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: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

13 11 2013

Steelheart (Reckoners, Bk. 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult SuperVillian Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness. Steelheart is a good start to an intriguing new series.

Grade: B+

Over the past few years there seems to be a real glut of superhero tales in prose form. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. I am one of those weirdos who loves superheroes, grew up on Superman and Batman and the Superfriends, but never really got into comic books. So, despite all my comic book loving friends telling me about all the awesome, dark and twisted tales being told in the comic book medium, I stuck to my books. Yet, there has always been a part of my brain that loved superheroes, that wanted to explore the many twists and turns people the subgenre can explore, without all the awesome artwork, and trying to figure out just who was supposed to be talking. So, now all these superhero books have come out, from a wide variety of authors exploring many aspects of advanced beings with powers that seem to defy traditional human limitations. So many, that you’d think that one would sort of start getting sick of them or at the very least that the various angles and twists on the genre would be totally used up. Luckily, so far, this hasn’t been the case.

With Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson has once again flipped the genre on its head, exploring the darker sides of enhanced humans, embracing the super but reassigning the concept of heroes. In Sanderson’s world, there are no selfless heroes using their powers for the betterment of humanity. Instead, Epics, people who have manifested superpowers, all use their power to subjugate and rule over those without powers. With Steelheart Sanderson explores the idea of the corruption of power, and looks at whether these powers enhance humanities dark side or some other force is at work.

When David was young, he witnesses Steelheart, the seemingly invulnerable Epic who would come to rule an apocalyptic Chicago with a steel fist, kill his father. He also saw Steelheart bleed. Years later, David dreams of joining the Reckoners, a group of regular humans looking to take down Epics. David believes with their help, he can finally discover the Steelheart’s weakness, and kill him. Yet, when he finally meets up with the group, he finds his desire for revenge and his core belief in the essence of Epics challenged by one intriguing girl, and the group of odd characters.

While Steelheart had a lot of awesome in it, some cool characters, a wonderful set up, and some really brisk, high concept action, overall it felt a bit uneven. At times, I felt it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a Young Adult novel, or an Adult novel. There were definitely a lot of YA tropes used, but they seemed to fit awkwardly within the overall scope of the novel. The use of situational slang came off as annoying, instead of a natural evolution of the world Sanderson created. The fact that everyone used the exact slang in the exact same way, whether they are a younger person who grew up in the world of Epics, or an older person spanner both the pre and post Epic world made it feel a bit forced. The world of Newcago, came off a bit too clever. Luckily, the unevenness of the book was more than made up for by the sheer fun of the novel. You could tell Sanderson was having fun creating new and interesting Epic types, and allowing them to wreak havoc. I also liked the fact that there were no superheroes, yet an almost religions group who believed that eventually heroes will come was a nice touch. Mostly, I enjoyed the way he flipped the concept of "with great power comes great responsibility" on its head, exploring the corrupting influence that may be the true essence of the tale. Overall, despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness.

To make matter even better, one of my favorite narrators, MacLeod Andrews brought his many talents to the reading of Steelheart. Andrews managed to give the book a true blockbuster feel, with characters that jumped, action the ripped across your mind and a feel of something bigger than reality, yet he did it all with a bit of an edge that defied the polishness of most big screen movies. Andrews does a great job with David, a young man hovering between the naiveté of youth and the forced maturity of someone who grew up orphaned in a changed world. Andrews has a way of giving characters a unique spin that makes than stand just a bit taller.  It was a highly affective performance that allowed me to care more about these characters than I might have in print. Steelheart is a good start to what can become a truly intriguing series.

Audiobook Review: Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey

8 08 2013

Kill City Blues (Sandman Slim, Bk. 5) by Richard Kadrey

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Harper Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Kill City Blues is a Dantesque ride through a true retail hell. While  mostly a set up novel to the coming epic confrontation, Kill City Blues is in no way a let down. It’s a chance to hang out with a group of some of the most intriguing characters in Urban Fantasy today, before they quite possibly need to end all of existence.

