Audiobook Review: Test of Fire by Ben Bova

9 07 2013

Test of Fire by Ben Bova

Read by Dean Sluyter

Blackstone Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Test of Fire is the worst kind of book, one just interesting enough to keep your attention, yet full of vile, despicable characters, nonsensical plots, and egregious pointless violent acts that did nothing for the story, that by the time you got to the end you wished that it was just a little bit worst so maybe you would have done the smart thing and just stopped listening.

Grade: D

While Test of Fire has a fascinating apocalyptic set up, and affectively utilized Shakespearean family dynamics in a science fiction setting it suffers from having the most unlikable unlikable characters of all time. I mean, really unlikable. The kind of characters that keep you reading a book in hopes that someone will just walk up to them and stab them in the eye with a ball point pen. Honestly, I don’t always have to like the characters. Some of my favorite characters of all time are royal jackholes. John Ringo and David Weber’s Empire of Man series featured Prince Roger, a whiney obnoxious  boy/man who I would have loved to see repeatedly punched in the face by Giants, martial artists, and professional wrestlers sneaking brass knuckles into the fray. Thomas Covenant is one of my favorite all time fantasy characters, and was such a self centered, self pitying arrogant asshat, that he didn’t even believe the world he was transported to was real, and treated the people he encountered as delusions denying the consequences of his actions towards them. Yet, what both these characters also had was a journey. A series of event that allowed them to shake off their negative characteristics, and attempt to achieve something positives. Yet, then there is Alec Morgan, our protagonist from Test of Fire. Alec Morgan is a cross between to Prince Roger and Thomas Covenant, without their redemptive journey. There was nothing likeable about him. He was an entitled, paranoid shitbird, who had everything handed to him on a silver platter and yet still felt the need to steal by force anything he wanted for himself. He is the products of two unlikable parents, a mother who was a thinly veiled Lady Macbeth, and a brutish father with a strict moral code that, if everybody else didn’t capitulate to his ideas, he would find a way to force them to.

So, Test of Fire began pretty well. A massive solar flare fries most of the Eastern hemisphere. Russia, believing this was an unprovoked attack, unleashes its nuclear arsenal at The US. The world falls into chaos. Yet, on the moon, a small community of scientist and miners still survive. Yet, in order to maintain their community, they need fissionable materials for their nuclear reactors from Earth. A power struggle between the community’s leader, Daniel Morgan and a group within the community, led by another arrogant asshat who happened to be sleeping with Daniel‘s wife, over how much they should help the Earth Survivors, as well as the manipulations of Daniel’s wife and her infidelities, leads the leader to head to Earth and hold the fissionable materials hostage. 20 years later, with the Moon community on it’s last legs, Daniel’s son Alec leads a excursion to Earth to locate his father and bring back the materials the moon needs. It’s all very fascinating, and at points well done, when it doesn’t fall into overused tropes, ridiculously complicated master plans and well, utterly unlikable characters. There is one scene that highlights just how utterly despicable Alec is. After some not to subtle flirting and playful blackmail by the attractive base doctor, Alec finds himself alone with her in her quarters. Then he discovers that she didn’t invite him back because of his utter irresistible attractiveness, but may have also had ulterior motives. This makes him angry, and wary, so of course, he rapes her. Ummmm… At this point I was ready to throw the digital audio copy across the room. I couldn’t fathom the point of this scene, other than show a man so arrogant that he punishes a woman who is basically a lesser version of his manipulative mother by sexual violence. Of course, there are no consequences to his action, and the scene is never revisited in anyway. In fact, later there is a scene were he prevents a rape of another girl, which, maybe was suppose to show some sort of transformation. That is until he admits that the only reasons he did it was because of his romantic feelings for the girl. I just don’t get it. Yet, I continued reading, partly because I found the post apocalyptic setting interesting, but mostly because I was hoping these characters would all be dying a painful embarassing death.

Now, maybe if the plot was better, than I would have found something to be positive about. You would think with a family dynamic straight out of a Shakespearean tragedy and a well conceived post apocalyptic setting, Bova was playing well within my wheelhouse. At times it felt like Bova was plying around the edges of a good tale, with fascinating scenes, but they never became fully developed. All the scenes lack descriptive depth. He gave a barebones description of Alec’s march through the devastated post nuclear America. Bova told of groups joining up with Alec and his soldiers, yet never showed you why they did. Alec was supposed to be a brilliant military strategist, basically born and raised for this very quest, but at times was incredible stupid. So much of the plot depended on nobody telling anyone anything. Plenty of people knew the truth about Alec’s father, people who could have used that truth to their advantage, and were the type of people who would, but surprisingly no one ever did. Alec’s father could very well have saves a lot of death and destruction by being straight with his son, but instead threw hissy fits, and preferred elaborate plans on top of plans, over simple brutal honesty. It all seemed like Bova came up with this fascinating big reveal, and forced all the square pegs of his plot one big mess of a round hole. Now, not all characters were unlikable to the extreme. There were two I didn’t hate. One of course, was the beautiful woman whose sole job was to fall in love with Alec, so he could have someone to both love and betray. The other was Daniel’s loyal friend, who really served no purpose other than being the one likeable character in the whole damn show.  Test of Fire is the worst kind of book, one just interesting enough to keep your attention, yet full of vile, despicable characters, nonsensical plots, and egregious pointless violent acts that did nothing for the story, that by the time you got to the end you wished that it was just a little bit worst so maybe you would have done the smart thing and just stopped listening.

