Audiobook Review: Fiend by Peter Stenson

16 07 2013

Fiend by Peter Stenson

Read by Todd Haberkorn

Random House Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: While Fiend wasn’t what I would call a pleasant read, it is a fascinating character study set within an intrigue apocalyptic vision. These are characters you loathe to cheer for, and along the way, there is very little to cheer for anyway. Despite my discomfort with the characters, it is a novel I am glad I listened to.

Grade: B

I try not to be a judgmental person towards people who engage in self destructive behavior. I have had my own self destructive behaviors in my life, and everyone deals with vice on some level. Yet, I have never understood how people get involved in hardcore drug use. Now, I understand using alcohol and some recreational drugs to escape, or simply to have some mind-bending fun. Popular culture is full of examples where being just a bit under the influence is fun. Yet, I have trouble seeing the appeal of things like heroin and meth. I struggle to think of one example of person, real or fictional, whose life was improved by the use of heroin or meth. Understandable, I am quite unfamiliar with the culture. I have never partaken in any drug in more than a casual manner, particularly any illegal and potentially addictive drug. I have read too many books, sat through too many "evils of drugs" lessons to see the appeal. For me, warnings about the dangers of hardcore drugs is like the Miranda Warning, our popular culture is so inundated with these warnings that I have very little sympathy for people who overlook them. I should be compassionate. I should accept those commercials telling me that opiate addiction is a disease. I just can’t not think about that first moment, when they are offered heroin or meth and the future addict thinks, “Hey, what could go wrong? One little snort… I’ll be fine." This seems like me buying the family pack of Nacho Cheese Doritos, believing I will only eat one chip. Ain’t gonna happen. An hour later my fingers will be stained orange and the side of my mouth will burn with nacho related abrasions. So, I can really see no reason why anyone would ever consider even starting the life of the meth enthusiast. That was until I learned it could keep you from becoming a zombie.

Chase Daniels is living a life of regret. He spends his days high on meth, ostracizing his family, and missing the girl he loves who is now with another man. When he sees a girl tearing into the stomach of a dog, he believes it’s just a drug induced hallucination. When the girl attacks and his friend kills her, he’s ready for a life on the run or figuring a way flip on his friend to the cops. Yet, it’s not a hallucination. The very thing that has ruined his life has now seemed to save it. Now, Chase has a chance to be a hero, save the women he loves and start a new life in the ruins of this world… right after his next dose. Fiend is a disquieting spin on the Zombie apocalypse, where only the dregs of society, those addicted to meth have survived. Peter  Stenson has populated his book with characters so despicable and self centered you can’t even call them anti-heroes. This is no glorification of drugs or drug culture, but a no holds barred apocalyptic vision where the cure may be worse than the cure. I can’t say I particularly liked listening to Fiend. It was fascinating and unique, but also uncomfortable and disturbing. When I first discovered the concepts behind this book, I expected it to be stereotypical white trash characters, from crappy homes whose only escape was through the use of hardcore drugs that now have a chance to rise above. That would have been the easy path to take. Yet, Stenson doesn’t go for the easy road instead he throws every obstacle in his way. Chase seemed to have every opportunity to become a well adjusted person. Supportive parents and a girlfriend who shared his problems but was seeking to better herself. Yet, Chase seemed to lack any sense of self awareness. He constantly deluded himself, blaming others for decisions he made, becoming indignant when people made the correct assumptions about his behavior. Any trip filtered through the mind of a person like Chase cannot be easy, yet add in a Zombie apocalypse, and the road gets much more bumpy. For hardcore Zombie fans, the flesh eating, zombie mayhem is relatively minimalistic. The undead serve more as a catalyst to force the characters into certain situations. Yet, Stenson does create a claustrophobic dire Zombie scenario that should appeal to fans of psychological horror with a tint of monster. While Fiend wasn’t what I would call a pleasant read, it is a fascinating character study set within an intrigue apocalyptic vision. These are characters you loathe to cheer for, and along the way, there is very little to cheer for anyway. Despite my discomfort with the characters, it is a novel I am glad I listened to.

I was a little hesitant about Todd Haberkorn as narrator of fiend. Haberkorn has a smooth, professional youthful sounding voice. He is a prime example of a smooth highly skilled voice over artist. Yet, I wasn’t sure if that is what Fiend needed. When I picture meth addicts, I picture gruff, gravely people who take little pride in themselves and their abilities, and not smooth talking voice over talent.  I worried that Haberkorn may be too good for this novel, too professional. Yet, in the end I think Haberkorn was a good choice. Chase was young, and I think if Random House went with a gruffer, more gravely narrator like Kevin Stillwell you would have lost some of the youthful naiveté that was essential to the character. Haberkorn totally captured the petulant, delusional whininess of Chase, and handled the peripheral characters well. He even got the chance to break out a soft British accent along the way. His pacing of the action was top notch, keeping us immersed amidst the seemingly inescapable zombie hordes. Overall, Fiend was a compelling listen, and if you are looking for a unique take on the zombie apocalypse full of psychological suspense, Fiend definitely fits the bill.

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





Audiobook Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

1 07 2013

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, Jenna Hellmuth

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Time Travel Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Shining Girl is a novel that never allows you to get comfortable. It shifts and blends, leaving you feeling disconcerted and disturbed but utterly enthralled. Beukes combines the elements of paranormal time travel and crime fiction in a way that lifts this novel about the typical, making it truly special.

