Audiobook Review: Zombie by J. R. Angelella

5 06 2012

Zombie by J. R. Angelella

Read by Alston Brown

AudioGo

Length: 10 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Coming of Age/Literary Suspense

Quick Thoughts: Zombie is truly a feat in storytelling. It reads like a novel Chuck Palahniuk would write after reading too much Robert Cormier. Full of witty dialogue, pop culture references and a unique rivalry between the bittersweet and the bizarre, Zombie is a buzz worthy book that defies classification, but would definitely make a wonderful edition to anyone’s bookshelf.

Grade: A

There are places on this earth that strike inherent terror into the hearts of all living sentient beings. These iconic locations of terror would include dark alleys, graveyards, old Victorian houses, and the most dreaded edifice of them all, a place whose concept alone strikes fear into the hearts of many, high school. It seems every time I read a book that centers around teenagers in high school it is full of competing groups cum gangs, torture, and torment in the form of bullying, awkward romance and heartbreak, perpetual embarrassment, and homework. Yet, my life in high school was relatively tame. You would have thought that I should have been a magnet for bullying. I was always a larger boy, and my family snuggled right up to that poverty line. I never had cool clothes, or good looks, yet, besides a couple of fat jokes, and snickering at my less than hip clothes, I made it through high school relatively unharmed. I never really had too many friends, but I was on the peripheral of a few groups that I usually had someone to sit with at lunch, and if I didn’t it really didn’t matter since I had a book. I guess those days, I managed to find a nice comfortable crack to slip into. Yet, there really wasn’t too many of those cracks available. I saw enough to know I was relatively lucky. Kids can sniff out differences like a dog sniffs out shit and I witnessed enough cruelty to know it existed. So, I consider myself blessed for being able to survive high school sane and unscarred, or at the very least, commend my subconscious for its ability to repress the more traumatic moments I may have experiences in that apocalyptic wasteland of my teenage years.

In many ways, Zombie by J. R. Angelella is two books existing between the pages of a single volume. The main story of Zombie is about 14 year old Jeremy Barker, a zombie obsessed, slightly awkward kid from a broken home as he begins his freshman year at an all boys Catholic school. It’s a darkly comic look at the brutality of high school, where kids are tormented by a gang of plaid wearing bullies, and the slightest misstep can have you ridiculed, and tagged with the ultimate of insults, usually some inventive derivative of the slur fag. Jeremy is an engaging character who lives his life by a series of rules to help him survive the zombie apocalypse, which also translate well into surviving the turmoil of fitting in. This coming of age tale doesn’t break all too much new ground, but has some genuinely funny moments, as well as a sweet romance that fits well into the story. The second story is much darker. Each night Jeremy’s father disappears, showing up the next morning disheveled and out of sorts. While investigating his father’s behavior, Jeremy discovers a strange tape of what seems to be a cult about to perform some sort of medical procedure on a man strapped to a gurney. This secondary story is an almost Palahnuikian trip through Jeremy’s increasing strange family, and his father’s erratic behavior. While both of these story aspects on their own are interesting, where the true beauty of the novel comes in is the interplay between these two divergent storylines. As we follow Jeremy through high school he is an extremely reliable narrator. You believe and enjoy his perspective, and the storytelling is pretty straightforward. Yet, when night comes, and when he is dealing with his family, Jeremy becomes less and less reliable, and the prose takes an almost frantic dream like quality to it. While you trust Jeremy is telling you what he truly believes, you don’t know what exactly is affecting his perception, and whether it can be trusted. Jeremy’s instability of perception builds like a crescendo that leads to denouement that will shake the foundations that Angelella establishes throughout the book. I for one was tempted to return to the beginning in order to reexamine the entirety of the novel based on my own altered perceptions. Zombie is truly a feat in storytelling. It reads like a novel Chuck Palahniuk would write after reading too much Robert Cormier while taking swearing lessons from Chuck Wendig. Full of witty dialogue, pop culture references and a unique rivalry between the bittersweet and the bizarre, Zombie is a buzz worthy book that defies classification, but would definitely make a wonderful edition to anyone’s bookshelf.