This was my first time listening to narrator Dean Slutyer, and well… I just don’t know. He wasn’t bad. I can’t point to a particularly bad  character voice, or annoying pronunciation, or some real technical error. My biggest complaint was the pacing. He read it just so damn slow. In fact, I ended up bumping up the speed 10% because I just couldn’t take the pace. At this speed, it was almost acceptable. He almost seemed like a real narrator. Maybe I have just been spoiled. My past experiences with Bova have basically been relatively meh. I often find the concepts of his novels fascinating but the execution somewhat lacking. Yet, what Bova audiobooks did usually have was Stefan Rudnicki as narrator, and that made it worth the listen. Slutyer had a nice voice, but he didn’t really have the ability to sell a story like Rudnicki. Maybe if his pacing was more crisp, and the story less aggravating, I would have come away with a better perception of his work. Slutyer isn’t a narrator I would avoid in the future, but I definitely would hope in future endeavors not to have to speed his narration up to keep me interested.

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

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





Going Public… In Shorts Presents Oliver Wyman Reading Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft

23 06 2013

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June is Audiobook month (JIAM 2013). The audiobook community is giving back by teaming with the Going Public Project by offering a serialized audio story collection. All proceeds will go to Reach Out and Read literacy advocacy organization. Throughout June, 1-2 stories will be released each day on the Going Public blog and on author/book blogs. The story will be free (online only – no downloads) for one week. In collaboration with Blackstone Audio, all the stories will be available for download via Downpour. The full compilation will be ready June 30th.

The full schedule of the story release dates and narrators are at Going Public. Engineering and Mastering are provided by Jeffrey Kafer and SpringBrook Audio. Graphic design provided by f power design and published by Blackstone Audio. Project coordination and executive production by Xe Sands.

Today I am blessed with the ability to bring you the work of one of my favorite narrator, and someone who I personally consider a heck of a good guy.  I first discovered Oliver Wyman as the voice of the beloved Serial Killer and Florida Enthusiast Serge Storms in Tim Dorsey’s series of madcapped adventures. I will often credit Oliver Wyman’s performance in Hurricane Punch as the catalyst that moved me from Audiobook listener to insatiable Audiobook Fan. So, really blame him.

Oliver has been a guest before here at the old ‘lobe and is one narrator that has more than gone out of his way to embrace fans of audiobooks. Make sure you check out our interview, which I bribed him into through a series of veiled threats and pictures of Robot kittens. As an added bonus, I have included my ode to the Going Public…. In Shorts program with this series of poorly written Haikus.

They Show us their legs
By Going Public In Shorts
Raising love of words

Oliver

Our Hirsute Hermit
Whose Voice Brings to Vivid Life
Shoggoths and Killers

Beloved Xe
One whose voice rhymes with sexy
Still our Ferret Hearts

So, now I present to you, one Mr. Oliver Wyman reading H. P. Lovercraft’s Pickman’s Model.

Make sure you follow Oliver on twitter at @mrkawfy.

Check out his Facebook page. 

Go listen to him at Soundcloud.

For more Going Public in Shorts fun, please check out yesterday’s entry featuring Cris Duheheart at The Book Tart.

Tommorrow, one of my favorite Bloggers host one of my favorite narrators when John Lee stops by Beth Fish Reads.





Audiobook Review: Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

20 06 2013

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress, Bk. 1)

Read by Tavia Gilbert

Blackstone Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Quick Thoughts: Halfway to the Grave is a fun paranormal action tale, which had enough sexy parts to satisfy romance fans and enough detailed action and mystery to keep non-romance fans like me in the game. Frost definitely has the skills to create characters to cheer for while providing a solid plot to highlight their strengths.

Grade: B

My experience with Paranormal Romance has been pretty well documented. I am not a big romance fan. I get uncomfortable listening to off camera, and light foreplay sexual encounters in audiobooks. I’m pretty sure there are a few narrators I may never be able to look in their eyes without thinking about the strange man on man on woman three-way or the time Jack Reacher had sex to the rhythms of a train. My first time listening to a paranormal romance was First Grave on the Right, which I thought was just another Urban Fantasy, until the main character started banging a ghost, and I was like…. ummmm…. she’s banging a ghost… can someone please tell her to stop? Then, last year we had my Armchair Audies sexy dragon experience with Dragon Bound. Dragon Bound frustrated me… *clears throat* because the sex was so descriptive, each moment meticulously detailed, then when the fun mayhem of violence and destruction comes, it was like "Then the dragon killed him." WHAT? No rendering, no detailed evisceration. You can explain what each pore on the areola does while being licked by the tongue of an arrogant Alpha asshole, but can’t give me just a touch of blood and gore! Add to this the fact that the main love interest was such a misogynistic asshat, I just wanted to bash my skull in. Now, I understand, as someone whose fantasy life dwells more around zombies and robots, that these titles are catering to a group I may not be a part of. I accept that the handsome domineering man may be a viable fantasy for many people, but I just wanted to see him get stabbed, repeatedly. So, I put out a call for a Paranormal Romance that I may actually like, and received a suggestion for The Night Huntress series. My first though…. but it’s a sexy Vampire novel. Vampires are monsters! NOT SEXY! Then I looked at the cover. Hot scantily clad redhead! What am I getting myself into? Wait… hot scantily clad redhead… Hmmmmm…..

