Audiobook Series Review: Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (Frontlines Series)

26 01 2015

The Frontlines Series by Marko Kloos

Terms of Enlistment

Length: 9Hrs 40Min

Lines of Departure

Length: 9Hrs 7Min

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Grade: B

I am a sucker for End of Year lists. I always find new and interesting books by pursuing the Best of… lists put out by Industry people and bloggers. While checking out the Goodreads and Audible lists, I saw a title I was aware of, but was surprised to see on such lists. At first glance, Marko Kloos Frontlines series, with books Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure seemed like pretty much by the numbers Military Science Fiction in the vein of John Scalzi and Jack Campbell, so I was surprised to see getting such high praise. Yet, then I realize, Old Man’s War and the Black Jack Geary military SF series are some of my favorites, so why not give it a go. The Frontline series is basically just what I expected, solid military science fiction with a likable main character. The writing is solid, with much less of the pulpy cheese factor of series like BV Larson’s Star Force yet with just as much fun. While at times I got a little lost in the extended action scenes, Kloos does a good job, especially on Lines of Departure, setting up intriguing scenarios reminiscent of classic Military science fiction, yet spins it just enough to give it it’s own flavor. One of the highlights of the book is the unique nature of its alien enemy, but the true heart of the novel explores the murkiness of domestic life, with some well drawn internal sociopolitical conflicts giving the tale a multilayered approach. Fans of classic Military science fiction will find this series a step up from much of the current offerings available in terms quality and enjoyment.

Often times the term workhorse is applied to a mediocre position player who always seems to find himself in the game. Well, Luke Daniels is a workhorse in the Audiobook Industry, with one glaring exception, his performances are never mediocre. Daniels seems to be able to handle any genre at the drop of the hat, giving the performance of an expert. In Kloos’ series, Daniel shows off his ability to keep the action at a brisk pace while bringing the characters to life in intriguing ways. There is a reason why we see Luke Daniels as the narrator of so many audiobooks, his performances always manages to bring the most out of the books he is reading.

Audiobook Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

6 03 2014

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (The Southern Reach Trilogy, Bk, 1)

Read by Carolyn McCormick

Blackstone Audio

Length: 6 Hrs

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

There seemed to be a lot of excitement among people I respect about Annihilation, the newest book by Jeff VanderMeer. In fact, some of my favorite have been pushing me to give VanderMeer a go for awhile, and I have been hesitant. Yet, Annihilation sounded fascinating and something that was right up my particularly strange alley. Annihilation follows an expedition into a strange, mysterious land known as Area X. This excursion, by 4 unnamed scientists, is the latest in a series that all have ended in mystery or tragedy. Annihilation is beautifully written. It has a almost stream of consciousness feel and an extremely untrustworthy narrator, making everything feel just a little dreamlike and malleable. The novel is narrated by The Biologist, who jumps in time between the current excursion, and her experiences with her husband who had gone on the previous mission. Because of her personal ties to the experience, she holds back key details and commits many lies by omission, and her story is even more influenced by her personal experiences in Area X. While this added multiple layers and fascinating details to the tale, it also created a barrier between the narrator and the reader which I struggled to overcome. I never felt fully connected with her tale, and the constant shift between her running narrative, and her filling in details that she left out previously created an artificial feel to the story and the information being revealed. This sense of disconnect prevented me from fully buying into Annihilation, making it a book I admired more than actually enjoyed.

Carolyn McCormick was a wonderful choice to narrate this title. I always thought she was a bit miscast in the Hunger Games, but here she delivers a reading perfectly suited to the narrative. Somehow she manages to both be distant and engaging, delivering her reports with a clinical detachment, while capturing the complicated emotions of a introverted women unsure of how to handle the deteriorating relationship between her and her extroverted husband. I found myself relating much more with pre-expedition Biologist, that the one you meet inside the boundaries of Area X. While Annihilation didn’t always work for me, the brilliance of the writing and McCormick’s performance made it a worthwhile use of my time.


I reviewed this book as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer program.

Audiobook Review: Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen

27 02 2014

Pillar to the Sky by William Forstchen

Read by Grover Gardner

Blackstone Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B+

More and more I’m convinced that without a concerted push into space, humanity’s time is numbered. For this reason, William Forstchen was totally preaching to a choir of 1 in his latest novel, Pillar to the Sky, a fictional history of the people who came together to build the first Space Elevator. I was quite impressed with Pillar to the Sky, a total change of pace from his post Apocalyptic EMP novel One Second After and his quirky military portal fantasy Lost Regiment series. Here, Forstchen describe big, world changing events through the intimate perspective of four major characters. It’s slow developing and uneven at times, so if you are looking for a rip roaring SF adventure, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a careful constructed character study built on top of the political machinations of disruptive technologies. While reading this novel, these characters truly came alive for me. I was often frustrated with the necessary big leaps in time, because I wanted to know what was going on with the characters. In many ways, the trials, missteps and small victories within the process of building the Space Elevator became a character in its own. Unlike the utterly dark mood of One Second After, Pillar to the Sky left me with a feeling of hope for humanity. While I am in no way an engineer, and have no idea of the feasibility of the project, I felt like Forstchen was writing a love letter to the American and human ingenuity. That, if there is a way for something to be done, and the proper motivation for people to do it, that despite the many pitfalls along the way, it will get done. Pillar to the Sky will not thrill and titillate you, but it will capture your imagination is your mind is open to the experience.

