Audiobook Review: The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

24 09 2013

The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

Read by Peter Marinker

Audible, Inc.

Length: 24 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Alternate History

Quick Thoughts: The Company of the Dead was a tough one for me. I could have probably spent a thousand words writing about things I loved about the book, and another thousand complaining about the things I hated. In the end, it’s a wonderful tale of alternate history and time travel set against the backdrop of The Titanic bookended around an overly long, overly elaborate and often boring and confusing mess of an action novel.

Grade: B-

You would think a book involving The Titanic, Roswell, a time traveler named Wells, a Kennedy with an aim to establish his own personal Camelot, an alternate history where The United States was broken up and partially ruled by Japan, where the German Empire remains strong and the world is on the edge of nuclear annihilation would be so full of awesome it couldn’t possible be contained within a 15 hour audiobook, right? Well, probably so. The Company of the Dead is full of lots of awesome.  Lots. Sadly, it’s also full of overly elaborate scenes involving a cross country chase, mystical Indians, heavy handed world building and intricately detailed alternate history that fills up a production of over 24 hours. Honestly, I love long books. I used to dismiss books that came in under 300 pages. I used to evaluate a book based on the size of its type print, yet while The Company of the Dead had a wonderful start and a brilliant finish. The 20 hours between dragged on way, way too much.

Daniel Kowalski takes an ambitious plot, and manages to pull off a book that both thrills and bores. As a fan of alternate history novels, I have a lot of respect for what he does here. Much of Alternate history revolves around the "What if." An author will take one moment in time, and change it just slightly, and allow the ball to roll off course in fascinating ways. Here, a lone man, lost in his own past, decides to attempt to make the world a better place. One of his goals is to prevent the sinking of the Titanic. Sadly, despite his plans, he only alters its fate by a few hours. His attempts allow one man to live, industrialist and war hero John Astor, who goes on to become President. He uses his influence to keep the US out of The Great War, allowing the German Empire and the Japanese Empire to become global superpowers. After multiple wars with Mexico, Texas leads another succession from the Union, giving rise to The Confederate States of America. Now, Joe Kennedy, agent for the Confederate Bureau of Investigation,   armed with the diary of the time traveler Wells found in the wreckage of Titanic, is attempting to set the course of the world right.

Sounds complicated, right? Well it is. Yet, the alternate history, the time traveling angle, the look at the political, social and technological changes weren’t the issue for this novel. Kowalski actually creates a fascinating world, full of intriguing concepts spanning the historical, scientific and metaphysical. The problem for me was everything else. Kowalski tacks on an internal power struggle within the CBI, a complicated chase across the country where Kennedy is being hunted by his former lover and the first women to achieve agent status, and honestly, I got totally lost. There were times where I wasn’t even sure who just died, which characters were where and why people were shooting, surrounding, blowing up and threatening. Allegiances changed faster than a con man playing three card Monte. Kennedy had side deals going with the Japanese Germans, British, shamanistic Indians, Negroes, The Union, mobsters, and I think maybe even a Samurai or two. For me, it all meshed into an indescribable miasma of concepts and action, and if I wasn’t so intrigued by where it was all going, I may have given up on it.

What kept me in the game were the fascinating concepts he was playing with. I have to admit, I am a sucker for the philosophy of time travel. Kowalski asks so many intriguing questions. If you knew that the time stream you where living in wasn’t the true time stream, how would affect your decisions? Could the horrors that wee coming be due your actions based on your knowledge? Just how much do little decisions and innocuous changes affect reality? Kowalski takes on these concepts and so many more. In reality, I should have loved this book. If the book was a bit leaner, with a more coherent plot in the thick of the novel, I could easily see this becoming one of my favorite all time alternate history novels. Kowalski definitely knows how to create characters that you become invested in. This was one of the reasons I was so disconcerted when I got lost within the plot, losing touch with characters that I actually cared about within the rapidly moving, and ever shifting framework of the tale. The Company of the Dead was a tough one for me. I could have probably spent a thousand words writing about things I loved about the book, and another thousand complaining about the things I hated. In the end, it’s a wonderful tale of alternate history and time travel set against the backdrop of The Titanic bookended around an overly long, overly elaborate and often boring and confusing mess of an action novel.

