Audiobook Review: Clawback by Mike Cooper

27 08 2012

Clawback by Mike Cooper

Read by Henry Leyva

Penguin Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Financial Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Clawback was a fun melding of financial and action thrillers with a highly likable hero and plenty of thrills and spills for action fans. Cooper has created a character that I hope to see again, even if it means I have to figure out just exactly what a hedge fund is.

Grade: B

I’ll be honest, when it comes to big money and Wall Street, I know almost nothing. I have the normal banking accounts, a 401 K, and a big jar I throw my spare change in at the end of every day. Ask me about stocks and bond, hedge funds and futures, and I will just point at you and laugh like an idiot. I may spout the company line about White Collar crime, predatory lending practices and the many other ills that seemed to have been responsible for some of our economic woes, but in no way do I totally understand exactly how things are in the toilet. My vast knowledge of high finance comes from a few Stephen Frey novels I have read. So, I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about taking on Mike Cooper’s financial thriller, Clawback. With fiction, I like to stick with things I know, or at least have a layman’s understanding of. I may not know all the intricacies of the law, but I know enough where I can have some semblance of an understanding about what should happen during a criminal tries. This is why most of my thrillers are either legal thrillers, or just about some lone badass kicking people’s asses for some understandable crime. Yet, the idea behind Clawback intrigued me. While I really don’t understand high finance, I do understand the idea of wanting to strike back. In Clawback, someone is killing off investment bankers, in particular, bad investment bankers. While I may not understand exactly how these people may have lost their costumer’s money, I can totally understand the raw desire to get back what is owed you.

Silas Cade is not your typical accountant. Fresh off a stint in the Middle East, Silas is now the go to guy when someone in high finance needs an account settled, in ways that skirt legality. When a series of investment bankers are killed after losing a whole lot of money, Silas is brought in to find who is behind the murders. Yet, the deeper Silas gets into the case, the more he realizes that things may not be as cut and dry as they seemed. Clawback is a complicated game of shifting money and loyalties that features an engaging and likable main character. While the plot often threatens to go off the rails, Cooper manages to keep the story grounded by focusing on his man character and his intriguing love interest. Silas Cade is the perfect blend of shadowy past, with present day everyman liability that makes him carry this tale. Cooper manages to surround Cade with a mixed bag of interesting characters, including a well conceived financial blogger who catches Silas’ eye. Whiles some of these characters are crisp and well developed, others become a bit one dimensional at times. One thing that truly surprised me about Clawback was the depth and detail Cooper put into his action scenes. For a plot that was often about ledgers, margins and futures, whatever those things are, there was a heck of a lot of edge of your seat action. The action was well choreographed and highly visual, adding a lot of tension and fun to the overall read.  While at times, I wasn’t exactly sure what the true motivations behind the crimes were, or the complicated financial issues being addresses, I knew very soon things would get all explody and I can clap my hands and cheer for Silas like a trained monkey. Now, in all honestly, Cooper does do a good job explaining some of the more complicated elements of the plot in a way readers even with only cursory knowledge of finance could figure out. Clawback was a fun melding of financial and action thrillers with a highly likable hero and plenty of thrills and spills for action fans. Cooper has created a character that I hope to see again, even if it means I have to figure out just exactly what a hedge fund is.

This was my first experience with Henry Leyva as a narrator, and I think he did a really good job. I always prefer first person narrators who actually sound like real people and not professional voice over artists, and Leyva accomplishes this with Clawback. Leyva’s voice gives Silas Cade a strong noir feel, while managing to sound modern not dated. His female voices were not quite as strong, but he defiantly took the low key approach, softening his voice, instead of trying too hard to sound feminine. This made me adjust to his female characters pretty quickly. Leyva offers a good range with the peripheral characters, whether they are common hoods, professional soldiers or big wig investment bankers. His pacing was sharp, bring the action scenes to life and allowing the reader to follow with ease. Leyva hits a lot of the right notes with his performance in Clawback, and is a narrator I will be keeping my eye out for.