Grover Gardner will always have a special place in my heart for his wonderful reading of The Stand. While his performance of Pillar to the Sky doesn’t reach that level of awesomeness, I think he for the most part hits the right notes. Pillar to the Sky is filled with lots of technical jargon, and an international cast. Gardner gives a comfortable performance. Instead of trying to wow you with stunning voices, he brings an almost professorial tone, walking you through the intricate landscape with a friendly feel. He brought the characters to life, without pushing them on you, just letting them grow naturally. For a book that could easily get bogged down in the minutiae of detail, Gardner guides you through it with a veteran’s touch.

This Audiobook was reviewed as part of Audio Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer’s program. Thanks to Blackstone Audio for participating.

Audiobook Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

13 11 2013

Steelheart (Reckoners, Bk. 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult SuperVillian Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness. Steelheart is a good start to an intriguing new series.

Grade: B+

Over the past few years there seems to be a real glut of superhero tales in prose form. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. I am one of those weirdos who loves superheroes, grew up on Superman and Batman and the Superfriends, but never really got into comic books. So, despite all my comic book loving friends telling me about all the awesome, dark and twisted tales being told in the comic book medium, I stuck to my books. Yet, there has always been a part of my brain that loved superheroes, that wanted to explore the many twists and turns people the subgenre can explore, without all the awesome artwork, and trying to figure out just who was supposed to be talking. So, now all these superhero books have come out, from a wide variety of authors exploring many aspects of advanced beings with powers that seem to defy traditional human limitations. So many, that you’d think that one would sort of start getting sick of them or at the very least that the various angles and twists on the genre would be totally used up. Luckily, so far, this hasn’t been the case.

With Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson has once again flipped the genre on its head, exploring the darker sides of enhanced humans, embracing the super but reassigning the concept of heroes. In Sanderson’s world, there are no selfless heroes using their powers for the betterment of humanity. Instead, Epics, people who have manifested superpowers, all use their power to subjugate and rule over those without powers. With Steelheart Sanderson explores the idea of the corruption of power, and looks at whether these powers enhance humanities dark side or some other force is at work.

When David was young, he witnesses Steelheart, the seemingly invulnerable Epic who would come to rule an apocalyptic Chicago with a steel fist, kill his father. He also saw Steelheart bleed. Years later, David dreams of joining the Reckoners, a group of regular humans looking to take down Epics. David believes with their help, he can finally discover the Steelheart’s weakness, and kill him. Yet, when he finally meets up with the group, he finds his desire for revenge and his core belief in the essence of Epics challenged by one intriguing girl, and the group of odd characters.

While Steelheart had a lot of awesome in it, some cool characters, a wonderful set up, and some really brisk, high concept action, overall it felt a bit uneven. At times, I felt it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a Young Adult novel, or an Adult novel. There were definitely a lot of YA tropes used, but they seemed to fit awkwardly within the overall scope of the novel. The use of situational slang came off as annoying, instead of a natural evolution of the world Sanderson created. The fact that everyone used the exact slang in the exact same way, whether they are a younger person who grew up in the world of Epics, or an older person spanner both the pre and post Epic world made it feel a bit forced. The world of Newcago, came off a bit too clever. Luckily, the unevenness of the book was more than made up for by the sheer fun of the novel. You could tell Sanderson was having fun creating new and interesting Epic types, and allowing them to wreak havoc. I also liked the fact that there were no superheroes, yet an almost religions group who believed that eventually heroes will come was a nice touch. Mostly, I enjoyed the way he flipped the concept of "with great power comes great responsibility" on its head, exploring the corrupting influence that may be the true essence of the tale. Overall, despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness.

To make matter even better, one of my favorite narrators, MacLeod Andrews brought his many talents to the reading of Steelheart. Andrews managed to give the book a true blockbuster feel, with characters that jumped, action the ripped across your mind and a feel of something bigger than reality, yet he did it all with a bit of an edge that defied the polishness of most big screen movies. Andrews does a great job with David, a young man hovering between the naiveté of youth and the forced maturity of someone who grew up orphaned in a changed world. Andrews has a way of giving characters a unique spin that makes than stand just a bit taller.  It was a highly affective performance that allowed me to care more about these characters than I might have in print. Steelheart is a good start to what can become a truly intriguing series.

Audiobook Review: Lycan Fallout:Rise of the Werewolf by Mark Tufo

4 10 2013

Lycan Fallout: Rise of the Werewolf by Mark Tufo

Read by Sean Runnette

Published by Mark Tufo

Length: 11 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic with Werewolves

Quick Thoughts: Lycan Fallout offers everything you would want in a Michael Talbot adventure, with a new menace, some new allies and a whole new timeline. Tufo fills his intriguing post apocalyptic world with strange new communities, some of his most visual action scenes to date and plenty of juvenile humor. Lycan Fallout is a worthwhile addition to his weird little Talbotverse.