Cat Crawfield has been raised to believe all Vampires are evil. Her mother, who was raped by a Vampire leading to Cat’s conception, encourages Cat to use her unique skills as a half human half vampire to hunt and kill Vampires. Yet, when she meets the mysterious Vampire Bones after attempting to kill him, she begins to question all she has been taught. As she works together with Bones to hunt a Vampire who has been trafficking women, Cat resistance begins to break away, finding herself falling for the very monster she has been hunting. So, bottom line, I actually really liked Halfway to the Grave. Sure, all the sexy business made me feel, well, awkward. I could probably nitpick little things here and there, and sure, I could bemoan the experienced Vampire Bones teaching the young and inexperienced Cat in the ways of love, but I think that would undermine the fact that Cat was a strong character and that Bones was not a big flaming douchebag. Sure, I wanted to not like the centuries old Vampire, and I though this instant attachment to Cat was a bit on the unrelatable side, but I found myself being won over by the quirky Vampire. Beyond that Frost included enough other stuff, like hard core action scenes, some decent twists and entertaining characters, to allow me to get over my awkwardness quickly. I did have mixed feelings on some of the Vampire mythos Frost has developed. Much of the supernatural aspects of Vampirism has been stripped away. While I like this focus on Vampirism as either an evolutionary process or an ancient Biblical curse, I would have liked to see more on this aspect of the novel, but since it’s a series, I imagine these are issues we will return to. While I understand the whole stripping away of myths, like holy water and religious icons, I think sometimes I enjoy these bits of oddity with Vampires and will find myself missing it. I also really liked Cat as a character. I like how Frost dealt with her internal struggle, not to just accept her Vampire side, but also her struggle to appease her mother. I often battled emotionally with Cat’s mother, because at times, I felt her view point was justifiable, due to her personal history, but at other times I found her reactions reprehensible. I found this to be much more realistic than the often stereotypical black and white portrayals that show up in novels. My only issue with Cat was the sort of Might makes Right mentality that transformed her from the naive but amped killer of Vamps to a potential highly skilled operator and training of a paramilitary kill squad. There is more than just the ability to kick ass needed to lead and train any paramilitary group, and I struggled to see Cat as up to that particular challenge. Not that it was unrealistic, per se, I just felt her training under Bones was a bit glossed over, and I had trouble reconciling early Cat with the Cat she will need to be. Overall, despite some nitpickingness on my part, I found Halfway to the Grave to be a fun, fast paranormal action tale, which had enough sexy parts to satisfy romance fans and enough detailed action and mystery to keep non-romance fans like me in the game. Frost definitely has the skills to create characters to cheer for while providing a solid plot to highlight their strengths.

Tavia Gilbert is a name I hear often when discussing narrators, yet, had only listened to once before, nearly 5 years ago, with John Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale. Here, in Halfway to the Grave, I found her narration to be top notch. Gilbert allowed you to really feel the transformation in Cat’s life. She took you right into the Cat’s internal struggle, managing to find a balance between Cat’s strength and her insecurity. This was one of those audiobook moments where the narration helps you feel the character development in a way you might not experience in print. Gilbert read the action with a crisp pace, pulling the listener into the scenes, allowing them to get immersed in the action. The highlight of the audiobook was the "under the influence" scenes, where Gilbert was able to capture the humor of the slurring intoxicated Cat, while still maintaining the gravity of the situation. My only problem with the Audiobook wasn’t really the narrator’s fault. I had trouble imagining Bones as, well… sexy. I think Gilbert nailed his voice, blending British and Australian accents but, there was an almost cockney edge to it, I couldn’t help but picture some older Victorian Monty Pythonesque guy, and not a young looking sexy Vampire. Probably comes from watching too many British comedies on PBS when I was faking sick as a teenager. I’m not saying that most people wouldn’t find Bones sexy, just I didn’t. Not that I expected to find some Vampire dude sexy, but… well… I didn’t. Yet, I really enjoyed Gilbert’s performance and I think this series has a lot of potential both in telling a strong tale, and in making me feel kind of awkward.





Audiobook Review: 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden

6 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden (Check out the Full Story Listing After the Review)

Read by Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Bernadette Dunne, Paul Michael Garcia, Kirby Heyborne, Malcolm Hillgartner, Chris Patton, John Pruden, Renée Raudman, Stefan Rudnicki, Sean Runnette, Simon Vance, and Tom Weiner

Blackstone Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Zombie Anthology

Quick Thoughts: 21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. Some of the top tales come from new to me authors like Mark Morris and Amber Benson with a special shout out to Chelsea Cain. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts

Grade: B+

So, I was thinking about a good way to explain an excellent and diverse Zombie anthology, because I know the concept is so complex that it needs explaining, and the phrase that popped into my head was “Zombie Smorgasbord.” Oh, boy. When I was in high school, back in what some people refer to as “the 90’s” or what many of my fellow bloggers may call “before I was born” I worked for a now defunct Buffet restaurant. I started as a dishwasher, worked my way up to pots and eventually became a skilled line cook. I never made it out of the kitchen of course because, as my boss at the time explained it, “You have a face for back of the kitchen work.” Back then, I really wasn’t that into Zombie lit. It would be about another 12 years until I read Brian Keene’s The Rising and became a huge Zombie fan. Yet, it was about the time I was working my way through The Stand, and Swan Song for like the third time each, and I totally thought that working at this Buffet would give me a leg up when it came time to load up on supplies for that cross country apocalyptic road trip. So, where was I… oh yeah…? Zombie Smorgasbord. So, when this phrase popped into my mind, so too did wonderful variety of images. I pictured a bunch of Zombies shuffling past a serving table full of entrails, brains and a variety of limbs. I see a plainly decorated establishment where a zombie works the carving station, carving [insert grotesque image here]. I see stalls full of zombies available for the choosing, carefully managed by the FIFO system where the nastiest maggot infested zombies are at the front and the fresher, nearly human looking zombies are in the back. You see, this illustrates my point, a good Zombie anthology is full of a variety of awesome and disturbing, but mostly awesomely disturbing stories for our twisted flavorful brains.

