March Audiobook Report

8 04 2014

My March listening was dominated by my decision to Binge listen to the Repairman Jack series. Binge series listening was something I enjoyed doing before I began blogging, but with the drive to keep current, I stopped. Well, f’ that noise. I love a good series binge. It offers interesting insights into the world the author created, and helps a reader like me who tends to lose the details about characters over a long delay. Since the Repairman Jack series is more or less completed and in audio, I gave it a go. Of the 16 books I listened to in March, 7 were Repairman Jack books. The highlight of the month, and perhaps the year was the release of a new Jack Ledger book and a few birthday audiobooks from friends also made the cut. Here is my listens for the month, with some mini-reviews.

Archetype by MD Waters

Read by Khristine Hvam

Penguin Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

While Khristine Hvam does an excellent job bringing this highly textured novel to life, there was something in the structure of the novel that made Archetype a struggle in audio form. The transition between the dream/memory sequences and real time were confusing, and took time to adjust to. The story itself was solid, straddling the line between classic Young Adult themes and adult dystopians like The Handmaids Tale and The Testament of Jessie Lamb, with a touch more science fiction. MD Waters is a strong storyteller, and Archetype offers a thought provoking tale with a few clever twists along the way.

The Alligator Man by James Sheehan

Read by Ray Chase

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Grade: B+

As a fan of James Sheehan’s legal thrillers and a recent convert to Team Ray Chase, I was very excited about The Alligator Man. Sheehan blends the Florida Thriller style of James W. Hall with the legal procedural in an effective manner. I struggled a bit with the storybook reconciliation story between father and son, due to many factors including personal issues. Sheehan doesn’t break too much new ground, telling the story of a Big Firm lawyer looking for redemption, and including some Perry Masonque legal happenings, but all together it works. His character development is superb, and there is enough solid courtroom machinations to please my legal thriller nerd. Ray Chase is again excellent. He struggles early with some breathy female voices, but I think this was more due to the characters than his performance. He has a deep gravely tone that can smooth out in unexpected ways offering surprising range.

Ruins (Partials, Bk. 3) by Dan Wells

Read by Julian Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: YA Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Grade: B+

Dan Wells is one of the few authors I trust to properly end a series, and he does it solidly in Ruins. A good ending answers the questions you need answered while still leaving enough to allow you brain to linger in world the author created. Ruins is a strong fast paced post apocalyptic tale, with realistic characters and lots of cool weirdo shit along the way. As someone who has read a lot of apocalyptic lit, it’s awesome when an author manages to include elements you just haven’t seen before and her wells offers some of the strangest, most fascinating ecological and biological twists since Heiro’s Journey. Julia Whelan gives another solid performance, never getting in the way of this fun story. A strong finish to another quality Dan Wells series.

Eden Rising (Project Eden, Bk. 5) by Brett Battles

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Studios

Length: 9 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic/Pandemic

Grade: B

MacLeod Andrews reading about the apocalypse. Shit, that’s a no brainer. Brett Battles has upgraded the classic apocalyptic adventure series with a well crafted and fun look at a potential man made pandemic. Lots of cool characters, plenty of action and bad guys getting what they deserve makes this a series perfect for those apocalyptic fanboys and girls looking for something to fill their end of days. Plus, did I mention MacLeod Andrews. Dude kicks ass, right? His handling of these diverse characters adds a thrill to the listen, and he drives the pace like a high schooler with a Trans Am.

Already Reviewed:

Review Pending:

Armchair Audies Listens:

Repairman Jack Series:

Audiobook Review: Fragments by Dan Wells

6 03 2013

Fragments by Dan Wells (Partials, Bk. 2)

Read by Julia Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 20 Minutes

Genre: Young Adult Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Fragments didn’t just tickle my Post Apocalyptic obsession but full on assaulted it. Wells blends a dark Apocalyptic road trip with the claustrophobia of a military siege creating a moody adventure novel with well constructed action and fully realized characters. By expanding the story and offering just the right number of answers Fragments is the rare second novel in a trilogy that improved over its predecessor, while still leaving enough on the table to get readers excited for the final installment of the trilogy.

Grade: A

It seems that we are coming to a very interesting part in the history of humankind where science and technology may very well redefine what it means to be human. This of course, will not come without speed bumps. Our bodies have been indistinctly tied to morality, both in how we treat it, and in what choices we can make as individuals. There has always been a sort of emphasis of purity of the body in many religions. Our bodies are seen as the temple of god, made in God’s image, and anything from tattoos to imbibing alcohol can be seen as a violation of our bodies. Yet, as we explore more about what can be done with out bodies, assisting the disabled and augmenting out natural skills, we will see more and more questions on what it means to be human. Fiction has already begun postulating this question. Just over the past year we have seen books about genetically enhanced super soldiers, physical augmentations and even cloning, all which ask how far is too far, and how much of our natural humanness are we willing to sacrifice to technology? I find the questions fascinating. It’s often so hard to reconcile philosophies from thousands of years ago with modern technology and social mores. How tough it going to get to discuss the sanctity of human life when we have the ability to alter and manipulate the essence of what makes us human? I love science and working with people with disabilities makes me intrigued by the potential we have using technology and science to alleviate suffering. Yet, I also worry about just how far is too far. We are a society obsessed with profit, and I can’t help but wonder what exactly we are willing to do to increase profits. Are we ready to sell out own humanity?  Were do we actually draw the line.

