Audiobook Review: Most Dangerous Place by James Grippando

6 04 2017


Most Dangerous Place (Jack Swytek, Bk. 13) by James Grippando

Read by Jonathan Davis

Harper Audio

Grade: B

Jame Grippando’s Jack Swytek series follows the tried and true legal thriller formula of boring white dude surrounded by a cadre of diverse quirky characters saves the world or, at least solves the case. As a boring white guy who likes legal thrillers, it’s a comforting ride with familiar characters. Not that the subject matter is always comfortable, in Most Dangerous Place Jack defends the wife of friend who may been involved in the brutal murder of the man who raped her. Throw in some corrupt Argentinian politics, dark family secrets, a controlling ex boyfriend and a conflicted prosecutor and you get a decent legal thriller that doesn’t break much new ground but will keep you invested in seeing how it all plays out. 
This was an interesting one for me as far as narration. Part of me wondered at first if having a female narrator take on the few chapters centered on Jack’s client, an Argentinian women who spent much of her time in Europe and Hong Kong would have been better, but since the entire book was written in the third person, and with Jonathan Davis’ mastery of the series regulars I felt continuity was probably preferable. Davis is a narrator that series regulars are comfortable with, and he continues his strong performances with this latest edition. 

Advertisements




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.





March Audiobook Report

8 04 2014

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

Archetype by MD Waters

Read by Khristine Hvam

Penguin Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

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

The Alligator Man by James Sheehan

Read by Ray Chase

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Grade: B+

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

Ruins (Partials, Bk. 3) by Dan Wells

Read by Julian Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: YA Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Grade: B+

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

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

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Studios

Length: 9 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic/Pandemic

Grade: B

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

Already Reviewed:

Review Pending:

Armchair Audies Listens:

Repairman Jack Series:





My Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Audiobooks of 2013 (Non-Zombie)

21 02 2014

2013 was another great year for post apocalyptic novels. Where 2013 truly stood out was the diversity of it’s offerings. From straight forward apocalyptic tales, to absurdist comedies, last years apocalyptic audiobooks showed just how much ground there is to cover in the genre. It was tough for me to pick just 10 Apocalyptic audiobooks, partially with the glut of continuing series putting out even better entries this year. Yet, after much contemplation and hair pulling, I came up with my list. So, if you are like me, and one of your favorite, most relaxing activities is to listen to the world go up in flames, here is my list of the best 2013 had to offer.

Expect my Zombie based Top 10 to appear soon.

Yesterday’s Gone by Sean Platt and David Wright

Read by RC BRay, Chris Patton, Brian Holsopple, Ray Chase, Maxwell Glick, and Tamara Marston

Podium Publishing

Yesterday’s Gone truly borders on the goofy at times, and I think in some ways this was the authors’ intention. Maybe not goofy per se, but the twists are so over the top, the plot so derivative of the classics and the characters so bizarre that you can’t help but shake your head at it. Yet, somehow it all works brilliantly. Yesterday’s Gone is a post apocalyptic fan’s somewhat inappropriate, at times shamefully wonderful dream. Yet, what truly sets this one apart is the brilliant production and wonderful narration. Ray Chase gives one of my favorite performances of the year, and add that to the excellent work the other narrators included notable performances by RC Bray and Chris Patton, and Yesterday’s Gone can crown itself my favorite Post Apocalyptic Audiobook of 2013. And, lucky for us, this is just Season One.

Countdown City (The Last Detective, Bk. 2)

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Countdown City picks up were The Last Detective leaves off, bettering the series by leaps and bounds. Book 2 offers a unique apocalypse of anticipation, where the wait for the world killer asteroid is an apocalyptic event all it’s own. Winter’s fascinating world is brought to life expertly by Peter Berkrot. Berkrot’s performance still sticks with me months after I finished listening to it.

Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

Read by Kirby Heybourne

Tantor Audio

Arguably, Odds Against Tomorrow is more of a disaster tale than a typical Post Apocalyptic novel, but really, there is nothing typical about this one. Apocalypose fans looking for something utterly unique should check out this tale of a brilliant disaster analyst who finds himself immersed in the “perfect storm” that he predicted. Equally moving and hilarious this tale is brought to life wonderfully by Kirby Heybourne who manages just the right tone for this tricky tale.

 

Breakers by Edward W. Robinson

Read by Ray Chase

Podium Publishing

Breakers is The Stand meets Lucifer’s Hammer with weird crab creatures. Podium Publishing is quickly making a name for itself with unique audiobook offerings excellently produced and Breaker’s is no exception. Ray Chase masterly guides us through this strange new world helping create one of the freshest looks at alien invasion since Gerrold’s Chtorr series.

Ashes by Brett Battles (Project Eden, Bk. 4)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible, Inc.

