Audiobook Review: Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan

8 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan (Zom-B, Bk. 2)

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable.

Grade: B

Note: Zom-B Underground is the 2nd Book in the series, and this review may contain spoilers for Book 1. You have been warned. And mocked, but mostly warned.

There has been a recent trend with me in my Young Adult Scifi and horror reads where a protagonist will totally annoy the craphole out of me in Book 1 and when I reluctantly pick up Book 2, I find that they have actually grown on me for some reason. I find this odd, because in adult fiction, I tend to find second books in series and trilogies less satisfying then their prequels. So, I was trying to figure out if this was something in the nature of Young Adult novels that has me react this way. Now, I’m a man who’s closer to 40 than 14 so my perspectives are different than that of most of the target audience of these books. I think at the core of Young Adult novels, particularly the types I read which tend to be Apocalyptic or Dystopian tales, there is an element of rebellion.  I think, often in YA debuts, the rebellion is either internal or intimate, striking out against the established beliefs of your close circle or family, and when we move away from the first novel, the rebellion becomes more external, and broader. I think, due to my place in this world, I find  that the initial rebellion against parents or guardians tends to come off bratty, based on some misconception of the world but when they strike out against the establishment, whether it be a corrupt government or just the overall world view, they become more reasonable. In Zom-B, there was an added elements, B just seemed to want to strike out against anything, because she was unable to strike out against her father. In a way, her anger was reflecting her establishment, buying into the world view of a racist father. Her rebellion was selfish based in weakness and she became more of a bully projecting the abuse of her father onto those beneath her. In Zom-B I found her not just unlikable, but reprehensible, almost bordering or irredeemable at a gut level. I find this is rare in YA because much of the development is based on the fact that these younger characters can break away from their upbringing and their mistakes can be redeemed. Now, despite my reaction to B, or maybe because of this reaction I was quite interested in where the author was taking the series.

After the turbulent ending of Zom-B, B is now a Zombie. Yet, something about her is different. During an encounter with a group of Zombie fighting teens, she has an awakening, no longer a moaning shambling zombie, but aware. She finds she is part of a strange experiment involving an anomalous group of aware walking dead. Yet, information is sparse and freedom a pipe dream, and B finds herself at the mercy of people she doesn’t trust. So, I found Zom-B Underground a much more enjoyable listen. Here, B is still a flawed character, but now her hatred and vitriol is turned towards more deserving people. I like that Shan is showing a reasonable transformation in B. She hasn’t instantly become a better person, but you get the feeling she is honestly trying. It’s definitely a help that she’s away from her father, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of him. I actually found the story itself quite original. While I felt its predecessor had more gut punch shocks and twists, Zom B Underground had enough small, well executed twists that despite the obviousness of some of them, there were enough to keep the reader on their toes. As far as down right creepiness, Underground wins by a land side. Its crazy finale is filled with some twisted, Acid Trip style horror images that really, I didn’t need in my brain. Let’s just say their may have been spiders involved. And a clown. Well, all sorts of creepy. Shan continues to build a nice little mythology, giving small reveals here are there, but not even coming close to filling out the whole picture. Where Zom-B left me thinking "Hmmmm…" Underground pushed me more into the "What the holy hell is going on and what exactly is wrong with this man for putting these images in my tidy little brain?" category. Did I mention the clown and his twisted accessories? *shivers* My only complaint is that each small book so far in this series feels more like a chapter in a larger novel than a complete work able to stand on it’s own. There is an almost serial feel to the Zom-B series and if that is something that frustrates you as a reader you may want to wait until a few of the books are available before jumping into the pool. Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable. I was sorta interested in seeing where Shan was going to take us in Zom-B Underground, now WANT BRAINS THEN ZOM-B CITY NOW!

Emma Galvin is just a fun narrator, whether she’s using an American or English accent. Here she’s busting out the English accent to bring this story to life. Here accent is relatively soft, but authentic sounding. She brings the wide array or characters to life. She really manages to capture both the brash, in-your-your face external Becky, while also showing her insecurities in her internal dialogue. This struggle is really the essences of the first two Zom-B novels and Galvin delivers it beautifully. She also really ups the pacing, alternating between some dreamlike horror sequences with some fast paced action without missing a beat. Some of the issues with the prequel, where twists that come into play in print just couldn’t be delivered affectively in audio, are no longer and issue, making audio an ideal medium for this story. Zom-B Underground was a quick, fun, and all sorts of creepy listen that had enough thrills for adults, both young and well, not so young.

