My Top 20 Audiobooks of 2013

23 01 2014

2013 was an up and down year for me. While I achieved some wonderful personal goals, I have also experienced some of the toughest trials and tribulations of my life. Some of that has been reflected on this blog and social media, where my presence is not as active as it once was. Typically, when I write this list, I give a statistical breakdown of my listening. While my overall consumption of audiobooks was up this year, my tracking, recording and reviewing of them were down. In 2013 I reviewed I posted 164 reviews of audiobooks, many of them including multiple titles. Roughly, I believe I listened to around 200 books his year, which would exceed my highest previous total.

2013 was a great year for audio. Any of the Top 5 titles in my list could have been contenders in any previous year. There were so many books that simply blew me away. It is always tough for me to choose my favorites. Instead of asking "What were the best books of 2013?" the question I asked, upon reflecting on the year is "What 2013 books affected me the most?" Whether through heart stopping action, stylistic writing or characters that stay with you, these are the books that lingered in my brain long after they finished. Some made me laugh, a few made me cry, and some made me cringe and want to grab on the closest person near me for a comforting hug.

When compiling this list, I also look for titles that truly stand out in the audio format. Scanning over this list, there is only one title I would say that the narration didn’t enhance the experience, yet that book was full of such awesomeness that the less than amazing performance couldn’t keep it off the list. For a bit of a surprise, there are no Zombie titles and only one true apocalyptic title, so those of you who have pigeon holed me as the "zombie apocalypse guy" may be a bit shocked. Don’t worry, my favorite Zombie and Post Apocalyptic Audiobooks of 2013 list will be on its way.

So, thanks for sticking with me through 2013, and be sure to keep injecting stories into your brain through your earholes for the rest of 2014.

 

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

Read by Kevin T. Collins, Eileen Stevens, and Ali Ahn

Hachette Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: Love Minus Eighty is one of the most engrossing science fiction novels I have read in a long time. McIntosh has created a darkly beautiful near future world and populated it with characters you truly wish were real. It is an exploration of our romantic future and an affective romance all in one wonderful novel.

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 35 Min.

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

What I Said: Brilliance is a smart blockbuster movie for your brain, with a complex and engaging main character, a stunningly created world, and so much action you should probably keep your cardiologist on Speed Dial. It’s a a straight thriller with enough science fiction elements that I want to force all my Speculative Fiction friends to read, at gun point if necessary. I absolutely loved this book.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Read by Will Patton

MALE NARRATOR PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR.

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 35 Min

Genre: Horror

What I Said: Doctor Sleep is an audiobook that will linger with me for a long time, a wonderful and moving story combined with one of the favorite narrator performances of all time. Doctor Sleep is a prime example of just how special the medium can be.

 

Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger, Bk. 5)

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Science Thriller

What I Said: Extinction Machine is like a sick blend of The X-Files and 24, amped up on meth, laced with cocaine, marinated in Jolt cola and mainlined directly into my brain through my earholes. I absolutely loved this book. It’s a novel so tailored to my likes that I briefly wondered if my 2-year-old self was correct and the world actually does revolve around me.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Read by Benjamin Percy

Hachette Audio

Length: 21 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Literary Horror

What I Said: Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon tells the tale of the afflicted, the demagogues and the victims that this world of werewolves has created. It combines the detailed political and social alternate history of Harry Turtledove or Robert Conroy with the gut level horror of Stephen King told with a literary flair that escalates the novel beyond its influences.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Read by Fenella Woolgar

Hachette Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Fiction

What I Said: Life After Life is a novel that defies easy categorization. It’s a genre busting look at life in the 20th century through the eyes of a normal women given the extraordinary ability to relive her life. Life After Life is one of the most fascinating novels I have read in a long time, and while at times I felt dragged down by the melancholy of the tale, by the end, I wanted to keep experiencing the many lives of Ursula Todd.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Read by Kate Mulgrew

FEMALE NARRTOR PERERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

Harper Audio

Length: 19 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Horror

What I Said: Joe Hill’s latest novel is lush vivid horror tale full of wonderful characters, and unsettling imagery. Hill manages to take the thing we love best, the innocence and joy of Christmas time, and flip it on its head, making it a representation of all that we fear. NOS4A2 is brilliantly executed, leaving a lingering affect on the reader long after it is over.

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Alternate History Urban Fantasy/Steampunk Superheroes.