Grade: A-

I have to admit, there was a small part of me that was hesitant about Lauren Beukes latest novel, The Shining Girls. Mostly I was excited. Very, very excited. For a while it was my must have novel of the summer. Let’s face it, this one falls right into my wheelhouse, a time traveling serial killer. I love time travel novels. I love crime fiction. And I especially love novels that blend my favorite subgenres together into something unique. The Shining Girls was like a gift from some deity saying “Hey Bob, here’s a book you will love.” Yet, part of me was still worried. There was one lingering aspect of the novel that had me concerned, the setting. I have nothing against Chicago. In fact, I think it’s one of the best settings for a crime fiction novel, full of political corruption, superstitions and colorful characters. Yet, my first experience with Lauren Beukes was her wonderful Johannesburg set Zoo City. One of my favorite aspects of Zoo City was a look into a city, although quite changed by Beukes magical shift, that I have rarely encountered in fiction. It offered something unique, beyond Beukes fascinating mythology, to see it play out in a setting I have known existed in mostly a theoretical level. When I learned Beukes was setting her next novel in Chicago, I was like “…but… but… Chicago isn’t in South Africa. I have read tons of stories that took place in Chicago!” I was worried we would be given a touristy glimpse of Chicago where we got to experience the Cubbies, and Ditka jokes and oh my gosh… they love Polish sausage. Yet, I guess I shouldn’t have worried. Sure, I missed the Johannesburg setting but Beukes time shifting trip through Chi-town offered a unique glimpse at this city that I have rarely encountered before.

Harper Curtis is a brutal killer from the past, who finds a strange house that opens him up to strange future worlds, where he encounters girls who shine only for him. He knows the house wants him to kill these girls, he just doesn’t know why but once he kills them all, this should be revealed. Kirby Mazrachi survived a brutal attack that the police believe was random, but she is sure is the work of a serial killer. Together with a former homicide reporter now covering the Cubs, she pieces together a series of brutal murders that could lead her to her attacker. The thing that I love about the Shining Girls is how both aspects of the novel work so well on their own. Strip away the strange paranormal house and time traveling elements, and you have a solid Crime Fiction novel on par with Michael Connelly’s The Poet or Warren Ellis’s Gun Machine. Strip away the crime fiction elements, and you have a seriously spooky ghost house story on par with such dark fantasists and Stephen King or Robert McCammon. It’s how Beukes layers these two elements together that elevates The Shining Girl beyond solid examples of these genres, to something brilliant and utterly beyond simple classification. Beukes has it set up so not even her characters know what kind of book they are in until it all crashes together in a breathtaking finale. Unlike most Serial Killer tales, this isn’t some Cat-and-Mouse game between a brilliant serial killer and those attempting to stop him. Instead, it’s almost as the players are working on their own puzzles, dealing with their own pasts, and putting together their pieces towards goals that eventually force them to the inevitable conflict. It’s not that there isn’t an procedural investigatory arc, there is and it’s quite strong in it’s own right, yet, Kirby and Dan don’t really know what they are looking for, so it’s like that are trying to make a picture out of pieces from many different puzzle boxes. Beukes doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up the mythology of the eerie house that sends serial Killer Harper on his time tripping spree. Instead she tickles around the edges of the paranormal, having the house be a tool not even the wielder understands. He knows he has a mission, and he understands that the girls are shining and must be extinguished, yet even he doesn’t truly understand the whys and hows. In many ways, he is also part victim, while a sadistic and brutal one. It‘s hard to say how much of his mission came from The House, and how much he becomes The House‘s mission. This sort of fluidity may be frustrating to some readers who want solid answers, but I found it to add to the disconcerting charm of the novel. The Shining Girl also reeks of authenticity. The city of Chicago comes alive in a way that you can’t find on tourist guides and her characters just feel real. Even the murder scenes are full of visceral imagery and meticulous detail that gives you insight into both the victim and the perpetrator. The Shining Girl is a novel that never allows you to get comfortable. It shifts and blends, leaving you feeling disconcerted and disturbed but utterly enthralled. Beukes combines the elements of paranormal time travel and crime fiction in a way that lifts this novel about the typical, making it truly special. The Shining Girl is a novel I will be thinking about for a long time, too of tem late at night as the darkness begins to creep into my dreams.

Hachette Audio has really made a name for itself by putting together some of the best multinarrator productions in the industry. In The Shining Girls, Hachette has brought together some of the best narrators in the business, and combined them with some new narrators with lots of future potential. All the narrators gave strong, solid performances. Khristine Hvam, as Kirby, is stellar as usual, and Peter Ganim deftly captures the charming yet unstable Harper Curtis. Jay Snyder has a brilliant, crisp almost perfect voice, and the work is so on point that you never really feel any disconnect when the narrators shift. Yet, I think this was also my problem with the audiobook version of The Shining Girls. At times, particularly with Snyder’s work, it seemed all too perfect. Jay Snyder has the vocal equivalent to movie star looks, and I would have loved to see a bit more flavor and grit in his performance of down and out reporter Dan Velasquez. Dan was ethnically Hispanic, and while I don’t expect him to sound like he just came up from Tijuana, I would have liked just a little Hispanic edge in his voice. I though the work of the smaller roles, particularly that of Joshua Boone and Jenna Hellmuth added just the right counterpoint to the other narrators. Dani Cervone was also strong, but her voice was a bit close to Hvams, which didn’t allow it to stand out as much as the work of the other two. Overall, the audio production was excellent. It was well paced, sounded crisp and in the end served the story well. Any issue I had came down ultimately to listener preference.

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





Audiobook Review: Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss

26 06 2013

Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Short Story Collection (Multiple Genres)

Quick Thoughts: A solid short story Anthology featuring the Vachss signature noir style, fascinating if unlikeable characters and an authenticity you rarely find in the pages of books. Fans of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard will be excited to see this duo show up for a great story, as well as a few other of Vachss characters. The anthology ended with a high concept screenplay that may not suit even hardcore Vachss fan’s tastes, but has moments of hidden gems.