Grade: B+

I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about Lycan Fallout. With all these iterations of Michael Talbot, battling aliens, zombies, ghosts, dogknappers, vampires and other such horrors, I need a flow chart, Venn diagram, Commodore 64, two shots of whiskey and a 50’s era receptionist to keep it all straight. Yet, with all things Tufo, I have learned to just sit back and enjoy the ride, even when the car careens off the road, and crashes into something twisted and maybe a bit sticky. My other issue was that out of the great monster trifecta, zombies, vampires and werewolves, stories involving lupine shape shifters tend to be my least favorite, and probably fall under lesser beloved monsters like Triffids, squid demons, cats, alien parasites, and taxes as well. I’m not sure why I never get jazzed over werewolves. Maybe it’s all the weird mythology surrounding them or the fact I can never keep the various types straight, or possibly that women are less likely to want to spend time with you if you can’t morph into some sort of animal. Yet, despite my hesitation, I thought, heck, it’s Tufo. I highly doubt his werewolves would be all that sexy and at the very least, I should get enough juvenile humor to balance the whole werewolf thing out.

It’s more than a century since humanity won a pyrrhic victory against the zombie hordes, and half man/half Vampire Michael Talbot is living on his family estate, detached from society. Since the last member of his family died, he’s had no purpose and marks time by when Tommy, his 500 year old Vampire creator and surrogate son would bring him food. Yet, when Tommy and the witch Azile learn of a new menace to the struggling post apocalyptic communities of mankind, they need to find a way to get Michael once again invested in society. Together they hatch a plan to bring him out of exile and into the fight against the Lycans, involving a dog, some beer and baseball. Is there anyway Micheal can resist?

Lycan Fallout is a near future post apocalyptic tale told as only Mark Tufo can, which is straight on, in your face no holds barred storytelling. Fans of Tufor’s Zombie Fallout series will find much of what they like about that series, Michael’s not quite politically correct juvenile humor, visceral scenes of gore, the comradery of brothers (and sisters) at arms, a strange hybrid mythology mixing together as many horror tropes as possible, and plenty of action. Lycan Fallout takes a while to pull you in. Readers need to adjust to the changed world, the new timeline, and a moody whiney version of Michael Talbot, yet, when things begin to move, Tufo grabs the reader by the hair, and pulls them into the story. Mark Tufo, probably unlike any other author, can do things that annoy the heck out of me in a lot of books with over used scenarios and stereotypical portrayals yet make it work by his sheer audacity. Tufo is like that strange friend who constantly tells the same damn stupid joke, but manages to make you laugh at it every time. There was so much fun, cool stuff in Lycan Fallout. I really liked his post apocalyptic world. It’s not anything I haven’t seen before, with new communities, traditions and religions formed from the wreckage of our world, but displayed in an offbeat manner. Tufo constantly keeps the reader off balanced. He has theses moments where his writing almost takes on a poetic quality, and you’re thinking "That’s kind of deep" and then he follows it up with some crude scatological joke. It’s strange and disconcerting and uneven and joyous and a whole lot of fun. I think Lycan Fallout also showed some of Tufo’s maturity as a writer (if you can use the word maturity when describing Mr. Tufo). His action scenes were crisper, less weighed down by extraneous details, and highly visual. His plotting was cleaner, and he even managed some real solid emotional writing that did justice to his characters. Plus, his werewolves were actually kind of cool and even a bit scary at times. My only warning, if you are easily frustrated by series, this is the beginning of a new series, and not a standalone. If you are going to jump of the Lycan Fallout Wagon, be prepared for a long ride. Hopefully your ass won’t get too sore along the way.

As with all of Mark Tufo’s audiobooks, the narration is handled by one Mr. Sean Runnette. I sometimes wonder, with all the time Runnette has spent voicing Michael Talbot, if he hasn’t started becoming a bit of a germaphobe with inappropriately timed humor, a penchant for violence and a high likelihood to verbally abuse inept customer service people. This is the problem; I have trouble separating the narrator with the character, because he has become just as much a part of Michael Talbot as his love of guns and dogs. As always, Runnette’s performance is perfect for this series. He captures the personality of Michael Talbot perfect. One other thing I liked is how when some descendants of Michael’s friends show up, they have vocal similarities to their predecessors, without being carbon copies of them. There was just something comfortable about this, which helped the readers get over the fact that some of our favorite characters are no longer pat of the story. If you have yet to experience a Mark Tufo tale, particularly one surrounding his main character Michael Talbot, whether you want the zombie, alien or werewolf fighting version, I highly recommend experiencing it with Talbot’s true voice, as performed by Sean Runnette.

Audiobook Review: Compound Fractures by Stephen White

2 10 2013

Compound Fractures by Stephen White (Dr. Alan Gregory, Bk. 20)

Read by Dick Hill

Brilliance Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Compound Fractures is an appropriate ending to this untraditional thriller series. A highly emotional and complex read that hovers between engrossing and frustrating, Compound Fractures is a fitting cap to this long time series.