This is my first experience with Alston Brown as a narrator. I truly didn’t know what to expect with his performance at first. Initially, I struggled hearing him as a 14 year old. Brown sounding a bit too old, and with Jeremy’s witty internal and external dialogue, I had to remind myself occasionally that this was a boy in the midst of puberty. Yet, as the story progresses, I found myself buying into it more and more. While Brown’s voice didn’t always sound 14ish, the affected nature of his speaking tone did. He managed to sound both pretentious and naive at the same time. Jeremy was a character that often thought he knew more than everyone else, but at the same time was lost within his own changing body. Brown’s delivery portrayed Jeremy’s inner turmoil wonderfully.  I think as the story developed Brown began to understand better what Angelella was doing, and used subtle changes in pace and timbre to capture the conflicting moods of the story. Zombie is a novel that translates well into audio, and with its competing elements that combines a young adult coming of age story with a twisted adult suspense thriller element, I think it’s one that will provoke a whole lot of discussion.

Note: A Special thanks to AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Immobility by Brian Evenson

6 04 2012

Immobility by Brian Evenson

Read by Mauro Hantman

AudioGo

Length: 6 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Science Fiction, Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: For fans of Post Apocalyptic fiction, Immobility is a different take of some familiar situations. Evenson offers some brilliant visuals, compelling dilemmas and a gut punch ending, just don’t expect to go away completely satisfied.

Grade: B

I’m not quite sure why we find amnesia stories so compelling. It’s one of the most overuse subplots in television today, and I find myself rolling my eyes whenever it’s used. Yet, for some reason I forget to turn the channel.  I think the lore of the amnesiac is the ultimate Fantasy dream of starting over. Often the victim of amnesia remembers their skills and basic world knowledge, but forgets who they are. They can now start fresh. Movies like Regarding Henry and books like Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook show us that we not only can escape the burdens of memories, but change the person we are, perhaps becoming a better version of ourselves.  Yet, amnesia subplots often add an extra layer of mystery. Not only are we figuring out what is happening, solving a crime or preventing a tragedy, but we are discovering who this person is and how they lost their memory. Is it a sinister plot, or just some accidental fateful moment that led our hero to their current state? This is one of the reasons I was instantly interested in Brian Evenson’s Immobility. The underlining mystery of a victim of amnesia with the added stressed of an Apocalyptic landscape, what’s not to love?

Josef Horkai is woken after 30 years in storage with no memories beyond hazy images of an apocalyptic catastrophe. He is greeted by a man named Rasmus claiming to be his friend, and is informed that he has a rare condition that has left his paralyzed.  Rasmus explains that his disease gives him one advantage, he is able to survive out in the war ravaged, radioactive wasteland that is lethal to most unprotected humans. Rasmus gives Horkai a mission to recover an item stolen from their community, an item that could help ensure their survival. Brian Evenson has created on of the most brutal, devastating post apocalyptic landscapes I have read. The land is toxic to the few survivors who have managed to find shelter from looming death. The land is utterly barren, and as Josef travels this wasteland, with the assistance of two human "mules" there is little cause for hope. Even more tenuous is Horkai’s grip of reality. All he knows he has been told by Rasmus, and while he feels that something is off, he can’t figure out an alternate course. This is really the highlight of Immobility. The dreamy visuals serve as the perfect backdrop for Horkai’s uncertainty. Horkai is the reluctant unreliable narrator. He wants to know the truth, wants to share it with the reader, but is just incapable. Each survivor Horkai meets along the way only adds to his conundrum. Each situation convinces him that Rasmus’ intentions are not as benevolent as they seem, yet circumstances push him towards completing his mission. While I loved dilemmas Horkai faces, I feel Evenson missed some opportunities to push it further. The ending is devastating and brilliantly answers some questions, but leaves the essence of the main character up in the air. For fans of Post Apocalyptic fiction, Immobility is a different take of some familiar situations. Evenson offers some brilliant visuals, compelling dilemmas and a gut punch ending, just don’t expect to go away completely satisfied.

