Audiobook Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

26 08 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Read by Alana Kerr

Audible for Bloomsbury

Length: 14 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Bone Season simply didn’t live up to my expectations. I think there are a lot of people out there who will love this book, and look forward with baited breath to the next edition of the series. For me, The Bone Season wasn’t the right fit. The things that it did well were the things I was less interested in, and overall the whole thing felt flat to me. 

Grade: C

I am really sick of hearing that so and so is the new JK Rowling. Some new book series comes out that loosely shares some sort of commonality with Harry Potter, or the author happens to have some sort of association with Rowling, and people begin screaming "THE NEXT HARRY POTTER" A seven book series…. THE NEXT HARRY POTTER… magic being performed by people under 40…. THE NEXT HARRY POTTER…. the writer is British…  THE NEXT HARRY POTTER… there’s a character in the book whose name rhymes with Dobby… THE NEXT HARRY POTTER! I hate it! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I hate that the expectations are raised. I hate that authors can’t write original fiction without people comparing it to something else. I hate that it friggin’ works. Whenever someone is touted as the next JK Rowling’s my interests is spiked. I’m not sure why. There are plenty of Fantasy series I love more than Harry Potter, yet, if someone says "THE NEXT STEPHEN R. DONALDSON!" I’m all ho hum but channel the name of Harry Potter, and I’m like a fiend looking for that last bit of crack. I liked Harry Potter. It’s so much fun, and I fell in love with so many characters, but it wasn’t the life changing series that it was for others. I was already a voracious reader, with a love of fantasy. My first boyhood crushes were on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Susan Pevensie. Yet, there is something about Harry Potter, the magical mood, the feeling of being an isolated loner stripped away from everything and sent to a grand magical school where you are in fact special. It’s a feeling I like, and when someone says this latest book may once again allow me to relive that feeling, I can’t help but take notice. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out.

Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant whose spirit can leave her body and search out others, living in a London controlled by Scion, a dystopian government who subjugates those with magical abilities. After a tragic encounter on a train, Paige is taken into Scion custody and transferred to a secret penal colony in Oxford, where she encounters a race of magical beings that have been controlling the government for 200 years. I came into The Bone Season a bit hesitant, but with high expectations. Sadly, my expectations were not realized. I was fascinated by the blending of magical realism and dystopian literature the synopsis describes, and while Shannon’s world building of her magical structure was detailed and at times brilliant, her look at Scion controlled Europe was very weak. The Bone Season started with a bit of heavy handed exposition explaining what Scion was and how it would affect those with magical powers. This opening dragged down the story. I think if Shannon allowed the reader to slowly discover the oppressive government, instead of presenting what it was in a quick infodump, the blending of the two worlds may have been more effective. By the time the novel did take an interesting turn, I wasn’t invested in the characters at all. No matter how often Paige told us someone was wonderful, it rarely actually played out that way on the page, and you quickly began doubting the characters opinion. I also had a hard time with the Rephaim. They were like a weird blending of Vampires and Fae, and neither side was explored well enough to make the blending effective. Instead of a unique race of Otherworldly creatures, I found them a weird mishmash of popular fantasy beings repackaged with a shiny bow to make them look original. I found the weird mix of pretentiousness and self loathing unbalanced. Instead of seeing the natural dichotomy of any sentient beings, it all felt forced into showing us another side of these creatures that was manufactured. The Bone Season isn’t a bad book. Shannon created beautiful visuals, and permeated her tale with a sense of magic. She has some thrilling action, and while I was personally bothered by the romantic tones in the novel due to my personal curmudgeonly attitude, they were understated and probably would appeal to those more open to complicated romantic relationships in fiction.  I think there are a lot of people out there who will love this book, and look forward with baited breath to the next edition of the series. For me, The Bone Season wasn’t the right fit. The things that it did well were the things I was less interested in, and overall the whole thing felt flat to me. 

Alana Kerr’s wistful Irish tones were definitely beautiful to my ear. She does a good job bringing Paige to life. At first I was surprised by how understated her brogue was, but the character describes attempting to lessen the ethnic tensions by adopting a proper British speaking voice, and Kerr does a good job adapting the character to this. I could have listened to her voice for a long time, no problem, yet having a beautiful voice, and even appropriate character performance isn’t always enough. Where I struggled was her pacing. She read The Bone Season at a slow plodding pace that may have been fine for the world building aspects but suffered when things started happening. I felt tempted at times to speed up the audiobook, partly because I was never fully engaged with it, but mostly because many of the action sequences lacked a sense of urgency in their reading. It was like she was describing events to a room full of students, instead of actually living it, and because of this the listeners never became fully engaged in the world. For most of the book, I felt like a passive, uninvolved observer, when I much prefer to be pulled into the pages of a book, feeling just as much at jeopardy as the characters guiding us on this journey. In The Bone Season, this never happened. 

Audiobook Review: Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

29 07 2013

Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

Read by Khristine Hvam

Audible, Inc.

Length: 9 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest is a twisted take on the Hero’s Journey and Greek Mythology set in a wonderful world which is like our own, but so very not. It’s a fun, funny tale with wonderful characters that’s full of things that would appeal to a broad range of listeners making it the perfect summer family road trip listen. Doesn’t hurt that it’s narrated by one of the best in the business, Khristine Hvam.

