My 10 Favorite Audiobooks of 2018

1 01 2019

Audiobooks2018

Gone are the days where I get through 200+ audiobooks/books a year but I still try to get through a nice number and you’d be hardpress not to find me with a book in my ear, and others waiting for me on paper and floating in the cloud in digital form.

In 2018 I managed to complete:

88 Audiobooks

12 Print Novels/Novella

5 Graphic Novels

4 Short Story Antholgies

Here are my Favorites of the year:

The Gone World

The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

Narrated by Brittany Pressley

Penguin Audio

Tom Sweterlitsch takes three well worn sub-genres, the procedural murder mystery, time travel adventure and apocalyptic fiction and twists them into a miasma of something truly original. Sweterlitsch has created a tale full of dark imagery. He creates settings like a visual artist, hauntingly beautiful, like a nightmare you can’t escape. Yet it’s not this dark landscapes that truly make this novel work, but the human characters he populates them with. No matter how strange the trip gets, and people, it gets pretty damn strange, you never lose the connection with the main character. It is both literary and accessible, the kind of fiction that appeals to those looking for a true work of art and those who just want to read a grand tale of adventure. It’s all topped off with a bittersweet ending that may have pulled a bit of feeling from my hardened soul.

ThisBodys

This Body’s Not Big Enough For the Both of Us by Edgar Cantero

Narrated by January LaVoy

Random House Audio

I absolutely adored this book. It was twisted and obscene in all he ways I love. ‪it’s like the put Phillip K Dick and Phillip Marlowe in a blender, mixed them together on high speed and baked them in a cupcake tray.‬ The uniquely bizarre premise and style didn’t detract from a solidly plotted mystery. January LaVoy handled the gender fluidity of the novel perfectly and pushed the narrative with a kinetic pace.

Cabin

The Cabin At the End of the World by Paul Trembley

Narrated by Amy Landon

Harper Audio

The beauty of a Paul Tremblay novel is he doesn’t spoon feed you the horror but uses your own mind against you. Complex and disturbing, with an ending that goes against the grain in uncomfortable but brilliant ways. I absolutely loved this book.

CalculatingStars

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Audible Studios

I have known Mary Robinette Kowal mostly as a narrator and read some of her short fiction. This is her first full length novel I’ve read and I absolutely loved it. It has so many elements I like, part apocalyptic alternative history and part hard science fiction with a focus on developing a space colonization program. While I loved all the science and social stuff in the book, what I truly enjoyed what how real her main character felt.

Down the River Unto the Sea

Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

Narrated by Dion Graham

Hachette Audio

Dion Graham handles the narration like a master musician who know just the right instrument for the right moment. At times, smooth like a saxophone, at others, driving the pace like a bass guitar, Graham uses his voice like he’s scoring a film, creating a mood while bringing Mosley’s well conceived characters to life. With some books, I feel like narrators struggle to find the right voice to fit the author’s intent, but here Mosley and Graham seem to be workings like a team, Mosley creating them and Graham revealing their vibrancy. Down the River Unto the Sea succeeds where other tales have failed, to tell a truly human story that doesn’t exploit current events but lives firmly within our world’s new realities.

Murderbot

The MurderBot Diaries by Martha Wells

Including All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy

Narrated by Kevin B. Free

One of the more intriguing themes of this series is how SecUnit becomes more and more jaded by its interactions with human but his his interactions with artificial beings begin reveal its “human” side. In Rogue Protocol we find hidden depths in what it initially labels a pet robots that plays out well throughout the tale. Kevin R Free continues to shine as the series narrator. He pushes the pace during the action keeping the listener engaged. More importantly, as MurderBot continues to evolve so does Free’s performance adding new levels of introspection and emotion to his voice.

