Audiobook Review: Ex-Communication by Peter Clines

21 08 2013

Ex-Communication (Ex-Heroes, Bk. 3) by Peter Clines

Read by Jay Snyder, Khristine Hvam, & Mark Boyett

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse with Superheroes

Quick Thoughts: With a strange new arrival, a shocking return and an epic, action filled finale, Ex-Communication is about as much fun as you can have surrounded by dead people who want to eat your face. Ex-Communication is a blockbuster movie shot into your brain through your earholes. A fun filled action packed zombie and superhero extravaganza that comes alive in your tastiest brain parts and rattles around in there until the brilliant finale makes it explode out of your skull.

Grade: B+

If you’re anything like me, you have probably had plenty of those late night, half drunk conversations with friends about some pop culture geeky subject like who is hotter Han Solo or Chewbacca (Chewie) or how every time Kirk beams down to the surface to bed green women and fight aliens the transporter is actually killing him and feeding his soul to the great old squid gods. Of course, on those nights were you are just a bit less drunk, you have more normal conversations like who you would most like to headshot in a zombie apocalypse or what superpower you would want most. For me, the headshot conversation is pretty easy (Hitler’s Venezuelan Clone) but I always struggle with the super powers thing. Whenever someone asks me what super power I would want, I usually freeze up, then sputter out something stupid (Ummm… teledynmanics, I mean thermokinesis) because I really don’t know. I mean, sure, it obvious that there are lots of cool superpowers that seem to defy the laws of physics, like flying, or shooting beams out of your eyes or the ability to eat 500 hotdogs when you weigh 120 lbs, but honestly, the characters that often have these powers seem like prats. Sure, Superman has all these awesome powers, but what I’d really want is his camouflage glasses that makes everyone around him too stupid to realize that he’s Clark Kent, and somehow manages to fool even the CIA’s facial recognition software (I assume, or they’d be using him to assassinate the leader of the Illuminati or Justin Beiber.)  Honestly, my favorite superhero characters have always been those who suffered some personal tragedy leading them to become highly skilled at a multitude of human tasks, but have no actual enhanced skills, Of course, when people ask you what superpower you want and you answer "I want someone I love to be brutally murdered by a corrupt politician leading me to devote my life to learning a uniquely special skill set from an old master in order to hunt them down in the darkest shadows of night" even my closest friends look at me funny. So, I just usually end up answering Anti-entropy, because, it makes me seem smart even though I have no idea what it would do but when they ask me what I mean, I just tell them it’s too complex to explain.

Ex-Communication is the third novel in the series that pits superheroes against ravaging hordes of the undead. The last bastion of humanity is holed up in Los Angeles, fighting a constant battle against the encroaching hordes that have fallen under the control of a powerful super villain named Legion. If dealing with the zombies isn’t bad enough, within the compound, elections are coming, tension between the superheroes and the regular folk are increasing and one hero who could wipe them off the face of the map is beginning to act a bit unstable. Peter Clines manages to top himself once again in this series that just seems to get better and better. With a strange new arrival, a shocking return and an epic, action filled finale, Ex-Communication is about as much fun as you can have surrounded by dead people who want to eat your face. Honestly, I have enjoyed this series. Both Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots were fun but with both novels, it took me a while to adjust to the story. With Ex-Communication I was instantly engaged, and Clines kept me hooked for the entire ride.  I think that Clines had a bit more flexibility in this tale, since he has already competently built his world and told the majority of the origin stories of his heroes. This allowed him to play with his THEN… NOW… format a little more, with much better affect.  All his characters seem to have taken on more depth, moving beyond just being pretty cool superheroes, to actually seeming like real people. He introduces one new charac6er through a series of THEN segments that actually have the reader a bit disoriented and confused, until the click comes, and it’s like, HOLY SHIT I GET IT NOW! THIS IS AWESOME! Even better this character goes on to be one of the best of the novel, and the most fun to watch develop. I also like that Clines took the time to add some more fantasy oriented mythological spins to his story. He balances the growing religious adaptations of the survivors between bizarre cherry picking of Biblical references to a more open and inclusive religious experience, then throws in some surprising bits of religious historical mythology to make things even more intriguing. Part of me was sad when one of those threads was nothing more than a brief side trip in the ultimate plot, but it was still pretty cool. The final battle was pretty epically awesome. Clines writes cinematic blockbuster fight scenes, and continues to put together some of the best finales that simply come alive in your brain. Ex-Communication has all your favorite characters, with some new ones, doing all your favorite things in delightfully awesome ways while battling an enemy that could very well kick all their asses. Clines even manages to throw in some open ended twists that make the reader reevaluate a lot of what they assumed earlier. It was all well done, and the most fun I have had in this series yet. Ex-Communication is a complete tale, yet leaves enough threads to make me very excited to see where this series goes next.