After the events of Partiasl, Kira, unsure whether she can fit in with either Humans or Partials, sets out for answers, while those left behind on Long Island must deal with pressures from within as well as the encroachment of a desperate Partial faction. Kira’s search for answers will take her on a cross country journey, through devastated cities, and toxic lands, in search of answers she may not really want. While Dan Wells fascinated me with Partials, I was blown away by Fragments. Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for a good Post Apocalyptic road trip, and Kira’s journey through a changed America was harrowing, and darkly brilliant. Wells understands the hazards that runaway nature and neglected technology could cause, and embraces it throwing one situation after the next at our unlucky travelers. Although I felt we were on somewhat comfortable ground, I’m not sure I was prepared for the level of devastation, and the truly dark poetry of the journey. Add to the journey the desperate situations of those left behind, where they must deal with the hopes that a cure for the devastating plague that kills infants will be found before humanity is eradicated from the planet. Wells takes us deeper into Partial territory where he shows us the stunning horrific nature of a Partial battle, told in a highly choreographed action sequence that will leave you breathless. While there was so much to like about Fragments, what really affected me the most is Well’s handling of tricky moral issues. Wells never talks down to his audience, but takes on issues of bigotry, the value of life and the very nature of humanity with a brutal honesty that allows the reader to immerse themselves into the discussion.  Wells never feeds you a philosophy, telling you the proper way to think, but presents an intelligent dialogue with thought provoking arguments on many sides of the issues. At times, I did become frustrated with Kira, but then I had to remind myself she is 16 years old, and when I was 16 I was so sure of what was right as well. In fact, when I remembered that the major characters of this story were teenagers, it really allowed some of these issues to hit home. Now, Fragments isn’t all thinky stuff, there’s plenty of action, adventure, and even a touch of non-oppressive romance. In fact, Fragments didn’t just tickle my Post Apocalyptic obsession but full on assaulted it. Wells blends a dark Apocalyptic road trip with the claustrophobia of a military siege creating a moody adventure novel with well constructed action and fully realized characters. By expanding the story and offering just the right number of answers Fragments is the rare second novel in a trilogy that improved over its predecessor, while still leaving enough on the table to get readers excited for the final installment of the trilogy.

Once again, Julia Whelan handles the narrating duties and I feel she did an excellent job. She brought the right amount of youthfulness to the reading while displaying the maturity of the characters. There were plenty of characters for Whelan to voice, of all stripes, and each one came alive in performance. Whelan definitely had a strong grasp of the story, and it showed in her reading. Her pacing was brisk and pristine, giving just the right level of urgency and tone to each situation faced by the characters. The action really came alive, with the many elaborate set ups created by Wells presented to the listener in a manner that made it easy to picture in their heads. Whelan’s narration captured the breathtaking storytelling of Wells, never allowing the listener to miss a step. Fragments is probably my favorite Young Adult listen in a long time, and I know the wait for the final edition of the series will not be an easy one.

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

Audiobook Review: A Night of Blacker Darkness by Dan Wells

5 04 2012

A Night of Blacker Darkness: Being the Memoir of Frederick Whithers As Edited by Cecil G. Bagsworth III by Dan Wells

Read by Sean Barrett

Audible, Ltd.

Length: 6 Hrs 21 Min

Genre: Comedic Horror

Quick Thoughts: A Night of Blacker Darkness is the perfect audiobook for when you need to infuse a little levity in your life. It’s a quick listen and will provide you plenty of laughs and cause you to look at some literary dignitaries in a new light.

Grade: B+

I really feel there is a lack or well written comedy in literature today. Now, I’m sure upon writing this someone will school me with a plethora of top notch comedic talents writing today, but on my own I have found quite few. In fact, the only author who consistently gets a laugh out of me is Tim Dorsey with his Serge A. Storm novels. There are plenty of authors who write within other genres that have genuinely funny moments, yet rarely do I find novels that are straight comedies that actually make me laugh.  The few that have over the past year or so have been absurdist comedies without much need for plot or character development. Yet, sometimes you just need something that is both a cleverly written comedy as well as a good story.  For this reason, I had been looking forward for quite a while to take a listen to Dan Well’s vampire farce A Night of Blacker Darkness: Being the Memoir of Frederick Whithers As Edited by Cecil G. Bagsworth III. I had first heard about it on Well’s Blog and during one of Larry Correia’s Book Bombs. The Night of Blacker Darkness is a bit of an oddity for Wells, heck it’s an oddity for the publishing industry, so Well’s ended up releasing it as an independent eBook, and eventually an audiobook on Audible. So, I decided I just had to check out something written by Well’s that was a little too strange for traditional publishing, and just might give me a few laughs at a time I needed them.

A Night of Blacker Darkness is a comedy of errors that actually gets both aspects right. The plot is a mishmash of misunderstandings, betrayals, bad assumptions, strange obsessions and delightfully demented characters that comes together in a hilarious way. Fredrick Whithers is planning the crime, and the only thing that is keeping him from pulling it off is the fact that he has already been arrested for it. When Withers pulls off a prison escape in a coffin meant for another, he is greeted by a group of vampires who mistakes him for The Great One of Legend. Now, tailed by his vampiric groupies and hunted by a Vampire Hunter, Fredrick must find a way to pull off his caper while preventing a stake being driven into his heart. Dan Well’s Vampire farce is the perfect antidote to the emo vampire trends that are plaguing the undead. It reads like a classic Laurel and Hardy episode, with quick witted humor, over the top plotting and some delightfully kooky characters both historic and fictional. The story is set in the Victorian England, allowing Fredrick to interact with some classic literary figures before they became the legends they are today. From one poet’s annoying habit of turning every conversation into a rhyming poem to the morbid late night activities of a budding horror novelist, Wells cleverly sets up each appearance so that it will give the reader moments of dawning realizations. A Night of Blacker Darkness reminded me a lot of one of my favorite movies/plays "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." It’s the type of novel I know I could read multiple times and find jokes I missed with each reading.  A Night of Blacker Darkness is the perfect audiobook for when you need to infuse a little levity in your life. It’s a quick listen and will provide you plenty of laughs and cause you to look at some literary dignitaries in a new light.