Washington Black

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Narrated by Dion Graham

Random House Audio

I was a little skeptical going into Washington Black mostly due to the fact that it was outside my comfort zone, yet I was quickly won over by its engaging main character and the sense of adventure in the story. Edugyan creates a tale of unequal friendship, set in a uneasy cultural landscape full of uncomfortable truths that makes you think while entertaining. What truly helps is the the narration of Dion Graham who, while a personal favorite, still manages to amaze me with his performance.

Still of Night

Still of Night by Jonathan Maberry and Rachael Lavin

Narrated by Ray Porter

Journalstone Publishing

I went into Still of Night expecting a throwaway book, a fun little addition to Maberry’s vast world, and instead I got my favorite Zombie tale of the year. Intriguingly, this book does a lot to connect many of Maberry’s other works in interesting ways. Ray Porter is phenomenal as always, bringing these characters to life in poignant ways.

An absolutely

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Narrated by Kristen Sieh and Hank Green

Penguin Audio

With echoes of Ready Player One and the Themis Files An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is #science #fiction for the hashtag generation. Green sets up a scenario that hard core sci-fi fans will embrace but plants it firmly in a world where events only truly happen if they are tweeted out to a significant social media following. Featuring a protagonist whose vapidness has layers making her frustratingly fascinating.

Unbury Carol

Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Narrated by Dan John Miller

Random House Audio

This book wasn’t what I expected at all. It was a unique weird western. While pretty much it played it straight, there was enough weirdness simmering at the edges to keep you constantly guessing. The characters were vivid, and the settings stunning. Malerman kept me invested throughout the journey with an ending that unexpectedly paid off. Malerman plays with the tropes of the western in wonderful ways that turns the genre on his head.

Honorable Mentions:

Favorite Non-2018 Listen:

fantasticland

FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven

Narrated by Angela Dawe and Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Favorite Print Reads:

The Only Harmless Great Thing RD3

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Return-to-the-Lost-Level-Generic_776x

Return to the Lost Level by Brian Keene

Hope You All Have a Great Reading Year in 2019.

 

 





Audiobook Review: Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

22 02 2018

Down the River Unto the Sea

Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

Narrated by Dion Graham

Hachette Audio

Grade: A

In Down the River Unto the Sea Walter Mosley does something thoroughly impressive, he manages to put together a book that is both timely and timeless, a classic detective story written for a troubled time. The set up is classic noir, Joe King Oliver is a flawed man but a good cop. When his personal flaws allow him to be set up for a crime he didn’t commit, he finds himself floating between the world of cop and criminal, no longer comfortable in either world. Now, a disgraced detective, he’s tasked with preventing an injustice all to close to his own. Mosley excels at creating an uncomfortable but real world, and populating it with strong, memorable characters. In a world where we often see things as black and white, Mosley thrives in the gray. Joe Oliver’s complexities as an African American cop betrayed by those he trusted and thrust into a community that often sees him as the enemy, adds layers to a well tailored mystery. His transformation parallels the story brilliantly, moving him towards a surprising climax. Yet, strip away all these complexities and at it’s core Mosley tells a hell of a story, with exhilarating action, some well choreographed twists and populated with a slew of memorable characters.

Dion Graham handles the narration like a master musician who knows just the right instrument for the right moment. At times, smooth like a saxophone, at others, driving the pace like a bass guitar, Graham uses his voice like he’s scoring a film, creating a mood while bringing Mosley’s well conceived characters to life. With some books, I feel like narrators struggle to find the right voice to fit the author’s intent, but here Mosley and Graham seem to be workings like a team, Mosley creating them and Graham revealing their vibrancy. Down the River Unto the Sea succeeds where other tales have failed, to tell a truly human story that doesn’t exploit current events but lives firmly within our world’s new realities.





