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


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!

Audiobook Review: Cold Days by Jim Butcher

27 11 2012

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

Read by James Marsters

Penguin Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: 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.

Grade: A

The Dresden Files series will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s really was the gateway series that got me interested in, not just Urban Fantasy, but Urban Fantasy audiobooks. Before the Dresden Files, I can’t remember very many ventures into Urban Fantasy, and the ones I did attempt didn’t go over very well. I have taken a very weird road into Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom, nowhere near the traditional geek cultural road taken by many fans of speculative fiction. I was never into comic books as a kid, and enjoyed Stark Trek and Star Wars as isolated bits of fun, but in no way was an obsessive SF geek. When Scifi writers make clever Dungeons and Dragons references on Twitter I am basically lost. I read the staples, Narnia and The Hobbit as a kid, a few Star Wars books as a teenager but mostly I stuck to Legal Thrillers, Detective stories and other ,mysteries. My first dedicated sojourn into speculative fiction was through horror, where I found my first real literary obsession, Post Apocalyptic fiction. Through Post Apocalyptic fiction, I began moving into Science Fiction and Fantasy, expanding being apocalyptic novels to Space Operas and Portal Fantasies. I knew nothing of fairies or ghouls, and most of my vampires where of the Stephen King Variety, and pretty bare fanged basic. To this day, I don’t know what inspired me to pick up the first Dresden Files audiobook, but it opened a new window. Slowly, Butcher lured me in with wizards, and werewolves, things I have had literary experiences with before, but then slowly began to introduce me to new aspects of fantasy, for me at least. Now, while I’m still playing on the edges of the urban fantasy world, now, Harry Dresden convinced me to at least put my toe in the water.

Cold Days is the 14th novel in the Dresden Files, and more importantly, the start of a new story arch in the course of the series. If The Dresden Files was a TV show (I know, I know) Changes would have been a Season Finale, and Cold Days the premiere of the next season, with Ghost Story serving as a fun little Teaser special branching the two main arches. Harry Dresden is now, for better or worse, The Winter’s Knight, and must do the bidding of the Winter Queen Mab. Yet, when Mab gives him an assignment that is seemingly impossible, the assassination of an immortal, Harry gets drawn into a complicated chess match between an unseen new enemy and the allies of reality itself. To make matters worst, Harry must battle the mantel of the Winter’s Knight’s attempts to change him, while his friends and allies are not sure they can really trust him. In Cold Days, Butcher takes everything you think you know about Harry and the world of 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. It amazes me how far we have come from the world we first met in Storm Front. Nothing is the same, yet Butcher stays true to the essence of the characters, despite outside forces trying to change them. I was so enthralled by this story, going through a plethora of emotions, from pure exhilaration to heartbreak. While I loved Changes as a novel, I was scared about the direction it would force the series into. Butcher convinced me, that despite my doubts, he has a plan and its one well worth following. Cold Days simply reinvigorated my love of this series, making me excited for what is yet to come for Harry and his cohorts. Even knowing that what is coming is probably going to break my heart as much as entertain me doesn’t diminish my desire to take the journey.

So, Ghost Story happened. I think I was one of the very few that didn’t insta-hate John Glover’s performance. I sort of liked it in fact, and gave a pretty positive review garnishing some negative responses. That being said, John Glover isn’t Harry Dresden. Perhaps he could be ghost Harry Dresden with the sniffles, but he is not Harry Dresden. James Marsters is Harry Dresden, and proves it once again in his reading of Cold Days. Marsters is one of the few narrators who I think I enjoy more every time I listen to him. There were moments in this novel, when Harry would be shouting his spells, calling down Fire, Force or Ice that I got the chills. Marsters narrates this like Harry himself, through the full brute strength of his will. It is straightforward and powerful, maybe not as nuances as some narrators, but perfect for the world that he is bringing to life. Marsters proves that he knows these characters, that he has grown with them, and he is their voice. He has easily captured the rhythms of Butcher’s writing delivering them with an almost cinematic quality. If you are a fan of The Dresden Files audiobooks, you too will feel the chills to have Harry back as we have grown to know him.

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

Audiobook Review: The Hiding Place by David Bell

1 11 2012

The Hiding Place by David Bell

Read by Fred Lehne

Penguin Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Mystery

Quick Thoughts: The Hiding Place proved to me that David Bell may be one of the best writer’s today at showing the affects of violent crime on families. While the novel is well plotted, and the mystery well conceived, it’s his realistic yet engaging characters that really make this novel stand out in a crowded genre.

