Ebook Reviews: Return to the Lost Level and School’s Out by Brian Keene

5 03 2018

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Return to the Lost Level by Brian Keene

Apex Publishing

Grade: A

In the second book in the series, Brian Keene cranks up the pulpy goodness to 11. Return to the Lost Levels offers a quest, some “new” characters, death defying (and not-quite-defying) action and just enough interdimensial weirdness to through me into full on squee mode. The Lost Level series is the perfect blend of modern science fiction concepts, classic pulpiness and Keene’s own special mythology. Yet must importantly, it’s pure joy to read. While I love the novel as a whole, the little side peeks into some of the alternate realities was the highlight for me, as well as the cool little short story attached to the end. The Lost Level series is the most fun I have had reading a print novel since Joe Lansdale’s Drive In series, and I can’t wait to see which roads Keene takes us down next.

 

schools out

School’s Out by Brian Keene

Grade: B

In School’s Out, Keene doesn’t break much new ground in the post apocalyptic world. Yet, where this novella stands out is in the voice of it’s main character and the pure visceralness of the writing. Inspired by his sons view of the apocalypse, Keene doesn’t cute it up. This isn’t some cozy apocalypse, but a brutal landscape seen through the eyes of a child. Keene doesn’t attempt to make his main character anything more than he is, a normal kid dealing with a situation that most adults would have trouble grasping. Keene delivers the tale in a way that brutally honest to kids, yet never gratuitously so. There is no agenda or attempts to teach moral lessons, just revealing a potential world as realistically as possible. I think this would be a good tale to read with a child, and may lead to some interesting conversations.

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Audiobook Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

5 03 2018

Elena

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

Read by Candace Thaxton

Simon & Schuster Audio

Grade: A

Typically, I put a lot of research into what books I am planning on reading yet The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza was one of the rare incidents where I took a head long flyer into a book without knowing anything about the it or author other than the cover image and a brief description. This time it paid off. Almost instantly I fell in love with this book. When it truly dawned on me that this may fall into the weird “YA dystopian” category that is often misapplied, I was wary, but each time Hutchinson seemed to be going down the well worn paths, he would take a jarring turn. Typically in YA books, I endure the romance and school politics while getting to the underlining plot, here the characters and their interactions were what made me love the book. In this book, the pat adult solutions to kids problems never worked and the complex emotions of the young adult years were actually respected. In many ways, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows, Wonderfalls, and I loved it for that.

Candice Thaxton was perfect for this audiobook. Her performance was quirky and fluid, capturing the humor of the novel without ever making it feel cartoony. How often can someone organically deliver a conversation between a girl, her best friend and a stuffed baby cthulhu and have it feel natural. She achieved the rare feat of actually making me laugh while listening to a book. The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is simply a book I’m glad I read.

 





Audiobook Review: Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

16 08 2013

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, Bk. 2) by Ben H, Winters

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Apocalyptic Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Countdown City is a bigger, better novel than The Last Policeman that manages to maintain the uniqueness that made the first novel special. Winter’s continues to expand his world in interesting new ways while setting in motion its ultimate destruction. Countdown City is a novel that will please both mystery fans and Apocalyptic Fiction fanatics, and fill with orgasmic pleasure those who love both.

Grade: A-

Since I first heard about Ben H. Winter’s The Last Policeman series, about a policeman who continues to investigate crimes despite the fact that an asteroid is due to strike Earth, people have been describing it as a Pre-Apocalypse novel. This was the mindset I took into it when reading The Last Policeman, and its sequel Countdown City. Now, on reflection, I think that classification is wrong. It all comes down to how you define Apocalyptic. For some people, in order for a novel to be truly apocalyptic, an event must occur that devastates the entire world. I have even heard some say that unless over 90% of the population dies, it’s not truly a Post Apocalyptic novel. I have always disagreed with this thinking. I define an apocalyptic event as something that has drastically affected the established order of society, leading to some type of regression. Another argument that I tend to have with other fans of apocalyptic fiction comes in defining the catalyst for said devastation. Some people require a distinct physical event, like an asteroid strike, a plague, a nuclear war or an alien invasion for a novel to truly be Post Apocalyptic. These events lead to two succinct differing eras, a Pre period and a post Period. Before the asteroid strike there wasn’t an apocalypse, afterward there was, simple. Yet, I think this idea downplays social causes for apocalyptic upheaval, or what I like to call a "slow boil" apocalypse.  A series of rolling events like economic collapse, localized natural disasters, political upheaval, social unrests or even scientific discoveries could lead to just as much devastation as a nuclear war or asteroid strike. Yet, for The Last Policeman, I would say there was a true event that led to an apocalyptic shift in the societal order, the announcement of the impending asteroid strike. This even lead to a drastic shift in the social, political and economic status of the world Ben H. Winters has created, and under my definition, that would make it an apocalyptic event. Through this, Winters has managed to flip the genre on its head, and explore aspects often neglected by other novels of this type, yet truly fitting the my classification of Post Apocalyptic.

