Audiobook Review: Niceville by Carsten Stroud

18 09 2013

Niceville by Carsten Stroud

Read by Ann Marie Lee

Random House Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Gothic Horror/Crime Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Niceville is Stephen King meets Carl Hiaasen, a dark fantasy meet absurdist crime thriller told in multiple subplots that come together in a phantasm of gothic horror, dark comedy, and long buried family secrets.  Stroud creates his story in layers, slowly blending many storylines, weaving them together in an intricate pattern that isn’t fully revealed until the stunning conclusion.

Grade: A-

As a horror fan I learned early on not to trust the seemingly idyllic. Monsters and killers and the like are scary sure, but in a smack you in the face obvious sort of way. When I read a book, or watch a movie where some monster eviscerated a couple of stupid kids who decided to experiment sexually in their car in the woods, I am more annoyed by how these kids became a cliché, and feel they probably deserve to be gutted with a hook. It’s disgusting and bothersome, but not truly scary. So much of what goes for horror these days is really gore, set to be nauseatingly disgusting, but not something that will linger nibbling around your soul for years to come. What I truly find scary is the idyllic small town. You can have your monsters and demons sucking souls and torturing virgins. I’ll take my white picket fences and well maintained lawns. No matter how you dress it up, these seemingly idyllic towns are a simmering cauldron of witchcraft, interdimensional portals and dark secrets of gothic import.  You can make it all nice and pretty, with a throwback morality and small town charm, but I know that when you name your town Pleasant Gardens or Happy Valley, the only thing truly happy is the ancient being that lives beneath the surface of the town that subtly changes and influences its denizens to commit atrocities. I’m no fool. I’m from Philly, a city where brotherly love is typically the last thing on the table, so I know the more innocuous the town name, the greater the secret horrors that lie beneath it are.  Give me a town called Hell’s Gates or Cthulhu Hills, I will expect a strong community full of upstanding citizens who mind their own business unless a neighbor needs help, than they are quick with a kind word and a strong back. Yet, if your town sign says, "Welcome to Happy Town" I’m turning my ass around as quickly as friggin’ possible, you sick, sick bastards.

When a young boy goes missing, only to turn up comatose in an impossible place, CID officer Nick Kavanaugh is unsettled and begins to look into the high number of strange abductins that occur in the town of Niceville. A year later, a daring bank robbery and brutal slaughter of State Policemen sets off a series of events that shakes, Nick, his wife Kate and the citizens of Niceville to their core, events that have their roots in Niceville’s dark secret history. Niceville is Stephen King meets Carl Hiaasen, a dark fantasy meet absurdist crime thriller told in multiple subplots that come together in a phantasm of gothic horror, dark comedy, and long buried family secrets.  Stroud creates his story in layers, slowly blending many storylines, weaving them together in an intricate pattern that isn’t fully revealed until the stunning conclusion. It’s wonderfully done, full of so many fully realized despicable characters it was hard to pick which one you most wanted to get their due. While Niceville has plenty of likeable characters to cheer for, it’s the lowlifes and scumbags that steal the show. From the embittered women hating loser to the calm, cool and collected sociopath, each complicated scheme of one character finds a way to interact and derail the complicated scheme of another. While all this scheming, backstabbing and craziness is taking place, Stroud adds in a whole other level, a dark fantasy, both gothic and historic that is full on creepy to its core. Niceville has echoes of Stephen King’s Derry, but with a unique mythology all it’s own.  With all these balls in the air, you would think eventually the author would drop one, allowing it to all unravel into a messy clump of yarn, but he never does. Stroud manages to keep all his balls in the air, like a maniacal juggler laughing at you while you think he’s laughing with you.  Even though much of the story reveals itself slowly, I was never bored. While I was intrigued by what was happening in one area, I was equally fascinated by what could be happening in another. I was amazed that Stroud never lost me. Once I warmed to his story telling style, he had me enthralled and fascinated no matter what turn the story took, and I never once felt lost or confused, just filled with anticipation of what could happen next. Niceville was the rare story that managed to creep me out and make me laugh. Stroud creates some of the most memorable characters, and puts them through a a dark twisted wringer, yet still managing to pull out one heck of a multifaceted story.