From what I understand, based on comments and reviews, Audible has some production issues with Ex-Communication, particularly editing errors dealing with the multi-narrator style but they were fixed. This is something I want to mention first, because there were still some errors. Now, I’m not sure if I just got the older version, or if there was one that was worse, but along the way there were few occasions when a male voice read a female character’s dialogue (unlike the rest of the novel) and at least one repeated line.  Yet, these little blemished were the only scars on an otherwise excellent production with three talented narrators. Jay Snyder has the voice of a blockbuster movie. This doesn’t always fit when he is voicing a regular Joe character, but he is simply perfect for this series. He is the anchor that holds the production together. Boyett balances him with a gruffer, older voice that manages to shove a little humanity into the production. Khristine Hvam is always wonderful to listen to, and her grasp on these characters is great. Her work on the new character was so fun it reinforced my wish that Clines provide more chapters from female POVs just so I we can get to hear more Khristine Hvam. Ex-Communication is a blockbuster movie shot into your brain through your earholes. A fun filled action packed zombie and superhero extravaganza that comes alive in your tastiest brain parts and rattles around in there until the brilliant finale makes it explode out of your skull.

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: The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly

22 01 2013

The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly (Charlie Parker, Bk. 11)

Read by Jay Snyder

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Wrath of Angels was a dark and atmospheric ride deep into the mythology of John Connolly’s brilliant world. Those new to the series would do better to go to the beginning and experience the series in order, but for fans, The Wrath of Angels will thrill and chill you to the core.

Grade: B+

I always have a lot of trouble writing reviews for books in series. I think this is especially true for an author like John Connolly. John Connolly is one of my favorite authors, and for me, a new Charlie Parker novels is an event. Yet, the Charlie Parker series is also one of the hardest series to explain to those who aren’t familiar. To call is a Supernatural Thriller series isn’t quite right nor is calling it a crime fiction series. It is both, and it is neither. Connolly defies genres, shrugging them off and telling the stories he wants to tell. Sometimes it involves fallen angels, Hollowmen, and books made out of human flesh, while other times it’s about serial killers, assassins, sexual abuse and kidnappings. Sometimes it’s about all of the above.  The Charlie Parker series often reminds me of a well done TV series, like Fringe or the X-Files. There are episodes that stand on their own, that can be straight forward TV, and then there are episodes that fit into the mythology of the series. Sometimes, an episode is there fully for the mythology, and sometimes an episode is straight forward, but skirts the edges of the series mythology. There are a few books in this series that I would feel comfortable telling someone to pick up, without knowing the underlining issues of the series. I mean, on the surface, the character of Charlie Parker, a retired cop turned detective who has never really come to terms with brutal slaying of his wife and daughter at the hands of a twisted serial killer called The Traveling Man, is almost boilerplate Thriller Noir. Yet, then it get’s weird. For me, I love the weirdness. I love speculating on Charlie’s true nature. I love the blending of fallen angels, voodoo curses, and a strange serial killer called The Collector with his own moral code. For me, it’s a hot mess of awesomeness, yet, to thrust another person into the mess would leave them treading water in the midst of a hurricane. Except when it doesn’t. So, if you are new to the Charlie Parker series, The Wrath of Angels would throw you into the deep end without a single swimming lesson. If you are a lover of this world, this may be the one you have been waiting for.

