Audiobook Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

13 11 2013

Steelheart (Reckoners, Bk. 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult SuperVillian Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness. Steelheart is a good start to an intriguing new series.

Grade: B+

Over the past few years there seems to be a real glut of superhero tales in prose form. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. I am one of those weirdos who loves superheroes, grew up on Superman and Batman and the Superfriends, but never really got into comic books. So, despite all my comic book loving friends telling me about all the awesome, dark and twisted tales being told in the comic book medium, I stuck to my books. Yet, there has always been a part of my brain that loved superheroes, that wanted to explore the many twists and turns people the subgenre can explore, without all the awesome artwork, and trying to figure out just who was supposed to be talking. So, now all these superhero books have come out, from a wide variety of authors exploring many aspects of advanced beings with powers that seem to defy traditional human limitations. So many, that you’d think that one would sort of start getting sick of them or at the very least that the various angles and twists on the genre would be totally used up. Luckily, so far, this hasn’t been the case.

With Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson has once again flipped the genre on its head, exploring the darker sides of enhanced humans, embracing the super but reassigning the concept of heroes. In Sanderson’s world, there are no selfless heroes using their powers for the betterment of humanity. Instead, Epics, people who have manifested superpowers, all use their power to subjugate and rule over those without powers. With Steelheart Sanderson explores the idea of the corruption of power, and looks at whether these powers enhance humanities dark side or some other force is at work.

When David was young, he witnesses Steelheart, the seemingly invulnerable Epic who would come to rule an apocalyptic Chicago with a steel fist, kill his father. He also saw Steelheart bleed. Years later, David dreams of joining the Reckoners, a group of regular humans looking to take down Epics. David believes with their help, he can finally discover the Steelheart’s weakness, and kill him. Yet, when he finally meets up with the group, he finds his desire for revenge and his core belief in the essence of Epics challenged by one intriguing girl, and the group of odd characters.

While Steelheart had a lot of awesome in it, some cool characters, a wonderful set up, and some really brisk, high concept action, overall it felt a bit uneven. At times, I felt it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a Young Adult novel, or an Adult novel. There were definitely a lot of YA tropes used, but they seemed to fit awkwardly within the overall scope of the novel. The use of situational slang came off as annoying, instead of a natural evolution of the world Sanderson created. The fact that everyone used the exact slang in the exact same way, whether they are a younger person who grew up in the world of Epics, or an older person spanner both the pre and post Epic world made it feel a bit forced. The world of Newcago, came off a bit too clever. Luckily, the unevenness of the book was more than made up for by the sheer fun of the novel. You could tell Sanderson was having fun creating new and interesting Epic types, and allowing them to wreak havoc. I also liked the fact that there were no superheroes, yet an almost religions group who believed that eventually heroes will come was a nice touch. Mostly, I enjoyed the way he flipped the concept of "with great power comes great responsibility" on its head, exploring the corrupting influence that may be the true essence of the tale. Overall, despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness.

To make matter even better, one of my favorite narrators, MacLeod Andrews brought his many talents to the reading of Steelheart. Andrews managed to give the book a true blockbuster feel, with characters that jumped, action the ripped across your mind and a feel of something bigger than reality, yet he did it all with a bit of an edge that defied the polishness of most big screen movies. Andrews does a great job with David, a young man hovering between the naiveté of youth and the forced maturity of someone who grew up orphaned in a changed world. Andrews has a way of giving characters a unique spin that makes than stand just a bit taller.  It was a highly affective performance that allowed me to care more about these characters than I might have in print. Steelheart is a good start to what can become a truly intriguing series.

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Audiobook Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

12 11 2013

Parasite (Parasitology, Bk. 1) by Mira Grant

Read by Christine Lakin

Hachette Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Science Fiction/Horror

Quick Thoughts: In Parasite, Mira Grant takes a bizarre concept and makes it horrifically realistic through well researched science. Full of fascinating concepts, wonderful characters and plenty of dark humor, Parasite is a truly compelling listen.