The only area that left me a bit confused was the audio production. There was nothing truly wrong with Ann Marie Lee’s performance. I thought she had a strong grasp on the characters, and was quite pleasant to listen to. She moved the story along nicely, and never let anything drag. Her character voices were well delineated, which was quite a feat with so many characters. There wasn’t a single moment where I was confused to what character was speaking, nor did I need to be told by the author which POV I was in. Overall, I thought she did a good job with the Omniscient POV, where in many ways it felt like the true narrator was the town of Niceville. BUT… yeah, there’s a but. First off, I don’t think she was quite the right narrator for this novel. I am not sure why they cast a female narrator for a book where the majority of the characters where male, and snarky male scumbags at that. She did an amazing job with these male voices, but sometimes I felt the dark humor of the tale was muted by her performance. A narrator can alter the very feel of a novel by how they turn a phrase, and I think Niceville was full of a dark comedy that didn’t shine through Lee’s performance as much as it could have. I thought she had the creepy aspects down pat, but some of the absurdity of the tale lost its effectiveness. Overall, I came away thinking that Ann Marie Lee was an amazing narrator, just maybe not quite the right narrator for this story.





Audiobook Review: Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

23 07 2013

Black Feather (The Black Dawn, Bk. 1) by Joseph D’Lacey

Read by Simon Vance

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I found Black Feathers to be one of the most unique and well executed Apocalyptic Dark Fantasies I have read in a while. D’Lacey manages to create both compelling characters and fascinating worlds from two succinctly different times that manages to play off and influence each other in fascinating ways.

Grade: B+

I have been trying to figure out recently why I find horror books much scarier than movies. I recently gave in and watched the new Evil Dead movie, and I sat through and hour and a half of boring gore, cardboard performances, and gross-out scenes, all of which I found a bit disturbing but never really scary. Then I listen to a book where the scariest image is that of a bird, and, well, I’m a bit freaked out. Yet, let’s face it…. birds are scary. Sure, I’d rather meet a bird in a dark alley that demon possessed blood streaked women with a nail gun, but in a more conceptual ways, birds are scary, particularly dark feathered carrion eaters. First of all, birds fly. That seems like a simple thing, but I can’t think of any trait that less human than the ability to fly. In fact, I am easily creeped out by all flying things. They can operate in more dimensions than us. We can’t hide from them up or down or side to side. They can land on us, peck out our eyes, drop coconuts on our heads, then swoop away into the great beyond. It’s sort of freaky. There is a sort of brazenness to birds, a cocky assurance that while we may have opposable thumbs and the ability to reason, we can’t fly, and those avian bastards just know it pisses us off. The ability to fly gives them an ethereal quality, like that of spirits or souls, the ability to reach into the heavens and become closer to god. Books excel at taking these images, touching the long distant genetic memories, and allowing us to fill in the rest. Movies, well they show us an axe wielding maniac, and we know that soon blood will flow. Yet, once the blade cuts into out skull, there isn’t really much to fear anymore. With birds, we never truly know what those bastards are up to.

