Audiobook Review: Ghost Walk by Brian Keene

30 04 2017

Ghost Walk

Ghost Walk by Brian Keene

Read by Chet Williamson

Crossroad Press

Grade: B

I have had a very sporadic love affair with Brian Keene. Well, at least his books. I’ve loved many of his books, particularly is apocalyptic novels, but have only read a few of his more traditional horror novels. Now that he has a deal with Crossroads Press to release his books into audio, I plan to flesh out my collection. My first foray into this is Ghost Walk, the loose follow up to his novel Dark Hollow. Ghost Walk is a serviceable one-off horror tale of a Halloween Attraction gone tragically awry due to supernatural interventions. Yet, where it truly excels in it’s place in Brian Keene’s larger mythos and in particular, the introduction of one of his reoccurring character, Levi Stoltzfus. One thing you learn quickly in Brian Keene’s scarred from their encounters with the entities from the labyrinth, and the implications of these scars ripple out beyond the ending of any particular book. Ghost Walk is old school horror that truly is horrific.

Chet Williamson is one of those narrators that isn’t always my cup of tea. He has more of the old school style akin to many of the originals big voices of audiobook Narration like George Guidall or Richard Ferrone. I’m not typically a fan of this style yet occasionally, with the right book it works. I though his performance in Keene’s The Complex was outstanding. I wasn’t as enamored here, but as the book played out, and things seemed to get more bizarre and crazy I fell under his spell. Williamson is strongest in this genre, and he delivers a solid performance that is suited to this book.





Audiobook Review: Nevermore: A novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe by David Niall Wilson

25 06 2013

Nevermore: A Tale of Love, Loss and Edgar Allan Poe by David Niall Wilson

Read by Gigi Shane

Crossroad Press

Length: 6 Hrs and 6 Min

Genre: Gothic Horror

Quick Thoughts: Nevermore is a Gothic horror tail, drenched in mood and atmosphere and effectively creepy. Wilson has created a fascinating mythology that blends history, myth, and folk tales to create a tale that does credit to it’s inspiration. Nevermore is a tale that is worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, yet shines a new light on this character allowing us to see him in a way we never may have expected.

Grade: B+

I think it’s important for a reviewer to admit their deficiencies. So, I will admit, for a fan of horror, from Philadelphia I am surprisingly uninformed when it comes to Edgar Allan Poe. Sure, I have read the Raven. I like the Raven. In fact, I think it’s brilliant. And, I always enjoyed The Tell Tale Heart. It’s a creepy tale that really plays on my claustrophobia and paranoia. Yet, other than that, I know surprisingly little about Poe other than he lived in Baltimore and Philadelphia and may have had a substance abuse problem. I feel like I should really know more about Poe. Here is one of the founders of the genre that has informed much of my life, that is often emulated by some of my favorite authors, yet, I know like two of his stories and a few poems. This winter I watched The Following, and this was when I first started feeling Poe deficient. Now, I thought The Following was OK. Not awesome. A bit too reliant on shocking gore over solid storytelling but, I was fascinated by Poe’s influence on the mythology and wondered if I was missing some aspects to the plot by not being more of a student of Poe. So, of course, I was concerned about starting a book called Nevermore, a book not only inspired by Poe’s writing but features Poe himself as a characters. Yet, my past history should have allowed me to forget my concerns. So much of what I know about historical figures comes from reading fiction. I took plenty of history classes in high school and college, but I think I have always leaned more about the essential aspects of these characters through historical fiction and alternate history. Sure, I know what you are thinking. These are fictional accounts, manipulated by authors for their own agenda which is totally unlike the process of teaching, where teachers and text book authors only present straight forward objective facts. So yeah, I’ll take my historical characters with a touch artistic license.