Grade: A-

I have read or listened to a lot of mysteries in my life. I have always liked detective stories, whether it’s some Belgium know-it-all, a gruff alcoholic cop or nosy amateur sleuth, the process of discovering a murderer is always fascinating to me. Yet, for the most part, these stories are about the detectives, and rarely about the victims of violent crime, particularly, those left behind to pick up the pieces. Often times, in detective novels, families serve strict purposes, information, possible suspects and motivation. Yet, when these purposes are unneeded the family gets pushed to the side, and when the case is finally solved, the family is forgotten for the next mystery. Whenever I think about just how families are affected by violent crimes I remember the Season 2 Episode of Homicide: Life On the Streets called "Bop Gun" where Robin Williams played a man whose wife was murdered before his eyes. It followed his story from the crime, through the process of the investigation. There is one scene in particular that has always stood out to me. In this scene, Williams is talking about how he can just tell by looking at people if they have been affected by violent crime, going on to point out people who have. It’s was quite a different look at crime than you would typically see on television and a moment that has stuck with me for years. The Hiding Place is David Bell’s second novel, and after his excellent debut in Cemetery Girl which gave us a look at a family ripped apart by a child’s abduction, I had high hopes for this novel.

25 years ago, Janet Manning’s brother was killed in the park, while she was supposed to be watching him. Now, on the anniversary of Justin‘s murder, the man convicted of his murder is out on parole, and Janet is still unsure of exactly what happened that day. When an old friend and an odd stranger show up, questioning what really happened, Janet, her family and the detective who solved the case are forced to revisit the day that changed them all. While The Hiding Place is a mystery, and a pretty solid one at that, where it stands out is in its depiction of the affects one crime had on a family and community. The affects of the murder of Justin Manning ripple down through three generations of Janet’s family, each struggling with their own questions, and attempting to deal with their secrets. Bell never force feeds the readers with melodramatic portrayals of how the murder of a child affected this people, but allowed the tragedy to linger around the edges of all the characters like an ever present ghost. The story is full of mood, giving intricate and intimate looks at each of the major players. It is done so well, that the mystery behind the killing almost becomes subtext and that when the ending comes, it makes the shock and betrayal that much more effective. To be honest, The Hiding Place, as a mystery, took me by surprise. I don’t mean to say I was surprised by the ending, which I was, but that at some point in the novel I had written off the mystery. I was so invested in the book and the characters, that, despite a perpetual mood of suspense, I felt like the book worked even without the mystery. If the major reveal was that everything was just as Janet originally believed, I would have been, OK, that works. Yet, when everything fell into place, it made the entire experience even better. The Hiding Place proved to me that David Bell may be one of the best writer’s today at showing the affects of violent crime on families. While the novel is well plotted, and the mystery well conceived, it’s his realistic yet engaging characters that really make this novel stand out in a crowded genre.

While I really liked Fred Lehne’s performance in Cemetery Girl, I felt his reading of The Hiding Place was simply OK. There were some weird moments, some character voices that just didn’t fit for me, and felt inconsistent at times, particularly his portrayal of Janet’s father. While the point of views were pretty evenly split between genres, part of me thinks the book would have benefited from having a female narrator instead. I think the most important moments of the novel came when Janet and her daughter Ashleigh where the point of view characters, and while Lehne’s characterizations of these characters weren’t bad, I think the right female narrator would have been better at capturing the depths of the turmoil and emotions they were dealing with. Overall, the performance was solid and the audiobook was an enjoyable listen, I just feel it could have been even better with another choice.

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

Audiobook Review: Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

31 07 2012

Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

Read by Jeff Gurner

Penguin Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Techno-Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Kill Decision is a fast paced, explody orgiastic techno adventure full of over the top action, colorful characters and a twisty conspiracy laden plot that will keep the reader’s head spinning. Suarez takes current technology and pushes it out to frightening extremes, which gives the sometimes outrageous plot just enough validity to make you uncomfortable. Kill Decision is the ultimate summer read, an exciting thriller that feels like a big budget action movie for your brain.

Grade: B+

As if there aren’t enough things that will one day kill me, Daniel Suarez has to add a new one to the list. Sometimes, I feel there is this evil cabal of genre authors who sit around in the mysterious smoky castle, or perhaps a local coffee shop, with the sole purpose of thinking up new monsters, technology or diseases that may very well end my existence. I have become used to the idea that someday a zombie may feast on my delicious brain, or the government which we all have such faith in will release a killer plague wiping out over 99% of the population. I can deal with a Robopocalypse or Emo-Vampires sucking my blood and forcing me to listen to Death Cab for Cuties until my ears bleed and my brain hemorrhages. Yet, now I can’t even walk my dog or orchestrate a global conspiracy to destabilize the European Futures market without worrying about whether or not some unmanned drones programmed to emulate warlike soldier ants will swoop down and kill me. I mean, sure, robots may rise and destroy humanity, and even the smart Artificial intelligent houses of the future may take us captive and enslave us to their will, but at least these were things I could see happening in the future, when I am old and have finally seen all 10 of The Hobbit movies. Yet, Suarez’s killer drones are topical and current and may be circling over my tin foil lined brain as we speak.