21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology edited by Christopher Golden full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. This anthology is packed full of some of my favorite authors including Brian Keene, Jonathon Maberry and Thomas E. Sniegoski, some authors I have always wanted to read including SG Browne, Amber Benson and Duane Swierczynski and new to me authors that I must now check out like Ken Bruen, Mark Morris and Stephen Susco. So, now onto the stories. The anthology started out with an intriguing tale of a society adapting to a world with zombies called Biters by Mark Morris. It was a wonderful start to the anthology and put me in the right mind. Then it hit me in the head with a creepy and a bit sardonic poem by Chelsea Cain which, along with the performance of the narrator Cassandra Campbell was one of the highlights of this audiobook. Since there were about 20 tales in all, I won’t mention them all, but for there’s something here from all zombie fans. There are more traditional Zombie Outbreak tales like Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry, Couch Potato by Brian Keene and The Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen, some interesting twists on the undead like Devil Dust by Caitlin Kittredge, Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski and Tender as Teeth by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynsk, and some really bizarre tales like The Drop by Stephen Susco, Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson and Carousel by Orson Scott Card.  Sadly, not all the tales were winners. Two of bigger draws for this anthology, Kirt Sutter and Daniel H. Wilson were a bit of a disappointment. I thought Sutter’s tale was simply bizarre, and not in a good way, and while Wilson’s tale, which takes place in the world he created in Robopocalypse, started off well, it lost its way. Yet, most of these tales were a lot of fun. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts.

Like the author list, 21st Century Dead was a mix of narrators, many of whom I am familiar with, while others I have wanted to experience for a while. As I said earlier, Cassandra Campbell’s reading of “Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-So Horror Story” was delightful and my favorite moment along the way. Scott Brick’s reading of The Drop creeped me out, making a strange story just a bit stranger. It was nice to once again listen to Tom Weiner read a Jonathan Maberry tale. Really, this anthology was just full of excellent performances, including tales read by Chris Patton, Bernadette Dunne, Simon Vance and Paul Michael Garcia. It was a little interesting to hear Sean Runnette reading a non-Tufo Zombie tale, but the story was perfect for his sense of humor. The biggest kudos for this production must go to whoever cast the audiobook. Blackstone did an excellent job placing just the right narrator with the right story.

FULL STORY LISTING

Zombies are good for you: an introduction by Christopher Golden
Biters by Mark Morris
Why mothers let their babies watch television : a just-so horror story by Chelsea Cain
Carousel by Orson Scott Card
Reality bites by S.G. Browne
Drop by Stephen Susco
Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson
How we escaped our certain fate by Dan Chaon
Mother’s love by John McIlveen
Down and out in dead town by Simon R. Green
Devil dust by Caitlin Kittredge
Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen
All the comforts of home : a beacon story by John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow
Ghost dog & pup : stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Tic boom : a slice of love by Kurt Sutter
Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry
Tender as teeth by Stephanie Crawford, Duane Swierczynski
Couch potato by Brian Keene
Happy bird and other tales by Rio Youers
Parasite by Daniel H. Wilson

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





Audiobook Review: The City of Devi by Manil Suri

19 03 2013

The City of Devi by Manil Suri

Read by Vikas Adam and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Literary Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

Grade: A-

I always use this opening paragraph of my reviews to talk about something that stood out to me during my experience of an audiobook. Whether it be an issue within the novel, the reason why I decided to read it, or just an idea that percolates within my brain as the tale is being told. With The City of Devi there we a lot of potential topics to discuss. As a post apocalyptic fan, The City of Devi explored many themes that fascinate me, particularly the intermingling of the international economy,  reliance of modern technology for information, the importance of the balance of power among nuclear states, and how all these things can be manipulated into causing significant, even apocalyptic damage to a world increasingly balanced on a razor’s edge. I could discuss another of my favorite topics, religion or even tackle the importance of popular culture in propagandizing the masses. All of these are wonderful, fascinating ideas that are beautifully explored in The City of Devi, but I, like most red blooded males, want to talk about the sex. I want to believe I am a mature adult, well into his 30’s who can discuss matters of sexual relationships with a frank honesty. Instead, though, I fall somewhere between socially awkward and a giggling junior higher who just happened to stumble onto a Shannon Tweed movie on late night TV. When listening to an audiobook, there is an intricate relationship formed between listener, narrator and author, and when the audiobook is full of the sexin’, well, that can lead to some strange situations. I tend to listen to my audiobooks while at work, typically alone, but often near others, and when that audiobook talks about a newly married couples tentative sexual explorations, or one cousin donkey slapping another during naked wrestling, I find myself unable to make eye contact with those around me. I know what you think, “Grow Up Bob! Sex is a Natural Part of Life!! Who Hasn’t Donkey Slapped Their Cousin?” Yet, if there is one thing my ultraconservative Baptist upbringing taught me, it’s that listening to any form of Boy on Boy on Girl action in mixed company, well, may lead to awkward situations in which it is best to simply avert your eyes.