I really enjoyed Sean Barrett’s reading of A Night of Blacker Darkness. Barrett is the straight man in this audiobook comedy duo. He delivers his reading with the audio equivalent of a straight face, giving the dark humors and goofiness its proper place. His reading reminds me of the Victorian characters of old time radio shows, delivered with a bit more polish and some sardonic wit. I love his voice for John, Fredrick’s seemingly dimwitted companion and struggling poet. He handles all the voices well, including the female characters. Barrett also delivers the witty back and forth dialogue breathlessly, transitioning from one character to the next, never breaking stride. He never overdoes any of the characters, allowing the goofiness to bubble to the surface through the language and situations. A Night of Blacker Darkness is a hidden gem of an audiobook that listeners should consider if looking for something fun and funny.

Audiobook Review: Partials by Dan Wells

2 03 2012

Partials by Dan Wells

Read by Julia Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Young Adult

Quick Thoughts: Partials is an action filled, thought provoking Post Apocalyptic novel that will please everyone from teenage dystopian fans to lovers of  Hard Science Fiction. While Partials is just the first edition of a planned trilogy, it is also a completed tale with a logical ending that doesn’t leave you hanging, yet manages to have you longing for whatever comes next.

Grade: A-

One of the more fascinating issues that often appear in Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian fiction is that of reproductive rights and fertility. No matter what we do, our society cannot exist, if we don’t procreate. Two of the more grim post apocalyptic novels I have read are Brian Aldiss’ Greybeard and PD James’ Children of Men, both of which describe the breakdown of society due to the inability of humankind to reproduce. These visions are truly horrifying. Yet, other novels, particularly those of the more dystopian bent describe the stripping away of the reproductive rights and legal protections of women either for religious reasons, or the all too realistic, "for the good of humanity." Novels like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale show the ritualized rape of women in an attempt to strengthen the species genetic purity or to create greater numbers of human offspring. With reproductive rights being a major issue of the past few decades it’s not surprising we are seeing more and more dystopian novels tackling this issue. Yet, in Partials, Dan Wells presents an twist on the fertility issues, one in which the classis Plague novels like The Stand by Stephen King only dealt with in a peripheral manner, and unsatisfactorily, in my opinion. If there is a devastating Plague that wipes out a majority of humans (in Partials it’s 99.996%) what is the likelihood that newborn infants will be immune. In the world of Partials, they are not. The Senate of the Surviving humans living on Long Island deal with this issue by passing The Hope Law. This law requires women of a certain age to get pregnant as often as they can. The Senate believes this will eventually allow their society to hit the plague threshold, leading to a living human baby.

In Partials, Dan Wells has created a grim future history that blends some of the most fascinating elements of Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian fiction. In order to win a war against China, the US Government commissions a race of biologically engineered super soldiers called Partials. Yet, after winning the war, the Partials are now misplaced in a society that considers them tools, not humans. The Partials rebel and that war leads to the release of a super plague. The novel centers on one character Kira Walker, a young apprentice physician who makes it her life mission to find a cure to the plague that is killing all the newborns. Kira is strong willed and quite obstinate, but is quite a likeable protagonist. She is young, still under the age of required pregnancy, and has conflicted feelings about the Senate’s plans to save the species. Wells has creates a character that truly drives the narrative. He allows his world to be revealed through her eyes, which act as a lens, sometimes distorting the issues at hand, yet always based on the truth as she sees it. She is surrounded by a vast array of characters, her strong willed boyfriend, a young soldier who truly believes in the good intentions of the Senate, and some enigmatic girl friends. Sometimes it’s hard to keep some of the female characters straight, but that a minor issue since this is really Kira’s show. Kira’s search for the cure of course leads her to defy the Senate, and travel into enemy territory. I really enjoyed Well’s vivid descriptions of a decaying New York City, and the wonder it brings about it Kira. This type of imagery is one of my favorite aspects of Post Apocalyptic fiction when done right, and hers Wells does it right.

Wells packs this story with many issues that will have you thinking. Beyond the reproductive issues, Wells explores what it truly means to be human, the corruption of power, the complacency of the oppressed and the pitfalls of science. Yet one of my favorite issues he explores is something I call generational blindness. The adult characters of Partials, having lived through the Partial’s War and the devastation of the plague, call the younger generation “Plague Babies” with acid tongue derision. This term was used to highlight the naiveté of the younger generations, who didn’t experience these atrocities as directly as the adults. Yet, in many ways, the horrible experiences of the adults often lead them to an inability to consider options that for others seem quite obvious. In many ways, this reminds me of the way my generation reacts to September 11th. For me, September 11, 2001 is a vivid memory that will filter my views on many topics for the rest of my life. For those of the future generations, this may not be the case. They understand intellectually what I understand emotionally. I think this issue of the generational blindness is what makes Kira’s character and her quest work. Despite the fact that scientists did extensive tests to try to discover a cure for the disease plaguing their society, Kira could bring a perspective that they were not even able to consider and would rejest out of hand. Wells handling of this issue is one of the things that makes Partials stand out.

