Audiobook Review: The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel

16 03 2017

The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel

Read by Scott Brick

Podium Publishing

Grade: B+

The Last Tribe is a rare bird of a novel, a book I enjoyed immensely but not sure I would recommend to anyone but the most hardcore of post apocalyptic fans. The Last Tribe is The Stand without the good vs. evil paranormal subplot. It’s devoid of any narrative tension or conflict driven plot. It’s simply a story about normal decent people surviving a nearly complete pandemic without any ideological agenda. It’s is so vanilla it’s nearly translucent. It’s the anti-Walking Dead. You want action… sorry. You need conflict… look elsewhere. You love tales of anti-governmental libertarian preppers whose predictions of the collapsing civilization come true allowing them to play out their survivalist fantasies in an orgy of gunfire, well, maybe keep browsing. Manuel’s take is a bare bones examination of the genre’s roots more in line with Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon  than today’s testosterone drenched hero fantasies. Manuel even jokes on the biggest flaw on much of survival fiction, the almost ridiculous amount of luck survivors would need to actually thrive post apocalypse. The Last Tribe is the coziest of cozy catastrophe’s and I enjoyed every minute of it. 

The Last Tribe was nominated for Best Male Performance Audie, so I go into this asking myself if this is one of the best performances of the year. Simple answer, no. Scott Brick, with the right material, can make poetry out of mush. He’s brilliant in guiding a listener through esoteric prose, and capturing the rhythms of a novel whether it be high concept science fiction or action packed thriller. Yet, multi character epics require multiple regional dialects and tons of character differentiation isn’t typically where he shines. Brick gives a great performance and definitely makes some of the boring moments shine, but this is far from one of the best, in fact, I can think of two or three Brick narrations that are more worthy, particularly Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year or Justin Cronin’s City of Mirrors. With those novels, I fail to see any other narrator improving on his performance but I can think of a few that may be better suited to a novel like The Last Tribe. 

Audiobook Review: The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons

7 03 2017

The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons

Read by James Patrick Cronin

Brilliance Audio

Grade: B

I think it’s telling that before I sat down to review this book I had to reread the summary to remind myself what the story was about. The Short Drop wasn’t a bad book, it’s an entirely serviceable thriller that I enjoyed listening to but in the end it was forgettable. Gibson Vaugh is a likeable enough character but it’s another case of an author telling you they’re some brilliant progeny of social engineering but shows you him acting pretty dumb throughout the novel. The mystery plays out on the clever side of paint by numbers and the ultimate show down offers enough ingenuity to leave the reader satisfied that it was worth the effort before happily moving onto their next book.

This book was nominated for an Audie so my expectation of being blown away by the narration may have weighed down my opinion. James Patrick Cronin is a good narrator. Early on in the novel his cadence seemed a bit to staccato, nor matching the rhythm of the book but that became less noticeable as you became a little more invested in the novel. His dialogue is strong and his characters distinct but all in all, nothing about his reading makes it stand out in the genre. 

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

3 03 2017

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Read by Angela Dawes 

 Brilliance Audio

Grade: A

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

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

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

Audiobook Review: 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: Princess of Wands by John Ringo

21 03 2013

Princess of Wands by John Ringo (Special Circumstance, Book 1)

Read by Suzy Jackson

Audible Frontiers

Length: 11 Hrs 29 Min

Genre: Paranormal Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: If my role as your resident audiobook blogger was to offer you critical analysis of the writing, character development and world building of the author, then I could probably nit pick every aspect of this book. Yet, that’s not my job. My job is to say, if the idea of a Christian Soccer Mom who teams up with a Pagan Call Girl, Wiccan Practitioners and Buddhist Monks to battle evil monsters for a secret Monster Hunting agency using the power of their personal faith appeals to you, then by all means, add A Princess of Wands to your reading list.

Grade: B

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

There is a popular quote that often finds its way to science fiction boards that says, "There is a technical, literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. The term is ‘idiot’." The problem is this is hard to do. It’s getting even harder now that every author has a Twitter, a Facebook and/or a blog where they actually state their beliefs. I’ll admit, I can be an idiot. I often have a hard time when an author has a character repeatedly espouse certain beliefs to not believe the author shares at least a version of that belief. The difference for me is, I really don’t care. If a book contains things in it which I find extremely offensive to the point where it affects my ability to enjoy it, I simply won’t read it whether this belief is something the author actually believes or not. For example, I won’t read a book where the sexual exploitation of children is in any way justified. This doesn’t mean I believe an author actually believes this without further exploration, I just won’t fill my brain with stuff like that. Conversely though, I really don’t care about an author’s politics or religion. I may vehemently disagree with something an author believes, but if he tells a good story, and isn’t overtly pushing his beliefs onto people, I’m cool with that. I know this level of disconnect isn’t shared among readers, and I accept that. It’s just, I’m politically moderate. I could probably find something that I vehemently disagree with with almost every author and since I like books, well, I need that level of disconnect. I don’t want characters in my books that are simply a reflection of me. I want to read books about Right winged Christian soccer moms, who believe things that right winged Christian soccer moms believe. What I don’t want is a book about a right winged Christian soccer mom whose beliefs are tempered to reflect some sort of more comfortable world view. All this is to say, I often find John Ringo’s work uncomfortable but I still read him. Why, you ask. Because he writes books about huge battles between humans in mechanical battle suits and carnivorous centaur like aliens. He doesn’t really need to be an Obama supporter to do that.