Grade: A-

In the start of a new series, Mira Grant once again blends genres, taking a concept that seems almost bizarre on its face, grounding it well researched and surprisingly realistic science creating a scenario that is more horrific than traditional supernatural horror. While the story is utterly unique, Grant revisits many themes that made her Newsflesh series stand out, skewed family dynamics, untraditional romantic bonds, a society that adapts to drastic scientific change and characters that break away from norms in delightful ways. In PARASITE, a revolutionary change in health management, developed as a responsive to the Hygiene Hypothesis, has genetically engineered Tapeworms controlling and monitoring the health of individuals. Sally Mitchell received one of the top of the line, early prototypes of the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard, due to her father’s high level position as a Government Scientist. After an accident that leaves her seemingly brain dead, Sally miraculously recovers, despite a nearly total loss of memory. Now, Sally must undergo regular testing by SymboGen, as well as her parent’s obsessive protective care, while she attempts to live a normal life. When a strange sickness begins to affect some with the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard, Sally finds herself pulled between her family, the man she loves, and the shady company that may have saved her life.

It’s no surprise that based on the concepts of potentially sentient tapeworms that I would absolutely love this book. Well, I did, for many reasons. Mira Grant has become the closest thing to the modern day Stephen King for me, and author who manages to thrill and horrify me on a consistent basis. What surprised me most about Parasite wasn’t the well written action, the fascinating science, or the mind numbing high concept plot, it was the humor that Grant infused throughout the novel. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Grant’s novel managed to elicit several inappropriate laugh out loud public moments for me. Sally Mitchell as a character was fascinating, but also managed to be a bit awkward and frustrating at points. Unlike Georgia from the Newsflesh series, while Sally was impressive and strong in her own way, she was quite naive, and even at times whiny. Yet, Grant filled out her cast with characters that balanced Sally out. Grants characterizations are superb, and the number of memorable, crazy, yet fully fleshed out characters was impressive. I love how every relationship in this book is pushed in interesting ways. Sally’s unique relationships with her family, boyfriend, coworkers and even the scientists at SymboGen are not just peripherals of the series, but informed the story in wonderful ways. While I loved Parasite, it wasn’t the perfect novel. It suffered a bit from being the obvious first book in a series. While many questions are answered, the story didn’t have the feeling of being a self contained story that Feed, the first Newsflesh book, managed to have. The big reveal at the end of Parasite was only truly a surprise to the main character. Yet, despite this lack of closure and the telegraphed twist, Grant does a lot with this story and does it well. I’m quite excited to see where this story goes. Again, Grant has created a wonderful world, which offers her plenty of places to play in, and I for one really enjoy watching Mira Grant play.

This is my first experience with Christine Lakin as narrator, and she did an excellent job with the story. Lakin found the right balance between strength and self doubt that peppers Sally’s personality. She read Sally with a quiet strength that was almost stoic at times, allowing the moments of emotional flair to have more impact on the listener. You could just feel Lakin having fun as she voiced Tansy, one of the more colorful characters of the series. She captured the comic absurdity of the character without turning her into a cartoon character. He pacing was brisk yet smooth, allowing the action to push the narrative without being forced. At times some of the lesser characters came of a bit cardboard, but the more colorful standout characters in the book truly came alive in Lakin’s hands. Mira Grant continues to impress me, and I will be waiting trepidatiously yet with growing childish glee for the next entry in this series,





Audiobook Review: The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor: Part 1 by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonasinga

9 10 2013

The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor Part 1 by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Read by Fred Berman

Macmillan Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Through surprising deceptive marketing, this is only the first half of the promise finale of what magically is now being called “A Four Book series” instead of the original label of a trilogy. What follows is a ranty rant rant.

Grade: Incomplete

Note: This review is less of a review, and more of a rant. Of course, everybody likes a good rant, so enjoy.

There has been a lot of talk about blogger responsibilities, and how in reviews we need to “Review the book, not the author.” Well, I’m going to call bullshit on this. We, as bloggers, have a little slice of the internet in which to talk about our experiences with books, and there, we should have the right to do just that, review the experience. If something about an author affects your ability to enjoy the experience of the book, feel free to review it. It’s you slice of the internet, and I think bloggers need to be honest. I would implore people to be respectful and, well, not act like raging dicks, but again, your house, your house rules.  Yet, there is more than just the content of a book the affects your experience. Whether it be your own expectations, the cover, any interaction with the author or publisher, or even your own ignorant beliefs, if it affects your enjoyment, it does a disservice to the book not to mention it. For example, if I hate a book, because I have a strong dislike of the fact that the author once marched in the mummers parade, it’s actually benefits the book if I mention that is what affected my negative experience. Your readers will learn your peccadilloes, and adjust their expectations based on them if you are honest.

