Audiobook Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

20 02 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher

Penguin Audio

Length: 10Hrs 59Min

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Grade: A

I often wonder how an author feels when their novel is compared to some cultural phenomenon. Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train is being called the next GONE GIRL. This must be both exciting and frustrating for an author, who wants the book to be commercially successful, yet also must want it to stand on its own. I highly doubt, due to the way the publishing industry works, that Hawkins sat down and said, “I’m going to write the next Gone Girl.” Hell, there have been plenty of twisty novels full of unreliable narrators and despicable characters before Gone Girl and I am sure there will be plenty more . Yet, it’s hard to write a review without at least considering the comparison, and I thought I had two choices, ignore the comparisons completely, or jump on them with full gusto.

So, in my opinion, The Girl on the Train is a better novel than Gone Girl. The twist were more surprising, the set up more unique, and the characters more complex. While Gone Girls relied on it’s tricks to drive the story, Hawkins relies on her strong characterization and unique use of perspective to create a true mystery that never telegraphs its moves. Hawkins plays on our personal misconceptions about gender and class to effectively shape the narrative, creating a unique storytelling style. She often uses what we know or think we know against us. Her characters are unreliable, not because it allows her to surprise us with twists, but because humans are unreliable. Being that we too are unreliable, as readers, we create blocks and misconceptions that she exploits. While the twists aren’t as big as Gone Girl’s twist, I personally felt they were more effective. While the comparisons exist, The Girl on the Train stands on its own both as a thrilling mystery and a intriguing look at some well drawn yet complicated characters.

There are those of us Americans who believe that all British people basically sound the same, so what would be the point in casting three different British narrators to narrate this tale? As with many things, we are so wrong. Clare Corbett, India Fisher and Loise Brealey’s narration enhances this book, giving each character just the right feel that I doubt a singular narrator could achieve. The three narrators helped create three distinct characters, aiding in their development. With the way that the interlocking narratives and tricks of perspective played it, it was vital for each character to have her own distinct voice, otherwise the plot, which often balanced on the razors edge, would have been torn to shreds Yet, instead of this potential mess, The Girl on the Train was one of the most taunt, surprising novels I have read in a while, and easily my favorite audiobook of 2015 thus far.





Audiobook Review: Influx by Daniel Suarez

24 02 2014

Influx by Daniel Suarez

Read by Jeff Gurner

Penguin Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 45 Min

Genro: Technothriller

Grade: A-

Influx, the latest by the true king of the near future technothriller, is a nano-infused balls to the wall thriller that will spin your genetically enhanced brain while causing your artificial cyber heart to beat a kilometer a minute keeping the tension building like a fusion powered perpetual motion machine. Basically, take all the future tech you think we should have had by now, mix it together with some well realized characters, add in some complicated social issues, throw in a heavy dash of awesome, and you have Influx. Yeah, I kinda dug this one. The Bureau of Technology Control was founded with the goal to regulate potentially disruptive technology. Yet, when physicist Jon Grady invents functional antigravity, he finds the BTC’s power has been corrupted and it’s power hungry director hording technology for his personal gain instead of the good of humanity. Grady refuses to play along, and is locked up in a top secret prison along with other rebellious genius. Probably not the smartest plan. Suarez’s techno vision and his rock and roll pacing is the perfect blend to drive this compelling story along. While the plot borders on over the top, it’s a gleefully awesome form of excess that should delight anyone who is still waiting for the rocket packs and hovercrafts promised to them as children. Even better, Suarez adds in a fresh dose of social sciences, examining the impact that technology has on society. If I have any complaint, it’s that at times the technology overshadows the characters, but with tech this cool, you can’t really fault the author too much for that. While it may be too soon to declare any book the techno-thriller of the year, Influx has thrown its hat into the ring as an early contender, and it’s gonna take something special to knock it off it’s perch.

I always have mixed feeling when an author has a go to narrator who narrates all their books, particularly their standalones. I understand you may be a huge fan of a specific narrator, but it doesn’t mean they are right for every one of your books. Luckily for us readers, the pairing of Daniel Suarez and Jeff Gurner is a match made in Talky Book Heaven. Gurner has a very professional, almost Movie Trailer voice, with enough range to give his narrations the right amount of edge. His range of voices is solid, giving each character a distinctive feel. Yet, the true beauty of his narration is his pacing. Suarez writes at a kinetic pace, and it would be very easy for a narrator to get overwhelmed by it, but Gurner never does. He propels the book along with just the right amount of energy, yet with enough control to pull back when needed. It’s a performance that will keep you on the edge of you anti-gravity platform, utterly engrossed in every moment.

