My Top 20 Audiobooks of 2012

27 12 2012

2012 was a great year for audiobooks. As an avid listener of audiobooks, I don’t think I can remember a year quite like this. With the releases of some classics like Stephen King’s The Stand and the complete Chronicles of Amber, to some breathtaking debuts, and a bunch of authors and narrators releasing some of their best works, it will be a year I remember for a long time. At one point early in the year, I was wondering if I had been becoming to easily pleased based on the number of A reviews I was giving, or if the quality was just better this year.

As far as quantity, I have easily broken my record this year. In 2011, I listened to 174 audiobooks. As I am writing this post, for 2012 I have written 192 audiobook reviews, including two posts that reviewed the 10 Chronicle of Amber novels, as well as a few double reviews of audiobook novellas. If I include all my multiple reviews, and those audiobooks I have listened to yet haven’t reviewed yet, my total for 2012 is over 200. Now, some of these were shorter novellas and short story anthologies. Of these 200, about 30% received a grade in the A range, while 60% fell into the B range.

Favorite posts like this are very subjective. I know a lot of people who listen to the kind of audiobooks I enjoy, but few who match my specific likes, so I will never call my picks the best. If you are new to my blog, I listen to a wide range of speculative fiction genres, which leans heavily towards Horror and Dark Fantasy, as well a blend of science fiction. I listen to a lot of Zombie and Post Apocalyptic novels. I also enjoy Crime Fiction and Thrillers, particularly detective stories and legal Thrillers.  For my 2012 list, I limit it to audiobooks which are produced in 2012, even if the book itself was written pre-2012.

I really struggled with my picks this year, moving things around repeatedly and even considered expanding my list to 25 titles. Yet, in the end, I stuck with 20. I went back and forth on my number 1 pick this year. I knew which book resonated with me the most this year. It was the best mix between content and narration, and thinking about it still haunts me. Yet, I considered going with another title because it was an audio reread of a novel written in 1990. It is one of my favorite novels of all time and listening to it now in audio, in a new production with a wonderful performance by the narrator made me love it even more. So, I went with it. I mean, heck it’s my list, right?

This year I decided to try something a little different. Instead of writing a new blurb for each book, instead there is a link to my original review, plus my "Quick Thought: entry. Also, I invited some authors and narrators to talk about their experience with the audiobook versions of the entries. I want to thank those who contributed on short notice during this hectic holiday season. So, here it is my 20 favorite audiobooks of 2012. Hopefully, you will find something here to love as well.

 

A Gift Upon the Shore by M. K. Wren

Read by Gabra Zackman

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: A Gift Upon the Shore is one of my all time favorite novels, a darkly beautiful vision of a nuclear apocalypse. This novel stands apart from many within the genre by its frightening realism and its strong female characters. Narrator Gabra Zackman captures the poetry of the novel perfectly, making it a wonderful example of how good an audiobook can be.

Gabra Zackman, narrator of A Gift Upon the Shore

“A Gift Upon the Shore was one of my favorite books to record.  Partly because the story seemed so vital and relevant, and partly because it felt personally meaningful. It’s a really beautiful thing to connect emotionally to a book you are recording… it doesn’t happen all the time, and it makes the reading infinitely better when it does.  At the time I was in a fascinating life space… I was about to make a move cross country to new terrain and was both excited and scared by the prospect.  So to read a book about female pioneers re-inventing life in a landscape of the unknown was…. extraordinary.  Comforting.  Validating.  And offered me some courage I badly needed.  In addition to all that, I am a passionate lover of language, and the folkloric nature of the writing was music to my ear.”

Blackout by Mira Grant

Read by Paula Christensen and Michael Goldstrom

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Blackout is full of adventure, betrayal, true love, sacrifice, conspiracies revealed, surprise enemies and allies, fascinating science and of course, zombies. It has everything you want in a series finale, leaving you both utterly fulfilled, and desperately wanting more.

 

The Stand by Stephen King

Read by Grover Gardner

Random House Audio

My Review

What I Said: For fans of this novel who, like me, are skeptical of allowing another person to become the voice in your head, bringing this world you love to life, don’t be. The audiobook version of The Stand achieves its goal of presenting this classic in a way that will be accessible for both long time fans and those new to King’s frightening landscape.

Assassin’s Code by Jonathon Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

MacMillan Audio

My Review

What I said: Assassin’s Code is a fast paced, no holds barred science thriller with perhaps the most engaging series character in fiction today. If you have yet to listen to a Joe Ledger Book, makes sure you have plenty of time on your hands because once you start, you will not want to stop.