All of that is to say that despite the fact the story was pretty good, and the narration was decent, my experience with The Walking Dead: Fall of the Governor Part One, was one that was akin to watching a drunk man kick a puppy, while screaming invectives at school children. The dude may be, in reality, a nice guy, but in that situation, he is an utter douchenoodle.  My experience began, when I was thinking about how the cover of this latest walking dead novel was kind lame compared to the last two. It’s all good, Lame covers rarely affect my enjoyment of a book. Yet, I flicked my finger over the audible app to get a closer look, and there, under the words “Fall of the Governor” in dark lettering on a dark background, it says “Part 1.” WHAT IS THIS PART ONE SHIT? I thought. Maybe I only downloaded half the book on audible, and needed to download Part 2? Nope. Listening to the book intro, Mr. Fred Berman, our audio guide through the series, also said, PART 1. So, my anger began to grow. I was already surprised that the finale was significantly shorter than the first two novels. With what Kirkman said we should expect in the final novel, it’s length surprised me. i expected it to be longer than the first two, not shorter. So, I reread the product description. No where on the Audible page, beyond the cover image did it say Part One. In fact, the product description contained this sentence:

“…readers will experience a terrifying finale befitting the cultural phenomenon that this great series has become.”

LIES! MOTHER FUCKING LIES!

Readers will experience the first half of a terrifying finale because…

THESE ASSHATS SPLIT THIS BOOK IN TWO.

So, when will there be a part two. Who the hell knows? Yet, I know when it comes out, they sure as hell won’t be charging me half price for the book. I just spent a full credit to buy a half of a book. I would be OK with this if they let me know this beyond a small little tag on the cover. I would have been happy telling fans of The Walking Dead that this was a pretty cool story, about Rick, Glenn and Michonne’s first disastrous meeting with the Governor, which is just different enough from the TV show to be enjoyable. I liked the story. Not as much as The Rise of the Governor. There was less zombie action, and more person on person cruelty, not to mention a brutal off camera rape scene. Yet, the grit was what you expect from The Walking Dead. Yet, I can’t in good conscious give this book a good rating, not based on content, but on the deceptive marketing. It affected my ability to enjoy it. As I got close to the ending, with my fears being realized, I kept getting angrier and angrier.

So, yeah. this isn’t much of a review. More like a Bob rant with cussing and mean faces. Let’s call this my review: PART ONE! Part two will come when the bastards give me the rest of the book I paid for.

So, for shit and giggles, here’s the initial imagery of the book.

Yet, the released version looks like this:

Anyone notice the difference?

EDIT: I found a statement about this from Kirkman’s editor, Brendon Deenan:

“When the draft for the third and final book of the Governor series, THE FALL OF THE GOVERNOR, came in, it was much too long to be published as one book, but we knew (Robert, Jay and I), that fans of the series would want the whole story, the Governor’s story in full, as raw as possible and as true to Robert’s vision as we could get it. And that’s the book Robert and Jay handed in, the Governor in all his glory ‘til the bitter end. So we made the tough but ultimately necessary decision to split the conclusion into two parts—the first available now, and the second picking back up in March with the terrifying, concluding pages of this series.”

I call Bullshit. If you had enough time to know that the book needed to be split in two, you had enough time to let the marketing material obviously reflect that. Sneaking a Part One onto the cover in easily overlooked lettering was not enough. This book came in under 8 hours. Even if you double it the book would have been around 15 hours, not “too long to be published.” My guess was that the book was long enough that they realized THEY COULD split it in two, not they HAD TO split it in two. So, yeah… bullshit.





Audiobook Review: Lycan Fallout:Rise of the Werewolf by Mark Tufo

4 10 2013

Lycan Fallout: Rise of the Werewolf by Mark Tufo

Read by Sean Runnette

Published by Mark Tufo

Length: 11 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic with Werewolves

Quick Thoughts: Lycan Fallout offers everything you would want in a Michael Talbot adventure, with a new menace, some new allies and a whole new timeline. Tufo fills his intriguing post apocalyptic world with strange new communities, some of his most visual action scenes to date and plenty of juvenile humor. Lycan Fallout is a worthwhile addition to his weird little Talbotverse.