Grade: B+

I have always been a huge fan of road trips. I love to drive down the open road, in total control of everything. I can stop where I want, listen to what I want, basically, it’s the closest I have to freedom in this world full of responsibilities. The longest road trip I was ever on was a 20 hour drive to a music festival in Illinois, sadly, this was back before I was driving, so I had to serve as the passenger. This isn’t as fun. As the passenger, you have a role to fulfill. You must keep the driver awake, capitulate to their will as far as eating, breaks and listening. When I finally was old enough, every once in a while, when I felt a bit trapped in, I would just pick a direction and drive. It would be a bit of a mini-vacation, an imaginary day where you could pretend you were free of the world, a lone traveler on the concrete rivers of America. I never cared if I got lost, or stuck in traffic or even had the slightest clue where I was heading. It was my escape. Of course, this was back in the days when gas prices were hovering around $1 a gallon, and my truck was relatively new. Now, my truck is over 15 years old and gas is flirting with the $4 dollar a gallon price tag. Yet, I still love to drive. My most recent road trip was just over a year ago when I drove to visit my brother and his family in Huntsville, Alabama. I had made this drive once before, drove straight through the day on very little sleep. It was crazy and a bit reckless, and a whole lot of fun. On the way home, I took many side trips, and excursions, choosing scenic routes over the humdrum of the major highway. There was something truly epic about that road trip, luckily, though, it was taken by my own choice, and not under the curse of a malevolent hamburger god. That would just suck.

Helen, a tall, dark haired…. umm.. dark furred… oh hell, she’s a minotaur, almost gets sacrificed to her bosses god who was recently incarnated into some raw hamburgers. Now she’s faced with a tough decision, go on a sacred quest for this god and possibly bring doom down onto the world resulting in thousands of horrible deaths, or be utterly destroyed. Luckily, Troy, her practically perfect coworker, has also been pulled into the gods path, and now she gets to spend some quality time with him. With the help from shadowy agents from the Federal Questing Bureau and a three legged dog, Helen and Troy set out on an epic quest, in a kickass roadster with very little direction. Once again A. Lee Martinez has taken an almost slapsticky premise and produces a fun, funny and utterly engaging tale well beyond the boundaries of normal. Martinez has created fascinating world like ours in many ways but decidedly not in many others. Here, Minotaur work in fast food restraints and Orcs spend their leisure time when not working as accountants and mechanics, as polite motorcycle enthusiasts, who secretly desire to unleash their inner ravenous hordes. Martinez doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up his world, he just acts like it assumed that the gods treat humanity as playthings, and the laws of physics are ridiculous religious beliefs. He throws references around willy nilly, where you the reader are like, “Wait.. What now?” as he quickly moves on to other topics with a bit of a wink. It’s frustrating and funny and perfectly sets the mood for this tale. Helen and Troy are wonderful characters, a minotaur with body issues crushing on the boy whose biggest problem is that everyone thinks he’s so perfect that no one takes the time to get to know the real him… who is perfect. Helen is a character that you just can’t help but love, and Troy one you want to hate… but you just can’t, because he so damn nice and always says the perfect thing. The quest itself is a totally twisted and hilarious mishmash of the Hero’s journey and Greek legends. While the ending is overall a bit predictable, there are enough small surprised along the way to keep readers guessing.  Martinez’s humor works so well, because he’s not trying to tell jokes, just telling a ridiculous story in a way that you simply wish was reality, even if a bit over the top. For fans of A. Lee Martinez, you get what you expect, a funny ride through genre tropes full of unexpected twists, re-imagined classics scenarios and totally likeable characters. For those new to Martinez, well, jump on the bandwagon. Martinez consistently provides genre books that stand wonderfully on their own, and open the door to wonderfully strange new worlds that you wished were real.

Khristine Hvam is one of my favorite narrators, simply because she finds just the right tone for each book she reads. With Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest she embraces the lighthearted nature of the tale, giving it an almost breezy feel with an emphasis on bringing these wonderful characters to life. She never tries to sell the humor, just delivers the world in a tone that says, “Hey, this is how it is… ain’t it grand.” I was especially glad that she allowed Helen to sound like a typical young adult, and didn’t try to turn her into some gruff, caricature of a Minotaur. This allowed the listener to get to know her as the person she is, and not the monster she is perceived as. Since much of this novel takes place in her head, that was essential to maintaining the feel of the book. Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest is the perfect summer listen. If you just happen to be heading out with you family on a big road trip, this title has plenty that can appeal to all members of you family, some young adult angst, action, witches, monsters, orcs, a touch of romance and most importantly, a three legged dog. Who doesn’t love a three legged dog?

Audiobook Review: A Case of Redemption by Adam Mitzner

13 06 2013

A Case of Redemption by Adam Mitzner

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Audible Inc.

Length: 10 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Quick Thoughts: A Case of Redemption is an entertaining Legal thriller for hardcore fans of the genre, or those people who have never seen an episode of Law & Order, The Practice, LA Law or, hell, even that one with those two annoying dudes that currently airs on some damn cable channel. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.

Grade: B-

There is nothing more important in children’s development then helping them foster a sense of self awareness in order to determine what paths there lives should take. It’s easy to tell a child that they should choose a job for security, for money, or because of some family heritage, yet these reasons may not allow a child to be happy. When I was younger, after wanting to be a missionary, a scientist, an award winning film maker, I finally settled on wanting a career in law. I even went to college as a political science major with the express purpose of one day attending law school. Adults had been telling me for years that I should be a lawyer, because I loved to argue. Then they would pat me on the head, ignore my well reasoned arguments, and go back to acting like condescending adults. Despite my love of arguing, there was one really reason I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be able to yell "OBJECTION!" in a crowded room, and force people to pay attention to me. Yet, eventually, years of reading legal thrillers wore me down. It seemed these lovely, characters who get to yell objections at the top of their lungs were destined to become broken down, alcoholic, workaholic success junkies with failed relationships and little to no happiness. It seemed the only way they would be destined to achieve happiness was after they quit their big city firms in disgrace, get themselves into rehab and take on an unwinable case that in someway involves a beautiful and mysterious woman and really, I didn’t want to have to go through all that knowing in the end, I’d probably still be disillusioned or betrayed. So, yeah, maybe law wasn’t the best choice, but, occasionally, when no one is paying attention to me, I still like to yell out "OBJECTION!" or when someone really annoys me, scream “OVERULED!”