Ray Porter, narrator of the Joe Ledger series:

“I am a big fan of Jonathan Maberry. Every time I get to read Joe Ledger it is like visiting a good friend. I was very entertained by both books and I hope people have as good a time with them as I did.”

Spellbound by Larry Correia (Book 2 of the Grimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

Larry Correia, author of Spellbound: “I’ve been blessed with amazing narrators. For Hard Magic and Spellbound, Bronson Pinchot makes the characters come alive. Sometimes it is really hard as a writer to listen to an actors interpretation of somebody you made up, because obviously they are never going to match exactly with what you’ve got in your head. Bronson does such a darn good job in Spellbound that as I’m writing the third book I find that the characters in my head now sound like his version of them.”

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Read by Susan Duerden

Dreamscape Audiobooks

My Review

What I Said: The Rook is one of the most fascinating Fantasies I have experienced in a long time, truly touching that sense of wonder as only the best Fantasies can. In many ways, this is the novel that JK Rowling’s should have wrote next, an adult fantasy that reminds us of those feelings we would get as a child  hiding under our blankets trying to read just one more chapter.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Read by Grover Gardner

Blackstone Audio

My Review

What I Said: Defending Jacob made my courtroom thriller loving heart sing for joy, a well written, deftly plotted legal tale that was full of hidden depths. Fans of crime fiction, even if not particularly legal thriller fans, should not miss this utterly enthralling novel.

Year Zero by Rob Reid

Read by John Hodgman

Random House Audio

My Review

What I Said: If I can compare a book to Ready Player One, Agent to the Stars and The Hitchhikers Guide, then it should be a given that I loved it. I did. Year Zero may be the most pure fun I had listening to a book this year. There was enough inappropriate laugh out loud moments that the weird looks I began receiving from strangers and coworkers became part of the scenery. Year Zero is the kind of accessible, pop culture ridden science fiction that should be embraced by a wide audience.

14 by Peter Clines

Read by Ray Porter

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

My Review

What I Said: Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams  uncomfortable.

Ray Porter, narrator of 14:

“I really enjoyed Peter Clines’ book, I look forward to more from him. I’d love to have a chance to narrate another of his books.”

Cold Days by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files, Bk. 14)

Read by James Marsters

Penguin Audio

My Review

What I Said: Cold Days reinvigorated my love for this series. Butcher takes everything you think you know about The Dresden Files and smashes it, twisting and pulling it like taffy. He expands his world in amazing new directions, answering questions you never knew you where asking, while creating whole new realties to deal with.

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Bk. 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Days of Blood & Starlight left me totally breathless. Taylor creates her worlds with poetry, twisting our perceptions of the genre with each word, creating something both comfortable and unique with a magician’s touch. Fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bones will not only have their anticipations paid for with this novel, but they should be totally blown away.

Khristine Hvam, narrator of Days of Blood & Starlight:

“I think we can all agree that the world Laini Taylor has created is incredible. It is an honor to be a part of it.

We finished up recording Days of Blood and Starlight in a beautiful New York City Studio, with some pretty awesome people, a few months ago. Since then the response to the book, and the audio version have been fantastic. What an honor to have been cast for this project. Taylor’s story gives me so much room and opportunity to discover new voices, play with old ones, and develop as a voice artist. It’s kind of what we all wish for in a project.”

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: Throne of the Crescent Moon is the rare fantasy that seems to do everything right in an accessible, highly readable way. This book will thrill fantasy fans, and make them long to discover even more about Saladin Ahmed’s intriguing world. Even better, this is the type of accessible fantasy that I would have no trouble recommending to people whether they are fans of the genre or not.

Phil Gigante, narrator of Throne of the Crescent Moon:

“I really loved Saladin Ahmed’s juxtaposition of classic Arabian tales with a "Western" Fantasy style. He captured the true history and intrigue of his Middle Eastern roots, and told a story worthy of the best modern Fantasy authors. It is beautiful and lyrical, as the best Fantasy should be. I met Saladin at a sci-fi convention where he was touring for the book, and I found him to be a great person, and a writer to watch for a long, long time. He also has possibly the best hair of any writer working today! I’m really looking forward to the sequel, as all the Eastern pronunciations really gave my glottal stops a workout.”

The Reanimation of Edward Schuett by Derek J. Goodman

Read by David Letwin

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: The Reanimation of Edward Schuett is a novel that blends the unique zombie perspective of a novel like Zombie Ohio, with the recovered society motif of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series, mixing in a liberal dose of the quirkiness of Raining Stony Mayhall, then adds it’s own secret blend of herbs and spices making it the most unique, and perhaps, rewarding zombie experience of the year.