The City of Devi tells the tale of one woman’s search to find her husband amidst the chaos of war ravaged Mumbai, on the eve of a potential nuclear strike from Pakistan.  As she makes her way through the streets full of religious discord, apocalyptic paranoia and roving gangs, she encounter’s a young Muslim man with a secrets of his own, which may affect her directly. As the two search for her husband, they encounter many colorful and dangerous characters, one of which may be a manifestation of the cities patron goddess, Mumba Devi. The City of Devi is an absurdist romp through apocalyptic Mumbai that explores love, religion, pop culture and war in strange and brilliant new way. Its part Bollywood, part porn mixed into a screwball comedy yet set in a dark, and strikingly realistic near future dystopia. The two main characters, Sarita and Ijaz or “the Jazter” were lovingly explored and intricately developed forcing such a guttural reaction from me that caused me to question aspects of myself. I had such a negative early reaction to Jaz, his predatory nature, his brashness about sex, how it is just as much of a primal need to him as breathing and sustenance. I had to wonder if this reaction was due to some level of homophobia, on my part. Equally, my vision of Sarita as almost a victim, someone who needed to be protected from the likes of Jaz, caused me to wonder if that reaction was due to some misogyny on my part. Despite my personal conflicts with these characters, I found them fascinating. Even more so, I was blown away by the world created by Suri, how economics, religion and politics all contributed to a slow burn apocalypse. This multilayered exploration was so brilliantly done, it was almost scary. Add to this Suri managed to make what seemed to be almost an absurdist idea, the contribution of an over the top action movie about the goddess Devi to the chaos, seem strikingly plausible and even timely. Yet, the core of all this, the essence of the novel is a love story, in fact, a love triangle unlike any one I have experienced before. This was no Hollywood love tale, no easy love at first sight fallacy, but true love involving hard work, sacrifice, betrayal and self deception. The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

I think one of the major reasons this tale worked so well for me was the excellent performances of the two narrators, Priya Ayyar and Vikas Adam. The tale starts off in Sarita’s POV which is handled lovingly by Ayyar. Her narration is rich and beautiful, capturing the flavor of Mumbai, while also deftly showing the chaos and mayhem of a city steeped in desperation. Ayyar captures the frantic pace of the city, and she moves you from situation to situation, and then transitions to the back story of her relationship with her husband with a gentle intensity. Then comes Jaz. The transition is almost a punch in the face, as Vikas Adam takes an almost instantly confrontational tone with the listener. It’s as if he’s saying, “This is who I am. Deal with it.” Adam reads with the vocal equivalent of a sneer, yet as the two characters begins to interact, it softens and changes from outwardly aggressive, to an inner exploration. The interplay between the two narrators truly accentuated the story that Manil Suri seems to be telling. You can feel the reluctant bond form between the two characters. The pacing is sharp and distinct, carrying the listener along from situation to situation with ease, allowing us to fully follow each step on the journey. As with many multi-narrator productions, there is a slight disconnect in the voicing of shared characters, but in some ways that plays into the strength of the tale, showing how point of view affects perception. The City of Devi was a wonderful production of a fascinating novel that made me think almost as much as it made me laugh.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy for review.





My Top 20 Audiobooks of 2012

27 12 2012

2012 was a great year for audiobooks. As an avid listener of audiobooks, I don’t think I can remember a year quite like this. With the releases of some classics like Stephen King’s The Stand and the complete Chronicles of Amber, to some breathtaking debuts, and a bunch of authors and narrators releasing some of their best works, it will be a year I remember for a long time. At one point early in the year, I was wondering if I had been becoming to easily pleased based on the number of A reviews I was giving, or if the quality was just better this year.

As far as quantity, I have easily broken my record this year. In 2011, I listened to 174 audiobooks. As I am writing this post, for 2012 I have written 192 audiobook reviews, including two posts that reviewed the 10 Chronicle of Amber novels, as well as a few double reviews of audiobook novellas. If I include all my multiple reviews, and those audiobooks I have listened to yet haven’t reviewed yet, my total for 2012 is over 200. Now, some of these were shorter novellas and short story anthologies. Of these 200, about 30% received a grade in the A range, while 60% fell into the B range.

Favorite posts like this are very subjective. I know a lot of people who listen to the kind of audiobooks I enjoy, but few who match my specific likes, so I will never call my picks the best. If you are new to my blog, I listen to a wide range of speculative fiction genres, which leans heavily towards Horror and Dark Fantasy, as well a blend of science fiction. I listen to a lot of Zombie and Post Apocalyptic novels. I also enjoy Crime Fiction and Thrillers, particularly detective stories and legal Thrillers.  For my 2012 list, I limit it to audiobooks which are produced in 2012, even if the book itself was written pre-2012.

I really struggled with my picks this year, moving things around repeatedly and even considered expanding my list to 25 titles. Yet, in the end, I stuck with 20. I went back and forth on my number 1 pick this year. I knew which book resonated with me the most this year. It was the best mix between content and narration, and thinking about it still haunts me. Yet, I considered going with another title because it was an audio reread of a novel written in 1990. It is one of my favorite novels of all time and listening to it now in audio, in a new production with a wonderful performance by the narrator made me love it even more. So, I went with it. I mean, heck it’s my list, right?

This year I decided to try something a little different. Instead of writing a new blurb for each book, instead there is a link to my original review, plus my "Quick Thought: entry. Also, I invited some authors and narrators to talk about their experience with the audiobook versions of the entries. I want to thank those who contributed on short notice during this hectic holiday season. So, here it is my 20 favorite audiobooks of 2012. Hopefully, you will find something here to love as well.

 

A Gift Upon the Shore by M. K. Wren

Read by Gabra Zackman

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: A Gift Upon the Shore is one of my all time favorite novels, a darkly beautiful vision of a nuclear apocalypse. This novel stands apart from many within the genre by its frightening realism and its strong female characters. Narrator Gabra Zackman captures the poetry of the novel perfectly, making it a wonderful example of how good an audiobook can be.