Grade: B

There are two kinds of experts in our world. There are the kinds that study something, that break it down to its intricate details, who speculate, postulate and theorize. They use this knowledge to develop opinions, join think tanks, become talking heads on TV news programs and teach courses. Then there is the kind of expert who simply lives something. They may not know why something work, or develop their theories based on intangible concepts of instinct, and heart, but while the studios expert is working on the textbook, they are out applying their knowledge, living and dying by their expertise. Andrew Vachss often writes about that second type of experts. One of the reasons I enjoy single author short story collections is to see how an author takes the central themes of their writing, and explores them through different situations and even genres. Mortal Lock is no different. Vachss inhabits his stories with his signature characters. Vachss’ characters are truly what sets him apart. They are never loveable, and often lot even close to likeable, but they bring a perspective that it seems even the most research oriented author often misses. There is something authentic in their reality, even when they are in situations the push plausibility. In Mortal Lock, Vachss’ applies his themes and characters to 20 different stories, some quite short, while others more detailed, giving us a glimpse into worlds that us everyday tourist rarely ever see.

It is really hard to evaluate and recommend a short story anthology, without going into detail about every story. Like in most anthologies, there is a hit and miss quality. There were some stories that were simply quick slices of life, that seemed to serves as buffers between larger tales. This is something I haven’t seen as often in anthologies, and for the most part I liked it. While I didn’t LOVE every story, three of the larger tales truly make this anthology worth the time and money of any Andrew Vachss Fan. For me the highlight of this short story collection was Veil’s Visit, which Vachss cowrote with Joe Lansdale featuring one of my favorite literary dues Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Add to this the fact that the story was a Courtroom tale where Leonard is on trial for burning down his neighborhood crackhouse, and the legal theory used by the Defense was priceless. The two other stories that I thought were exceptional were As The Crow Flies, which features the protagonists from his upcoming novel Aftershocks and Profile, which has another of Vachss characters, Cross, hunting an online predator. Yet, these stories were far from the only gems. Vachss starts it off with Ghostwriter, featuring a brilliant writer who was completely unlikeable and sociopathic and did whatever it took to see his works come to print. One of my other favorites was A Piece of the City where rival gangs come to blows over and incident that may be more that it seems. Along the way, Vachss gives his twisted take on Crime Fiction staples like spurned husbands and serial killers. Vachss even breaks away from his typical crime noir to expand into other genres, most notably a tale of a Hit Man searching for a cure for AIDS for his dying sister, who encounters monsters of legends. The only downside of the collection comes in the form of the long screenplay that is the finale. Not that it wasn’t interesting and full of some excellent themes and fascinating explorations. I have never been much of a screenplay reader, and experiencing one in audio was interesting. The tales is definitely high concept, extremely visual and very avante guard. It is more of a series of intertwined vignettes told in a Dystopian World were society is now underground. Vachss creates a disturbing system where the establishment allows many types of evils to flourish, the family structure to break down, and truths told through graffiti painted on walls. If such a movie was ever made, it would be more at home next to the subtitled foreign films at The Ritz than at your local Movie Hut. I think Underground is something I enjoyed more considering the aspects he explored later than during the actual exercise of listening. There were some moments where the story was truly fascinating, some hidden gems in the screenplay, but at times it was hard to stay focused on it.

I am typically not a fan of multi-narrator productions where the male narrator reads the male lines and the majority of the prose, than a female narrator pops in for the female dialogue lines. It just never seems to feel natural for me. This process was used often in Mortal Lock, and while effective, I often cringed when it happened. Luckily, the two narrators had an obvious rhythm down, and made it as natural as possible. That really isn’t a surprise, since the narrators were Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. Phil handled the majority of the work, and was wonderful as usual. In fact, when Veil’s Visit began, I had a huge idiot grin on my face as the familiar voice of Hap Collins filled the cavern within my skull. Gigante has a knack for knowing when to go low key, and when a bit of over-the-top is appropriate. He is the perfect narrator for Vachss, able to capture the dark humor and noir stylings of Vachss writing, while giving his characters a realism that just feels right. This was my first time listening to Natalie Ross, and I enjoyed her work. Surprisingly, I think some of her best work was done during the screenplay, as well as one particularly creepy serial killer tale. She offered a nice counterbalance to Gigante. Overall, Mortal Lock is a must listen for fans of Andrew Vachss. For those interested in getting a taste of Vachss style, Mortal Lock gives a nice spectrum of indulge in.

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





Audiobook Review: Nevermore: A novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe by David Niall Wilson

25 06 2013

Nevermore: A Tale of Love, Loss and Edgar Allan Poe by David Niall Wilson

Read by Gigi Shane

Crossroad Press

Length: 6 Hrs and 6 Min

Genre: Gothic Horror

Quick Thoughts: Nevermore is a Gothic horror tail, drenched in mood and atmosphere and effectively creepy. Wilson has created a fascinating mythology that blends history, myth, and folk tales to create a tale that does credit to it’s inspiration. Nevermore is a tale that is worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, yet shines a new light on this character allowing us to see him in a way we never may have expected.

Grade: B+

I think it’s important for a reviewer to admit their deficiencies. So, I will admit, for a fan of horror, from Philadelphia I am surprisingly uninformed when it comes to Edgar Allan Poe. Sure, I have read the Raven. I like the Raven. In fact, I think it’s brilliant. And, I always enjoyed The Tell Tale Heart. It’s a creepy tale that really plays on my claustrophobia and paranoia. Yet, other than that, I know surprisingly little about Poe other than he lived in Baltimore and Philadelphia and may have had a substance abuse problem. I feel like I should really know more about Poe. Here is one of the founders of the genre that has informed much of my life, that is often emulated by some of my favorite authors, yet, I know like two of his stories and a few poems. This winter I watched The Following, and this was when I first started feeling Poe deficient. Now, I thought The Following was OK. Not awesome. A bit too reliant on shocking gore over solid storytelling but, I was fascinated by Poe’s influence on the mythology and wondered if I was missing some aspects to the plot by not being more of a student of Poe. So, of course, I was concerned about starting a book called Nevermore, a book not only inspired by Poe’s writing but features Poe himself as a characters. Yet, my past history should have allowed me to forget my concerns. So much of what I know about historical figures comes from reading fiction. I took plenty of history classes in high school and college, but I think I have always leaned more about the essential aspects of these characters through historical fiction and alternate history. Sure, I know what you are thinking. These are fictional accounts, manipulated by authors for their own agenda which is totally unlike the process of teaching, where teachers and text book authors only present straight forward objective facts. So yeah, I’ll take my historical characters with a touch artistic license.