I have always been one of those people who get a bit annoyed when the good guys stop the global  conspiracy top release a world killing pathogen. Luckily, in The Project Eden series, the competent good guys are facing impossible odds, and well, aren’t able to do the impossible. This series starts with a straight forward pathogen thriller and progresses to a The Stand-like pandemic tale, and I loved every second of it. Plus, MacLeod Andrew’s. The man can bring it.

There was a fifth book in this series, released in 2013 as well, but I have yet to read it. Once I free me up an Audible credit, I plan to jump right back into this dangerous world.

The City of Devi by Manil Suril

Read by Vikas Adams and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

So, who doesn’t like absurdist comedy, heartbreaking romantic entanglements, strange embodiments of deities, Bollywood musicals, and gonzo sex in their Mumbai based apocalyptic tales? The City of Devis is a wonderful, and at times awkward tale, beautifully narrated by Vikas Adams and Priya Ayyar.

Fuse by Julianna Baggot (Pure, Bk. 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam, Casey Holloway, Kevin T. Collins, Pierce Cravens

Hachette Audio

This may have been the year for Book 2’s in Post apocalyptic trilogies, and Fuse is proof that often the followup can better something already pretty darn good. Baggot’s world is darkly beautiful and her characters wonderfully tragic. Plus, the performances, particularly that of Kevin T. Collin’s made me feel things. Like emotional things. I’d rather not talk about it.

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy

Read by Brandon Espinoza and Phoebe Strole

Penguin Audio

More Alien Invasions? Yes Please. Despite one annoying plot twist that I may have over emphasized in my review, Phillip Yancey’s YA novel is a heck of a good tale. His alien’s are different, and the plot well constructed. The performances by two new to me narrators also enhance this already quality tale.

Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

Read by Simon Vance

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

While I tend to like my Post Apocalyptic tales more scifi, there is definitely a place in the genre for a good Fantasy, one that Joseph D’Lacey provides for us in Black Feathers. With shades of The Dark Tower, D’Lacey balances dual timelines with ease to create a fascinating apocalyptic world where everything you believe gets twisted in wonderful ways. And truly, if you are going to go the Fantasy route, you might as well call on one of the best voices for Fantasy, Simon Vance, whose voice gives the context almost instant creditability.

Fragments by Dan Wells (Partials, Bk. 2)

Read by Julian Whelan

Harper Audio

One of the reasons I think I enjoy book 2’s in apocalyptic series, is because they often involve getting away from the static setting of book one and embarking on everyone’s favorite jaunt, the apocalyptic road trip. In Fragment’s Dan Well’s offer’s one of the best, a cross country trip through a devastated wasteland that used to be America. Julian Whelan continues to infuse the tale with heart and personality, the perfect voice to bring the tale’s wonderful protagonist to life.





Audiobook Review: Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey

19 02 2014

Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey (Serge Storms, Bk. 17)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Harper Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Florida Thriller

Grade: A-

I always enjoy a well constructed plot. Stories that structure themselves well, with a natural progression, well timed twists and reveals, and conclusions that tie up all the tangents the authors went on in intriguing ways. Except when it comes to Serge novels. For some reason, the more scattershot, unstructured the plot is in one of Tim Dorsey’s Serge A Storms novel, the more I cackle in glee. The latest novel, Tiger Shrimp Tango has Serge at his manic best. Sure, there is a plot. Former Police nemesis, the noir speaking Mahoney is now a Private Eye, and has hired Serge to track down scam artist in an attempt to recover the money they took for their marks. The tracking down part isn’t hard for Serge, it’s the discipline not to kill them in elaborate ways were Serge is lacking. Tiger Shrimp Tango has everything you love in a Serge novel. While not the best plotted novel of the series, it’s full of twists and tons and tons of laughs. When not working on Mahoney’s projects, Serge is attempting to bring together the polarized sides our modern political landscape in some of the most hilarious moments of the series. As someone who considers himself and extreme moderate and politics junkie, the pot shots at both sides of the spectrum had me holing, especially the segment where both parties attempt to explain why Jesus would make a horrible political candidate.  On top of all that, Serge comes up with some of his best kills and most deserving prey. Tiger Shrimp Tango is another great example of how Dorsey takes the already zany over the top Florida Thriller genre and ramps it up to absurdity all to the delight of this particular listener.

Oliver Wyman can make even a mediocre Serge novel into audio gold, and in Tiger Shrimp Tango, he delivers another performance so hilarious you want to avoid drinking dairy products unless you enjoy the feeling of milk gushing from your nostrils. For some reason, I always tend to listen to one of these novels when I am out and about shopping in public places, and the stares I get from my inappropriate laughter makes it all worth it. Wyman gives Serge and Coleman and almost cartoon character feel, yet infused with a humanity you can’t overlook. Yet, one of the highlights of the novel is the assortment of colorful characters, lowlifes, flim flam men and women, innocent dupes, political protesters and other not quite typical character  that Wyman brings to life is such wonderful ways. Tiger Shrimp Tango is one dance you wouldn’t want any other voice to cut in on.





