Audiobook Review: Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott

17 08 2011

Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Hachette Audio

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The start of a new thriller series, Abbott has a winning character in Sam Capra. Adrenaline has the feel of Summer blockbuster with its cinematic action scenes and complex conspiracy laced plot.

Grade: B+

I’m really not much of a CIA spy thriller fan. I have listened to and read a few, but I tend to tire of the super spy with his ability to handle everything, take on any persona, and do it with style. I always prefer heroes who get it done, despite the fact that they are human, quite fallible, and their style tends to be more akin to a kick in the crotch. Yet, the plot summary of Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott appealed to me. I like stories about people who are falsely accused, and possibly betrayed. I think the offer a glimpse into the humanity more so then just some man or women doing a job. In Adrenaline, Sam Capra barely escapes a bombing in his CIA London office, when he is warned at the last minute by his pregnant wife. Upon escaping, he is held in a CIA prison, questioned and tortured, and informed that his wife is a traitor, and by proximity, he must be as well. Finally released, to serve as bait for the mysterious bad guys, Capra must find a way to get out from the constant CIA surveillance in order to find his wife and child and prove his wife’s innocence. While he’s at it, he may as well try and take down the badies who kidnapped and framed his wife.

Adrenaline reads like a highly enjoyable summer blockbuster. Jeff Abbot writes with a crisp direct style that has an almost cinematic quality. Sam Capra isn’t your typical super spy, in fact, he is more of a power point intelligence analyst. Yet, he does have some skills, like his fondness for Parkour running, that give the action scenes in Adrenaline an interesting twist. As a character, I quickly grew to like Sam Capra. He was resourceful and quick witted, but not perfect. He made mistakes, yet, quickly acknowledged them, and took steps to fix them. Also, despite his attempts to stay focused, you could feel his emotional intensity as he struggled to keep it together. Now, with all that, this was still a spy thriller, with a complex plot bordering on over the top. Conspiracies and ultra secret groups abound, all happy to use or lose Sam for there own purposes.  Oh, and of course the main bad guy is this charismatic yet shadowy type whose plot within plot has our hero stymied for much of the book. These types of plots can get tiresome, but Abbott manages to pull it off without too many eye rolling moments. I have to say, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Adrenaline. From the opening scenes I was sucked into the world Abbott created. Abbott has a winning character in Sam Capra, who should be able to carry a series for a while with his wit, style and ability to run on walls.

This is the second book this month that I have listened to this month that was narrated by Kevin T. Collins and I am really growing to like his reading style. Collins brings a youthful style to his reading that you don’t get with a lot of veteran narrators, yet adds an edge that many younger, silken voiced narrators lack. Collins is definitely a performer, building up each character with his voice, giving every character, no matter how big or small, there own little twist. Collins also handled the action well, giving a precise, well balanced reading to Abbott’s highly visual scenes. This allows the listener to get a better picture of what is going on. As this was billed as Book 1 in the Sam Capra series, I hope this team of Jeff Abbott and Kevin T. Collins are kept together for the many editions to come.

Audiobook Review: The Undead Situation by Eloise J. Knapp

9 08 2011

The Undead Situation by Eloise J. Knapp

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Zombie Horror

Quick Thoughts: The Undead Situation will please fans of classic zombie tales with familiar apocalyptic situations, but will also offer something for those looking for a twist to their zombie lore by allowing the reader to view those situations through the skewed eyes of her main character.

Grade: B+

I have always loved black comedies. As a teenager my favorite movie was the black comedy Heathers. Heathers, a satire about social cliques and school violence, is a movie I don’t think they could make today, yet it is full of so many memorable lines and situations and wonderful performances by Christian Slater and Wynona Ryder. I have always been fascinated by characters like Slater’s JD, sociopath and morally ambiguous. It’s hard to find characters like him in movies or fiction. Even the biggest anti-hero, tends to have a conscience that is something more than an inconvenience. This was one of the factors that drew me to Eloise J. Knapp’s The Undead Situation. Beyond the typical draw of the Zombie Apocalypse for me, the idea of viewing said apocalypse through the eyes of a morally ambiguous sociopath was quite intriguing.