With only 77 left until the asteroid 2011GV1 strikes the Earth, the last thing former Policeman Hank Palace should do is take on a pointless missing person case. With so many people going "Bucket List", using the last days to fulfill their ultimate fantasies, the likelihood that he could find a missing person and convince them to return were astronomically small. Yet, when it’s your former babysitter asking, how can you say no? Hank doesn’t, and his investigation has him following clues that lead him to black-market dealers, government atrocities, and a strange permissive independent state set up by university students with ties to his estranged sister.  Once again, Ben H. Winters manages to put together another solid mystery novel given even greater depth by the apocalyptic world in which it takes place. Hank’s investigative discoveries almost takes secondary status to the reader’s ability to discover the changes the world has undergone since the day the discovery of its pending destruction was announced. As a fan of both apocalyptic fiction and detective fiction, this series has the potential for the best combination of two things I love since someone discovers just how good peanut butter and chocolate go together. More importantly, Winter’s doesn’t fail to achieve, and may even have surpassed this potential. The mystery is superbly done, with a solid investigative process and lots of small twists that lead to the final big reveal that will surprise even veteran mystery fans. I found the mystery in Countdown City to be even better than the first novel in the series due to its grander scope and more complicated motivations. Here, the mystery and the apocalyptic world seemed to meld together more fluidly. Winters even managed to use my skeptical nature when it comes to fictional mysteries against me. I tend to be a person who assumes that what information I’m told is true, about someone’s character or motivations, is more often than not just a mask for their true nature. Yet, in Countdown City, that natural mystery reader’s skepticism is flipped on its head. I also truly love the world that Winter’s has created. I enjoyed getting a broader look at the world than just Concord City. Winter’s also builds more on the conflict between Hank and his sister, with effective results that truly builds excitement for the final novel of the trilogy. Countdown City is a bigger, better novel than The Last Policeman that manages to maintain the uniqueness that made the first novel special. Winter’s continues to expand his world in interesting new ways while setting in motion its ultimate destruction. Countdown City is a novel that will please both mystery fans and Apocalyptic Fiction fanatics, and fill with orgasmic pleasure those who love both.

Whenever I start a novel that is narrated by Peter Berkrot it takes me just a bit to adjust to his voice. Berkrot doesn’t have the typical BIG narrator voice that would sound perfect guiding us through the latest apocalyptic movie trailer. Instead, he has a voice that is full of character and unique enough to make it stand out. Berkrot gives another solid performance in Countdown City. He deftly switched between the absurdly sarcastic to the deadly serious with ease. It’s a truly human performance, where the characters may not always react in an appropriate way, but they do so in a natural way. His characters all come alive in unique ways, from the dark humor of Hank’s former colleagues, to the desperation of the betrayed wife. Yet, where Berkrot truly steps it up is in his delivery of one particular scene that borders on stream of consciousness. Without going too into spoilerific details, Berkrot captures the poetry of Winter’s prose during a scene that finds a character floating somewhere between life and death. It’s highly affective and slightly disorienting, and delivered perfectly. Countdown City is another wonderful trip into Winter’s world of impeding doom skillfully guided by the skills of the narrator.

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

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





Audiobook Review: SecondWorld by Jeremy Robinson

20 02 2013

SecondWorld by Jeremy Robinson

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 2o Min

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Quick Thoughts: While SecondWorld probably won’t be nominated for a Booker Award, it’s about an Ex-Navy Seal who violently ends the malfeasance of resuscitated cryogenic Nazis, and well, that’s pretty badass. Second World is a literary violent videogame, full of crazy action, cool gadgets, apocalyptic conspiracies and some fun characters. It’s like a huge smorgasbord for fans of cool crazy shit.