This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It by David Wong

Read by Nick Podehl

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: This Book is Full of Spiders is just pure fun for any fan of horror fiction, full of adventure, plenty of creepy scares, monsters, shadowy government types, weird otherworldly weapons, slapstick irreverent humor and of course, a good dog and an even better woman. Fans of John Dies at the End will love this latest adventure with their buddies David and John, and if you have yet to spend time with this duo, go do it now. You’ll thank me.

Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI, Bk. 1)

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: Death Warmed Over is a haunted Halloween treat that pulls from The Police Squad as much as classic monster tales. Kevin J. Anderson has created a tableau for storytelling that should please a wide plethora of fans across many genres. Death Warmed Over is a tragic yet beautiful romance, an action filled buddy comedy, and a unique legal thriller all rolled into a tasty noir zombie shell and readers will want to take a big bite out of it.

Phil Gigante, narrator of Death Warmed Over

“I was impressed, as Bob mentioned in his review, how Kevin J. Anderson takes what could be every cliche in the "undead" realm, and layers on characters and situations that hit home mentally, spiritually and emotionally. He adds layers of true love, justice and intrigue, as well as screamingly funny dialogue, making the listener actually care deeply about the ghosts, zombies, mummies and other "Unnaturals" that make up the Big Uneasy. I screwed up many studio takes laughing out loud. Anderson even takes on modern slavery in the follow-up with tenderness and aplomb, all the while keeping the humor at a fever pitch.”

The Prophet by Michael Koryta

Read by Robert Petkoff

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: The Prophet is a crime novel with literary flair. It is a tale of redemption and relationships which can uplift your spirit while devastating your soul. Koryta continues to prove that no matter what genre he is tackling, he is one of the best storytellers working today.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Read by John Lee

Blackstone Audio

My Review

What I Said: Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a beautiful, vivid tale of relationships colored with a touch of the fantastic. Joyce never spoon feeds his readers but creates a vibrant mosaic for each person to translate on their own. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is simply wonderful storytelling and one of the most rewarding tales I have experienced this year.

Zombie by J. R. Angelella

Read by Alston Brown

AudioGo

My Review

What I Said: Zombie is truly a feat in storytelling. It reads like a novel Chuck Palahniuk would write after reading too much Robert Cormier. Full of witty dialogue, pop culture references and a unique rivalry between the bittersweet and the bizarre, Zombie is a buzz worthy book that defies classification, but would definitely make a wonderful edition to anyone’s bookshelf.

Control Point by Myke Cole (Shadow Ops, Bk. 1)

Read by Corey Jackson

Recorded Books

My Review

What I Said: Control Point delivered what I thought it would, tons of action, a fascinating world, and an authentic military feel. Yet, it’s what I didn’t expect that put this over the top for me. A hero I’m still not quite sure I can believe in and a blurred line between the good guys and the bad guys that lead to an emotionally devastating climax. Control Point is a novel that will be bouncing around in my head for a long, long time, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Myke Cole, Author of Control Point:

"When I first heard that CONTROL POINT was being made as an audiobook, I asked my agent to get me an audition. How hard could it be to read your own book? I mean, heck, I know how to properly pronounce all the names, and acronyms, and . . . uh . . . other names. CONTROL POINT was packed with incredibly nuanced words, like . . . "helicopter" and "sorcerer" and "pentagon."

To my great shock and dismay, Recorded Books politely declined.

So, I went home and beat my breast, shouted at the heavens, lamented the injustice of it all.

And then I heard Corey Jackson, channeling Oscar Britton with a passion and sensitivity that I would never have been able to muster. When I first saw the US cover of the book, I felt as if Michael Komarck had reached into my head and plucked images there for the final painting. Hearing Jackson was the same way. His voice *is* Oscar Britton’s voice. It always was.

The hard lesson here? Heinlein was wrong. Specialization isn’t for insects. It’s for specialists. And sometimes, it’s best to stand back, swallow your pride, and let them do their jobs. I’m sure glad I did."

What It Was by George Pelecanos

Read by J.D. Jackson

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Pelecanos fans will rejoice in a new Derek Strange tale and he certainly does his fans justice. What is Was is the hip thrilling story that his fans have come to expect, full of authentic, almost poetic dialogue, and human characters which will leave the listener wanting more.