Grade: A-

I’m not sure how my God-fearing, drag me kicking and screaming to church three days a week mother of my childhood would have reacted if I told her that one day, one of my favorite literary characters would not be a single Lucifer, but a trio of characters who held the title of the Prince of Darkness. Nowadays, mom has resigned herself to the fact that I’m a Stephen Kind loving, hard rock playing fan of all that is dark and spooky, and just shakes her head and deals. I mean, hell, I’m an adult, if I want to ride the highway to hell, I guess that’s my call.  Yet, if I had revealed this side of me back in the days where I sat happily in the church basement singly "The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me" as a precursor to another felt board telling of Joseph and his coat of many colors, that secretly I would have loved to seen Joseph’s coat among the looted wastelands of a post nuclear America full of dragons and unicorns and robot zombies, then I probably would have been rushed to the local exorcist who I think was named Pete. You see, where I grew up, it was never Mick Jagger declaring his sympathy for the devil, but Greg X. Voltz and the boys of Petra singing "Angle of Light, I see your glow in the night, but you only bring darkness to my soul" or those wonderful guys who make up The Lost Dogs asking the important theological questions, "Why is the Devil Red? Why ain’t the Devil Blue?" Yet, all this anti-diabolical propaganda instead fostered a fascination with Lucifer and his hordes of fallen angels. I have read lots and lots of fictional explorations of hell, the devil, angels and demons, and by far my favorite depiction of the underworld and its leader is in Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. I love his depictions of Lucifer, whether it be the original suave Fallen angel who held the role, the newest incarnation who was at one time, at least in part God, and even Stark’s poor attempt to hold the role. Honestly, I think if Richard Kadrey was my Sunday School teacher, church would have been a heck of a lot more fun. Of course, I’m not sure how much mom would have appreciated it, but at least Pete would get lots of business. 

As you begin Kill City Blues, you simply know that Richard Kadrey is building the series up to an epic confrontation between the powers of this universe, and some Lovecrftian demons who may have been the original powers of our reality until the entity we call God stole it away for them, but like any continuing series, this means he needs to set all the pieces in place with a few set up novels. Because of this, I was expecting Kill City Blues to be a bit of a let down, the calm before the storm. While, in fact, Kill City Blues is a set up novel to the big war to come, it in no way let me down. In Kill City Blues, Stark, and his cadre of complicated cohorts are on a mission to relocate the Qorama, a weapon capable of killing the immortal. Stark once had possession of this device, but the rogue angel Aelita stole it away from him and hid it in the depths of Kill City, an abandoned Mall taken over by a strange menagerie of beings and souls.  Now Stark has a lead on it, yet he must take a Dantesque trip through a true retail hell, Kill City. Kill City Blues is another excellent hardcore trip through the otherworldly side of existence. Sandman Slim remains one of the most original characters in Urban Fantasy, and even though his edges have softened a bit, he is still a harsh as that first shot of whiskey. Kadrey does a lot in this novel. While the core story is the search for the Qorama, along the way we get to see Stark get into a bit of a power struggle with the Lucifer’s, take a trip into the coldest corners of hell to rescue a friend,  fix some of his strained relationships, and forge some intriguing new alliances. Kill City Blues lacks some of the focus of the traditional Urban Fantasy. Kadrey surrounds the core of his story with little side trips, yet these side trips give the tale it’s heart, and allows for moments of humor to balance out the rocket fueled pace, and apocalyptic import of Stark’s mission. This style gives the tale a vivid reality where not everything moves straight from A to Z, but need to make a few out of order alphabetic pitstops that would drive the most anal muppets to drink  Kill City Blues felt almost like a recharging for the series. It’s offered some true vital tasks for the continuing storyline, but also allowed us to hang out with these characters we love for another fun adventure, before they quite possible need to end all of existence.

One of the biggest pleasures of audiobooks is when a narrator becomes the true voice of a series, to a point where you just can’t imagine it without that voice. For me, MacLeod Andrew’s whiskey soaked sneering voice will always be Sandman Slim. Andrew’s totally embodies this character to a point\ where I can’t help wondering if perhaps he spent some of his own time vacationing in hell. One of the true talents Andrew has is his ability to naturally transition between a large cast of quite different characters. It can’t be easy to slip between Socal girls, old French thieves, crazed underground hillbillies, angels, demons, defrocked priests, god, talking disembodied heads, the devil and other assorted hellion and earthly creatures, and have it all sound natural.  Yet, Andrews pulls it off, allowing you to feel like you’re immersed in some infernal coffee klatch. Andrew constantly drives the pace forward, turning the underground Kill City into a otherworldly amusement park on a rollercoaster ride that never slips the track but still manages to scare the crap out of you. This series turned me into a fan of MacLeod Andrews, and I love every chance I get to return to it. It’s one of my must listen to annual audio experiences, and really, dammit, it should be one of yours as well.

Audiobook Review: Sick by Brett Battles

17 04 2013

Sick by Brett Battles (Project Eden, Book 1)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible, Inc.

Length: 9 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Plague Thriller

Quick Thoughts: I was in search of a fun filled, explody, chasy , blood pressure escalating listen and Sick totally hit that spot. It combines elements of Apocalyptic Plague tales, like The Stand, with the fast paced thinking man’s action similar to the Jack Reacher series. Narrator MacLeod Andrews narrate this tale with Faster Than Light pacing which I’m sure may be a violation of the laws of physics, but made it one hell of a ride for this listener.