Grade: B+

I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about Lycan Fallout. With all these iterations of Michael Talbot, battling aliens, zombies, ghosts, dogknappers, vampires and other such horrors, I need a flow chart, Venn diagram, Commodore 64, two shots of whiskey and a 50’s era receptionist to keep it all straight. Yet, with all things Tufo, I have learned to just sit back and enjoy the ride, even when the car careens off the road, and crashes into something twisted and maybe a bit sticky. My other issue was that out of the great monster trifecta, zombies, vampires and werewolves, stories involving lupine shape shifters tend to be my least favorite, and probably fall under lesser beloved monsters like Triffids, squid demons, cats, alien parasites, and taxes as well. I’m not sure why I never get jazzed over werewolves. Maybe it’s all the weird mythology surrounding them or the fact I can never keep the various types straight, or possibly that women are less likely to want to spend time with you if you can’t morph into some sort of animal. Yet, despite my hesitation, I thought, heck, it’s Tufo. I highly doubt his werewolves would be all that sexy and at the very least, I should get enough juvenile humor to balance the whole werewolf thing out.

It’s more than a century since humanity won a pyrrhic victory against the zombie hordes, and half man/half Vampire Michael Talbot is living on his family estate, detached from society. Since the last member of his family died, he’s had no purpose and marks time by when Tommy, his 500 year old Vampire creator and surrogate son would bring him food. Yet, when Tommy and the witch Azile learn of a new menace to the struggling post apocalyptic communities of mankind, they need to find a way to get Michael once again invested in society. Together they hatch a plan to bring him out of exile and into the fight against the Lycans, involving a dog, some beer and baseball. Is there anyway Micheal can resist?

Lycan Fallout is a near future post apocalyptic tale told as only Mark Tufo can, which is straight on, in your face no holds barred storytelling. Fans of Tufor’s Zombie Fallout series will find much of what they like about that series, Michael’s not quite politically correct juvenile humor, visceral scenes of gore, the comradery of brothers (and sisters) at arms, a strange hybrid mythology mixing together as many horror tropes as possible, and plenty of action. Lycan Fallout takes a while to pull you in. Readers need to adjust to the changed world, the new timeline, and a moody whiney version of Michael Talbot, yet, when things begin to move, Tufo grabs the reader by the hair, and pulls them into the story. Mark Tufo, probably unlike any other author, can do things that annoy the heck out of me in a lot of books with over used scenarios and stereotypical portrayals yet make it work by his sheer audacity. Tufo is like that strange friend who constantly tells the same damn stupid joke, but manages to make you laugh at it every time. There was so much fun, cool stuff in Lycan Fallout. I really liked his post apocalyptic world. It’s not anything I haven’t seen before, with new communities, traditions and religions formed from the wreckage of our world, but displayed in an offbeat manner. Tufo constantly keeps the reader off balanced. He has theses moments where his writing almost takes on a poetic quality, and you’re thinking "That’s kind of deep" and then he follows it up with some crude scatological joke. It’s strange and disconcerting and uneven and joyous and a whole lot of fun. I think Lycan Fallout also showed some of Tufo’s maturity as a writer (if you can use the word maturity when describing Mr. Tufo). His action scenes were crisper, less weighed down by extraneous details, and highly visual. His plotting was cleaner, and he even managed some real solid emotional writing that did justice to his characters. Plus, his werewolves were actually kind of cool and even a bit scary at times. My only warning, if you are easily frustrated by series, this is the beginning of a new series, and not a standalone. If you are going to jump of the Lycan Fallout Wagon, be prepared for a long ride. Hopefully your ass won’t get too sore along the way.

As with all of Mark Tufo’s audiobooks, the narration is handled by one Mr. Sean Runnette. I sometimes wonder, with all the time Runnette has spent voicing Michael Talbot, if he hasn’t started becoming a bit of a germaphobe with inappropriately timed humor, a penchant for violence and a high likelihood to verbally abuse inept customer service people. This is the problem; I have trouble separating the narrator with the character, because he has become just as much a part of Michael Talbot as his love of guns and dogs. As always, Runnette’s performance is perfect for this series. He captures the personality of Michael Talbot perfect. One other thing I liked is how when some descendants of Michael’s friends show up, they have vocal similarities to their predecessors, without being carbon copies of them. There was just something comfortable about this, which helped the readers get over the fact that some of our favorite characters are no longer pat of the story. If you have yet to experience a Mark Tufo tale, particularly one surrounding his main character Michael Talbot, whether you want the zombie, alien or werewolf fighting version, I highly recommend experiencing it with Talbot’s true voice, as performed by Sean Runnette.





Audiobook Review: Compound Fractures by Stephen White

2 10 2013

Compound Fractures by Stephen White (Dr. Alan Gregory, Bk. 20)

Read by Dick Hill

Brilliance Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Compound Fractures is an appropriate ending to this untraditional thriller series. A highly emotional and complex read that hovers between engrossing and frustrating, Compound Fractures is a fitting cap to this long time series.