It’s hard to really evaluate Mauro Hantman as a narrator based on this audiobook. This is my first time listening to an audiobook narrated by Hantman, and found his performance satisfactory if not particularly noteworthy. This isn’t the fault of Hantman. The text itself offers very little challenge to a narrator. There are very few characters in this novel, and they are all male. The prose had a dreamy quality to it which required the narrator to read it in a slow steady, almost airy pace. Hantman did some interesting things with Qanik and Qatik, the two human mules that assist Horkai, giving them an almost robotic, pliant tone that fit the nature quite well. Hantman’s reading was clean and clear, and while it didn’t add to much to the experience, it didn’t detract from it either. Hantman is definitely a narrator with potential, and I look forward to hearing him take on some novels that are a bit more of a challenge. Overall, his tone fit the story right, and truly, what more can you ask for in a narrator.

Note: Thanks to the good people of AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title for Review. Immobility is scheduled for release on April 10th.

This review is part of my “Welcome to the Apocalypse” weekly feature.





Audiobook Review: Millennium People by JG Ballard

12 03 2012

Millennium People by JG Ballard

Read by David Rintoul

AudioGo

Length: 8 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Literary Mystery

Quick Thoughts: While the satire sometimes falls flat, and the outrageousness gets muted by the bland lead character, there is something quietly compelling about Millennium People that kept me actively anticipating the next level of the plot intractably developed by Ballard. Ballard pulls together aspects of his past work, especially his early Dystopian and the psychosexual elements of Crash, to present an eerily predictive look at Middle Class disquiet.

Grade: B

JG Ballard is an author that defies labeling. His early work is remarkably full of science fiction, with some of the more fascinating and weirdest apocalyptic scenarios written. He has written about a world where everything is turning to crystal, and an apocalyptic vision where the wind juist begins increasing until it devastates the planet. His catastrophe novels where full of social commentary, and fascinating concepts pushed to their extreme. Then their came Crash., a bizarre, psychological examination of people who get turned on by car crashes. Ballard then went on to write in a vast array of genres. In many of his novels, like the brilliant High Rise, he examines the urban life of modern man, nd it’s ability to adapt to extreme situations. In many ways, Ballard became both the champion, and biggest critic of the middle class. Ballard has always fascinated me, and when I saw that Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Cold Reviewer was offering one of his final novels, Millennium People, for review, I had to snatch it up.

I have trouble affixing a good label on Millennium People as far as genre. It has elements of a modern set dystopia, with touches of the psychological thriller. It’s got an underlying mystery that drives the narrative, but for a great portion of the book, that mystery is pushed aside to handle to sociopolitical elements of the story. At it’s core, it is the story of a man, David Markham, who is personally investigating a bombing at Heathrow Airport that killed his ex-wife. To do this, he becomes involved in domestic protest groups, looking for groups with a penchant for violence. Markham’s motivation for this investigation is sort of hazy. In many ways, it seems that the drive to find his ex-wife’s killer is more to fill a psychological hole made from his resentment of her, as well as the not to subtle manipulation of his current wife. One of the problems with the overall story is that for it to work the way that Ballard wants, it necessitates a bit of a bland character, and since this character is the perspective for the story to unfold, it gives what could be a fascinating plot, a sort of blandness of it’s own. Some of the characters that should be outrageous, and compelling become dulled through the perception of Markham. Yet, there are moments when this blandness helps accentuates the dark humor, allowing what would be normally be mildly amusing to actually become laugh out loud funny in contrast to the rest of the plot. As David becomes more and more engrossed in the protest movements, he becomes less and less sure he is truly working undercover to discover the truth behind his wife’s murder, or actually becoming a player in the disquiet. Ballard’s novel is amazingly prophetic. While written in 2003, it eerily predicts the working middleclass angst that you see in movements like the Tea party and Occupy, despite their differing politics. The theme that the middle class is the new proletariat resonates through the book, with the working people of Chelsea Marina rising up in protest against both the Bankers, as well as the governmental support of the impoverished.  Ballard balances this nicely, particularly in the guise of Richard Gould, who preaches that the only affective violent protest is the unreasonable, unpredictable act. While the satire sometimes falls flat, and the outrageousness gets muted by the bland lead character, there is something quietly compelling about Millennium People that kept me actively anticipating the next level of the plot intractably developed by Ballard. Ballard pulls together aspects of his past work, especially his early Dystopian and the psychosexual elements of Crash, to present an eerily predictive look at Middle Class disquiet.

