Audiobook Review: Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

10 04 2017


Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

Read by Jeff Gurner

Penguin Audio

Grade: B+
So, let me give you the synopsis to every Daniel Suarez novel…
HEY GUYS! There’s this crazy new technology! It’s so cool.
Oh, here’s how it’s gonna alter everything you take for granted and probably kill you. 
Poor main character! He’s sucked into something nobody could prepare for.
CRAZY CHASE SCENE! CRAZY CHASE SCENE! 
BANG!
WHIZ!
REALLY BAD GUYS DOING BAD THINGS! HERO DOESN’T KNOW WHO TO TRUST LOOKS FOR UNCONVENTIONAL HELP! BETRAYAL! INTRIGUE!
BIG EXPLOSION!
CRAZY CHASE SCENE!
EPIC SHOWDOWN! 
WORLD CHANGED FOREVER! 
Suarez’ latest continues his trend of causing more arrhythmia’s than a Five Guys Double Bacon Cheeseburger with all those extra fries in the bottom of the bad. It makes the Fast and the Furious franchise feel like an EB White novel. Sometimes, the craziness can be overwhelming, and it takes a bit of adjustment to settle into his near future world but once you settle in you just gotta hold on to the handrails until the ride comes to a complete stop. 
Jeff Gurner must have been genetically altered with larger lung capacity because there’s huge sections of the novel where I’m not sure he ever got a chance to take a breath. Add to that the international locales and ethnically (and biogenetically) diverse cast and Gurner should get hazard pay for this novel, but, as usual, he performed the hell out of it. Suarez pushes the boundaries of what you expect a technothriller to be, and with Jeff Gurner and plenty of oxygen to prevent breathlessness, Audio is the way to experience it. 

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Audiobook Review: Burning Bright by Nick Petrie

30 03 2017


Burning Bright (Peter Ash, Bk. 2) by Nick Petrie

Read by Stephen Mendel

Penguin Audio

Grade: B

In Burning Bright, Nick Petrie’s second Pete Ash thriller, Petrie takes on a lot of hot button topic, Surveillance, drones, privacy, hacking, black budget special operators, military corruption, the influence of technology on our everyday life, survivalism and archery. Many of these topics have been explored better with more focus in other books but here he blends them into a interesting mosaic. Even the things that made his first novel stand out, the crisp action and his main characters PSTD are muted. This, at times leaves the listener a bit befuddled by the plot, not sure what piece is important and, by the end, you’re left with the feeling that there’s a lot of loose ends. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because in a way it highlights the unique nature of Petrie’s highly appealing main character and the reality that the world isn’t always as cut and dry and books portray. As Ash hacks his way through this miasma of modern society, we get even more of a glimpse into his outsider nature. The highlight of a Burning Bright is the budding relationship between him and his quirky new love interest. It’s an adult relationship between two complicated characters who are still coming to terms with who they are. All in all, Burning Bright is a solid effort, with some fun action and lots of developments that create interesting possibilities for the series. If you are already invested in this character than you’ll enjoy the book, but if this would be your introduction to Peter Ash, go read The Drifter first.
Stephen Mendel seems to be one of those narrators whose main talent it seems is to blend into the background and let the listener immerse themselves into the story. He does an excellent job managing the rhythm of the dialogue, giving the interplay between characters a natural feel. He tries his best to guide the listener through a plot that can be a bit murky, keeping you in the game for the next key moment of character dialogue or action. Burning Bright is a worthwhile addition to a series that should appeal to fans of Jack Reacher style, thinking man action thrillers. 





Audiobook Review: Say Nothing by Brad Parks

28 03 2017


Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Read by George Newbern

Penguin Audio

Grade: B

There’s a conundrum that we lovers of mystery and thriller novels face, and that’s the fact that we know we are reading a mystery novel. We know the tricks and literary rules of mystery fiction. We see it from an outsiders perspective, know that that author is just as much a character in the book as the players and we often hold that perspective against the characters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten frustrated with a character in a book, because, dammit, doesn’t he or she realize they are a character in a book! This was the problem I faced with Say Nothing. Throughout the book I wanted to yell at the main character (and may have actually yelled at him causing strange looks from those around me) because he was missing such obvious things that were plain to me, an outside observer who didn’t have any true emotional attachment to the other characters or the distraction of being worried about the fact that my children were kidnapped. I mean, come on dude…. 
That being said, Say Nothing is a top notch thriller that will keep you invested until the very end. It definitely relies heavily on the tropes on the genre and doesn’t break much new ground. There were definitely twists, many of which seasoned mystery readers will see coming but still appreciate their execution. There two small scenes of a child being tortured or injured which may be tough on readers, so beware, but they do serve the plot and are not just brutal exploitation. At times, you too will want to yell at the main character but this is just indicative of how invested you become in his plight. 
George Newbern takes a workmanlike approach to this tale, which was appropriate. Say Nothing didn’t need any bells and whistles, no narrational gymnastics, just straight forward delivery. He keep the story moving, never getting it bogged down and just let the listener absorb themselves in the tale. If you’re looking for a solid mystery novel about ordinary people dealing with an extraordinary circumstances than Say Nothing fits that bill. 





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.