While Partials is a book that often made me think, it is also one heck of a good action tale. Although the pacing is sometimes was uneven, moving from rapid fire action scenes, to intricate scientific explorations and virology, when things get moving, they move well. Partials is full of memorable scenes, from terrorist attacks, to chases that will keep you on the edge of your seats. And those rare moments when Wells allows you to get comfortable, expect some game changing moments that will leave you on the floor. Partials is an action filled, thought provoking Post Apocalyptic novel that will please everyone from teenage dystopian fans to lovers of  Hard Science Fiction. While Partials is just the first edition of a planned trilogy, it is also a completed tale with a logical ending that doesn’t leave you hanging, yet manages to have you longing for whatever comes next.

This is my first time listening to narrator Julia Whelan, and I feel overall she does a good job. I was impressed with her ability to create unique and appropriate voices for adult and male characters, yet some of her younger female characters sort of blended into each other. This created some issues with dialogue between the young female characters. I sometimes had trouble figuring out exactly who was saying what, and had to rewind the audio a few times to make sure I had things right. Where Whelan excelled was in the pacing of the action scenes. She allowed the vividness of Wells language come alive as Kira and her friend’s travels through darkly beautiful landscapes, and encountered hostile forces. Whelan also did a good job with Kira’s inner dialogue, filling it with the appropriate emotions, and adding to the impact of her perceptions. All in all Whelan brought the right tone to this novel and made it an enjoyable audio experience. 

Note: This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” series, where I examine Post Apocalyptic fiction and review titles for content and their place in the Post Apocalyptic subgenre.

Note #2: A special thanks to the wonderful folks at Harper Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

My Top 20 Audiobooks of 2011

15 12 2011

It’s that time of year. I know every year you anxiously wait to find out what The Guilded Earlobe has chosen as his favorite audiobooks of the year, with your audible credits and library’s Overdrive website ready to go.

A few things to note. This is a list of my favorite audiobooks that were produced in the calendar year 2011. Some of the books may be older, but their audio versions appeared in 2011. I am in no way a literary expert. This list is judged solely on how much I enjoyed the novel and its narration. This list is heavy on Genre and speculative fiction titles, because that is what I read most of. At the time this list had been written I was just about to finish my 165th audiobook of the year.  While I did receive some of these titles for free as review copies, that in no way impacted their rank, nor have I been compensated in any way to promote any of these titles.

In 2011 I began actively blogging and reviewing audiobooks. This definitely affected my reading habits, since I was more aware of trends and the hype of the publishing industry. In 2010 I spent a lot of time listening to complete series, where as in 2011 I listen mostly to standalone novels and took more risks in my overall selection of books. I think that change has helped make more well rounded list. I hope you find something on this list that tickles your interest.

1. I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells
Read by Kirby Heyborne
Tantor Audio

I really struggled with what audiobook to pick as my number one of the year. Dan Well’s John Cleaver series is a wonderful look at a young man who fights against his dark nature. In many ways John Cleaver is an anti-Dexter, a character with a “dark passenger” that doesn’t give into its control. I Don’t Want to Kill You is the finale of the series, and may be the best finale of a series I have read in a long time. The ending of I Don’t ant to Kill You affected me more than any other book this year and still haunts me every time I think about it. Kirby Heyborne deserves a lot of credit for the work he does narrating this novel. I suggest if you haven’t read this series that you take on the first novel in print, then the final two in audio.

My Review

My Interview with Author Dan Wells

2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Read by Wil Wheaton
Random House Audio

Ready Player One will be on many Best of lists, maybe even topping a few. It’s a fun ride through 80’s nostalgia and a sci-fi dystopian near future. In my opinion, the audiobook version, narrated perfectly by Wil Wheaton is the best way to experience this novel. Wheaton’s grasp on geek culture allows his to not only voice the characters of the novel, but capture all it’s bells, beeps and whistles.

My Review

My Interview with author Ernest Cline

3. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Read by Kevin Kenerly
Blackstone Audio

In the year of the Zombie audiobook, Isaac Marion’s zombified reimagining of Romeo and Juliet is the best Zombie audiobook of the year. Kevin Kenerly is brilliant in his reading, giving the novel a breezy flow that underscores the themes of the novel so well. Warm Bodies is currently in production for a movie version, so listen to the audiobook to prepare yourself for this event.

My Review

4, Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane
Read by Stephen Boyer and Emma Galvin
Penguin Audio

Children of Paranoia is a story of a secret war between two anonymous groups that is raging on our streets. I have heard many people list this novel of dystopian. It is not and it is not science fiction. What makes this novel so effective is that it is taking place in our world, behind our backs. Despite the deep secrets of the war, that even the participants don’t understand, Shane gives it such a feel or reality that it’s frightening. Children of Paranoia was the biggest surprise novel of the year, and Stephen Boyer and Emma Galvin adds a lot of depth to it with their reading.

My Review

5. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Read by Mark Bramhall
Penguin Audio

If any novel gives Ready Player One a run for tickling my nostalgia bone, it’s The Magician King by Lev Grossman. The Magician King and its predecessor The Magicians is a twisted adult and often brutal version of the fantasy novels I loved as a kid, particularly The Chronicles of Narnia. Mark Bramhall takes on the role of storyteller as he leads us through the dark sides of our world as well as the magical land of Fillory.

My Review

6. The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly
Read by Peter Giles
Hachette Audio

I have always loved legal thrillers, yet I feel the best years of the genre were the 1990’s and since then, the novels have moved from solid Courtroom procedurals to basically detectives with a bar card mysteries. It’s been nearly 20 years since some of my favorite legal thrillers, like Philip Friedman’s Inadmissible Evidence, and Turow’s Presumed Innocent. Then Michael Connelly, a non-lawyer, but arguably the best procedural writer in the business, comes out with the Mickey Haller series. The Fifth Witness is my favorite legal thriller in over a decade, and wonderfully delivered by narrator Peter Giles.

