Audiobook Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

1 08 2013

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Read by Patrick Lawlor

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Chuck Wendig’s Blue Blazes reads like a desperately thrown haymaker, it doesn’t always need to land solidly to knock you off your feet. Luckily, more often than not, Wendig connects with a nose breaking wallop and follows up with enough gut punches to leave you reeling.

Grade: B+

I have always been more of a fan of brute force methods. It’s not that I am some big strong bruiser, because I am not, nor do I lack the intelligence for cleverness, it’s just I believe that sometimes the simple solution is often the best. Today’s books are full of complicated heroes who use their wits and resourcefulness to outsmart ruthless criminals. This is always fun, seeing some badie get their comeuppance based solely on the wit and resourcefulness of our everyday heroes. Yet, the literary world is also full of brilliant evil geniuses. These brilliant brainiacs come up with these overly complex plans that require everything to fall into place in just the right way in order for our heroes to fall into their perfect trap. They have big goals, and these goals are achieved through their almost balletic machinations. These plans are so perfect, that they ensnare our smart heroes in such a way that they can’t even think their ways out. This is why I like brute force heroes. There is a sort of cleverness to simplicity. Sometimes, all it takes is to punch the smarmy bastard in the kisser then run like hell. Sometimes, a randomly tossed Molotov cocktail in the chaos of a fight is more effective than the most intricately placed block of C4. I think so many times heroes over think thing. They spend so much time coming up with complex plans to battle the villain’s complex plans, that the best solution escapes them. Let’s face it, sometimes the best way to bring down a ballet, is to just push over one of the dancers. I like to apply these principles to all aspects of my life. I’m no writer. Put me in a war of words with those who sling words for a living, and I will lose. I won’t tell you about sentence structure, or narrative flow or any of that stuff. I like the brute force, Chris Farley method… "Remember that time when the big dude just punched the bag guy right in the face…. THAT WAS AWESOME!"

Mookie Pearl is a thug. Honest, with a name like Mookie Pearl, how could he not be? Mookie is a connected man with THE organization, an organized crime syndicate in New York City. For the most part Mookie is muscle, a big leg breaker, the kind of intimidating force you send in when the best solution is the punching kind. Yet, Mookie is also connected with his army of mole men, underground dwellers who have knowledge of the Down Deep, the subterranean cities of goblins, the dead and old gods, with access to mysterious drugs that open users up to various supernatural abilities. Mookie has always been loyal, but when a shuffle in management leaves him on the outs, and with his reckless vindictive daughter stirring things up, Mookie may finally have found a situation he can’t punch his way out of.  Chuck Wendig’s Blue Blazes reads like a desperately thrown haymaker, it doesn’t always need to land solidly to knock you off your feet. Luckily, more often than not, Wendig connects with a nose breaking wallop and follows up with enough gut punches to leave you reeling. I love the Blue Blazes. I loved that Wendig did things that really should have come of corny or contrived, yet through a sort of literary self awareness, actually seemed fresh. There is a sort of retro feel to The Blue Blazes, with characters just a bit too colorful surrounding a man who is a dark chunk of granite. Mookie, by being Mookie, makes all the other characters around him glow just a bit brighter. Mookie isn’t a good guy. He’s a criminal, a neglectful father, and really, not all that clever. Yet, he has a solid core that he doesn’t violate, and a penchant to get things done. With so many of today’s anti-heroes being unrepentant douchebags who use their own complicated lives and self doubt as excuses for their horrible behavior, it was nice to have a character with self awareness enough to realize what type of person he is, and not try to excuse it. Then there is Nora, his petulant, bratty little hellhound of a daughter, who is playing well over her head to rectify her daddy issues. Oh, how I wanted to hate Nora. I just couldn’t. She was delightfully misguided, a bad ass chick held back by her own inability to deal with her issues. The interactions between Mookie and Nora were frustratingly fun. At times The Blue Blazes felt like a stew of all the things that Chuck Wendig wanted to fit into a novel, but had to cut out. An orgasmic romp through a twisted authors most bizarre imaginings. Part horror, part fantasy, with of strange creatures, rolled girl gangs, colorful criminals, and a dead stunt drivers with a souped up quad, The Blue Blazes is a freakish tour through a weird alternate New York City, and one really messed up family.