Attorney Dan Sorenson was on the fast track to success in his big city firm, when a drunk driving took away everything he held dear. 18 months later Dan is an unemployed drunk living off the insurance money from the accident. When a beautiful attorney approaches his with the case of Rap Artist Legally Dead accused of killing his pop Diva girlfriend, Dan sees the case as a chance to redeem himself for past cases and a way to get his life back on track. A Case of Redemption is a solid legal thriller that offers some great moments, but often falls flat along the way. I enjoyed A Case of Redemption but mostly because I am a legal thriller fan, and often enjoy a good courtroom procedural. After Mitzner’s excellent debut, A Conflict of Interest, I was hoping to be blown away with a big step forward in this legal thriller author’s career, yet, I felt the opposite. In a way, it seemed Mitzner was relying on the themes and tropes of the genre without developing them much on his own. Dan was definitely in a downward spiral, but I felt the transition from down and out drunk, to rejuvenated hero lawyer was too smooth. I was also uncomfortable a bit with the romantic subplot where the attractive, full breasted young attorney managed to make him forget all about his dead wife and child through helping him find meaning and some rigorous sex play. It all felt too easy. Mitzner is no slouch in the legal strategy department, and puts together an interesting case, but it felt too much like a blending of bad Law & Order subplots. For instance, from the very beginning Dan was faced with a hostile judge, yet Mitzner does nothing to set up why the judge was so against Dan and his client. I believe there probably were reasons she was so vehemently against Dan, but it was never really explored. Also, now, I’m no legal strategist but I have no clue why two attorney’s for whom money didn’t seem to be a major issue, didn’t even consider hiring a private investigators, instead ran around like a couple of doofus wannabe Magnum, PI’s alienating potential witnesses and basically blundering along. I think this was my main concern, Dan, this high powered and smart attorney, was simply a big doofas. He pissed people off when he didn’t have to, pushed buttons he should have avoided and basically made an ass out of himself. I mean, really, did he think showing up at the dead pop star’s mother’s house and saying, “Hey, was your dead daughter banging any old dudes?” a smart decision?  Along the way, Mitzner uses some clever plotting to hack out some really intriguing twists, but in all honesty, there wasn’t one surprise that I didn’t highly suspect at some point. A Case of Redemption is an entertaining Legal thriller for hardcore fans of the genre, or those people who have never seen an episode of Law & Order, The Practice, LA Law or, hell, even that one with those two annoying dudes that currently airs on some damn cable channel. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.

Luckily, for me, A Case of Redemption was narrated by Kevin T. Collins, who at the very least makes things interesting. Collins has an ability to enhance the quirkiness of a novel or, when all else fails, create quirkiness out of thin air. He has a solid voice that just has a little something extra. I loved listening to him during the courtroom scenes. He captured the rhythms of the courtroom perfectly, giving it an almost poetic feel. I love how he handled the snarky judge, and the defeatist tone he gives Dan whenever she beat him down. Honestly, I shouldn’t have taken so much joy in the judge ripping Dan apart, but I just couldn’t help it. He even made the strange rejuvenation process of attorney down feel almost natural, giving him a bit more life as he immersed himself in the legal work of the case. One thing that Collins may need to work on is his rapping skills. He handled rapper Legally Dead well, but the rapping, was, well, Collins ain’t no Ghost Faced Killah or even an Eminem. Despite my harsh tone in my review, I enjoyed A Case of Redemption, and I think a big part of that was due to the excellent work of Kevin T. Collins.

Audiobook Review: The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

2 04 2013

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens (The Graveyard Queen, Bk.1)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Harlequin Enterprise Ltd./Audible

Length: 10 Hr 52 Min

Genre: Paranormal

Quick Thoughts: The Restorer is a a clever, well written novel that just focused on things I typically don’t look for in a book. Fans of a slower, introspective Gothic style mysteries with light amounts of romance and paranormal elements should enjoy The Restorer.

Grade: C+


2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

Dear Book, it’s me, not you. I know, I know, that sounds horribly cliché but I assure you that my use of a horribly cliché breakup device does not in any way reflect upon you. Sometimes, it’s not meant to be. You have to admit, we didn’t come together in the traditional way that a book and its reader comes together. I listened to you because you were nominated for an award and I chose to take part in an event where we listen to all the nominees. While this is a wonderful thing, sometimes it makes for an unlikely coupling. Nothing you did was wrong. It’s just the things you did well were not the things I look for when listening to a book. I am a strange guy, with weird tastes. I like Ghosts and mysteries, which you have, but I like more tangible ghost and a more linear procedural mystery. It doesn’t mean what you did was wrong, just not what I am looking for in a paranormal tale. One of the things I believe is that as a reader I need to understand myself, what I like and what I enjoy, if I am going to be able to properly recommend books to others. I also need to be upfront about that to my readers. I need to allow them to get to know me, so they can understand that just because I really didn’t enjoy a book, doesn’t mean they won’t. While I do not believe I am particularly skilled at critical analysis, I think I can tell a good book from a bad book, even when I don’t enjoy it. So, let me assure you that you weren’t a bad book, just not right for me. What made matters worst was I was already eyeing another book. I admit the my excitement for the book I was going to listen to next, made me want to hurry up and get through you, and so I may have looked past you a bit. Yet, I hope my review here will help you find a better reader, one who you are more suited to. You deserve that, book.