In a world of environmental breakdown a new group has arisen, immune form the old laws, looking to capitalize on the breakdown of society. Yet, they fear one thing, a prophecy of a child, stripped of everything he holds dear, sent to find the mysterious figure of legend called The Crowman. Generations later, one girl is given the opportunity to record this boy’s story, yet, her visions allow her to become more than simply a chronicler, but a tangible influence on the outcome of his journey. Joseph D’Lacey’s Black Feathers is an atmospheric dark fantasy that intertwines a gripping post apocalyptic world, with a malleable future that may a bleak vision of out destiny, or a new time where humanity finally learns to live with nature. It’s this very uncertainty that makes this novel more than your typical post apocalyptic tale. D’Lacey has creates two time streams that have become dependent on each other, where the revelations on one may have tangible affects on the other. To do this, he creates two characters, both very different sides to the same coin, the naive boy, Gordon, who is sent on a mysterious mission, and Megan, a young farm girl who is chosen by a dark force to tell his tale.  It’s a fascinating exercise in both world building and character development. D’Lacey has created two very recognizable characters, young people on a quest, yet plays off their stories in new a fascinating way. It’s easy to become instantly comfortable with these characters and this world, without understanding its true nature. D’Lacey forces you to challenge your ideas of the traditional evil forces in fantasy, and accept that one man’s devil may be another man’s savior. Yet, it’s not all an exercise in conceptual writing. D’Lacey creates a very plausible, and completing post apocalyptic world, as well as a more traditional regressed fantasy setting. This was one of these times where plot and concept were both equally engaging. Yet, a few little things bothered me. There is an overall message that I am finding more and more in post apocalyptic fiction, that the mass death of a large percentage of humanity will actually be a good thing. That a society free of technology, and more in touch with nature, is inherently a better one, and if it takes a mass apocalypse, than that is the price we need to pay to save earth. In many ways, in Black Feathers, the earth is the true protagonist, and the evil petulance destroying it is mankind. I understand, and even partly agree with the sentiment, but I also find it troubling.  My only other problem with the book it the abruptness of the ending. While Black Feathers is fascinating, it is not truly a complete tale, and doesn’t work well as a standalone. For those who find this frustrating, I would recommend waiting to more editions to the series are available. Yet, despite these concerns, I found Black Feathers to be one of the most unique and well executed Apocalyptic Dark Fantasies I have read in a while. D’Lacey manages to create both compelling characters, and fascinating worlds from two succinctly different times that manages to play off and influence each other in fascinating ways.

I may joke a bit about the almost shamanistic loyalty of many of Simon Vance’s fans, but in truth, there is a very good reason why so many people love his narration. The man is a true storyteller. Black Feathers is a great example of how talented Vance is at his craft. He doesn’t need to jump through any vocal hoolahoops, in fact, he barely sounds like he’s breaking a sweat, yet he manages to capture just the right tone in his reading. Vance creates just the right feel for Black Feathers. He creates a mood that is at times dark and mysterious, yet with an excited feeling of adventure. It’s like the soothing tone of your grandfather right before he tells you a scary story. His smoothness only makes the imagery and poetry of D’Lacey’s writing all the more affective. His characterizations come off as natural, from the sneering hunters, to the young boy and girl finally coming into their own through dark circumstances. It all just works well together, making Black Feathers a truly disturbing yet fascinating listen.

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





Audiobook Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

11 06 2013

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Read by Kate Mulgrew

Harper Audio

Length: 19 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: . Joe Hill’s latest novel is lush vivid horror tale full of wonderful characters, and unsettling imagery. Hill manages to take the thing we love best, the innocence and joy of Christmas time, and flip it on its head, making it a representation of all that we fear. NOS4A2 is brilliantly executed, leaving a lingering affect on the reader long after it is over.

Grade: A-

Surprisingly, I can be a stubborn person. Before beginning NOS4A2 by Joe Hill I took a spin around the ole information super byway or whatever to get a glimpse of the reaction to this book. While I try to avoid reviews due to spoilers, sometime I like to get a sense of the reaction to a book before taking the leap. In my perusal of the thoughts of the elite of humanity who could find their way onto the complex sites of the internet to state their opinions I came upon one rant about how Joe Hill was actually just Stephen King writing books for his son. The person writing this was so full of hate and disgust that the son of THE popular novelist of out time could have success on his own, that he developed these elaborate theories that, while lacking much sense, never lacked in vitriol. So I decided, heck, I will review NOS4A2 without even mentioning Hill’s famous father. Then I began to listen….GODDAMIT JOE HILL! He just wouldn’t make it easy. With haunted cars, interdimensional travel, children changed irreversibly through the lingering affects of magic, quirky strange characters and vivid imagery, we were one mystic minority away from a Stephen King novel. Now, I’m pushing it. There are moments in NOS4A2 that are a definitely homage to his fathers writing, especially his earlier work, yet there was enough there that was decidedly unique. Maybe I could still pull off my goal. Then, Bing, a character called The Gasmask Man screams at Charlie Manx, the novel’s main antagonist "My Life for You!" COME ON! As someone who lists The Stand as his favorite novel, how can I just skip over the obvious use of Trashcan Man’s famous line and not bring it up in my review. I am pretty damn sure Joe Hill is just fucking with everyone. GODDAMIT JOE HILL!

