Audiobook Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

18 01 2019

the dreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Read by Cassandra Campbell

Random House Audio

Grade: B

There were times while listening to The Dreamers where I was simply blown away. The premise of Karen Thompson Walker’s newest novel isn’t all that original, but she tells the story in such a unique ways, viewing from different angles, and examining it in ways you’re not used to that you can’t help but be mesmerized at times. Yet, at other times I found myself not fully engaging with the tale. It was a weird experience. The tale is told in almost a dream like way that lulled me, but then she would hit me with a narrative trick, or a slight skewing of what I expected, and I’d have to stop, rewind and listen again. All in all, it was an interesting, if not disconcerting experience. While I tend to be a story over style type of guy, you just can’t help but be impressed with her style, even if the story dragged at time.

Cassandra Campbell was simply perfect for this tale, bringing an ethereal quality to the reading yet grounding it just enough in reality to keep a more basic listener like myself in the game. Her voice can be entrancing at times, weaving bits of magic into the story, while pacing it in ways that can’t help but pull you along as a reader.

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My 10 Favorite Audiobooks of 2018

1 01 2019

Audiobooks2018

Gone are the days where I get through 200+ audiobooks/books a year but I still try to get through a nice number and you’d be hardpress not to find me with a book in my ear, and others waiting for me on paper and floating in the cloud in digital form.

In 2018 I managed to complete:

88 Audiobooks

12 Print Novels/Novella

5 Graphic Novels

4 Short Story Antholgies

Here are my Favorites of the year:

The Gone World

The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

Narrated by Brittany Pressley

Penguin Audio

Tom Sweterlitsch takes three well worn sub-genres, the procedural murder mystery, time travel adventure and apocalyptic fiction and twists them into a miasma of something truly original. Sweterlitsch has created a tale full of dark imagery. He creates settings like a visual artist, hauntingly beautiful, like a nightmare you can’t escape. Yet it’s not this dark landscapes that truly make this novel work, but the human characters he populates them with. No matter how strange the trip gets, and people, it gets pretty damn strange, you never lose the connection with the main character. It is both literary and accessible, the kind of fiction that appeals to those looking for a true work of art and those who just want to read a grand tale of adventure. It’s all topped off with a bittersweet ending that may have pulled a bit of feeling from my hardened soul.

ThisBodys

This Body’s Not Big Enough For the Both of Us by Edgar Cantero

Narrated by January LaVoy

Random House Audio

I absolutely adored this book. It was twisted and obscene in all he ways I love. ‪it’s like the put Phillip K Dick and Phillip Marlowe in a blender, mixed them together on high speed and baked them in a cupcake tray.‬ The uniquely bizarre premise and style didn’t detract from a solidly plotted mystery. January LaVoy handled the gender fluidity of the novel perfectly and pushed the narrative with a kinetic pace.

Cabin

The Cabin At the End of the World by Paul Trembley

Narrated by Amy Landon

Harper Audio

The beauty of a Paul Tremblay novel is he doesn’t spoon feed you the horror but uses your own mind against you. Complex and disturbing, with an ending that goes against the grain in uncomfortable but brilliant ways. I absolutely loved this book.

CalculatingStars

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Audible Studios

I have known Mary Robinette Kowal mostly as a narrator and read some of her short fiction. This is her first full length novel I’ve read and I absolutely loved it. It has so many elements I like, part apocalyptic alternative history and part hard science fiction with a focus on developing a space colonization program. While I loved all the science and social stuff in the book, what I truly enjoyed what how real her main character felt.

Down the River Unto the Sea

Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

Narrated by Dion Graham

Hachette Audio

Dion Graham handles the narration like a master musician who know just the right instrument for the right moment. At times, smooth like a saxophone, at others, driving the pace like a bass guitar, Graham uses his voice like he’s scoring a film, creating a mood while bringing Mosley’s well conceived characters to life. With some books, I feel like narrators struggle to find the right voice to fit the author’s intent, but here Mosley and Graham seem to be workings like a team, Mosley creating them and Graham revealing their vibrancy. Down the River Unto the Sea succeeds where other tales have failed, to tell a truly human story that doesn’t exploit current events but lives firmly within our world’s new realities.

Murderbot

The MurderBot Diaries by Martha Wells

Including All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy

Narrated by Kevin B. Free

One of the more intriguing themes of this series is how SecUnit becomes more and more jaded by its interactions with human but his his interactions with artificial beings begin reveal its “human” side. In Rogue Protocol we find hidden depths in what it initially labels a pet robots that plays out well throughout the tale. Kevin R Free continues to shine as the series narrator. He pushes the pace during the action keeping the listener engaged. More importantly, as MurderBot continues to evolve so does Free’s performance adding new levels of introspection and emotion to his voice.