Grade: B+

This week seems to be all about finales for me. With just finishing the Breaking Bad and Luther finales, it seems fitting that I would be listening to the final book in a 20 book series. Compound Fractures is the final book in Stephen White’s Alan Gregory series about a Boulder Colorado Psychologist whose work and personal life gets him mixed up in various adventures.  I wish I could say that I was there from the very beginning when the first Alan Gregory novel, Privileged Information was first released back in 1991. I haven’t. In fact, I am a newish fan of Stephen White, and this is one of the few long time mystery thriller series that I have experienced entirely in audio. While the majority of this series has been narrated by Dick Hill, some of the earlier novels featured some well know narrators like Scott Brick and Michael Kramer. One of the things I really enjoyed about this series is, unlike many ongoing series, White took a lot of risks with his format, shifting perspectives, having novels told from the perspective of Dr. Gregory’s patients or other peripheral characters, making Alan a smaller player in the tale. Also, I really liked how Alan Gregory is a far cry from your typical thriller hero. In many ways he is the anti-thriller hero. Somewhat meek, often bullied, sexually repressed, yet with an ability to look at things from different perspectives. Alan Gregory made lots of mistakes along the way. His complicated ethics and morality often shifted and evolved to a point where the Alan Gregory of Privileged Information wouldn’t recognize, and quite possibly would have despised the Alan Gregory of Compound Fractures, both professionally and personally. I was impressed with Stephen Whites decision to wrap up this series. It’s not easy to take a long running series, one that has been successful, and bring it to a natural conclusion on the writer’s own terms, I was quite interested to see how it would all turn out.

There is a scene about two thirds of the way through Compound Fractures where the two main characters of the novel, Dr. Gregory and his best friend, Boulder Police Detective Sam Purdy, both basically admit that they are acting like douches towards each other. This is when I let out my biggest sigh of the novel because honestly, they were and it was starting to get to me a bit. Compound Fractures is not an easy read for fans of this series. The backbone of this series has been the relationship between these two friends, and how that relationship is fractured, lacking in trust. As a reader I found this quite frustrating. Throughout this whole series I have always liked Alan Gregory, even when he was whiney and annoying, I had some level of respect for him. Yet, the weight of these two friends’ actions becomes too big of a burden for both men, forcing them out of character, into a couple of unlikable slugs. This is both the beauty and problem with Compound Fractures. White has created a brilliant plot where the lies and mistrust have just become too much for these two men. The theme of this novel was trust yet, there was also an interesting exploration of how much Sam has changed, much for the better, while Alan seemed to change somewhat for the worse. With what they know about each other and the potential for either of them to find themselves dealing with the consequences of their actions, how much could they trust each other? White does a wonderful job setting up this conundrum over the course of a few books. As a reader I wanted to scream at both of these men. I wanted them to just talk to the other, to hash out their problems and become the Alan and Sam of old. Yet, it wasn’t going to happen, and I found this both sad and refreshing.

What Stephen White does here in Compound Fractures is impressive. He takes everything you think you know about the series, and about the events leading up to the tragic ending of Line of Fire, and twist it and turn it to a point where you realize everything you thought you knew was wrong. With each twist and turn, I became more engrossed in what was happening even as I become more frustrated with the characters. I never felt comfortable in this book, but in a good way. There was so much pain, so much suffering, and some much mistrust that every step along the way felt like you were negotiating a mine field. White managed to incorporate a lot of subplots from the series into this finale in surprising ways. One of the most interesting things about this series is Alan’s complicated relationship with his wife. This is one of those aspects that I think totally broke out of the norm of most thriller series. In many ways, Alan is “the good wife” in this situation, a loving husband and father, who sticks by his wife despite her betrayals. Much of this novel is Alan coming to terms with his complicated feelings for her, and discovering some of her darkest secrets. Its heart wrenching and painful stuff and the perfect cap to this aspect of the series.