Thanks to Penguin Audio for proving me with a copy of this title for review.





My Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Audiobooks of 2013 (Non-Zombie)

21 02 2014

2013 was another great year for post apocalyptic novels. Where 2013 truly stood out was the diversity of it’s offerings. From straight forward apocalyptic tales, to absurdist comedies, last years apocalyptic audiobooks showed just how much ground there is to cover in the genre. It was tough for me to pick just 10 Apocalyptic audiobooks, partially with the glut of continuing series putting out even better entries this year. Yet, after much contemplation and hair pulling, I came up with my list. So, if you are like me, and one of your favorite, most relaxing activities is to listen to the world go up in flames, here is my list of the best 2013 had to offer.

Expect my Zombie based Top 10 to appear soon.

Yesterday’s Gone by Sean Platt and David Wright

Read by RC BRay, Chris Patton, Brian Holsopple, Ray Chase, Maxwell Glick, and Tamara Marston

Podium Publishing

Yesterday’s Gone truly borders on the goofy at times, and I think in some ways this was the authors’ intention. Maybe not goofy per se, but the twists are so over the top, the plot so derivative of the classics and the characters so bizarre that you can’t help but shake your head at it. Yet, somehow it all works brilliantly. Yesterday’s Gone is a post apocalyptic fan’s somewhat inappropriate, at times shamefully wonderful dream. Yet, what truly sets this one apart is the brilliant production and wonderful narration. Ray Chase gives one of my favorite performances of the year, and add that to the excellent work the other narrators included notable performances by RC Bray and Chris Patton, and Yesterday’s Gone can crown itself my favorite Post Apocalyptic Audiobook of 2013. And, lucky for us, this is just Season One.

Countdown City (The Last Detective, Bk. 2)

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Countdown City picks up were The Last Detective leaves off, bettering the series by leaps and bounds. Book 2 offers a unique apocalypse of anticipation, where the wait for the world killer asteroid is an apocalyptic event all it’s own. Winter’s fascinating world is brought to life expertly by Peter Berkrot. Berkrot’s performance still sticks with me months after I finished listening to it.

Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

Read by Kirby Heybourne

Tantor Audio

Arguably, Odds Against Tomorrow is more of a disaster tale than a typical Post Apocalyptic novel, but really, there is nothing typical about this one. Apocalypose fans looking for something utterly unique should check out this tale of a brilliant disaster analyst who finds himself immersed in the “perfect storm” that he predicted. Equally moving and hilarious this tale is brought to life wonderfully by Kirby Heybourne who manages just the right tone for this tricky tale.

 

Breakers by Edward W. Robinson

Read by Ray Chase

Podium Publishing

Breakers is The Stand meets Lucifer’s Hammer with weird crab creatures. Podium Publishing is quickly making a name for itself with unique audiobook offerings excellently produced and Breaker’s is no exception. Ray Chase masterly guides us through this strange new world helping create one of the freshest looks at alien invasion since Gerrold’s Chtorr series.

Ashes by Brett Battles (Project Eden, Bk. 4)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible, Inc.

I have always been one of those people who get a bit annoyed when the good guys stop the global  conspiracy top release a world killing pathogen. Luckily, in The Project Eden series, the competent good guys are facing impossible odds, and well, aren’t able to do the impossible. This series starts with a straight forward pathogen thriller and progresses to a The Stand-like pandemic tale, and I loved every second of it. Plus, MacLeod Andrew’s. The man can bring it.

There was a fifth book in this series, released in 2013 as well, but I have yet to read it. Once I free me up an Audible credit, I plan to jump right back into this dangerous world.

The City of Devi by Manil Suril

Read by Vikas Adams and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

So, who doesn’t like absurdist comedy, heartbreaking romantic entanglements, strange embodiments of deities, Bollywood musicals, and gonzo sex in their Mumbai based apocalyptic tales? The City of Devis is a wonderful, and at times awkward tale, beautifully narrated by Vikas Adams and Priya Ayyar.