Audiobook Review: Rusty Puppy (Hap and Leonard Series) by Joe R. Lansdale

5 03 2017


Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale 

Read by Christopher Ryan Grant 

Hachette Audio

Grade: B+

After 12 novels, numerous novellas and short stories and a tv series, it’s hard to review this book. If you’re into the series you’ll read it and since Lansdale is one of the most consistent authors out there, you’re gonna like it. No one writes best friend banter as sharp and realistic as Lansdale and that’s the foundation that makes this series work. Lansdale can write a story about these two grocery shopping and discussing breakfast cereal and I’d read the hell out of it. What makes matters better is he writes with such precision that it’s like he uses a scalpel instead of a pen, cutting away the fat and just leaving pure story. Rusty Puppy is solidly a Hap and Leonard book, with many of the growing number of series characters ducking out of the spotlight and letting the boys do their thing. It’s great to see such a tight tale at a point where too many series get bloated down with peripherals. Rusty Puppy is another winner is one of the most consistently fun series out there. 

I tend to be skeptical of the new guy when they take over for iconic characters but Christopher Ryan Grants soft Texas twang and strong narrative voice hits all the right notes. I can easily see a narrator turning our heroes into hillbilly cartoon characters but Grant finds the humanness of this duo that long time series fans have already embraced. Hopefully we’ll hear plenty more from these two with Grant serving as the voice of the series. 





Audiobook Review: Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

10 02 2017

Kill The Next One by Federico Axat

Read by Maxwell Hamilton

Hachette Audio

Grade: A+

I am a big fan of books that fuck with your mind. Yet I have yet listened to a book that achieved the level of mindfuckery that is Federico Axat’s Kill The Next One. It’s like a mindfucked brain had carnal relationships with an equally corrupted cerebrum and gave birth to a mutant of whatthefuckery. It’s a novel so brilliant and unexpected that to even name its genre seems to be too much of a spoiler. At no point in the novel did I feel like I had a grip on the reality of the novel, until the very end. Well, at least until the final sentence of the epilogue, which sent my Parietal Lobe reeling once again. Yet, this was no esoteric stream of conscienceless literary hoity toity snorefest. It was highly accessible with characters you grew to care about, and a truly rewarding experience. One of my favorite listens in a long time.

It’s hard to truly evaluate narrator Maxwell Hamilton’s narration other than to say I was so immersed in the multilayered reality of the novel, if there were any issues with his narration, I failed to notice it. Sometimes it takes a great narrator to enhance a bad book, but equally it takes a smart narrator to know when his job is just to keep the reader sucked into a brilliant story, and never get in its way.





Audiobook Review: The Second Girl by David Swinson

3 02 2017

 

The Second Girl by David Swinson

Read by Christopher Ryan Grant

Hachette Audio

Grade: B+

Fiction is full of likeable antiheroes that you just can’t help but cheer for, well, the protagonist of David Swinson thriller, Frank Marr a coke addicted ex DC cop, isn’t that. He’s not very likeable, and the only reason you want him to succeed is because the stakes are so high. Swinson takes what could be a predictable set up, and makes it feel fresh. He never lets up, pushing the reader deeper in the crime ridden back alleys of the metropolitan DC area. It’s a top notch crime tale, with a unique but disturbing main character, that comes together well.

 

If some mad scientist put used some fringe science experiment to create the perfect gritty cop voice, he’d probably just end up with Christopher Ryan Grant’s contact information. Grant captures the character of Frank Marr perfectly and keeps the listener engaged with his strong pacing and solid peripheral characterizations.





My Top 10 Audiobooks of 2015

21 01 2016

It was quite hard for me to come up with a definitive Top 10 list this year. In 2015 I listened to just over 80 audiobooks, ranging from Amazing to well, meh. I was more brutal than usual, quickly stopping any book that didn’t grab me pretty quickly. When putting together this list, my rules were pretty simple, I would stick to 10 books, they would be books produced in 2015 and they would be books that hit that sweet spot between performance and content. When I narrowed my selections down originally, I came up with 20 contenders, with about 5 absolute Top 10 books. It took me a while to whittle the final 15 books into the five final slots, but I put my emphasis on the performance at this point, and that helped a lot. I think this list has a lot of diversity with genre and style, and hope all my readers can find something that suits their tastes.