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

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: Dust by Joan Frances Turner

18 05 2012

Dust by Joan Frances Turner

Read by Eva Amurri

Penguin Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse, Zombie Perspective

Quick Thoughts: Dust is at times lyrical, and often mind numbing, yet always beautiful and compelling. Turner stays true to the grueling, visceral nature of the typical zombies yet leads us in directions that opens up new windows into their souls. Dust is a must read for those looking to shake off the normal trappings of an often stagnate genre, and experience something that is utterly different and refreshing.

Grade: B+

They say in order for you to truly understand someone you need to walk a mile in their shoes. I’ve always agreed with this sentiment, and have tried to live according to it despite that petty larceny arrest. As a huge fan of Zombie fiction, I tend to look at the Zombie as an enemy, and for good reason, at least on the surface level. I mean, zombies spread disease, their moaning makes it hard to sleep at night, and they have an annoying little habit of trying to eat my flesh. Perhaps, this is knee-jerk xenophobia. Perhaps, if I walked a mile in their rotted, disease ridden shoes, I would understand them better, and accept their cultural differences. Recently, I have read a few novels from the Zombies point of view. In fact, two of these novels, Warm Bodies, and Raising Stony Mayhall, made my end of the year favorites. I think, listening to these novels have given me a new perspective. Zombies can fall in love, have empathy, care about their fellow undead scavenger, and fight to remedy the social injustice leveled at them simply because of what they eat, and how they smell. Of course, being that what they eat tends to be our brains, and entrails, well, I think the social equality for Zombies movement has an uphill battle.

I knew I would need to listen to at least one Zombie perspective novel and I ended up choosing Joan Frances Turner’s 2009 novel, Dust. Dust is the story of Jesse, a young, former vegetarian, who is now a member of an undead gang called the Fly-By-Nights. Jesse and her gang spends most of their time hunting animals in their territory, and dealing with internal and intra-gang struggles while trying to avoid the humans flame throwers, until one day a not quite dead, yet not truly alive girls shows up, changing everything. In Dust, Turner violates all the rules of traditional Zombie literature, turning the genre on its head, and creating something fresh. As you begin to get a handle of Turner’s versions of the undead, she again gives the genre a spin, sending her world into an apocalyptic spiral. Turner never allows you to get comfortable in her world, as the undead rules begin to change and evolve so does the dynamics of the characters, along with the pacing and style of the novel. What starts out as straight forward prose, takes on a lyrical, dreamy quality, as the changes Jesse and the world began to undergo has her questioning everything. Dust is at times lyrical, and often mind numbing, yet always beautiful and compelling. Turner stays true to the grueling, visceral nature of the typical zombies, describing in loving and often disturbing detail their eating habits, the rotting of their flesh and their unquenchable hungers, yet leads us in a direction that opens up new windows into the souls of zombies. Dust is a must read for those looking to shake off the normal trappings of an often stagnate genre, and experience something that is utterly different and refreshing.

Eva Amurri gives an interesting performance in her reading of Dust. She has a wonderful, off beat voice, that suited Jesse well, plus allowed her to give interesting twits to all the other characters. I loved how each voices was given their own sort of cadence, particularly the members of Jesse’s and rival gangs, who almost seemed to have their own rhythmic patois. In the early parts of the novel I did struggle a bit with her pacing. Much of the early action was read in a hyper kinetic way, almost like she was speed reading. This worked well with the world of the Fly-By-Nights, showing the rushed violence of the hint and the brutality of the initiation rites, but it sometimes was a bit overwhelming. As the novel evolved, so did Amurri’s narration, taking on an almost sing songy quality as during some of the more dreamy segments of the narrative. Overall, Amurri’s narration kept me mesmerized, often matching the narrative flow perfectly. Sadly, Turner’s follow-up to Dust, called Frail, is not available in audio, but Dust works well as a self contained stand alone, so that should not keep people from listening.