On the border between North Carolina and Virginia, a young women with a terrible gift encounters a ark storyteller with a companion. Together, they will unlock the secrets that lie at the roots of old tales and ancient legends, changing the past and releasing imprisoned souls to their final disposition. Yet, like with all such tales, their actions come with tragic personal consequences. Nevermore is a Gothic horror tail, drenched in mood and atmosphere and effectively creepy. Wilson has created a fascinating mythology that blends history, myth, and folk tales to create a tale that does credit to it’s inspiration. While the underlining story is worthy in it’s own right, I love how Wilson tells old tales and allows you to filter them through the history of oral traditions and the natural adaptations a story can take.  These old tales inform the story, but the story never becomes dependent on them. Instead, we see how tales told in another time and place can have direct impact on current situations. Wilson  manages to turn many horror tropes on their heads, creating a traditional gothic tale with a bunch little twist that makes it feel different. Lenore is a wonderfully deep character with a very unique gift that I found fascinating. Her ability to draw trapped souls out of their prisons setting them free made for a very interesting backdrop for the tale, ripe with complexities. I also love how both Poe and Lenore weren’t solitary in their story, but developed relationships that both served their goals and added moments of true emotion. Wilson writes with a poetic flair that even when I felt I wasn’t totally engaged in the story, I could feel the beauty of the moments. Each word and phrase seemed to be tailored to creating just the right mood. At times, I felt the entire feel of the story to be oppressive, with the atmosphere too thick and the situation too dark, but the mood was totally appropriate to the tale. Conversely, there were moments I felt like I loved the feel of the story more than the story itself.  In the end, I think Wilson succeeded at what he set out to do. Nevermore is a tale that is worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, yet shines a new light on this character allowing us to see him in a way we never may have expected.

This is my first experience with Gigi Shane, and I hope it’s not my last. While I loved her voice, and the her characters were strong, it was her ability to find the rhythms of the writing and bleed it for all its worth that highlighted the audiobook for me. She captured the feel of the novel so well, that at times I felt totally immersed in it. Wilson’s writing seems really suited for audio. He seems to put a lot of thought into how his books will sound spoken aloud, and it shines through in Shane’s performance. Shane has a voice that can seem light and airy, but manages to effectively drop into the lower registers, making her male voices feel as real as her female. She manages to give even the lighter moments a feeling of gravity, and when things really begin to get dark, she allows us to float above the muck. While I enjoyed Wilson’s tale, I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it nearly as much in print. This is a story that should be told, and it seems, just the right narrator to tell it. If you are a fan of old school horror, with a poetic flair, informed by folklore and mystery, Nevermore is the perfect audiobook for you.

Note: I reviewed this title as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewers program.





Audiobook Review: Zombie: A Love Story by Patricia Lee Macomber

30 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zombie: A Love Story by Patricia Lee Macomber

Read by Chet Williamson

Crossroad Press

Length: 3 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Zombie Romantic Comedy

Quick Thoughts: Zombie: a Love Story gives new meaning to the term Zombie Road Trip. It is what a good romantic comedy should be, a tale of epic love with a few surprises and plenty of laughs.

Grade: B

The great urban poet, Meatloaf once declared, "I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that." Now, I am not exactly sure what THAT is or why a man would willingly choose to be called Meatloaf, but this concept always leads to an interesting moment of self evaluation…. What exactly would I do for love, and what is MY that. Honest answer, I have no friggin’ clue. Despite the fact that I am quite clever, write excellent Facebook statuses, and am slightly lumpy and awkward looking but not a total train wreck, I am still single. In fact, I scoff at romance novels and movies mostly due to a total inability to buy into them due to an egregious lack of similar life experiences. Sure, I have people who I love, and women who I thought maybe someday I could quite possibly feel an increased level of affection for, but shockingly, I am not much of a romantic.  Now, I am willing to do many things for people I care about. I put up with family members eccentricities and neurosis and act supportive. I spend my weekends when I could be out boozing and whoring with people who I feel deserves my time. I slip my dog an extra meat stick when he looks cute and scratches my leg as I am attempting to write reviews. Yet, a love that defies death, I am not so sure about that. In all likelihood, if I become a Zombie, no matter how much I believe I care about you, I will probably care more about sampling your tasty innards, than professing my undying love in a final grand gesture. Maybe I’m a pragmatist, or maybe I have just yet to meet the right undead girl.

After an accidental exposure to a toxic substance at his job in the New York City subway, Paul Trembley died, only to wake up hours later in the morgue. Now, with his flesh rotting, and unable to properly communicate, Paul must attempt a cross country drive as his mental faculties begin to deteriorate, in order to express his love for his girlfriend and women of his dreams, Linda. This is if he can avoid car jackers, cops and his desire for raw meat. Zombie: a Love Story gives new meaning to the term Zombie Road Trip. It’s a funny undead trip across the country, all in the name of love. Patricia Lee Macomber has created an epic love story that may border on the edge of saccharin sweet, yet the aftertaste is more than covered up by the human flesh. Paul and Linda are the kind of couple that you groan to be around, full of inside jokes, special songs and shared memories, yet, on some level, deep in that secret spot in your soul where you admit to maybe tearing up a bit during the Forrest and Jenny scenes during Forrest Gump, you envy. While the story pushed the edges of slapstick, the humor comes in retrained waves instead of flung into you face. I think my favorite moments came with the outsider perspectives, with Paul’s best friend Matt attempting to explain to the cops about his dead best friend, or the police attempting to justify the image of good guy Paul with that of a cannibalistic killer. It all should be over the top, but it’s not. it’s just a good dose of fun, with some lovey dovey moments. I especially like that Macomber didn’t go for the straight out of Hollywood, romcom ending, but had some moments of emotionally brutality that you just didn’t expect. While everything is wrapped up in a cutesy manner, it still worked, and matched the tone of the book. Zombie: A Love Story is what a good romantic comedy should be, a tale of epic love with a few surprises and plenty of laughs.