When Victoria "Vic" McQueen was young, she imagined she had a bike that leads her to find lost things through the portal of The Shorter Way Bridge. The same magical bridge that leads her to The Slay House, home of Charlie Manx, famed child abductor and suspected serial killer. Yet, Vic knew it was all just her mind creating an escape from the horrific acts she blocked out at the hands of Manx. As are the children, Charlie Manx’s other victims, calling her from Christmasland that were left behind.  Well, Charlie has his own magical vehicle, the Rolls Royce with the licensed plate NOS4A2 and they are not done with Vic McQueen yet. Joe Hill’s latest novel is lush vivid horror tale full of wonderful characters, and unsettling imagery. Hill manages to take the thing we love best, the innocence and joy of Christmas time, and flip it on its head, making it a representation of all that we fear. NOS4A2 is brilliantly executed, leaving a lingering affect on the reader long after it is over. The core to any good horror novel is its characters. If we can’t buy into the flawed yet likable characters of a horror novel, than often the affect of the elaborate events placed before the characters are lost on us. Hill has created some of the most memorable characters I have experienced in a long time. In fact, one of his characters, Lou may be my spirit animal. With Lou, Hill again flips our expectations, this time on the idea of heroism. Lou is a fat, content slacker who only wants to love his kid, geek out to stuff and protect the women who he loves from herself, yet Lou may be the most heroic character in this, and many other novels. Sure, I think the ending of the book ties his story up a little too cleanly, with the transformational "he’s skinny and now he’s a new man" angle, the road to that point was refreshingly unique. There was so much to love in NOS4A2 that it was easy to skip over its flaws. Sure, Hill uses some heavy handed foreshadowing, and often times he spent way too long developing small parts of his novel then glossing over more important things like how Charlie Manx became what he was, but, these flaws only highlighted so much of the other moments of pure horror fun this book is full of. NOS4A2 is a book that I think 100 people can read, and all of them come back loving it for completely different reasons (and probably being annoyed at 100 different parts as well.) It’s a horror novel that doesn’t skimp on the scares, yet manages to take standard horror themes and spin them in ways you weren’t expecting.

I could probably find some flaws in Kate Mulgrew’s narration as well. Well, maybe one. But why bother.  Her reading… no, her performance of NOS4A2 was stunning, and wonderful and just so much fun to listen to. Mulgrew just threw it all out there and went with it. It was utterly engrossing, and never for a moment boring. Honestly, I was worried that my secret Janeway crush would affect my listening to her performance. but it didn’t. Not in the least. Once I got past the initial, "OMG I’m Listening to Kate Mulgrew" I was in the story, and never broke away. Her pacing was perfect, really driving the narrative, and her characters were all memorable and lovingly realized. She handled male, female and children characters with equal aplomb. As a special bonus, the audiobook includes an afterward where Joe Hill not only talks about the book, but his love of audiobooks and his appreciation of his narrator. As an avid audiobook supporter, it may have given me chills. MAY HAVE! NOS4A2 was a joy to listen to, and another great example of what makes audiobooks special. Now, more Kate!





Audiobook Review: Brayan’s Gold and The Great Bazaar by Peter V. Brett

13 12 2012

Brayan’s Gold by Peter V. Brett

Read by Pete Bradbury

Recorded Books

Length: 1 Hr 54 MIn

Genre: Fantasy

The Great Bazaar by Peter V. Brett

Read by Pete Bradbury

Recorded Books

1Hr 29 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: For fans of Brett, these tales add depth to the stories you already know and are just enough of a taste of his world to get you ready for The Daylight War. For those who have yet to experience Brett’s creations, these stories are a great introduction to one of my favorite Dark Fantasy authors.