Amelia Gray is a Cemetery Restorer who just happens to see ghosts. Her father, who shares her ability, has set up rules for her to avoid interaction with ghosts and those haunted by them. When an attractive but haunted police detective calls on her to assist in an investigation of a brutal murder, Amelia finds that her rules haven’t prepared her for this man she is drawn to. So, if you haven’t figured it out, The Restorer just wasn’t the right book for me. First off, I’m not exactly sure how to label this book. It was a paranormal tale that had romance in it, but was unlike the few Paranormal Romances I had listened to previously. The romance was awkward and mostly chaste, taking place almost entirely in Amelia’s inner dialogue, except for one brief interaction. I think this was one of my major issues with the book, while there were a lot of external things happening, the majority of the book takes place within Amelia’s mind. Now, she was an interesting character, but sort of naive, definitely unsure of herself, and had a strange sort of unbalanced initiative. Sometimes she would be hesitant, or just not be at all interested in acting, while other times she just threw herself at the problem with no abandon or, well, logical thought. I think I just didn’t get her world. That she would wait to now to begin questioning her father’s rules and his mysterious past seemed strange to me. It seemed like she was told this is how it should be, and didn’t let that bother her until now, when her attraction to a man made her rethink everything. There seemed to be an internal illogic to the whole thing, not that it was unrealistic, because humans don’t always react too logically to things, but it was just frustrating for me. I found the big twist to be so telegraphed that I believed that there was no way my suspicions could actually be right because it was too obvious. One of the major reasons I never connected with this novel is that I typically enjoy the procedural aspects of an investigation, even including the paranormal aspects, and this novel focused more on the internal aspects of Amelia’s reactions to the investigation than the actually nit and bolts attempt to find the killer.  The true exploration was of the character of Amelia, and the murders and strange doings were a catalyst for that exploration. Overall, I found The Restorer to be a clever, well written novel that just focused on things I typically don’t look for in a book. Fans of a slower, introspective Gothic style mystery with light amounts of romance and paranormal elements should enjoy The Restorer.

One of the things I have no issues with is the wonderful narration. Hvam infuses this novel with just the right amount of southern charm that you just can’t help but find infective. She handled the soft quiet of Amelia well counterbalancing it with some more vivacious characters. Hvam also handled the few scenes utilizing a distinct Patois well, making it sound organic and not affected. She captured the overall mood of the novel well, giving it an understated creepiness, that get’s amped up during key moments. While her female characters were definitely stronger than her males, she gives the main male character a quiet charm that highlighted his broken nature. I think one of the main reasons I stuck with this tale, despite it not being something that would typically appeal to me was the excellent work done here by Hvam.

Audiobook Review: The World Ends in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar

3 08 2012

The World Ends in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar

Read by Dennis Holland

Audible, Inc.

Length: 6 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple, straight forward tale of survival that stands out from other classics of the genre by its strong female characters. For me, it is the quintessential example of a Cosy Catastrophe, where the residents of Hickory Hollow, despite some conflict, find a new rewarding way to live in the ashes of the modern world. Sadly, any effectiveness of the novel is obliterated by the unforgivable decision to cast a male narrator for a tale told from a first person female perspective. Shame on you Audible!

Grade: C  (B for the Book, F for Casting the wrong narrator.)

I recently read an article on the Cosy Catastrophe subgenre of Post Apocalyptic fiction. Cosy Catastrophes have always been hard to define for me. The term was created by legendary science fiction author Brian Aldiss as a sort of criticism of the works of John Wyndham. He decried that most of Wyndham’s major works were about people "having a pretty good time… while the rest of the world is dying off." I definitely feel this was an unfair criticism of Wyndham’s work, and quite limiting for a definition of this subgenre. Jane Rogers, novelist and author of the article I read, agreed. She expanded her definition of Cosy Catastrophes to be fiction set in a "recognizably realistic world, familiar and therefore cosy" that then suffers a catastrophe. I also had issues with this definition. First off, where Aldiss’ definition was too limiting, Rogers is way too broad. Under her definition, almost any Post Apocalyptic novel set in modern times would fall under this definition. Yet, and this is my most important point of contention, it defines the genre based on external factors, how the reader views the world, as opposed to internal factors, how the characters of the novel view the world. In Roger’s definition, as the novel ages, and is no longer set in a recognizable world to the reader, it would no longer fit in the subgenre. So, I have thought long and hard about my definition of cosy catastrophes, and I think I came up with one. For me, a Cosy Catastrophe is a Post Apocalyptic novel where the characters feel by the end that they are better off in the world they now inhabit then the world that was destroyed. It doesn’t mean that their path was easy, or that they don’t morn the multitude of deaths and destruction, just that the world left behind, and the simpler unencumbered life is inherently better. Under the definition I posit, the subject of today’s review, The World End in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar, fits nicely.

When the bombs begin to fall, in The United States and Asia, the Hardeman family didn’t even notice. Years earlier, they left the hustle and bustle of big city Houston, to live a simpler life on the outskirts of Hickory Hollow, TX. Yet, their weekly trip into town revealed it to be nearly abandoned. Already used to a life without the luxuries of the modern world, Lucinda Hardeman prepares her family and the few remaining resident of Hickory Hollow for what needs to be done to survive the transition. Yet, the Ungers, a group of hard women who where outcasts before the bombs, begin to cause trouble for the survivors, and the town must join together to protect what is theirs. The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple tale of survival and adjustment in rural Post Apocalyptic America. Hickory Hollow reflects many classic tale, like Malevil, Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon, yet where it stands out is in its strong female lead. Mayhar has a straight forward story telling style, as simple as the people she is writing about. The tale is told from the perspective of Lucinda Hardeman, who has a quiet confidence, and an affecting manner. Unlike the typical male leads of Apocalyptic tale, there is no swagger or demagoguery, just strong will and competence. The Ungers are a disturbing group of antagonists. This group of women who survived pre-Apocalypse by government assistance and prostitution, have almost gone feral, and must prey on the townsfolk to survive. The contrast between Lucinda and the Ungers are striking. Hickory Hollow is full of anti-establishment messages, yet it comes off as a character traits, and not Mayhar pushing some sort of agenda. Yet, Hickory Hollow also suffers a bit from an imbalance of descriptive depth. She describes in loving detail each task that the survivors need to perform to survive, but when it comes to the action, the depth falls off, giving it an almost glossed over feel. The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple, straight forward tale of survival that stands out from other classics of the genre by its strong female characters. For me, it is the quintessential example of a Cosy Catastrophe, where the residents of Hickory Hollow, despite some conflict, find a new rewarding way to live in the ashes of the modern world.