Chet Williamson handles the narration for Zombie: A Love Story and gives it just the right feel. His deep voice takes on a whimsical feel that managed to make Paul’s earnestness and Linda’s positivity shine through. He does a good job showing Paul’s mental decline, allowing us to follow his increasingly scattershot thought process. Williamson allows the humor to shine through without trying to sell it, but just letting it come naturally. Matt’s slow surfer dude draw at times seemed a bit like a stereotypical Cali dimwit, but, being that Matt was a bit of a stoner, it fit well enough. There was one moment, where a character was referred to by the wrong name, yet, it’s hard to say whether this was a narrator mistake, or an editing slip in the script. Outside of that, the production was excellent, and made for an enjoyable listening experience.  

Note: This title was provided for me for review by Audiobook Jukebox’s Sold Gold Reviewers Program.





Audiobook Review: Prototype by Brian Hodge

21 02 2013

Prototype by Brian Hodge

Read by John Lee

Crossroad Press

Length: 12 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction

Quick Thought: If you are looking for a fast paced psychological thriller with twists and turns, and easily defined characters, then Prototype probably won’t fit your bill. But, if you’re open to an exploration of the very nature of humanity, told with a science fiction tint, and full of moments of dark poetry than Hodge’s unique tale of a man plagued by his own genetics may enthrall you as much as it did me.

Grade: B

I have always been fascinated by the nature versus nurture debate. Is our future shaped by our genetic code? Is there some sort or instinctual archetypal genetic memory that guides us? Or, are we simply a product of out training and experiences? Are our actions a result of science or memory? This debate has raged for years, and while it always is interesting, it also frustrates me. The easy answer has always been that it’s a combination of both. Yet, that has never been enough for me. I have always felt that the basic problem with this argument is that it’s missing a key factor, another element that isn’t quite nature or nurture. I have trouble believing that human sentience arose simply as an evolutionary process. Now, of course, we come to the essence of the very question of what makes us human, more than our nature, and more than our nurture. Because, I feel there is something more. This very belief in something beyond our genetics and our upbringing is an essential aspect of religion. It’s easy when we can’t get the pieces to fit together right, to sedge God into the picture to fill it out, yet despite this being an easy solution, I’m not sure if it’s entirely wrong. There is something that gives us morality, the ability to go against our nature, and defy our experiences and act in a way that goes beyond both things, for good or for ill. I call it God, because I can’t think of a better word. God, not in a Judeo Christian sense, or even something spiritual in nature. God, as in a power beyond us, past our understanding, that has an influence on us, making as just a bit more than the sum of out parts. For many, this is an easy answer, and for others, I probably haven’t gone far enough, but I have trouble seeing humanity as simply animals that have evolved a sentience, or the children of an Almighty Being who we serve the whims of but there’s something, I just really don’t know what it is.