Grade: B+

This week seems to be all about finales for me. With just finishing the Breaking Bad and Luther finales, it seems fitting that I would be listening to the final book in a 20 book series. Compound Fractures is the final book in Stephen White’s Alan Gregory series about a Boulder Colorado Psychologist whose work and personal life gets him mixed up in various adventures.  I wish I could say that I was there from the very beginning when the first Alan Gregory novel, Privileged Information was first released back in 1991. I haven’t. In fact, I am a newish fan of Stephen White, and this is one of the few long time mystery thriller series that I have experienced entirely in audio. While the majority of this series has been narrated by Dick Hill, some of the earlier novels featured some well know narrators like Scott Brick and Michael Kramer. One of the things I really enjoyed about this series is, unlike many ongoing series, White took a lot of risks with his format, shifting perspectives, having novels told from the perspective of Dr. Gregory’s patients or other peripheral characters, making Alan a smaller player in the tale. Also, I really liked how Alan Gregory is a far cry from your typical thriller hero. In many ways he is the anti-thriller hero. Somewhat meek, often bullied, sexually repressed, yet with an ability to look at things from different perspectives. Alan Gregory made lots of mistakes along the way. His complicated ethics and morality often shifted and evolved to a point where the Alan Gregory of Privileged Information wouldn’t recognize, and quite possibly would have despised the Alan Gregory of Compound Fractures, both professionally and personally. I was impressed with Stephen Whites decision to wrap up this series. It’s not easy to take a long running series, one that has been successful, and bring it to a natural conclusion on the writer’s own terms, I was quite interested to see how it would all turn out.

There is a scene about two thirds of the way through Compound Fractures where the two main characters of the novel, Dr. Gregory and his best friend, Boulder Police Detective Sam Purdy, both basically admit that they are acting like douches towards each other. This is when I let out my biggest sigh of the novel because honestly, they were and it was starting to get to me a bit. Compound Fractures is not an easy read for fans of this series. The backbone of this series has been the relationship between these two friends, and how that relationship is fractured, lacking in trust. As a reader I found this quite frustrating. Throughout this whole series I have always liked Alan Gregory, even when he was whiney and annoying, I had some level of respect for him. Yet, the weight of these two friends’ actions becomes too big of a burden for both men, forcing them out of character, into a couple of unlikable slugs. This is both the beauty and problem with Compound Fractures. White has created a brilliant plot where the lies and mistrust have just become too much for these two men. The theme of this novel was trust yet, there was also an interesting exploration of how much Sam has changed, much for the better, while Alan seemed to change somewhat for the worse. With what they know about each other and the potential for either of them to find themselves dealing with the consequences of their actions, how much could they trust each other? White does a wonderful job setting up this conundrum over the course of a few books. As a reader I wanted to scream at both of these men. I wanted them to just talk to the other, to hash out their problems and become the Alan and Sam of old. Yet, it wasn’t going to happen, and I found this both sad and refreshing.

What Stephen White does here in Compound Fractures is impressive. He takes everything you think you know about the series, and about the events leading up to the tragic ending of Line of Fire, and twist it and turn it to a point where you realize everything you thought you knew was wrong. With each twist and turn, I became more engrossed in what was happening even as I become more frustrated with the characters. I never felt comfortable in this book, but in a good way. There was so much pain, so much suffering, and some much mistrust that every step along the way felt like you were negotiating a mine field. White managed to incorporate a lot of subplots from the series into this finale in surprising ways. One of the most interesting things about this series is Alan’s complicated relationship with his wife. This is one of those aspects that I think totally broke out of the norm of most thriller series. In many ways, Alan is “the good wife” in this situation, a loving husband and father, who sticks by his wife despite her betrayals. Much of this novel is Alan coming to terms with his complicated feelings for her, and discovering some of her darkest secrets. Its heart wrenching and painful stuff and the perfect cap to this aspect of the series.

Compound Fractures will not in anyway work as a standalone. While there are some traditional thriller aspects of this novel, with a murder investigation, potential criminal jeopardy and other little twists along this way, this is not really a thriller novel. Compound Fractures is about dealing with the emotional, legal and personal fallout of the past 19 novels. This is a novel written for the fans of the series who were there along the way. It’s a bittersweet ending. Yet, one thing that White did confused me. There is one subplot in this novel that is very much left open ended. I wasn’t sure what to think about this aspect while reading it but, I think I understood why he did it. I think White was trying to do what he did throughout the series, show that things don’t tie up cleanly after 400 pages. That life can never truly episodic. This hanging particle served as a reminder that, until death, there is no true ending to the subplots of a life. As a person I can respect this. As a reader, it’s hard not to want a black and white ending. Yet, instead, what you get is a sort of gray ending, knowing that life goes on and the mistakes of these characters past still have a way to haunt them. While frustrating, I found it utterly appropriate.

I have listened to a lot of Dick Hill narrations over my time. There have been performances I loved and ones that I haven’t. Hill, in many ways, reminds me of those great character actors that you recognize every time they show up in a guest role on one of your favorite TV shows. You know what you are going to get, but you still look forward to getting it. Overall, I think Hill does a fine job with this series. It’s in his wheelhouse, yet different enough to give him something new avenues to explore. Alan Gregory is almost the anti-Jack Reacher, more the mild mannered one than the superhero, and this allows Hill to be much more nuanced in his performance. That being said, I think Compound Fractures may be one of my all time favorite Dick Hill narrations. There is a lot of emotion in this book. Hill manages to show you the depth of Gregory’s breakdown. His often meticulous meter and professional voice makes the hitches, pauses and cracks in his voice that much more effective. I think that Hill himself felt that this book was special, and deserved a special performance, and that is what he gave. I’m not sure how series fans will react to this finale. I think many will love it, while others will be let down. Yet, for me, I thought it was an appropriate ending for this untraditional series, made special by an excellent performance by the narrator.