Fuse by Julianna Baggot (Pure, Bk. 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam, Casey Holloway, Kevin T. Collins, Pierce Cravens

Hachette Audio

This may have been the year for Book 2’s in Post apocalyptic trilogies, and Fuse is proof that often the followup can better something already pretty darn good. Baggot’s world is darkly beautiful and her characters wonderfully tragic. Plus, the performances, particularly that of Kevin T. Collin’s made me feel things. Like emotional things. I’d rather not talk about it.

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy

Read by Brandon Espinoza and Phoebe Strole

Penguin Audio

More Alien Invasions? Yes Please. Despite one annoying plot twist that I may have over emphasized in my review, Phillip Yancey’s YA novel is a heck of a good tale. His alien’s are different, and the plot well constructed. The performances by two new to me narrators also enhance this already quality tale.

Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

Read by Simon Vance

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

While I tend to like my Post Apocalyptic tales more scifi, there is definitely a place in the genre for a good Fantasy, one that Joseph D’Lacey provides for us in Black Feathers. With shades of The Dark Tower, D’Lacey balances dual timelines with ease to create a fascinating apocalyptic world where everything you believe gets twisted in wonderful ways. And truly, if you are going to go the Fantasy route, you might as well call on one of the best voices for Fantasy, Simon Vance, whose voice gives the context almost instant creditability.

Fragments by Dan Wells (Partials, Bk. 2)

Read by Julian Whelan

Harper Audio

One of the reasons I think I enjoy book 2’s in apocalyptic series, is because they often involve getting away from the static setting of book one and embarking on everyone’s favorite jaunt, the apocalyptic road trip. In Fragment’s Dan Well’s offer’s one of the best, a cross country trip through a devastated wasteland that used to be America. Julian Whelan continues to infuse the tale with heart and personality, the perfect voice to bring the tale’s wonderful protagonist to life.





Audiobook Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

12 09 2013

Lexicon by Max Barry

Read by Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman

Penguin Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Max Barry takes us on a master class in plotting, developing one of the most intricate storylines where nothing is as it seems, and no character is truly who you think they are. Barry uses non-linear storytelling and big game changing twists to constantly change the entire world of his creation. Each surprise fundamentally alters every perception you had about the book. It’s brilliantly done, utterly fascinating, yet fundamentally flawed.

Grade: B-

There is an old nursery rhyme that goes “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This, of course, is the anthem of the bullied, the song that embraces those who must deal with school yard taunts, knowing that these words won’t do any lasting harm. It is also utter and complete bullshit. As someone who was made fun of as a kid, I have heard this plenty of times. The people who use it do not use it as an anthem for the oppressed. In fact, this statement is often a weapon itself. Adults will use this statement to devalue a child’s complaints. “Heck, it’s just teasing, words can’t actually hurt you so buck up and deal with it mister.” Or even worse, it’s the anthem of the Bully, a justification for those who use words as weapons. “I mean, it’s not like I hit him with sticks and stones, I just used words.” The truth is, anyone who says this to a bullied child, even if the bullying is “just” verbal is a jackass. Words are weapons. Maybe, those who lean towards the physical side of the equation, where words can’t do as much harm as a kick or a punch, don’t realize this. As a kid, I was a relatively strong, big guy. I wrestled in high school and was quick to rough house. I dealt with plenty of punches, kicks and other physical harms, and I healed, and rarely remember them today. Yet, I can remember words. Things that were said to me that altered the very way I viewed myself and the world. The lingering affects of a poorly spoken work by an adult I respected affected me more than any stick or stone ever could. Words have power to build up or destroy. There is a certain magic in words, whether they are written or spoken., Certain works will demand attention, and  no matter what some idiotic adult may believe, can absolutely hurt you.