On the border between North Carolina and Virginia, a young women with a terrible gift encounters a ark storyteller with a companion. Together, they will unlock the secrets that lie at the roots of old tales and ancient legends, changing the past and releasing imprisoned souls to their final disposition. Yet, like with all such tales, their actions come with tragic personal consequences. Nevermore is a Gothic horror tail, drenched in mood and atmosphere and effectively creepy. Wilson has created a fascinating mythology that blends history, myth, and folk tales to create a tale that does credit to it’s inspiration. While the underlining story is worthy in it’s own right, I love how Wilson tells old tales and allows you to filter them through the history of oral traditions and the natural adaptations a story can take.  These old tales inform the story, but the story never becomes dependent on them. Instead, we see how tales told in another time and place can have direct impact on current situations. Wilson  manages to turn many horror tropes on their heads, creating a traditional gothic tale with a bunch little twist that makes it feel different. Lenore is a wonderfully deep character with a very unique gift that I found fascinating. Her ability to draw trapped souls out of their prisons setting them free made for a very interesting backdrop for the tale, ripe with complexities. I also love how both Poe and Lenore weren’t solitary in their story, but developed relationships that both served their goals and added moments of true emotion. Wilson writes with a poetic flair that even when I felt I wasn’t totally engaged in the story, I could feel the beauty of the moments. Each word and phrase seemed to be tailored to creating just the right mood. At times, I felt the entire feel of the story to be oppressive, with the atmosphere too thick and the situation too dark, but the mood was totally appropriate to the tale. Conversely, there were moments I felt like I loved the feel of the story more than the story itself.  In the end, I think Wilson succeeded at what he set out to do. Nevermore is a tale that is worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, yet shines a new light on this character allowing us to see him in a way we never may have expected.

This is my first experience with Gigi Shane, and I hope it’s not my last. While I loved her voice, and the her characters were strong, it was her ability to find the rhythms of the writing and bleed it for all its worth that highlighted the audiobook for me. She captured the feel of the novel so well, that at times I felt totally immersed in it. Wilson’s writing seems really suited for audio. He seems to put a lot of thought into how his books will sound spoken aloud, and it shines through in Shane’s performance. Shane has a voice that can seem light and airy, but manages to effectively drop into the lower registers, making her male voices feel as real as her female. She manages to give even the lighter moments a feeling of gravity, and when things really begin to get dark, she allows us to float above the muck. While I enjoyed Wilson’s tale, I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it nearly as much in print. This is a story that should be told, and it seems, just the right narrator to tell it. If you are a fan of old school horror, with a poetic flair, informed by folklore and mystery, Nevermore is the perfect audiobook for you.

Note: I reviewed this title as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewers program.





Audiobook Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

11 06 2013

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Read by Kate Mulgrew

Harper Audio

Length: 19 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Horror

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

Grade: A-

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

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

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





Audiobook Review: Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

3 06 2013

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Read by Benjamin Percy

Hachette Audio

Length: 21 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Literary Horror

Quick Thoughts: Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon tells the tale of the afflicted, the demagogues and the victims that this world of werewolves has created. It combines the detailed political and social alternate history of Harry Turtledove or Robert Conroy with the gut level horror of Stephen King told with a literary flair that escalates the novel beyond its influences.

Grade: A

I have always been fascinated by what motivates protest movements. I consider myself politically moderate, and have never felt the need to take to the streets over any issue. It’s not that I don’t have passionate beliefs, because I do. I will sign positions and write my legislatures, but I have trouble taking protest movements seriously. Maybe it’s a product of my conservative and religious upbringing where extreme political actions, even for things we cared about were looked down on. Maybe it’s a product of my age. My formative years were in the late 8o’s early 90’s. I remember the first Persian Gulf War and while people objected to it, there wasn’t the sense of outrage the second war brought about. I went to high school in the first Bush  years and college in the time of Clinton. We were more worried about the state of the economy than terrorism, human rights abuses by our government and social inequalities. Or maybe I was just lazy. Maybe I was so obsessed by my own personal struggles that I never looked outward. I’ll be honest, part of me still looks at the anti-war protests, the occupy movement and the modern social movements as a reflection on the desire of kids to have a 60’s like experience, than any true reasoned objection. It’s not that I don’t agree with them, it that I remember my politics at that age and how transformed I am now, and I can’t help but wonder if there will be some sort of reverse process for them. I have always been a “work within the system” type of guy. I think it fits my personality, and even though I have become much more liberal than the young republican college student I started out as, I still can’t see me grabbing a sign and joining the movements.