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

Audiobook Review: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

27 09 2013

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

Read by Christina Moore

Recorded Books

Length: 5 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The classic Young Adult Post Apocalyptic tale holds up well since my initial reading over 30 years ago. There is a reason this novel is a classic, and it’s themes of overcoming misogyny, the destructiveness of science, and individualism still has value for today.

Grade: B+

Note: If you have yet to read this novel, This review may contain some spoilers. BE WARNED!

When I was in elementary school at good old Christ Home Christian School, I remember the bookcase. The bookcase was a shelf of donated books that the kids in the lower grades could sign out and read on their own volition purely for entertainment sake. Growing up in a fundamentalist household, church and school, this was the first time I felt like I could choose my own entertainment. Of course, it never entered my brain the books here where highly vetted acceptable books, just that I could choose them. Through this shelf I had my first boyhood crush on Laura Ingalls Wilder, went on my first otherworld adventures in Narnia, Oz and on the Phantom Tollbooth, and traveled with some strange characters across the Atlantic in the belly of a giant peach. I was also introduced to some rather amusing rats trying to escape from the National Institute of Mental Health. Every once in a while, new books would be added to the bookshelves. One day, a book titled Z for Zachariah by the same author as the NIMH books was added to the shelves. Since the Rats of NIMH was one of my favorites, I just knew I had to read this book. Little did I know that this would be my first foray into the subgenre known as Post Apocalyptic fiction, which would one day become my literary obsession. So, for those of you out there disturbed by my fascination with the end of civilization, you very well may have a bunch of talking rats to blame for it.

Z for Zachariah is the tale of Ann Burden a teenage farm girl from a small town, who due to a geological anomaly finds herself the last resident of a valley that offers protection from the radioactive fallout of a global nuclear war. She lives day to day, supporting herself through hard work, longing for the company of other human beings yet fearing the dangers others may bring. When a strange man wearing a protective suit shows up, her world is forever altered. While not in any way the first Post Apocalyptic novel, for many of my generation, Z for Zachariah was the introduction to the genre and can be listed as a classic example and predecessor to books like The Hunger Games and other modern YA dystopian. It’s also a darkly fascinating tale of claustrophobia and loneliness battling hope in the midst of the fall of humanity.

The main theme of the novel, both as a young elementary student, and now a much older, bordering on middle aged man, is just how stupid men can be. Ann Borden is young and naive sure, and can be frustrating but she is a strong character, full of the right mix of knowledge to survivor the apocalypse. When Mr. Loomis shows up, you can’t help but think he’s hit the jackpot, a young farmer girl who can run the tractor, cook, fix engines and grow crops, plus well, let’s face it, if you believe you are the last man on earth, finding a smart, resourceful 16 year old woman is reason to celebrate. Yet, the chemist, Mr. Loomis, who never had to worry about where his next meal came from before the apocalypse, decides that this young women isn’t his ally in survival, but his property, and not much more valuable than breeding stock. I remember, the younger Bob being flabbergasted by this. Remember, I grew up in a culture where women were encouraged to call their husbands "Lord and Master" and even I found Mr. Loomis to be a stupid misogynistic dillweed before I even understood what the concept of misogyny was. Rereading it now, and understanding things I didn’t as a kid, including the near rape scene, only cemented my belief the Mr. Loomis is not only one of the most despicable characters in literary history, but one of the stupidest.

This is not in anyway to say that Z for Zachariah is a bad novel. I am focusing on the area that stuck out most to me. In reality, Z for Zachariah should be applauded for creating a wonderful strong female character in Ann Burden, who despite her naiveté, displayed true strength in a devastating world. I know if I was to find myself in similar circumstances of this young girl, I would be dead within weeks. O’Brien’s use of the diary format gives us a very limited perception on the story, yet also adds lots of depths to the tale by showing us Ann’s thought processes, and the evolution of her understanding of Loomis. In many ways, this style allows us to see the process of her maturation, from the girl hiding in a cave but dreaming of marrying the mysterious stranger, to the girl who finally bests the highly educated scientist. There is a reason why Z for Zachariah is a classic of the genre. It’s a wonderfully plotted tale that taps into the essential issues of a post apocalyptic world, highlighting the evolving moralities of the changed world. 

While the audio production is solid, it also displays one of the problems with the format. Christina Moore reads the first person tale with a sort of stunned coldness at first, morphing eventually into something harder. While this is appropriate for the character, it doesn’t make for the most entertaining of listens. Moore often uses a flat affect to show how much Ann is affected by the world, muting her emotions. This makes some scenes more powerful at the end of the novel, when Ann’s emotions finally shows through, but it also at times gives the book an almost dreamlike flow that creates a barrier between the listener and the tale. Overall, I think Moore gives the right performance which brings out the author’s intent but, this doesn’t always keep the reader entranced as a more emotive performance would have.