Clay Palmer has never quite fit into society, never felt quite right, a feeling that manifest itself into moments of uncontrollable rage and self harm. His latest incident has lead him to psychologist Adrienne Rand, who discovers that Clay has an extremely rare genetic mutation. As Adrienne attempts to find out just what this means for Clay, there is another person out there who shares Clay’s condition, and he want Clay for himself. I’m not exactly sure what to make of Prototype. I had expected a horror novel, based on past experiences with Brian Hodge. Yet, what I got was something else. Sure, it had it’s moments of horror, but, not in a traditional sort of way. If anything, Prototype is a darkly tragic soft science fiction tale which, instead of physics or technology as its scientific base, pulls from the softer sciences like psychology, sociology and anthropology, while utilizing genetics and biology as well. It’s a thriller where the thrills come more from the deep levels of introspection and exposition than from car chases and gun fights. Where science fiction journeys to the deep corners of Space, Prototype takes us on a journey through our genetic code, and psychology. Not to say there isn’t a real story. There is, but it is almost serves as more of a vehicle to deliver the concepts and philosophies than to tell a good tale. I have to admit, at first I had trouble getting into Prototype, but then I became enthralled. Hodge’s moody exploration of the dark side of humanity was unlike anything I had ever read before. He expands his tale to give an anthropological look at a unique subculture, and then manages to pull it all together, using the seemingly disparaging subplots to shine a light on the overall theme of the novel. I really have a hard time giving this a simple recommendation.  Did I enjoy Prototype? Absolutely. But, I enjoyed it for reasons that I wasn’t expecting, and that I usually reserve for non-fiction and not a novel. If you are looking for a fast paced psychological thriller with twists and turns, and easily defined characters, then Prototype probably won’t fit your bill. But, if you’re open to an exploration of the very nature of humanity, told with a science fiction tint, and full of moments of dark poetry than Hodge’s unique tale of a man plagued by his own genetics may enthrall you as much as it did me. Prototype is a novel that will stick with you for a long time.

I’m not exactly sure why John Lee was cast to narrate this book. John Lee is one of the top British narrators today, yet, this tale was set within the United States, and all the characters where American. I think that it says a lot about a narrator when they are cast for an audiobook that they probably aren’t quite right for yet still manage to pull off an amazing performance. While his American accents and characterizations were serviceable, it was Lee’s ability to capture the dark poetry of this novel that made it stand out. Prototype is full of inner dialogue and large sections of exposition and extrapolation, and John Lee’s rhythmic reading of these sections brought it alive for me. Lee managed to make the science of the book into its own character. I think Prototype probably wasn’t an easy novel to transform into audio. Listeners like a hook, or a quick payoff, and there isn’t much of that in Prototype. There is dryness to the opening moments of this audiobook that may make those looking for instant gratification to move on to something faster paced. Yet, I think seasoned audiobook fans will appreciate the excellent work that John Lee does here.

Note: I received this Audiobook for review as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer Program.





Audiobook Review: The Birth of the Dread Remora by Aaron Rosenberg

23 09 2011

The Birth of the Dread Remora by Aaron Rosenberg (A Book of the Scattered Earth)

Read by Dave Courvoisier

Crossroad Press/SpringBrook Audio

Length: 6 HRs 43 Mns

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Birth of the Dread Remora requires you to suspend a lot of disbelief, but when you do, it’s a whole lot of cheesy science fiction fun.

Grade: B-

One of the things that attracts me to sci-fi novels is the sense of adventure. I never had much of a science background, so I try not to get caught up in the nit picky attitudes that some fans of hard science fiction seem to have. Sure, I want the story to not be so ridiculously ignorant of scientific principles and social realities, but I try not to get hampered down worried whether or not compressed sound waves as a form of communication is feasible in interstellar travel, or the likelihood of an alien species using base 12 mathematics. What I am truly concerned with is whether the story piques the interest of my adventurous psyche. For this reason, I have always liked pulp science fiction tales about space travel. I like the idea of ill prepared humans, throwing caution to the wind and heading out on a possibly suicidal exploration of space. So, when I saw Crossroad Press’ The Birth of the Dread Remora by Aaron Rosenberg being offered by Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer’s program, I said, to myself "Why the heck not?"

The Birth of the Dread Remora revolves around a junior Officer named Nathaniel Demming of the HMES Remora, his planet’s first space going vessel. The Remora is sent on a mission to investigate a strange light seen by their planet. While totally ill prepared to enter space with faulty knowledge of the nature of the ether, the crew of the Remora is in for a lot of shocks as they explore their galaxy, encountering alien cultures and space pirates. The Birth of the Dread Remora requires you to suspend a lot of disbelief, but when you do, it’s a whole lot of cheesy science fiction fun. The characters are likeable, in a two dimensional sort of way. As they blunder from one situation to the next, slowly developing what it takes to be interstellar explorers, you can’t help but cheer for them the way you would cheer for a dog trying to cross a busy road. There were plenty of smack your forehead moments, and Demming seemed to have brilliant and crazy ideas just come to him out of nowhere, but it’s all good fun. The book is pretty short, and not detail heavy, so it makes for good listening when you’re working around the house or engaged in some other activity. Fans of Mike Resnick’s Starship series should enjoy many aspects of this book, as well as fans of other Star Trek like space exploration tales.