So, I am about to go on an ugly American rant. Being an ugly American, I feel entitled. Why when an author is not American but British or Australian or some denizen of the Empire which the sun never set on, do we tend to get a British narrator for a novel set mostly in America with the majority of the characters being American? I don’t believe that American pronunciations are inherently better, but if a book is set in America with American characters, I would like a narrator that pronounces things like an American. There is something disconcerting to me to hear a man with a deep southern draw say "cu-PILL-a-ree" instead of CAP-ill-air-ee." I understand that Peter Marinker is a respected voice and stage actor but his narration didn’t work for me and  for a nearly 25 hour production, I would have loved a narrator that made me want to listen, and not one that I continued listening despite of. I hate giving the "I just didn’t like their voice" kind of reviews. I try to give well reasoned explanations for why I didn’t like a narrator. Yet, between the use of British pronunciations in American accents, an awful lot of mouth sounds, minimal character differentiation in a novel with a lot of characters and just an overall unengaging performance, "I didn’t like their voice" is about the best I can do. My issues with the narration was enough to get me to wonder  how many of my issues with the novel itself were due to the writing, or whether I would have actually been more engaged with a dfferent narrator. Sadly, that’s a question that can’t be answered. 

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Audiobook Review: Warbound by Larry Correia

13 08 2013

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Alternate History Urban Fantasy/Steampunk Superheroes.

Quick Thoughts: Larry Correia brings the arc than began in Hard Magic to a natural and completely satisfying conclusion in Warbound. With a combination of amazing storytelling, wonderful characters and one of the best narrator performances I have experienced, The Grimnoir Chronicles has earned it place as perhaps my favorite all time Speculative Fiction Audiobook series.

Grade: A+

Warbound is the third book in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series about an alternate 1930’s where a secret society of magical superheroes called the Knights of the Grimnoir protect humanity against the use of magically enhanced powers for evil. I’m not exactly sure what Larry Coreia’s plans are for the world he created here, but as far as overall story arcs, Warbound serves as the end of the trilogy that began with  Hard Magic. If Correia decided to never again visit the world, I would be disappointed, but in no way left hanging. It’s about as complete of a story as you can get in the series heavy environment of speculative fiction. This being so, it’s hard to simply evaluate Warbound on its own. In order to truly review it it must be examined for how it completes this trilogy. I have used a lot of hyperbole in describing this series. I have called it things like "breathtaking" and "brilliant" and felt tempted at times to chant "THIS IS AWESOME" like some rowdy fan at a wrestling match while listening. In my reviews, I called it "mind-boggling good" and reiterated a fellow reviewer’s comment that this series is "A Perfect example of how good audio can get." I even have called the narration by Bronson Pinchot "my favorite performance by a male narrator this year."  Yet, I have resisted the urge to place it in any overall context until I felt the series has reached some sort of natural conclusion, which in Warbound it has. I mean, endings are very important, and while a bad ending may not affect the fact that I got a lot of enjoyment out of the previous audiobooks, it would affect where I would put this series in my personal pantheon. Now, having listened to Warbound, I can easily declare that the Grimnoir series is high among my favorite speculative fiction series of all time. But wait, there’s more, people. The Grimnoir Chronicles may be my favorite speculative fiction audiobook series of all time. Now, I can think of books and series I may like a bit more, but I can think of no series that has combined an amazing story full of awesome characters with one of the best narration performances of all time. Larry Correia has created an amazing story, and Bronson Pinchot takes this story to a whole other level that I may not have even believed possible until i heard it for myself.