And yes, it’s been a while since I have posted here at the old ‘lobe. 2015 was an interesting year personally, mostly in a positive way. There has been some ups and downs, and my audiobook listening time has been a constant source of positive influence. A big shout out to the storytellers who helped me through this year.

My Favorite Audiobook of 2015

The Cartel by Don Winslow

Read by Ray Porter

Blackstone Audio

If you are going to invest over 40 hours in an audiobook experience, who better to lead you through it than Ray Porter. When I completed THE POWER OF THE DOG, I felt there was so way Winslow could top this story, and was expecting the sequel to be a bit of a let down. It wasn’t even close. THE CARTEL was even more riveting than it’s predecessor, taking characters you already knew in surprising new places. Yet, what truly amazed me about THE CARTEL was the slew of new, fully realized peripheral players, each one brought to life so completely they could have carried a novel on their own. THE CARTEL taught me things about the War on Drugs and the formation of the Cartels that I never really wanted to know and shined a light on the drastic effects our policies can have on developing nations, but more importantly, it told a hell of a story. Ray Porter was simply brilliant, taping emotions I didn’t know I had. I have always believed that Porter was the best 1st person narrator in the business, but here he proves his skills are just as effective in a 3rd person narrative.

 

My Favorite Apocalyptic Audiobook of 2015

The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell

Read by Sasha Dunbrooke

ListenUp Audiobooks

I have a feeling people are either going to love this audiobook, or hate it. Me personally, I found it absolutely friggin’ brilliant. More importantly, Sasha Dunbrooke gives my favorite performance of the year, taking a complex idiomatic tale and seamlessly infusing life into it. Her performance is as much music as it is narration, creating a unique rhythm to the patois of this post apocalytic world. Dibolla explores uncomfortable truths about motherhood and survival and has created one of the most unique and memorable characters in the flooded post apocalyptic subgenre. Her slow burned post pandemic world feels scarily plausible.

My Favorite Horror Audiobook of 2015

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Read by Joy Osmanski

Harper Audio

I think it’s very hard to legitimately scare people. You can thrill them, disturb them, nauseate them, creep them out and disgust them, but to literately invoke fear into the hearts of your audience is a very, very hard task. I can probably name 5 books and movies that actually scared me, not counting that weird train episode of Laverne and Shirley that gave me nightmares when I was 5. Well, A Head Full of Ghost is legitimately, check your underpants for stains, scary. Yet, even better, it is so cleverly written, so well crafted that it may contain one of the most effectively surprising endings that is impossible to spoil because each person reading it, in essence, creates their own ending. Trembley plays on your preconceptions and biases so well, that it feels like he tailors the book to each person who will experience it. Joy Osmanski’s performance is exceptional, capturing the feel of the book, and never getting in the way of the story. In fact, her performance brings added levels to a novel that deserved nothing better than a stellar reading.

My Favorite Hilariously Uncomfortable Audiobook of 2015

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale

Read by Brad Sanders

Hachette Audio

Joe Lansdale’s tale of Nat Love, aka Deadeye Dick, former Buffalo Soldies and African American Cowboy on the run from an unstable racist upset that a black man looked at his wife’s ass, is maybe the most hilariously uncomfortable audiobook of 2015. There were so many moments that had me laughing out loud, then wondering just what the hell I was laughing at. Lansdale’s punchy, uncluttered prose combined with the ruminations of the main character kept me spellbound, through comedy and tragedy. Brad Sanders performance was delightfully uneven, capturing the essence of Nat Love perfectly infusing the appropriate amount of likeable unreliability into out hero.

My Favorite WTF Did I Just Listen To Audiobook of 2015

The Great Forgetting by James Renner

Read by David Marantz

Audible Studios

“OH, this is an interesting premise….