Audiobook Review: The Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye

16 04 2012

The Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye

Read by Steven Boyer

Penguin Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 9 Min

Genre; Historical Thriller

Quick Thoughts: I really couldn’t have picked a better book for one of my first forays into Historical Thrillers. Faye has combines a gritty and authentic portrait of New York City in 1845 with a wonderful, complex mystery that will keep you guessing even after you think you may have it all figured out.

Grade: A-

I’ve been in a sort of a non-speculative fiction funk so far in 2012. Of the nearly 60 audiobooks I’ve listened to so far in 2012, only 8 have been thrillers with no elements of science fiction or fantasy. Of those 8 novels only two of them have been by authors I’ve never read before, and both of those have been legal thrillers. I have taken a lot of chances this year in my SFF readings, trying new authors, taking on debuts and reading outside of my comfort zone but in in thrillers and mysteries I’ve stayed pretty much pat. When I received a list of upcoming digital releases from Penguin Audio, the title The Gods of Gotham jumped out at me. I mean, I like mythological stories about gods, and Gotham is where Batman is from, where could I go wrong? Then I researched the novel and discovered it’s a Historical Thriller set in New York City around the time of the formation of the NYPD. Now, I realty haven’t read much Historical fiction, unless you include Joe Lansdale’s various depression era novels. I’m really not sure why I haven’t taken the plunge into this genre. I have always loved history. In college, I tried to pepper my schedule with as many history courses as I could fit. Alternate History is one of my favorite subgenres of science fiction, and I always enjoy when real historical figures are immersed into these types of tales. With my current thriller funk, and knowing that I will have very little flexibility in my listening schedule due to various commitments and events until June, I decided to give The Gods of Gotham a chance while I still could.

In 1845 New York City, the Irish potato famine has lead to a flood on Irish immigrants bringing with them their Catholicism and willingness to take on even the dirtiest of jobs. Bartender Timothy Wilde is trying to save up his tips in order to marry the girl of his dreams while avoiding his politically active low life brother. Then a devastating fire leaves Timothy penniless, disfigured and dependent on his brother. Against his instincts, Timothy takes a job with the newly founded New York City Police Department that his brother arranged, planning to use it to get back on his feet. Yet, a chance encounter with a 10 year old child prostitute covered in blood gets him entangled in a case that will take him from the lowest degradations to the highest levels of corruption. The Gods of Gotham is a brilliant Historical thriller set in a powder keg of a city ripe with ethnic tension, religious fervor and class warfare. Everything about Faye’s vision of New York feels authentic, the streets and the people are dirty, tired and bug ridden. Timothy Wilde is a fascinating and flawed character. While he resist the job his brother arranged for him, he, and the readers, slowly realize that he’s perfectly suited for it. Timothy begins to realize that this job isn’t just about being a brute who is there to prevent crime, but he can actually solve crimes. The mystery itself was well plotted. There were numerous times where I cockily believed I had it all figured out, then Faye would through me for another loop. Yet, the best part of the novel was how Faye took historical facts and brought them to life. The depiction of the mistrust of the Irish and Catholicism was something I know of intellectually, but never really understood the depths of it until I read this book. In historic context, with the debates over immigration and this country’s changing demographics, this is the timeliest of books showing how we often isolate ourselves in our own history forgetting that these issues have been a struggle in our country since Jamestown was first founded.  I really couldn’t have picked a better book for one of my first forays into Historical Thrillers. Faye has combines a gritty and authentic portrait of New York City in 1845 with a wonderful, complex mystery that will keep you guessing even after you think you may have it all figured out.