What I Said: Larry Correia brings the arc than began in Hard Magic to a natural and completely satisfying conclusion in Warbound. With a combination of amazing storytelling, wonderful characters and one of the best narrator performances I have experienced, The Grimnoir Chronicles has earned it place as perhaps my favorite all time Speculative Fiction Audiobook series.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Read by Neil Gaiman

Harper Audio

Length: 5 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Fantasy

What I Said: I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

Read by Graham Winton

Recorded Books

Length: 22 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: Robert Jackson Bennett takes on the American Dream, and twists it in so many bizarre ways it becomes a kaleidoscope of what-the-fuckery. An engaging plot full of wonderful characters, that Bennett sends on one of the weirdest, wildest sciency fiction adventures my poor brain has ever had to process. Some narration issues may have held back some of it’s overall potential, but it’s still one heck of a good listen.

The Doll by Taylor Stevens (Vanessa Michael Monroe, Bk. 3)

Read by Hillary Huber

Random House Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Thriller

What I Said: In The Doll, Taylor strips away the trappings of her writing and presents a balls to the wall fast paced action thriller that will leave the reader awash in adrenaline soaked bliss. While her normal touches are still there, her vivid international setting, her complicated character’s unique skill set and her spin on typical action hero motivations, the action in The Doll is crisp and mean which makes it the most satisfying entry in an already excellent series.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Read by RC Bray

Podium Publishing

Length: 10 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: The Martian is probably my biggest surprise awesome audiobook this year. If you like realistic space travel tales, with cursing, 70′s pop culture references, laugh out loud one lines and plenty of fascinating creative science and engineering problem solving, download this sucker now. It’s really good.

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett (The Demon Cycle, Bk. 3)

Read by Pete Bradbury

Recorded Books

Length:  26 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Fantasy

What I Said: The Daylight War is not just a wonderful edition in perhaps my favorite fantasy series, but the proof of the validity of the trust I have put in Brett as a unique storyteller. The Daylight War continues with the characters and themes we loved in the first two novels, yet also manages to take the story in a whole new direction. While the clash of cultures is brilliantly done, and the increased menace of the demonic enemy even scarier, it’s the intricate relationships that Brett has built that is the true beauty of this novel.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Read by Kate Rudd

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: : The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a melancholy near future tale of love, family and robots, told on a canvas of a fascinating post disaster world. She fills her world with fully realized, flawed characters that filled me with joy as they were pissing me off. Clarke has managed to create a wonderful science fiction tale with a romantic tilt that I totally bought into. which isn’t the easiest of feats.

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller, Bk. 5)

Read by Peter Giles

Hachette Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 49 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Why I Chose It: Connelly continues to prove he is a master of both plotting and characterization as he guides his broken creation, criminal defense lawyer Mickey Haller, along a bumpy road to redemption. Connelly redefines the concepts of innocence here, both legally and morally, while creating a compelling procedural tale. Giles continues to give a masterfully subtle performance that captures the nuances of Connelly’s writing.

The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

Read by Will Collyer

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 19 Min

Genre: Historical Western/Thriller

Why I Chose It: I tend not to be a huge fan of historical/western tales, but The Thicket simply blew me away. Lansdale’s writing has a way of sneaking up on you. There are no bells and whistles, just straight forward storytelling, that surprises you with it’s emotional depth, colorful characters and dark humor. Collyer is quickly becoming a go to narrator for me. His performance of 16 year old Jack Parker manages to balance the naiveté and maturity of a young man forced to grown up due to tragedy.

The City of Devi by Manil Suri

Read by Vikas Adam and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Literary Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Read by Michael Beck

Random House Audio

Length: 20 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Why I Chose It: Grisham returns to Clanton and his Jake Brigance character in a tale that rivals the A Time To Kill. Honestly, if you told me that Grisham would appear on my Top 20 list, I would have yelled OBJECTION! but Sycamore Row manages to be a effective legal thriller as well as a socially poignant tale. What makes matters even better is Michael Beck’s narration which is emotionally charged and pitch perfect. His performance enhances this novel, giving it a bump over a few other stellar legal thrillers this year, like Sheehan’s A Lawyer’s Lawyer and Ellis’s The Last Alibi.