Audiobook Review: The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

5 08 2013

The Long War (The Long Earth, Book 2) by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Read by Michael Fenton Stevens

Harper Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: While I enjoyed listening to The Long War, I found myself often frustrated along the way.The Long War tried too hard to be something it wasn’t, a plot driven science fiction novel, when there was nothing wrong with what it actually was, a concept driven novel of exploration.

Grade: B

I was a bit skeptical about The Long War, the sequel to last years multi-earth science fiction tale, The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I loved The Long Earth. It was a brilliant concept and tapped that little inkling inside of everyone for the opportunity to just start over on a new adventure. The concept was simple, on one day it was discovered that there were multiple versions of Earth, and with one simple, easy to manufacture tool, almost anyone could take off and start over. It was fun tale of exploration, and the implications that multiple easily accessible earths would have on the original Datum Earth. The worlds that Pratchett and Baxter created opened what seemed like a playground for authors, an infinite amount of worlds for an infinite amount of stories. Yet, I sort of felt like I felt about Eric Flint’s 1632 series, It’s a great place for stories, but attempting to push that story, and those characters beyond the first few novels just felt like a misuse of potential. In The Long Earth, I felt that story was told. Those characters explored in full, and attempting to extrapolate more plot points set up in The Long Earth may ruin the original concept of the novel. Because, a sequel isn’t about further exploration of a writer’s world, but the progression of the story. I would have been down with more books within those worlds, in fact, I think that would be awesome. I think there was ways to explore the occurrences of The Long Earth, without focusing the book on them. Yet, it was called The Long War. The idea of an interdimensional war intrigued me. How would you handle logistics? How exactly do you deal with species with natural abilities to step between worlds when the majority of humanity depended on a device, and suffered physical ailments when stepping. This convinced me. A Long Earth War was a brilliant idea, and one that I would be fascinated to see executed by these two talented writers. Yet, I forgot a lesson I learned long ago when reading SM Stirling’s The Protector’s War, just because the title implies battles, or at least skirmishes of a military nature, it don’t make it true.

In the years since Joshua teamed up with the artificial intelligence Lopsang to explore the long earth, tensions between the Datum Earth United States and its interdimensional colonies have increased. Joshua, now married, has settled into a comfortable life as a mayor of a small colony town. Yet, when the often abused Trolls, sub-human sentients who are natural steppers and spread the history of the long earth through song, begin disappearing, old friends convince Joshua to use his celebrity to take up their cause. Meanwhile, a Chinese expedition travels in a revolutionary airship takes them further into the long earth than even Lopsang achieved. While much of what I loved about The Long Earth exists in The Long War, much of the spit and polish has worn off the fresh premise. I enjoyed The Long War, but at the same time was a bit let down by it. Like The Long Earth, there is a bare bones plot used to justify the themes of exploring cool new worlds. This plot includes some cool things like a look at a Sentient Canine Community, a cool almost Vonnegutesque scene involving a "First Person Singular" like collective and a Datum Earth Protection Force who gets changed by their interactions with the locals and the Trolls during their journey. It all sort of ties together loosely, and gives enough to call this a novel, instead of a collection of brilliant fictional concepts. Barely. I actually don’t mind the loose collection of concepts part. In fact, it was what I loved about The Long Earth. My favorite part of this novel was the Chinese exploration of the deepest earths, yet, that story, sort of fell by the wayside as the "plot" part of the book took over. I found a frustrating lack of any form of war, other than of words and symbolic gestures. The ideas of a Long Earth War where touched on, but this novel was more focused on what could cause a long earth war than on any actual military action. I think part of the problem with this novel was that it was partially written by Terry Pratchett. OK, not that it was written by him, but the people, including myself, came in with certain expectations of levity and lightheartedness that was often missing in this book. There is definitely some Pratchett moments but this series falls more solidly into Baster’s hard science fiction camp. This was a hard one for me. I really liked some aspects, and will definitely pick up the third novel in the series. The ending offered some interesting directions for the series. My major problems was the book tried too hard to be something it wasn’t, a plot driven science fiction novel, when there was nothing wrong with what it actually was, a concept driven novel of exploration.