Audiobook narration isn’t always about having a wonderful, pitch perfect voice. It’s about finding the right feel for a book. This is exactly what Patrick Lawlor does in The Blue Blazes. Lawlor doesn’t read the book, as much as sneer it, flinging it from the page into the reader’s general direction. There is a brutal gruffness to his reading, and almost anti-poetry. Lawlor captures Wendig’s brute force descriptive language perfectly. In The Blue Blazes, a flower is a flower, and a stone is a stone, and Mookie is a big, thug. There is no need to flowery metaphors. Lawlor just goes at the prose, reading is with a machine gun pacing, firing each moment at you with a staccato burst. It was the perfect delivery for this novel. Lawlor’s voicings were not often very distinctive from one character to the next. He uses a few, traditional New York thug voices for the characters, yet, he manages to make each of the feel right. He did a good job with the singsongy nature of Skelly, the leader of the roller girl gang’s retro diction, and capturing Nora’s petulance. All together it was a lot of fun to listen to. The Blue Blazes won’t win any prizes for elegance, but it was the right narrator paired with the right novel, making it a really fun listen.

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





Audiobook Review: Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig

22 04 2013

Spirit of the Century presents Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig (Dinocalypse Trilogy, Book 1)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Audible Frontiers

Length: 7 Hrs 56 Min

Genre: Superhero Pulp Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Dinocalypse Now is the literary equivalent of a decadent dessert. It is pulp fiction at its finest, a fun story full of wonderful characters told in a way that makes every moment of the novel count. If you don’t have fun listening to this novel, than you, Sir or Madame, have no soul.

Grade: B+

I was going to start this review by saying that I used to watch the Superfriends all the time when I was a kid, but that’s not precisely true, I still watch the Superfriends. Well, I watch it with my nephews and with the special needs kids I work with… since I bought the DVDs for my nephews and the special needs kids I work with. I still love the show, whether it’s Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog or Zan, Jayna and space monkey Gleek. I loved Mr. Myxaptl and Bizzaro Superman and that flying Darth Vader head, and the fact that the Superfriends kept robotic copies of themselves just in case they had to fake their own deaths. Almost all of my superhero knowledge came from that show. I almost never read comics, the medium just doesn’t work for me and so I never really experienced the dark side of superheroes. They were always these all powerful uber-men who were stoic and morally true and dispensed out morality tales to kids and laughed at corny puns even childhood me thought were lame. They were about as close to perfection as you could get, like Jesus with X-Ray vision. They were never really human to me. Their morality tales held little sway, because these were perfect examples of the greatest of humanity so they knew not to vandalize their teachers room or they may end up falling down a broken elevator that someone unwisely left open with nothing but a small sign to prevent such a thing from happening. So, recently, I have been on a bit of a Superhero kick, trying to explore different, darker angles of these mighty heroes, from authors like Larry Correia, Adam Christopher, Peter Clines and many more. Now, I would like to say this is why I decided to listen to this latest audiobook release by Chuck Wendig, and sure, it had some bearing, but people, the book is called Dinocalypse Now. It has psychic dinosaurs, Conquering Sentient Apes, a potential world ending invasion and is narrated by Oliver Wyman. PLUS, superheroes… How could I NOT listen to this one?