In Kill Decision, the latest techno-thriller by Daniel Suarez, Odin, the head of a top secret military Special Ops team, is tasked with finding the truth behind a series of unmanned drone attacks on the United States. When the shadowy group behind the drones targets Linda McKinney, a scientist studying the behavior of Weaver Ants, Odin must find out why she was targeted, and what the implications are for the world, and the way we fight wars. Kill Decision is a fast paced, explody orgiastic techno adventure full of over the top action, colorful characters and a twisty conspiracy laden plot that will keep the reader’s head spinning. Suarez takes current technology and pushes it out to frightening extremes, which gives the sometimes outrageous plot just enough validity to make you uncomfortable. On top of the crazy, breakneck plotting, Suarez fills out the tale with plenty of quirky characters, developed well enough to make you fear for their safety when the danger comes. Oh, and the danger comes, at time relentlessly and without mercy. Kill Decision wasn’t problem free. At times, the plot truly pushes the boundaries of credulity, but in fun exciting ways. You are having so much fun while experiencing Kill Decision that you are willing to let a few inconsistencies slip past. My major issue with the book was in the character of Linda McKinney. I liked her. She had a kick butt nature, and was the heart of the story. She also was infuriating at times. There were points where Suarez turned her into a shrieking liberal. Now, I had no problem with the politics in the story, either the author’s or the characters. I didn’t feel there was any pressing agenda. What I didn’t like was the fact that her political arguments with Odin transferred her from a well developed strong female lead to a caricature. There was also a bit of naiveté to the character that I felt was placed there more to serve the plot than a true reflection of the character as I had visualized her. Yet, this one issue wasn’t enough to derail an otherwise entertaining novel.  Kill Decision is one of those novels that makes you want to pull out all the well worn reviewing clichés, using terms like rollicking fun, thrills and spills and rollercoaster ride. Kill Decision is the ultimate summer read, an exciting thriller that feels like a big budget action movie for your brain.

Jeff Gurner gives an excellent performance in his reading of Kill Decision. Gurner read Suarez’s previous thrillers Daemon and Freedom TM, and was ready for the fast paced, non stop action of Kill Decision. Gurner does a solid job with the characterizations but his true talent is pacing the many action scenes in just the right way. When listening to an audiobook, action can sometimes get muddled if the pacing is off, but in Kill Decision this was never a problem. Gurner’s reading allowed the listener to easily visualize the complex action scenes. Now, like The Daemon novels, Penguin used some strange FX’s for the chapter breaks. These didn’t really interfere with the overall tale, but they were sort of weird here. It was supposed to have an almost robotic sound, but it in fact sounded a bit like someone hocking something up. This doesn’t in anyway affect the production, I just thought it was sort of strange, and thus worth mentioning. Kill Decision was another excellent pairing of Suarez and Gurner, and the thriller to watch out for this summer.

Audiobook Review: Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth

7 06 2012

Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth (Nathanial Cade Series, Bk. 3)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Penguin Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 16 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Red, White and Blood is a thrill a minute supernatural horror tale that is only made scarier by the author’s ability to make it feel authentic. With fully realized characters, high tension scenarios and deeply rooted conspiracies, Farnsworth hasn’t just written an exciting book but has created a truly frightening world whose true horror comes from how much it resembles our own.

Grade: A-

Very few things go together as well as politics and horror. Horror movies foster a sense of futility, characters trapped in situations they cannot escape, knowing no matter what they do the monster in the room will eventually destroy them. Horror character’s stupid mistakes and past indiscretions come back to haunt them. They think they are prepared, think they will stay true to themselves, protect those they are sworn to protect, yet when the reality of the situation presents itself, in full, they find that they may not be as strong as they believed themselves to be. Yes, horror characters and politicians have a lot in common. I used to be a political junkie, back in the days when CNN was the only 24-hour news station, and I didn’t have cable. My news came to me through reading newspapers and local broadcasts at 6 and11 PM. Yet, as I got older, and the sources of news grew, displaying all the inherent flaws of out political system, I began to hate what I was watching. So, instead I turned to horror movies. Yet, politics is still an old love, and every election season, I find the campaigning, mud smearing and machinations of the process slowly begin to revitalize that interest, despite the horror I feel at its actual execution. I can’t say I ever thought about just how horrific that process would be if added to the down and dirty political brawling was a battle between an ancient spirit, the patron saint of serial killers, and a vampire. This is why I’m a reviewer instead of a writer.