Wait… what?

But that makes no sense…

Oh, OK…

HOLY SHIT….

Wait…. WHAT!!!!!

I mean, really, can he do that? He can’t do that, right?

HOLY SHIT!!!

What did I just listen to….”

Really, that sums up my experience with THE GREAT FORGETTING only to add that David Marantz does a great job with, well, whatever the hell that was. Brilliant…. I think…

The Final Five

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Read by Titus Welliver

Hachette Audio

There were a lot of stellar continuations of long running series this year, but top of that list was Michael Connelly’s latest Harry Bosch/Mickey Haller legal/crime thriller. There has been much debate over who should be the voice of Harry Bosch, but with the wonderful new Amazon Prime series, BOSCH, I’m hoping the narrator question is settled for a while. Titus Welliver performance is the perfect blend of stoicism and emotion that befits the main character. Bosch should never be emotive, but Welliver captures the subtleties of the character better than some of the past narrators. Connelly delivers both an effective mystery as well as his best courtroom work since THE BRASS VERDICT.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

Read by Christy Romano

Audible Studios

Wong’s first novel not featuring David and John is an effective dismantling of the superhero genre. OK, maybe that’s too fancy a way of saying it. Basically, this novel bitch slaps the normal superhero novel and then screams nasty invectives at its stunned face. Wong has matured as a writer, and while there isn’t the uneven glee of John Dies at the End, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits introduces us to a unique main character and a bunch of weirdos then forces them to deal with duplicitous mayhem using means that defies the norms of genre fiction. Christy Romano is absolutely having fun with this tale, as if she knows she may never get the chance to read something this bizarre again, so she may as well go all out.

Predator One by Jonathan Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Maberry continues his tradition of making me feel unsafe in my own neighborhood with his latest Joe Ledger science thriller. This times its not alien space bats, or zombies, or mutant animal hybrids plotting to take over the world be releasing a vampyric strain of hemorrhagic fever into Wawa’s delicious coffee. No, instead he just has a drone attack my favorite ballpark leading to a tragedy even worse than the Phillies 2015 season. And that’s just the beginning. Ray Porter should just legally change his name to Joe Ledger, because they are the same dude. So, if you see Ray Porter walking in your direction, I’d say run.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Read by Patricia Rodriguez

Hodder & Stoughton

Well, it may be a stretch to include this book, because it is currently only available at Audible UK, but in a year with a lot of wonderful space adventures from authors like John Scalzi, James SA Corey, Jack Campbell and Ernest Cline, Becky Chamber’s THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET is the most fun you’ll have hopping around the galaxy in a while. Full of colorful characters and a flexible narrative that comes together so well, this book is a joy for pure scifi fans. Patricia Rodriguez gives a delightful performance teetering between whimsy and seriousness. She never downplays the tension but still manages to keep it fun at all times, no matter how grim it seemed.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Read by Almarie Guerra

Audible Studios

I didn’t want to read THE WATER KNIFE. Although I know for many this is heresy, I hated THE WIND-UP GIRL. Well, by hated I mean, found boring and couldn’t get more than a third of the way through before flinging it out of my ears and searching for an erotic paranormal thriller to cleanse the palate. But, everyone said “Read THE WATER KNIFE” “THE WATER KNIFE is so good.” “Stop being a stupid poopy head Bob!” Well, grudgingly I listened to it. OK, so, yeah, it was pretty awesome. Great characters, interesting world, and an actual story that went, like places and shit. Plus, it was goddam funny. To make things even bettery, the narrator, Almarie Guerra was fantastic. So, yeah, I loved THE WATER KNIFE. I still stand by my opinion of that other Bacigalupi novel.

 

So, yeah, that’s my Top 10. I’m sure there are many of you screaming “What abouts…” So, here are my What Abouterable Mentions:

Robert Crais told a solid story in THE PROMISE with two of my favorite narrators, Luke Daniels and MacLeod Andrew’s duking it out.