So, Princess of Wands…. I’m not really sure where to start. OK, so there’s this mom, you see. And she’s like Blonde, and chesty, but really modest about it. She’s got these annoying bratty kids she loves, and an oafish husband who she respects as the head of her household, even though the dude really doesn’t deserve it (learn to cook something, jackass.) Oh, and she loves Jesus. A Lot… I mean, a whole frakkin’ crapload. This Jesus love is important, because, you see, she takes a little breather from said bratty kids and douche bag husband, and gets mixed up in this town full of yokels who are trying to bring about the incarnation of some weird demon lizard thing. Oh, I forgot… she knows karate or something… and she is totally bad ass with guns, although she’d never say badass out loud because Christians don’t say that. So, you’re following me right… this Christian Soccer mom becomes this totally awesome monster hunter infused by the power of Christ working for this secret organization…. when her husband let’s her. Really, this was a frustrating one for me. I liked Princess of Wands. I did. I really even liked Barbara Everette Episcopal Monster Hunter. Growing up in a Christian home, her viewpoints, from her submission to her husband, to her Pro-Life beliefs are things I understand even when I don‘t agree with them. Plus, she really was much more open minded about things than people I know. I think Ringo did a great job creating this character who was true to her beliefs, however unpopular, had actual faith, yet was for the most part non-judgmental and flexible without violating her nature. I know many people would hate her, but I really didn’t. Yet, I totally had mixed feelings. Princess of Wands is actually two novellas and a short story, all connected in an overlapping narrative. This is a style that Ringo has used before, and I’m comfortable with it. The middle story, which takes place during a Literary conference, caused me some issues. Ringo infuses this tale with so much inside baseball that part of my brain was trying to figure out who these characters may really be based on instead of actually following the plot. There is a sequence where Barbara goes around, interacting with various sorts in the conference, as they give these long professorial soliloquies on things like why women prefer fluffy fantasy over hard science fiction, and I wanted to scream, and bang my head repeated against a stack of Larry Niven Hardbacks, not because I found the annoying things his characters were saying indicative of the author’s beliefs but because I wanted to know WHO THE GODDAM DEMON INVOKING SERIAL KILLER WAS! Yet, at times, I really enjoyed this book. There was humor, and action and John Ringo’s brand of over the top writing that’s like a madassed clown on meth who crashed his tiny clown filled car into a bayou full of hybrid croco-walruses. (Wait, I think that last part may have been a dream I had, oops, sorry.) Princess of Wands was a rollercoaster ride of SHUT THE HELL UP PLEASE KEEP TALKING SHUT THE HELL UP dialogue between warring parts of my brain. If my role as your resident audiobook blogger was to offer you critical analysis of the writing, character development and world building of the author, then I could probably nit pick every aspect of this book. Yet, that’s not my job. My job is to say, if the idea of a Christian Soccer Mom who teams up with a Pagan Call Girl, Wiccan Practitioners and Buddhist Monks to battle evil monsters for a secret Monster Hunting agency using the power of their personal faith appeals to you, then by all means, add A Princess of Wands to your reading list. Hell, I may even read the next book in the series.

So, let me say this right off THIS BOOK WAS NOMINATED FOR AN AUDIE AWARD. When I first read the list of nominees, I’ll admit, I was sort of shocked. While I’m not sure I would call myself a John Ringo Fan, I am a John Ringo Reader (well, except for his Paladin of Shadows series which I just can’t stomach.) That being said, my first thought when seeing that Ringo was nominated was that Suzy Jackson must be narrator incarnation of The Wiccan Mother of something to pull this one off. Well, Suzy Jackson was good. Really good. Not blow your mind good, but solid, pleasant voiced, infused with humor professionally good.  Suzy Jackson reads this story as it should be read. I really liked her voice. It was definitely the standard soprano American style similar to Emily Bauer, but with more warmth, maturity and moments of depth. When Barbara was talking of her beliefs, her faith in God, Jackson sounded authentic. I really enjoyed her self editing, where she would start to cuss then stop herself. It just came off naturally. She handled the prayers, and church speech with the right inflections and rhythms. As someone who grew up in a conservative church, there is an almost patois to the American Church goer. A way a certain phrase is said is often just as important as the words, and Jackson’s reading of this novel had me wondering if she grew up in a similar church as well. So, yes, I am still surprised that A Princess of Wands was nominated for an Audie. Yet, the book is what it is, and delivers on what it is supposed to be, and Suzy Jackson does her job well.