In Warbound, Jake Sullivan, a Heavy who can literally control Gravity, has put together a secret mission to hunt down the Pathfinder, and interdimenrional being that, upon gaining enough power, can lead the great enemy, a predator that eats magic, to earth. With a crew combining Grimnoir Knights and Pirates, they must take a revolutionary new airship into the heart of the Imperium under the control of an imposter Chairman to find and destroy this creature. Back in the USA, magical humans are being forced to wear marks indicating their powers, while being enticed to move into their own cities under the protection of FDR’s government. Meanwhile, Faye, believed by the Knights to be dead, must enter the Dead City of Berlin to find the animated corpse of fallen Grimnoir Knight who can predict the future, to learn the consequences of being The Spellbound. Again, Larry Correia has taken multiple speculative fiction subgenres and blended it with history to create something that is both comfortable, yet utterly unique. The stakes are now greater, and the events spread out across the globe, yet somehow Correia managed to make it feel more intimate and personal than the first two novels. While Jake and Faye are fighting for the world, they are also dealing with their own personal demons. These personal struggles are potentially even more important to their quest to save the world than any actual individual confrontation. Yet, the ultimate confrontation is looming, between the Knights and a creature so powerful that the entity that brought magic to the world and is the greatest force in human history, is the prey to this predator. I love that Correia doesn’t set up the typical good vs. evil, black vs. white scenario, but instead shows on many different scales the true grayness that is inherent in any conflict. Sometimes doing what you believe is right can lead to great atrocities and the corruption of power will often distort even the best of intentions. Every character must evaluate their own essence, and often overcome their own conflicts in preparation for the coming battle. There are so many epic moments in Warbound that they won’t all fit in this review. In any grand finale, there must be some key casualties, and while to the readers will be saddened by it, Correia knows how to make a character go out in a way that has you hollering and cheering between the tears.  Like in almost all his other books, Correia manages to make the epic finale confrontations so huge, that even the combined talents of Peter Jackson, Michael Bay and Joss Whedon couldn’t fit it on their big screens. These are beyond cinematic. Yet, while these finales are full of awesome, perfectly choreographed action, there is an intimate intelligence to it as well. In Warbound, you have a big multiplayer action sequence that is so thrilling and intense it may have sucked a few years off my life, yet you also have a brilliant one on one showdowns, a showdown so big that it quite possible may have been too big for my earthly imagination.  It’s monumentally huge, yet in its own way, quite small. With Warbound Larry Correia brings this trilogy to a natural conclusion that fans will rejoice in yet have them long for more trips to this wonderfully envisioned world. 

I honestly don’t know how Bronson Pinchot does it. He manages to take what is simply an amazing piece of storytelling, and make it even better. On its own, Warbound and the other novels of this series are amazing, yet Pinchot makes this a series that you absolutely need to experience in audio to truly experience it at its best. It amazes me how much depth can bring to these characters just with is voice and pacing. Each character doesn’t just get it own voice, but its own rhythms and cadence that accentuates their attributes. Pinchot proves that there is so much more to narrating than saying the words in a voice that generally matches the characters. He creates with his voice in ways that few others can. He takes a huge cast of characters and makes each one stand out in memorable ways. He brings the action to life in with a visual acuity that rivals any visual medium. The Grimnoir series is, for me, the best meeting of wonderful storytelling with transformative narration I have ever experience. If Warbound doesn’t manage to pull in yet another Audie nomination and win, I will be completely shocked.





Audiobook Review: Storm Surge by Taylor Anderson

22 07 2013

Storm Surge (Destroyermen, Book 8) by Taylor Anderson

Read by William Dufris

Tantor Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Storm Surge is very much a transitional book in the series, slowing down the pace and setting the board for what is to come. While that can be frustrating, I still found myself enthralled in the world Anderson has created, enjoying the characters, analyzing the plans, and trying to figure out where the story would go next. Basically, despite the fact that not much really happens, the stuff that happened was intriguing enough, and the characters I love true to form that I never found myself bored.

Grade: B+

There was a point, well past the half point mark of Storm Surge, the latest Destroyermen novel by Taylor Anderson, where I had a sudden thought. "You know Bob," came my sudden thought, "Not much has really happened in this book so far." Now, a caveat, what I believe the sudden thought meant was that not much has happened in terms of overall series progression. This has been a problem with a lot of my Military SF and Fantasy reads lately. The early books are great. A small group of scrappy upstarts enter into a situation, meet new people, deal with new political situations, and fight desperate battles that they should lose, but find a way to win. It’s the traditional scrappy underdog tale that so many books revel in. I love those stories. Then comes book two, three and four, where they meet even more people, fight even bigger battles, become embroiled in greater political plots and become even more adaptable to the situation. The world, the characters, the situations all expand until it’s really friggin’ huge. Then, it becomes not about a scrappy group of upstarts fighting a battle, but how to move your fleet of scrappy upstarts from the Eastern front where you have been fighting one political group to the Western Front in time to assist that group of scrappy upstarts before they get destroyed by another political entity, all while hoping the two political opponents don’t coordinate.  While you are doing this, the scrappy upstarts leader, who is now the Grand Superior General of the combined forces of all your new various allies who don’t trust each other but come together under his leadership, must motivate the scrappy upstart Empire to create bigger armies, faster ships and more explody bombs, while keeping their new alliance as the moral superior. It all becomes so big, so grand, that the book becomes less about the characters, and more about logistics, and closing off subplots involving captured prisoners, rival leaders, potential spies and grand new missions that could mean the end to the war. Yet, despite the fact that nothing really happened in the first two thirds of the book, I never felt bored. Plus, a lot happened. Just not a lot of explody, plot hole closing stuff.