Audiobook Review: Shoedog by George Pelecanos

26 09 2013

Shoedog by George Pelecanos

Read by Dan Woren

Hachette Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Shoedog is a solid caper novel, full of unique characters, a realistic set up, and a few nice twists along the way. The ending comes fast and quick, with a touch of a surprise moment that leaves you feeling just a bit disconcerted. While not completely satisfying or as brilliant as his latter novels, Shoedog is a worthy tale that offers plenty of entertainment.

Grade: B

George Pelecanos is an author I have experienced almost entirely in audio. This is a good thing, since I think his specific style of writing translates very well to audio. Some of my all time favorite performances, Richard Allen’s reading of the first three Derek Strange novels, Lance Reddick reading Hard Revolution, Dion Graham reading The Way Home and The Cut,  are narrators reading Pelecanos words. Yet, sadly, most of Pelecanos early novels, including his Nick Stefanos novels and the DC Quartet were never produced in audio when they were released. Now, I actually own paperback copies of most of these novels, but besides A Firing Offense I never read them. I picked them up, cracked them open, started reading the novels, then imagined just how good they would sound read by Dion Graham or JD Jackson. This belief kept me from diving further in, in the hopes that one day they would be released in audio. Luckily, it seems my desire, at least with some of the early books, have come true.

Now, a bit of a secret. I never found Pelecanos’ plots all that special. Sure, they were complicated cat and mouse games, often involving regular people getting mixed up in a crime would they aren’t prepared for. These are very noirish tales, rarely resulting in happy endings. The stories are strong, but I wouldn’t put his plotting over authors like Dennis Lehane or Laurence Block. For me, when it comes to Pelecanos, it’s all about his dialogue. Pelecanos characters speak with pop culture infused rhythms of the street. Their words manage to be both pedestrian and musical in wonderful ways. One of the major problems I have with stylistic dialogue is it never seems realistic, but somehow Pelecanos picks up the odd patois of the streets, making his characters rhythm and flow feel absolutely authentic.

This is why I was very interested in Shoedoe, one of Pelecanos first novels, and his first standalone. In Shoedog, Constantine, a retired soldier with a bit of a temper and a heavy case of wanderlust, is picked up hitchhiking outside his hometown, Washington DC, by Polk, an aging stickup man who gets him mixed up in a score set up by a local criminal facilitator who owes Polk money. Constantine, wary of the job, finds himself pulled into the world by the facilitator’s beautiful girlfriend. Together with Randolph, a women’s shoe salesman who is blackmailed into participating and a few other lowlifes, they attempt to pull off a couple of complicated Liquor store robberies, made even more tricky by double crosses and bad intentions.

I had mixed feelings about Shoedog. Much of Pelecanos style and characterizations were there, but in a raw, unpolished form. Constantine came off to me as an impulsive, unbalanced hipster version of Jack Reacher, without the morality or intelligence. He was controlled by “The Beat” a sort of impulse control fault that would snap leading him to intense moments of violence. Here is where Pelecanos stylist writing comes into play, yet it isn’t as effective as it is in his later novels. The story itself was pretty solid, if you take away the pointless romantic entanglement between Constantine and the facilitator’s girlfriend. The story, set up and twists were reminiscent of 70’s caper films, full of telegraphed double crossed that actually ended up offering their own little surprises along the way.

In the end, I like what Pelecanos did, even if some of the things along the way didin’t work for me. While much about what I love of his writing wasn’t there, or appeared in an unpolished form, and some of the things I don’t like about his tales reared their ugly head, Shoedog is a solid caper novel, full of unique characters, a realistic set up, and a few nice twists along the way. The ending comes fast and quick, with a touch of a surprise moment that leaves you feeling just a bit disconcerted. While not completely satisfying, or as brilliant as his latter novels, Shoedog is a worthy tale that offers plenty of entertainment.

I have incredibly high standards when it comes to narrators of George Pelecanos’ work. With some of the all time greats having recorded his work, along with some wonderful performances by actors from one of my all time favorite TV shows The Wire. The thing about these performances is you can just feel these narrators grooving on Pelecanos’ words. Listening to them read his work, you knew that they felt it was just as special to them as it was to you. I only got rare moments of this in Dan Woren’s reading. That’s not to say it was bad, but his reading of Shoedog was more of a reading than a performance. Part of this you can chalk up to the rawer, less stylistic prose and dialogue of this early example of Pelecanos work. There were moments when you could feel Worren get into it, particularly in some of the side stories, and during the liquor store robberies when thing really began to move. Where Woren shines is in the action, the fast moving plot came alive when he read it. Yet, in the slower, dialogue heavy scenes, I didn’t feel it as much.  Shoedog is a must for fans of Pelecanos like me, who want to experience all his written words aurally but if you are new to Pelecanos, go check out his Derek Strange/Terry Quinn series firsts. I’m sure you will be back.

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

Audiobook Review: The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

24 09 2013

The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

Read by Peter Marinker

Audible, Inc.

Length: 24 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Alternate History

Quick Thoughts: The Company of the Dead was a tough one for me. I could have probably spent a thousand words writing about things I loved about the book, and another thousand complaining about the things I hated. In the end, it’s a wonderful tale of alternate history and time travel set against the backdrop of The Titanic bookended around an overly long, overly elaborate and often boring and confusing mess of an action novel.