Gabra Zackman, narrator of A Gift Upon the Shore

“A Gift Upon the Shore was one of my favorite books to record.  Partly because the story seemed so vital and relevant, and partly because it felt personally meaningful. It’s a really beautiful thing to connect emotionally to a book you are recording… it doesn’t happen all the time, and it makes the reading infinitely better when it does.  At the time I was in a fascinating life space… I was about to make a move cross country to new terrain and was both excited and scared by the prospect.  So to read a book about female pioneers re-inventing life in a landscape of the unknown was…. extraordinary.  Comforting.  Validating.  And offered me some courage I badly needed.  In addition to all that, I am a passionate lover of language, and the folkloric nature of the writing was music to my ear.”

Blackout by Mira Grant

Read by Paula Christensen and Michael Goldstrom

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Blackout is full of adventure, betrayal, true love, sacrifice, conspiracies revealed, surprise enemies and allies, fascinating science and of course, zombies. It has everything you want in a series finale, leaving you both utterly fulfilled, and desperately wanting more.

 

The Stand by Stephen King

Read by Grover Gardner

Random House Audio

My Review

What I Said: For fans of this novel who, like me, are skeptical of allowing another person to become the voice in your head, bringing this world you love to life, don’t be. The audiobook version of The Stand achieves its goal of presenting this classic in a way that will be accessible for both long time fans and those new to King’s frightening landscape.

Assassin’s Code by Jonathon Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

MacMillan Audio

My Review

What I said: Assassin’s Code is a fast paced, no holds barred science thriller with perhaps the most engaging series character in fiction today. If you have yet to listen to a Joe Ledger Book, makes sure you have plenty of time on your hands because once you start, you will not want to stop.

Ray Porter, narrator of the Joe Ledger series:

“I am a big fan of Jonathan Maberry. Every time I get to read Joe Ledger it is like visiting a good friend. I was very entertained by both books and I hope people have as good a time with them as I did.”

Spellbound by Larry Correia (Book 2 of the Grimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

Larry Correia, author of Spellbound: “I’ve been blessed with amazing narrators. For Hard Magic and Spellbound, Bronson Pinchot makes the characters come alive. Sometimes it is really hard as a writer to listen to an actors interpretation of somebody you made up, because obviously they are never going to match exactly with what you’ve got in your head. Bronson does such a darn good job in Spellbound that as I’m writing the third book I find that the characters in my head now sound like his version of them.”

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Read by Susan Duerden

Dreamscape Audiobooks

My Review

What I Said: The Rook is one of the most fascinating Fantasies I have experienced in a long time, truly touching that sense of wonder as only the best Fantasies can. In many ways, this is the novel that JK Rowling’s should have wrote next, an adult fantasy that reminds us of those feelings we would get as a child  hiding under our blankets trying to read just one more chapter.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Read by Grover Gardner

Blackstone Audio

My Review

What I Said: Defending Jacob made my courtroom thriller loving heart sing for joy, a well written, deftly plotted legal tale that was full of hidden depths. Fans of crime fiction, even if not particularly legal thriller fans, should not miss this utterly enthralling novel.

Year Zero by Rob Reid

Read by John Hodgman

Random House Audio

My Review

What I Said: If I can compare a book to Ready Player One, Agent to the Stars and The Hitchhikers Guide, then it should be a given that I loved it. I did. Year Zero may be the most pure fun I had listening to a book this year. There was enough inappropriate laugh out loud moments that the weird looks I began receiving from strangers and coworkers became part of the scenery. Year Zero is the kind of accessible, pop culture ridden science fiction that should be embraced by a wide audience.

14 by Peter Clines

Read by Ray Porter

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

My Review

What I Said: Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams  uncomfortable.

Ray Porter, narrator of 14:

“I really enjoyed Peter Clines’ book, I look forward to more from him. I’d love to have a chance to narrate another of his books.”

Cold Days by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files, Bk. 14)

Read by James Marsters

Penguin Audio

My Review

What I Said: Cold Days reinvigorated my love for this series. Butcher takes everything you think you know about The Dresden Files and smashes it, twisting and pulling it like taffy. He expands his world in amazing new directions, answering questions you never knew you where asking, while creating whole new realties to deal with.

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Bk. 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Days of Blood & Starlight left me totally breathless. Taylor creates her worlds with poetry, twisting our perceptions of the genre with each word, creating something both comfortable and unique with a magician’s touch. Fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bones will not only have their anticipations paid for with this novel, but they should be totally blown away.

Khristine Hvam, narrator of Days of Blood & Starlight:

“I think we can all agree that the world Laini Taylor has created is incredible. It is an honor to be a part of it.

We finished up recording Days of Blood and Starlight in a beautiful New York City Studio, with some pretty awesome people, a few months ago. Since then the response to the book, and the audio version have been fantastic. What an honor to have been cast for this project. Taylor’s story gives me so much room and opportunity to discover new voices, play with old ones, and develop as a voice artist. It’s kind of what we all wish for in a project.”

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: Throne of the Crescent Moon is the rare fantasy that seems to do everything right in an accessible, highly readable way. This book will thrill fantasy fans, and make them long to discover even more about Saladin Ahmed’s intriguing world. Even better, this is the type of accessible fantasy that I would have no trouble recommending to people whether they are fans of the genre or not.

Phil Gigante, narrator of Throne of the Crescent Moon:

“I really loved Saladin Ahmed’s juxtaposition of classic Arabian tales with a "Western" Fantasy style. He captured the true history and intrigue of his Middle Eastern roots, and told a story worthy of the best modern Fantasy authors. It is beautiful and lyrical, as the best Fantasy should be. I met Saladin at a sci-fi convention where he was touring for the book, and I found him to be a great person, and a writer to watch for a long, long time. He also has possibly the best hair of any writer working today! I’m really looking forward to the sequel, as all the Eastern pronunciations really gave my glottal stops a workout.”