I am really, really upset with Audible for what they did with this audiobook. There really isn’t any excuse for it. For a company who is the leading distributor of audiobooks, and one of the major producers of audiobooks, a mistake in casting this bad should never be made. The book is told from the perspective of a woman, with the many strong female characters, and the main antagonist are also female, yet, the narrator is a male. Not just a male, but a male with a pretty deep baritone voice. I can not tell you how many times in this 6 hour production that I had to remind myself that the narrative voice should be female. The funny thing is, when the book originally started, I thought that perhaps the Hardeman’s were a homosexual couple, until I found out that our perspective character’s name was Lucinda. Now, Dennis Holland isn’t a bad narrator. He did a great job giving the book a Texas feel, but it was a male Texas feel. Having a male narrator was simply asinine. There are so many great female narrators that could have taken on this role, Xe Sands, Cassandra Campbell, Khristine Hvam… Hell, Tai Sammons would have been brilliant here. It angers me to no end how simply wrong and lazy this casting was. It would have been like casting Tom Arnold to star in Pretty Women, or to have Carrot Top star in a Malcolm X biopic, or cast Tom Cruise to play Jack Reacher… oh, wait… So, yes. WRONG. I just wonder if anyone at Audible actually read the novel. Harrumph…

This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series.

Also, Presenting Lenore is again hosting a celebration of Dystopian Fiction on her blog.

Audiobook Week 2012: Listen Up!

29 06 2012

Today is the last day of Audiobook Week, and that is sadmaking. Yet, today’s discussion topic is a lot of fun.

Where do you learn about great audiobook titles? Find reviews? Buy your audiobooks? Share your secrets with the rest of us!

I’ll let you in on a little secret, I am not a rich, reclusive millionaire who has an unlimited budget for purchasing audiobooks and the time to listen. Nope, I work for a living, in an industry not well know for its exorbitant wages. Audiobooks are expensive, and my budget is limited, so I have to be creative in order to keep on listening to 15-20 Audiobooks a month. If I was going to purchase all my audiobooks through Audible I would probably spend close to $200 dollars a month. This doesn’t fit nicely into my budget.

My biggest source of Audiobooks is my Public Library and their Overdrive System. Years ago, I also used NetLibrary, but I’m not sure if it even exists anymore since I haven’t used it in well over a year. Here is my trick for Overdrive. I am lucky to live in a major Metropolitan area, with 5 major counties within a drivable distance. At some point in my life I have lived or worked in these counties and have the Library cards to prove it. Also, due to Access PA, many Pennsylvania libraries open membership up to any Pennsylvania resident. This makes the number of titles available to me much greater. Now, part of me wonders if I am gaming the system, so each year I make a donation to all the libraries that I actively use. It’s not a major donation, and in the end it’s much less that if I purchased these titles, but I think it’s a good gesture in an economy where places like Libraries are often the first to experience cuts.

So, the point of this is, get to know your library system. Talk to your librarians. Find out what is available and ask how you can help. Many libraries accept book and audiobook donations, which is a good place to send the books that are cluttering your house.

Now, many book bloggers are used to getting review copies sent to them almost willy nilly. For Audiobooks, it’s a much more careful and deliberate process. Each month I visit all the major Audiobook Publishes and figure out which of their new releases I am interested in. I also have signed up for their newsletters in case I missed something. For many Publishers I have been able to develop a contact person for requesting titles. Some of them have actually contacted me, and others I worked to discover. Yet, I try and work to maintain the relationship, however it gets started. There are a few Publishers, like Penguin Audio, Harper Audio and Simon & Schuster Audio that send out occasionally emails letting bloggers know what titles are available for review. Throughout my efforts I have developed relationship with all but two of the major Audiobook publishers. These relationships have been rewarding in more ways than just free audiobooks, but encouragement, recommendations and promotion as well.

Some tips for dealing with publishers. Only ask for titles that you are truly interested in, and will be able to review in a timely manner.  When you do review a title, send a link to your review. Publishers prefer honest reviews over fake positive ones, and I never have had an issue with a negative review affecting my relationship with a publisher. Lastly, for new release titles, try to have your review as close to release date as possible. There is nothing wrong with asking a publisher for advice on when to publish a review to increase buzz. I know I have a few times.

There are a few tools I use to find upcoming audiobooks beyond Publisher Websites. Audiofile puts out a list of New Releases that usually cover a two or three month period that is searchable by genre and Publisher. Be careful with this because sometimes the info is not totally accurate. It helps to double check any info with the individual publishers. I love Overdrives classic search. Its new search sucks, but the classic search is still available at this link. Finally, Fantastic Fiction has an Audiobook New Release search filter that I use often. Just remember that this information is for releases in the UK, and it’s not always accurate for the US.

Finally, I want to thank Jen from Devourer of Books for hosting this event. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the passion for audiobooks taking hold. Thanks to everyone who has participated. Feel free to hit me up on twitter, or send me an email or Facebook Message if you ever have any questions about Audiobooks, or just want to chat.

Also Today:

An Interview with Audiobook Narrator Michael Goldstrom

A Review of Leviathan By Scott Westerfeld read by Alan Cummings

Audiobook Review: Cain by Jose Saramago

6 12 2011

Cain by Jose Saramago

Read by Kevin Pariseau

Audible, Inc

Length: 5 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Literary Fiction/Biblical Satire

Quick Thoughts: In Cain, readers will find some laugh out loud moments, and a lot of fun in the early parts of the novel as Saramago gives us a new perspective on old Biblical legends, but be prepared for a major shift in tone as the main character becomes more and more disillusioned by a God he believes is, if not totally evil, at least sadistic.

