Audiobook Review: Dust by Jacqueline Druga

24 10 2012

Dust by Jacqueline Druga

Read by Jacqueline Druga

Jacqueline Druga/ABW Voice Overs

Length: 6 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Nuclear Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Fans of Apocalyptic tales with an emphasis of realistic planning and adaptation will enjoy Dust. While Jo’s plans are the central theme of the tale, its believable characters, realistic scenarios and emotional heart separates it from other novels of the genre.

Grade: B+

As someone who reads a lot of apocalyptic fiction and enjoys speculating on just how our world must end, people often ask me exactly what I am doing to prepare for the apocalypse. After asking this question I often get an incredulous stare when I tell them that I’m doing absolutely nothing. Yet, it’s true. If the apocalypse was to happen today, I’m pretty much screwed. I think I have a few cans of soup and some black beans in the cabinet, and that’s about it.  There are many reasons why I am not stockpiling food, taking weapons training and radiation proofing my house. One of the biggest is financial. I am not a rich guy. In fact, I often flirt with the edges of lower middle classdom, and I’m probably one major breakdown away from street corner begging. Secondly, I have space issues. I live in a decent size apartment, but not decent enough where hundreds of cans of Split Pea soup wouldn’t get in the way. Yet mostly, I am not sure which Apocalypse to prepare for. There is a mark difference in how someone prepares for differing types of an apocalyptic event. If we were attacked by nuclear bombs, I would need to stock up on supplies and hunker down. Living in the suburbs of a major target city, Philadelphia, it wouldn’t make sense to try and outrun the nuclear fallout. Yet, if the Zombies begin to walk, all those denizens of The City of Brotherly love may very well be heading my way for a brotherly snack. So, with the Zombies, I am not going to take my time to gather supplies. I will grab my loved one and try to find a more desolate and defendable place to hold up. If we are hit by some superflu style pandemic and I manage to hit the genetic lottery of immunity from the disease, supplies won’t be my first concern, since, well, it’s all just sitting around waiting to be picked up. Lastly, with an Alien Invasion, I will simply practice welcoming our new Alien overlords. So, for these reasons, I am not much of a prepper type. I just hope my neighbors are, so I can steal their stuff.

Jo believed she was prepared for Nuclear War. She has spent years gathering supplies and coming up with plans for her and her loved ones. Then the bombs hit Pittsburgh and nine other US cities, and Jo realizes that you can’t prepare everything. In her basement with her 15 year old son and a 3 year old nephew, Jo compiles a list of those she hopes will survive the blast, and meet up with her as planned. Dust is an often frightening, sometimes brutal, but also heartwarming tale of hope amidst the fires of nuclear war. It is a very intimate tale, getting you right into the head of the main character. You experience the emotional turmoil of the events right along with Jo, feeling joy when she connects with a loved one, yet, being devastated as another tragedy hits. I have read quite a few prepper style stories about people or groups who prepared for the apocalypse, and the steps they take when such an event strikes. There is often a feeling of superiority and contempt for man in these stories. They tend to scoff upon those who aren’t as prepared, or who never expected such an occurrence. I was quite happy that this tone never made it into Dust. Druga paints a harsh, realistic picture in her depiction of the events of the novel, but there is never that feeling of reveling in the destruction of the country that permeates some apocalyptic novels. Jo makes some tough choices, and is selfish in her protection other family as she should be, but she is never cruel or heartless. I think what truly set Dust apart from others in this genre is the personal feel Druga gives to the characters. While Dust is absolutely fictional, it has a realistic autobiographical feel, as if these characters truly existed. You really felt that this was a group of people that exists, and this made their struggles feel even more real. You couldn’t help but feel the emotion that Druga seeped into every word of this tale. It is definitely not a perfect novel. There were some frustrating moments, and you really only get brief glimpses of the world outside of Jo’s basement, and its immediate vicinity, but any desire for a greater look at the world was counterbalances by the intimate setting. Fans of Apocalyptic tales, with an emphasis of realistic planning and adaptation will enjoy Dust. While Jo’s plans are the central theme of the tale, its believable characters, realistic scenarios and emotional heart separates it from other novels of the genre.