In Lexicon, words have power. Actual power. Lexicon tells the secret history of those who understand and use these worlds for manipulation and control of the world. Emily Ruff is a homeless con artist, whose incredible powers of persuasion are discovered on the streets of San Francisco by a secret organization. She is sent to a school to study and learn the power of words to compel and control those around her. Yet when a world altering word, called a bear word, falls into her hands Emily finds herself with an incredible power, and the ire of the organization that trained her. Honestly, this synapses really isn’t correct. Don’t believe a word or what I just wrote, even though it’s all true on the surface level. This is the problem with Lexicon. Max Barry takes us on a master class in plotting, developing one of the most intricate storylines where nothing is as it seems, and no character is truly who you think they are. Barry uses non-linear storytelling, and big game changing twists to constantly change the entire world of his creation. Each surprise fundamentally alters every perception you had about the book. It’s brilliantly done, utterly fascinating, yet fundamentally flawed. The problem is, the story is told in a way that never lets you connect with it at all. No character is developed in any realistic way, because all the characters are malleable instruments of the plot, and being manipulated by both the author and other characters in ways ranging from subtle to smack you in the face and kick you in your sensitive parts. The only character that I even remotely bonded with was Emily, yet I found her to be frustrating and I never felt we got to know her true essence. You really never get a good grasp on her character, because truly knowing her would make certain twists too obvious. Barry introduces the main antagonist into the story far too late to allow us to hate him, but makes him too unreasonable and cold to let us sympathize with him. We are left only with the knowledge that Emily hates him, so we must end up hating him too. Now, Lexicon isn’t a bad book on any level. There were moments I truly loved, and while I was immersed in the world, I really enjoyed it. It’s truly a wonderfully plotted novel that caused my jaw to hit the floor so many times, my dentist should pay Barry residuals. I especially liked how Barry incorporated history and mythology to back up his tales about the almost mystical powers of words.  Yet, looking back on the novel, I simply feel cold. I would love to see more stories told in this world, just with more of a focus on making the characters ones I could at least give a small portion of a flying crap about.

For a novel full of unpronounceable words, crazy gibberish talk and other such weirdness, narrators Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman made it seem effortless. This was my first time listening to either of these narrators, and while neither truly blew me away, the both gave solid performances of what seems to be a very tough novel to vocalize. They both bring a fresh, hip vibe to the reading, creating likeable character voices even if these characters weren’t necessarily likeable themselves. I though the two narrators had a flow and sense of pacing the jived well with the other, making the transitions between the two seamless. I especially liked Appelman’s command of the various accents he had to perform, as well as both narrators ability to drive the plot forward, adding tension to the elaborate chase scenes. Personally, I think with these performances, audio is the way to go, since I believe they give the weird words more power hearing them commandingly spoken than reading them in print, where they simply look like gibberish.





Audiobook Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

14 06 2013

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Read by Phoebe Strole and Brandon Espinoza

Penguin Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Young Adult Post Apocalyptic Alien Invasion

Quick Thoughts: The 5th Wave is a fast paced terrifying apocalyptic vision that is well executed until one moment of total crappihood has it all crash down on my weeping torso. If not for my one not-so-little plot hang-up, The 5th Wave would have been in contention as one of my favorite audiobooks of the year. But, dammit. I just couldn’t get past that one moment.

Grade: (Was so an A… until it wasn’t. So, let’s say B-ish)

Note: Fair warning, there are moments in this review (in the second paragraph) that a somewhat spoilerish. I will warn you along the way.

I should really thank Rick Yancey. I have never worried too much about my blog stats. If I get 20 people reading my review on the day I post it, I’m pretty much satisfied. I do pay attention to trends, to see what is driving people to my blog. I recently saw an upswing in people checking one of my Feature posts from last year, were I listed my 10 Favorite Alien Invasion novels. Since most of this has come from random search engine entries on Alien Invasion books, I can’t help but think that Yancey’s alien invasion novel The 5th Wave has inspired a renewed interest in the subgenre. I’m down with that. It’s no secret that I love Alien Invasion novels of all sorts. From more straight forward tales like Footfall, to the stranger subtler invasions, I have always been intrigued by why alien species would develop to a point where interstellar travel was a possibility, then come all the way to earth to perform weird medical procedures followed by a sloppy invasion where a few ragtag guerrilla fighters manage to find a way to stop them. I always wondered what motivated the aliens. It can’t be for our natural resources, since there are countless planets, moons, asteroids and comets that provide more than enough materials for some space faring saurian monkey jellyfish hybrids.  Do humans just taste really good? Is this why almost every apocalyptic scenario ends in an orgasmic smorgasbord of cannibalism? Many people have said that there really is no reason for aliens to search us out. I really don’t believe that. I know that is we discovered a sentient alien species living some crazy number of light years away, and we developed the technology to reach those distances, we would probably head right out there waving like some crazy hillbillies hopped up on caffeine and Coors Light. I just hope we don’t go there to probe them, invade them or eat them. Unless they are really tasty.