Grade: B

As a child, I spent almost every Sunday morning in Sunday School.  The one thing you have to admit about the Bible, despite your religious affiliations, or level of commitment, the Bible is full of some wonderful stories. I always loved many of the Old Testament tales, Noah and the Ark, Moses and the burning bush, Joshua and the walls of Jericho, Daniel and the Lions Den, and Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. I loved these stories. They were full of brilliant visuals, death defying actions, betrayals, and rewards for faith. Presented at Sunday School land, these were sweet little morality tales. Yet, as I grew older, I began to see that the surface tales that were sugar coated for us children were full of darkness and brutality. After the walls of Jericho came down, the Israelites wiped out the residents of the town of Jericho in a manner that would be called genocide today. Joseph’s brothers attempted to kill him, all because they were jealous that there father gave him a nice jacket. Add to this the even more brutal stories, of Achan who because of his sins, was burned to death along with his entire family, of Jael who killed an opposing army’s leader by driving a tent spike through his head. Yes, the Bible is full of vicious brutality, especially in the early books. In fact, the one story that forever altered my thoughts on God was the story where God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, as a sort of test. I always found this story to be sadistic, and in no way have I ever been able to redeem the image of a God who would toy with his believer so, with the God I choose to believe in.  In Cain, Jose Saramago’s final novel, we follow the infamous Cain, cursed by God for killing his brother, in a time hopping Journey through many of these brutal moments.

In many ways, Cain is a sacrilegious journey through those Sunday School stories that you may have grown up with. I think that Saramago may have had many of the same troubles I have attempting to justify the actions of a seemingly sadistic old testament God with the "God is Love" slant of many modern churches. Saramago uses a lot of dark humor, and clever skewing of the classic biblical stories to present his look at the acts of a malevolent deity. Many of the characters of the Bible, and biblical mythology make an appearance, but maybe not quite as one would expect. I found much of the early part of the novel to be humorous, delightfully irreverent, and wickedly fun. Saramago plays around with the omniscient narrative offering explanations for how someone like Cain would have knowledge of certain idioms or why two characters would talk in a certain manner that seem incongruous to their place in history. Also, his use of Cain’s nonlinear movements through Biblical history worked well, and could be quite funny at times as Saramago plays with time travel interactions.  For much of the novel the story reminded me of Christopher Moore’s biblical satire Lamb, with its light hearted irreverent tone. Yet, as the story progresses, it became more dark and bitter. "The Lord" slowly transforms to from a deity who is a bit cold, and cruel, to almost a manically evil figure that gets off on seeing his followers tortured. Cain himself becomes less a likeable antihero, and more of a man wallowing in his bitterness towards God. The tonal shift was hard to take after the almost whimsical earlier tone of the novel. In Cain, readers will find some laugh out loud moments, and a lot of fun in the early parts of the novel as Saramago gives us a new perspective on old Biblical legends, but be prepared for a major shift in tone as the main character becomes more and more disillusioned by a God he believes is, if not totally evil, at least sadistic.

Cain is written in Saramago’s typical stylized aesthetic writing style. For fans of his style, which consists of long, seemingly endless sentences and paragraphs, without breaks for dialogue, and inconsistent use of capitalization and punctuation, you may feel like you are missing something by listening to this novel in audiobook form. Yet, people who love Saramago’s storytelling yet struggle with his stylized writing may find the audiobook version a blessing. The narrator, Kevin Pariseau reads the novel with an almost sardonic tone which fits the narrative to a tee. His reading is not particularly dynamic, but very appropriate for the text. He reads most characters in an almost bland, unaccented manor. Not that his characters came off as cardboard cut outs, they were full of life and wit, yet their basic voice seemed almost like you were listening to news broadcasters yet this actually fit well with the tone of the tale.  Any attempt to over perform this novel, probably would have done a disservice to what the author was trying to do. Because of that I give a lot of credit to Pariseau for his restrained yet sly reading of this novel. For fans of satire, who don’t mind a little sacrilegious humor, Cain could be a nice, short little diversion in your reading rhythms.

Audiobook Review: Swan Song by Robert McCammon

22 11 2011

Swan Song by Robert McCammon

Read by Tom Stechshulte

Audible, Inc.

Length: 34 Hrs 22 Mins

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: While Swan Song is one of my favorite all time books, and a must read for fans of Post Apocalyptic fiction and Dark Fantasy, I found the experience of it much more rewarding than remembered. Maybe it’s being older, or experiencing it as an audiobook, but revisiting this world only made me love it more.

Grade: A

If I had to pick two novels that truly defined my teenage years and set the framework for what kind of reader the adult me would become, the first of those books would be Stephen King’s The Stand and the second, Robert McCammon’s nuclear post apocalyptic dark fantasy, Swan Song. Swan Song doesn’t get the mainstream hype that The Stand does, but by true hardcore fans of Post Apocalyptic novels, it is considered a classic to rival and for some even surpass Stephen King’s plague opus. I first read Swan Song when I was 15 and since have read the book completely through four more times. Swan Song was one of the books I always kept on my nightstand, and occasionally would pick it up to relive a favorite passage. It is quite hard for me to sit down and write a review for a book that I just truly love. So, this will be less of a review, and more of a sharing of my experience reliving the events of this novel in a different format. I really don’t listen to many novels that I have already read, this year my only “relistens” were the Wild Cards anthology and Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Yet, when I found out that Swan Song was coming to audio, it was a given that I would be listening to it as soon as it was released.

One of the reasons that audiobooks work so well it that stories are meant to be told, and the best books, to be read aloud. Experiencing Swan Song in audio form took a story I knew so well, and gave it a new spin, letting me relive it, yet opening things up to me that I never realized was there before. Yes, the same tales were there, the same characters did the same things, but in listening, the prose and poetry of McCammon’s world took on a whole new beauty. I have read many times of Sister Creep and her fantasies, of being chased by fire through the tunnels of New York City, yet, in audiobook form the words were crisper and the rhythms more discernable. There are so many moments in this novel that have stuck with me for years, that I even thought of them in terms not in the book, like Paul and his radio roulette, and Josh and his fist breaking through the scorched earth. I have been haunted and thrilled by these images. Yet, I think other things affected me more this time, McCammon’s descriptions of the initial attacks, the changing relationship between Swan and her protector cum father figure Josh invoked truly emotional responses that surprised me. I spent more time reliving the relationships then reveling in the action. I even found more depth of character in the stories of various antagonists like Colonel Macklin and Roland.  While Swan Song is one of my favorite all time books, and a must read for fans of Post Apocalyptic fiction and Dark Fantasy, I found the experience of it much more rewarding than remembered. Maybe it’s being older, or experiencing it as an audiobook, but revisiting this world only made me love it more.

