Out With The Old, In With the New: 2011 Review

2 01 2012

So, 2011 was a wonderful blogging year for me. I began actively blogging again this year, and its been quite an adventure. The year started a bit slow, posting my reviews, and doing little to promote them beyond an occasional post on my Facebook page. Then, I revived my Twitter Account, began using it to market the blog, and things got better. I’m happy where my blog is now. I don’t have a huge audience, but I know there are people out there that value my reviews, and are often influenced by what I say. My stated purpose has always been to provide a service of offering spoiler free reviews that talk about not just the content of the book, but the production of the audiobook, and I think that I have kept true to that purpose this year.

The thing I am most thankful for as a blogger is all the wonderful people I have met. I have made a lot of strong connections among other bloggers, listeners and people who work in the audiobook industry. I am not a highly social person, yet I have felt welcomed in this community and value all the people I have met. Except for maybe one or two. You know who your are!

Some Highlights of 2011.

My First Review!

My first review of 2011 was What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz, read by Stephen Weber. When I go back to these earlier reviews, I am surprised how much my reviewing style has changed. I feel for the better, but you can all make your own decisions.

Most Popular Review of the Year:

I am quite proud of my review of Ready Player One. My review was one of the first audiobook reviews of the novel to come out. It was responsible for my biggest hot day ever and my loudest nerd squeal when I discovered that Wil Wheaton, the narrator, mentioned the review on Goggle+. I also interviewed the author Ernie Cline which was a pile of awesomeness.

My Most Controversial Post of the Year:

Well, maybe most talked about. My negative review of Roy Dotrice’s narration of George RR Martins A Dance With Dragons has received more comments than any other post. Some agree, and others are flabbergasted at my dislike of Dotrice. One comments even thought I was the books author and flailed me for killing off all the characters on my Contact Page.

Zombies!

2011 was the year of the Zombie audiobook. I personally reviewed around 25 Zombie audiobooks in 2011. In May I focused largely on Zombies with a series of interviews with Zombie authors like Mira Grant, Ian MacDonald, Madeleine Roux, Peter Clines, and others. I plan on putting together a more intensive Zombie Event in 2012, so stay tuned.

Narrator Interviews:

I was blessed with the chance two interview my three favorite audiobook narrators this year, Phil Gigante, Oliver Wyman and MacLeod Andrews. I also had a wonderful interview with Piper Goodeve right after she narrated her first audiobook, Madeleine Roux’s Allison Hewitt is Trapped.

Some other fun Moments in 2011:

I was both replied to, and retweeted by Neil Gaiman on Twitter this year. That was something to cross off my bucket list.

I was interviewed three times in 2011 by other bloggers. Once by Mickey from I’m A Book Shark, Once by Jennifer at Literate Housewife, and Once by Meg from A Bookish Affair. I am always excited to talk about myself (oh, and audiobooks.)

Now, I am pretty much pulling this out of my ass, but I am pretty sure that my 173 Audiobook Reviews this year was the most by any individual blogger. Perhaps, someone posted more on Amazon, or Audible. For all I know Harriet Klaussner has started reviewing audiobooks. But, I am proud of the number of reviews I have posted in 2011.

For 2012:

I am not setting specific goals yet for 2012 until some issues with my job work themselves out. Overall, I would like to listen to or Read 200 books, but we’ll see how life treats me.

I reached my goal of at least 12 and over 10% of my total reads coming from Female Authors. I am slowly but surely moving myself away from literary misogyny. In 2011 I listened to 19 novels by Female Authors, so for 2012, I would like to be over 20.

My last goal is to become more proficient at the technical side of blogging, so I can do some cool stuff. Because I like cool stuff.

 

I will be participating in the following challenges.

 

 

 

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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 Ernest Cline

15 09 2011

Some may say that I went a little overboard in my review of Ernest Cline’s geek anthem Ready Player One, comparing it to such genre classics as Stranger in a Strange Land, and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. To that I say , Pshaw!. What’s the point of being a audiobook blogger if I can go all fanboy every once in a while. Ready Player One is the sort of epic science fiction tale I love, with the added bonus of being chock full of pop culture references from my youth. Author Ernest Cline was kind enough to answer a few questions about Ready Player One, geekdom, and the audiobook version of his novel.