Grade: B+

I understand the life of a character in a thriller novel can be tough. You usually have some background story that makes you wary of things to begin with, whether it be time in the military or law enforcement, or personal tragedy, you rarely come into the start of your time as a book character full of naive innocence. To make matters worse, you find yourself at the start of a Thriller novel, which means death and mayhem is coming your way. You wake up to find a fast acting plague has struck the newly established military base you are working at. As you try to save your family, you are swept up by a team in hazmat suits and taken to a secret base, where you are informed by a shady doctor that your family has all dies. You are told that it’s your duty to cooperate, but they refuse to give you any more information, or to see the bodies of your children. You are kept locked in a room with no contact from the outside world until a secret cryptic message is sent to you through your meal. Then you are rescued by another secret group, transported through across the country by intricate means being chased by shadowy types in black helicopters, until you arrive at a out of the way ranch full of secretive types with lots of high tech equipment. All of this is confusing but you’ve managed to keep it together, with an open mind, despite reeling from the loss of your family. When you finally get a chance for some answers, you find that the people who rescued you believe that this is all so sort of conspiracy? I know, what the hell? A conspiracy?!?! Haven’t these people ever hear of Occam’s Razor, where the simplest explanations of you being exposed to a deadly quick acting plague and kidnapped by a shadowy group are the simplest. Like terrorists or accidentally spill. It’s obvious the secret shadowy types and black helicopters are probably FEMA or something.  I mean, a global conspiracy, yeah right. Next they will try to tell you that NASA faked the moon landing. Conspiracy! What a bunch of highly funded, well trained and seemingly reasonable whackjobs.

Sick is the first novel in Brett Battle’s Project Eden series, about an everyday military man, Daniel Ash, who finds himself mixed up in a global conspiracy by a shadowy group.  Recently, I have been listening to a lot of high concept speculative fiction novels, and I was in search of a fun filled, explody, chasy , blood pressure escalating thriller listen for a bit of a change of pace and Sick totally hit that spot. Sick is a fun fast thriller that combines elements of Apocalyptic Plague tales, like The Stand, with the fast paced thinking man’s action similar to the Jack Reacher series. Battles starts this novel with a brutal punch, when Daniel Ash wakes up to find his wife dead, and his daughter deathly ill from a mysterious plague which infects his entire town, leaving only him and his son free of symptoms. After being held after his exposure, he is rescued by a group, who informs him that in fact, his children are still alive. Now, Ash has one goal, save his children. From the very beginning, Battles had me enthralled in his tale, and lever let me go. I really liked the Daniel Ash character, and found his story quite compelling but he also is a bit wooden throughout the novel, which makes some sense due to his shock. Along the way, he meets a variety of other characters, members of a group who are fighting a secret war against a powerful enemy. Most of these characters are colorful, on a surface level way, and hopefully will get further developed as the series continues. Daniel Ash eventually teams up with a mysterious and broken woman, Chloe, who was a victim of the Project Eden group. I found Chloe a little better developed as a character, with Battles allowing us to see true progress in her character. Yet, the fact that Ash‘s mission drove the plot, I though the true fun of this tale was the story of those dealing with the outbreak of the plague. As the plague begins to lose containment, Battles follows the stories of a reporter covering the strange nature of the plague, and two boys as they try to find their way out of the Quarantine zone. I though this aspect of the novel made a nice counterbalance to the almost wooden determination of Ash’s quest. Here the characters come alive, and the real human drama of the novel takes place. Sick was lot of fun. It’s a mix of straight forward action with apocalyptic plague drama made this a truly engrossing listen.

Macleod Andrews narrates Sick, and was one of the key reasons I decided to listen to this audiobook.  I have always enjoyed his gravely delivery that gives each novel he reads a truly unique feel. Andrews again does excellent work here. He gives each character a distinct voice that actually helped develop their story. I felt his work on Chloe was key, allowing her to move from a closed off, paranoid victim, to something more by the end of the novel. I love the work he did in the outbreak zone, handling both the female reporter and the younger characters with authenticity. Every so often, when listening to an audiobook, I find myself in this strange time distorting zone where the book feels like it’s moving faster than actual time, and every time  I look down, it seems we are closer to the end then we should be. I felt this way listening to Sick. Andrews pacing moved the novel along Faster Than Light, which I’m sure may be a violation of the laws of physics, but made it one hell of a ride for this listener. I am very much looking forward to the next entry in this series, fascinated to see where Battles will take this story next.

Audiobook Review: Suspect by Robert Crais

11 02 2013

Suspect by Robert Crais

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The beginning of Suspect left me in shock, slack jawed and breathless, and the novel relentless pace just continued steal my breath to the point of asphyxia. Its fast paced action and well conceived plot makes this more than just another dog book and its characters are achingly real. Maggie is my favorite dog literary character since Einstein in Watchers. Yet, even without the awesome dog, Suspect is a great crime thriller that stands up to the best in the business.