The audiobook version was read by the author herself. Now, I know this may cause an instant groan among hardcore audiobook fans like myself, but here I think it works. I think people’s reception to the narration will come down to whether or not they like the author’s voice. Dust isn’t read like a professional voice over artist just happened to survive a nuclear bomb, and is recording about it. Druga’s voice has a sort of day old whiskey sour after a pack of Marlboros sound to it. It’s raw and real and fits the first person narrative of the tale well. For her first reading, I though she nailed the mechanics of the reading. The pacing is good, and her voice is natural, but crisp and understandable. There are a few muffled words in the reading, but very few, and they actually add authenticity to the reading. Being an independently produced audiobook, you can be concerned about the production values, but I thought it came together well. There were no noticeable problems that some audiobooks have, breath sounds, poor edits, or the like. It had the feel of a professionally produced audiobook, with a gruff but realistic narrator. Druga’s reading is full of emotion, and added to the authentic feel of the story.

Note: Thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Then Came War by Jacqueline Druga

13 07 2012

Then Came War by Jacqueline Druga

Read by Andrew B. Wehrlen

Produced by Jacqueline Druga

Length: 5 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Invasion

Quick Thoughts: Then Came War is a fun, fast and often brutal American invasion novel, with some stunning visuals and loads of endearing characters. While it often left you wanting more, in terms of political back story and descriptive details, it also sucked you in and made you care about what was happening and the people it happened to. Druga uses a lot of classic Apocalyptic themes to good effect, and creates a compelling  novel for Post Apocalyptic fans.

Grade: B

One of my favorite subgenre of Post Apocalyptic fiction is the Invasion novel. Ever since watching the parachutes opening and the soldiers landing outside of Calumet High School in the movie Red Dawn, the idea of my country being invaded by an outside force has fascinated me. Sadly, despite some decent movies and miniseries dealing with the topic, I really haven’t found many good books about an American Invasion. Sure, there are some excellent novels dealing with invasion by aliens, vampires and demons from beyond or beneath, and these are full of guerilla tactics, small towns rising up, and unsung heroes, but I have found few about America specifically being invaded by a human army. There have been a few decent invasion novels that have occurred in other countries, particularly Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began series and Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, yet, I feel these novels have greater impact when it’s your country being invaded. My favorite American Invasion novel has to be Invasion by Eric L. Harry, despite it’s convenient end and telegraphed twists, its descriptions of brutal war over each inch of American soil against an overwhelming Chinese Army was intense and brutal. I’d like to say I discovered Then Came War in my exhausted search for the latest entry into my favorite subgenre, but in fact, it found me. I’m glad it did.

After surviving a brutal train crash in the tunnels of New York City, a group of survivors emerge to find the streets littered with dead bodies with no survivors in sight. Eventually, the group learns that the American East coast has been victims to a series of attacks using various Weapons of Mass Destruction, including thermal and nuclear bombs, and chemical and biological warfare. As America is reeling from the destruction, an Army compiled of various enemies of America land, seizing control of three American States. As our train survivors attempt to find safety, they encounter hostile forces, make unlikely bonds, and fight for their homes and families. I’ll admit, I was a bit hesitant about Then Came War. Jacqueline Druga’s work is mostly self published, and as of yet, I have only read some of her Zombie Battle series. While I enjoyed the scenario she set up and the characters she creates for Zombie Battle, I felt the writing was a bit clunky and filled with too much unnecessary exposition. Yet, I have to say, I enjoyed the crap out of Then Came War. It’s nowhere near a perfect novel. There are some incredibly cheese filled moments, but, Druga managed to create such endearing characters that you sort of enjoy the cheese. The highlight of the novel is the relationships formed throughout, in particular a touching relationship between a blinded older Jewish woman and a teenagers African American who spent most of his life in foster care. There is plenty of action, yet the action seems to serve the purpose of testing and altering the relationships of the characters, and this actually works pretty well. At times, the novel suffers from a lack of descriptive depth to the scenes, creating intriguing scenarios that never achieve the viscerally vivid potentials Druga sets up. Basically, at times, the novel felt like it could have been fleshed out just a bit more, particularly towards the end. Yet, any failing is made up by the well defined characters, and an overall premise that just sucks you in right away. Then Came War is a fun, fast and often brutal American invasion novel, with some stunning visuals and loads of endearing characters. While it often left you wanting more, in terms of political back story and descriptive details, it also sucked you in and made you care about what was happening and the people it happened to. Druga uses a lot of classic Apocalyptic themes to good effect, and creates a compelling  novel for Post Apocalyptic fans.