Grade: B-

You would think a book involving The Titanic, Roswell, a time traveler named Wells, a Kennedy with an aim to establish his own personal Camelot, an alternate history where The United States was broken up and partially ruled by Japan, where the German Empire remains strong and the world is on the edge of nuclear annihilation would be so full of awesome it couldn’t possible be contained within a 15 hour audiobook, right? Well, probably so. The Company of the Dead is full of lots of awesome.  Lots. Sadly, it’s also full of overly elaborate scenes involving a cross country chase, mystical Indians, heavy handed world building and intricately detailed alternate history that fills up a production of over 24 hours. Honestly, I love long books. I used to dismiss books that came in under 300 pages. I used to evaluate a book based on the size of its type print, yet while The Company of the Dead had a wonderful start and a brilliant finish. The 20 hours between dragged on way, way too much.

Daniel Kowalski takes an ambitious plot, and manages to pull off a book that both thrills and bores. As a fan of alternate history novels, I have a lot of respect for what he does here. Much of Alternate history revolves around the "What if." An author will take one moment in time, and change it just slightly, and allow the ball to roll off course in fascinating ways. Here, a lone man, lost in his own past, decides to attempt to make the world a better place. One of his goals is to prevent the sinking of the Titanic. Sadly, despite his plans, he only alters its fate by a few hours. His attempts allow one man to live, industrialist and war hero John Astor, who goes on to become President. He uses his influence to keep the US out of The Great War, allowing the German Empire and the Japanese Empire to become global superpowers. After multiple wars with Mexico, Texas leads another succession from the Union, giving rise to The Confederate States of America. Now, Joe Kennedy, agent for the Confederate Bureau of Investigation,   armed with the diary of the time traveler Wells found in the wreckage of Titanic, is attempting to set the course of the world right.

Sounds complicated, right? Well it is. Yet, the alternate history, the time traveling angle, the look at the political, social and technological changes weren’t the issue for this novel. Kowalski actually creates a fascinating world, full of intriguing concepts spanning the historical, scientific and metaphysical. The problem for me was everything else. Kowalski tacks on an internal power struggle within the CBI, a complicated chase across the country where Kennedy is being hunted by his former lover and the first women to achieve agent status, and honestly, I got totally lost. There were times where I wasn’t even sure who just died, which characters were where and why people were shooting, surrounding, blowing up and threatening. Allegiances changed faster than a con man playing three card Monte. Kennedy had side deals going with the Japanese Germans, British, shamanistic Indians, Negroes, The Union, mobsters, and I think maybe even a Samurai or two. For me, it all meshed into an indescribable miasma of concepts and action, and if I wasn’t so intrigued by where it was all going, I may have given up on it.

What kept me in the game were the fascinating concepts he was playing with. I have to admit, I am a sucker for the philosophy of time travel. Kowalski asks so many intriguing questions. If you knew that the time stream you where living in wasn’t the true time stream, how would affect your decisions? Could the horrors that wee coming be due your actions based on your knowledge? Just how much do little decisions and innocuous changes affect reality? Kowalski takes on these concepts and so many more. In reality, I should have loved this book. If the book was a bit leaner, with a more coherent plot in the thick of the novel, I could easily see this becoming one of my favorite all time alternate history novels. Kowalski definitely knows how to create characters that you become invested in. This was one of the reasons I was so disconcerted when I got lost within the plot, losing touch with characters that I actually cared about within the rapidly moving, and ever shifting framework of the tale. The Company of the Dead was a tough one for me. I could have probably spent a thousand words writing about things I loved about the book, and another thousand complaining about the things I hated. In the end, it’s a wonderful tale of alternate history and time travel set against the backdrop of The Titanic bookended around an overly long, overly elaborate and often boring and confusing mess of an action novel.

So, I am about to go on an ugly American rant. Being an ugly American, I feel entitled. Why when an author is not American but British or Australian or some denizen of the Empire which the sun never set on, do we tend to get a British narrator for a novel set mostly in America with the majority of the characters being American? I don’t believe that American pronunciations are inherently better, but if a book is set in America with American characters, I would like a narrator that pronounces things like an American. There is something disconcerting to me to hear a man with a deep southern draw say "cu-PILL-a-ree" instead of CAP-ill-air-ee." I understand that Peter Marinker is a respected voice and stage actor but his narration didn’t work for me and  for a nearly 25 hour production, I would have loved a narrator that made me want to listen, and not one that I continued listening despite of. I hate giving the "I just didn’t like their voice" kind of reviews. I try to give well reasoned explanations for why I didn’t like a narrator. Yet, between the use of British pronunciations in American accents, an awful lot of mouth sounds, minimal character differentiation in a novel with a lot of characters and just an overall unengaging performance, "I didn’t like their voice" is about the best I can do. My issues with the narration was enough to get me to wonder  how many of my issues with the novel itself were due to the writing, or whether I would have actually been more engaged with a dfferent narrator. Sadly, that’s a question that can’t be answered. 