I have to hand it to the narrator Tom Stechshulte. I definitely had voices and preconceptions of the characters in my head and I knew, just knew I would be disappointed when I heard his versions of the character voices. Yet, for the most part, he found the perfect tones for characters. Yes, there was a bit of a strange feeling hearing some of these characters voiced, especially Sister, yet, I really grew to enjoy his various takes on the characters. What really impressed me with Stechshulte’s reading was how he captured the timing and rhythms of McCammon’s writing, showing me poetry where I didn’t realize it existed. I did have a few technical and peevish issues at times. Occasionally there was a slight background buzz in the production and some distracting extraneous mouth sounds, but most of it got smoothed out as the audiobook progressed. Any little peevish issues I had in no way took away from the overall enjoyment of the audiobook production. I just hope that this title is successful enough to bring other classic McCammon titles into the audiobook world, especially The Wolf’s Hour and Mystery Walk, as well as his more recent Matthew Corbett series.

My Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Novels: Nuclear Holocaust

21 11 2011



For those who read this blog on a regular basis it won’t surprise you to learn that I am a huge fan of Post Apocalyptic Novels. I have read literally hundreds of books that can be labeled Post Apocalyptic, or other related subgenres. Years ago I wrote a list of Post Apocalyptic novels I had read, at that time the list was about 150 books long. Sadly, I lost the list when my harddrive crashed and never had the motivation to recompile it from scratch. For a while I wanted to do a Feature Blog post on my favorite Post Apocalyptic novels, but never had. I think the scope was too grand for me. I recently decided instead to do a series of posts about my favorite Post Apocalyptic novels based on the type of Apocalypse. Today I will give you my Top 10 Nuclear Holocaust novels.

As always, my "Best of" lists are purely based on how much I enjoyed the novel. I am not evaluating them by any literary means. These are just my personal favorites. Also, for an added bonus, I will play my favorite game of "Who Should Narrate This Book" for any of the novels that are not yet available as audiobooks.

Nuclear War Post Apocalyptic Novels

1. Swan Song by Robert McCammon (1987)

I will not get into this novel all that much, because I will be posting my review of the audiobook version of this novel soon. I will just say that this has been one of my favorite Post Apocalyptic novels of all time, and an icon of my childhood.

Audiobook Version: Audible has just released the audiobook version, read by Tom Stechshulte.

2. A Gift Upon the Shore by MK Wren (1990)

One of the most underrated and underappreciated Post Apocalyptic novels out there. It is the story of two women surviving on their own in the Pacific Northwest after a Nuclear War. Mary Hope is one of the strongest female characters I have ever read. This novel should be canon for any fan of Apocalyptic fiction.

Audiobook Version: Sadly there is no audiobook version of this book. I think this would be the perfect book for a narrator like Xe Sands to take on. I haven’t listened to a full novel narrated by Ms. Sands, but listening to her Going Public series, she has the perfect tone to capture a character as serous and strong as Mary Hope.

3, Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (1959)

Alas, Babylon is an inmate look at a small Florida town during a Cold War ere nuclear exchange called Fort Repose, Florida. The protagonist, Randy Blagg is an aimless man, who finds himself in the midst of turmoil, and is able to pull together the various townspeople to serve and protect their small town. I was a bit uncomfortable with the racial themes of the book, which were probably quite progressive in the 1950’s but seemed quite patronizing to me when I read the novel. Alas, Babylon is a classic of the genre, and one of the first novels set in the midst of Nuclear War.

Audiobook Version: Audible produced an audiobook version of this title read by Will Patton. I haven’t listened to it, but Patton is an excellent fit for this novel.

4. Malevil by Robert Merle Translated by Derek Coltman (1972)

I have always thought of Malevil as the French Alas, Babylon. It is the story of Emanuel Comte, a retired school master who now runs a small farm and uses the Castle on his land as a sort of tourist attraction. After a nuclear exchange, Comte pulls together friends and neighbors to rebuild their society and fight of marauding bandits.

Audiobook Version: There is no audiobook version of this novel. I do not know many narrators who can handle a conversational French patois but of the narrators I know of, I feel John Lee would be best to handle a novel such as this.

5. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller (1960)

A True Classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz is a novel in three parts. The main story of the novel deals with an order of monks, trying to preserve the writings of their patron in the midst of a Luddite society post nuclear war. Full of dark humor and wonderful characters A Canticle for Leibowitz is a cautionary tale for the ages.

Audiobook Version: Blackstone Audio produced an audio version of this novel, with Tom Weiner narrating.

6. Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb. by Philip K. Dick (1965)

Dr. Bloodmoney is a strange mixed of a classic Post Apocalyptic survival with Dick’s unusual paranormal science fiction. It has one of the most memorable character’s ever in Hoppy Harrington, a wheelchair bound man with telekinetic powers, and the ability to mimic voices perfectly.  Dick embraces the concept of genetic mutations to create some of the most bizarre characters and scenarios that I have ever read. Its equal parts fun and brilliant.

Audiobook Version: Blackstone Audio produced an audio version of this novel, with Tom Weiner as narrator. Mayhaps, a trend?

7. Warday: And the Journey Onward by Whitley Strieber and James (1984)

Before there was World War Z, there was Warday, Whitley Strieber’s classic faux journalistic account of America after a limited Nuclear exchange. Full of "official" government documents and research articles, as well as first person accounts of Whitley and James travels it is a unique look at a changed America.

Audiobook Version: Brilliance Audio produced a version of this novel in 1985 narrated by Richard Lavin and Larry Brandenburg available only in multi-track cassette. You can only find copies of this on auction and specialty sites. I would love an updated audio version of this title. I thing someone with a youthful voice, yet able to capture the matter of fact style of the documents would be perfect. My choice would be Erik Davies.