Red, White and Blood is the third entry in Christopher Farnsworth’s Nathan Cade aka The President’s Vampire series, and it’s easily my favorite. In some ways, Farnsworth series reminds me of a really well done Comic Book movie series. Each edition offers new characters and old vendettas but the true driving force is a new enemy who pushes our hero in new directions. Yet, unlike less well executed movie series, Nathaniel Cade’s new enemies are fresh and inventive, and completely break away from what we expect from our baddies in terms of actions and motivations. In Red, White and Blood, the new baddie is The Boogeyman, who is like your deepest childhood fears and hundreds of urban legends rolled up into one seemingly invincible package. To add to the tension, the conflict between The Boogeyman and Cade is set within the high stress situation of a struggling Presidential Campaign, with the ever-present Press hanging like Vultures, waiting for one fatal misstep in order to leap on the carcass. Farnsworth continues to develop his characters in interesting ways. It was great to see Cade, while not truly vulnerable or weak, but fallible. Also, by infusing more political elements in the story, we got to see more of a glimpse into the person who Zach was before his disgrace, and assignment to serve as Cades keeper. Farnsworth moved Zach in some interesting directions, highlighting who he was, using that as a contrast to truly show us what he is becoming. One of my favorite aspects of this series is the author’s creating of a secret history of the United States, using news articles, true crime, and writings to show the supernatural influences on the counties growth. Red, White and Blood is a thrill a minute supernatural horror tale that is only made scarier by the author’s ability to make it feel authentic. With fully realized characters, high tension scenarios and deeply rooted conspiracies, Farnsworth hasn’t just written an exciting book but has created a truly frightening world whose true horror comes from how much it resembles our own.

Listening to Bronson Pinchot’s narration of Red, White and Blood highlights how much choices by a narrator can affect the overall mood of a novel. Pinchot reads this novel with a slow, deliberate pace that increases the tension of the plot. Pinchot creates aurally what the best horror movies create with music and images, an atmospheric mood that keeps the listener on edge, never knowing what will be around corner. His characterization of Cade is perfect, using an economy of inflection in the same way Cade uses an economy of emotional display. When Cade does show fear or doubt, and you can hear the slight evidence of it in his tone, it becomes doubly effective because it is so unexpected. Bronson’s choices are always well reasoned and affective, and his performance in Red, White and Blood proves again that the right narrator can bring a novel to life in so many unexpected ways.

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

Audiobook Review: Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan

15 07 2011

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan

Read by Erik Davies

Penguin Audio

Genre: Mystery

Quick Thoughts: Bad Things Happen is full of great characters, surprising twists, and just the right amount of action that it makes a great read, but what puts it over the top is the author’s obvious love for the genre that seeps out with every work he writes.

Grade: B+

I think that mystery lovers would make the worst real life detectives. Sure, they could probably quickly figure out who the killer is on Law & Order: Special Criminal Victim LA, and are the only ones not standing around with that stupid slack-jaw look on their face as Hercule Poirot announces who the real killer is yet and I’m just pulling this stat out of the air, 99% of all murders are too simple to ever make a good novel. Mystery lovers have been trained to look past the obvious, when typically the obvious solution is usually the correct solution. We see a man standing over the bullet ridden copse of his biggest enemy with a smoking gun and we wonder just exactly who set this poor man up for murder. That’s the fun of mysteries. Sure, we need to suspend belief a bit, but good mystery fans are always looking for the implausible possibility, and having a lot of fun doing it. In the novel, Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan a series of murders has entangled our mysterious protagonist, short story editor David Loogan, who uses his experience in editing crime stories to attempt to figure out the mysteries surrounding the murders. Yet, as Loogan tries to decipher the crime, Ann Arbor police officer Elizabeth Waishkey must deal with this seemingly sweet, yet perhaps misguided wannabe detective, whose past may contain secrets that call his reliability into question. 

I was truly surprised by how much I enjoyed Bad Things Happen. I had expected a typical mystery, yet what I got was a unique tale full of dark humor, and a nearly savage satire of the publishing industry. Many of the suspects are successful novelists, editors, and aspiring writers, each with devastating secrets and hidden motives. Dolan offers a lot of humor in the affected nature of the novelists, each wanting to deflect attention away from themselves, yet cannot resist brainstorming about the motives and actions of the killer. While at times the plot seems to go off in tangents, and lead us down fruitless paths, Dolan pulls it all together nicely. Sure, the mystery is a bit over the top, and the final reveal bordering on cliché, but it’s all done with such flair that you can’t help but enjoy it. Bad Things Happen is full of great characters, surprising twists, and just the right amount of action that it makes a great read, but what puts it over the top is the author’s obvious love for the genre that seeps out with every work he writes.