In Storm Surge, while the situation in India seems about to get out of control, Col. Matthew Reddy has returned from a relatively successful mission against the Dominion, while suffering grievous injuries to his person and his ship, the USS Walker. Now, Reddy must prepare for a mission to find the Grik home, which happens to be the sacred lost home of his allied Lemurians on the island we call Madagascar. Yet, before he takes on this mission, he and a fleet of ships must undergo a desperate attack on the Grik forces in India who are under the leadership of unstable Japanese Admiral of the Sea Kurokawa. Storm Surge is very much a transitional book in the series, slowing down the pace and setting the board for what is to come. While that can be frustrating, I still found myself enthralled in the world Anderson has created, enjoying the characters, analyzing the plans, and trying to figure out where the story would go next. Basically, despite the fact that not much really happens, the stuff that happened was intriguing enough, and the characters I love true to form that I never found myself bored, which is more than I can say for some other series like this one. I think one thing that sets this series apart from some series like The Lost Fleet and The Honorverse, is there is still a feeling of jeopardy permeating the series. Each battle comes with a cost, and the Alliance pays in lives and supplies. They never leave a battle unscathed, nor is victory always assured. The battles they win tend to lean closer towards Pyrrhic than the routs of Honor Harrington or Black Jack Geary. Basically, The Destroyermen series, despite expanding the world, manages to maintain suspense. When the big battle at the finale of the book comes, it is well executed, and devastating. Sure, there was some level of frustration. Anderson has been teasing us with a Madagascar strike for two books now, and he has a lot of subplots floating around that you know have their place in the overall plot, but you just wish they would hurry up and fall into place. Yet, despite this frustration, and the largeness of the world, Anderson maintains his intimate core that is the heart of this series. You still have Reddy acting like Reddy, Silva doing his thing, and all your favorite Lemurians, humans, Gris, and other species contributing to the fight in their own quirky ways. Anderson may have even thrown in a few surprises. For fans of this series, Storm Surge may not give you everything you want, but you will simply revel being back among these characters that it takes you a while to think, "Hey…. when is stuff gonna happen."

Listening to William Dufris narrate Storm Surge confirmed my belief that the man must love his job. He just seems to have so much fun bringing these characters to life, and you can’t help but have fun along with him. He never skimps, or shies away from a character, but goes full gusto, grabbing onto any cue from the author to create these characters. And there is a lot of them. A ton. So many characters, all from different species. It amazes me how he keeps them all straight. And not just remembering what accent to give a gunner verses a mechanic in the steam room, but what cadence to use for a Lemurian from Manilla, to another who was raised on a Great Boat. He keeps all these characters alive, despite race, job or species. Dufris also paces this novel perfectly. He knows just when to give the listener a breath, slowing down his reading. It’s almost like a state of symbiosis between author and narrator, where they both know when to ratchet up the action, and when to dial it down for some well deserved introspection. Under a lesser narrator, The Destroyermen series could fall apart in audio, but Dufris does more than just keeps it afloat but makes it one of the best ongoing scifi audio series in the crowded market.





Audiobook Review: Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

3 06 2013

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Read by Benjamin Percy

Hachette Audio

Length: 21 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Literary Horror

Quick Thoughts: Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon tells the tale of the afflicted, the demagogues and the victims that this world of werewolves has created. It combines the detailed political and social alternate history of Harry Turtledove or Robert Conroy with the gut level horror of Stephen King told with a literary flair that escalates the novel beyond its influences.