There is an area deep in the woods of Northern Maine where no one goes, and on the rare instances someone wonders there, they don’t return. There lives a force ancient and old, and a girl who is not quite a girl. Yet, when a plane holding its own type of evil, as well as information that people and other entities would kill for, crashes in these woods, forces both worldly and otherwise will lead detective Charlie Parker and his friends there, with evil on their trail. One of the beautiful things about a Charlie Parker novel is that it is never about what it is about. Any synopsis written will only give you a small glimpse of one of the stories contained in its pages. Here, the story is about a plane crash, yet, it isn’t. Instead the plane crash is the catalyst to bring a many of the elements of past Charlie Parker novels together, and send them on a perilous journey. In many ways The Wrath of Angels is the novel that John Connelly has been setting up for a while. It’s a darker more atmospheric tale than usual, which is saying a lot for a writer like Connolly who permeates his prose with an ominous sense of dread. As a comprehensive tale, The Wrath of Angels may not be as strong as some of his more straight forward works. Here Connolly plays the edges, creating more of a mood piece, tying up some ends, and creating new threads for his characters. It’s a beautiful piece of series writing that could come off as unfocused and distracting to any reader not already immersed into this tale. Yet, for fans of Charlie Parker, it’s a dark look at what the past has set up and the future holds for our hero. More than any other work in this series, it gives us insights into the anomaly of Charlie Parker. Yet, it’s not all dark and mood and gloom, like usual, there is plenty of humor to lighten the mood. Charlie Parker’s cohorts Louis and Angel, despite their brutality, bring a sort of levity to the novel. Connelly knows right when to add a bit of light in his dark world, adding a particularly funny, yet poignant moment where Charlie, Louis and Angel join Charlie’s young daughter for ice cream. It’s these small moments that are the saving grace of Connelly’s dark world. The Wrath of Angels was a dark and atmospheric ride deep into the mythology of John Connolly’s brilliant world. Those new to the series would do better to go to the beginning and experience the series in order, but for fans, The Wrath of Angels will thrill and chill you to the core.

I have talked a lot about my issues with the narration of the Charlie Parker series. For the American versions of this series, there has been a horrible lack of consistency among the narration. This series has been narrated by Titus Welliver, Jay O’Sanders, Holter Graham, and George Guidall. The Last novel was almost the last straw for me with co-narration by George Guidall and Tony Lord, which was simply horrid and almost ruined the book for me. What frustrates me even more is that this series has been consistently narrated by Jeff Harding in the UK but in order to get these versions you either have to have a friend across the pond who is willing to obtain them for you or resort to illegalities. To be perfectly honest, if I had seen Tony Lord’s name attached to The Wrath of Angels, I would have gone with the print version. Yet, Jay Snyder was cast. I was a bit hesitant about Snyder as a narrator. Snyder is sort of a blockbuster narrator, with a big professional voice suited to big professional productions. Snyder doesn’t bring a lot of nuance to his reading, which is something that I think these novels need. So, to be perfectly honest, my initial barometer for any Charlie Parker narrator is how he handles Angel. Angel is the personality of this novel, and if a narrator doesn’t realize this, than he doesn’t get these characters. At first, I hated Jay Snyder’s Angel. He sounded just like Charlie and Louis. Yet, as the novel progresses, Snyder got better with his interpretation of Angel. This actually bothered me. I just wondered how prepared he was for this novel. It was like, about halfway through he realized that Angel was a larger than life character, and slowly began to reflect that in his reading. Snyder’s reading wasn’t bad. In fact, technically it’s good. Just, it lacked the flavor of a Charlie Parker novel. You didn’t have Charlie Parker or any other the New England Characters with any sort of regional accent. You couldn’t hear Louis southern roots or Angel’s New York. It was a good solid reading that could have been so much more. I’ll be the first to admit, I am very hard to please with this series. I was happy with O’ Sanders, Harding and even Holter Graham. Yet, with each change I became grumpier. I though if you changed the narrator, it should be for the better, not just for expediency. The Wrath of Angels was much better narrated than The Burning Soul, but it still isn’t the perfect Charlie Parker audiobook experience I have been hoping for.

