Audiobook Review: Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan

8 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan (Zom-B, Bk. 2)

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable.

Grade: B

Note: Zom-B Underground is the 2nd Book in the series, and this review may contain spoilers for Book 1. You have been warned. And mocked, but mostly warned.

There has been a recent trend with me in my Young Adult Scifi and horror reads where a protagonist will totally annoy the craphole out of me in Book 1 and when I reluctantly pick up Book 2, I find that they have actually grown on me for some reason. I find this odd, because in adult fiction, I tend to find second books in series and trilogies less satisfying then their prequels. So, I was trying to figure out if this was something in the nature of Young Adult novels that has me react this way. Now, I’m a man who’s closer to 40 than 14 so my perspectives are different than that of most of the target audience of these books. I think at the core of Young Adult novels, particularly the types I read which tend to be Apocalyptic or Dystopian tales, there is an element of rebellion.  I think, often in YA debuts, the rebellion is either internal or intimate, striking out against the established beliefs of your close circle or family, and when we move away from the first novel, the rebellion becomes more external, and broader. I think, due to my place in this world, I find  that the initial rebellion against parents or guardians tends to come off bratty, based on some misconception of the world but when they strike out against the establishment, whether it be a corrupt government or just the overall world view, they become more reasonable. In Zom-B, there was an added elements, B just seemed to want to strike out against anything, because she was unable to strike out against her father. In a way, her anger was reflecting her establishment, buying into the world view of a racist father. Her rebellion was selfish based in weakness and she became more of a bully projecting the abuse of her father onto those beneath her. In Zom-B I found her not just unlikable, but reprehensible, almost bordering or irredeemable at a gut level. I find this is rare in YA because much of the development is based on the fact that these younger characters can break away from their upbringing and their mistakes can be redeemed. Now, despite my reaction to B, or maybe because of this reaction I was quite interested in where the author was taking the series.

After the turbulent ending of Zom-B, B is now a Zombie. Yet, something about her is different. During an encounter with a group of Zombie fighting teens, she has an awakening, no longer a moaning shambling zombie, but aware. She finds she is part of a strange experiment involving an anomalous group of aware walking dead. Yet, information is sparse and freedom a pipe dream, and B finds herself at the mercy of people she doesn’t trust. So, I found Zom-B Underground a much more enjoyable listen. Here, B is still a flawed character, but now her hatred and vitriol is turned towards more deserving people. I like that Shan is showing a reasonable transformation in B. She hasn’t instantly become a better person, but you get the feeling she is honestly trying. It’s definitely a help that she’s away from her father, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of him. I actually found the story itself quite original. While I felt its predecessor had more gut punch shocks and twists, Zom B Underground had enough small, well executed twists that despite the obviousness of some of them, there were enough to keep the reader on their toes. As far as down right creepiness, Underground wins by a land side. Its crazy finale is filled with some twisted, Acid Trip style horror images that really, I didn’t need in my brain. Let’s just say their may have been spiders involved. And a clown. Well, all sorts of creepy. Shan continues to build a nice little mythology, giving small reveals here are there, but not even coming close to filling out the whole picture. Where Zom-B left me thinking "Hmmmm…" Underground pushed me more into the "What the holy hell is going on and what exactly is wrong with this man for putting these images in my tidy little brain?" category. Did I mention the clown and his twisted accessories? *shivers* My only complaint is that each small book so far in this series feels more like a chapter in a larger novel than a complete work able to stand on it’s own. There is an almost serial feel to the Zom-B series and if that is something that frustrates you as a reader you may want to wait until a few of the books are available before jumping into the pool. Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable. I was sorta interested in seeing where Shan was going to take us in Zom-B Underground, now WANT BRAINS THEN ZOM-B CITY NOW!

Emma Galvin is just a fun narrator, whether she’s using an American or English accent. Here she’s busting out the English accent to bring this story to life. Here accent is relatively soft, but authentic sounding. She brings the wide array or characters to life. She really manages to capture both the brash, in-your-your face external Becky, while also showing her insecurities in her internal dialogue. This struggle is really the essences of the first two Zom-B novels and Galvin delivers it beautifully. She also really ups the pacing, alternating between some dreamlike horror sequences with some fast paced action without missing a beat. Some of the issues with the prequel, where twists that come into play in print just couldn’t be delivered affectively in audio, are no longer and issue, making audio an ideal medium for this story. Zom-B Underground was a quick, fun, and all sorts of creepy listen that had enough thrills for adults, both young and well, not so young.

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





Audiobook Review: Dust by Jacqueline Druga

24 10 2012

Dust by Jacqueline Druga

Read by Jacqueline Druga

Jacqueline Druga/ABW Voice Overs

Length: 6 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Nuclear Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Fans of Apocalyptic tales with an emphasis of realistic planning and adaptation will enjoy Dust. While Jo’s plans are the central theme of the tale, its believable characters, realistic scenarios and emotional heart separates it from other novels of the genre.