Grade: A-

There is a very good reason that I avoid dog books, and it’s not because I don’t like dogs. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, I love dogs. There are furry bundles of awesomeness, and the fact that we share our homes and lives with them is one of the things that proves that humanity has good in it. Most of the best memories of my childhood involve a dog in some way. Sadly, some of my worst memories also involve dogs. I am not a person who cries easily. I can read the most gut wrenching tragedies, and manage to keep my sociopathic grin. Yet, have a dog come down with a bad case of fleas and I’m a blubbering imbecile, wiping snot out of my beard. It’s ridiculous. Kill off as main character, and I’m fine. Kill off your dog, or Billybumbler or Cat that works at a Bookstore and I will be stuck weeping on my couch, wrapped in a Snuggie eating Haagen-Dazs like a character from a clichéd riddled Lifetime movie. This blubbering mass of human jelly is not an image that I want to project out into the world, scaring off potential dates, and small children. Now, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy dogs in fiction. I love when Jonathan Maberry added Ghost to his Joe Ledger series but if he ends up killing off Ghost the way he has some of his other characters he‘ll have some blubbering 30 something screaming “WHY!!!” at him outside his favorite Starbucks. So, back to the topic at hand, one thing I love about Januarys is that you know a Robert Crais novel is at hand. I was very excited about Suspect. I was very excited when I learned that Suspect was going to be narrated by MacLeod Andrews. Most importantly, when discovering it was about a dog, I attempted to contract the flu as cover for the read nose and blood shot eyes if anything should happen to our canine hero. 

In Suspect, Robert Crais starts off with a punch to the gut, and then kicks you in the balls when you are down. In a good way. Suspect stars off with two tragic events, the death of a soldier in Afghanistan, and the slaughter of a cop in the streets of Los Angeles both leaving the surviving partners of the dead riddled with guilt. Scott James is an LA policeman on the fast track, when a brutal attack leaves his partner Stephanie dead, and him fighting for his life, sanity and job. Transferred to the K9 Unit, despite never having had a dog, Scott meets Maggie, a German Sheppard recovering from her own loss. Together, they will investigate the crime that lead to Scott’s partner’s death, and develop a bond neither of them expected. It all sounds sort of TV movie of the weekish, but it’s really not. Crais is one of the best Thriller writers out there, and his crisp style gets us right into the minds of these characters. This isn’t some cardboard cutter exploration of PSTD with the plucky dog helping the tragically victimized cop to cope. It’s a fast paced crime thriller that explores issues of guilt, loss and adapting to tragedy is a real way. Crais never let’s us get comfortable in the misery of the characters, but pushes them to confront their greatest fears. I found the look into Maggie’s brain and exploration of her though patters added a unique grounding force to the narrative. Crais uses the dog’s perception as a mirror to Scott’s showing how a bond can form in a realist manner. As a sucker for dogs, I was pleased that Crais didn’t go through the movie montage version of bonding, but tackled the reluctance and ignorance of Jame’s head on. The plot itself was well orchestrated and smart, what you would expect from Crais. While I missed some of the humor that Crais infuses his Elvis Cole novels with, Suspect is full of enough heart to make up for it. The beginning of Suspect left me in shock, slack jawed and breathless, and the novel relentless pace just continued steal my breath to the point of asphyxia. Its fast paced action and well conceived plot makes this more than just another dog book and its characters are achingly real. Maggie is my favorite dog literary character since Einstein in Watchers. Yet, even without the awesome dog, Suspect is a great crime thriller that stands up to the best in the business.

Macleod Andrews was an inspired choice to read Suspect. His soft, yet sometimes gravelly voice allowed him to balance between the despondent Scott James reflections on life, and his high pitch doggy speak. Andrews captured just the right tone of adorable doggy talk that occasionally I found my tail a bit waggly, yet it never came off corny. He didn’t try to make scenes from Maggie’s perspective Cartoon doggy, but just delivered them in a soft measured way that fit the personality, more than the sound, of the dog. I think Andrews is one of the best narrators at truly inhabiting a character. This usually pays off best in first person tales, but proves to be just as affective in multiple character POVs. I will challenge anyone out there to listen to the first hour of this audiobook, and not be totally drawn in. Crais’ writing is wonderful, and the dual openings scenes are devastating, and Andrew’s delivery and pacing perfectly translates that to the reader. Fans of realistic as opposed to melodramatic Animal Tales, as well as fans of great thrillers and crime fiction should be equally pleased with Suspect.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey

24 09 2012

Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim, Bk. 4)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Devil Said Bang is another solid edition in one of the more unique and riveting Urban Fantasy series out today. While it has the feel of a transitional novel in the series, it also is full of Stark doing his thing, and ties up many of the plot lines from the precious novel, clearing the slate to take the series in a new direction