Compound Fractures will not in anyway work as a standalone. While there are some traditional thriller aspects of this novel, with a murder investigation, potential criminal jeopardy and other little twists along this way, this is not really a thriller novel. Compound Fractures is about dealing with the emotional, legal and personal fallout of the past 19 novels. This is a novel written for the fans of the series who were there along the way. It’s a bittersweet ending. Yet, one thing that White did confused me. There is one subplot in this novel that is very much left open ended. I wasn’t sure what to think about this aspect while reading it but, I think I understood why he did it. I think White was trying to do what he did throughout the series, show that things don’t tie up cleanly after 400 pages. That life can never truly episodic. This hanging particle served as a reminder that, until death, there is no true ending to the subplots of a life. As a person I can respect this. As a reader, it’s hard not to want a black and white ending. Yet, instead, what you get is a sort of gray ending, knowing that life goes on and the mistakes of these characters past still have a way to haunt them. While frustrating, I found it utterly appropriate.

I have listened to a lot of Dick Hill narrations over my time. There have been performances I loved and ones that I haven’t. Hill, in many ways, reminds me of those great character actors that you recognize every time they show up in a guest role on one of your favorite TV shows. You know what you are going to get, but you still look forward to getting it. Overall, I think Hill does a fine job with this series. It’s in his wheelhouse, yet different enough to give him something new avenues to explore. Alan Gregory is almost the anti-Jack Reacher, more the mild mannered one than the superhero, and this allows Hill to be much more nuanced in his performance. That being said, I think Compound Fractures may be one of my all time favorite Dick Hill narrations. There is a lot of emotion in this book. Hill manages to show you the depth of Gregory’s breakdown. His often meticulous meter and professional voice makes the hitches, pauses and cracks in his voice that much more effective. I think that Hill himself felt that this book was special, and deserved a special performance, and that is what he gave. I’m not sure how series fans will react to this finale. I think many will love it, while others will be let down. Yet, for me, I thought it was an appropriate ending for this untraditional series, made special by an excellent performance by the narrator.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

1 10 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Read by Will Patton

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 35 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Doctor Sleep is an audiobook that will linger with me for a long time, a wonderful and moving story combined with one of the favorite narrator performances of all time. Doctor Sleep is a prime example of just how special the medium can be.

Grade: A+

I think it’s impossible for me to review anything by Stephen King without putting it into context of my history as a reader. Over the past few years he has released books, or had audiobooks released that tie in with significant moments in my reading history. Whether it’s a new Dark Tower novel, or an audiobook version of The Stand, it’s hard for me to write a review of listening to just that book. My experiences with any Stephen King novel is so tied into my past experiences because so much of his work informs and is informed by his other books. There are other worlds than these, and Stephen King’s books bend and weave through these many other books, wrapping a mutliverse up like a beautiful but uneven tapestry. This is why I approached Doctor Sleep with hesitation. I first read The Shining during my initial wave as a Stephen King reader. I was about 14 or 15 and devoured many of his early novels like Carrie, Christine and Cujo. These novels where straight in your face horror tales, some of which could have passed for modern Young Adult novels, which was perfect for me at that point in my life. Then I read The Shining. I’ll be honest, The Shining was never my favorite Stephen King novel. I didn’t have the same relationship that Jen from Jenn’s Bookshelves talked about in her brilliant post about her relationship with that novel. The Shining was a different kind of horror novel than I was used to. It was more subtle, a lingering horror that played around the edges and sneaked into your nightmares from side doors and shadows. It’s a much scarier experience than say, Cujo or Carrie, which hit you in the face with their horror, but it was also an adult style of horror. It scared me for reasons I didn’t understand.

As part of my preparation, I decided to listen to The Shining. I think I understand the brilliance of the novel more now. It still isn’t my favorite Stephen King novel, but I think it’s because the horror the Torrance family undergoes, and the secrets of REDRUM have become an iconic part of our culture that it’s tough to experience it today as King intended it to be experienced. Still, I was surprised by how much I missed within King’s characterizations of Jack Torrance. As someone from a broken home, who hadn’t yet understood what kind of man his father was, back when I first read The Shining, I felt sympathy for Jack Torrance and was almost resentful of Wendy. Now, I realize what a truly despicable man Jack Torrance was. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but any sympathy I had for the character is gone. King’s depiction of a selfish, self delusional man being manipulated by an evil that tapped into his true nature makes much more sense to me as an adult than it ever did a child. I am glad I decided to listen to The Shining. While I still had issues with it, and my feelings on the narration was that it was pretty much lackluster, and may not have done the story justice, it did make me even more excited to start Doctor Sleep.