The Reanimation of Edward Schuett by Derek J. Goodman

Read by David Letwin

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: The Reanimation of Edward Schuett is a novel that blends the unique zombie perspective of a novel like Zombie Ohio, with the recovered society motif of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series, mixing in a liberal dose of the quirkiness of Raining Stony Mayhall, then adds it’s own secret blend of herbs and spices making it the most unique, and perhaps, rewarding zombie experience of the year.

This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It by David Wong

Read by Nick Podehl

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: This Book is Full of Spiders is just pure fun for any fan of horror fiction, full of adventure, plenty of creepy scares, monsters, shadowy government types, weird otherworldly weapons, slapstick irreverent humor and of course, a good dog and an even better woman. Fans of John Dies at the End will love this latest adventure with their buddies David and John, and if you have yet to spend time with this duo, go do it now. You’ll thank me.

Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI, Bk. 1)

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: Death Warmed Over is a haunted Halloween treat that pulls from The Police Squad as much as classic monster tales. Kevin J. Anderson has created a tableau for storytelling that should please a wide plethora of fans across many genres. Death Warmed Over is a tragic yet beautiful romance, an action filled buddy comedy, and a unique legal thriller all rolled into a tasty noir zombie shell and readers will want to take a big bite out of it.

Phil Gigante, narrator of Death Warmed Over

“I was impressed, as Bob mentioned in his review, how Kevin J. Anderson takes what could be every cliche in the "undead" realm, and layers on characters and situations that hit home mentally, spiritually and emotionally. He adds layers of true love, justice and intrigue, as well as screamingly funny dialogue, making the listener actually care deeply about the ghosts, zombies, mummies and other "Unnaturals" that make up the Big Uneasy. I screwed up many studio takes laughing out loud. Anderson even takes on modern slavery in the follow-up with tenderness and aplomb, all the while keeping the humor at a fever pitch.”

The Prophet by Michael Koryta

Read by Robert Petkoff

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: The Prophet is a crime novel with literary flair. It is a tale of redemption and relationships which can uplift your spirit while devastating your soul. Koryta continues to prove that no matter what genre he is tackling, he is one of the best storytellers working today.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Read by John Lee

Blackstone Audio

My Review

What I Said: Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a beautiful, vivid tale of relationships colored with a touch of the fantastic. Joyce never spoon feeds his readers but creates a vibrant mosaic for each person to translate on their own. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is simply wonderful storytelling and one of the most rewarding tales I have experienced this year.

Zombie by J. R. Angelella

Read by Alston Brown

AudioGo

My Review

What I Said: 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.

Control Point by Myke Cole (Shadow Ops, Bk. 1)

Read by Corey Jackson

Recorded Books

My Review

What I Said: Control Point delivered what I thought it would, tons of action, a fascinating world, and an authentic military feel. Yet, it’s what I didn’t expect that put this over the top for me. A hero I’m still not quite sure I can believe in and a blurred line between the good guys and the bad guys that lead to an emotionally devastating climax. Control Point is a novel that will be bouncing around in my head for a long, long time, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Myke Cole, Author of Control Point:

"When I first heard that CONTROL POINT was being made as an audiobook, I asked my agent to get me an audition. How hard could it be to read your own book? I mean, heck, I know how to properly pronounce all the names, and acronyms, and . . . uh . . . other names. CONTROL POINT was packed with incredibly nuanced words, like . . . "helicopter" and "sorcerer" and "pentagon."

To my great shock and dismay, Recorded Books politely declined.

So, I went home and beat my breast, shouted at the heavens, lamented the injustice of it all.

And then I heard Corey Jackson, channeling Oscar Britton with a passion and sensitivity that I would never have been able to muster. When I first saw the US cover of the book, I felt as if Michael Komarck had reached into my head and plucked images there for the final painting. Hearing Jackson was the same way. His voice *is* Oscar Britton’s voice. It always was.

The hard lesson here? Heinlein was wrong. Specialization isn’t for insects. It’s for specialists. And sometimes, it’s best to stand back, swallow your pride, and let them do their jobs. I’m sure glad I did."

What It Was by George Pelecanos

Read by J.D. Jackson

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Pelecanos fans will rejoice in a new Derek Strange tale and he certainly does his fans justice. What is Was is the hip thrilling story that his fans have come to expect, full of authentic, almost poetic dialogue, and human characters which will leave the listener wanting more.

Some Notes on the List:

Favorite Book published in 2012: Blackout by Mira Grant
Favorite Standalone Book published in 2012: Defending Jacob by William Landay
Favorite Debut of 2012: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
Favorite Fantasy Novel Published in 2012: Spellbound by Larry Correia
Favorite Horror Novel published in 2012: Blackout by Mira Grant
Favorite Science Fiction Novel published in 2012: Year Zero by Rob Reid
Favorite Mystery/Thriller published in 2012: Defending Jacob by William Landay

This is the first time that my top 2 Audiobooks were written by Female Authors.
Five of the top 20 picks were from debut Authors:

Honorable Mentions:

There were a lot of titles that would have made the list in any other year. Legion by Brandon Sanderson was a wonderful audiobook, but as it’s only a two hour novella, I couldn’t justify putting it on the list. I broke out of my typical genres and listen to a few more literary titles, among which A Land More Kind Than Home probably would have been in place #21 if I expanded the list particularly due to the wonderful performances by the narrators. Based solely on the book, Stephen King’s The Wind Through the Keyhole would have been a top 10 pick, but the author’s narration, while decent for what it was, knocked it down a bit on my list. Another recently audiobook reissues of a classic, The Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle was wonderfully produced by AudioGo, and, as part of the so called A List, Anne Hathaway’s reading of the beloved children’s classic The Wizard of Oz is a must listen. Lastly, for shared world anthologies, you can’t get much better than V-Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry and full of some wonderful performances by a star studded cast of narrators.