Steven Boyer is a wonderful narrator with a crisp pleasant voice. Yet, there was something just a bit off in his reading of The Gods of Gotham that it took me a while to figure out. In the early part of the book, I had trouble connecting with the time period of the novel, and Timothy Wilde as a character, and I knew it was due to the narration and not the writing. I should have figured out why sooner. I have always stated that the most important job of a First Person narrator is to create an authentic voice for the main character. Here, Boyer reads Timothy Wilde in his narrative default voice. Wilde is a character who is emotionally devastated, just lost everything he cared about, forced to work with people he doesn’t trust, and taking on an emotion filled job, and Boyer reads his with an almost pleasant nonchalance. I could never feel the turmoil of the soul that the text of the novel seemed to be presenting. Also, while Boyer wonderfully captured the spirit of the city in his interpretations of the salty, colorful characters that filled the pages of this story, he read Wilde in a sort of neutral, Middle American unaccented voice. There are some narrators, like MacLeod Andrews and Phil Gigante who have spoiled me by tailoring their voices to create unique narrative voices, and I believe Boyer is capable of doing this, yet in The Gods of Gotham, he just didn’t. Overall, the reading was nice, but for someone who listens to as many audiobooks as I do, and expect more than just clear concise readings, there was something missing in Boyer’s interpretation of Lindsay Faye’s beautiful and tragic novel.

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

Audiobook Review: Cemetery Girl by David Bell

4 10 2011

Cemetery Girl by David Bell

Narrated by Fred Lehne

Penguin Audio

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Cemetery Girl is a novel of true horror, not coming from supernatural creatures but the depravity of humankind. The combination of story and excellent narration totally immerses you into the plot, and forces you to experience all the pain and emotional turmoil of the main character.

Grade: A-

Recently, in Dog Eared Copy’s inaugural Monsters, Murder and Mayhem post, she talked about the concept of True Horror. This is a concept that has intrigued me for a while. I love Horror and Dark Fantasy novels, but to be perfectly honest, I rarely get scared by them. Maybe a bit creeped out or a little disturbed, but rarely scared. Yet, what does scare me are the real, believable acts of depravity committed by human beings. The best horror books, whether they be about vampires, zombies, werewolves or any other supernatural creature always has an element of everyday human evil. To me, a pedophile is a scarier monster any day of the week than the bloodiest of Ghouls and the greenest of Goblins. Humanity has enough potential for horrific acts that it almost makes the evils of imaginary monsters moot. When I take on a zombie novel, it’s a form of escapism. The element that makes it fun is that a zombie is a mindless creature of horror, that kills indiscriminately based on an instinctual need. Human evil is a deliberate thought out process that people like to blame on uncontrollable impulses, but in reality it’s simply a choice. That a member of our species would choose to hurt another, and justify it is one of the scariest things of all. For that reason, Cemetery Girl by David Bell was one of the scariest novels I have read this year.

Cemetery Girl is told from the perspective of Tom Stuart, a father whose 12 year old daughter went missing 4 years earlier. Despite his wife’s urging for him to move on, to acknowledge that his daughter Caitlin is probably dead, Tom just can’t. Tom clings to every possible lead, knowing that if he gives up the search she will be gone forever. Cemetery Girl had one of the most moving, yet heartbreaking opening sequences I have read in a while. Hearing Tom talk about his missing daughter’s penchant for deception, provided such an insight into this broken and defeated man, knowing that he cannot trust anything, not even his perspective on his daughter. Listening to that beginning told me that this was not going to be your typical missing child case, that this was something more. It’s hard for me to say that I enjoyed this book. I found it to be one of the most emotionally devastating and psychologically twisted listening experiences I have had in a while. Tom’s flawed and broken character made it almost impossible to distance yourself from his pain, at no point in this novel did I feel comfortable stepping outside and viewing it like a movie. I felt immersed in the tale, and I ran the gambit of emotional responses, from anger, to hope, to a strong sense of distaste. While this book was extremely well written, and I was engaged with it from beginning to end, it was not an easy listen at all. Every character was flawed, with dark secrets. Cemetery Girl is about human depravity at it worst, and how the smallest taste of it can utterly change a person forever, making you do things you never thought you were capable of. If you can deal with that sort of emotional turmoil, I highly recommend Cemetery Girl, but be warned, you will be taking a trip down a dark path which, if you have any humanity at all, will definitely affect you.