I loved MORTE by Robert Repino, but surprisingly found Bronson Pinchot’s performance a bit flat.

Two Thirds of Neal Stephenson’s SEVENESE was amazing. The last third was pretty crappy.

AURORA by Kim Stanley Robinson was well done, and pissed me the fuck off. Screw you, Mr. KSR, you party pooper. I can haz my space colonies.

Will Collyer delivers a fun performance in Chris Holms The Killing Kind, featuring one of the most fun final shootouts any book of 2015.

John Grisham may have his own Lincoln Lawyer in Sebastian Rudd the titlular ROGUE LAWYER, in this series of vignettes that makes a fun listen.

While I didn’t like Claire North’s TOUCH as much as THE MANY LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST, it was still a fun listen thanks to a good performance by Peter Kenny.

Dan Wells picks up his John  Cleaver series with a bang in THE DEVIL’S ONLY FRIEND, and Patrick Lee continues to blend scifi and thrillers together in THE SIGNAL.

In Print, I really loved Brian Keenes, THE LOST LEVEL. Pulp scifantasy at it’s best.





Audiobook Review: Symbiont by Mira Grant

5 02 2015

Symbiont (Parasitology, Bk. 2) by Mira Grant

Read by Christine Lakin

Hachette Audio

Length: 16Hrs 47Min

Genre: Science Fiction/Horror

Grade: B+

When Parasite came out, I was so excited. Mira Grant is like, the modern god of the scientific horror novel of some hyperbole. I loved the Newsflesh series, and was excited to see what she would do next. Plus, the book was about sentient tapeworms taking over their human hosts. Honestly, if you can’t get excited about sentient tapeworms taking over their human host then you probably aren’t my people.

Honestly, I should make that my online dating profile. Just list weird bizarre things that make me squeal and jump up and down in morbid glee, and if that makes you think I’m a bit weird, and the idea that being a bit weird is a negative aspect, well, you should probably pass on me.

So, Parasite came out. It was good….

I mean, I liked it but…

It really was pretty damn good…

OK, so basically, it wasn’t totally awesome, and I set myself up for totally awesome, so even pretty damn good was a bit of a letdown. So, I was less excited when Symbiont came out….

Symbiont, was pretty damn good. It’s hard to say whether I liked it more than Parasite or if my lessened anticipation just made it more fulfilling, either way, except for a few minor quibbles, Symbiont was maybe lightly brushing up against awesome.

Mira Grant has a great concept with this series, and Symbiont continues to explore it. Yet, despite the original concept, Grant storytelling has a traditional comfortable feel. This is actually a complement. Many authors today value style so high it gets in the way of a good story. Grant seems to know that no matter how unique the setting of concept, the story has to be accessible and compelling. While she spends a bit too much time on Sal/Sally’s internal struggles, she keeps the story moving forward with strong action and interesting characters. As Symbiont is the second book in series, the ending leaves a bit too much up in the air, which gives the take and incomplete feel, which, I guess is expected since the tale is, in fact, incomplete but I hoped for a bit more of a substantive ending. Symbiont moved the series in the right direction, giving us a greater glimpse of a world shattering around itself opening up space around the tale to give it a much bigger feel.

Christine Lakin gives a solid performance. Basically, she does her job and does it well. She has a pleasant voice, and is technically proficient. In all honestly, I really don’t remember much specifically about her performance. It won’t stand out as one of those amazing performances that remind me why I love audiobooks. Mostly, she just got out of the way of the story. Sometimes this is the best thing for a narrator to do. I think Symbiont could have benefited from a narrator that took a few more risks, but it also could have turned into an utter disaster, so I’ll take it.

If you liked Parasite, and don’t mind a few of Grants particular peccadilloes, than you will probably be quite satisfied with Symbiont. Just remember that this is just book two in a series, so don’t expect to feel like anything has actually been accomplished.