When the Centurions, a group of "potent heroes of action" discover an assassination plot against FDR, what they weren’t expecting was an invasion by mind controlling psychosaurs, because let’s face it, no one ever expects an invasion by mind controlling psychosaurs. Yet, this is just the first wave of an attack, being orchestrated by Gorilla Khan, the conquering Ape, father of the Centurion advisor Professor Khan, and aimed directly at the Centurions. Now, those who manage to escape the trap, Jet Black, Sally Slick, Mack Silver "The Silver Fox" and others, must band together with Professor Khan to save the earth from Gorilla Khan, and a powerful enemy working behind the scenes. This book is set in the 1920’s Alternate history world of the Spirit of the Century RPG but no prior knowledge of the world is needed. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of the novel is the constant reference to other adventures, each one seeming crazier and even more over the top than the last. Now, I know more and more we are recommended to eat well balanced meals full of proteins and whole grains and the like, but every once in a while we must simply splurge on something decadent. Dinocalypse Now is like chocolate wrapped in bacon wrapped in THE GREATEST THING YOU EVER STUCK IN YOU MOUTH! It’s got everything you want in a great pulp fiction novel, like Jet Packs, Pterodactyls, Atlantis, Cavemen, soppy romance, women with tools and dirigibles, plus a plethora of things you didn’t even know you wanted. Wendig, who wrote some recent favorites of mine like Double Dead and the Miriam Black series, continues to impress me. He is simply a storyteller. It amazes me how much he can get across with such an economy of words. The action just leaps of the page, because there are no superfluous words holding it down. He deftly captures the rhythms of the speech of that time combining the sharpness of the 1920’s setting with ostentationsness of heroes. I really liked how these heroes seem just like you or me, just a bit enhanced, with the heroic ability to fling themselves into danger with abandon. There are no Supermen or Green Lanterns with extraordinary powers, just people who are a little faster, a little stronger but are mostly heroes because they choose to be. There are even little moral lessons, particularly in the development of Professor Khan, who steals the show, and Mack Silver, but it’s not beat you over the head moralistic life lessons, but true character development that serves the story. And really, this is the key impressive fact of Dinocalypse Now, every crazy moment, every wonderful character and well crafted phrase serves the ultimate goal of this story, to give the reader one hell of a good time. And I had one hell of a good time listening to this tale. Dinocalypse Now is the literary equivalent of a decadent dessert. It is pulp fiction at its finest, a fun story full of wonderful characters told in a way that makes every moment of the novel count. If you don’t have fun listening to this novel, than you, Sir or Madame, have no soul… or perhaps just different taste in entertainment than me.

It’s no secret that Oliver Wyman is one of my favorite narrators, and I simply must give a shout out to the sick minds who cast these audiobooks for Audible, because he was really the perfect choice for Dinocalypse Now. I mean, we know the man can do voices. I would venture to guess that the number of voices bouncing around in his skull would make Sybil shake her head in wonder. I find it important to find one quality of Wyman’s narration to point out in each review, instead of simply a laundry list of awesomeness. With Dinocalypse Now, Wyman is a human Cliffhanger machine. He manages to channel his inner "Meanwhile at The Hall of Justice" voice and end each chapter in a way that made you think that the world would come to a gruesome end if you didn’t continue on to the next chapter THIS. VERY. MINUTE.. This was simply perfect in creating a comic book feel for this novel. Wendig’s writing style is perfectly suited for audio, precise matter-of-pact pacing that allowed the listener to follow the action and Wyman just enhances this effect with his solid narration. This is a team that should be paired up more often, despite the potential for inter-dimensional chaos when they are. Luckily for us, this is the first of a trilogy, so there will be more Wendig and Wyman. I know I will be listening. 





Audiobook Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

20 09 2012

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig (Miriam Black, Book 2)

Read by Emily Beresford

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Mockingbird is the rare sequel that truly elevates a series.  It’s a visceral trip through the gutters of human evil, with a character walking the fine lines between righteousness and damnation.  Mockingbird expands the mythology of Blackbirds, and continues to build on it with exciting potentiality. It’s a dark journey, but one definitely worth taking.

Grade: A-

Chuck Wendig is one of a very few authors that I have followed on twitter before ever reading a word they had written in fictional form. The thing was, so many people that I followed would retweet his crazy, bizarre and often profane tweets that I decided I may just as well follow this strange, strange man and get my crazy directly from the source. Now, as a faithful follower of Mr. Wendig I have grown to enjoy his specific blend of reasonableness and insanity. One thing I enjoy is that when he discovers a new review of one of his pieces of fiction, he doesn’t just retweet the reviewer, or link to the review, but provides a favorite quote of his. This says to the reviewer, not only do I appreciate that you took the time to write a review, but I actually read it. So Hoo Zah! Yet, it also places a bit of pressure on the reviewer to come up with a Wendig worthy quote for him to tweet. I mean, do you really want the King of Cockwaffles to tweet some bland, roller-coaster ride, stayed up all night reviewing cliché? As a reviewer, you need to find a way to say, BANG! I liked this book, and I am also a twisted, socially questionable, mind freak like the author. So, I needed to play around with my blurb. Originally, I thought I wanted something sort of visceral and borderline pornographic, like "Mockingbird penetrates your mind like a uranium tipped dildo." But, I never had my mind penetrated like a uranium tipped dido, and I doubt most people could relate to that. Plus, it didn’t sound pleasant. So, then maybe pleasurable, yet pop culture infused would be good, so I was going to go with "Like taking a bubble bath in a hot tub full of Seanan McGuire’s cats." But then, I thought, if Seanan McGuire’s cats are anything like mine, they would have no desire to jump into a hot tub with any human, let alone the type that would read Mr. Wendig’s work. Plus, maybe my readers have pet allergies. So finally, I thought, embrace the cliché and go with, "I stayed up all night on the edge of my roller coaster’s seat reading this action packed thrill ride." Then I remembered I’m an audiobook blogger, who probably listened to this awake, walking and driving around without the help of any seat’s edge. So, in the end, I decided, maybe I should listen to the book first before coming up with a blurb. So that’s what I did.