In a modern version of America where a prion infection brings about a lycanthropic change, those infected have been regulated to second class citizens, feared and hated by many aspects of the populace. When a gruesome terrorist attack leaves only one survivor, the country is up in arms letting their fear reign. The government cracks down on activist werewolves and begins to place restrictions on all lycans, while the war in the plutonian rich lycan home nation rages. Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon tells the tale of the afflicted, the demagogues and the victims that this world of werewolves has created. It combines the detailed political and social alternate history of Harry Turtledove or Robert Conroy with the gut level horror of Stephen King told with a literary flair that escalates the novel beyond its influences. Percy has created a political charged narrative ripe with modem day analogues, yet tells it a well paced, accessible story that doesn’t force an agenda down your throats. Fans of alternate history will appreciate the complexities and details he built into his world. Percy explores many area with a sociological authority that allows the readers to see the many shades of an issue that is far from black and white. Horror fans will have trouble getting their blood pressure down after an opening that will suck your breath from you lungs and fans of literary fiction will appreciate the well drawn characters, the lush prose and well told story. I loved every minute of Red Moon, yet, I do have one bit of hesitation when it comes to offering recommendations. As someone who truly loves alternate history and horror, this novel was right in my wheelhouse. Fans of horror may struggle a bit with the long trips into world building, wanting to get right back into the blood and gore. Yet, I reveled in it. I enjoyed the sprawling storytelling that took us from characters to character with an almost epic flair. While the story focused on three main characters, you truly felt you got a glimpse of the greater world within Percy’s intimate story. This isn’t really a werewolf tale, but a tale of humanity living with, adapting to and using fear. Percy even creates a limited apocalyptic scenario, ripe with dark images and tales of survival that truly rounded out one of the most satisfying reads of the year for me. Red Moon is one of my favorite novels of the year, offering something for everyone, and maybe a bit of extra for readers of my proclivities.

I am often hesitant about author narrators, but from the moment Red Moon started I knew I was in for a special listening experience. Thomas Percy has a deep sonorous voice that just made my hair stand on edge. He created such an oppressive, claustrophobic mood in the opening of this novel, that I was hooked. He has the perfect voice for horror, and while he lacks some of the polish in pacing that professional narrator may have, he captures his words with a raw beauty that causes them to leap off the page. He also managed to show a wide range of character voices. I did struggle with his voice for Patrick. Percy uses his narrative voice for this character, which was so deep it didn’t totally fit with the young naive juvenile  but this flaw was soon forgotten as he swept you up in his world. Surprising, his female voices was some of his best voice work. Percy shines mostly when things are happening, the flow during the expositional moments is where sometimes the pacing failed, but then you were sucked right back into the tale. If Red Moon isn’t nominated for an Author Narrated Audie next year, then a will take up a sign and march on the mysterious mansion of those who decide such a thing.

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





Audiobook Review: The Books of Blood Volume 1 by Clive Barker

17 05 2013

The Books of Blood: Volume 1 by Clive Barker

Read by Simon Vance, Dick Hill, Peter Berkrot, Jeffrey Kafer, Chet Williamson, and Chris Patton

Crossroad Press

Length: 6 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: With each tale of The Books of Blood, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights.

Grade: B+

Nearly 25 years ago, after receiving my first paycheck as a 15 year old working a horrible job doing phone surveys about soda and car repair, I walked into The Oxford Valley Mall’s Waldenbooks and bought my first adult books. Before this moment, I had very little control over the books I could read. Most I got from the public or school library and they had to be cleared with my mother. The few times I got my hands on unapproved books, like when my cousin slipped me a copy of Lord Foul’s Bane, I was caught, scolded for introducing satanic things like magic into my brain and forced to return to my copies of The Three Investigators or Agatha Christie or steal copies of my sister’s Danielle Steel or VC Andrews novel, secure in the thoughts that incest and sexual abuse was in no way as devastating as magical rings and Giants. Now, here I was, unsupervised, with my own money, ready to buy my own books. I picked out three novels, one was Stephen King’s It, which of course I loved. I had read Cujo and Christine before, which were, unbeknownst to my mother, available in my school library, so I knew what I was expecting. I also picked up a novel by a new to me author named Dean Koontz, The Bad Place, which sent me into a voracious need to read all his books. Finally, I picked up Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game. The Damnation game scared the hell out of me. I’m not sure I really got the surreal horror style, and some of the images truly disturbed me. I think I may have been too young at the time for that novel. I wanted tales with monsters and kids in peril, and strange weird science fictioney stuff, and I think Barker’s tale was a little beyond me at the time. It would be years later before I returned to one of his novels, the Fantasy tale of Imajica, and was blown away buy his writing.

The Books of Blood is a short story collection told in a framework of stories written into the skin of a huckster medium when he was brought into investigate strange haunted house. This first volume had five unique and diverse tales spanning the themes of horror. I have always enjoyed short story collections, although I rarely listen to them in audio. One thing that impressed me with this collection is that for each story, I made an assumption early on in the tale, and each time Barker took the story in ways that surprised me. Most surprising of all was the dark humor that infused some of the tales. With the gruesome framework of the series, I was expecting a full on assault of dark and horrific tales and while he delivered on that, he also managed to make me laugh along the way. My favorite tale of the collection had to be The Yattering and Jack, a story of a battle of wills between a gherkin salesman and the demons assigned to drive him crazy. This story was full of such fun, funny moments that I didn’t expect some of the twists along the way. Being that it’s Zombie Awareness Month, it was nice to see that there was a story dealing with the living dead of a sort. In Sex, Death and Starshine, a struggling theatre is putting on a production of Twelth Night staring a vapid soap actress. When a strange accident befalls the star, the director finds the most odd of replacements, who finds an audience all her own. I loved this story. It started out strange to me, but I was instantly thrust into the story through a menagerie of outrageous characters. The Midnight Meat Train started as a traditional New York City serial killer tale, but takes a strange turn. Talking about strange, the last two tales had some of the most bizarre horror imagery I had ever read. and I won’t even describe them here because it may lessen the impact for those who end up reading.  With each tale, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights,