 

 

Bob: First off, I listen to around 150 audiobooks a year, and read a fair amount of print as well. Ready Player One is easily one of my favorite listening experiences of the year. I think the great appeal of Ready Player One is how much your love of the subject matter shines through the material. You definitely put a lot of yourself into the novel, and readers and listeners have definitely responded. When did the initial idea for the novel leap forward, and tell us a little of the process from idea to an actual physical book you can hold in your hand?

Ernest: I had the initial idea for the story way back in the summer of 2001. I was working tech support at the time, helping people use the Internet, and so I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of the Internet, and I imagined it evolving into a sprawling virtual universe, sort of a cross between World of Warcraft and Facebook. When I start imagining what sort of person would create such a virtual world, I pictured a Willy Wonka-eque video game designer holding a Golden Ticket-like contest inside his creation. The rest of the story grew out of that first idea.

Bob: Now, as a member of the geek culture, you must have some idea of what you are in for now that you made the leap from consumer to producer of geek products. You should expect emails detailing and discrediting your work down to the last bit of minutiae. Add to that calls for a sequel, a trilogy, animated versions, big screen movies, action figures, lunch boxes, video games and of course, an actual working version of OASIS, all of which, if not provided, will be your fault.  So far, how has the geek culture treated you, and have you received any particularly odd requests or suggestions?

Ernest:  Your prediction is spot on. I’ve been receiving many such emails, pointing out small errors and making demands for an immediate sequel. And I love them all! Being a geek myself, I take it as the highest form of flattery. When a geek cares about something enough to pick it apart, it’s usually done out of love.

Bob: As an audiobook blogger, I must note the awesomeness that is Wil Wheaton and go all fanboy on his performance of the audio version of Ready Player One. One thing I like about Wil as an audiobook narrator is that he is very selective in what he chooses to take on. Ready Player One was the perfect fit for him. How much influence, if any, did you have on bringing Wil into the project, and how excited were you to find out that he would be narrating? Also, any plans for an 8 Track version of the audiobook?

Ernest: I get to take all of the credit for choosing Wil to do the audio edition. Initially, Random House planned to have me read the audiobook, because I’d done some spoken word performance a long time ago. But I’m not an actor, and I knew I wanted someone who could bring all of the characters to life. I also needed an actor of my generation, who would be familiar with (and be able to properly pronounce) all of the pop culture and video game references in the story. That’s a tall order. Before I even finished the book, I think I knew I wanted Wil to do the audio book. I was certain he’d be perfect, and I was right. When I heard the first clips of his performance, I squeed like a little girl.

If we put the audio book out on 8-track, it would have to be spread across fifteen or more tapes. Unwieldy. On the plus side, then we could listen to it on the 8-track player in Leopardon!

Bob: Besides having the frakkin’ awesomest author website I have ever seen, you have a site for your car, The ECTO88, which is a totally geeked out DeLorean (of Back to the Future fame) which is similar to Wade’s OASIS vehicle in Ready Player One. Tell me some of the amenities of the ECTO88 and what you had to go through to get it just how you wanted it.

Ernest: Well, when I bought the car, I knew I wanted to trick it out like Parzival’s DeLorean in the book, which combines elements from Doc Brown’s Time Machine, KITT from Knight Rider, the Ghostbusters Ecto-1, and Buckaroo Banzai’s Jet Car. So I went on the Internet and found a Flux Capacitor, and Oscillation Overthruster, and a wide array of Ghostbusting equipment, including a screen accurate Proton Pack (which rides shotgun). Then I installed a blue KITT scanner on the front of the car and got some personalized ECTO88 license plates. Then I took my time traveling, Knight Riding, Ghostbusting Jet Car out on the road. It was a big hit on my tour.

Bob: On a totally unrelated question (OK, maybe not totally) Do you think that Dan Aykroyd can actually pull off a somewhat decent Ghostbusters 3 whether or not Bill Murray participates?

Ernest: Definitely! Actually, I already think of the Ghostbusters Video Game that just came out as the Ghostbusters sequel I’ve always wanted to see. All of the original actors (including Murray) do the voices, and Aykroyd and Ramis wrote the script.

The notion of a new Ghostbusters feature film both excites and terrifies me. It could be amazing, or it could be a train wreck like GB2. Fingers crossed that it’s the former.