Miriam Black was never built for the straight life. If working retail wasn’t hard enough, living in a trailer park with the assorted examples of humanity trailer parks tend to collect just has her on edge. Yet, she was willing to try for her trucker boyfriend Louis, willing to keep her hands gloved so to not experience the death visions that is her curse. So, when Louis finds her work using her skills, she jumps at it, to his chagrin. Yet, what seems like a simple case of predicting a teacher at a private girls school’s demise, turns to something different when she envisions a gruesome death of one of the girls by a twisted serial killer. I was a big fan of the first Miriam Black thriller, Blackbirds, yet, honestly, something about it just didn’t totally resonate with me. Originally, I thought it was simply the fact that I totally despised most of the characters. Yet, reading Mockingbird, I think I realized what it was. Miriam Black is such a dark character, and the majority of the tale takes place in gritty locales with less than respectable characters. It felt like painting Ravens onto a black canvas, no contrast. Yet, in Mockingbird, Miriam is set against a tapestry of quiet rural Pennsylvania, at a seemingly idyllic school for troubled girls. The contrast between Miriam and the setting really brought the story to a whole new level. The undercurrents of darkness that Miriam discovers, and her attempts to combat it seemed more vivid, and the stakes much higher. Mockingbird is the rare sequel that truly elevates a series. The plotting is tighter, and the mystery has a much bigger payoff. I love the journey that Wendig has taken Miriam on. Miriam confronts not just evil, but her own darkness. She faces horrific acts, yet, she is also confronted with the fact that the motives behind them are a mirrored reflection of her own. My only frustration with Mockingbird is with Louis. God save us from the righteous disappointment of good men. Louis is the kind of man who acts how you wish you would, but when placed in similar situations, most wouldn’t. He knows Miriam, and what she can do, yet attempts to restrain her, to force her into a normalcy that just will never suit her.  It’s frustrating to see this as a man, and as a reader. One word of warning, Wendig infuses this tale with not just darkness, but the incessant uses of profanity, politically incorrect musings, and in your face sarcasm. Wendig will find your trigger, the one thing that just grates on you, with his shotgun approach. This makes Miriam hard to like, but compelling to follow. Mockingbird reminded me again of why I love supernatural horror tales, why I was willing to risk groundings and other such punishments smuggling books by King and Koontz into my Fundamentalist home as a teenager. It’s a visceral trip through the gutters of human evil, with a character walking the fine lines between righteousness and damnation.  Mockingbird expands the mythology of Blackbirds, and continues to build on it with exciting potentiality. It’s a dark journey, but one definitely worth taking.

While I enjoyed Emily Beresford reading of Blackbirds, I felt there it took her a while to get comfortable with the character’s voice. In Mockingbird, any such reservations were gone. Beresford give a strong, consistently solid reading, capturing Miriam’s voice effortlessly. Gone were the hesitations that hampered Blackbirds. Beresford seemed to really just channel her inner Miriam and let her rip. Her pacing was markedly improved, particularly in the books finale, where she kept the action moving briskly. There were a few moments early where she seemed to over annunciate some words, which sort of tripped up the smoothness of the reading, but as you got deeper into the plot, this disappeared. I have to particularly point out her creepy performance of the Bad Polly song sung by the serial killer. There had to be some temptation to pull out her American Idol skills and give a good performance, but instead she performed it as described, with fluctuating registers. It was perfect for the mood, and contributed to the flavor of the audiobook. Mockingbird improves itself on every level over Blackbirds, which was a pretty good audiobook to begin with. This one is a true winner.





