Audiobook Review: Year One by Nora Roberts

21 03 2018

Year One Chronicles of The One, Book 1 (Unabridged)

Year One (Chronicles of the One) by Nora Roberts

Narrated by Julia Whelan

Brilliance Audio

Grade: B+

It seems every other week or so some book comes out that’s accused of being a blatant rip off of Stephen King’s classic The Stand yet when I sit down to read or move around while listening the book is either not really a rip off, or just not blatant enough. Being a blatant ripoff of a great novel isn’t a sin, but not pulling it off well can be a disappointment to fans of that novel who maybe want just a little taste of that experience again. Year One is the latest in a line of books to come tagged with this accusation. Luckily, Roberts actually kinda pulls it off. Year One is a book that has enough echoes of the classic to please to less assholey fans of The Stand, with enough differences to make it stand out on it’s own. Like The Stand, it’s not a perfect novel, but it follows the classic post apocalyptic formula of bringing groups of survivors together to face a big threat well. It’s not a perfect novel and it’s just the start of a series, so there is a lot of unfinished business when you reach the end, but for fans of the genre, it can hold it’s head up their with some of the classics.

Julia Whelan is an audiobook veteran and gives a strong steady performance. This book didn’t need a lot of bells and whistles, and the publishers made a good choice using one strong consistent voice to drive the narrative. Whelan handles the large cast with ease, and keeps the pace moving forward. Overall, Whelan serves the novel well, keeping you fully engaged in the story.


March Audiobook Report

8 04 2014

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

Archetype by MD Waters

Read by Khristine Hvam

Penguin Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

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

The Alligator Man by James Sheehan

Read by Ray Chase

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Grade: B+

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

Ruins (Partials, Bk. 3) by Dan Wells

Read by Julian Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: YA Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Grade: B+

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

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

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Studios

Length: 9 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic/Pandemic

Grade: B

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

Already Reviewed:

Review Pending:

Armchair Audies Listens:

Repairman Jack Series:

Audiobook Review: Fragments by Dan Wells

6 03 2013

Fragments by Dan Wells (Partials, Bk. 2)

Read by Julia Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 20 Minutes

Genre: Young Adult Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Fragments didn’t just tickle my Post Apocalyptic obsession but full on assaulted it. Wells blends a dark Apocalyptic road trip with the claustrophobia of a military siege creating a moody adventure novel with well constructed action and fully realized characters. By expanding the story and offering just the right number of answers Fragments is the rare second novel in a trilogy that improved over its predecessor, while still leaving enough on the table to get readers excited for the final installment of the trilogy.

Grade: A

It seems that we are coming to a very interesting part in the history of humankind where science and technology may very well redefine what it means to be human. This of course, will not come without speed bumps. Our bodies have been indistinctly tied to morality, both in how we treat it, and in what choices we can make as individuals. There has always been a sort of emphasis of purity of the body in many religions. Our bodies are seen as the temple of god, made in God’s image, and anything from tattoos to imbibing alcohol can be seen as a violation of our bodies. Yet, as we explore more about what can be done with out bodies, assisting the disabled and augmenting out natural skills, we will see more and more questions on what it means to be human. Fiction has already begun postulating this question. Just over the past year we have seen books about genetically enhanced super soldiers, physical augmentations and even cloning, all which ask how far is too far, and how much of our natural humanness are we willing to sacrifice to technology? I find the questions fascinating. It’s often so hard to reconcile philosophies from thousands of years ago with modern technology and social mores. How tough it going to get to discuss the sanctity of human life when we have the ability to alter and manipulate the essence of what makes us human? I love science and working with people with disabilities makes me intrigued by the potential we have using technology and science to alleviate suffering. Yet, I also worry about just how far is too far. We are a society obsessed with profit, and I can’t help but wonder what exactly we are willing to do to increase profits. Are we ready to sell out own humanity?  Were do we actually draw the line.

