Audiobook Review: The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel

16 03 2017

The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel

Read by Scott Brick

Podium Publishing

Grade: B+

The Last Tribe is a rare bird of a novel, a book I enjoyed immensely but not sure I would recommend to anyone but the most hardcore of post apocalyptic fans. The Last Tribe is The Stand without the good vs. evil paranormal subplot. It’s devoid of any narrative tension or conflict driven plot. It’s simply a story about normal decent people surviving a nearly complete pandemic without any ideological agenda. It’s is so vanilla it’s nearly translucent. It’s the anti-Walking Dead. You want action… sorry. You need conflict… look elsewhere. You love tales of anti-governmental libertarian preppers whose predictions of the collapsing civilization come true allowing them to play out their survivalist fantasies in an orgy of gunfire, well, maybe keep browsing. Manuel’s take is a bare bones examination of the genre’s roots more in line with Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon  than today’s testosterone drenched hero fantasies. Manuel even jokes on the biggest flaw on much of survival fiction, the almost ridiculous amount of luck survivors would need to actually thrive post apocalypse. The Last Tribe is the coziest of cozy catastrophe’s and I enjoyed every minute of it. 

The Last Tribe was nominated for Best Male Performance Audie, so I go into this asking myself if this is one of the best performances of the year. Simple answer, no. Scott Brick, with the right material, can make poetry out of mush. He’s brilliant in guiding a listener through esoteric prose, and capturing the rhythms of a novel whether it be high concept science fiction or action packed thriller. Yet, multi character epics require multiple regional dialects and tons of character differentiation isn’t typically where he shines. Brick gives a great performance and definitely makes some of the boring moments shine, but this is far from one of the best, in fact, I can think of two or three Brick narrations that are more worthy, particularly Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year or Justin Cronin’s City of Mirrors. With those novels, I fail to see any other narrator improving on his performance but I can think of a few that may be better suited to a novel like The Last Tribe. 





Audiobook Review: The Burning World (Warm Bodies Series) by Isaac Marion

8 03 2017

The Burning World by Isaac Marion

Read by Jacques Roy

Simon & Schuster Audio

Grade: B+

When Isaac Marion published Warm Bodies authors were just beginning to truly explore what they can do with the Zombie genre beyond the typical Romero style outbreak scenario. Warm Bodies was a game changing novel that threw out all the rules. Marion blended dark comedy with classic themes right out of Shakespeare and Austin to spin the genre into a whole new direction. Over 6 years later Marion picks up the story where he left off, in a genre saturated with classic examinations and new twists and continues the story of R and Julia. Yet, now Marion doesn’t try to flip the genre on its head but instead takes on the classic Post Apocalytic road trip and resistance story using that to examine  the priorities of humanness and community. Marions writing fluctuates seemlessky between crisp and breezy, and his dark humor takes center stage. Throughout the novel he pokes fun at his own book and the “Love will conquer all” theme. The story it self is clever and full of intriguing possibilities. His slow reveal on R’s past is effective but almost anticlimactic. The Burning World doesn’t break the zombie sub genre or ever pervert it all that much but Marion tells a damn good story that left me wanting more.

Part of me wanted not to like Jacques Roy because he wasn’t Kevin Kenerly but my old curmudgeonly ways were won over in the end. He was less stylistic than Kenerly but this suited Marion’s broader scope and more traditional storytelling. I loved Roy’s portrayal of the creepy antagonists. He had a strong grasp of the humor of the tale knowing when not to take it too seriously. His pacing was strong, particularly in the rapid fire dialogue that took place during the crew’s cross county adventure. The Burning World is simply a good apocalyptic tale told in a unique style with characters you’ve grown to love, performed well. 