Grade: A

I have always been fascinated by what motivates protest movements. I consider myself politically moderate, and have never felt the need to take to the streets over any issue. It’s not that I don’t have passionate beliefs, because I do. I will sign positions and write my legislatures, but I have trouble taking protest movements seriously. Maybe it’s a product of my conservative and religious upbringing where extreme political actions, even for things we cared about were looked down on. Maybe it’s a product of my age. My formative years were in the late 8o’s early 90’s. I remember the first Persian Gulf War and while people objected to it, there wasn’t the sense of outrage the second war brought about. I went to high school in the first Bush  years and college in the time of Clinton. We were more worried about the state of the economy than terrorism, human rights abuses by our government and social inequalities. Or maybe I was just lazy. Maybe I was so obsessed by my own personal struggles that I never looked outward. I’ll be honest, part of me still looks at the anti-war protests, the occupy movement and the modern social movements as a reflection on the desire of kids to have a 60’s like experience, than any true reasoned objection. It’s not that I don’t agree with them, it that I remember my politics at that age and how transformed I am now, and I can’t help but wonder if there will be some sort of reverse process for them. I have always been a “work within the system” type of guy. I think it fits my personality, and even though I have become much more liberal than the young republican college student I started out as, I still can’t see me grabbing a sign and joining the movements.

In a modern version of America where a prion infection brings about a lycanthropic change, those infected have been regulated to second class citizens, feared and hated by many aspects of the populace. When a gruesome terrorist attack leaves only one survivor, the country is up in arms letting their fear reign. The government cracks down on activist werewolves and begins to place restrictions on all lycans, while the war in the plutonian rich lycan home nation rages. Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon tells the tale of the afflicted, the demagogues and the victims that this world of werewolves has created. It combines the detailed political and social alternate history of Harry Turtledove or Robert Conroy with the gut level horror of Stephen King told with a literary flair that escalates the novel beyond its influences. Percy has created a political charged narrative ripe with modem day analogues, yet tells it a well paced, accessible story that doesn’t force an agenda down your throats. Fans of alternate history will appreciate the complexities and details he built into his world. Percy explores many area with a sociological authority that allows the readers to see the many shades of an issue that is far from black and white. Horror fans will have trouble getting their blood pressure down after an opening that will suck your breath from you lungs and fans of literary fiction will appreciate the well drawn characters, the lush prose and well told story. I loved every minute of Red Moon, yet, I do have one bit of hesitation when it comes to offering recommendations. As someone who truly loves alternate history and horror, this novel was right in my wheelhouse. Fans of horror may struggle a bit with the long trips into world building, wanting to get right back into the blood and gore. Yet, I reveled in it. I enjoyed the sprawling storytelling that took us from characters to character with an almost epic flair. While the story focused on three main characters, you truly felt you got a glimpse of the greater world within Percy’s intimate story. This isn’t really a werewolf tale, but a tale of humanity living with, adapting to and using fear. Percy even creates a limited apocalyptic scenario, ripe with dark images and tales of survival that truly rounded out one of the most satisfying reads of the year for me. Red Moon is one of my favorite novels of the year, offering something for everyone, and maybe a bit of extra for readers of my proclivities.

I am often hesitant about author narrators, but from the moment Red Moon started I knew I was in for a special listening experience. Thomas Percy has a deep sonorous voice that just made my hair stand on edge. He created such an oppressive, claustrophobic mood in the opening of this novel, that I was hooked. He has the perfect voice for horror, and while he lacks some of the polish in pacing that professional narrator may have, he captures his words with a raw beauty that causes them to leap off the page. He also managed to show a wide range of character voices. I did struggle with his voice for Patrick. Percy uses his narrative voice for this character, which was so deep it didn’t totally fit with the young naive juvenile  but this flaw was soon forgotten as he swept you up in his world. Surprising, his female voices was some of his best voice work. Percy shines mostly when things are happening, the flow during the expositional moments is where sometimes the pacing failed, but then you were sucked right back into the tale. If Red Moon isn’t nominated for an Author Narrated Audie next year, then a will take up a sign and march on the mysterious mansion of those who decide such a thing.

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





Audiobook Review: Spellbound by Larry Correia

11 12 2012

Spellbound by Larry Correia (Book 2 of the Grimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 16 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk/Superheroes