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





Audiobook Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

19 02 2013

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Divergent, Bk. 2)

Read by Emma Galvin

Harper Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 22 Min

Genre: Young Adut Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: Insurgent is a fast paced, action packed near future adventure novel filled with apocalyptic visuals, a fascinating world and a cast of fully drawn characters. Any fan of Young Adult Dystopian novels should be thrilled with Insurgent, and Roth should expect a horde of fans clamoring for the next book in this series.

Grade: B

They say the key to any relationship is communication, and since I want the relationship here with those who may stop by The Ole’ Guilded Earlobe Weblog to be a good one, let’s talk about communication. The more I read, the more I think 90% of plots in books would fall apart if people would just talk to each other. The problem is that literary characters have all these great reasons for not sharing valuable information. They may not trust someone, or worry that if they tell someone something that happened it would cause that person not to trust them. They spend so much time trying to figure whether or not to tell someone something, or exactly when the best time to reveal something is, that it allows the plot to go on an on, when in reality, the right word to the right person would have had the story wrapped up at about the novella range. It seems this lack of information sharing is even more prevalent in Young Adult fiction. Not only does a character not talk about things because the boy or girl of their dreams may not be all crushy on them if they do, adult won’t tell teens crap because they are just kids. Even if the young person is key to the survival of their group or the overthrow of the dystopic order, adults will rather keep it to themselves than tell some a young person whether it be a bratty outsider or their own responsible progeny. So, when I think of all the important traits a young adult protagonist needs, the most important is the ability to eavesdrop on adults. Hell, even Harry Potter probably would have ended up as basilisk chow if he didn’t have all the tools he needed to sneak around Hogwarts, and spy on adults. So no matter how competent, how cute and perky, or how tragic and moody you are, if you are the star of a Young Adult novel and you can’t find ways to gain information from unexpecting adults, the odds will never be in your favor.

After the shocking finale of Divergent, the Dauntless faction is split up, and those loyal to their faction are being hunted along with Abnegation by the tech savvy Erudite. Now, with the city on the verge of war, Tris and Four must search for allies and uncover secrets to prevent more death and the rule of as oppressive system, with the key to everything possibly being her Divergent status. Insurgent is a fast paced, action packed near future adventure novel filled with apocalyptic visuals, a fascinating world and a cast of fully drawn characters. I loved the thought and detail Roth put into her world, and how she lovingly developed each character, making them jump off the page. The plotting was strong, all though it did meander at moments. At points it got bogged down in the inner struggles of Tris, romantically, ethically and politically, but Roth does a good job pulling it all together. Yet, despite all the awesomeness she packed into this novel, I didn’t fully connect with it, the ways that many others seem to have. The problem, for me, was in the world she created. There’s nothing wrong with it, and she deftly creates this interesting societal structure, but it didn’t ring true for me. One of the things I love about dystopians is following the natural extrapolations of the process of the breakdown of our society. Like with Divergent, I had trouble seeing the structure of Roth‘s world being a natural development of the world we live in. I felt like I do when I try and read comic books, the world just doesn’t fit exactly for me. It was like I was in the Matrix, and not a true version of the world. Now, I understand there is a reason for this, and Roth does take steps to explain some of this feeling, but, I still found myself feeling a bit cold as I read it. All that being said, my qualms where more due to my preferences as a reader, and not any problem with this book. Any fan of Young Adult Dystopian novels should be thrilled with Insurgent, and Roth should expect a horde of fans clamoring for the next book in this series.

Emma Galvin again gives a solid reading of Insurgent. She is fast becoming one of my favorite Young Adult narrators based on the thoughtful detail she puts into her work. Galvin doesn’t assume that the main character sounds like her, but uses her voice to reflect the character that Roth creates. Galvin does a great job pacing the many elaborate action sequences that Roth sets up, keeping the flow, yet never muddling the action. Insurgent is a wonderfully produced and narrated audiobook. The characters feel real, and Galvin gives the setting a hyper reality that seems to fit in with the author‘s intent. It’s nice to have a Young Adult novel narrated in a way where the teenagers seem like teenagers, and the adults seem like adults.