Audiobook Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Ellison

3 03 2017

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Read by Angela Dawes 

 Brilliance Audio

Grade: A

Around 10 years ago, before the Hunger Games, before the glut of self publishing,  before the sociological unease brought the  psychic foreshadowing of a Trump administration, before whatever triggered this saturation of dystopian literature to flood the world, any time I saw a new apocalyptic novel I squeeled with childish glee. Since I was 13 and I found a battered copy of the original version of The Stand at the Grundy Memorial library, I loved this genre of fiction. To me, despite there being many great classics, the genre was always defined by my experience with three novels, The Stand, Robert McCammon’s Swan Song and A Gift Upon the Shore by MK Wren. These books filled me with hope and dread, and showed me I can love and hate the same character. I can’t help but judge books in this genre by the standard created by these experiences. Very few novels have even come close. 

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife once again reminded me why I loved these books. Full of human characters thrown into a inhuman world, this novel showed us the best and worst of humanity. I loved that the main character was unique and complicated in her humanity and not just some uber prepper living out some childish fantasy. Elison made me uncomfortable, made me question my own preconceptions and presented not an escapist fantasy but a stark and compelling vision of a potentially dark future. Yet despite the darkness, there was enough of a glimmer of light in the distance that I couldn’t help but willingly trek my way down that tunnel. At moments I was reminded of The Stand and A Gift Upon the Shore but The Book of the Unnamed Midwife didn’t just build on ashes of the genre classics but forged its own new path. 

I’ve always thought that there were narrators skilled at the youthfulness of YA novel while others had the maturity to handle more adult literature yet Angela Dawes is the exception that excels at both. One of the biggest areas of critique for any narrator his their ability to voice the opposite sex but here Dawes must voice a female character pretending to be male and she does it perfectly. She captured the nuance of this novel revealing aspects I may have missed reading it and turned the potentially awkward epistolary aspects of the narrative into an almost rhythmic poetry. She had me enthralled from the beginning and kept me anxiously waiting for each new leg of the journey. 





Audiobook Review: The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor, Part 2 by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

7 04 2014

The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor, Part 2 by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Read by Fred Berman

Macmillan Audio

9 Hrs 35 Min

Grade: B

I’ll admit it, I was a little grumpy when I reviewed The Walking Dead: Fall of the Governor PART FRIGGIN’ ONE. Maybe some of that grumpiness rubbed off or maybe it was the expected Ledger Lag that I experience after listening to the latest Joe Ledger novel, but The Walking Dead: Fall of the Governor PART FRIGGIN’ TWO failed to captivate me as completely as the past entries in the series, in particular The Road to Woodbury. Not that it was bad, it wasn’t. For the most part, especially in it’s further development of the Lilly character and it’s intense battle at the jail, this was good stuff. Yet, it took a long time to develop. The bridge scenes between Part 1 and Part 2 seemed unnecessary. The early parts of the novel was full of unnecessary in your face foreshadowing that felt almost as insulting to the readers as television mood music. There was also a level of frustration that I think came from being more aware of the over all Walking Dead story arch. The authors do a good job at giving many of the Woodbury folk a heroic bent, and gave logical reasons for their hatred of Rick and Michone’s group, but I couldn’t help be feel a growing sense of frustration as these good people made obviously bad choices. At some point, you wanted someone to have an “Ah Ha” moment, but you knew it wasn’t happening. There is much unevenness to the Governor’s character in a storytelling sense. I felt his mounting instability should have been more evident to those around him, and being the brutal post apocalyptic world I struggles to see why some people would have continued following him. Heck, a simple ice pick through the other eye socket could have save a whole mess of people. On the positive side, the epic prison battle truly came alive, and the final moments of the Woodbury crew had true emotional impact. Bonansinga does the world justice, and despite some flaws delivers a solid exciting tale that should thrill fans of the series.