Grade: B+

I have to admit, I hadn’t ever heard of Richard Kadrey when I started the Sandman Slim series. In fact, I pretty much believe that the reason I first became interested in this series was because I found the name "Sandman Slim" to sound badass. You know all that stuff about not judging a book by its cover, or some other arbitrary means, well, I am often guilty of that. I like to pretend I am all sophisticated and make well thought out choice when it comes my book selections, but often times it comes down to me pointing and squealing, "Me want the pretty." The crazy thing is, more often than not, it works out. I think there is a lowest common denominator in play here, and I don’t mean this in a negative way. If someone comes up with a kickass character name or an instantly intriguing book title, than more likely than not, I’ll probably like that book. It’s a matter of style meeting style. If I discover a book called Badass Jones, I am more likely going to be pulled to and probably end up enjoying it more than something called "The Philosophy of Arranging Flowers in the Snow" simply because someone willing to name a book or character Badass Jones appeals to me. Sure, the snooty title may end up being the better book, but, how can I resist something patently badass. It’s what appeals to me. Luckily, not only is Sandman Slim a pretty kickass character and title name, but it also is a highly entertaining series. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the latest edition of the series is title, Devil Said Bang, because, hell, who doesn’t love yelling BANG!

It’s not easy being on top, especially when you really didn’t want to be there. James Stark, aka Sandman Slim never wanted to become the ruler of hell, but when the original Lucifer stuck him with the job, he did what he could to keep hell from destroying itself. Now, unhappy and unwanted, Stark needs to find a way back to the women he left behind, without leaving hell, and the damned souls that abide there, in complete chaos. This is hard enough, perhaps impossible, yet to make matters even worst someone in his circle of hell is trying to kill him. Such is death for Sandman slim. I have to admit, after the brilliant Aloha From Hell, a game changing novel from Richard Kadrey, I was ready for a bit of a letdown. It’s hard to follow up a novel like that with something as strong. So, was Devil Said Bang as good as Aloha From Hell? Well… no. Yet, it’s still a pretty damn good novel. Similar to Aloha From Hell, the novel is told in two distinct parts, one taking place in hell, and the other back in our reality. While some of the fascination of Kadrey’s vision of hell, which was simply brilliant in Aloha, has worn off, he still tells an intricately plotted, punk rock version of a Game of Thrones type tale. Stark is the type of character that can carry a weak plot, but sometimes get in the way of a strong one. He is a presence and Kadrey uses that to it fullest. It would have been interesting to see some of the machinations of hell without the filter of Stark, and his quest to get back to Candy, but this is Stark’s tale, so we go with it. When we finally get out of hell, the plotting is a bit messier, but Stark carries it all on his back with the force of his personality. The plot can get a bit confusing, dealing with ghosts and the magical establishment and more people trying to kill Stark, but there are some genuine creepy scenes particularly between Stark and a child ghost who is attacking the living. One element I really liked is that Stark seemed slightly less impulsive and learned to think some things out before acting. This is an interesting development, particularly due to some of the events at the end of Aloha that made you think the opposite would happen. Much of Devil Said Bang seems to be about tying up all the loose ends that Aloha left floating and putting Stark back together again. Yet, even though it has the feel of a transitional novel, it’s a lot of fun, and done with the typical in your face Kadrey style that fans love. Devil Said Bang may not be as brilliant as Aloha from Hell, but it’s still full of Stark doing his thing. Stark is quickly become one of my favorite urban fantasy character, and one who can carry a book by the force of his will. Devil Said Bang clears the plate setting things up for a lot more great Stark adventures yet to come.

MacLeod Andrews simply owns Stark. His reading of this series is total punk rock. It’s gritty and gruff and just the perfect tone for this entire series. It really is a lot of fun to hear a talented narrator like Andrews take on everything from demons and Jades to snooty hotel employees and reclusive Satanists. There is a lot of things happening, and a multitude of strange and quirky characters, and Andrew’s shines in a production like this. His delivery and pacing is always on point, allowing the tale to develop around him as he builds authentic characters. It’s no secret I am a huge MacLeod Andrew’s fan and would probably enjoy listening to him read the phone book, as long is it’s a gritty version of a phone book for hell and it’s surrounding municipalities. Devil Said Bang is another solid edition in one of the more unique and riveting Urban Fantasy series out today.


Audiobook Review: The Knowledge of Good & Evil by Glenn Kleier

11 07 2012

The Knowledge of Good and Evil by Glenn Kleier

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Produced by Glenn Kleier (Print from Tor Books)

Length: 16 Hrs and 21 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Knowledge of Good & Evil is part Dan Brown, part Dante Alighieri with a dash of Flatliners thrown in for flavor. It is a fun religious based thriller that asks interesting questions while providing enough open ended answers to allow readers to make up their own minds about what is real and what is delusion.

