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.

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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. 





Audiobook Review: The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian 

8 02 2017


The Sleepwalker by Chris Boujalian

Read by Cady McClain and Grace Experience 

Random House

Grade: B+

There is a reoccurring theme throughout Chris Bohjalian’s latest thriller. The characters often talk about how they can’t quite figure out what type of novel they are in. This is what makes The Sleepwalker so effective, yet frustrating. You never know what kind of novel you are reading, a romance, a crime thriller, a tragedy or even something slightly paranormal. So, when it all comes together, the ending resonates throughout the whole book coloring the experience. It’s rewarding for the reader, especially since getting to the ending took you on so many side trips. 
It took me a while to get into Cady McClain’s narration. She had a weird cadence I thought would find annoying but as I got more into the story i noticed it less and less. It wasn’t the perfect reading but she kept me in the story and in the end I felt satisfied. The additional narrator, Grace Experience,seemed unnecessary at first but as the story played out it added a eerie quality to the twisty tale. 





My 2015 Audies Prediction

10 02 2015

The 2015 Audies season is upon us and I for one am excited. Being that I didn’t listen to as many audiobooks in 2014 as I had in the past, I am excited to be taking part in Armchair Audies this year so I can discover some of the missed gems of last year.

In the past, I have felt critical of the Audies process, but I have come to terms with the fact that the process and criteria of an Audie nominated book may not need to exactly shadow what I believe makes a book standout. In the past, I \put much emphasis on the synergy between performance and context. I didn’t believe a title deserved to be nominated unless the content was just as “Award worthy” as the performance. This year, I am focusing more on the technical side, giving more focus to the “audio” then the “book.” Yet, since this is my predictions post, I am going to present some books in a few categories that I believe are worthy of recognition, due to both content and performance appealed to me. I have done well in the past in my predictions, so lets see how I do in 2015.

Let the Armchair Audies Games begin:

Science Fiction:

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Read by Josh Cohen

Random House Audio

Josh Cohen’s performance in The Book of Strange New Things is a pure example of what makes audiobooks so special. His transitions from English to American accents were so seamless I had to Google him to discover his true nationality. Yet, it’s the haunting voice of his alien creatures, and the emotional impact of Peter’s communications with his wife Bea that make this not just a title deserving of a nomination in Science Fiction, but should give Cohen, at the least, consideration in Solo Narration of the Year.

World of Trouble, The Last Policeman, Bk. 3

by Ben H. Winters

Read by Peter Berkrot

The Last Policeman series may be the shining star in Peter Berkrot’s luminous career as a narrator. He gives a multifaceted performance that is both funny and emotional. He ushers us through a broken society with a wink, and takes us the brink of the world’s end with a comforting hand on our shoulder. He makes this wonderful novel work on so many levels, truly a performance worthy of the book.

Fantasy:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

MacMillan Audio

Words of Radiance is so enthralling that there were moments that I forgot to breath. There is a reason why Michael Kramer and Kate Reading are THE voices of fantasy, they managed to guide me through of nearly 50 hours of audio, in a genre I often struggle with, and leave me wanting more.

Authority: The Southern Reach Trilogy, Book 2

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Blackstone Audio

Jeff Vandermeer’s series about a strange terrain known as Area X has hit a cord with many speculative fiction fans. At times, I personally struggled with the series, but what I never struggled with was Pinchot’s performance in Authority. I know Pinchot is a wonderful performer, what I forgot was how funny he could be. Authority isn’t a humorous novel, but Pinchot is able to tap into the absurdity of the main character to bring the humorous aspects to vivid life.

Paranormal:

Fear City by F. Paul Wilson

Read by Alexander Cendese

Brilliance Audio

Alexander Cendese may be the biggest hidden talent in the audiobook business. His performance in the prequel series, Repairman Jack: The Early Years series, turned me into a fan of the series that spawned the prequels. When I did listen to the Earlier Repairman Jack novels, I found myself missing Cendese, despite excellent narrators like Dick Hill handling them. Given more opportunities, I feel Cendese could become a real force to be reckoned with in the industry.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Read by Christine Lakin, Terra Deva, Sunil Mohatra, Robert Morgan Fisher, JD Jackson

Hachette Audio

Broken Monsters is not a comfortable listen. Beukes latest genre busting tale is disturbing on many levels. Yet, the material is brought to brilliant life by this mutli-cast performance. Don’t expect to sleep comfortable after this listening, but do expect to be utterly enthralled.

Mystery\Thriller

The Wolf In Winter by John Connolly

Read by Jeff Harding

Simon & Schuster Audio

John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series finally gets the performance it deserves, at least stateside, with Jeff Harding’s masterful handling of this genre blending novel. Harding, who has read the complete series across the pond in England, finally performs the American version as well. His gruff style manages to catch the flow of the narrative, adding to the chills of this paranormal mystery.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Read by Will Patton

Simon & Schuster Audio

In all honesty, I was not a fan of this novel. Personally, I though King’s attempt to do a straight mystery thriller fell flat in a genre filled with talented writers. Yet, Will Patton’s performance kept me in the game. Patton managed to make this boring novel interesting, and made me almost care about these characters. Based solely on performance, Mr. Mercedes is an good bet at landing an Audie nomination.

 

Well, there are my predictions. I should be tweeting my reaction to the Audies announcement tomorrow, using the hashtasg #Audies2015.