Audiobook Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

14 01 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Read by Emma Galvin

Harper Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: Veronica Roth has built a fascinating world, and filled it with interesting characters, an intriguing plot, a lot of adventure and of course, the obligatory kissy kissy. Divergent is definitely an upper echelon entry in the YA Dystopian subgenre, and while there were times I was frustrated by the microcosm of the plot, I believe the world will be more fully explored in future editions of the trilogy,

Grade: B+

I know most people, including myself, tend to put Apocalyptic and Post Apocalyptic literature into the basic same genre as dystopian literature. There are a lot of good reasons for that. Very often, a dystopia forms in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, although this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I have always preferred Apocalyptic literature to Dystopian because I enjoy that journey. Many Dystopian novels seem to start with an interesting oppressive World structure, and then build around that. An author will ask, what kind of journey we would need to take to get us from our current world to one where the government forces our children into Death games and then place just enough hints about that journey into the narrative. Most Apocalyptic fiction comes at it from the opposite direction. What kind of society would form after the world suffers ecological breakdown, or a nuclear war? This is the journey that often fascinates me. Take humanity, strip away its accoutrements, alter its values and what rises to the surface. What new religions are born? What new archetypes enter our genetic memories? This is why I often get frustrated with Dystopians. I want to know why the world became what it is. I become distracted looking for clues to what external forces pushed society to adapt in such a way to lead to these new societies. Many Dystopians have really good setups, but rarely feel natural. I always feel like I am missing an element to the story, a sort of Dues Ex Machina that has guided the world to this point. This is often why I like to start with the bang, and work my way to the new society, instead of being dropped right there, without all the pieces.

Divergence is set in a future Chicago, where society has shifted and now breaks itself down into groups based on key values that people believe are needed to keep the world on the right course. Beatrice was born into the Abnegation Faction who value selflessness. This faction provided most of the governmental leaders and is in constant conflict with Erudite, the faction that values Intelligence. Yet, Beatrice feels unsure of her own selflessness, and finds herself in even more conflict when during a test to determine faction proclivities, she is told that she is Divergent, but she must keep that outcome secret. Beatrice then chooses to join another faction, Dauntless, who value Fearlessness. During a brutal initiation process where the losers become Factionless, Tris must try to find her place, while search out what exactly it means to be Divergent. I know, 99% of the world has already read this book, and I am quite late to the party. I finally gave in after reading too many of my favorite YA bloggers add this author’s work to their favorites list. Still, I expected to be disappointed with it. I expected to let the hype diminish it for me. Luckily, I really enjoyed Divergent. I may not have been blown away as some were, but it’s a pretty solid adventure, with some nice twists and a really well thought out world. I think Roth has created a very interesting Dystopian set up, with some interesting hints to what may have lead to it. Still, I wanted to know more. Divergent is set in a very isolated setting, built on the ruins of a fallen city, set within the predominate social structures. While this set up was brilliantly built, I couldn’t help but wonder about what else was going on. I wanted to know more about the factionless, more about what Dauntless needed to protect and guard the city against. This was probably why I didn’t love this as much as some, I was more intrigued by these issues than Tris’s actual story. Not that the story was bad. Sure, there are some lovey kissy moments with a mysterious boy-man, but the whole Divergent subplot gave to adventure and intrigue a grounded purpose, Yet I wanted more. Now, as this is a trilogy, I am sure that more is yet to come. Veronica Roth has built a fascinating world, and filled it with interesting characters, an intriguing plot, a lot of adventure and of course, the obligatory kissy kissy. Divergent is definitely an upper echelon entry in the YA Dystopian subgenre, and while there were times I was frustrated by the microcosm of the plot, I believe the world will be more fully explored in future editions of the trilogy,

Of all the narrators that typically handle Young Adult novels, Emma Galvin is probably my favorite. She really manages to bring a fresh perception to each reading. Sometimes I feel some narrators sort of force the voice of the story to fit their narrative style, yet Galvin never does this. She allows her voice to reflect the story being told. Just hearing the progression of Tris’s journey, as she move away from the soft spoken Abnegation girl, to the Fearless Dauntless shows just how much thought Galvin puts into her characters. It was interesting, with each character, you could almost feel their journey, a blending of their original faction with their current. For example, Erik was read with a sort of mocking cockiness that showed his Erudite background blending with his Dauntless position, while Four’s soft confidence gave plenty of clues to his background. As usual, Galvin’s pacing was precise, giving the reading a visual feel that played well with the elaborate set ups of the author. Divergent is definitely a novel that translates wonderfully to audio thanks to its talented narrator. 