Grade: B+

When I was a kid, I was a part of my church’s AWANA club, and a big part of that club was memorizing scripture. I have a lot of biblical tidbits stuck in my head. One of my favorites comes from Hebrew "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I have always appreciated this idea. I believe that I am a person of faith, but it’s a faith I have struggled with and battled against and eventual come to a sort of uncomfortable detente with. Yet, the passage from Hebrews was always important to me, because it convinced me that arguing points of faith is a fool’s game. I love talking theology, but arguing with someone trying to prove to me their faith based position defies the definition of the word. I work with a lot of religious people who enjoy engaging in religious debate. Often, when I have expressed my beliefs about evolution, it triggers the response, "If humans evolved from monkeys, why aren’t monkeys turning into people now" often accompanied by a chorus of "Yeahs" and high fives from friends. Now, I could applaud this persons understanding of how evolution works, or point out that indeed, things are evolving on earth everyday, but again, I remind myself that his faith based belief is by definition improvable, and arguing about it is pointless. I highly doubt God and his Angles yell "Booyah" and do taunting endzone dances pointing at Darwin and his science cronies every time someone in a religious debate scores a point. Yeas ago, Glenn Kleier wrote an interesting novel about how the world would react to a new Messiah, called The Last Days. Now he’s back with another interesting thought experiment. How would the world react if you could prove to a scientific certainty that the afterlife existed?

Ian Barringer has had a missing part in his life ever since his parents died in a tragic accident when he was a child. He spends much of his life trying to heal himself through faith, and the church even becoming a priest. Yet, his faith is fragile and betrayed and eventually he begins to put his life back together with the help of his girlfriend Angela Weber. When a brutal reminder of his parent’s death sends him on a downward spiral, he begins to follow the path of a controversial priest who believed he traveled to the afterlife and discovered God’s ultimate reality. Yet this path puts his life in danger, both physically and from a secret element of The Church whose roots go all the way to the papacy. The Knowledge of Good & Evil is a hard novel to truly evaluate. Religion is always a sticky and personal subject, and for this novel you need some level of fascination with religion, yet the ability to keep an open mind on the subject. For me, I was fascinated with the concepts that Glenn Kleier was tackling. Kleier examines Christian mythology and church history in an accessible way that combines pop culture elements along with the rich history of faith. The Knowledge of Good & Evil is part Dan Brown, part Dante Alighieri with a dash of Flatliners thrown in for flavor. On top of this, The Knowledge of Good & Evil is a competent international chase thriller. Sure, Ian and Angela make some frustrating decisions for a couple trying to evade a far reaching shadowy organization, but this is more of a reflection of me having read too many thrillers than a breach of realism. The Knowledge of Good & Evil is full of good set ups and fascinating reveals, although one major reveal, for me at lest, wasn’t as earth chattering as I was being set up to believe it would be. Part of this is due to the fact that many of the characters in this book were defined by their religion and anything that shakes their belief structure would seem earth shattering to them. Luckily, Angele played a sort of Scully to Ian’s Mulder giving the book a necessary skeptical grounding. Where The Knowledge of Good & Evil really excels is in Ian’s travels through the afterlife, both as visually stunning fiction, as well as a compelling thought experiment. I have a weakness for hell based fiction ever since reading Dante’s Inferno and Kleier creates one of the more devastatingly brutal and darkly beautiful visions of the afterlife that I have read in a while. Not everything in The Knowledge of Good & Evil works, and there are some stutter steps along the way, but overall it is a fun, religious based thriller that asks interesting questions while providing open ended answers. Kleier allows the reader to do the grunt work of deciding what was real and what was delusion without forcing any sort of agenda on the reader.  For those who enjoy complex religious themes as well as good thriller full of international settings and hidden secrets will have a good time with this novel.

It’s no secret that I am a fan of MacLeod Andrew’s work as a narrator. One thing I love about his work is his voice isn’t the typical narrator voice. It’s not a deep, booming testosterone rich bass voice, nor is it a silky smooth tenor. Andrew’s voice is full of gravel and grit, and he manages to take his voice and make it suit the text he is reading just right. Here, Andrews brings the story alive, able to take on a cast full of international accents as well and otherworldly beings. Andrews manages to bring a true authenticity to his characters whether they are a Slavic priest, or a denizen of the deepest pits of hell. Andrews moves the plot along well with his crisp pacing that smoothed out any of the roughness of the story. His pacing is fast enough to create tension, while not so fast that it muddles the action. The true highlight for me was Andrews handling of heaven and hell, managing to make Angels sound Angelic while making the demons totally creepy. Really, it was a lot of fun taking a journey like this with a talented narrator.

Audiobook Review: Undercurrents by Robert Buettner

9 01 2012

Undercurrents by Robert Buettner (Orphan Legacy, Book 2)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hrs 29 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Undercurrents is a rollicking, fast paced Science Fiction adventure. Buettner’s world may be rife with social and political issues, but the story itself is simply fun, with touches of humor, romance and a few surprises that will delight science fiction fans.