Some Notes on the List:

Favorite Book published in 2012: Blackout by Mira Grant
Favorite Standalone Book published in 2012: Defending Jacob by William Landay
Favorite Debut of 2012: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
Favorite Fantasy Novel Published in 2012: Spellbound by Larry Correia
Favorite Horror Novel published in 2012: Blackout by Mira Grant
Favorite Science Fiction Novel published in 2012: Year Zero by Rob Reid
Favorite Mystery/Thriller published in 2012: Defending Jacob by William Landay

This is the first time that my top 2 Audiobooks were written by Female Authors.
Five of the top 20 picks were from debut Authors:

Honorable Mentions:

There were a lot of titles that would have made the list in any other year. Legion by Brandon Sanderson was a wonderful audiobook, but as it’s only a two hour novella, I couldn’t justify putting it on the list. I broke out of my typical genres and listen to a few more literary titles, among which A Land More Kind Than Home probably would have been in place #21 if I expanded the list particularly due to the wonderful performances by the narrators. Based solely on the book, Stephen King’s The Wind Through the Keyhole would have been a top 10 pick, but the author’s narration, while decent for what it was, knocked it down a bit on my list. Another recently audiobook reissues of a classic, The Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle was wonderfully produced by AudioGo, and, as part of the so called A List, Anne Hathaway’s reading of the beloved children’s classic The Wizard of Oz is a must listen. Lastly, for shared world anthologies, you can’t get much better than V-Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry and full of some wonderful performances by a star studded cast of narrators.

Now, onto 2013!

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Audiobook Review: A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren

14 09 2012

A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren

Read by Gabra Zackman

Audible Frontiers

Length: 15 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Nuclear Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: A Gift Upon the Shore is one of my all time favorite novels, a darkly beautiful vision of a nuclear apocalypse. This novel stands apart from many within the genre by its frightening realism and its strong female characters. Narrator Gabra Zackman captures the poetry of the novel perfectly, making it a wonderful example of how good an audiobook can be.

Grade: A+

Note: As this is a reread, I will be breaking away from my normal format. I will be much more longwinded, so fair warning.

Some of the first Post Apocalyptic novels I had read featured dark fantasy and supernatural elements. These books, particularly Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song where listed as horror novels. This was an apt labeling because both of these novels scared the crap out of me, yet it wasn’t for supernatural elements. The realities of a Post Apocalyptic scenario are pretty darn scary without adding dark demons and mystical powers. I first read MK Wren’s post nuclear vision A Gift Upon the Shore in the mid nineties. This novel was really a pivotal one for me as a reader, and as a fan of Apocalyptic novels. A Gift Upon the Shore is just as horrific as King or McCammon’s Apocalyptic classics, yet without any mythological Dark Man wreaking havoc on the survivors. It brilliantly captures the reality of a desolate land, of nuclear winter, of surviving without the creature comforts that we have grown used to. It also stands out among Post Apocalyptic fiction for many reasons. So many Post Apocalyptic books are essentially road novels. The mechanism of the Apocalypse comes, and our survivors travel through the nightmare landscape searching for some haven. A Gift Upon the Shore isn’t like that at all, it is a stationary tale. We follow our survivors as they try to adapt to their surrounding on a farm on the Shores of Oregon. Yet, the major reason A Gift Upon the Shore stands out for me is that our two main characters are both women.

There is a scene about midway through this novel that has always angered me. Well, admittedly, there are many scenes in this book that frustrate, anger and sadden me, but this one stands out. Our two survivors, Mary Hope and Rachel Morrow had been living in this changed world for years, overcoming the hardships of isolation and doing it successfully. They have worked their farm, kept their livestock alive and made a decent life together. Then one day Mary discovers a man, deathly ill on the shores near their farm. She rescues him and nurses him to health. The man, Luke, on the road to recovery, is shocked to hear that Mary and Rachel, two women, had survived all this time without anyone else, particularly men. "It’s a miracle," he declares. Now, this is only the first of a series of misogynistic comments he makes. It really angered me. I mean, really angered. The idea that these two women who I have grown to love and respect have only survived because of the intervention of God angered me so very much. The strange thing was, at this point in my life, I was pretty misogynistic. And also pretty religious. Now, honestly, I was relatively open minded, especially in the religious culture I was raised in. Yet, this was mostly in my mind, and rarely applied to my actions. If you would have asked me then if I was misogynistic, I would have declared "Oh, no." But, in some ways I was. In fact, I hesitated on reading A Gift Upon the Shore, because it was written by a woman. Oh, I had my reasons. I declared that I never connected with novels written by women, not that they were in any way inferior.

This is just one area where A Gift Upon the Shore really took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to evaluate myself. Here are two strong women, one agnostic and one an atheist, who show more love and compassion than the religious characters that they deal with throughout the novel. Sure, I know this is just fiction, but something really resonated about these characters to me. I was devastated by the weakness of men, a weakness that I have seen often in my life. I was ashamed by the way that the religious picked and chose passages from the Bible to support their hate, yet declared any passages that decried their behavior as misinterpreted and patently manipulated. This too, I have seen way too often.  A Gift Upon the Shore opened my eyes to the human character in ways that only the greatest fiction can. In doing that, it turned the mirror on myself, forcing me to see my own faults and evaluate my own behavior.