In this series, it has been the tale of two narrators with Fred Berman. I was less than delighted with his almost emotionless performance in The Rise of the Governor, complete with some annoying mispronunciations, but I thought he really stepped it up in The Road to Woodbury. In the overall Fall of the Governor arch, Berman does a solid job. Not as good as the second book, with a few weird pronunciations and small pacing issues, but when the book gets ramped up, Berman take in full force. His reading is worthy of the tale, and he gives the finale a much needed emotional boost. While I still don’t understand the decision to split the last book into two parts, The Walking Dead fans will definitely be pleased with the ending of the book series.





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.





Bob’s Audiobook Report: January Week 2

13 01 2014

Week two of 2014 saw me completing 4 Audiobooks, two from the same series, and two of series that have been sitting on my TBL Pile for a while. Since I have a lot of stuff coming up in January, a move at the end of the month, surgery this week, as well as plenty of other stressors, I have been looking for lighter, more straightforward stories that are easy to focus on. This is why I have been choosing mostly action based series with well drawn characters, because during times like this, I have trouble focusing on highly conceptual plots and esoteric storylines. I like monsters and explosions and aliens and my choices all pretty much hit the mark.

Conspiracies by F. Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack, Book 3)

Read by Christopher Price

Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Suspense Thriller

Grade: B+

All The Rage by F. Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack, Book 4)

Read by Christopher Price

Brilliance Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Suspense Thriller

Grade: B+

I completed two of F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack novels, COMSPIRACIES and ALL THE RAGE. In the beginning of long running series, especially those with a supernatural edge, I always enjoy watching the development of the series mythology. I feel both of these book are important to building the Repairman Jack Mythos, while still pretty much self contained stories. Both were a lot of fun, each giving more incite into Jack, while continuing the frustrating interpersonal conflict between Jack’s desire to be a part of his girlfriend Gia and her daughter’s life, while knowing that he also lives on the edge of society and must feed his need for adventure and violence. I am still less than thrilled with Christopher Price’s narration, especially in comparison to the other narrators in the series. I think his voice is too deep for the character, and while his vocal range is admirable, I don’t thing he ever nails the characters. They always feel just a tad off of what they should be, like listening to a celebrity impersonator, just after listening to the real thing.

Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Read by Kirby Heyborne

Blackstone Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic/Alien Invasion

Grade: B+

Midnight City has been languishing on my mountainous TBL pile for a long time, and with the recent release of the second book in the series, I thought I had to give it a go. Midnight City has a War of the Worlds meets Chtorr feel. A classic Alien Invasion vibe with an esoteric spin and a touch of magic. While marketed as a Young Adult novel, it definitely has a more mature vibe that should fit a large range of readers. It did take me a while to get into the book. Mitchell doesn’t ease you into his world, but throws you right into the deep end, and it takes some time to adjust. But when the book gets moving, it gets bad ass moving, with now stop action in a fascinating apocalyptic setting. Kirby Heyborne’s excellent performance shouldn’t be a surprise to any audiobook fan. His reading is crisp and professional, with just the right amount of edge.  

Semper Mars (Book 1 of The Heritage Trilogy) by Ian Douglas

Read by Ray Chase

Audible Frontiers

Length: 13 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Grade: B+

Military Science Fiction is one of my go to genres when I find myself in a reading slump and just want something fun, fast and furious. MilSF has a way of making fascinating concepts accessible and throwing in lots of pyrotechnics for effect. Yet, not all MilSF hits the spot. My first attempt at a Ian Douglas novel failed miserably. Didn’t like it at all. Yet, the concepts around The Heritage Trilogy seemed fascinating, and I had been looking for more stuff performed by narrator Ray Chase. Semper Mars is jingoistic, HOORAH! near future MilSF at it’s best. Full of lots of Marine history, potential alien tech, World War between the ol’ US of A, and those pesky univeralist United Nations. and clever battles, Semper Mars was just the right listen for my mood. Ray Chase continues to impress. While I think he’s a better 1st person narrator than a 3rd person, his voice is pleasant, and he brings the characters alive. He never hampers the relentless pace of the narrative, and at times can be just as clever with his delivery as a marine with a beer bomb.