Then Came War is one of the first independently produced audiobooks I have listened to. Honestly, as someone who listens as much as I do, I can be quite demanding of a narrator. While narrator Andrew B. Wehrlen’s performance wasn’t great, it also wasn’t bad. I had a few technical issues overall. While his pacing was often quite good, sometimes he seemed to get a bit rushed, leading to some awkward pauses and rough transitions. His characterizations weren’t as sharp and defined as they could be, particularly early in the novel, but as the novel progressed he got a hold of most of the characters and started to do some pretty strong work. I would have liked him to provide a bit more flavor to some of the characters, giving them stronger accents and more distinctive vocal styles. About halfway through this novel, I feel he really began to get into the flow of things. His pacing definitely improved, and he gave some strong performances, especially with Judith, the older Jewish women. Wehrlen has a strong, pleasant voice, and does a good job keeping the listener in the story. In the end, I feel Wehrlen does the story justice, bringing Druga’s world to life, and introducing the world to some wonderful characters. I will have no qualms about listening to another audiobook performed by Wehrlen, and definitely plan on checking out more of Druga’s work in audio.

Note: Thanks to the author for providing me with a copy if this title for review.

This review is part of my weekly, Welcome to the Apocalypse series.





The Quick and the Dead: Zombie Shorts

17 05 2012

Since my print reading time is relatively limited, I tend to read a more novellas and short stories than novels. Here are a few quick reviews of some Zombie related shorts I have recently read.

The Crossing by Joe McKinney (A Dead World Novella)

Print is Dead Books

Pages: 90

The Crossing is set in McKinney’s Dead World series of zombie novels. It’s a short, fast paced story of an investigative reported named Samantha who sneaks into the zombie plagued Quarantine Zone to get a story about the refugees who attempt to cross the wall into the free territories. McKinney never shies away from the brutality of the Zombie Apocalypse whether done by zombies or humans. The contrasts between the clean, well fed Samantha, and the dirty, ragged survivors is vivid, and makes her stand out in the new lawless reality south of the wall. Luckily she meets a survivor named Jennifer, who is willing to risk it all so Samantha makes it across the wall alive. Fans of McKinney’s Apocalypse of the Dead will enjoy this well drawn story by one of the best undead authors working today.

Available on Smashwords

Zombie Battle 1: Outbreak & Zombie Battle 2: Integration by Jacqueline Druga

Self Published

The Zombie Battle series is a group of shorts that together make up a complete novel. I have only read the first two of the parts so far. The story begins as with a weird item falling from the sky into a small South American country, leading to a disease which turns those exposed into Zombie like creatures. Druga explores some interesting ideas in this series, which offers some cool twist onto the traditional zombie breakout tales. Zombie Battle is a self published series, and the dialogue and prose is often a bit clunky. She fills the story with likeable characters, and interesting science, yet all too often they are mired in unnecessary exposition. With a competent editor, this story could really work, but the writing issues are often a distraction. That being said, I had a good time with what I did read, and will probably continue the series when I am looking for something quick and maybe just a bit brutal to read.

Available of Smashwords