The Book

“I will call it the Chronicle of Rachel”

Mary Hope is an old woman living on the farm on the Coast of Oregon. She lives in an uneasy relationship with a religious community that she allowed to move onto the property, under the condition that she be allowed to teach the children. One woman fears her influence, and finds her teachings to be sacrilegious and believes Mary to be a witch. Fearing her time is growing shorter, Mary takes on an apprentice, a young boy, who she shares the story of her survival of the nuclear war that ravaged the earth. She tells the story of Rachel Morrow, a strong woman who believed her purpose in life was to protect the record of the past, by preserving and protecting books. Yet, as the conflict within the community grows, Mary begins to fear that Rachel’s legacy, and the minds of the future are in serious jeopardy.

A Gift Upon the Shore is an achingly beautiful, emotional ride through a nuclear Apocalypse. Wren creates an almost dark beauty as she describes the blight that is done to the earth. From scorched landscapes to nuclear winter, Wren’s vision is horrific in its reality, yet stunningly beautiful in its detail. Wren writes with a lavish, almost poetic style, yet manages to keep the story quite accessible. There is no conflict between style and substance in the novel, the both blend together in a sort of dance that manages to delight the mind while telling a good story. The novel twists between Mary’s present and her past, slowly building in tension and scope. There is an ominous mood that grows throughout the novel, a feeling that something horrible is coming, some devastating moment that will alter everything. Yet, when that moment does come, it is unexpected, and tragic.

This was my third experience with A Gift Upon the Shore and the first in audio form. I always expect to be disappointed when I reread a novel. I expect that some of the beauty will have washed off, or the excitement lessened in the retelling. Yet, I’m not sure if it’s because of it being an audiobook, or just that I am older, but I left this experience loving the novel even more. There were moments that I was simply devastated by the actions of characters, even though I knew it was coming. There is one moment in this novel that truly just broke my heart… again. It’s such a moment of weakness, an inexcusable moment of inaction, that I raged against it, hoping that this time, it might be different. I think, there can be no greater praise for a novel than this. That it affects you in such a way that the emotional impact grows with each experience.

Writing this review is actually quite hard for me. My initial reaction is that I want to grab everybody by the throat and shake them until the promise me they will read this. I want people to experience this with me. This novel is one of my all time favorite reads. It is a literary Post Apocalyptic novel written before such things were vogue. I would easily put it up against the giants of the genre, from The Road. to even A Canticle for Leibowitz, as the ultimate Literary Post Apocalyptic novel. Maybe you scoff at this, but, you can’t really argue with me on the subject until you read the book. And, that’s all I want. Read this book.

The Audiobook

About a year ago I wrote a post on my all time favorite Post Nuclear Apocalypse novels, in which A Gift Upon the Shore is number two. In that post, I attempted to cast the narrators for novels with no audiobook version. For this novel, my choice was pretty easy. I had chosen XE Sands, a narrator with a perfect style for this novel. She has a mature but poetic style of narration that just fit, and it didn’t hurt that she is actually from the Pacific Northwest.

Now, when I actually found out that A Gift Upon the Shore was made into an audiobook, I was a bit scared. I just had a really bad experience with an Audible Frontiers production of a classic Post Apocalyptic novel, which was cast with a male narrator despite it being from a female point of view. My first reaction, and you all can check twitter if you don’t believe me, was that if I discovered a male narrator for this novel, I was heading straight to Newark. Yes, I was willing to brave Newark to declare my ire for poor casting decisions. Luckily, I discovered that the novel was being read by new to me narrator Gabra Zackman.

Gabra Zackman was simply wonderful. I can’t tell you, as a lover of this novel, how blown away I was by her performance. Zackman’s vice managed to accentuate the poetry of the prose, wring out each drop of emotion with every well spoken word. She never rushed her reading but allowed the story to come alive in a measured pace. Her tones were rich and mature, vividly displaying the world, highlighting both its beauty and ugliness. Her characters were perfectly done. She captured Mary’s naiveté, Rachel’s strength, Luke’s uncertainness, and Miriam’s spite, yet did it in a natural authentic way. Simply put, I loved every moment of it. A Gift Upon the Shore is an example of how good an audiobook can be when the right narrator is matched with the text. Zackman managed to take a novel I have come to love, and opened it up in new and unexpected ways.

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