David Rintoul offers a soft, understated reading of Millennium People that matches the tone and feel of the novel just right. His voice had a way of lolling you, almost relaxing you, allowing you to separate yourself from the characters, and view the plot in almost a role of omniscient observer. For some stories this sort of separation would do a disservice to the plot, but here it actually works, Rintoul never blows you away, even his reading of the final bit of action is subtle and dispassionate, but I personally believe this is how this story should be read. I think there is a bit of a desire to label this novel and it’s reading boring. It’s not. While the main character is bland, and the plot subdued, I found myself reflecting on the issues of this novel more than I do on most works full of nonstop action, and explosions.

Note: I reviewed this title as part of AudioJukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer Program. That’s to AudioJukebox and AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title fro review. To learn more about the program and find Audiobook titles for review click on the Image below.





Audiobook Review: Plugged by Eoin Colfer

1 11 2011

Plugged by Eoin Colfer

Read by John Keating

AudioGo

Length: 8 Hrs 26 Mins

Genre: Mystery

Quick Thoughts: Plugged is a  funny, fast mystery with an interesting but not overly bright main character. Colfer’s tone allows you to overlook some cornball moments and just have fun with the tale.

Grade: B

Watching the news is a perilous thing today. I used to be a very well informed person on current events, the state of the economy, politics and the like, but that road leads to utter depression and a desire to flip on the TV and switch over to some Kardashian based programming. This should not be. Even books today are often hyper-serious, dealing with issues of global chaos, exploitation of children, environmental breakdown and many other anxiety building topics. Every once in a while you need something light. A humor filled look at insignificant issues. If I remember correctly, reading used to be fun. It was full of adventure and the fantastic, it took you on trips that you could never actually go on, and in its essence reading was the ultimate in escapism. So, it’s not a surprise when every once in a while, I forgo feeding my dark side, and take on something just for fun. Now, I didn’t know much about Eoin Colfer other than the fact that he writes a light hearted and funny series for children. When I discovered he wrote an adult novel about an Irish Bouncer working at a sleazy New Jersey club, who gets mixed up in a mystery, I thought, hey, why not? When I learned that the book was named Plugged, not based on some colloquial slang indicating some sort of state of conectiveness, like being "Plugged In" but for the fact that the main character recently received hair plugs, I knew that I didn’t need to worry about the pressing political issues of the day spoiling a fun read.

Plugged was indeed a fun read. Irish Bouncer and former Peace Keeper in The Lebanon Danny McEvoy is just a working class guy looking to keep busy, avoid any PSTD, and maybe flirt with his favorite hostess. Basically he’s a likeable guy just trying to get along. Reading Plugged reminded me a lot of early Hiaasen, with a strange situation and a hero that sort of flounders his way around, until he figures out what happens. I like the fact that Danny really isn’t some super sleuth, and he repeated takes the wrong path to finding the right answer. He’s was just quirky enough to be interesting, and competent enough to handle things when things need to be handled. I did find some things annoying about Danny, but these things were mostly nitpicky moments where I had trouble suspending disbelief. These few moments that had my head shaking was saved by the light hearted and not serious tone of Colfer’s writing. It was almost like Colfer was saying, "Yeah, I know that’s a bit over the top, but hey, reader, let’s just go with it and have fun." I think readers with the proper mindset, looking for a fun fast read with action bordering on, but never actually achievement corniness, will really enjoy Plugged. People who just have to have everything make perfect sense down to the smallest minutia, should find plenty to pick apart here as well.  So, heck, everybody wins.