Audiobook producers tend to take two approaches when casting anthologies, they either hire a single narrator to read all the tales, or they cast each story. Luckily, Crossroads Press took the later approach to casting, bringing in a strong group of narrators, each suited to the tale. Chris Patton started it off with the framework tale. Despite it being short Patton pulled all the creepiness out of the tale, and slung it right into the faces of the listeners. Jeffrey Kafer read The Midnight Meat Train. What I enjoyed about Kafer’s reading was that he didn’t fall into traditional stereotypical voices. I hate when a character runs into some conspiracy spouting dude at a bar in NYC and they make him sound like a West Virginian hick. Kafer created authentic characters and had a keen sense of pacing as the train sped to it’s horrific finale. Dick Hill was the perfect choice for The Yattering and Jack. His precise pacing accentuated the humor of the tale, upping each absurd moment to the max. Peter Berkrot’s reading of Pig Blood Blues gave me chills, balancing the matter of fact protagonist of the story with the ethereal tones. Sometimes when you become familiar with a narrator, you start imagining them in the role of the protagonist of the story you are reading. So, I wasn’t happy hearing Simon Vance describe the sexual encounters of Theater director Terry Calloway. Other than that, Vance gave his typical performance, which is spot on. The highlight of his story was the theatrical Mr. Litchfield which Vance captured perfectly. Finally, there was Chet Williamson. This was my first time listening to one of Williamson’s narrations, and I felt he had just the right raw creepiness in his tone. Honestly, this story, In the Hills, the Cities, was probably the tale I struggled with the most. It took me a bit to get into, but Williamson’s reading of the stunning finale was paced wonderfully creating one of the most strangely beautiful moments of the audiobook. The Books of Blood is an excellent audio production of one of the masters of horror. Even the stories that I struggled with managed to find a place in my nightmare, thanks largely to the excellent work of the narrators.

Special Thanks to Crossroad Press for providing me with a copy of the title for review.

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month





Audiobook Review: Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

16 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

Read by Eric G. Dove

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 8 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Southern Gods is a horror novel that actually deserves the title, full of disturbing images and intensely violent action. Jacobs creates a vivid setting and populates it with authentic characters creating a tale of Lovercraftian horror that would please even the dourest of old gods.

Grade: B+

One of the great things about Zombies is they really have no ego. They are mindless killing machines existing solely to wreak havoc, devour flesh and cause fear and terror among the still breathing. They have no need to be the stars of the show as long as they get their pound of flesh. Knowing that I would be listening to lots and lots of zombie novels during May is Zombie Awareness Month, I knew it would be quite important to find a nice variety of tales so it’s not all, run run, the zombies are coming let’s hole up in this Wal-Mart. So I wanted to find a few books that were less Zombie novels and more novels with Zombies. One of my favorite Zombie novels of 2012 was This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs. It was one of the few Zombie Apocalypse novels that felt fresh, not because it gave some new spin on Zombies, but because the writing just made it feel different plus the use to the term headknockers. The book has all the pop of a zombie head being run over by an Armored Personnel Carrier, and in case you’re keeping score, that’s a lot of pop. I have always been disappointed that this novel wasn’t available in audio, and that Jacobs didn’t have another Zombie novel that I could include for my annual celebration of walking copses. Then one day I was reading Scott Kenemore’s Blog and he was talking about John Hornor’s Southern Gods. Now, I understood Southern Gods to be a historical Lovercraftian horror novel, yet, Scott Kenemore mentions that it has zombies in it. Hell, that was enough for me. Last year, I was able to fit in Leviathan Wakes into Zombie Awareness Month due to its space bound vomit zombies, Lovercraftian godly directed zombies should have no problem fitting my own undead requirements.

Bull Ingram, a World War II veteran still suffering the lingering effects of his time at war, is working as muscle for a local bookie when he’s offered a job hunting down a missing Radio Station promoter. He is also tasked with discovering the whereabouts of Ramblin’ John, a mysterious bluesman whose music causes primal reactions from its listeners. Sent into the heart of Arkansas, Ingram discovers an ancient evil at the heart of the strange music, and meets an alluring woman whose family is full of dark secrets. Southern Gods is a terrifying manipulation of the good versus evil theme with a distinctive Southern flavor. Jacob’s creates a world where simple men are used as pawns for dark games by ancient gods in horrific ways. He blends the mythologies of the eldritch gods with a distinct setting that manages to pull a visceral response from his readers. While Bull Ingram’s quiet strength was truly a driving force of the novel, it was the scenes surrounding Sarah that sere the heart of the tale. From her families sordid past, to her contentious relationship with her mother, Sarah’s emotionally insecurity yet inner strength was a touchstone in the sea of madness. Jacobs explores the concepts of fate and agency with it characters as they not only try to battle against the plans of evil gods, but struggle for independence from the helping hands of their supposedly benevolent brothers. Jacobs’s post war South feels alive with mythological possibility. Initially I was concerned that the mystical bluesman tale and hints of voodoo was going to become another example of the magical Negro thrusting themselves into the limelight, but Jacobs managed to break away from that type of storytelling, even possibly using it as a red herring. And, yes, there were zombies of a sort, particularly one intense action sequence that was beautifully choreographed and undeniably terrifying yet it was just one piece in the author‘s strange menagerie. My only true negative was the mystical love connection, and awkwardly intense sex scene, which lead to the classic, “Oh, my god, I just fucked, and then something horrible happened because of it” moment. The romantic element seemed forced into the narrative as a way to confirm other aspects, and while it did add something to the story, it felt a bit out of place. Southern Gods is a horror novel that actually deserves the title, full of disturbing images and intensely violent action. Jacobs creates a vivid setting and populates it with authentic characters creating a tale of Lovercraftian horror that would please even the dourest of old gods.