8. The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett (1955)
Another novel that hasn’t received its due, The Long Tomorrow takes place in a world devastated by Nuclear War. The Constitution has been changed to outlaw any dwellings more 1,000 residents and persons found in possession of technology are stoned. Two young cousins Len and Esau, fascinated by stories of the old world, head out on a road adventure looking for a rumored town containing hidden technology. I loved that The Long Tomorrow showed how both extremes of an argument can be equally destructive.

Audiobook Version: There is no audio version of The Long Tomorrow. This one was a tough call for me, but I think someone like Kirby Heyborne could capture the young, naive main characters well.

9. Long Voyage Back by Luke Rhinehart (1983)

This little know novel gives an interesting spin on the Nuclear survival tale. This cold war era tale of nuclear war centers around a retired naval officer as he tries to escape south along the Atlantic coast and through the Caribbean on a small Trimaran with friends and family. They must deal with other survivors, nuclear winter, pirates and increasingly harsh conditions in a race for survival.

Audiobook Version: There is no audiobook versions of this novel. I struggled for who pick as a narrator for a while then suddenly a name just jumped out at me. Stefan Rudnicki. I think he would be perfect for this role.

10. One Second After by William R. Forstchen.

I went back and forth with this one. One Secind After really isn’t a nuclear holocaust novel in any traditional sense, One Second After is about an EMP weapon, a nuclear bomb set off in the upper atmosphere that renders electronic useless. The setting is a small North Caroline college town, and tells the story of former Army officer John Matherson. In many ways it is a modern retelling of Alas, Babylon,  following the actions of a small town as they try to survive and protect themselves. It is full of heart wrenching emotional scenes and horrible devastation.

Audiobook Version: Blackstone Audio produced an audiobook version narrated by Joe Barrett. I have listened to it, and found it very well done.

I know there are a few classics that didn’t make this list, including On the Beach and Damnation Alley. I may get some slack from hardcore Post Apocalyptic fans, but I never really got into On the Beach. I just found the characters annoying. Damnation Alley could have been my #10. I love the book, and love Zelazny’s imagery, but it never really felt like a Nuclear Holocaust book to me.

Also, I thought I would announce that starting in January, every Friday will be dedicated to Post Apocalyptic fiction. Whether is be another list, an author interview, a review, or reminiscing about a favorite, I will be posting something Post Apocalyptic. I’ll admit, that I “borrowed” this Idea from Jenn of Jenn’s Bookshelves Frightful Friday series. I will be calling this “Welcome to the Apocalypse.” You’re welcome to join me if you wish.

Audiobook Review: Go the F—k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

15 06 2011

Go the F—k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

Read by Samuel L. Jackson

Audible, Inc.

Genre: Bedtime Story

Quick Thoughts: A Shocking amount of profanity makes this bedtime story a questionable choice for children.

Grade: B-

Warning: Review may contain mild story spoilers

Often times, when questioned by my therapist, or an ex-girlfriend or two why I am the way I am, I explain simply that my mother never read bedtime stories to me as a child. At least, I don’t remember her doing so. No Goodnight Moon, no Purple Crayons or Pokey puppies. She did not read to me in my bed, she did not read to me with her head. Now, I don’t blame her, I had two younger brothers, one of them a severe bedwetter, who required her bedtime attentions, and, well she was a single mother of four. Plus, Big Bird and Grover taught me to read at a really young age. So, it was with a sort longing brought about by deep psychological trauma that I gave a listen to Go the F–k Asleep by Adam Mansbach from Audible. Now, while the pricing of this tale of a father struggling with doubts of his quality of parenthood while attempting to lull his child to sleep appealed to my frugality, my psyche was further hampered upon discovering the reading of the book was done by Samuel L. Jackson. You see, ever since watching a pre-release showing of Shaft, I wanted Samuel L. Jackson to be my father. I was 26 when that movie came out. Well, enough about me, let’s talk about the book.

On the surface, Go the Fuck to Sleep, is a poetic bedtime story. I was shocked by some of the risks Mansbach took with his poetry, often breaking away from the Iambic pentameter. Some of the rhythms of the tale of all the creatures that were sleeping during the nearly 40 minute long attempt by the anonymous father to encourage his child to join them were hampered by the obvious emotions of the situation. When the father would yell out things like, “F__K your stuffed bear, I ain’t getting you shit” I feel even a child would find the pacing awkward at best. I also had some concerns with the accuracy of the story. I am pretty sure that some of the animals mentioned are nocturnal, and others, like whales, may not operate on the same sleep schedule as humans. Also, some of the wording was poor, allowing us to assume that cubs and lions were huddled together, which is highly unlikely. Maybe better editing would have helped make this book a little more consistent. Despite these problems, I feel the book did a good job capturing the feel of a child’s bedtime story, although the ones I remember reading, by myself, never had as much cursing.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson narrates this tale. I feel he really nailed the asides made by the father like, “I know you’re not thirsty, that’s bullshit. Stop lying.” yet his overall reading of the more mundane childlike poetry about field mice and sparrows lacked the same level of oomph. I would like to see what someone like Christopher Walker or Bob Dylan would have done with the reading. I did enjoy the lullaby tunes that played in the background. I never really got to listen to lullabies as a child, although my dad did often play “I Guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues” by Elton John at nighttime when I was trying to sleep on weekend visits. Maybe the lullabies would have calmed my nightmares, but here, they play perfect counterpoint to the emotional outburst of the father. While I enjoyed the satiric and caustic nature of Go the Fuck to Sleep, I wonder if it would have made a better betimes story if the profanity and abusive nature of the father was toned down. I don’t think I would buy this book, or play the audiobook for my children. Of course, I have no children, but I have 5 nephews and a niece and I would leave it up to their parents to decide whether this was appropriate for them. I probably wouldn’t recommend it though. You know, for kids.