Bob:  Were there any uber-geekish ideas or products that you wanted to fit into Ready Player One, but just couldn’t or ended having to edit out that you would like to share with us?

Ernest: No, I didn’t have to leave out anything. I threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Of course, now that the book is published and out in the world, I keep discovering that I somehow failed to mention several of my favorite bands or movies. Like the Talking Heads, for example. They’re one of my favorite 80s bands, but somehow I left them out of the book. I would like to publicly apologize to David Byrne..

Bob: Finally, what does the future have in store for Ernest Cline? Any upcoming projects that you are able to talk about?

Ernest: I have a lot of different irons in the fire. Right now I’m working on a geeky coming-of-age movie set in the late 80s. Sort of my version of Dazed and Confused, but instead of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, my characters are steeped in Dungeons & Dragons, arcade games, and comic books.

Ready Player One is produced by Random House Audio and is available for Download through Audible.com. The print version is available through your local bookseller.





Audiobook Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

18 08 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Read by Wil Wheaton

Random House Audio

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Easily one of my favorite listening experiences of the year, Ready Player One was an exciting adventure tale, as well as a trip through the icons of my teenage years. Be prepared for an utterly fanboyish review.

Grade: A+

I was never much of a geek. I grew up in a household where my entertainment choices were highly monitored. So, I probably was more of a wannabe geek. I would have loved to hang out with the geekiest among my school mates, playing Dungeons & Dragons and quoting lines from cheesy movies. The problem was Dungeons & Dragons was a tool to get children into Satanic Cults, and any movie over PG and not vetted by an responsible adult was totally not allowed. Yet, still I was a child of the 80’s, born in 1974. The first real news event I remember was the Reagan Assassination attempt. I spent much of my afternoons watching Transformers, GI Joe and my all time favorite Star Blazers. I read approved Books like The Chronicles of Narnia multiple times, and experience my first big screen moments with movies like ET, Superman and The Empire Strikes Back. My first game system was an Atari 2600 and my first computer was a Commodore 64. So, despite my limited Geek cred, I still fell right into the perfect target audience for Ernest Clines, genre bending Geek epic Ready Player One. Ready Player One is a quest tale that takes place in a highly sophisticated virtual reality program called OASIS. Wade, a young geek, living in a community of stacked trailer homes, sees his only way out of poverty is completing the complex contest set up by James Halliday, the OASIS founder in lieu of a will. The winner of the quest will inherit the vast fortune of the 80’s obsessed recluse programmer, as well control of OASIS.

I loved every minute of Ready Player One. It would be easy for me to simply state this was one of my favorite audiobooks of the year, yet, in my opinion this is selling the experience short. From the opening moments of the books, when Halliday presented his funeral using clips from the movie Heathers, I knew that I would love the book. In many ways, listening to the book, I felt like I was walking through a museum of my own memories of my teenage years, pointing at the iconic images as they appeared within the book with an excited reverence. Yet, there is a problem with this as well. As a reviewer, I cannot remove myself from my own connection with this book enough to give an objective take on the novel for those who don’t share my love of 80’s pop culture. Yes, there is adventure, romance, awesome fight scenes, tragic dystopian images of our future, and an evil corporation to hate, but would this overall plot work for someone who doesn’t remember the days when joystick controllers only had one button. Personally, I think it works no matter what era the reader comes from, but I also know it could be wishful thinking. So, now that I gave that bit of a disclaimer, could I reiterate that… I frakkin’ loved this book. I think that Ready Player One has the potential to be more than just a great book, but a true cultural Icon. Ready Player One is the Stranger in a Strange Land of the Atari generation, the Hitchhikers Guide for those who wished the Keatons were their family. And for everyone else, it was a whole lot of fun.

To make matters even better, uber-Geek extraordinaire Wil Wheaton narrated Ready Player One. You could tell through the listening of this book that Wheaton was having a hell of a time reading it. What I really enjoyed about his reading was that he didn’t overdo it. With such an outrageous premise, some narrators may have brought an over the top reading style to the project. Wheaton instead allowed the world to come to life on its own, without any needs to push it. Wheaton’s knowledge of 80’s pop culture served him well, allowing him to capture the rhythms and cadence of Monty Python, as well as imitate precisely the beeps and whistles of 80’s arcade games. Ready Player One allowed me to finally live out some of my desired geek status and reached out and awakened my inner fanboy.