Now, onto 2013!





Audiobook Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

7 12 2012

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Read by Fiona Hardingham

Blackstone Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 15 Min’

Genre: Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: I think Jane Rogers achieved what she set out to do, she made me think, forced me into a struggle between my intellectual and emotional side, and entertained me as well. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a novel that I believe worked on two levels, it’s a fascinating work of speculative fiction, as well as a truly effective thought experiment.

Grade: A-

Back when I was in college I took a class with my favorite professor called, “Women in Politics.” At this point in my life, I was still holding on to many of the beliefs that my upbringing in a very conservative church had taught me. In one of the first classes we discussed coverture and how woman were viewed as property even within English Common law. We leaned that “The Rule of Thumb” was believed by some to be a reference to a legal ruling where a judge said it was illegal to beat your wife with a stitch thicker than the size of your thumb. This class was a real turning point in my development, particular on gender issues. Before this, I grew up in a church where our Pastor’s wife bragged about calling her husband “Lord and Master” and women were told they could not divorce their husbands, even if they were abusive. This year there has been a lot of talk about the “War on Women.” While I have no sympathy for men who talk about legitimate rape and attempt to legislate women health issues without bothering to be informed, I understand where these things come from. I remember being at a Christian music festival, where a Pro-Life speaker explained that when a woman is raped, her body is flooded with so many hormones that pregnancy is nearly impossible. I am sure plenty of people left that speech believing this, and for me, I had to actually research the issue to discover its fallacy. I strive to have an open mind on issues, but I learn one fact pretty early. I am a man, and no matter how much I understand Women’s issues intellectually, I will never understand them emotionally. I think much of my open-mindedness comes from the fact that I was a reader. I read books like The Handmaid’s Tale, and A Gift Upon the Shore that allowed me to gain some level of emotional awareness of these issues that lead to me questioning much of what I was taught. Sometimes, I  feel if it wasn’t for books, I may not have been able to escape from the trappings of misogyny that was so prevalent in my youth.

When a virus is released causing pregnancy to become a death sentence for woman, society is sent into turmoil. With the potential of being the final generation, young adults rebel against the adult society that brought war, environmental disasters and the gradual extinction of the human race. Within the chaos, one young woman is searching for some way she can make a difference. As she attempts to find her place amongst different movements, she finally figures a way she can help. Yet, this decision may require the ultimate sacrifice. The Testament of Jess Lamb is a frustrating, emotional and brilliant thought experiment that caused me to strip down my responses to many different issues, and reevaluate them in the light of the tale. In order to give a proper appraisal of this novel, I have to look at it from two different vantage points, one as a piece of speculative fiction, and the other as a social commentary. The Testament of Jesse Lamb is the sort of slow boil apocalypse that are becoming prevalent within the genre. Instead of one big bang, the apocalypse comes more gradually. The novel is an intimate look at the slow breakdown of society through the eyes of one young girl. While I loved this world Rogers’ created, and found it quite fascinating, filtering it through one character makes the experience limiting. I would have loved to see a broader look at this world, but I don’t think it would have worked as well within the requirements of this story. As a piece of social commentary, I have to admit, I struggled, but I think in a good way. Jessie Lamb was a frustrating character for me. I think if I had read this novel when I was younger I would have seen her as a noble character, perhaps even heroic. Yet, today I couldn’t help by find her a bit foolish. What I found interesting was the juxtaposition between the movements she became involved with, Animal rights, Feminism, and Scientific with the thought process she used to come to her decisions. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is it really highlighted just how people talk to each others. The way Jesse came to her decisions seemed almost parallel to religious enlightenment, yet, her father, and others tried to dissuade her using almost a cold scientific reasoning that, when seen through her internal dialogue, came off quite patronizing. Despite my frustration with her, I liked Jessie Lamb as a character, which just made it harder to accept what she was doing. Yet, I was very uncomfortable in my reactions, wondering if my distaste for her choice was due to some lingering misogyny or even a patronizing view of youth. I think Jane Rogers achieved what she set out to do, she made me think, forced me into a struggle between my intellectual and emotional side, and entertained me as well. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a novel that I believe worked on two levels, it’s a fascinating work of speculative fiction, as well as a truly effective thought experiment.

This is my second experience with Fiona Hardingham as a narrator and the first experience didn’t go so well, yet not due to any problem with her narration. This was why I was happy to see that she was handling the narration of this audiobook. Hardingham gives a wonderful performance, worthy of the novel. The novel is told from the first person perspective of Jesse and Hardingham managed to find the right balance between innocent naiveté and gravitas that was appropriate for the character. It was great to hear her transition from almost a flighty teenager, wondering if she should dye her hair, or if the boy she likes liked her back, to a young adult contemplating her place amongst a dying species. Hardingham made me feel connected with not just the main character, but many of the peripheral characters as well. Her characterizations were subtle but distinct, and she did a great job in differentiating between Jesse’s internal and external dialogue, which was a key element for this story. Overall, The Testament of Jessie Lamb was a thought provoking novel that is enhanced by the excellent performance of the narrator.

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

This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. To find more posts, click on the banner below.