Grade: B

I think more and more readers want nuanced interpretations of antagonists. We won’t simply accept a writer’s word that a character is a bad person, we expect them to prove it to us. While a character may be a criminal, some sort of monster, or even a serial killer, we like to look for the redeeming factor in them, some ounce of humanity that makes them, flawed but relatable. Author’s can no longer rely on a sort of caricature villain, where we accept that his black hat or goatee makes him evil. No one is simply evil. Well, accept for Nazi’s. Nazi’s are simply evil.  Place the label of a Nazi on a character, and no amount of buts can redeem them. He may love his kids, commit random acts of kindness, treat his wife with respect, feed stray dogs and sing in his church choir, but if he’s an Nazi, he’s a sick twisted freak that needs to be destroyed, Sure, there are occasional freak wackjobs who try to defend Nazi’s through specious arguments of misunderstandings or by mentioning atrocities that rival the statistics of the holocaust, but, really these people are dangerous racists assholes who should be laughed at uproariously. Nazi’s are evil  Nazi’s committed almost any sort of evil act you can think of, rape, torture, child abuse, scientific experimentation, ethnic genocide, dabbling in the occult, and attempts at world domination. There is no worse insult then calling someone a Nazi, because in fact, it contains almost all other insults within it. Almost every evil supervillian we see in popular culture is in some way, based on a Nazi. So, writers, please create believably nuanced antagonist, or if you can’t do that, make them Nazis.

While vacationing in an underwater oceanic research facility, Ex-Navy Seal Lincoln Miller is forced into a struggle for his life when strange red snow begins to suck the oxygen out of the atmosphere. After a harrowing fight to save himself and a young girl, Miller is tasked by the President to find out just what is going on. He discovers an evil from our past has resurfaced, looking to cleanse those not genetically pure from the earth, and there are only a few days left to stop them. As always, I strive to give a reasoned analytical look at the books I review, so, it’s without hesitation that I say, “THIS BOOK IS FULL OF CRAZY SHIT!!!! (Extra exclamation points added for emphasis.) I mean, frozen Nazis, hover mech, Apocalyptic red snow, killer roombas, secret Antartican bases, vast government conspiracies, scientific hooziwhatness, horrible surprising betrayal, and a studly hero and gorgeous heroine who race around the world and never stop in order to have crazy monkey sex, not even in a storm drain. Hell, our hero’s name is Lincoln Miller, that’s like Chuck Norris on steroids. And he’s battling Nazis. Shit, Robinson should have just called it Lincoln Miller versus Frozen Nazis: Now With More Killer Roombas and he would have sold like, a million copies or something. Seriously, SecondWorld was lots of fun. Now, it was full of plot holes, including one really big one which the author made even worse by trying to explain it when he should have just winked at the reader and said “A Wizard did it.” ‘Cause, then we’d all be “Wizards… cool.” So, there were these moments that totally frustrated me causing my easily malleable sense of credulity to pull a hamstring. Yet, just as I started to get annoyed, Robinson would go “Hey, look. This Mechanical Battle Suit… it hovers” and I’d start drooling the drool of mech nerds. I really think Robinson is on to a winning formula… if all else fails, just start killing a bunch of Nazis with robots. I mean, screw nuance, Nazis with Robots. So, while SecondWorld probably won’t be nominated for a Booker Award, it’s about an Ex-Navy Seal who violently ends the malfeasance of resuscitate cryogenic Nazis, and well, that’s pretty badass. Second World is a literary violent videogame, full of crazy action, cool gadgets, apocalyptic conspiracies and some fun characters. It’s like a huge smorgasbord for fans of cool crazy shit.

Phil Gigante… wait, what? I need to say more. OK, Well, Phil Gigante narrated SecondWorld, which really was the reason I gave this book a listen. Anything that smells even slightly like I may like it, instantly shoots up the list if it’s narrated by Phil Gigante. Here, Phil get’s to go all crazy like, practicing his German accent, his pretentious Nazi sneer and his ability to deftly narrate sequences involving crazy robots, aerial gas bombs, shark battles (oh, did I forget to mention the shark), Neo-Nazi Electric Car chases, and Slavik Cowboy wannabes. Gigante is an expert at finding the right rhythm for a novel and with SecondWorld, he’s totally rock and roll. Gigante never lets the listener take a breath, just keeps throwing one situation after another until they very breath gets sucked out of them. His vocalizations, as always, are spot on, and full of authenticity. I only have one complaint about the audio production. Who the heck chose the transitional disc break music? I’d be in the middle of some crazy action scene, and then suddenly this bad 70’s era Carney Movie music starts playing? I was all, hey, did Lincoln Miller just start fighting bad disco clowns with bellbottoms…. nope, still Nazis. Other than that, this audiobook was a lot of fun.

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