Washington Black

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Narrated by Dion Graham

Random House Audio

I was a little skeptical going into Washington Black mostly due to the fact that it was outside my comfort zone, yet I was quickly won over by its engaging main character and the sense of adventure in the story. Edugyan creates a tale of unequal friendship, set in a uneasy cultural landscape full of uncomfortable truths that makes you think while entertaining. What truly helps is the the narration of Dion Graham who, while a personal favorite, still manages to amaze me with his performance.

Still of Night

Still of Night by Jonathan Maberry and Rachael Lavin

Narrated by Ray Porter

Journalstone Publishing

I went into Still of Night expecting a throwaway book, a fun little addition to Maberry’s vast world, and instead I got my favorite Zombie tale of the year. Intriguingly, this book does a lot to connect many of Maberry’s other works in interesting ways. Ray Porter is phenomenal as always, bringing these characters to life in poignant ways.

An absolutely

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Narrated by Kristen Sieh and Hank Green

Penguin Audio

With echoes of Ready Player One and the Themis Files An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is #science #fiction for the hashtag generation. Green sets up a scenario that hard core sci-fi fans will embrace but plants it firmly in a world where events only truly happen if they are tweeted out to a significant social media following. Featuring a protagonist whose vapidness has layers making her frustratingly fascinating.

Unbury Carol

Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Narrated by Dan John Miller

Random House Audio

This book wasn’t what I expected at all. It was a unique weird western. While pretty much it played it straight, there was enough weirdness simmering at the edges to keep you constantly guessing. The characters were vivid, and the settings stunning. Malerman kept me invested throughout the journey with an ending that unexpectedly paid off. Malerman plays with the tropes of the western in wonderful ways that turns the genre on his head.

Honorable Mentions:

Favorite Non-2018 Listen:

fantasticland

FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven

Narrated by Angela Dawe and Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Favorite Print Reads:

The Only Harmless Great Thing RD3

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Return-to-the-Lost-Level-Generic_776x

Return to the Lost Level by Brian Keene

Hope You All Have a Great Reading Year in 2019.

 

 





Audiobook Review: Only Human (Themis Files, Bk. 3) by Sylvain Neuvel

1 05 2018

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

Narrated by William Hope, Charlie Anson, Laurence Bouvard, Adan Sablylich and a Full Cast

Random House Audio

Grade: A+

Only Human is the third novel in Sylvain Neuvel’s Themis Files series. It’s hard for me to objectively write about the series, since it’s probably my favorite current science fiction series. Typically, my thoughts are akin to a GIF of Homer Simpson’s Head with his brain replaced but a couple of rockem’ sockem’ robots.

So far, Only Human is probably my least favorite of the series, which means instead of an A followed by an infinite string of +’s, like their first two in the series, Only Human is simply a A followed by a string of pluses that terminate but so far down the path it might as well be infinite. Part of this is due to the fact that this is the third book in a series that has consistently brought the awesome, that the expectations for awesome bringing may actually be unachievable. The pacing is a little slower, more focused on relationships than on big ass robots fighting and potential world doom and destruction. It’s a more intimate tale of one family, than a global struggle. Adds to it a teenager who acts like a teenager, basically, a bratty, potential egomaniacal narcissist, and a father who humbly attempts to control her, and the struggles of this interplanetary drama are more terrestrial, no matter which planet it takes place on. Yet, none of this middling criticism negates that Only Human is still full on awesome, and fans of the first two books should devour this with glee.

Once again, Penguin Random House produces a brilliant audio version worth wonderful performances. Only Human is as close to a radio drama without all annoying bells and whistles that tend to bother traditional audiobook fans. The Narrators are full on acting the scenes, not just reading them, with screams and raised voices. It’s affective for the material, not quite the traditional narration style. The production really brings the world and characters to life in wonderful ways.





Audiobook Review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

18 04 2018

Unbury Carol

Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Read by Dan Jon Miller

Random House Audio

Grade: A-

This book wasn’t what I expected at all. It was a unique weird western. While pretty much it played it straight, there was enough weirdness simmering at the edges to keep you constantly guessing. The characters were vivid, and the settings stunning. Malerman kept me invested throughout the journey with an ending that unexpectedly paid off. Malerman plays with the tropes of the western in wonderful ways that turns the genre on his head.

Dan John Miller’s narration was pitch perfect all the way. His reading of the prose was like a warm cup of hot chocolate that someone helpfully slipped a shot of brandy into. He voice was so welcome and warm that at points it created a mood of unease as it conflicted with some of the happenings of the novel, adding to the feeling of weirdness simmering at the edge.  His characterizations at times bordered at over the top, never quite reaching that level but making them stand out enough in ways that played well into the plotting of the novel. In the end, I felt his performance was well planned, enhancing the experience of the novel.