Quick Thoughts: Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

Grade: A+

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

It’s no secret that I love a good superhero tale, as long as I don’t think about it too much. I have always been one who hasn’t let inconsistencies in fiction bother me too much. I mean, honestly, I love zombie books, and other goofy science fiction type things, if I let plausibility and consistent mythology bother me too much I probably would have to resort to nonfiction. That being said, those rare occasions when my mind is working too hard, Superhero origin stories hurt my brain. Now, I’m mostly a casual superhero fan. I’ve never been a big comic book guys, so all my issues have probably been addressed multiple times by multiple people. Yet, I never understood why more people haven’t had themselves bitten by irradiated, genetically engineered spiders, or exposed to top secret gamma rays. If superheroes are a real part of your world, wouldn’t more idiots be trying to throw themselves in front of meteors? Then, there’s Superman. He is biggest, strongest superhero of them all, who somehow gets his power from a yellow sun. I’m not exactly sure how the rays of a yellow sun would allow you to fly, or shoot beams out of your eyes. I mean, maybe if we could already float or have low powered eyebeams, then sure, yellow sun, amps us up. I’m down. Plus, Superman can fly into space, through the galaxy where not all suns are yellow. What’s up with that? Wouldn’t he lose his power? So, whenever I go into a tale involving superheroes I plan to sort of roll my eyes and go with the origin story’s flow, which hopefully is dealt with then pushed into the background. Yet, Larry Correia, in his Grimnoir series, has done something I really didn’t expect. He has created a fascinating origin for the force behind the rise of magical powers and integrated it into the mythology of the series in a way that I find quite fascinating.

Spellbound is the second entry in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles, the direct sequel to the Audie award winning Hard Magic, an audiobook that would have been in my top 20 last year, except I listened to it after making my list. After the events of Hard Magic the Grimnoir Knights find themselves is a bad position when they are framed for an assassination attempt on FDR. Now, hunted by a mysterious new government agency, the magical group must try to clear their name while preparing to battle an ancient force that could devastate the world as they know it. It’s common practice in action series that with each new edition  the hero or heroes takes on progressively worst badies. After defeating the most powerful and oldest magical human in the last book, I really wondered where Correia could take the story. Well, in Spellbound everything is amped up exponentially. Spellbound is Hard Magic on blue meth, full of inter-dimensional demons, vast conspiracies, and some of the unlikeliest of allies. Spellbound made my brain spin. I have often commented on the cinematic quality of Correia’s action scenes. Yet, in Spellbound the action scenes are still meticulously choreographed and highly visual, but they are so big that I don’t think a film screen could hold it all. Picture the big battle in The Avengers, throw in Gozer, give it a Steampunk edge, then multiply it by ten, and maybe you have an idea how the finale of this novel felt. Yet, it’s not just the action scenes that hold this book together. Correia has developed characters with amazing death and creates a complex mythology and detailed plot, yet reveals it in a way that is highly accessible. It’s easy to place a sort of sort of pulpy, gun porn label on Correia, but in all honesty, this guy can write with the best of them. Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

In her review, one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Kat Hooper of Fantasy Literature, said that Spellbound is “A Perfect example of how good audio can get.” She is absolutely right. Bronson Pinchot’s performance in Spellbound is easily my favorite performance by a narrator this year. It really is mind boggling how good this book is in audio. Pinchot delivers a master class in pacing of a multiple POV novel. Most good narrators create a pace for each characters inner and external dialogue, yet with each perspective shift, Pinchot tailors his reading to the pace and tone of each character. There is never any question when you are looking at something from Faye’s kinetically paced point of view, or when things slow down to the ponderous pace of the underestimated Heavy Jake Sullivan. Pinchot is one of the few narrators that can actually enhance the author’s character development with his voice. His handling of the international cast was flawless, and tailored each voice to its character’s origin, personality and magical skill. Let’s face it, I listen to lots of audiobooks, and I have listened to more than a few books narrated by Pinchot, but what he does with Spellbound just amazed me. Each character comes alive, each scene jumps from the page to my ears in a masterful way, and it was one of the most engaging and pulse pounding audiobook experiences I have ever had. I have said this before, but I truly believe Correia must have sacrifice some goats or something to the gods of audiobooks to be given two of the best in the business to read his words. In Spellbound he must have gone the extra step and sacrificed an ancient polka dotted virgin goat or something, it was just that good.





Audiobook Review: The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter

22 08 2012

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter

Read by Paul Boehmer

Random House Audio

Length: 22 Hrs 45 Min

Genre: Historical Fiction/Alternate History

Quick Thoughts: The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln is a well plotted tale, with a touch of romance, action and a whole lot of betrayal, set against one of the more misunderstood periods of American History. While Carter tends to weigh down his prose with some unnecessary exposition, he fills his tales with complex and interesting characters and steeps them in a rich and divisive history.