Grade: B+

As someone who reads a lot of apocalyptic fiction and enjoys speculating on just how our world must end, people often ask me exactly what I am doing to prepare for the apocalypse. After asking this question I often get an incredulous stare when I tell them that I’m doing absolutely nothing. Yet, it’s true. If the apocalypse was to happen today, I’m pretty much screwed. I think I have a few cans of soup and some black beans in the cabinet, and that’s about it.  There are many reasons why I am not stockpiling food, taking weapons training and radiation proofing my house. One of the biggest is financial. I am not a rich guy. In fact, I often flirt with the edges of lower middle classdom, and I’m probably one major breakdown away from street corner begging. Secondly, I have space issues. I live in a decent size apartment, but not decent enough where hundreds of cans of Split Pea soup wouldn’t get in the way. Yet mostly, I am not sure which Apocalypse to prepare for. There is a mark difference in how someone prepares for differing types of an apocalyptic event. If we were attacked by nuclear bombs, I would need to stock up on supplies and hunker down. Living in the suburbs of a major target city, Philadelphia, it wouldn’t make sense to try and outrun the nuclear fallout. Yet, if the Zombies begin to walk, all those denizens of The City of Brotherly love may very well be heading my way for a brotherly snack. So, with the Zombies, I am not going to take my time to gather supplies. I will grab my loved one and try to find a more desolate and defendable place to hold up. If we are hit by some superflu style pandemic and I manage to hit the genetic lottery of immunity from the disease, supplies won’t be my first concern, since, well, it’s all just sitting around waiting to be picked up. Lastly, with an Alien Invasion, I will simply practice welcoming our new Alien overlords. So, for these reasons, I am not much of a prepper type. I just hope my neighbors are, so I can steal their stuff.

Jo believed she was prepared for Nuclear War. She has spent years gathering supplies and coming up with plans for her and her loved ones. Then the bombs hit Pittsburgh and nine other US cities, and Jo realizes that you can’t prepare everything. In her basement with her 15 year old son and a 3 year old nephew, Jo compiles a list of those she hopes will survive the blast, and meet up with her as planned. Dust is an often frightening, sometimes brutal, but also heartwarming tale of hope amidst the fires of nuclear war. It is a very intimate tale, getting you right into the head of the main character. You experience the emotional turmoil of the events right along with Jo, feeling joy when she connects with a loved one, yet, being devastated as another tragedy hits. I have read quite a few prepper style stories about people or groups who prepared for the apocalypse, and the steps they take when such an event strikes. There is often a feeling of superiority and contempt for man in these stories. They tend to scoff upon those who aren’t as prepared, or who never expected such an occurrence. I was quite happy that this tone never made it into Dust. Druga paints a harsh, realistic picture in her depiction of the events of the novel, but there is never that feeling of reveling in the destruction of the country that permeates some apocalyptic novels. Jo makes some tough choices, and is selfish in her protection other family as she should be, but she is never cruel or heartless. I think what truly set Dust apart from others in this genre is the personal feel Druga gives to the characters. While Dust is absolutely fictional, it has a realistic autobiographical feel, as if these characters truly existed. You really felt that this was a group of people that exists, and this made their struggles feel even more real. You couldn’t help but feel the emotion that Druga seeped into every word of this tale. It is definitely not a perfect novel. There were some frustrating moments, and you really only get brief glimpses of the world outside of Jo’s basement, and its immediate vicinity, but any desire for a greater look at the world was counterbalances by the intimate setting. Fans of Apocalyptic tales, with an emphasis of realistic planning and adaptation will enjoy Dust. While Jo’s plans are the central theme of the tale, its believable characters, realistic scenarios and emotional heart separates it from other novels of the genre.

The audiobook version was read by the author herself. Now, I know this may cause an instant groan among hardcore audiobook fans like myself, but here I think it works. I think people’s reception to the narration will come down to whether or not they like the author’s voice. Dust isn’t read like a professional voice over artist just happened to survive a nuclear bomb, and is recording about it. Druga’s voice has a sort of day old whiskey sour after a pack of Marlboros sound to it. It’s raw and real and fits the first person narrative of the tale well. For her first reading, I though she nailed the mechanics of the reading. The pacing is good, and her voice is natural, but crisp and understandable. There are a few muffled words in the reading, but very few, and they actually add authenticity to the reading. Being an independently produced audiobook, you can be concerned about the production values, but I thought it came together well. There were no noticeable problems that some audiobooks have, breath sounds, poor edits, or the like. It had the feel of a professionally produced audiobook, with a gruff but realistic narrator. Druga’s reading is full of emotion, and added to the authentic feel of the story.

Note: Thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of this title for review.