Audiobook Review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

23 04 2012

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Read by Emily Beresford

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Blackbirds reminds me of a novel Dean Koontz would write if he was high on ecstasy and learned how to swear properly. It is a ripping yarn that is equal parts bittersweet, and profane. Forcefully paced and darkly humorous, Chuck Wendig doesn’t just establish himself as the new voice of horror, but jumps on top of the genre and does a little dance to prove his point.

Grade: A-

I hate spoilers. It is one of my ultimate pet peeves. Screw global warming, inflation and international crises, I will vote for the candidate who promises to outlaw spoilers and make the death penalty an option for habitual offenders. You spoil a book, movie or TV show for me, and I will no longer be your Facebook friend. (I’m looking at you mom.) For this reason, I don’t want to know how I will die. Sure, I can see that there may be a bit of freedom in knowing the exact moment and cause of your death. No longer would you need to look both ways before crossing the street, or bother with wearing your seatbelt. You could take up cigarettes, red meat and high-risk sexual behavior without a worry that it will lead to your demise.  But, is the added feeling of security and freedom worth it? Not to me. I want the adventure of crossing the street without knowing ahead of time whether or not a secret CIA black helicopter will fall out of the sky and land on my head. I want to experience the twists and turns in my life without knowing how it all is going to end. I want to believe that I may not end up sad, lonely and struggling to get that last breath out of my disease riddled lungs. I want life to be full of surprises, and just enough risk to make it interesting.

In Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig has created a character who should be wearing a T-Shirt that says, “Spoiler Warning.” With a simple skin to skin touch, Miriam Black can see how you will die. Estranged from her overbearing mother, she travels around the country like a vulture, bearing witness to the deaths of strangers, and stealing from their corpses. Despite how much she tries, she is a slave to fate, unable to prevent the deaths that she witnesses. Then one day she meets a kindly truck driver, envisions his brutal murder, and hears his last words, her name. Check Wendig invigorates my love of supernatural horror with this visceral, fast moving thriller. While typically I feel like just an anonymous observer in most tales I read, Wendig managed to put me right in the story, eliciting gut level responses to his characters. I found myself equally compelled and frustrated by Miriam, wanting to connect with her, wanting to understand the world she lives in, but often becoming frustrated by the choices she makes. I utterly hated Ashley wishing death and dismemberment in horrific fashion upon his person. These types of reactions only come when you are totally immersed in a tale, and from the earliest moments of this novel Wendig had me hooked. One of my pet peeves in horror is the often heavy handed foreshadowing that many author’s use, but Wendig uses the talents of his main character to foreshadow events in a natural way bringing greater depth to the narrative. To make things even better, I totally loved the ending, it creates so much potential for Miriam’s character that I already am looking forward to Mockingbirds, Wendig’s follow-up to Blackbirds.  Blackbirds reminds me of a novel Dean Koontz would write if he was high on ecstasy and learned how to swear properly. It is a ripping yarn that is equal parts bittersweet, and profane. Forcefully paced and darkly humorous, Chuck Wendig doesn’t just establish himself as the new voice of horror, but jumps on top of the genre and does a little dance to prove his point.

I have mixed feelings about Emily Beresford’s narration of Blackbirds. This seems to be her first foray into audiobook narration, and I feel she has a lot of potential. Yet, I also feel she may have been miscast for this production. Miriam Black is an edgy, irreverent character who swears like a sailor, and even had me blushing a few times with the things that come out of her mouth. Beresford’s interpretation of her sounded a bit like a suburban mother who takes a secret naughty pleasure in saying a bad word, but is uncomfortable with it. The beginning of the novel, her pacing seemed a bit forced. Yet, as the novel played out, I felt Beresford got more comfortable in the tale. She definitely handled some of the more vocally defined characters well. Her handling of accents was excellent and she made some interesting choices for characters that I feel paid off in the end. While my feelings are mixed overall, I came away with a generally positive view of this production, and hope the Beresford continues with Mockingbird, just with maybe a bit more edge added to Miriam’s voice.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. Blackbirds will be available in paperback, E-Book, Digital Audio and Compact Disc on Tuesday, April 24th.