When the ships were discovered heading towards Earth no one knew what to expect. For 10 days they approached, no message, no indication of their plans. Then the first wave of destruction begins with an EMP blast that wipes out the electronic infrastructure and sends the planet into chaos. With each wave, more and more died. Now, Cassie is one of the last people left, traveling alone, trying to avoid the enemy in human form, in a search for her brother kidnapped by the invaders. The 5th Wave is a fast paced terrifying apocalyptic vision that is well executed until one moment of total crappihood has it all crash down on my weeping torso. Really people, I was loving The 5th Wave. Totally. Yancey creates a surprising realistic portrayal of the dire situation a probable encounter with an aggressive alien species would create. He shakes off the bonds of Independence Day and V, and uses pop physics, and intriguing science fiction concepts to make for a fascinating apocalyptic adventure story. Then, in one moment, I was like NOOOOOOOOOO!! PLEASE GOD NO!! THAT JUST DIDN”T HAPPEN! *Sigh* OK, really, this could get a little spoilery. I loved the beginning of the book with the details of Cassie’s journey and her perspectives of the apocalypse. I love the segments with Sam being trained to fight the aliens. I loved the mystery and intrigue and the constant guessing of what exactly was what. There were moments where I questioned assumptions, held back suspicions, and in turned felt the bitter betrayal of the alien maskirovka. Even when Cassie met up with Evan, I was OK, despite my suspicions. Yet, there is this moment. A turning point. A point where one alien decided enough is enough and turns on his own species and sides with the humans. Does this come from a disgust of the genocidal policies of his brothers? The unnecessary brutal elimination of an entire species? The use of children in the alien’s twisted schemes? No, it’s all because he met a cute 16 year old girl. GODDAMIT! Ok, ok, I get the whole love conquers all, and yes, there are some incredibly cute girls out there, but really? REALLY? Maybe I’m just not a romantic, but I have never fallen in love with an alien girl who I have only seen through the scope of my rifle, and barely have known that long to a point where  I am willing to betray the last remnants of my species. Maybe this is why I am still single. Really, The 5th Wave is a lot of fun, and you should totally read it. Maybe the whole love thing will make your heart flutter and birds suddenly appear for you. For me, it was like a turd floating in a beautiful pond.

Luckily, for you wonderful audiophiles like myself, the audio production of The 5th Wave is excellent. The narration duties are handled by two, new to me narrators, Phoebe Strole and Brandon Espinoza. Both of them did an outstanding job. I especially enjoyed Strole’s first person performance of Cassie. She did exactly what I liked in a first person narration, she infused it with personality, adding vocal quirks and making interesting decisions to allow Cassie to seem like a real person and not just a character being read to you. Espinoza had more of a challenge bringing multiple roles to life. At first, I though he struggles a bit with 5 year old Sam, but honestly, voicing young kids is quite hard. Yet, he managed to pull it off, and went on to do some excellent work with the other perspectives. The scenes came together well, with little to no dissonance between the alternating narrators. It just felt smooth, with crisp pacing and engaging characters. In fact, if it wasn’t for my one not-so-little plot hang-up, The 5th Wave would have been in contention as one of my favorite audiobooks of the year. But, dammit. I just couldn’t get past that one moment. Yet, don’t blame the narrators. They were excellent.

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





Audiobook Review: Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr.

5 02 2013

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr,

Read by Jake Hart

Penguin Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Literary Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is a literary novel with a sprinkling of science fictional philosophizing. A rambling piece of conversational surrealism, that is as engaging as it is enraging. Ron Currie tells his true story with emotional honestly, even though it’s really not his story, and even if it was, it’s so influenced by his perceptions that it’s nowhere near the truth. Still, it was a fun and sort of weird audiobook experience, and for people looking for something just a little bit different, one that I most certainly recommend. 