Eric G. Dove managed to capture the southern feel of this novel perfectly. He delivered Bull Ingram’s slow, methodical speech in a careful manner that perfectly suited the character. I liked that he used a variety of distinctive voices, not solely relying of the hillbilly stereotype, but allowing each character’s personalities to come through. His pacing was also slow and steady, sometimes too slow. At times, the deliberate nature of his delivery seemed less about creating mood, than just a comfortable reading pace for the narrator. During the action scenes, though, his pacing picked up, delivering the mayhem of each moment in a rapid fire stream, yet never losing the listener on the way. I also felt his dialogue came off organically, seamlessly switching between characters. Overall, Dove’s narration delivers on the promise of the tale, creating a truly terrifying and pulse pounding audiobook experience.





Audiobook Review: The Undead Haze by Eloise J. Knapp

2 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

 

The Undead Haze by Eloise J. Knapp (Cyrus V. Sinclair, Bk. 2)

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 8 Hrs 33 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Undead Haze is a solid Zombie Apocalypse tale that separates itself from the horde by the unique and oh, so twisted mind of its main character. Knapp blends a character driven survival tale with some awesome hardcore zombie gore into one seamless gift for Zombie apocalypse aficionados. In this Knapp manages to prove her first novel was no fluke, and cements her place as one of the top writers of the genre.

Grade: A-

We are a society that is obsessed with labels. It seems everybody, ourselves included, are looking for easily defined labels to slap on ourselves to explain our dysfunctions and behaviors. When I was in college, I took the Myers-Briggs test twice, and both times I came up borderline Extrovert and Introvert. This actually stressed me out for a good period of time. Eventually, I met with one of my advisors, and she gave me some good words of wisdom, "Do be too concerned with labels, you get to choose what you want to be." Now, I believe there are many people who have certifiable personality and psychiatric conditions, but I think many more have chosen what they feel they are and then become self fulfilling prophecies. I know, during some of my key moments of development, when I was dealing with the many issues that we go through, I tried to find something to smack on my forehead, and declare to the world, "THIS IS WHAT I AM! THIS EXPLAINS ME!" I’m sort of glad it never really took, that I went through a period of rapid change, of breaking away from how I was raised where labels never stuck. One of the reasons I really embraced Apocalyptic Fiction was that it appealed to my Introverted side. To live as the last man on earth with all those toys waiting to be picked up. It was a natural progression of my childhood fantasies of being locked by myself in a toy store over night. Yet, as I grow, and seek more balance, I realize that true heroes of Apocalyptic Fiction are those who learn to work with others, even if it’s a small group of close people. One of the reasons I loved The Undead Situation was because of the journey of self discovery that Cyrus V. Sinclair is on. He truly is one of the most fascinating characters I have experienced in Zombie fiction. Cyrus’s self diagnosed sociopathy is sort of my pop culturally defined Introversion extrapolated to an extreme point, and then placed into the most extreme of all situations, a Zombie apocalypse.

What could make self diagnosed sociopath Cyrus V. Sinclair leave the safety of his isolated cabin and throw himself amidst the undead hordes risking his life and the life of Pickles his ferret? Well, just one thing, Blaze, the hardcore, kickass woman he met, then abandoned after a devastating car accident. Yet, finding one women among the ruins of Apocalyptic Washington is nearly impossible, and it doesn’t help that the crazed leader of a cannibalistic gang with a taste for redheads seems to think that Cyrus should be his prodigy. But Cyrus is determined to succeed, no matter how many innocent people die in his wake. The Undead Haze picks up right after the cliffhangerish ending of The Undead Situation, and quickly immerses us again into Eloise J. Knapp’s world of some of the most twisted, amoral, crazy assed Zombie Apocalypse characters in the genre today. Oh, and those are the good guys. In fact, there really aren’t any good guys in The Undead Haze. Even the nicest, most considerate character barely bats an eye when he has to brain someone with a crowbar just for making too much of a racket. In Walking Dead terminology, The Undead Haze is all Shanes and Merles and absolutely no Ricks. This is a good thing people. I loved Cyrus so hard in The Undead Situation, so hard I thought it must have been a fluke. I typically despise the amoral, hardcore characters in Zombie Novels and movies. I hated Shane. Yet, I love Cyrus. The Undead Haze just made me love him even more. Eloise J. Knapp’s apocalyptic world isn’t groundbreaking. There are fast and slow zombies, twisted fucks, cannibals and religious crazies, yet when you filter it all through the skewed perception of her main character, it feels fresh and new. Knapp has definitely shown progression as a writer. Her action scenes are crisper, and more visually stunning than The Undead Situation, and she finds a way to pull the dark beauty out of her settings. I think the overall imperative of The Undead Haze where Cyrus has a mission about more than just his personal survival helped in the pacing of the novel. There is a constant pushing, a noticeable desire to move the plot forward that you can feel in this story that is often lacking in Zombie series which often it seems each book is just about getting to the next book. Here, there’s a goal, and it creates a self contained storyline that can stand on its own. The Undead Haze is also darkly funny. Cyrus’s voice is so fresh, so without the need to blunt his thought process that the shear audacity of it made me laugh out loud at times. Cyrus said some things that, in any other character’s mouth, would be head skakingly corny, but for Cyrus, they turn into gold. The Undead Haze is a solid Zombie Apocalypse tale that separates itself from the horde by the unique and oh, so twisted mind of its main character. Knapp blends a character driven survival tale with some awesome hardcore zombie gore into one seamless gift for Zombie apocalypse aficionados. In this Knapp manages to prove her first novel was no fluke, and cements her place as one of the top writers of the genre.