After the events of Partiasl, Kira, unsure whether she can fit in with either Humans or Partials, sets out for answers, while those left behind on Long Island must deal with pressures from within as well as the encroachment of a desperate Partial faction. Kira’s search for answers will take her on a cross country journey, through devastated cities, and toxic lands, in search of answers she may not really want. While Dan Wells fascinated me with Partials, I was blown away by Fragments. Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for a good Post Apocalyptic road trip, and Kira’s journey through a changed America was harrowing, and darkly brilliant. Wells understands the hazards that runaway nature and neglected technology could cause, and embraces it throwing one situation after the next at our unlucky travelers. Although I felt we were on somewhat comfortable ground, I’m not sure I was prepared for the level of devastation, and the truly dark poetry of the journey. Add to the journey the desperate situations of those left behind, where they must deal with the hopes that a cure for the devastating plague that kills infants will be found before humanity is eradicated from the planet. Wells takes us deeper into Partial territory where he shows us the stunning horrific nature of a Partial battle, told in a highly choreographed action sequence that will leave you breathless. While there was so much to like about Fragments, what really affected me the most is Well’s handling of tricky moral issues. Wells never talks down to his audience, but takes on issues of bigotry, the value of life and the very nature of humanity with a brutal honesty that allows the reader to immerse themselves into the discussion.  Wells never feeds you a philosophy, telling you the proper way to think, but presents an intelligent dialogue with thought provoking arguments on many sides of the issues. At times, I did become frustrated with Kira, but then I had to remind myself she is 16 years old, and when I was 16 I was so sure of what was right as well. In fact, when I remembered that the major characters of this story were teenagers, it really allowed some of these issues to hit home. Now, Fragments isn’t all thinky stuff, there’s plenty of action, adventure, and even a touch of non-oppressive romance. In fact, Fragments didn’t just tickle my Post Apocalyptic obsession but full on assaulted it. Wells blends a dark Apocalyptic road trip with the claustrophobia of a military siege creating a moody adventure novel with well constructed action and fully realized characters. By expanding the story and offering just the right number of answers Fragments is the rare second novel in a trilogy that improved over its predecessor, while still leaving enough on the table to get readers excited for the final installment of the trilogy.

Once again, Julia Whelan handles the narrating duties and I feel she did an excellent job. She brought the right amount of youthfulness to the reading while displaying the maturity of the characters. There were plenty of characters for Whelan to voice, of all stripes, and each one came alive in performance. Whelan definitely had a strong grasp of the story, and it showed in her reading. Her pacing was brisk and pristine, giving just the right level of urgency and tone to each situation faced by the characters. The action really came alive, with the many elaborate set ups created by Wells presented to the listener in a manner that made it easy to picture in their heads. Whelan’s narration captured the breathtaking storytelling of Wells, never allowing the listener to miss a step. Fragments is probably my favorite Young Adult listen in a long time, and I know the wait for the final edition of the series will not be an easy one.

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

Audiobook Review: Partials by Dan Wells

2 03 2012

Partials by Dan Wells

Read by Julia Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Young Adult

Quick Thoughts: Partials is an action filled, thought provoking Post Apocalyptic novel that will please everyone from teenage dystopian fans to lovers of  Hard Science Fiction. While Partials is just the first edition of a planned trilogy, it is also a completed tale with a logical ending that doesn’t leave you hanging, yet manages to have you longing for whatever comes next.

Grade: A-

One of the more fascinating issues that often appear in Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian fiction is that of reproductive rights and fertility. No matter what we do, our society cannot exist, if we don’t procreate. Two of the more grim post apocalyptic novels I have read are Brian Aldiss’ Greybeard and PD James’ Children of Men, both of which describe the breakdown of society due to the inability of humankind to reproduce. These visions are truly horrifying. Yet, other novels, particularly those of the more dystopian bent describe the stripping away of the reproductive rights and legal protections of women either for religious reasons, or the all too realistic, "for the good of humanity." Novels like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale show the ritualized rape of women in an attempt to strengthen the species genetic purity or to create greater numbers of human offspring. With reproductive rights being a major issue of the past few decades it’s not surprising we are seeing more and more dystopian novels tackling this issue. Yet, in Partials, Dan Wells presents an twist on the fertility issues, one in which the classis Plague novels like The Stand by Stephen King only dealt with in a peripheral manner, and unsatisfactorily, in my opinion. If there is a devastating Plague that wipes out a majority of humans (in Partials it’s 99.996%) what is the likelihood that newborn infants will be immune. In the world of Partials, they are not. The Senate of the Surviving humans living on Long Island deal with this issue by passing The Hope Law. This law requires women of a certain age to get pregnant as often as they can. The Senate believes this will eventually allow their society to hit the plague threshold, leading to a living human baby.