Audiobook Series Review: The Charlie Hardie Series by Duane Swierczynski

16 09 2013

I first discovered Duane Swierczynski’s series of thrillers featuring former Police Consultant turned house sitter Charlie Hardie like I do so many other great thrillers, on the digital pages of Jen’s Book Thought. Reading her reviews, and investigating the series further, two things stuck out to me. First, that the series had a Philly edge, with Swierczynski being a resident of my fair city, and his hard luck protagonist also a resident in exile. The second thing that stuck out was the genre blending nature of the series, which seemed to be a pretty straight thriller, but perhaps with a few science fiction touches to keep things interesting. So, now intrigued, it still took me a while to finally give the series a go. One of my goals this year was to be les focused on the big new release, and take a chance on the many series I have sitting on the backburner, untouched or never completed. So, with this in mind, I decided to take a swing at the three existing Charlie Hardie novels, listening to all three back to back. I’m really glad I did.

Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardy series is a smash mouth romp, taking the classic Lethal Weapon thriller and giving it a pulp fiction vibe.  It’s a thriller that revels in being a thriller, taking it’s protagonist, the seemingly unkillable Charlie Hardy, throwing him into a life and death situation against a highly organized foe, and basically letting him get his ass kicked, stabbed, shot, electrocuted, drugged and blown up, until he figures out a way to stop the bad guy, or at least come as close as possible. In many ways, it felt like the Game of Thrones of the thriller world, where the givens of any fictional tale are totally thrown out the window, and while you are pretty sure Charlie isn’t going to die, you are never sure what the collateral damage will be. As a Philly boy, I loved the touches. There is a moment where Swierczynski makes a comment about Rocky, saying that he is the ultimate Philly hero, because he gives it his all, yet still loses. Hardie is the ultimate Philly good guy even beyond Yuengling being his favorite beer.  He is morally questionable, willing to smash walls and break faces, yet not very likely to achieve his ultimate goals no matter how hard he really tries. While the ride may be uneven and extremely destructive, it is never boring.

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski (Charlie Hardie, Bk. 1)

Read by Pete Larkin

Hachette Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 37 Min

Grade: B+

In Fun & Games, Charlie Hardie takes a house sitting gig, and is surprised when he finds a crazed Hollywood actress inside his client house, brandishing a mic stand as a weapon and accusing his of being one of “them.” Initially Charlie assumes that she is just some drugged out paranoid rich girl hiding out, but when the home is besieged by highly skilled operative, Hardie discovers her paranoia is rightly deserved. Swierczynski starts off the series with a gut punch, and keeps on swinging. He throws you right into the action, and allows you to discover the over the top plot in a surprisingly organic way. In almost any other thriller, the series of events would push the average reader’s suspension of disbelief to its breaking point, but somehow the author pulls it off, creating a stylistic bonanza for action fans.

Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski (Charlie Hardie, Bk. 2)

Read by Pete Larkin

Hachette Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 29 Min

Grade: A

Hell & Gone finds Charlie Hardie captured by the secret organization he ran afoul of in Fun & Games, and stuck in a secret prison…. as the warden. Here Hardie becomes a player in a twisted game where the worse criminals in the world may not be what they seem, and he may need to make alliances with people he doesn’t trust in order to free himself from an inescapable prison. Hell & Gone may be one of the most twisted, bizarre and mind numbingly brilliant thrillers I have read in a while. Swierczynski creates a situation that flips the flipped head onto its head, and where every twist just creates the need for even more crazy twists. Hell & Gone was my favorite of the series, and a truly mind fuck of a thriller that redefines the dictionary that contains all the definitions. It’s funny and fresh and so much fun that I am really tempted to read it again. 

Point & Shoot by Duane Swierczynski  (Charlie Hardie, Bk. 3)

Read by Pete Larking

Hachette Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 56 Min

Grade: B

After making a deal with the devil in order to protect his family, Charlie Hardie is trapped in space on an experimental satellite protecting his enemies secrets, when the person  least expected shows up. Charlie must decide whether he should risk it all in order to put and end to the organization that has been making his life a living hell. Point & Shoot isn’t as focused as the first two novels, as Swierczynski attempts to pull together all the loose ends and subplots in order to conclude the trilogy in an acceptable manner. Despite this, the author manages to again take the readers to places they would never expect, and deliver brutal twists that will leave his readers bruised and suffering internal bleeding. The biggest upside to Point & Shoot was seeing a new side to Charlie as the battle becomes much more personal. Swierczynski affectively ends this story arc, while clearing the deck for potential editions in the future is he so chooses.


I was a bit hesitant with Pete Larkin at firs. He has a strong, movie star voice full of bravado. It’s a great voice for the series, able to capture the rhythms and dark humor of series giving it that stylistic flair that made the series so fun. Yet, in the beginning I felt Larkin’s voice may have been a bit too strong for the emotional fragile Hardier, and his initial female voices made me cringe a bit. Yet, as the series progressed, either Larkin really grew into the role, or I was so sucked into the tale that I overlooked things that may have bothered me in the beginning. By the end, Larkin became Charlie Hardier and the slew of oddball characters that surrounded him, and delivered a memorable performance worthy of this series.

I was really happy with my decision to listen to these three novels in one solid chunk. I think this allowed me to really appreciate the storytelling, viewing the series from an interesting perspective. Swierczynski managed to create three solid thrillers with an underline mythology and fresh style that pulled it all together. I would love to experience more Charlie Hardie, whether it be prequels about his days taking on the worse Philly crimes lords, or whatever future evil Hardie must tackle.