My Review

7. Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory
Read by David Marantz
Audible Frontiers

Raising Stony Mayhall is a book the reminded me in many ways of Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump, in that it’s the tale of a young boy, whose somewhat different, who goes on to live an amazing life that affects many people. The major difference is that Stony is a zombie. Raising Stony Mayhill hasn’t received the hype it deserves. It is a really good book, and should be able to reach past its genre and pull in fans of types. With all the hype of the blending of literary and genre titles, this book succeeds where so many other have failed. David Marantz does a wonderful job bringing this story to life, and is a narrator to look out for in the future.

My Review

8. The Ridge by Michael Koryta
Read by Robert Petkoff
Hachette Audio

The truly supernatural aspect of Michael Koryta’s novels is they somehow when you think he’s put out a novel that cannot be bettered, he betters it. The Ridge starts with an unsettling image of a lighthouse built in the hills of Kentucky far away from any body of water. In The Ridge Koryta blends a gothic history with modern day thriller to present one of the more unsettling novels of the year.  Robert Petkoff continues his streak of enhancing Koryta’s novels with his wonderful narration.

My Review

9. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill
Read by Holter Graham
Neil Gaiman Presents

If you would have told me that one of the most engaging characters of the year would have been a half-bull/half man who speaks in grunts and short gruff sentences, I probably would have told you, “Yep. Sounds about right.” Thanks to Neil Gaiman, whose audiobook line is now bringing us some of his favorite novels into audio, audiobook fans are finally meeting this wonderful character. Holter Graham does a wonderful job narrating this slice of life tale of a mythological creature in a very real American south.

My Review

10. The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry
Read by Ray Porter
Blackstone Audio

Jonathon Maberry has been my author revelation of the year. I have listened to more Maberry audiobooks (9) this year than any other author by far. Maberry’s Joe Ledger series is on of the tightest, well plotted action series around. Ledger is such a wonderful engaging character that you become totally invested in his actions. Ray Porter seemingly becomes Joe Ledger in his reading of this novel. He utilizes heavy sighs, a cracking voice, and flushes of emotion to really bring Ledger to life.

My Review

11. Swan Song by Robert McCammon
Read by Tom Stechschulte
Audible Frontiers

While Swan Song is nearly 25 years old, it has finally been given the audiobook treatment. Swan Song is one of my all time favorite novels. It is the tale of America after a full nuclear exchange. It is a book I have read at least 5 times, and I was looking forward to reentering a world I knew so well in audiobook form. What I wasn’t expecting was to discover a hidden poetic beauty in its prose that was brought to life by Tom Stechshulte.

My Review

12. Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey
Read by MacLeod Andrews
Brilliance Audio

Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series is quite entertaining, but Aloha From Hell takes a giant leap forward in quality. Kadrey really outdid himself with this twist on Dante’s Inferno told from the perspective of his punk rock protagonist. MacLeod Andrews continues to blow me away with his characterizations, as he really gets into the heads of these characters bringing them to life in a scarily realistic way.

My Review

My Interview with Narrator MacLeod Andrews

13. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Read by Wil Wheaton
Audible Frontiers

John Scalzi takes a risk that pays off in his reimagining of H. Beam Piper’s classic scifi story Little Fuzzy. It’s a nice quick tale of a prospector on an alien planet who meets some cute, Fuzzy creatures. The question is, are these cute little animals, or sentient beings? John Scalzi’s tale of what it means to be human is delivered smoothly in Wil Wheaton’s direct narrative style. My only complaint was that the novel ended a bit too quickly.

My Review

14. The Infernals by John Connolly
Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Simon & Schuster Audio

This is quite a year for novels set in hell. Irish Author gives his own hilarious slant to Dante’s Inferno in this endearing sequel to The Gates. It’s full of wonderful characters, otherworldly adventure, and a series of laugh out loud footnotes that truly enhances the overall story. Tim Gerald Reynolds gives what is perhaps my favorite narrator performance of the year. It was simply a joy to listen to and a book that should appeal to everyone from children to adults.

My Review

15. Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry
Read by William Dufris
Macmillan Audio

Despite my love of Zombies, Dead of Night is probably the only zombie novel this year to actually scare me. Maberry uses the essence of his zombies to horrifying effects. William Dufris adds to the chills with his wonderful characterizations.

My Review

16. Deadline by Mira Grant
Read by Chris Patton and Nell Geisslinger
Hachette Audio

The fourth and final Zombie book of my top twenty. As the second book in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy, we find ourselves in the midst of a world that has adapted to living with zombies, and the ever present dangers of the Kellis-Amberlee Virus. In Deadline, the science takes center sage and Grant handles it with loving detail. Chris Patton does an excellent job capturing the brokenness of Shaun Mason. All that and an amazing ending that makes Blackout one of my most anticipated releases of 2012.

My Review

17. The Cut by George Pelecanos
Read by Dion Graham
Hachette Audio

Pelecanos introduces a new series character, Spero Lucas, an Iraq war vet who works as an unlicensed Investigator. While Spero is fascinating in his own right, it’s Pelecanos rhythmic urban prose that wins me over every time. Dion Graham turns Pelecanos’ prose into poetry making this audio a joy to listen to.

My Review

18. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Narrated by Nick Podehl
Brilliance Audio

The long awaited sequel to Rothfuss’ debut Fantasy novel The Name of the Wind was well worth every minute of the wait. The Wise Man’s Fear is a series of moments in the life of a young man who will grow to be a legend. Rothfuss brilliantly shows us how tales are altered to become legends, yet still maintaining a feel of truth. Nick Podehl handles a novel full of poetry and unique communication styles perfectly.