Since the dead began to rise, not much has changed in Cyrus V. Sinclair’s life beyond the fact that he doesn’t have to go to work anymore. Cyrus was expecting some sort of apocalypse to come in his lifetime and was prepared for it. Now he sits in his fortified apartment, watching the undead take over his city as if it was some sort of movie. Yet, when forced to save the life of a young girl, Cyrus must  reevaluate his decision to ride out the apocalypse in his apartment, and heads out into a changed and brutal world. The Undead Situation really doesn’t add much new to the zombie apocalypse genre. Knapp’s zombies are basically Romero style, and the assortment of Survivors that pepper the land fall into your typical apocalyptic types. Yet, where Knapp excels is her ability to filter stereotypical apocalyptic scenarios
through the eyes of a couple of incredibly unique characters. Her characters are not especially likable, and only heroic if it serves their purpose, but they are immensely compelling. Cyrus reminded me a lot of the Heather’s character JD in the early stages of the novel, but just when you feel you are truly beginning to understand him, something changes. As a narrator, Cyrus is highly unreliable, his inner dialogues capable of suddenly revealing a side of himself that even he hadn’t realized was there. Yet, The Undead Situation isn’t just a character study, it’s full of a lot of fun action that any zombie fiction fan will enjoy. The Undead Situation will please fans of classic zombie tales with familiar apocalyptic situations, but will also offer something for those looking for a twist to their zombie lore by allowing the reader to view those situations through the skewed eyes of her main character.

I think a big reason I associated Cyrus with JD from Heathers was based on the narration of Kevin T. Collins.  It almost seemed as if his was channeling the voice and cadence of Christian Slater, giving it a bit of a twist, and presenting it as the voice of Cyrus and for me this tactic, if intentional, was brilliantly done. Collins does what first person narrators should do by creating a voice appropriate for his character and maintaining it throughout the reading. Collins also handled the many peripheral characters well, both male and female.  The Undead Situation works very well as an audiobook, and was one of the bigger surprises for me in Audible’s zombie celebration. Luckily, Knapp has set up the novel for an obvious sequel, and I will be looking for it with great anticipation. 

Audiobook Review: After Twilight: Walking with the Dead by Travis Adkins

1 06 2011

After Twilight: Walking with the Dead by Travis Adkins

Read by Kevin T. Collins and L. J. Ganser

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Zombie Fiction

Quick Thoughts: After Twilight is a faced pace, gruesome tale of Zombie violence, and human rage, and will definitely please fans of Adkin’s first novel, Twilight of the Dead.

Grade: B+

As the month of May wraps up, I have one last Zombie Audiobook to review. Don’t worry, this will not be the last zombie audiobook, I just won’t be focusing on the genre. One thing I learned, whether fast or slow, smart or stupid, infected or afflicted, zombies are here to stay. The last book of my Zombie May celebration is another Permuted Press/Audible Frontier collaboration, After Twilight: Walking With the Dead by Travis Adkins. After Twilight is the sequel to Twilight of the Dead, and hopefully just the second chapter in an ongoing series. One of the things that a good second novel should do is expand the universe presented in the first novel. For a series to work, their needs to be a sense of movement, of expansion. Characters need to become further developed. The worst thing that can happen for a series is to become stagnate, for each consecutive novel just to be a retelling of the original. In zombies novel sequels, you often see the same people in the same place, dealing with the same menace, only a bit more dire. While for some zombie fans, that may be enough, I prefer getting at least a tease of the outside world. Luckily for us listeners, After Twilight: Walking with the Dead does what you want is a second novel, and it does it in spades.

While Twilight of the Dead was an intimate look at a loner biding her time in a small New England enclave, After Twilight expands our worldview. Using characters and situations from the short stories added to the end of Twilight of the Dead, we get a greater look at Eastpointe, its survivors and the mysterious Odd Men controlling the town. Instead of focusing mainly on one character, Adkins gives us multiple points of view, full of back story which gives us a better look at the initial apocalypse and the founding of Eastpointe. The expanded POV’s, whether it be fellow Black Beret Vaughn, or the Eastpointe Marshall Tyrell, opens up the story for us, allowing us to see new things, not filtered through one source. Of course, no matter whose perspective we are dealing with, we are dealing with zombies. Yet, similar to Twilight of the Dead, while the zombies are gruesome, they are not the true evil of the story. Here, zombies are tools used by the hands of a human villain to reek havoc. After Twilight is a fast paced, gruesome tale of the danger one unstable person can unleash on a town stuck in their own complacency. Adkins doesn’t pull any punches in his zombie gore, and fans of the first novel should be even more pleased with After Twilight.

As far as the audiobook production, I missed the voice of Rachel Botchan, who handled Courtney’s Point of view in the first novel. While Kevin T. Collins handles his characterizations well, at times, his narrative flow is stunted, with an almost robotic feel. Also, I found that Leon’s New England accent came off as more of a Southern drawl at times. LJ Ganser’s role was minimal, but it added a few nice breaks in the narrative. Collin’s narration improves as the tension builds, the action of the book seemingly smoothing out his stunted delivery. These small issues with the narration are minor issues at most, and in no way diminishes a novel that will delight Adkin’s fans and hopefully gain him legions more.

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.