Grade: B

Winter is my least favorite time of year. With the bitter cold, shorter days, and inclement weather, winter has always had a claustrophobic affect on me. I think this is one of the reasons that I often feel pulled towards science fiction novels. For me, science fiction is the ultimate escapism for the winter months. We can step outside our little cloisters and visit the stars, travel through time, and experience things outside of our routine. While science fiction is not my only way to escape through books, I think the thought experiments that often go hand in hand with science fiction is what makes it perfect for the winter. Playing within the bounds of physics and our understanding of the way the universe works allows for a sort of grounded escapism. We can explore topics within these bounds examining the human experience. Last year, I read the first novel of Robert Buettner’s Orphan Legacy series titled Overkill. What I was expecting based on the picture on the cover, and the product description was a Military Scifi Adventure novel, what I got was so much more. Yes, it was a grand adventure on many scales, but also a look at what it means to he human, and what values to place on life. I was also surprised that the series was a spin off of his earlier Orphanage series, because the book worked so well as a standalone.

In Undercurrents, we again hook up with Jazen Parker, but things haven’t been going too well. Not getting what he wanted out of his time working as an Intelligence Operative, and his relationship wit Kit crashing and burning, he finds himself running his bar and living a basically dull life. Until the mysterious yet possibly untrustworthy Howard Hibble shows up and offers a new mission, one that Jazen cannot refuse.  I think, going into the novel, that I was in the totally wrong mindset. I wanted to relive the experience of Overkill, and I just knew I wouldn’t. I was so impressed with what Buettner did in Overkill, that I think I set my expectations, if not too high then too narrowly. I also brought a bit of skepticism, just knowing I would be missing important aspects of the story because I wasn’t familiar with the Orphanage series. Let’s deal with the first part, my expectations. While Undercurrents didn’t have the emotional impact of Overkill, Buettner uses the solid science fiction tale to explore ideas of what it means to be a soldier, and the legacies of family. Buettner spends a lot of time examining Jazen’s mixed feelings for his family, dealing with his feelings of abandonment and betrayal, despite an intellectual understanding that these feelings may not be truly justified. On the second issue, while I did feel I was missing parts of the story by not knowing more about the previous series, I feel that that lead me not to devaluing this series, but wanting even more to read the predecessor. All this lead to a final decision, I need to stop over thinking these things. While there are many interesting subtexts to this story, the novel on its surface is a rollicking, fast paced Science Fiction adventure. Buettner’s world may be rife with social and political issues, but the story itself is simply fun, with touches of humor, romance and a few surprises that will delight science fiction fans.

MacLeod Andrews is one of those narrators that understands that the majority of the people in existence do not talk like a silky, smooth radio personality with a deep pleasing baritone. MacLeod puts life into the characters he reads complete with the flaws of the typical human. I am always impressed with the choices Andrews makes when presenting his characters. You just know he puts serious thought into these characters, yet nothing seems forced or over done. I also enjoy the way he reads the action scenes. There is an undercurrent of humor in Buettner’s action sequences that Andrew’s sardonic tone captures beautifully. Listening to this novel made me wish that the earlier series was available in audio form, but no matter what, Undercurrents convinced me I need to go back and check out the Orphanage novels soon.

Audiobook Review: Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey

31 10 2011

Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim, Book 3)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Brilliance Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 8 Mins

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Kadrey’s visions of the worlds of the afterlife, and his spin on characters that you thought  you had known pushes this series past your expectations for Urban Fantasy and puts the Sandman Slim series in a category all of its own.

Grade: A

With a bit of sadness, I must declare this Halloween audiobook review my final post for the October Murder, Monsters and Mayhem blog event hosted by Jenn from the wonderful Jenn’s Bookshelves blog. This month we have tackled all sorts of evils including vampires, zombies, werewolves, summer camps, child molesters, released mental patients and of course, demons. I think it is quite appropriate to end our trip in the place were evil meets its final rest, the Devil’s Playground, Hell. Now, personally, I don’t want to go to hell, but I have always enjoyed literary trips there. I wrote a bit about the reasons behind my fascination with Hell in my review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned, so I won’t repeat myself, but I was intrigued that three books were released this month giving us unique and fascinating looks at hell.  Today I am reviewing Aloha From Hell, the third novel in the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey. I have listened to and reviewed the first two in this series this year, and it has quickly become one of my favorite urban fantasy series. Sure, I’ll admit that in the initial novel I was totally frustrated with the main character, James Stark, but like a fine fungus, Stark grows on you. What I really loved about the first two novels was the mythology that Kadrey has developed for this series. It’s a fascinating mix of Biblical and world myths with his own unique twist that just works perfectly with the world he has created.