Audiobook Review: Day By Day Armageddon 3: Shattered Hourglass by J. L. Bourne

3 01 2013

Shattered Hourglass (Day By Day Armageddon, Bk. 3) by J. L. Bourne

Read by Jay Snyder

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thought: Shattered Hourglass was a decent military Zombie novel, with great ideas that just never seemed to pay off. On its own, it had some fun moments, but as a piece of the overall story, it was a disappointment. Yet, I have faith in Bourne, and while I may not like how he went about it, this novel does tie up most of the loose ends of the other books, perhaps leading once again to the more intimate style he excels at for the next novel.

Grade: C

Back before Zombie Audiobooks were all the rage, there was Day By Day Armageddon. Of course, this was only two years ago, and sure, there were Zombie Audiobooks before that, but I think JL Bourne’s epistolary Zombie novel was one of the first that really thrust the genre into the mainstream, capturing the imaginations of bludgeoning horror fans and creating a sense of excitement for our shambling undead brothers. Day By Day Armageddon was the novel that introduced me to Permuted Press, probably the premiere publisher focusing on post apocalyptic horror and zombie titles. Permuted did a great job discovering Independent Zombie authors and giving them a platform to broaden their base. Then, with their deal with Audible, began bringing the Zombie genre to the audiobook format. J L Bourne’s series, with its military feel and diary style has often been imitated, yet few have matched it. It’s an intimate glimpse at the apocalypse through the eyes of a military deserter who faces incredible odds, nuclear irradiated zombies, the unpredictability of the survivors and a secret conspiracy to find safety and comradeship in the changed world. Yet, I know I, as well as other fans looked towards book 3 with a hesitant tension. The way that Bourne ended Beyond Exile, the second book in the series, expanded the world in such a way that you knew there had to be a move away from the style that the fans of the author embraced so well. It was a logical move for the author, whose military knowledge and detailed mythology required a broader world. It was the right thing for Bourne to do with the series, but it was also a bug risk. A risk that may not have paid off as much as the author hoped.

I really hate the whole “I wanted to like this novel, but was disappointed” type of review, but this was where I found myself after listening to Shattered Hourglass. There were many great moments, some crazy badass scenarios, and a fascinated expanded world that made Shattered Hourglass a pretty solid military scifi Zombie thriller. Bourne blends some unique science fiction elements with classic zombie themes, that as a fan of both genres I really enjoyed, Yet, as a follow up to Beyond Exile and the Day By Day Armageddon world, too much was lost. I could have dealt with the change from a singular first person perspective, to a multi character third person tale, if Bourne used it to further build on the chemistry and develop the relationships of the characters we grew to love in the first two novels but instead, the characters are broken up, spread across the globe, and relatively isolated from each other. Also, Bourne has a lot of great ideas, but with the move from first to third person the writing suffered. With the first person story, the big jumps in time could be explained, but in Shattered Hourglass, the flow of time was confusing, often times leading me to thing I missed something. Shattered Hourglass felt more like a series of outline points that failed to transition properly. Not that the book was bad. We met some great new characters, and Bourne’s action is full of an authenticity that many other military themed novels lack. Yet, what really frustrated me was the ending. It seemed to me that Bourne was going places with each setting, setting up a big final moment for every character, and then just sort of skipped over it. It was sort of like, “We got to China, [stuff happened], we completed out mission.” Yet, what I was really waiting for was the stuff. I wanted more stuff. I had actually thought that the whole novel was a set up for the next in the series where we would get all the stuff, but, wham, bam, it was over. Shattered Hourglass was a decent military Zombie novel, with great ideas that just never seemed to pay off. On its own, it had some fun moments, but as a piece of the overall story, it was a disappointment. Yet, I have faith in Bourne, and while I may not like how he went about it, this novel does tie up most of the loose ends of the other books, perhaps leading once again to the more intimate style he excels at for the next novel.