Grade: B+

As we are about to embark on the year 2013 it seems appropriate to start getting excited for next year’s releases. There are a ton of books I am really looking forward to in the early part of 2013, like Myke Cole’s next Shadow Ops novel, a new Robert Crais stand-alone, and the latest entry in the tales of our fun loving serial killer Serge Storms. Yet, the book I am really looking forward to most of all is The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett. The Daylight War is the third book in Brett’s Demon Cycle, about a world where humanity’s only protection from demons that rise from the earth every night is the use of magical wards. I listened to the first two novels in this series before I actively began blogging about audiobooks, but the second book, The Dessert Spear was in my Top 20 Audiobooks of 2010, which was one of my first posts on this blog almost two years ago. Since then, I have followed Peter V. Brett on Twitter, and really enjoy his blog which is full of some excellent fan art and fun contests that makes me wish I was more creative. I was also happy to learn that Brett is a big supporter of the audio version of his novel, and an avid fan of Pete Brabury, the series narrator. As a lover of audiobooks, I always enjoy authors who support the medium.  Now, with the release of the newest book in the series less about two months ago, I must deal with one of the harder aspects of being an audiobook blogger, hearing all my favorite speculative fiction bloggers gushing of their ARCs of The Daylight War. Knowing that this would cause me angst, I patiently waited to listen to the two audio novellas that Recorded Books released this year set in the world of the Demon Cycle. This allowed me to satiate my love of the world, as well as prepare me for The Daylight War.

Brayan’s Gold takes us back to the early days of the series, as Arlen, the eventual Warded Man, is working as an Apprentice Messenger. Arlen is sent on a trip aside a full messenger to deliver precious cargo to a mining town run by a powerful Count. Along the way Arlen must deal with brigands, betrayal and one of my favorite "characters" from the series, the one armed rock demon. In The Great Bazaar, Arlen is now a fully trained Messenger with a reputation for taking on dangers other messengers won’t. In the city state of Krasia, Arlen makes a deal Abban, the accomplished merchant who is stigmatized by his culture for not being a warrior, to uncover secret knowledge that may be vital in the war against the demons. I often look at novellas such as these as a gift to the readers of the series. These two novellas act like deleted scenes in a movie, adding more depth to tales we already know. They also offer a taste of the dark beauty Brett puts into his world. Typically, I wouldn’t recommend stories like these to people unfamiliar with the world, but here, these tales stand well on their own and I can’t help but believe that anyone who gives them a listen wouldn’t want to learn more about this world. Both tales are full of adventure and wonderful characters and Brett’s penchant for imagery and detailed world building come shining through. The Demon Cycle is a work that should appeal to a broad audience from fans of epic fantasy, to those of horror and dark fantasy. For fans of Brett, these tales add depth to the stories you already know and are just enough of a taste of his world to get you ready for The Daylight War. For those who have yet to experience Brett’s creations, these stories are a great introduction to one of my favorite Dark Fantasy authors.

Peter Bradbury has the perfect voice for Peter Brett’s World. The World of the Demon Cycle has a broad range of cultural influences which include Western Americana and Arabic, and Bradbury has a wonderful range of tones to his voice. It many ways, his range takes you by surprise. His base narrative voice is sort of gruff and gravelly, yet he manages to find an almost musical rhythm to each culture he is portraying. His pacing is precise, yet manages to flow with the story. I think these two tales really highlight his skills, showing you how he manages to enhance each setting through his tons and rhythms. I was quite excited when I heard Bradbury would be on board for The Daylight War, making my anticipation for this upcoming book even greater.





Audiobook Review: Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

29 10 2012

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

Read by Steve West

Blackstone Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Horror/Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: From the opening sequence to the brilliant conclusion Buehlman fills Between Two Fires with vivid images, dark poetry and tempered hope offering us perhaps the most affective horror novel of the year. The combination of the apocalyptic setting of the Black Death, the Biblical battles on hell and earth and some of the most memorable characters I have encountered  makes for a strange yet exciting journey.  If some moment or image within this novel doesn’t disturb your sleep, then you may need to check to see if your soul is still attached.