My Review

19. Germline by T.C. McCarthy
Narrated by Donald Corren
Blackstone Audio

While Germline is considered a military science fiction novel, it is unlike any Military scifi novel I have read. This isn’t a grand tale of space adventure, but a gritty realistic look at a future on our own planet. Germline is more akin to Matterhorn then Honor Harrington. It’s characters are flawed, and their orders murky and inconsistent. Donald Corren allows the nature of the narrative to affect his reading in just the right way, allowing us to hear the transformation of the characters as they move through each phase of the story.

My Review

20. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Narrated by Jim Dale
Random House Audio

While the story may be about two magicians manipulated into a secret contest by their mentors, the real hero of this tale is Morgenstern’s lush, gorgeous prose. The story is full of beautiful moments, but it is the underlying sense of a mysterious darkness that separates it from many of the other novels people have attempted to compare this one to. Jim Dale adds a truly magical feel to the reading of this novel.

My Review

Honorable Mentions

I have two honorable mentions. Both of these titles totally blew me away. The only reason they didn’t make the list was that they were not released in 2011.

Honorable Mention #1: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor Read by Anne Flosnik

Honorable Mention #2: A Quiet Belief In Angels by RK Ellory Read by Mark Bramhall

Seven Questions with Dan Wells

3 10 2011


Dan Well’s John Cleaver trilogy is a truly amazing read, and the audiobook version of the finale of the series, I Don’t Want to Kill You has sat high atop my favorite audiobooks of 2011 list for a while. The series is a genre bending psychological thriller with one of the most intriguing main characters I have ever read. Dan Wells was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer some of my questions.


Bob: First off, I need to reiterate how much I love the entire John Cleaver series. It’s obvious when you read my reviews of Mr. Monster and I Don’t Want to Kill You. Our society seems almost obsessed with Serial Killers, to the point where they have started to become heroes. Yet, John Cleaver is not a Serial Killer. What inspired you to come up with the John Cleaver character, a young boy, struggling with dark urges, yet trying to do the right thing?

Dan: Like all normal, well-adjusted people, I read about serial killers as a hobby. I study them, I research them, and I’ve done so since I was in high school; I just find them fascinating, especially the question of why they do what they do. How can one person contain something so banal and something so evil at the same time? Meanwhile, I’d been writing books for years, mostly epic fantasy because that’s the fiction I tended to read, and I had a great writing group. One night, driving home with my friend Brandon (of Sanderson fame, also a fantasy writer) I was talking all about the Macdonald Triad–three traits in common to the vast majority of serial killers–and Brandon mentioned that that would be a cool first line for a book: "There are three traits in common to 99% of serial killers, and I have all of them." That’s not the first line of the book, obviously, but that’s where the germ of the idea came from. I spent about a year trying to figure out what to do with that character: would the book be funny? Scary? Sad? Something else entirely? At one point I started plotting it out as a sort of new Addams Family, with a family full of creepy murderer archetypes (the son’s a serial killer, the dad’s a grizzled axe murderer, etc.), but eventually I realized that the real core of the idea, what really made it interesting, was the conflict inside of John: everything about him is pushing him toward evil, but he tries to be good instead. That’s what worked, so I threw out everything else and focused on that, and the rest of the books as we know them grew up pretty organically from there.

Bob:  One of the things I struggled with when writing my reviews is that this series is very hard to define. It seems to defy easy labels. While it’s about a teenage boy in high school who crushes on the popular girl and has to put up with the school bully, it also has a maturity and a feel that doesn’t fit in well with my concept of what a traditional young adult novel should be. Also, it has elements of horror and mysteries, with a touch of conspiracy thriller and a dash of science fiction. When you set out to write, I Am Not a Serial Killer, did you have a firm idea of the type of book you were after, or was it a matter of plot and characters leading the way?

Dan: The simplest answer to this question is that the only audience I write for is myself: I didn’t think about genre or readership or anything else, I just wrote a book I thought was cool. The main character is a teen because I was telling a story about psychological development, and that’s where it all comes to a head; it has a supernatural monster in it because I like supernatural monsters, and I liked the idea of an inhuman monster who can connect with people better than the very human yet sociopathic narrator. When I looked at the finished product I knew it would be a hard sell precisely because it doesn’t fit into any genre very neatly, and when I sold it to my editor he had a devil of a time trying to pitch it to the rest of the publishing house for precisely that reason.

Bob: I think one of the overriding themes of this series is behavior versus temptation. John Cleaver fascinates me, because he has this dark side, an almost classic formula for sociopathic behavior, but he chooses to live by rules that will keep him from embracing that side. Henceforth, despite his urges, he isn’t a serial killer, because he chooses not to be. Do you feel that society’s almost obsessive need to label people can actually push people into antisocial behavior? Was this a theme you deliberately pursued when writing this series?

Dan: I’ve actually been much more conscious about societal labeling after finishing the books than I was before them. There are some fairly big controversies out there right now regarding the definitions of mental illness, and how those definitions are devised and applied and how very subtle changes can drastically alter people’s lives: we actually have a test in the psychological community to help determine sociopathy, and if you fail the test you’re branded a sociopath; in some cases it works really well, and in others it seems to be keeping people in jail who might more productively be set free. Shifting definitions of clinical depression, as another example, can knock people in and out of disability benefits, whether or not their actual ability to hold a job has been changed in any way. These issues fascinate me, and I find myself more and more becoming an activist for some of them, but they weren’t really anywhere in my head while I was writing the books.