Jay Snyder is one of the most technically proficient narrators out there. He is a master of pacing, giving the novels he reads the feel of a cinematic blockbuster. Give his a well described character, with vocal quirks and he will deliver. Fill your story with a bunch of underdeveloped, cookie cutter characters, and you will have trouble distinguishing one person from the next in Snyder’s reading. For Shattered Hourglass, we had both situations. There are some awesome, well developed and quirky characters interspersed between to pretty standard stereotypical white male military typos. This fact leads to an unbalanced feel, often contributing to the lack of discernable transitions in the story. Audiobook fans the rely on vocal and pacing changes when the novel transitions from perspective to perspective may have trouble at times with Shattered Hourglass, like I did. The overall performance of Snyder was excellent, but his style only accentuated some of the problems with the writing. I think this audiobook may have benefited with more of a quirky independent style than a Cinematic Blockbuster style of reading. Shattered Hourglass is a must listen for fans of the Day By Day Armageddon, just beware that it may not be the follow up you were hoping for.

Audiobook Review: The 500 by Matthew Quirk

13 08 2012

The 500 by Matthew Quirk

Read by Jay Snyder

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Legal/Political Thriller

Quick Thoughts:

The 500 is a complex political thriller that combines element of Grisham’s The Firm with a good old fashion confidence game. Quirk created a likable, yet complicated protagonist, who while frustrating at times,  was someone you wanted to see come out on top. The 500 is a fun summer thriller with just enough surprises to keep you glued to the very end.

Grade: B

It seems more and more each day our country is being embroiled in class struggle, yet, one of the more surprising of these struggles are with crooks and criminals. While petty crime is looked upon, and sentenced, very harshly today, white collar criminals may get blasted a bit in the media, but they also get bailed out, and under sentenced. When the big foot of justice is finally pressed upon them, they receive light sentences at low risk prisons. For years, literature has been filled with the idea of the gentleman criminal, the plucky Robin Hoodesque thief that steals from the privilege to redistribute to the needy. Now, instead of the Lord of the Estate, or privileged nobility, the modern day Robin Hood takes on the greedy corporate CEO, or the corrupt politician that lines the pockets of his rich donors, while screwing over average Joe America. It seems in many ways, while the ideas of a brotherhood of thieves, who look out for each other and never ever betray their comrades only really works in fiction, if they are sticking it to the man. Nobody wants heroes who rob little old ladies, unless those old ladies run a billion dollar company that outsources their work to sweatshops that pay 12 year olds pennies a day. One of the reasons I was interested in The 500 by Mathew Quirk, was this sort of class warfare between hoods in hoodies and crooks in suits. The main character Mike Ford, grew up learning the tricks of the trade from small time con men and thieves, but now as a Harvard Law graduate who just landed his dream job believes he has left that life far behind. Of course, as we often see in thrillers, everything has a price.

The 500 is a complicated legal thriller that takes place not in the courtroom, but in the smoke filled halls of Washington influence peddling. While Mike Ford is one of the top students in his prestigious Law School, he’s finding it hard to land a job with one of the big firms due to his shady past. With debt collectors literally banging at his doors, he jumps at the chance to join one of the most powerful Washington DC firms. Mike Ford is an extremely frustrating character, but in a realistic way. While he is full of a sort of blue collar worldliness, he has a naiveté that allows him to be easily manipulated and lead astray in the white collar world. Mike is so glamorized by his posh new life, beautiful new girlfriend, and advancement in his new job that the readers feel the noose closing much earlier than the character himself. Quirk’s plot is full of complicated conspiracies, and long held secretes. You want to see it as implausible but viewing the stagnation and seeming inability for anything to actually get done in our legislature you can’t help but feel it’s actually scarily possible, maybe even probable. Much of the first half of the novel has a bit of a ho-hum, we’ve seen this in The Firm before, type feel to it, but as Ford begins to draw on his past the novel gains much more complexity and heart, and began to really spark my interest. The denouement is a cat and mouse style confidence shuffle that keeps the reader guessing. My only concern with the novel was how it all wrapped up. While it wasn’t a bad ending per se, and had some really good moments, it felt almost too bloody yet too clean. That being said, it did provide plenty of thrills, and as a whole, ended up being a whole lot of fun. The 500 is a complex political thriller that combines element of Grisham’s The Firm with a good old fashion confidence game. Quirk created a likable, yet complicated protagonist, who while frustrating at times,  was someone you wanted to see come out on top. The 500 is a fun summer thriller with just enough surprises to keep you glued to the very end.