Erik Davies does a fantastic job with Bad Things Happen. He capably voices both protagonists, impressively handling the female role of Elizabeth. Yet, what I most enjoyed was the way he handles the peripheral characters, especially the novelists, with their arrogant patronizing and affected tones. Davies expertly builds just the right amount of tensions with his reading, yet infuses it with a touch of humor appropriate for the novel. Mystery fans will struggle to discover the mystery behind this whodunit, but will enjoy themselves trying to come up with their own far flung theories of the crime. What more do you want in a good mystery novel?

Audiobook Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

12 07 2011

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Read by Mark Bramhall

Penguin Audio

Release Date: August 9, 2011

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: With its grand fantasy adventure told in tandem with a tale of devastating realism The Magician King may possibly be the best fantasy novel of a year full of great contenders.

Grade: A+

I almost feel bad for the hard core fans of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, since they are in the process of a grueling wait of over a year for sequel to Grossman’s first Fillory novel. I have done that wait before, the 7 year stretches between King’s Dark Tower releases, and the multiyear waits between each release of Donaldson’s Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Heck George RR Martin fans have now officially survived their long wait, as did the legion of Patrick Rothfuss fans earlier this year. So, yes, we all know the feeling, the anticipation, the knowing it will be great but fearing it will suck. Yet, for me, the wait was roughly about two weeks. I only recently discovered the brilliant adult fantasy novel The Magicians, and fell in love with its world. So, I will try to do a service for lovers of Fillory and it’s often caustic, and frustrating human visitors by letting them know that there wait will be rewarded. The Magician King has all the beauty and realism of The Magician, in fact, I personally believe it is an even more engaging novel than its prequel. Of course, my love for this novel isn’t going to make August 9th come any faster.

In the Magician King, Quentin, along with Julia, Janet and Elliot are now Kings and Queens of Fillory. As a lover of the Fillory novels this is everything that Quentin had dreamed of as a child. So, of course he wants more. It’s one thing to achieve Royalty status of a magical land, but Quentin wants adventure, a chance to be a hero. So, when the Kingdom needs to collect back taxes from Utter Island, Quentin think it’s his chance to break out of his kingly rut and experience a true adventure. Of course, as fans of The Magician know all to well, when Quentin gets what he wants most, the unexpected always happens and not always in Quentins‘s favor. Thus begin The Magician King, a beautiful and brilliant fantasy adventure reminiscent of CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader and other seafaring fantasy adventures. So, yes, Quentin’s routine mission turns into a true adventure right out of the storybooks, with possibly the whole universe on the line, and if this was the full tale of The Magician King I would be happy and content with a fun fantasy that embraces all the tropes I enjoyed as a child. Yet, this isn’t the whole novel. What escalates this from a delightful adult fantasy to something so much more is the story of Julia. As we follow our heroes on their Fillorian quest, we flashback to Julia’s story from the moment she failed the Brakebill’s test. Julia’s tale is dark and brutal. Unlike the isolated vanilla magical training of the Brakebills lot, Julia must travel through the dirt and scum of the magical underground. While the school years of the Magicians were analogous to an adult Harry Potter, Julia’s training was more reminiscent of Gaimen’s American Gods.  In The Magician’s King Grossman surpasses his previous novel by creating  competing vision of worlds, showing both the brutal and the beautiful , while still managing to remind you why the best fantasy tales never really leave you.

In The Magicians, it took me a while to fully get into Mark Bramhall’s reading, yet in The Magician King the story and narration instantly engaged me. In fact, it’s tough to truly evaluate Bramhall’s reading because I became so immersed in the tale, so totally engulfed that I lost myself in the reading. If anything Bramhall came off as a gruff grandfather reading us to bed at night, when we are in the momentary stage between consciousness and our dreams. What’s truly hard to evaluate is if this was because of the story, Bramhall’s talent as a narrator, or, more likely, a combination of both. With its grand fantasy adventure told in tandem with a tale of devastating realism The Magician King may possibly be the best fantasy novel of a year full of great contenders. More simply, it is one of those few novels that I wish I could scrub from my brain, just so I could experience it again fresh.


Note: I recieved This Advanced copy of The Magician King courtesy of the good people at Penguin Audiobooks. The Magician King is available for preorder at and