Audiobook Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuval 

21 04 2017


Waking Gods (Book 2 of the Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel

Read by a Full Cast

Random House Audio

Grade: A

I am a 43 year old man who grew up on proper grammar and professional distance. I take my role in the thoughtful analysis of fiction through the spoken word seriously. I am not given to hyperbole or flamboyance in my writings. I am not in touch with the hip slang or latest trending meme. I am not some tech savy YA reviewer who uses emoji and gifs as a modern form of hieroglyphic language to portray their enthusiasm for the latest release from the favorite authors. Giving these limitations as a reviewer, I can best sum up my experience with Waking Gods, the sequel to Sylvain Nueval’s Sleeping Giants as thus…

HOLY SHIT!!!

I truly apologize for the profanity, use of ALL CAPS, and overuse of exclamation points. But really…

OMGOMGHOLYSHITWTFWTFROBOTSOHSHITCOMEONMANOMGOMG!
Ok, I know many of you still like some sort of visual prop to express my delight at this book, so this was basically my emotional state while listening to this audiobook.

giphy

It’s next to impossible to evaluate Waking Gods the novel, and Waking Gods the audiobook experience separately. Honestly, if I simply read the text I am sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed it, but I highly doubt that I would have squealed orgasmically so loud that my neighbors dog started simultaneous humping his Chewbacca throw pillow. Random House Audio has  created a rock and roll blockbuster of an audiobook experience that at times gave me chills, made me cringe and had me jumping up like I was an Ecstasy fueled time traveler at a Nirvana concert.

Fans of Sleeping Giants think they know what to expert. They do, if they multiply their expectation exponentially. Waking Gods is more than an audiobook. It’s an audiobook experience dipped in chocolate, laced in meth, and smashed repeatedly into your brain.

I think I liked it.





Audiobook Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

7 04 2017


American War by Omar El Akkad

Read by Dion Graham

Random House Audio

Grade: A
There is this odd debate going on about “message fiction” vs popular fiction. It centers around the idea that some authors are more concerned with the message than writing a good story. I think it’s odd because the best stories, no matter if they are complex character study or grand adventures full of laser guns and hovercraft battles, make you think. American War manages that balance brilliantly. I was enthralled with the tale from the moment I hit play, invested in the characters and intrigued by this scarily plausible near future world. I told myself that I was going to focus on this aspect, the fact that this was a great tale, well told. I’d leave all the discussion of how important this book is, how timely it’s slow burn multifaceted dystopia highlights the current events and the divide in American culture. Yet, what I didn’t expect was how I was affected by the ending.
Basically, Omar El Akkad’s novel fucked with my head. It seemed to use my perceptions against me and forced me to reevaluate much of my worldview. What’s brilliant about American War was it caused me to look at things I believed intellectually and challenged them emotionally. We often use the language of our culture to distance ourselves from the reality of debate and that comfort is stripped away from us in this novel. He challenges us to ask ourselves, what if the thing you fear is also the thing you love? By the end I was left feeling awkward and conflicted and weirdly, a bit guilty for just how entertaining I found the experience. American War is the most effective American dystopia since Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and one that both frightened and entertained me. 
Many narrators can effectively perform a tale, but I think what divides the good from the great are the little moments, the small touches that make it more than just listening to someone tell are story but pulls you into the tale. This is just one of the things that Dion Graham excels at, a laugh, a small pause or stutter, an unexpected affectation that takes a character beyond the words on a page and makes them real to you. Add this to his impeccable pacing and rich voice and American War becomes more than just a book, but a full sensory experience. 





Audiobook Review: Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love 

3 04 2017


Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Read by Roxana Ortega

Random House Audio

Grade: A-
Hey, there’s a new book out by one of the writers from Person of Interest!”
SOLD!
“Don’t you want to know what it’s about?” 
NO! FEED INTO BRAIN NOW! 
The great thing about Person of Interest was that each week you didn’t know what kind of episode you were going to get, you just knew it would be badass. This was my experience with Lola, a Machiavellian drama set against the Los Angeles gang culture that breaks many crime fiction conventions. Now, I’m not going to pretend that having a women as the secret leader of a gang is something special. It’s an interesting plot point, that has been done in some manner many times before. It’s the execution that makes Lola stand out. We get to see much of the world through Lola’s lens and her interactions break away from what we expect. Her perspective of “good vs bad” colors the narrative not as a judgement but as assignment of roles and she can respect those who play in those roles and distrusts those who step outside them. Lola isn’t some archetype, she plays out her role, makes mistakes along the way yet becomes her own character. The plot moves fluidly despite a mix of active and reactive moves by Lola. Here she’s her own person and even her agency is taken from her, she fights to get it back with mixed results. The beauty of the tale is that it’s not pretty. Plans never quite work out they way they should and things don’t tie up nicely. It’s all dirty and real and most importantly, a damn good story I didn’t want to stop listening to. 
Narrator Roxana Ortega gave a performance worthy of the material. Her ability to switch from the fluidity of Lola’s speech to the harsh straight forward prosecutor to the other characters that peppered the tale was impressive. Each character didn’t just have its own voice but its own rhythm. Lola is as an action tale but it also highlights how the American city isn’t homogeneous but a symphony of cultures and Ortega was the conductor.