Now, I understand that John Keating’s Irish accent may have the girls all in a tizzy, but for me, I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away by Keating’s narration of Plugged., I thing his easy going, working class Irish tones worked well in this tale. Keating brought the right amount of sardonic wit, and tongue in cheek delivery that allowed Colfer’s jokes, even the bad ones, to hit their mark. I found some of his New Yorker and other American accents to border on cartoonish, but with the overall tone of the book, cartoonish worked fine. Overall, Plugged is a fun read for mystery fans looking for something quick, fast and full of humor. So, put down that dreary newspaper, and stop looking at the economic forecast, and picked up Plugged. At the very least it won’t make you want to watch The Kardashians.

 

Note: I received this audiobook as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer Program. Thanks to the good people at Audiobook Jukebox and AudioGo for providing me with this review copy. Click on the badge below to sign up for Audiobooks to review though this program.





Audiobook Review: Lassiter by Paul Levine

29 09 2011

Lassiter by Paul Levine

Read by Peter Berkrot

AudioGo

Length: 8 Hrs 41 MIns

Genre: Legal Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Fans of legal thrillers as well as quirky Florida mysteries should definitely give Lassiter a chance, whether or not they have read the previous editions of the series.

Grade: B+

My first experience with Paul Levine and his ex-football player lawyer Jake Lassiter was back in 1996 with Naked Came the Manatee, a collaborative novel written by some of Florida’s greatest thriller writers. I have always enjoyed the strange subgenre that is Florida based thrillers, and being a fan of Carl Hiaasen and James W. Hall I couldn’t help but snatch that book up. Yet, despite my love of legal thrillers, for some reason which I really can’t figure out, I never went back and read the Jake Lassiter series. It wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that I discovered Levine’s quirky courtroom thriller series, Solomon vs. Lord that I became a true fan of Levine’s work. This series combined two things I love, Florida mayhem with courtroom shenanigans. Yet, this was also around the time that I began to do most of my "reading" with audiobooks. Sadly, the Jake Lassiter series isn’t well represented in audiobook form, so I still neglected it. Yet, when I discovered that Paul Levine was, after a 14 year long break, going to bring back Jake Lassiter, and it would be available as an audiobook, I was both excited and a bit worried. I was excited to be able to experience Levine’s witty writing style again, yet concerned about jumping into a series at book number 8. Yet, I took the plunge and finally entered Lassiter’s world.

Miami Lawyer Jake Lassiter was intrigued by the attractive women starring daggers into him during his closing arguments of a DUI case. Yet, when he finds out that she is the sister of a missing stripper that Jake had briefly met back during his days as a Dolphin’s Linebacker, he gives into his guilty feelings and decides to help find out what happened to the missing girl. This leads him down a dark path of pornography, corruption, and eventually murder. From the moment I started listening to Lassiter I knew my worries about jumping into the series at book 8 would be unfounded. Levine does a good job reintroducing his main character, and I never felt like I was missing any sort of back story. Lassiter is just the kind of character I always enjoy, quirky and sarcastic and not afraid to occasionally break a rule. Levine did a great job setting up the plot, creating a complex and surprising mystery that kept me guessing to the very end. Yet, it wasn’t just the mystery that brings the surprises, Levine develops his characters in such a clever way that you find yourself questioning many of your initial assumptions. I was also quite happy that this novel didn’t fall into the latest trend in legal fiction where the lawyer is simply a detective with an expensive degree. Lassiter had some strong courtroom scenes which were pivotal to the plot. Fans of legal thrillers as well as quirky Florida mysteries should definitely give Lassiter a chance, whether or not they have read the previous editions of the series.