It was interesting to hear Jay Snyder narrate this thriller. I am quite familiar with Snyder’s work, but mostly have experienced it in Science Fiction and horror. Jay Snyder’s biggest asset, his professional quality voice, can sometimes also be his biggest weakness, especially when he reads first person tales. Yet, here, his impeccable voice fits well into the corporate world in which the novel takes place. His portrayal of Mike Ford may have been just a little too smooth, but for a lawyer it wasn’t much of a stretch to hear him as a crisply spoken professional. His female characters all have a similar feel to them, but since there wasn’t much interaction between female characters, it didn’t really hamper the production much. Where Snyder excels is in the cinematic quality he gives to the action. His pacing is always spot on, and his reading is always easy to follow and pleasant to the ears. He also handled the few international accents well. With the multilayer plot, it was good to have a professional narrator like Jay Snyder who can bring a tale to vivid life at the helm.

Audiobook Review: Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

1 09 2011

Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

Read by Jay Snyder with Mark Boyett, Kristine Hvam and Elizabeth Rodgers

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: This highly satisfying sequel to Ex Heroes plays out like a Graphic Novel in your head, with highly visual action and some cool new characters.

Grade: B

Ex-Patriots is the sequel to the zombie vs. superhero apocalyptic novel Ex-Heroes. I like zombie apocalyptic sequels, particularly for planned series. If the author follows the formula of zombie series, the first novel tends to be a more intimate tale, surrounding a select group of survivors, and how they managed to survive and live in a world overrun by the undead. With the basics set up, and the characters established, the second novel in a zombie series gets to do something I always love, expand the world. Sure, you could leave the same survivors in the same locale basically fighting the same scourge, perhaps in greater numbers, but what’s the fun in that. We want to see what’s happened to the country, whether there is a government struggling to maintain order. And we want new bad guys. Whether they be some crazy religious cult or a gang of bandits, we want some new human threat to add to the zombie plague. Sure, we want interesting new twists on the zombie mythos, but, we also want a bit of that old formula for us to grab onto. Peter Clines knows this. Peter Clines has a strong grasp on the pop culture of the zombie apocalypse. So, of course, ex-Patriots gives us what we want, shadowy government figures, enhanced super soldiers, and the greatest of all apocalyptic enemies, the power hungry military establishment. Yep, this should be all sorts of fun.

Again, Peter Clines has created a highly visual zombie apocalypse novel that reads like a Graphic novel, except that your brain is the artist. He adds a cool new hero, a surprisingly frightening new nemesis and mixes in some dire straights in this satisfying sequel to Ex-heroes. Clines revisits the formula from ex-Heroes of slowly developing his new characters by jumping from past to present so we often see the consequences before understanding the reasons behind how the characters got to where they were. This plays out well over the course of the novel offering twists and surprises so that even the most perceptive readers will find themselves caught off guard, Clines uses the old apocalyptic nemesis of a rogue military unit in a new and interesting way, which makes the novel have a comfortable feel without becoming overly predictable. Add to all this his crisp, well plotted action scenes and listeners should have a lot of fun with this latest edition Cline’s Ex series.

Ex-Patriots uses the narration style of its predecessor, with multiple narrators handling different character POV, and two women narrators handling the female dialogue. This gives Ex-Patriots an almost Graphic Audio feel without the annoying sound effects. Personally, I am always skeptical of this approach. I believe adding in female dialogue into male narrated POV’s often leads to bland characterizations. Narrators need material to help build characters, and I think it’s a struggle for them to truly embrace and differentiate characters when only doing snippets of dialogue. Kristine Hvam does a good job and is helped by the fact that she worked on the previous novel, but you do feel some level of disconnect from the characters. Yet, the process works with this novel do to it’s almost comic book, visual feel. Any loss of female characterization is made up by the crisp reading of action scenes, and the excellent job on the male voices in their POV.  I think this is a good narrating team, and only hope that Hvam is given more of a role in future audio versions, because her voice is fantastic and she does a good job with the material given. Jay Snyder is also excellent, using his "meanwhile at the Hall of Justice" voice perfectly. The whole production is well cast and an extremely fun listen for all fans of superheroes and zombies.