Audiobook Review: Zom-B by Darren Shan

14 12 2012

Zom-B by Darren Shan

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Young Adult Zombie Outbreak

Quick Thoughts: Zom-B is a very uneven experience. It’s very much like witnessing a horrific accident, you really don’t want to keep looking at the carnage, and parts of it turns your stomach, but you just can’t look away. I didn’t love Zom-B. In fact, I’m not even sure if I liked it all that much, but one thing I do know is that when the next entry of the series comes out, I’m going to be all over it.

Grade: B-

There are few things as insidious as racism. I hear a lot about how this world is changing, how this newest generation is growing up in a world where the old racists ways of thinking are changing. Yet, racism is like a virus or insect, it adapts and changes and finds a way to linger. Racism has become more subtle, taking on a lexicon of code words and masks. I am a child or the 80’s when this transformation really started taking root. I grew up in a very open and accepting household when it came to race, but still had seen plenty of examples of more subtle racism. My church discouraged interracial dating, not because it was morally wrong, but because the societal pressures would be too hard for the couple, and the children of the union will face bigotry. Many people who believed this never saw the irony of these beliefs, that what they were espousing only contributed to the bigotry they were decrying. One of the effects of my upbringing, was I found it harder to spot true racism. The old school Archie Bunker style racist became like cartoon figures to me, a product of a time past and doomed to take the road of the dinosaurs. Later, when I encountered actual hard core racists, I was floored that people like this actually existed, and that they were open and blunt about it. Also, I saw how their beliefs influenced their children. Oh, the kids were more nuanced, but there were plenty of "between you an me" moments where they perpetuated the beliefs of their parents, just, in prettier words, and dressed up in discussions of things like "immigration." I have also seen plenty of good people struggle to break away from their parents belief system. People who strive to see the true motivations behind their beliefs. It’s not an easy fight, because, racism, like most insects, wants to survive, and it takes constant vigilance and self awareness to keep it at bay.

Zom-B by Darren Shan tells the story of B an English teenager whose father is a racist. When stories of outbreaks of zombies throughout the country hit the news, B’s father things it’s all some publicity stunt. Yet, when the bloody truth is revealed, and zombies invade B’s school, B must find a way to survive. I have to admit, I struggled a lot with Zom-B. There was a lot of stuff I really liked about it. Shan throws some interesting twists into his Zombie mythology, setting up the potential for some interesting scenarios in future editions to the story. Yet, not much of that potential is seen in the first book. Most of the book surrounds a group of kids, acting like pricks, getting into fights, and basically being unruly. These kids are almost proud of their ignorance, lack of motivation in school, and ability to act like a bunch of jackasses. Basically, these were the kids I hated being around in school. I can understand that some will find them kinda cool in that, we don’t give a shit about anything way, but, for me, I just found them to be totally unlikable. There were some things I thought were cleverly done, for instance the nicknames gave the prose an almost sing songy feel that was interesting. There where a few characters I actually liked, but they were all overshadowed by B, who I found utterly unlikable, even though I wanted to like her. Then, there were the racist elements to the story. I thought Shan did a good job showing both the cartoonish lout version of a racist as well as the more subtle, modern day, almost politically correct sanitized type of racism. B’s internal struggle to overcome her father’s belief system was fascinating, but I wish it showed more in her external actions. It was basically, “Oh, I really don’t want to be a racist like my dad. Hey, there’s a black kid, let’s harass him. That will make dad happy.” When the zombie action did come, it was hardcore, gory and fast paced. The final moments of the novel will leave your breathless, shocked and appalled, in equal measure. Shan does a good job setting up his finale, with jaw dropping moments and shocking reveals. Shan plays on your expectations and prejudices as a reader, then basically kicks you in the balls, whether you have them or not. All together, it’s a very uneven experience. It’s very much like witnessing a horrific accident, you really don’t want to keep looking at the carnage, and parts of it turns your stomach, but you just can’t look away. I didn’t love Zom-B. In fact, I’m not even sure if I liked it all that much, but one thing I do know is that when the next entry of the series comes out, I’m going to be all over it.