Coming Soon: Well, this week I have surgery, so I’m not sure how it will affect my listening. I plan on continuing listening to Repairman Jack, and The heritage Trilogy (currently listening to book 2). I also plan on listening to a book called Noise by Darin Bradley read by Chris Patton. Plan on a bit more print reading this week during my time off.





Audiobook Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

13 11 2013

Steelheart (Reckoners, Bk. 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult SuperVillian Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness. Steelheart is a good start to an intriguing new series.

Grade: B+

Over the past few years there seems to be a real glut of superhero tales in prose form. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. I am one of those weirdos who loves superheroes, grew up on Superman and Batman and the Superfriends, but never really got into comic books. So, despite all my comic book loving friends telling me about all the awesome, dark and twisted tales being told in the comic book medium, I stuck to my books. Yet, there has always been a part of my brain that loved superheroes, that wanted to explore the many twists and turns people the subgenre can explore, without all the awesome artwork, and trying to figure out just who was supposed to be talking. So, now all these superhero books have come out, from a wide variety of authors exploring many aspects of advanced beings with powers that seem to defy traditional human limitations. So many, that you’d think that one would sort of start getting sick of them or at the very least that the various angles and twists on the genre would be totally used up. Luckily, so far, this hasn’t been the case.

With Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson has once again flipped the genre on its head, exploring the darker sides of enhanced humans, embracing the super but reassigning the concept of heroes. In Sanderson’s world, there are no selfless heroes using their powers for the betterment of humanity. Instead, Epics, people who have manifested superpowers, all use their power to subjugate and rule over those without powers. With Steelheart Sanderson explores the idea of the corruption of power, and looks at whether these powers enhance humanities dark side or some other force is at work.

When David was young, he witnesses Steelheart, the seemingly invulnerable Epic who would come to rule an apocalyptic Chicago with a steel fist, kill his father. He also saw Steelheart bleed. Years later, David dreams of joining the Reckoners, a group of regular humans looking to take down Epics. David believes with their help, he can finally discover the Steelheart’s weakness, and kill him. Yet, when he finally meets up with the group, he finds his desire for revenge and his core belief in the essence of Epics challenged by one intriguing girl, and the group of odd characters.

While Steelheart had a lot of awesome in it, some cool characters, a wonderful set up, and some really brisk, high concept action, overall it felt a bit uneven. At times, I felt it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a Young Adult novel, or an Adult novel. There were definitely a lot of YA tropes used, but they seemed to fit awkwardly within the overall scope of the novel. The use of situational slang came off as annoying, instead of a natural evolution of the world Sanderson created. The fact that everyone used the exact slang in the exact same way, whether they are a younger person who grew up in the world of Epics, or an older person spanner both the pre and post Epic world made it feel a bit forced. The world of Newcago, came off a bit too clever. Luckily, the unevenness of the book was more than made up for by the sheer fun of the novel. You could tell Sanderson was having fun creating new and interesting Epic types, and allowing them to wreak havoc. I also liked the fact that there were no superheroes, yet an almost religions group who believed that eventually heroes will come was a nice touch. Mostly, I enjoyed the way he flipped the concept of "with great power comes great responsibility" on its head, exploring the corrupting influence that may be the true essence of the tale. Overall, despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness.

To make matter even better, one of my favorite narrators, MacLeod Andrews brought his many talents to the reading of Steelheart. Andrews managed to give the book a true blockbuster feel, with characters that jumped, action the ripped across your mind and a feel of something bigger than reality, yet he did it all with a bit of an edge that defied the polishness of most big screen movies. Andrews does a great job with David, a young man hovering between the naiveté of youth and the forced maturity of someone who grew up orphaned in a changed world. Andrews has a way of giving characters a unique spin that makes than stand just a bit taller.  It was a highly affective performance that allowed me to care more about these characters than I might have in print. Steelheart is a good start to what can become a truly intriguing series.