Grade: B+

I think it’s pretty obvious to most readers that any work of fiction is just that, fiction. Yet, often times what we know, and what we KNOW are two different things.  I know, that despite my intellectual understanding that a book is merely a made up story involving made up characters doing made up things, that I ofter feel there is some level of truth in every piece of fiction. Somewhere, the line is blurred between the protagonist of a story, and the writer. The love interest that our protagonist is falling for, in our minds, is just a thinly veiled love interest from somewhere in the author’s life. We expect emotional honestly from the people who we pay to lie to us. I think the internet, and particularly social media has only amped up this feeling, removing the layers between author and reader. There used to be so much more separation between author and reader, yet now we can read about funny things their kids did, what book they are reading, which is their favorite beer and their impression of the latest political scandal. We interact with the authors more, becoming their friend simply by clicking on a link and supporting them by retweets and likes. Recently there was a scandal where an author, one whose work I have enjoyed in the past, was called out for writing fake reviews, both praising his work and bashing his so called rivals. I was disheartened by this, shocked at the dishonestly, the unprofessionalism and shady actions of this author who has told me stories I have enjoyed. Since then, I haven’t read his work, which, on retrospect, seems sort of strange. Do I now no longer trust his protagonist, because, for all I know, he’s just a sock puppet who slips out in the dead of night to punch puppies and write graffiti on the walls of KinderCare?

In Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, Ron Currie Jr., author of the wonderful Everything Matters, tells the story of a possibly suicidal, obsessively infatuated, and somewhat unfocused author named Ron Currie Jr. The story itself is an often hilarious, sometimes frustrating conversational account of his relationship with the women he’s loved all his life, the death of his father, and his barely mid-list writing career that takes a weird turn after a possibly botched maybe suicide attempt allows him to fake his own death. I had so many mixed feelings about Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles. I absolutely loved the beginning. It’s a mix of a sort of pretentious psuedo-babble, tempered by a self deprecating honestly that only suffers because of the total lack of self awareness by the author or maybe the main character, whoever is actually telling the story.  I loved the ending as well, which is a rewarding payoff of the Kaufmaneque deconstruction of the third wall between author and reader that the novel takes on. Yet, the middle of the novel was a weird ride of conflicting themes and unfocused ramblings, that made me laugh, shake my head, and sometimes wonder if something was going over my head. I can’t really explain what I took away from it, but I’m going to try. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is not a love story, it’s a story about a love story. It’s a tale of one man’s journey to become self aware, only to discover that self awareness sucks. It’s an almost poetic account of how one day society will achieve perfection when the machines finally become sentient, and strip away all the human and biological flaws, allowing us to live in a state of bliss or erase ourselves completely. Basically, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is like sitting next to a drunk writer, as he attempts to be pretentious, scolds himself for being pretentious, tells the stories of his greatest love, the death of his father, and his biggest mistake. There were times when I absolutely loved this book and there were other times where I wasn’t exactly sure what the fuck I was listening to. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is a literary novel with a sprinkling of science fictional philosophizing. A rambling piece of conversational surrealism, that is as engaging as it is enraging. Ron Currie tells his true story with emotional honestly, even though it’s really not his story, and even if it was, it’s so influenced by his perceptions that it’s nowhere near the truth. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is fiction, except where it’s not. I think.

One of the reason’s I was excited about this book is I truly believe Ron Currie’s style translates wonderfully to Audio. His novel, Everything Matters, was one of the most unique and fascinating audiobooks I have listened to, and had a wonderful cast of narrators. Yet, one of the problems with being someone who listens to so many audiobooks, is despite how well a narrator performs, occasionally you can’t help but think how much better the overall experience would be if another narrator handled the role. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles was narrated by a new to me, and seemingly new to audiobooks narrator named Jake Hart. There were moments in this audiobook where Hart captured the conversational tones of the novel perfectly. He would add a tint of an affected accent, or have a small break in his voice that fit the mood of the novel to a tee. There were other moments where he sounded more like a professional narrator than a guy telling us a story. It was like, instead of being told about a particularly absurd moments by the guy sitting on the bar stool next to you, you were being recited the facts of a situation by the "Welcome to Movie Phone" guy. Much of the time listening to the audiobook, I just couldn’t help thinking how awesome the book would be if it was narrated by Ray Porter. Not that Jake Hart was bad, he wasn’t. It was more so that I though this book was particularly well suited to audio, and deserved the best first person narrator in the business. Still, it was a fun and sort of weird audiobook experience, and for people looking for something just a little bit different, one that I most certainly recommend. 

Note: Thanks to Penguin Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.





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!