I enjoyed narrator Dave Courvoisier’s narration of The Birth of the Dread Remora. In the beginning, during some long expositional passages, he picked up a weird staccato rhythm that was slightly distracting, but as the novel moved forward his reading smoothed out, and he seemed to start having some fun with it. He did a good job with most of the voices, although I found one of the women’s voices a bit strange, and maybe a bit too masculine, but otherwise I thought he made good choices that fit the characters well. His overall narrative voice is strong, with a crisp clear resonance that handled the action scenes well. The few aliens he had to voice were done well, but pretty simply. I think in future editions to this series it will be interesting to see how he handles stranger and stranger alien characters. The Birth of the Dread Remora is definitely not for everyone, but those looking for a quick, pulpy science fiction adventure should have a lot of fun with this audiobook.

 

Note: I reviewed this Audiobook as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer’s Program. A special thanks to the people of Crossroad Press for providing me with a copy of this title for review. You can purchase this title from Crossroad Press’ website or from Audible.com. 





Audiobook Review: Moonbane by Al Sarrantonio

8 05 2011

Moonbane by Al Sarrantonio

Read by Kevin Readdean

Crossroad Press/Spring Brook Audio

Genre: Horror/Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: A fast paced, unique Apocalyptic Tale told smoothly by narrator Kevin Readdean.

Grade: B+

Just when you thought you have read very type of Apocalyptic scenario. You see, I love Apocalyptic novels. In high school I read The Stand twice, and The Stand: The Complete & Uncut edition 3 more times. By my last count, I have read or listened to over 125 post apocalyptic books, and it’s been a few years since I actually counted. I have read books about the end coming from virus, economic collapse, peak oil crisis, killer insects, zombies, vampires, nuclear war, alien invasion, alien space bats, astronomical catastrophes, man eating plants and the breakdown of the laws of physics. In fact, I probably have read each of those scenarios multiple times. Yet, I have never before experienced a book about an apocalyptic event caused by werewolves from the moon. Well, until now. Al Sarrantonio’s apocalyptic werewolf novel was originally published in 1989. It’s nice to see some passed over horror/science fiction novels be given the audiobook treatment. Luckily, small audiobook publishers have been producing a lot of old school style horror novels that the bigger name production companies overlook. Hopefully, these productions will find success, allowing for more forgotten gems to be given a chance in this format.

As for the book, Moonbane is a fast paced action filled apocalyptic novel. The action begins from the first moments of the book, and doesn’t relent. I found the main protagonist, Jason Blake, to be the ideal type of apocalyptic participant. Blake is an everyman type, a poet, who brings no type of special skills to the fight, beyond his humanity. There is a tendency in some tales of the end, to favor the prepared. The survivalists, or gun nut, who saw the end coming for a long time. While this perspective has its merits, I find it hard to relate. I personally don’t own an arsenal, nor am I skilled at the martial arts. I don’t even keep my nuclear fallout bunker well stocked, well because I don’t have one. So, Jason Blake must take on the legion of werewolves by himself, and later with a small group of survivors, with just his wits, since he really isn’t that good of a shot. There is a lot to like about Moonbane. It’s a short novel (roughly 5 hours) and its action is nonstop, so the time just flies. As with a lot of apocalyptic novels, there are grueling and heartbreaking moments, and a lot of tough choices brought on by the extreme situation. Yet, what makes this novel stand out is the unique and well orchestrated ending. Sarrantonio doesn’t broadcast his intentions for his finale, but allows the pieces to fall into place before turning things on its head.  For fans of B-Movie horror, yet with a poetic twist, I recommend checking out Moonbane by Al Sarrantonio.

One of my concerns whenever considering something by a smaller publisher is narrations. A lot of times, especially with horror novels, it seems that the narrator cast for the production has a deep, monotonous voice. Yet Kevin Readdean, the narrator of Moonbane, has a nice, conversational tone that works well with the novel. He handles the rhythm of the book well, slowly describing the escalating action, instead of trying to rush through it attempts to create a false feeling of suspense as some narrators do. Readdean isn’t going to blow you away with his characterizations, he chooses subtle tone changes, with appropriate accents with his characters. The book isn’t big on character development, because of its brevity and fast pace, so this style works well within the scopes of this book. It will be interesting to see Readdean’s narration evolve with something that requires more range and vocal character building. All in all, I found this to be a fun, quick listen, and one of the better productions coming from the smaller production houses. 

 

Note: I would like to thank narrator Kevin Readdean for pointing out this production to me and providing me with a review copy, knowing full well that if I didn’t like it, I would say so. You can purchase this production at Crossroads Press (for a reasonable price of $9.99) at this link: Moonbane by Al Sarrantonio