Audiobook Review: Twilight of the Dead by Travis Adkins

24 05 2011

Twilight of the Dead by Travis Adkins

Read by Rachel Botchan, with L.J. Ganser, Kevin T. Collins and Jay Snyder

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Horror, Zombies, Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Twilight of the Dead is a solid, entertaining Zombie Apocalypse novel with excellent narration, yet what really makes this production shine is the the added short stories that serve as a prequel to the main novel.

Grade: B+

One of the things I like about Zombies is that except for a few exceptions, they are not paranormal. The Zombie outbreak tends to have some physical cause to it. Unlike other monsters, vampires, the fae, ghosts, ghouls and goblins, they are not bound by any paranormal rules. Zombies don’t need to get permissions to enter your home. Silver doesn’t hurt a zombie, unless it is thrust forcibly through their cranium. Zombies are simply walking dead, who want to eat you. As I have made my way through my Zombie audiobook for this theme of mine, that is something that has pretty much held true. Zombies are the ultimate in science fiction. No need for aliens, or spaceships, zombies are earthbound science run amok. My latest selection is Travis Adkins Twilight of the Dead. This concept of scientific menace stood out for me in reading this book. Not that Adkins focused on science to a great degree, but the bits that he did expand upon served the genre well. One of my favorite aspects of the zombie apocalypse is the reaction of the masses. When something as bad as the dead rising hits them, the masses search for mystical explanations. Whether it is the religious leader believing this is God’s wrath, or the man refusing to leave his house because, well, it’s his home and monsters wouldn’t violate its sanctity, we see people looking for mystical answers to earth based problems.

The first thing that stands out in Twilight of the Dead is the protagonist Courtney. I have read a few zombie books with strong female heroes, and they all seem to share similar qualities. They are inspirational leaders, rays of hope in a dying world. They are bold and sociable leading by a force of will. They are solid, stoic in the face of disaster. This is so not Courtney. Courtney is antisocial, and perhaps unstable. She has major esteem issues, finding herself to uninteresting and petty. She is caustic and sarcastic, alienating those trying to get close to her. She hasn’t embraced hope, but muddles her way through the end of days. Yet, there is something about her. Like in all good books, there is transformation, sure, but here it’s a realistic progression forged in tragedy, betrayal and self awareness. In such a tragic world, realism trumps fantasy, and Courtney is about as realistic a lead character as there is. Beyond that, Adkins has created a Post Apocalyptic world that isn’t highly original, but it is a comfortable setting for the listener that allows the action and story to shine. By not needing to make a world so different and special, Adkins gives us a series of moments to enjoy. From the contributions of the leaders who are more scared of using the wrong words, and offending people than fighting the zombies, to a villain’s twisted worldview, these moments are highly entertaining and should please fans of the undead. I am looking forward to starting After Twilight in the next few days.

I really enjoyed the narration on this audiobook. Rachel Botchan did the majority of the work here, and she did a solid job. She paced herself well, and embraced the role of Courtney with vigor. She has a few weird slip ups with accents, occasionally giving Courtney a New Englander’s accent, when Courtney was a Floridian, and hated that accent. Yet, even that can be explained as Courtney picking up unconscious New England mannerisms. The male narrators, Jay Snyder, LJ Ganser and Kevin T. Collins, handles their smaller roles well, but truly shined in the reading of the bonus materials, a series of short stories serving as prequels to Twilight of the Dead. In fact, these shorts were the true gems of the production. Post Apocalyptic fans will embrace the shorts, since it gives a greater glimpse of the decaying world, and some great characters. Twilight of the Dead was a fun listening experience for zombie fans, and the added shorts were inspired additions to this excellent audiobook.