In Partials, Dan Wells has created a grim future history that blends some of the most fascinating elements of Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian fiction. In order to win a war against China, the US Government commissions a race of biologically engineered super soldiers called Partials. Yet, after winning the war, the Partials are now misplaced in a society that considers them tools, not humans. The Partials rebel and that war leads to the release of a super plague. The novel centers on one character Kira Walker, a young apprentice physician who makes it her life mission to find a cure to the plague that is killing all the newborns. Kira is strong willed and quite obstinate, but is quite a likeable protagonist. She is young, still under the age of required pregnancy, and has conflicted feelings about the Senate’s plans to save the species. Wells has creates a character that truly drives the narrative. He allows his world to be revealed through her eyes, which act as a lens, sometimes distorting the issues at hand, yet always based on the truth as she sees it. She is surrounded by a vast array of characters, her strong willed boyfriend, a young soldier who truly believes in the good intentions of the Senate, and some enigmatic girl friends. Sometimes it’s hard to keep some of the female characters straight, but that a minor issue since this is really Kira’s show. Kira’s search for the cure of course leads her to defy the Senate, and travel into enemy territory. I really enjoyed Well’s vivid descriptions of a decaying New York City, and the wonder it brings about it Kira. This type of imagery is one of my favorite aspects of Post Apocalyptic fiction when done right, and hers Wells does it right.

Wells packs this story with many issues that will have you thinking. Beyond the reproductive issues, Wells explores what it truly means to be human, the corruption of power, the complacency of the oppressed and the pitfalls of science. Yet one of my favorite issues he explores is something I call generational blindness. The adult characters of Partials, having lived through the Partial’s War and the devastation of the plague, call the younger generation “Plague Babies” with acid tongue derision. This term was used to highlight the naiveté of the younger generations, who didn’t experience these atrocities as directly as the adults. Yet, in many ways, the horrible experiences of the adults often lead them to an inability to consider options that for others seem quite obvious. In many ways, this reminds me of the way my generation reacts to September 11th. For me, September 11, 2001 is a vivid memory that will filter my views on many topics for the rest of my life. For those of the future generations, this may not be the case. They understand intellectually what I understand emotionally. I think this issue of the generational blindness is what makes Kira’s character and her quest work. Despite the fact that scientists did extensive tests to try to discover a cure for the disease plaguing their society, Kira could bring a perspective that they were not even able to consider and would rejest out of hand. Wells handling of this issue is one of the things that makes Partials stand out.

While Partials is a book that often made me think, it is also one heck of a good action tale. Although the pacing is sometimes was uneven, moving from rapid fire action scenes, to intricate scientific explorations and virology, when things get moving, they move well. Partials is full of memorable scenes, from terrorist attacks, to chases that will keep you on the edge of your seats. And those rare moments when Wells allows you to get comfortable, expect some game changing moments that will leave you on the floor. Partials is an action filled, thought provoking Post Apocalyptic novel that will please everyone from teenage dystopian fans to lovers of  Hard Science Fiction. While Partials is just the first edition of a planned trilogy, it is also a completed tale with a logical ending that doesn’t leave you hanging, yet manages to have you longing for whatever comes next.

This is my first time listening to narrator Julia Whelan, and I feel overall she does a good job. I was impressed with her ability to create unique and appropriate voices for adult and male characters, yet some of her younger female characters sort of blended into each other. This created some issues with dialogue between the young female characters. I sometimes had trouble figuring out exactly who was saying what, and had to rewind the audio a few times to make sure I had things right. Where Whelan excelled was in the pacing of the action scenes. She allowed the vividness of Wells language come alive as Kira and her friend’s travels through darkly beautiful landscapes, and encountered hostile forces. Whelan also did a good job with Kira’s inner dialogue, filling it with the appropriate emotions, and adding to the impact of her perceptions. All in all Whelan brought the right tone to this novel and made it an enjoyable audio experience. 

Note: This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” series, where I examine Post Apocalyptic fiction and review titles for content and their place in the Post Apocalyptic subgenre.

Note #2: A special thanks to the wonderful folks at Harper Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.