I really have mixed feelings about the audio version of Zom-B. Emma Galvin gives a simply wonderful performance. In fact, most of my experience with Galvin as a narrator had her taking on American roles, and I was pleased to see just how well she did with British characters. She has a wide range of character voices, and manages to make them all feel real. One of the things that I discovered was that a really talented narrator makes some of the racist elements of the story that much more jarring. It’s easier to write off some oafish racist jackass on the page, but when you hear the vitriol and emotion that a talented narrator can bring to a reading, it makes it that much more stomach turning. So, if I loved the narration so much, why the mixed feelings? Well, I actually had read about half this book before an unfortunate situation occurred and my bag containing this novel as well as my Nook was stolen.  There are certain aspects to this novel that just are not as effective in the audio format, which if I talked about more would be a major spoiler. This is why it is tough to recommend the audio over the print version. While you do gain an excellent performance, and Galvin’s work gives key moments that much more sting, you also lose something in the audio version. So, while I highly endorse this audio version, if you are struggling to decide between the print and audio, I say, go for both. Read it first, and then give it a listen. I’d be quite interested in your reaction.

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





Audiobook Review: Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane

26 09 2011

Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane

Read by Steven Boyer with Emma Galvin

Penguin Audiobooks

Length 12 Hrs 11 Mins

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Children of Paranoia is a thriller that can appeal to readers of all types. It’s full of everything a reader could want in a tale, adventure, romance, and a lot of great action. Its style translate smoothly to audio and narrator Steven Boyer captures the main character perfectly.

Grade: A+

One of the reasons that I became a book blogger is that I love to recommend books. The sad thing is, I don’t have very many book friends in real life to talk books with, especially those that like the same type of books I do.  Beyond my sister, and a few casual acquaintances, most of my friends aren’t book people, or have highly different tastes than I do and because of that I find myself making book suggestions with qualifications. Oh, I have recommended Ready Player One to people, if they can relate to the many 80’s references and I’ve suggested Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, if they can deal with zombies. Even with my friends that are speculative fiction fans, I often find myself tempering my recommendations, or justifying why they should check out a book not about space travel or unicorns. It’s actually quite rare to find a book that really cross genre’s that truly appeal to people who enjoy the genres the book touches upon. I mean, sure Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series is a mash of horror, fantasy, science fiction and westerns, but I don’t know many Larry McMurtry fans that love the series, and I know plenty fantasy and sci-fi people who hate it. Yet, what I rarely if ever experience is a novel that falls squarely into a genre, yet I would feel comfortable recommending to almost any lover of a good tale without qualification or reservation. Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane is one of those rare gems.

Children of Paranoia is a tale of a secret war that has spanned generations. No one truly understands how this war has started, yet it is happening on our streets spanning the globe. There are two sides to the war, yet the combatants don’t fit into any specific racial, ethic or national subgroup. There are written rules governing the behavior of the soldiers involved in the war, yet one unwritten stands true, the other side is evil, kill them before they kill you. Children of Paranoia is a pure thriller, following one soldier, named Joe, as participates in this secret war. Despite the fact that there are no science fiction elements, or supernatural moments, Children of Paranoia fully engaged my speculative curiosity that is only typically touched by the best science fiction tale. The philosophies of this secret war were so foreign that the book achieved an amazing sense of otherworldliness. Yet, it was grounded in reality, those involved in the war could be your neighbor, or your coworkers. Children of Paranoia has everything that readers look for no matter what the genre, a grand sense of adventure, thrilling action scenes, heart ripping emotion, romance and characters you can love and hate at the same time. I am telling you right now, if you have not yet read Children of Paranoia, and it’s not currently on your "To Be Read" list, stop what you are doing right now, run out to you local bookstore, or library, or log onto your favorite audiobook download service and take the steps to add it to your list. I promise you, you will be happy that you did.

The majority of the audiobook was read by Steven Boyer, with a small portion read by Emma Galvin. Children of Paranoia was written in a style that worked particularly well as an audiobook. The book is written as a letter from Joe to the women he loves, describing and explaining events involving both of them. Steven Boyer reads the tale in a whispery conversational tone that fit the book to a tee. I truly felt that Boyer really embodied the character of Joe, and it was as if the character was telling us his story. There wasn’t a huge need for a lot of character voices, but Boyer handled the ones he had to well. Boyer also had a keen sense of pacing, reading the everyday moments of the tale with a steady rhythm that increases to a lightning quick pace during the action scenes. For her small part, Emma Galvin worked as an excellent counterpart to Steven Boyer’s reading, mimicking his pacing well.  Rarely does a novel capture me from the very first sentence, but Children of Paranoia had me enthralled from the moment I hit play until the very end, and left me craving for more. Simply put, I loved this book.

 

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