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Audiobook Review: The City of Devi by Manil Suri

19 03 2013

The City of Devi by Manil Suri

Read by Vikas Adam and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Literary Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

Grade: A-

I always use this opening paragraph of my reviews to talk about something that stood out to me during my experience of an audiobook. Whether it be an issue within the novel, the reason why I decided to read it, or just an idea that percolates within my brain as the tale is being told. With The City of Devi there we a lot of potential topics to discuss. As a post apocalyptic fan, The City of Devi explored many themes that fascinate me, particularly the intermingling of the international economy,  reliance of modern technology for information, the importance of the balance of power among nuclear states, and how all these things can be manipulated into causing significant, even apocalyptic damage to a world increasingly balanced on a razor’s edge. I could discuss another of my favorite topics, religion or even tackle the importance of popular culture in propagandizing the masses. All of these are wonderful, fascinating ideas that are beautifully explored in The City of Devi, but I, like most red blooded males, want to talk about the sex. I want to believe I am a mature adult, well into his 30’s who can discuss matters of sexual relationships with a frank honesty. Instead, though, I fall somewhere between socially awkward and a giggling junior higher who just happened to stumble onto a Shannon Tweed movie on late night TV. When listening to an audiobook, there is an intricate relationship formed between listener, narrator and author, and when the audiobook is full of the sexin’, well, that can lead to some strange situations. I tend to listen to my audiobooks while at work, typically alone, but often near others, and when that audiobook talks about a newly married couples tentative sexual explorations, or one cousin donkey slapping another during naked wrestling, I find myself unable to make eye contact with those around me. I know what you think, “Grow Up Bob! Sex is a Natural Part of Life!! Who Hasn’t Donkey Slapped Their Cousin?” Yet, if there is one thing my ultraconservative Baptist upbringing taught me, it’s that listening to any form of Boy on Boy on Girl action in mixed company, well, may lead to awkward situations in which it is best to simply avert your eyes.

The City of Devi tells the tale of one woman’s search to find her husband amidst the chaos of war ravaged Mumbai, on the eve of a potential nuclear strike from Pakistan.  As she makes her way through the streets full of religious discord, apocalyptic paranoia and roving gangs, she encounter’s a young Muslim man with a secrets of his own, which may affect her directly. As the two search for her husband, they encounter many colorful and dangerous characters, one of which may be a manifestation of the cities patron goddess, Mumba Devi. The City of Devi is an absurdist romp through apocalyptic Mumbai that explores love, religion, pop culture and war in strange and brilliant new way. Its part Bollywood, part porn mixed into a screwball comedy yet set in a dark, and strikingly realistic near future dystopia. The two main characters, Sarita and Ijaz or “the Jazter” were lovingly explored and intricately developed forcing such a guttural reaction from me that caused me to question aspects of myself. I had such a negative early reaction to Jaz, his predatory nature, his brashness about sex, how it is just as much of a primal need to him as breathing and sustenance. I had to wonder if this reaction was due to some level of homophobia, on my part. Equally, my vision of Sarita as almost a victim, someone who needed to be protected from the likes of Jaz, caused me to wonder if that reaction was due to some misogyny on my part. Despite my personal conflicts with these characters, I found them fascinating. Even more so, I was blown away by the world created by Suri, how economics, religion and politics all contributed to a slow burn apocalypse. This multilayered exploration was so brilliantly done, it was almost scary. Add to this Suri managed to make what seemed to be almost an absurdist idea, the contribution of an over the top action movie about the goddess Devi to the chaos, seem strikingly plausible and even timely. Yet, the core of all this, the essence of the novel is a love story, in fact, a love triangle unlike any one I have experienced before. This was no Hollywood love tale, no easy love at first sight fallacy, but true love involving hard work, sacrifice, betrayal and self deception. The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

I think one of the major reasons this tale worked so well for me was the excellent performances of the two narrators, Priya Ayyar and Vikas Adam. The tale starts off in Sarita’s POV which is handled lovingly by Ayyar. Her narration is rich and beautiful, capturing the flavor of Mumbai, while also deftly showing the chaos and mayhem of a city steeped in desperation. Ayyar captures the frantic pace of the city, and she moves you from situation to situation, and then transitions to the back story of her relationship with her husband with a gentle intensity. Then comes Jaz. The transition is almost a punch in the face, as Vikas Adam takes an almost instantly confrontational tone with the listener. It’s as if he’s saying, “This is who I am. Deal with it.” Adam reads with the vocal equivalent of a sneer, yet as the two characters begins to interact, it softens and changes from outwardly aggressive, to an inner exploration. The interplay between the two narrators truly accentuated the story that Manil Suri seems to be telling. You can feel the reluctant bond form between the two characters. The pacing is sharp and distinct, carrying the listener along from situation to situation with ease, allowing us to fully follow each step on the journey. As with many multi-narrator productions, there is a slight disconnect in the voicing of shared characters, but in some ways that plays into the strength of the tale, showing how point of view affects perception. The City of Devi was a wonderful production of a fascinating novel that made me think almost as much as it made me laugh.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy for review.