A great series is like a work of art, in a physical sense. With the first book, you create the framework, and set the canvas. Done right this works as a piece of art all its own, but also preps the recipient for what is to come. The next book you add in the background, and truly begin to develop your theme. What comes next are the details and colors that make your work fascinating and allows it to stand out from other pieces of art in its vein. With Aloha from Hell, Kadrey takes the framework he sets in the first two novels, and pushes his art to a whole other level. Aloha from Hell is a story in two parts, the first half centering around Stark and his allies investigating a botched exorcism that lead to a young man, seemingly possessed by strange demon to go missing. You get a lot of trademark Stark attitude and brash impulsiveness that makes this series so compelling. Yet, the second half of this novel is a game changer in the truest sense of the word. Stark must return to hell to save the soul of a friend and stop a war that may not only lead to the overthrow of heaven and hell, but to the end of the our universe in total. Kadrey shakes and bakes his mythology is so many wonderful and fascinating new ways as Stark travels the many levels of the lands of angels and demons. With each of Stark’s actions and inaction, the foundation that Kadrey has created becomes twisted and cracked in ways you never expected, leading to an ending that would only work in the world he has created. Kadrey’s visions of the worlds of the afterlife, and his spin on characters that you thought  you had known pushes this series past your expectations for Urban Fantasy and puts the Sandman Slim series in a category all of its own.

It is so hard to explain the wonderful things that narrator MacLeod Andrews does with this series. Of the many narrator’s I listen to, Andrew’s is one of the best at taking well reasoned risks with his narration and these risks almost always pay off perfectly for the listener. Instead of just using his default narrative voice as the voice of the main character, he uses the persona that Kadrey has created for James Stark, and builds a voice around him. As a listener, you feel that Andrews really knows these characters. With some narrators, you feel like they have stock voices, old-grumpy man, crazy guy, sexy siren, etc, and they just plug them into the characters of the story, almost like vocal stereotypes. You never feel like the characters that MacLeod Andrews creates are boilerplate in the least, they are fully fleshed out detailed interpretations of the author’s creations. Aloha from Hell did something that doesn’t happen often, it surprised me and blew away any expectations and assumptions I had about a series. I just can’t wait to see where James Stark and his allies and enemies go next.


Note: A special thanks to the people at Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for Review.

Audiobook Review: Hissers by Ryan C. Thomas

23 08 2011

Hissers by Ryan C. Thomas

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Zombie Horror

Quick Thoughts: Excellent narration and a strong ending saves this uneven teen angst ridden gorefest.

Grade: C

I talked about this before when I wrote my review of Dan Well’s Mr. Murder, but the concept still intrigues me. What exactly makes a book a Young Adult novel as opposed to an Adult novel?  I’ve always thought it was more than just young characters, with tamed down violence, sex and language, I thought it was a unique stylistic approach. Would we consider Stephen King’s Christine or Carrie Young Adult because the main characters are teenagers? Yet, more and more I am reading young adult books that have an adult feel to them, and conversely Adult books that feel very Young Adultish. Now admittedly, I don’t read a ton of Young Adult novels, unless I find the subject very intriguing, or am familiar with the author’s adult titles. I have read Harry Potter, because it was such a phenomena, and really enjoyed it, as well as The Hunger Games, which I had mixed feelings about. So, in the end, what does a books age Genre come down to? I’m personally starting to thing that often it’s an arbitrary decision made by the author and publisher based on which market it may do better in overall. And this is the dilemma I face with Ryan C. Thomas’s zombie novel Hissers.

Hisser’s is a typical, if sometimes clichéd Zombie outbreak novel that tells the story of four Castor teenagers who witness a mysterious plane crash and the resulting wave of zombies it releases. Hissers is fast paced, nearly real time account of their attempts to survive the outbreak, while looking for their parents and trying to get out of the town. It is full of gore and teenage angst. The young teenagers, who are all 14 years old, are your typical movie/book kids, a fat geek, a nerdy athlete, the smart girl, and the perceived slut, but in a very “After School Special” moment while holed up in their school’s teacher’s lounge they revel their hidden secrets to each other. Oh, and do a bit of kissing as well. Thomas does bring in a new, interesting twist on Zombies, allowing them to incorporate other body parts, so we get some three armed zombies or zombies with hands sticking out of their foreheads, which is interesting but doesn’t really contribute much to the overall plot. Despite all my issues, Thomas puts together a solid, exciting ending, if you are willing to overlook one laugh out loud (and not in a good way) moment.  Hissers definitely had some fun moments, and someone looking for a simple tale of zombie survival with teenager will probably enjoy it. Yet, for me, while I didn’t hate it, and enjoyed the audio production, I found its conflicting moments of teen angst with over the top gore a bit strange. Maybe I’m just getting old.

MacLeod Andrew’s is a huge factor in what made this audiobook listenable. Andrew’s always seems to really understand the tone of the book as well as the character’s he portrays. I’m sure there was a temptation to give an over the top reading but Andrew’s doesn’t fall for it, he gives a solid, well thought out portrayal of the characters, with just the right touch of humor. I found a simple change in a characters inflection could elicit an unexpected laugh. He also handles the action scenes with a deliberate pace that allows you to easily follow what is happening. Hisser’s was advertised as The Breakfast Club meets Resident Evil, and I guess it lives up to its promise on some level. Hissers may appeal to older teenagers who can handle horrifically detailed scenes of cannibalism, and moments of teenage uber-drama. Adults may find it a little tougher to take.