages to pull it all together in a surprising way even though what you suspected turned out to be true. This was my experience with The Heavens May Fall, a truly effective and well constructed mystery and legal thriller that was simply a whole lot of fun to listen too. 

Being this is an Audie nominee, I hold it to a higher standard than most books. Bray and Colacci have both given Audie caliber performances in the past and while this isn’t the greatest example of their work, it’s still pretty strong. I tend to believe that Bray is an excellent first person narrator but in third person POVs he’s simply very good. His cadence is excellent during courtroom scenes and moments of heavy dialogue but can become a little distracting during quieter scenes. Colacci’s voice has a bit more quirk to it but it matches well with Bray’s style. McFadden’s role was sadly limited but I’d love to hear her take on Lila is a bigger role I the future since I love the character. Overall, this was a good mystery take with solid performances that could be a dark horse among the Mystery category. 

Audiobook Review: The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens 

17 02 2017

The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens

Read by Jonathan Yen

Tantor Audio

Grade: B

There are a lot of books featuring likeable troubled antiheroes seeking redemption but in The Guise of Another author Allen Eskens flips the trope on its head taking what could be a typical crime thriller and turning it into a carefully constructed character character study that uses the readers preconceptions against them. It’s  a well executed tale that works on many levers leaving the listener satisfied yet a little off balance. He builds well in his first novel adding nuance to the shared characters of the world he created. 

I think Jonathan Yen is a good narrator when working in a multi-narrator production or in a first person tale with a character that fits his style but struggles when he’s the sole voice in a 3rd person narrative. He has the gruff detective thing down fine but at times his rhythm and cadence seemed a bit off. Admittedly, he has an old school narration style that isn’t really my favorite, yet I know appeals to other listeners so this just may be a matter of personal taste. Overall, the performance doesn’t really distract from the book but it doesn’t really enhance it either. 

Audiobook Review: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens 

13 02 2017

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

Read by Zach Villa

Tantor Audio

Grade: B

I started listening to The Life We Bury due to the fact that his latest book was nominated for an Audie and I’m sort of anal about reading series in order. Well, I’m glad I did. The Life We Bury is a solid mystery with a unique enough premise to allow it to stand out from all the “gruff cop solves a murder” novels. While I can think of books with better mysteries or more engaging characters, The Life We Bury is solid from top to bottom. My only quibble is something I see in many legal thrillers, the need to explain things people who have seen an episode of Law & Order know. For example, a young relatively intelligent college student seems to not know what an opening statement is and is surprised that his pretty housemate knows about stuff like that. Other than that, I really enjoyed this novel and and jumping into his next book right away. 
I enjoyed narrator Zach Villa’s performance. He was engaging, with a sly tongue in cheek style that was fitting to the working class college student protagonist. He picked up a nice rhythm during the longer exposition scenes creating a nice atmosphere matching the frigid Midwest locale. Altogether it was a fun refreshing mystery. 

Audiobook Review: Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

10 02 2017

Kill The Next One by Federico Axat

Read by Maxwell Hamilton

Hachette Audio

Grade: A+

I am a big fan of books that fuck with your mind. Yet I have yet listened to a book that achieved the level of mindfuckery that is Federico Axat’s Kill The Next One. It’s like a mindfucked brain had carnal relationships with an equally corrupted cerebrum and gave birth to a mutant of whatthefuckery. It’s a novel so brilliant and unexpected that to even name its genre seems to be too much of a spoiler. At no point in the novel did I feel like I had a grip on the reality of the novel, until the very end. Well, at least until the final sentence of the epilogue, which sent my Parietal Lobe reeling once again. Yet, this was no esoteric stream of conscienceless literary hoity toity snorefest. It was highly accessible with characters you grew to care about, and a truly rewarding experience. One of my favorite listens in a long time.

It’s hard to truly evaluate narrator Maxwell Hamilton’s narration other than to say I was so immersed in the multilayered reality of the novel, if there were any issues with his narration, I failed to notice it. Sometimes it takes a great narrator to enhance a bad book, but equally it takes a smart narrator to know when his job is just to keep the reader sucked into a brilliant story, and never get in its way.