I am often amazed when a narrator, after a multiyear break between books, can just perfectly recapture the voice of a character. If I remember correctly, The Undead Situation was my first experience with Kevin T. Collins as a narrator. I remember thinking while listening that he was channeling JD from the movie Heathers for his reading of Cyrus, which was PERFECT!  Then I wondered, hey, maybe he just naturally sounds like JD. Now, that I have become a big fan of his narration through multiple genres of audiobooks, I can attest that Collins has range, and that he is totally the voice of Cyrus. Collins reads The Undead Haze with a harsh crudeness. A slap you in the face style that made each moment, each untimely death, each visceral image, each poorly considered quip feel like a punch in the gut. Collins doesn’t simply read to you, he sneers at you, and damn it, you just accept it, perhaps even revel in it. Collins transitioned his pacing perfectly, from Cyrus’s introspection to the rapid fire action scenes, bring every moment alive. There were even a few moments where I even actually kinda felt emotional type things, but we won’t talk about that. Forget I mentioned it. I do have two small issues. So much of the voice of the novel takes place inside Cyrus’s head, and sometimes it was hard to determine what was internal dialogue and what was vocalized, until the character told you or you saw a reaction from another character. Also, there was a few, not many, but a few, what I like to call "gurgle blurps." Some strange sounds that were like throat clearing, lip smacking that probably could have been edited out. Other than those small quips, this production was excellent. Kevin T. Collins has so become Cyrus V. Sinclair that I really hope I don’t run into him during the Zombie Apocalypse.

MIZAM





Audiobook Review: The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns

4 04 2013

The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns

Read by George Newbern

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Literary Suspense

Quick Thoughts: The Burn Palace is a beautifully written tale full of wonderfully absurd characters, strange surreal events and horrific acts of violence and violation told is a disconcerting style that is both thrilling and frustrating. It’s like an intricate puzzle that comes together beautifully yet leaves you with a handful of unused pieces you don‘t exactly know what to do with.

Grade: B

I often hear people lament those good old small town days where everyone knew each other and kept an eye out for strangers and danger and stranger danger. I never experienced that. I have always lived in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area and only rarely even knew the names of my neighbors. I was always lucky enough where by the time I reached the next block, I was walking in anonymity, far from any nosy neighbors who may tell my mother what nefarious deeds I was up to. I can understand longing for a time when neighbors were neighborly, but people must remember I grew up on Stephen King. I read tales of small towns with dark secrets and twisted evil. I don’t want to know my neighbors. I don’t want to know what dark secrets lie in their hearts or how the choose to spend their time when the lights are off and no one is paying attention. For all I know, the upstairs neighbors could be performing cabalistic rituals and animal sacrifice, and I’m happy as long as they don’t bang around too much when they are getting their kids ready for school in the morning. I’m happy with the nod my head and smile relationship I have with the guy next door and have no need to know that his inner dialogue consists of thinking of all the different ways he would dispose of my corpse after my torturous murder. You know why I don’t want to know more about my neighbors because I’m damn sure they probably don’t want to know about me. Would you really want to know that the guy next door to you enjoys listening to tale involving hordes of undead infected humans devouring the land one brain at a time? For Fun! Really, we are all better off. Let my neighbors perform some ancient ritual that unleashes Cthulhu from his inter-dimensional prison to eat the souls of the wicked as long as they keep the chanting down while I’m watching Doctor Who.

Brewster is a small, quiet Rhode Island town that nothing of note ever really happens in, at least on the surface. When a baby goes missing from the local hospital and is replaced by a snake, the town begins to unravel leading to a string of violence, mayhem and maybe even something supernatural. The Burn Palace is a character rich genre blending tale of small town paranoia, occultism and murder with affective results. Dobyns creates a mosaic of characters, where their dark secrets and hidden motivations become just as essential to the plot as the evil acts that have thrown this sleepy town for a loop. Dobyns develops each character so intricately that they just jump off the page. He tells the tale using an omniscient third person narrator making it seem almost as if the town itself was telling the tale. While this created a lot of wonderful moments in the tale, it also made the story a bit unbalanced. Dobyns transitions from one character to the next is an almost surreal manner opening a lot of story threads along the way, and never quite wrapping the vast majority of them up. While the prose was relatively straight forward, it gave it an airy almost intangible feel, where just as you began to grasp onto one element of the plot, it slipped through your fingers leaving you to chase after the next tangent. It created an atmospheric mood full of clever humor, creepy moments and horrific acts that mesmerized the reader but didn’t always serve the story well. This is the gist of my mixed feelings with The Burn Palace. I loved listening to it. I loved the characters who were all so vibrant and real. I loved the clever way that certain elements played into the overall plot while others were just there to add color. Yet, I felt like I do at the end of a long running TV series finale, full of "what about this, and what about that." I enjoyed the hell out of listening to the tale, but I also felt frustrated along the way. Overall, The Burn Palace is a beautifully written tale full of wonderfully absurd characters, strange surreal events and horrific acts of violence and violation told is a disconcerting style that is both thrilling and frustrating. It’s like an intricate puzzle that comes together beautifully yet leaves you with a handful of unused pieces you don‘t exactly know what to do with.

Let me first say that I absolutely loved George Newbern’s narration of The Burn Place. For The Burn Palace to work, the narrator must become a character of sort, and not just some unbiased observer. He guides you through the tale, taking you from character to character with a sort of knowingness, exposing each character for who they truly are. Newbern does this wonderfully, injecting personality into the prose, guiding the listener with a wink and a nudge. That being said, I think I would have enjoyed this novel more in print than audio. It’s not an issue with the production at all, but in the style of the book. Dobyns flowing transitions probably worked better with visual cues than here in audio. The transitions were so fast and so smooth that at times it took you a while to figure out that anything even had changed. Often, throughout the audio, I was like, "Ummm. Wait… what character are we on now?" These transitions required more focus from the listener than usual during an audiobook. In fact, I really wished that this audio came with a cast of characters, because, although every character was so vivid and real, the rapid change from one to the next often made me have to stop for a moment to remember the new character’s backstory. Not that it was a bad listen, I really enjoyed it. If you are someone who listens strictly to audio, by all means, give this one a go, but if it’s a choice for you between print and audio, well, I would probably recommend trying it first in print.

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