At the start of the audiobook, I wasn’t sure what I thought of Peter Berkrot as narrator. It took me a little bit to get used to his voice, but when I did I found it actually well fitted to the tale. Peter Berkrot isn’t simply reading the book to you, but instead he brings the characters to life and allows them to tell the tale. Berkrot brings a sense of authenticity to Jake Lassiter, that by the time the book hits its stride, I felt I was listening to Jake tell his narrative. Berkrot also seemed to have a lot of fun with his reading, which provided a lot of interesting characters, from an elderly Mafioso to a Jewish/Cuban prosecutor, as well as the various lowlifes and outcasts that make up the scenery of any good Florida mystery. Berkrot voiced them all perfectly, bringing the right amount of humor. Lassiter is a fun legal thriller, a well plotted mystery and a winning audiobook production, and I for one would love to see the backlist of Lassiter novels brought to life in audiobook form as well.

 

Note: A special thanks to the wonderful people as AudioGo for provide a copy of this title for review. This title is available for download through Audible.com.





Audiobook Review: John Dies at the End by David Wong

21 04 2011

John Dies at the End by David Wong

Read by Stephen R. Thorne

AudioGo

Genre: Horror Comedy

Quick Thoughts: An highly entertaining, often adolescent mashup of science fiction and fantasy tropes with a solid performance by the narrator.

Grade: A-

David Wong’s horror comedy John Dies at the End is one of those novels that has taken an untraditional road in publishing, yet with the internet being such a powerful tool for aspiring writers we are seeing more and more of. John Dies at the End began as an internet serial, before being published by Permuted Press, an independent publisher whose main focus is on apocalyptic fiction. Eventually in 2009, 8 years after its initial serial founding, it was published as a Hardcover, and a year later, in audiobook form. As big fan of Apocalyptic fiction, I often heard about titles being produced by Permuted, but would turn my nose up at them, considering them barely a step up from self-published. Yet, when JL Bournes Day by Day Armageddon and ZA Recht’s Morningstar Strain novels were given greater exposure, I checked them out, and was impressed. John Dies at the End was one of those novels I had heard buzz about, and although it was not “post apocalyptic” like the majority of Permuted’s offerings, there was something intriguing about it. When I saw it was released in audiobook, I though, heck, it’s time to check this bad boy out.

John Dies at the End is a twisted, adolescent romp through a multitude of science fiction and fantasy tropes, which author David Wong has bitten into, chewed thoroughly and rewarded his readers by having them repeat on him over and over, like bad chili. That is to say, this novel isn’t for everyone, but, if it is for you, you’re in for one hell of a unique trip. How can you tell if it’s for you, well, if you like you sci-fi horror buddy comedies laden with dick and fart jokes, a surprising number of puns using the word “chair”, wig wearing beaked spider creatures and an extremely unreliable first person POV, well, congrats, someone wrote the perfect book for you. Now, if you were offended that I used the word dick in the last sentence, then you can continue reading about romantic sparkly vampires. John Dies at the End reads like if Douglas Adams wrote the novelization of a Bill and Ted movie while stoned. What impresses me the most about this novel was it wasn’t afraid to take on any standard genre plotline, magical portals to other worlds, time travel, genetic engineering, paranormal occurrences and so much more and just utterly destroy it and make it its own. John Dies at the End isn’t the perfect novel, even for us who love dick and fart jokes, at times it can be a bit scattershot, but for pure entertainment value, it’s a winner.

One word of warning on the audiobook, this isn’t one you should listen when doing complicated work. The author uses some tricks that work well on paper, but are tougher to pull off in audio form. There were times I needed to rewind my mp3 player to make sure I hadn’t missed something important. Narrator Stephen R. Thorne gives a solid reading. He’s not going to blow you away, as some narrators do, but he has a crisp pure voice with a low key delivery that works well with the outlandish style of the book. So if you’re sick of traditional fantasy, tired of Euro-trash vampires and frustrated with science fiction novels that read more like a physic textbook, then give John Dies at the End a try.