Danny Torrance never believed he would give into the temptations of alcohol like his father, but years later he finds himself a drunk, full of regrets and about to hit rock bottom, when his old friend Tony, a remnant of his Shining, lead him to a small New England town. There with the help of a curmudgeonly former drunk, he joins AA, and tries to piece his life back together while working in a hospice where he helps the dying to transition to the next stage, Yet, his Shining isn’t fully dead, and on occasion he is reached out to by Abra, a young girl with perhaps the strongest power he has ever felt. When the True Knott, a group of not quite human travelers who feed off the essence of those with such powers, targets Abra, Danny Torrance, called Doctor Sleep by those who know him, must confront his past in order to protect this young powerful girl.

I often find it really hard to put my thoughts about a work like Doctor Sleep into words that effective portrays the experience I had listening to it. Unlike almost any other author, Stephen King has an ability to totally suck you into a world, where you become so enthralled in in, you never want to escape. Yet, this is hit and miss. There are times where I have struggled through a Stephen King novel like a junky trying to relive the experience of that first high, only to be disappointed. There are other times where you feel like if you just stand on your tippy toes, you may be able to lightly touch that feeling with the your fingers. Then there are times you are just transported into that world with no effort of your own. Doctor Sleep was this type of experience. From the first moments, I was pulled into Danny Torrance’s world, and the special magic of the written word that encompassed it.  Stephen King has created a tale that is both familiar and utterly different. While a sequel to The Shining, and dependent on it for back-story, it doesn’t depend on it for style or substance. King creates a whole new mythology for this world, and does it seamlessly like it’s what he intended from the very start. I found the True Knot to be one of his most fascinating concepts, a group of olderish road travelers riding the American roads in Winnebago’s and Recreational Vehicles who are in fact, a unique type of vampiric community. King does what he does so well, taking something that is seemingly innocuous and tapping into its hidden creepiness. He somehow makes you feel like you have always felt there was something just a bit off when you would see people like this, even if you never realized it on a conscience level.

Yet, the true heart and soul of Doctor Sleep is the journey of Danny Torrance. Danny’s journey feels like his father’s journey in reverse, a man giving into his inner goodness. Doctor Sleep is full of so many touching, self revelatory moments.  Ever since the infamous accident that almost killed King and very well may have ended his career, each novel, on some level, has seemed to be King trying to come to terms with his mortality and eventual journey into the irrelevance of history. Doctor Sleep feels like the natural conclusion to this journey. King seems to have finally found some middle ground with the haunting specter of death, and guides us through that discovery. What he has seemed to discover is that in order to accept death, you must come to terms with life. Doctor Sleep is about this, a man discovering his life, and finding his relevance through community and family. It’s also one heck of a wonderful tale, exciting and well told. I know this isn’t much of a review per se. Doctor Sleep affected me in a way where I can’t say, "Oh, I loved the witting here… what great world building or wonderfully developed characters.”  I’m sure the internet will be full of review analyzing and critiquing the novel for its literary value positively or negatively. For me, it was one of the more meaningful listening experiences I have had in a long time, and reminded me that when King is truly on, you should just give into the experience.

One of the interesting things about audio is that it’s easy to pinpoint how a bad performance affected your feeling of the novel, yet it’s not always as easy with a great performance. How much of my love for Doctor Sleep comes from Stephen King’s ability to tell a wonderful story and affect me on a personal level, and how much came from Will Patton’s amazing performance? In the end, I don’t think the answer is that important. In audio, sometimes the symbiosis between text and performance is so intermingled, it does a disservice to try to separate them out. As audiobook reviewers, we often talk about how a narrator’s performance can elevate the text, but less frequently we mention how the author’s words can elevate a narrator. I think Doctor Sleep may have been about as perfect a symbiosis between prose and performance that I have experienced in a long time. Will Patton’s performance was breathtakingly brilliant. His reading of Doctor Sleep will easily find its way into the pantheon of all time great audiobook performances, in my opinion. With a simple pause, or peculiar emphasis, Patton brings King’s words to full life. King will often use italicize and other tricks in his print texts that doesn’t always translate into audio, but Patton let you hear each word as it was intended in ways that even King may not have realized he intended them. Doctor Sleep is an audiobook that will linger with me for a long time, a wonderful and moving story combined with one of the favorite narrator performances of all time. Doctor Sleep is a prime example of just how special the medium can be.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

27 09 2013

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

Read by Christina Moore

Recorded Books

Length: 5 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The classic Young Adult Post Apocalyptic tale holds up well since my initial reading over 30 years ago. There is a reason this novel is a classic, and it’s themes of overcoming misogyny, the destructiveness of science, and individualism still has value for today.

Grade: B+

Note: If you have yet to read this novel, This review may contain some spoilers. BE WARNED!