Grade: B

It seems every time my television accidentally tunes into one of the 24 Hour Newsertainment channels, or I stumble across a group of people discussing some hot topic working its way through our legislature I encounter a statement by someone on just how divisive politics have become. They talk about how our legislature and media have lost their sense of civility in the debate and discussion of current issues. I often think it would be nice to take a trip in their brains to when legislative bodies were a gentlemanly sport of friendly banter and constructive give and take. Back when the news media stayed unbiased when reporting events, and ethically avoided even the appearance of impropriety. This is a land where "Fair and balanced’ was not just a witty rejoinder made to rub in the faces of everyone that this state is in fact, it’s exact opposite. In this world, children are paid in lollipops to clean the streets that are unlittered and full of elaborately dressed women wishing them good day. Everyone worked 9-5 with an hour for lunch, and only had to come in on the weekend for the rare emergency. I like to call this land that existed before we lost our civility, Fairytale town, ruled over by The Good Lady Pipe Dream. One of the things I like about well researched historical fiction is it gives us a taste of the reality of those good old days so many dream of, often throwing dirt over their pristine reputations. I think that the true reasons that our politics seems so unseemly, and our news coverage overly biased is because we just have more information today. We have more access to the machinations of government then ever before. We have numerous cable news stations that spend more time covering what the other channels cover than the actual news. America’s history is full of biased news coverage. If you think the coverage of Gay Marriage is contentious, you should see the battlers between the newspapers supporting the Rebels, and those loyal to England during the American Revolution. The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, while an alternate history, takes place during a time where Congress and the Executive branch were constantly at each others throats. Impeachment threats were a tool use often by congress to attempt to reign in the power of the Executive. It was divisive, and not very civil. Sound familiar?

In The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln author Stephen L. Carter asks a fascinating "What if?" What if, on the fateful night at a small Washington Theatre, Lincoln met with grave injury at the hands of a traitorous actor, yet managed to pull through. What if the attempted assassination of Vice President Andrew Johnson actually succeeded and Mary Todd Lincoln dies in a tragic accident. These changes, as well as many other historical alterations set the stage for a complex tale of treason, espionage, and murder. As the Radical elements of Lincoln’s own party accuse him of going too soft on the South and attempting to turn his position as President into a Tyranny, a young colored women named Abigail Canner gets hired as a clerk for the firm defending the President. After one of the firm’s lawyers is murdered, Abigail and her fellow clerk, the white upper crust Jonathon Hilliman, get entangled in a messy conspiracy aimed to bring down the president and subvert justice. First, I should point out, this is a work of fiction. While Carter pulls heavily on actually history, he also takes liberties with history and social mores when it suits the plot. Carter has managed to create a fascinating story that gives us a good glimpse at the diversity of Washington Society right after the end of the Civil War. While a lot of the early parts of the novel are heavy in professorial exposition, he makes up for it with a compelling, if not a bit overly complicated plot, and some wonderful characters both historic and fictional. One of the more fascinating elements of the novel is Abigail’s navigation through the social society of Washington. As one will imagine she has a seemingly overwhelming number of obstacles to overcome set up by a very racist society, yet even more fascinating is the responses she gets from the so called supportive element which are often even more demeaning. Part of me wondered if she, being black and a women, could actually have accomplished many of the things she did in the novel, but again, this is of course fiction and some level of suspension of disbelief is required. The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln is a well plotted tale, with a touch of romance, action and a whole lot of betrayal, set against one of the more misunderstood periods of American History. While Carter tends to weigh down his prose with some unnecessary exposition, he fills his tales with complex and interesting characters and steeps them in a rich and divisive history.

In many ways, my feelings about the narration echoes my feelings about the book, it was good, but it could have been better. I really don’t fault Paul Boehmer for some of the issues I have. He is an excellent narrator who can handle a wide cast and really shines during fast paced, intensive scenes. In particular, in this novel, he handles the actual Impeachment trial scenes wonderfully, and his pacing and tone on the action scenes were impeccable. The problem was, this novel exposes some of his weaknesses as a narrator. Boehmer’s tone becomes a bit dry and mechanical during many of the long expositional parts of the prose, and since this novel is plagued with them in the beginning, it takes a while to really get into the novel. I think that casting a narrator like Dion Graham who can pull the beauty out of the driest text could have bolstered this story a lot. I think this was one of those books that needed something more than just a solid, professional narrator. I think it would have benefited from an African American, or even female narrator. I would love to hear the transitions between mild mannered but opinionated Abigail, and the society women that someone like Katherine Kellgren would pull off. I should reiterate that Boehmer does a good job, especially in the latter moments of the book, yet, I couldn’t help maybe wanting just a bit more for this novel. 