On the other hand, the idea of a man trying to be good while his nature pulls him relentlessly in the other direction was a big deal for me while writing, and I actually sat down before writing to brainstorm a series of situations where that conflict could be explored. I tried very hard to avoid moralizing in the series, but if you’ll permit me a bit of it here, I think we have a tendency in our society to avoid blame and responsibility to a dangerous degree. Court cases crop up constantly in which the primary defense is "I couldn’t help myself because of these issues in my past," and while I admit that this is occasionally true, far more often we just need to step up and take responsibility for what we do. John Cleaver is hero because he stops monsters, but the obstacles he has to overcome, and the self control he has to show in order to do it, are far more heroic, and that’s  really what people are responding to.

Bob: Now, of course, on to the audiobooks. I often use I am Not a Serial Killer as an example of how poor narrating casting can almost ruin an audiobook. Luckily, the first book had such an engaging premise and characters, that despite 15 year old John sounding like Robert Stack, I wanted to continue the series. Luckily, Kirby Heybourne took over for Mr. Monster and was simply brilliant. How have you felt about the audio versions of your books, and did you have any interaction with the team at Tantor or the narrator himself along the way?

Dan: I have had literally no interaction with the team that made the books, up until last month when I saw Heyborne on facebook and wrote him a quick letter to thank him for doing such a great job. The first audiobook is bad enough that people keep asking me if Tantor’s going to remake it with Heyborne as the narrator; I doubt it, but it would be awesome if they did.

Bob: You are one of the new generation of writers who has seemed to really embrace the use of social media and your personal blog to reach out to your readers. How do you feel things like Twitter has impacted the publishing industry? How has your online presence influenced you as a writer?

Dan: I got on board with blogging in 2000, when I left college. I’d worked on a student SF magazine and started doing game reviews, and when I graduated I wanted to keep it up but didn’t want the expense of actually publishing something, so I started a site called The Official Time-Waster’s Guide and wrote three or four articles a week about games and gaming. When I finally got published as a novelist, it was easy to make the transition into other kinds of blogging (and I still occasionally review board games, both on my site and on My other significant web presence, perhaps more so than my blog and twitter, is Writing Excuses, a how-to-write podcast that I host with three other writers: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and recently Mary Robinette Kowal. the podcast has won two Parsecs, been nominated for a Hugo, and has recorded with us and with special writing guests at events all over the continent. I can definitely say that a big chunk of whatever popularity I have comes from the visibility I get from that podcast.

As for how social media has impacted the book industry, I don’t know. In some ways it’s a lot more transparent now, but most of that comes from other forms of online media–corporate websites and industry blogs and so on. What you get from twitter is more personal, like a window into the lives of your favorite authors, and I find that fascinating. I also think that most authors don’t use social media very well. The people I follow on twitter are not the ones who are actively trying to leverage their social media as a promotional tool: those people are boring, and I don’t want to sign up for a voluntary advertisement feed, I want to learn about the people behind the books, and be entertained by them. To borrow my friend’s analogy, imagine that the social media sphere is a giant watercooler, and we’re all hanging out talking to each other. The first guy talks about the game he watched last night, the second guy tells a joke, and the third guy tells you he has merchandise for sale in his cubicle.. Nobody wants to talk to the third guy; most people don’t even want to be around him. The best use for social media is to entertain: to make people laugh and think and talk to each other. If you can do that in 140 characters, you’re advertising your writing ability better than any mercenary post about how awesome your books are.

Bob:  If you could choose any author to write The Biography of Dan Wells, who would it be, and who would you like to like to narrate the audio version of the book?

Dan: My biography would be written by Victor Hugo, because I want every scene of my life to be presented in exquisite melodramatic detail. The audio version would be read by the Queen of England, because seriously: the Queen of England. That would be awesome.

Bob: Finally, what upcoming projects are you working on that you are able to talk about? What should Dan Well’s fans be looking for in the future?

Dan: I have a lot going on. Last month I released an ebook called A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS, and just this week we sold the audio rights to it, which I’m very excited about. In October I have a novella in the MORMONS AND MONSTERS anthology, which is kind of a Robert E. Howard-ish pulp-style adventure anthology, but with Mormons. My story’s about a mormon pioneer who turns into a monster and fights zombies; it’s ridiculous and awesome at the same time. Next year I have two books coming out: a YA dystopia called PARTIALS, coming in late February, and a supernatural thriller called THE HOLLOW CITY, coming in July.

The Audiobook versions of The John Cleaver Trilogy are produced by Tantor Media, and are available for download through The print versions are produced by Tor Books and are available through your local bookseller.

Check out my reviews of Dan Wells Audiobooks:

Mr. Monster

I Don’t Want to Kill You

Reviews of I Am Not a Serial Killer:

Jenn’s Bookshelves

Audiobook Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells

22 04 2011

I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (John Cleaver series, Book 3)

Read by Kirby Heyborne

Tantor Media

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: The best audiobook I have listened to this year.

Grade: A+

I hate Dan Wells. For all of you out there who think I must have made a typo, perhaps meaning to write I ate damp whales or my hat digs wells, I will repeat myself, I Hate Dan Wells. I mean, let’s talk about this jack-ass. He’s like that harmless looking youth that stands on the corner that everyone is always stopping to ask for directions. Then, one day it dawns on you, he’s actually an independent business man who is pushing his product grass roots style. So, always wanting to support the local economy, you try his product. It makes you feel good, so, of course, you want some more. This time, it’s even better. Heck, the use of this product may actually become a life style choice. So it all comes down to that third time, you know, the charm, as they say. If that third time is as good as your first two experiences, you’ll be a fan forever, and this entrepreneur can probably sell you any rot gut, bottom barrel product he has on inventory and you’d kiss him for it. Open mouth, perhaps, even with tongue.  Yet, this urban auteur takes pride in his product, and constantly refines it, makes it better, more mind bending… Sorry, I have digressed, back on track. Oh, I remember, I hate Dan Wells. You see, he could go and write his third book, and give me a pleasant experience like he did with the first two, but no, he has to go and get all “I’m gonna write the shit out of this thing and blow peoples minds.” A**hole.