When I was in elementary school at good old Christ Home Christian School, I remember the bookcase. The bookcase was a shelf of donated books that the kids in the lower grades could sign out and read on their own volition purely for entertainment sake. Growing up in a fundamentalist household, church and school, this was the first time I felt like I could choose my own entertainment. Of course, it never entered my brain the books here where highly vetted acceptable books, just that I could choose them. Through this shelf I had my first boyhood crush on Laura Ingalls Wilder, went on my first otherworld adventures in Narnia, Oz and on the Phantom Tollbooth, and traveled with some strange characters across the Atlantic in the belly of a giant peach. I was also introduced to some rather amusing rats trying to escape from the National Institute of Mental Health. Every once in a while, new books would be added to the bookshelves. One day, a book titled Z for Zachariah by the same author as the NIMH books was added to the shelves. Since the Rats of NIMH was one of my favorites, I just knew I had to read this book. Little did I know that this would be my first foray into the subgenre known as Post Apocalyptic fiction, which would one day become my literary obsession. So, for those of you out there disturbed by my fascination with the end of civilization, you very well may have a bunch of talking rats to blame for it.

Z for Zachariah is the tale of Ann Burden a teenage farm girl from a small town, who due to a geological anomaly finds herself the last resident of a valley that offers protection from the radioactive fallout of a global nuclear war. She lives day to day, supporting herself through hard work, longing for the company of other human beings yet fearing the dangers others may bring. When a strange man wearing a protective suit shows up, her world is forever altered. While not in any way the first Post Apocalyptic novel, for many of my generation, Z for Zachariah was the introduction to the genre and can be listed as a classic example and predecessor to books like The Hunger Games and other modern YA dystopian. It’s also a darkly fascinating tale of claustrophobia and loneliness battling hope in the midst of the fall of humanity.

The main theme of the novel, both as a young elementary student, and now a much older, bordering on middle aged man, is just how stupid men can be. Ann Borden is young and naive sure, and can be frustrating but she is a strong character, full of the right mix of knowledge to survivor the apocalypse. When Mr. Loomis shows up, you can’t help but think he’s hit the jackpot, a young farmer girl who can run the tractor, cook, fix engines and grow crops, plus well, let’s face it, if you believe you are the last man on earth, finding a smart, resourceful 16 year old woman is reason to celebrate. Yet, the chemist, Mr. Loomis, who never had to worry about where his next meal came from before the apocalypse, decides that this young women isn’t his ally in survival, but his property, and not much more valuable than breeding stock. I remember, the younger Bob being flabbergasted by this. Remember, I grew up in a culture where women were encouraged to call their husbands "Lord and Master" and even I found Mr. Loomis to be a stupid misogynistic dillweed before I even understood what the concept of misogyny was. Rereading it now, and understanding things I didn’t as a kid, including the near rape scene, only cemented my belief the Mr. Loomis is not only one of the most despicable characters in literary history, but one of the stupidest.

This is not in anyway to say that Z for Zachariah is a bad novel. I am focusing on the area that stuck out most to me. In reality, Z for Zachariah should be applauded for creating a wonderful strong female character in Ann Burden, who despite her naiveté, displayed true strength in a devastating world. I know if I was to find myself in similar circumstances of this young girl, I would be dead within weeks. O’Brien’s use of the diary format gives us a very limited perception on the story, yet also adds lots of depths to the tale by showing us Ann’s thought processes, and the evolution of her understanding of Loomis. In many ways, this style allows us to see the process of her maturation, from the girl hiding in a cave but dreaming of marrying the mysterious stranger, to the girl who finally bests the highly educated scientist. There is a reason why Z for Zachariah is a classic of the genre. It’s a wonderfully plotted tale that taps into the essential issues of a post apocalyptic world, highlighting the evolving moralities of the changed world. 

While the audio production is solid, it also displays one of the problems with the format. Christina Moore reads the first person tale with a sort of stunned coldness at first, morphing eventually into something harder. While this is appropriate for the character, it doesn’t make for the most entertaining of listens. Moore often uses a flat affect to show how much Ann is affected by the world, muting her emotions. This makes some scenes more powerful at the end of the novel, when Ann’s emotions finally shows through, but it also at times gives the book an almost dreamlike flow that creates a barrier between the listener and the tale. Overall, I think Moore gives the right performance which brings out the author’s intent but, this doesn’t always keep the reader entranced as a more emotive performance would have.