Audiobook Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

29 06 2012

Leviathan (Leviathan Series, Bk. 1) by Scott Westerfeld

Read by Alan Cummings

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Steampunk/ Alternate History, Young Adult

Quick Thoughts: Leviathan has some beautiful concepts, and Westerfeld’s knowledge of history definitely shine through , yet I found the immaturity of the main characters distracting me from the overall plot. Yet, there is enough here to interest me in trying the sequel, where I hope the situations brings growth to the characters making them less frustrating, allowing me to place my full focus where it should be in the novel.

Grade: C+

Since I transitioned from an Audiobook enthusiast to an Audiobook blogger, I have seen a real change in my listening. One of the things I never realized before blogging is how big of a phenomenon Young Adult books have become. I am amazed at the sheer number of Young Adult bloggers who are out there showing their love for all sorts of Young Adult literature. Before becoming a blogger, I read Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and someone recommended Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Last Survivors Trilogy to me, but beyond that, I didn’t know much about Young Adult titles. Now, I have begun listening to many more of these titles based on the influence of many of these passionate and ummm… persistent voices.  Today I am reviewing the Young Adult Steampunk novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  I have seen this title recommended by many fans of Young Adult literature, including my brother who is a Youth Minister. Since I am on the peripheral of fandom of both Young Adult novels and Steampunk, I thought this would be an interesting title to explore. Also, it is narrated by Alan Cummings who I have heard raves about from many audiobook loving sources. So, here I was able to upset two monkeys with one banana, experience a popular Young Adult novel, and introduce myself to a much love audiobook narrator.

Sadly, in this occasion, I think I may have placed too many expectations on this audiobook, and it ended up falling a bit flat for me. While I enjoyed Westerfeld’s use of history, and his concepts are really quite intriguing, I found that the characters kept me from truly enjoying this book. One of the issues I have with Young Adult novels, particularly series, is that they tend to have a coming-of-age component as an essential aspect of their story. I love coming of age stories, mostly because I can’t stand the obnoxious brats, before they realize that they must change, and enjoy watching them  begin to understand the world in a new way. This transition moves way too slowly for me in series entries. In Leviathan there are essential plot elements particularly about the main characters that are not fully explore, because these issues create tension for the next in the series. Yet, I wanted to see much more growth than I got. I was frustrated and annoyed with the two main characters, Alek, a Austro-Hungarian Prince in hiding and Deryn, a young girl posing as a boy to achieve her goal of becoming a pilot, that it took me away from the plot. Yet, I am also a bit hopeful. I had a similar reaction to Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin, and when I finally moved on to the second book in the series, Dust & Decay, I loved it and where he took the characters. I think Westerfeld has proven himself to be an intricate plotter, and has created a world that definitely interests me, and if he develops his characters along the expected path, I think I will began to really embrace his creation. Leviathan has some beautiful concepts, and Westerfeld’s knowledge of history definitely shine through , yet I found the immaturity of the main characters distracting me from the overall plot. Yet, there is enough here to interest me in trying the sequel, where I hope the situations brings growth to the characters making them less frustrating, allowing me to place my full focus where it should be in the novel.

Alan Cummings definitely has skills as a narrator, but I wasn’t incredibly impressed with this performance. He did a wonderful job with the British characters, particularly the crew of The Leviathan, but I felt the Austro-Hungarian characters were not given the same level of careful attention. I did like how Cummings gave Alek a different cadence to his speech when speaking his non-native English. This is something not often seen in audiobook narration, the different is vocal style when using you native language, versus a non-native language, when both of them are presented in the text as English for us English readers. I also found Cummings to have a weird usage of dramatic tone when reading the action scenes. He would often use what I will call and dramatic Harrumph, at the end of some sentences, but it seemed to be applied at random and for inconsistent reasons. As I was listening, my thoughts would be, “Oh, there is Cummings getting all dramatic” then “Hmmm… wonder why that sentence didn’t merit the dramatic Harrumph.” I think this is one of those situations where I am overly picky, and perhaps my inability to engage with the characters led me to have more time to nit pick the narrator. Overall, I can see why this audiobook and its narrator is well loved, unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right fit for me at the right moment.