I enjoyed I Am Not a Serial Killer, despite some issues with the narration. I loved Mr. Monster. Yet, despite my admiration for the first two novels, I was not prepared for how devastatingly affected I would be by I Don’t Want to Kill You, the third and final novel in the John Wayne Cleaver series. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for me to write a true review of this novel, convincingly expressing just how good it is. John Cleaver is not the type of character you would typically expect to become emotionally invested in, a sociopath, who lives almost entirely within his inner dialogue, hiding his true self and projecting a seemingly autistic exterior. Yet, invested you become. And there are no cheap tricks to your attachment, it slowly builds, as the character shifts, and grows, as his world rotates and his risks increase, and before you realize it, you’re hooked into the net. John Cleaver is not the person who we met in the first novel, and throughout this novel, he forces you through his ordeal of self discovery. From his moments of nearly catatonic acceptance to his awkward emotional outbursts, you are there, feeling his instability, living in his crashing world. It’s a hell of a trip, but it doesn’t even begin to prepare you for the end. I cannot even talk about the end. You must experience it yourself. I have listened to 60 books so far this year, including some truly great works of fiction, this was the best. Simply put, the best.

Earlier in the review, I talked about how John Cleaver lived almost entirely within his inner dialogue, well, because of this, the narration of this novel was extremely important for it to work as an audiobook. The narrator had to be able to let the reader know what John was thinking, as opposed to verbalizing, without handy tricks like line breaks or italics. Kirby Heyborne, as the narrator, did an excellent job with this. His use of tone changes and fluxuation in volume allowed us listeners not to get to confused. Heyborne also did a good job modulating his cadence and finding the perfect rhythm for John’s dialogue depending on his mood. Calm John had an almost robotic tone, yet upset John was borderline frantic. If you are willing to take advice from some guy who started a free blog on the internet to post his reviews about audiobooks, well, here it is. Read this series. Before the aliens come. Or the plague. Or economic collapse. Or Glen Beck. Or whatever apocalypse floats your boat. Read/Listen to, e-mind meld with, this series of books.

Audiobook Review: Mr. Monster by Dan Wells

6 04 2011

Mr. Monster by Dan Wells (John Cleaver, Book 2)

Read by Kirby Heyborne

Tantor Media

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Mr. Monster is so full of unique twists and turns, both in the inner dialogue of the main character, and the plot itself, that it is easily one of more surprising novels I have listened to this year.

Grade: A

Personally, I believe there are significant stylistic differences between young adult novels, and adult novels. Young adult novels are not just novels about young adults, without too much cursing, sex or viscera, but almost a stylistic genre in itself. That being said, I think it is very hard, bordering on impossible, to write an Adult novel about a teenager in a typical modern high school setting as the main character, that has an adult feel to it. There have been plenty of Adult novels where a teenager is the main character, yet most of them are period pieces, or place our teenage main character in an utterly different social setting, from war, to a zombie apocalypse. Last year, I listened to I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, and was shocked to see my theory blown out of the water. Here was a story about a teenager, who went to a small town high school, had a crush on the prettiest girl around, had a geeky best friend and problems with the school bully, yet, this book read, stylistically as an Adult novel. Unlike books like The Hunger Games, or even Harry Potter, this was not young adult fiction that adults can enjoy, but thematically and stylistically Adult Fiction, which a teenager can enjoy, if they are mature, and intelligent enough to grasp the nuisances of the novel.

Now, with Mr. Monster, the second book in the John Cleaver series, Dan Wells has decided to destroy another of my theories. That theory is that the second book in a series, because it is responsible for both expanding the first, and setting up the third, will inherently be the poorest book in the trilogy. Mr. Monster utterly annihilates that idea. Mr. Monster definitely takes a step beyond the first book. It both ups the action, and the risk, and moves teenage sociopath John Cleaver’s character places I haven’t expected. Mr. Monster explores an idea that has fascinated me for years, on what scale should people be similarly judged and labeled by their desires as they are by their actions. Does having evil impulses make you evil or does that line not get crossed until you actually act on those impulses? Yet, Mr. Monster isn’t just a fascinating thought experiment, but a hell of a good story as well. Full of as many moments that will touch you as will make you cringe, Wells has truly turned genre fiction on its head. Mr. Monster is so full of unique twists and turns, both in the inner dialogue of the main character, and the plot itself, that it is easily one of more surprising novels I have listened to this year.

While I am usually annoyed when producers change narrators in the midst of the series, having Kirby Heyborne take over as narrator probably saved this series for me. The narrator of the first novel was a glaringly bad choice, being that he sounded like a 50 year old man. Heyborne is a perfect replacement bringing youthfulness and skill to the reading. He handles the characters of the novel brilliantly, from teenage girls, to grizzled FBI agents to John’s twin mother/aunt. Each character was dead on appropriate. Yet, what really makes this audiobook superb was his reading of John. Heyborne pulled off the perfect balance of confused teenage innocence with sociopath creepiness. In fact, even after the novel was finished and Heyborne was reading the Tantor taglines and catalogue advert, his voice was still creeping me out. Luckily the combination of Wells and Heyborne will have, at least one more go, with the final novel of the series, recently released by Tantor. I for one am looking forward to the experience.