This was the first time experiencing the narration skills of Fred Lehne, although I have seen him in countless roles in various TV shows. His portrayal of Tom Stuart just added to the affect of this novel. From the very beginning you could hear the brokenness of the main character, feel his frustration and wallow in the justifications he makes for his actions. Lehne reads with a somber pace, never rushing the story, allowing the listener to experience every heartbreak. Lehne handles the various characters of the book well, giving them each their own distinct voice that fit with their personalities. It was vital for this audiobook to work to have a narrator that could keep the listener in the story, and Lehne’s delivery was smooth and spot on never distracting you from the words being read. Being that this was his first audiobook narration makes his performance even more impressive and I hope that it opens the door for future projects for him. Cemetery Girl is the perfect example of the concept of true horror and is an audiobook that will leave a mark on all its listeners.


Note: A special thanks to the good people at Penguin Audio for providing me with a Pre-release Review Copy of this title. Cemetery Girl is available for Download on on October 4th, 2011.

Audiobook Review: Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane

26 09 2011

Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane

Read by Steven Boyer with Emma Galvin

Penguin Audiobooks

Length 12 Hrs 11 Mins

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Children of Paranoia is a thriller that can appeal to readers of all types. It’s full of everything a reader could want in a tale, adventure, romance, and a lot of great action. Its style translate smoothly to audio and narrator Steven Boyer captures the main character perfectly.

Grade: A+

One of the reasons that I became a book blogger is that I love to recommend books. The sad thing is, I don’t have very many book friends in real life to talk books with, especially those that like the same type of books I do.  Beyond my sister, and a few casual acquaintances, most of my friends aren’t book people, or have highly different tastes than I do and because of that I find myself making book suggestions with qualifications. Oh, I have recommended Ready Player One to people, if they can relate to the many 80’s references and I’ve suggested Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, if they can deal with zombies. Even with my friends that are speculative fiction fans, I often find myself tempering my recommendations, or justifying why they should check out a book not about space travel or unicorns. It’s actually quite rare to find a book that really cross genre’s that truly appeal to people who enjoy the genres the book touches upon. I mean, sure Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series is a mash of horror, fantasy, science fiction and westerns, but I don’t know many Larry McMurtry fans that love the series, and I know plenty fantasy and sci-fi people who hate it. Yet, what I rarely if ever experience is a novel that falls squarely into a genre, yet I would feel comfortable recommending to almost any lover of a good tale without qualification or reservation. Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane is one of those rare gems.

Children of Paranoia is a tale of a secret war that has spanned generations. No one truly understands how this war has started, yet it is happening on our streets spanning the globe. There are two sides to the war, yet the combatants don’t fit into any specific racial, ethic or national subgroup. There are written rules governing the behavior of the soldiers involved in the war, yet one unwritten stands true, the other side is evil, kill them before they kill you. Children of Paranoia is a pure thriller, following one soldier, named Joe, as participates in this secret war. Despite the fact that there are no science fiction elements, or supernatural moments, Children of Paranoia fully engaged my speculative curiosity that is only typically touched by the best science fiction tale. The philosophies of this secret war were so foreign that the book achieved an amazing sense of otherworldliness. Yet, it was grounded in reality, those involved in the war could be your neighbor, or your coworkers. Children of Paranoia has everything that readers look for no matter what the genre, a grand sense of adventure, thrilling action scenes, heart ripping emotion, romance and characters you can love and hate at the same time. I am telling you right now, if you have not yet read Children of Paranoia, and it’s not currently on your "To Be Read" list, stop what you are doing right now, run out to you local bookstore, or library, or log onto your favorite audiobook download service and take the steps to add it to your list. I promise you, you will be happy that you did.