Grade: A-

So, October is winding down, and it has been a fun month exploring the darker side of fiction. One thing I enjoy about focusing on horror, thrillers and dark fantasy during October is I get to explore what exactly frightens me. There are very few times in my life when I remember actually being frightened by something from pop culture. The first time I remember having trouble sleeping was after an episode of Laverne and Shirley where they get involved with a murder on a train. I was probably around 5 or 6 and remember lying awake, watching the lights come through my window, wondering if a murderer will jump out. Slightly older, I often remember being frightened by a series of Christian end times movie, fearing one day the Rapture will come and I would be the only one in my family left behind. I remember me and my best friend freaking each other out late one night singing the Nightmare on Elm Street song. Yet, as I have grown into a fan of horror and dark thrillers, I realize it takes a lot to really scare me. I rarely find a slasher or splatterpunk movie scary. Sure, it’s disgusting, but the over top nature of them usually just leaves me cold. While I love Zombie and other monster books and movies, I rarely get frightened by gore.  Series of events and horrific happenings in books and movies rarely do the trick either. What seems to get me in the end are images. While the gore of a zombie fiction usually lets me sleep like a baby, the image of an undead mother holding onto a corpse baby will freak me out. I can deal with the carnage of a Friday the 13th movie, but the image of Jason Voorhees’s lone cabin in the woods in Friday the 13th always leaves me with chills. Of all the monsters I have experienced on Doctor Who, I am always most frightened by The Weeping Angels. These types of incongruous unnatural images in fiction are truly what keep me up at night. That, and moths. I frackin’ hate moths.

I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant going into Christopher Buehlman’s follow up to last years Those Across the River, which was a subtle, well executed horror novel. Well, there is nothing subtle about Between Two Fires. Buehlman moves from small town Americana to France during the Black Death to tell us a tale of a disgraced Knight who takes a strange young girl under his protection after her father’s death. The girl is brash and naive, yet believes she has been sent on a holy mission by an Angel. Between Two Fires melds a classic quest tale with Apocalyptic Horror to give us a story with Biblical implications. There is an almost episodic feel to Between Two Fires as the fallen knight Thomas, the young girl and a young priest racked with guilt travels across an apocalyptic landscape encountering a series of unspeakable horrors. The combination of the actual horrors of the plague and the horrors unleashed by dark forces made Between Two Firs one of the most affective horror novels I have experienced in a long time.  I mean, seriously folks, there where some moments in this novel that totally freaked me out to the point where I had to fight with myself to turn the lights out before bed. From the realistic portrayal or Paris during the Black Death, to the atrocities, monsters, and living statues, Buehlman has created some of the more vivid images that will linger with me for a long time to come. Buehlman does a lot with Between Two Fires and while not all of it worked, and the episodic feel often caused small problems in the pacing, most of what he does is undeniable brilliant. It all builds up to a final battle for the very soul of the world, and while the ending has a totally Dues Ex Machina moment, well, in a battle between the forces of heaven and hell, God better go an make something happen at some point. I should note that each part of the novel is introduced by almost poetic King James Style Biblical passage detailing the demonic reasoning behind the happenings, and these opening are simply wonderful. From the opening sequence to the brilliant conclusion Buehlman fills Between Two Fires with vivid images, dark poetry and tempered hope offering us perhaps the most affective horror novel of the year. The combination of the apocalyptic setting of the Black Death, the Biblical battles on hell and earth and some of the most memorable characters I have encountered  makes for a strange yet exciting journey.  If some moment or image within this novel doesn’t disturb your sleep, then you may need to check to see if your soul is still attached.

I absolutely loved Steve West’s reading of Between Two Fires, particularly in his portrayal of the disgraced Knight Thomas. West managed to capture both the dark humor of Thomas, while still portraying his brokenness. You could just here the struggle in Thomas as he unsuccessfully tries to resist becoming attached to this strange young girl he has taken under his protection. West also has lots of other strange characters, from Medieval Knights and Lords, Demons, Angels, monsters, belligerent brigands, and so much more, and brings them all the life vividly. The handles the pacing of the story well. There were moments where the story went off on some strange tangent, or felt like it was beginning to lag, but West always kept it moving in a strong steady pace that kept my interest. West has an almost everyday man British accent that just gave the reading a lot of flavor at the right moments. It was truly a wonderful performance and I look forward to hearing more of him in the future.

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