Michael Fenton Stevens continues on with his narration of this series. I actually think his performance was better than the last novel, and may have kept me more interested in the happenings than the novel actually deserved. I do find it interesting that they cast a British narrator for a novel that is focused more on the issues between Datum America and it‘s colonies, but there is enough international feel where it works. I think he has a tendency to use a very Gary Cooper stereotypical American accent, with a real cowboy swagger. This may have gotten annoying in a more contemporary tale, but there is a real Western feel to the novel, so it works. Where I think he really improved was his female characterizations. I didn’t have as many cringe worthy moments in this audiobook as I did in the first when it came to the female characters. Where Stevens excels is in the more esoteric conceptual moments of the book. He captures an almost poetic rhythm to the discovery of new worlds, pacing these parts of the novel perfectly. All in All it was a fun performance and one that actually enhanced the experience of listening to this novel.





Audiobook Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

15 07 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Read by Neil Gaiman

Harper Audio

Length: 5 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

Grade: A

I really love the magical fogginess of childhood. I lived a pretty mundane childhood where the only magic I experienced was through books and deep within my own imagination. I lived in a series of older homes, with many rooms full of older furniture, none of which lead me into magical kingdoms. I grew up in a time where children could go off on little adventures, and I did, climbing hills to the train tracks, crawling under highways through the drainage tunnels, all things that nowadays would give modern parents anxiety disorders or orders of protection. While I enjoyed these little jaunts, I never did meet a crazy old German man living alone in a drafty old house of mystery, or three old sisters living together with a menagerie of cats, their home full of strange music. All the magic of my childhood came from external sources…. or did it? One of the saddest things for me was discovering that the older Pensevie children stopped believing in Narnia. Here they were given the ultimate magical adventure, and their maturity stripped it away from them. This saddened me as a child, but now it gives me a bit of hope. Maybe that underground drainage pipe was actually a magical portal to another world, and I did go off on a grand adventure. Maybe I did meet an old werewolf or three witches and discovered that the monsters of literature may not be the true monsters. Because there was magic in my mundane childhood, and even if this magic came from books and my own daydreams, it existed, and just maybe, the fogginess of my childhood and the maturity of a teenager allowed me to delude myself into believe this magical was merely the whimsy of a lonely boy.

Returning to a childhood home, a man takes a walk down to the end of the lane where he meets the mother of a friend long forgotten. As a flood of memories overtakes him his is transported to his childhood, where a man’s suicide and his new friend leads to an encounter with a sinister new Nanny who has seemed to entrance his family. Unlike any other author I can think of, Neil Gaiman reminds me of the true magic of reading. No matter what he is writing about, whether it’s dark modern contemporary fantasy, fairy tales or even horror, I always feel transported when I read Gaiman to a place where I never feel safe, but find oddly comforting. Despite the darkness that permeated The Ocean at the End of the Lane, it is full of whimsical magic, characters I wish I knew and the feeling that I am being included in a once in a lifetime adventure. It’s nearly impossible for me to critically review anything by Neil Gaiman, I can just talk about how it made me feel. I simply found it impossible to separate myself from the tale. For the nearly six hours I was listening to this novel, it we me who was betrayed by those I loved, frustrated that no one would believe me, and fascinated by this strange new family I met just down the road. This is something I really haven’t fully experienced since those days I spend as child in Narnia, traveling the Yellowbrick road on my way to the Phantom Tollbooth. Yet, despite this magic of childhood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane isn’t a book for children. It’s a book for adults who once were children living many different lives. It is a book about nostalgia on par with Lev Grossman’s Magician novels, yet with a much more subtle beauty. All the little touches just reminded me of what it was like to be a child, the petulant sibling, the oblivious adults, and the darkness that lies behind every door. It reminded me of the wisdom that only children can have to see beyond the mundane, and accept things that we adults know are not possible. There is a true wisdom in ignorance of the world, and this naivety is the core of all childhood magic. I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

It’s interesting. Although Neil Gaiman’s voice is very familiar to me through the intros to his audiobook line, and a few short stories, this is my first time listening to him narrate a full novel. I remember as a child, watching my first baseball game, as the pitcher came to the plate to bat, I thought about how pitchers must be good hitters because they would know all the tricks. This was before I understood that in most cases skill outshines knowledge. This is the same mentality I have about author’s narrating their own books. In my childish mind, authors should be the best narrators of their work since they truly understand the intent of their words, yet, rarely in execution does this end up working. There is a skill that the professional narrator has that goes beyond understanding the intent of a word. Luckily for us who love the written word spoke aloud, Neil Gaiman has this skill. His reading of The Ocean at the End of the Lane was so full of everything that made the book special, that allowing anyone else to read it would have done the novel a disservice. Listening to Gaiman read, you just couldn’t help but realize that he was doing something he simply loved, telling people stories. I couldn’t help but smile when in the beginning, he told us that the book was written and narrated by "Me, Neil Gaiman." I think for any other author, this would have came off pretentious, but with Gaiman it was like he was a child telling you, "Hey guys, I get to read you this story I wrote and love." The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells me what everyone seemed to already know, that Gaiman’s worlds should be discovered through the spoken word, especially if he is the one speaking them.