The majority of the audiobook was read by Steven Boyer, with a small portion read by Emma Galvin. Children of Paranoia was written in a style that worked particularly well as an audiobook. The book is written as a letter from Joe to the women he loves, describing and explaining events involving both of them. Steven Boyer reads the tale in a whispery conversational tone that fit the book to a tee. I truly felt that Boyer really embodied the character of Joe, and it was as if the character was telling us his story. There wasn’t a huge need for a lot of character voices, but Boyer handled the ones he had to well. Boyer also had a keen sense of pacing, reading the everyday moments of the tale with a steady rhythm that increases to a lightning quick pace during the action scenes. For her small part, Emma Galvin worked as an excellent counterpart to Steven Boyer’s reading, mimicking his pacing well.  Rarely does a novel capture me from the very first sentence, but Children of Paranoia had me enthralled from the moment I hit play until the very end, and left me craving for more. Simply put, I loved this book.



Audiobook Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

2 07 2011

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Read by Mark Bramhall

Penguin Audiobooks

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Magicians was a wonderful surprise for me, allowing me to remember my fondness of children fantasy, yet with a dark adult edge that the more mature me has come to love.

Grade: A-

I think there is truly a law of entropy for the fantasies of children. As a child and well past my age of innocence, I loved Narnia. I have read each of the first six novels in the series at least 5 times, and have read the entire series at least once every decade in my life. As a child, my grandest wish was to be sucked into the land of Narnia. I checked the back of every wardrobe, and behind every bush at school. I would stare endlessly at old paintings of ships at sea, and every time I had to wait for the train, I held my breath. For childlike me, Narnia was a place of adventure and magic, and I wanted in on it. A few years back I reread the series again, and came away with a new thought. Narnia kind of sucks. Not the stories, but the actual physical land of Narnia. Those grand adventures require slogging through the snow, which I totally hate, and crawling through long, tight tunnels which really would set off my Claustrophobic panic attacks. And truly, who wants to be stuck on a long boat ride with their obnoxious cousin. Not me, I tell you. I realized most of all, I don’t want adventure anymore. I want air-conditioning and internet and to live vicariously through the adventures of others either real or imagined. So no, I do not want to live through a zombie apocalypse, or fly off from my dying planet on a space arc and I am more than willing to leave Narnia to the plucky British types.

Listening to the Magicians, I couldn’t help but have a bit of an affinity for Quentin. His obsession with the Narnia like world of Fillory sparked many memories of a time when things weren’t so digital. Lev Grossman has created the ultimate playground for adults who longed for other worlds and I for one had a heck of a time playing in it. While this book was full of the fantastical, what truly makes it work is its realism. The first half of the book focuses on Quentin and some friends as they make their way through a magical school. Grossman shrewdly grounds his fantasy setting in the everyday life of college aged kids. There are no orphaned princes or Dark Lords to fight, just the typical day to day of trying to get through class with a hangover, and figuring out just who is sleeping with whom. Yet, the magical is always there simmering on the surface with occasional geyser like breakthroughs. In the second half Grossman brilliantly handles the Fillory segments by grasping the tropes of the genre and blowing raspberries at them.  Traveling to a new word doesn’t change the essence of the characters, forcing them into pseudo-British speech patterns, instead uses the blunt American nature of his characters as a counterpoint to much of portal fantasy. The crude language and snarky comments provide much humor, and makes the almost ridiculously cliché fantasy land seem fresh. The Magicians is a brilliantly conceived novel of broken dreams and the perils of getting what you want most, and though often dark and despairing, maintains a true sense of hope and a reminder of our innocence.

I was a bit worried about Mark Bramhall’s narration as the book began. As a novel that focuses mostly on college aged characters, I though his voice came off a bit old. I also thought he didn’t have that silky smooth voice of many fantasy narrators. Yet, somehow, he won me over. As the book progressed his unique voice pulled me deeper and deeper into the story. He brilliantly handles the dialogue between multiple characters, without becoming muddled. I never became confused as to who was actually speaking during the many multi-character conversations. His narrative voice captured the fractured nature of much of the book better than I expected. Bramhall’s reading added layers to the tale, and a sense of a gruff lushness that a more silky smooth narrator wouldn’t have. The Magicians was a wonderful surprise for me, allowing me to remember my fondness of children fantasy, yet with a dark adult edge that the more mature me has come to love.