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.

Advertisements




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.





My Top 10 Audiobooks of 2014

8 01 2015

In the past, I used to offer my favorite 20 audiobooks of the year. This, of course, when I was listening to nearly 200 audiobooks a year. In 2014, I listened to maybe 80-90 audiobooks in total, and the idea of doing a top 20 seemed ridiculous. So, instead, I offer you my 10 favorite audiobooks(with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure.). Despite the lower number, my choices were quite hard. I think 2014 was a great year for apocalyptic fiction and my list definitely reflects that.

Choosing my favorite audiobook of the year incredibly hard. I knew it would come down to a battle between two novels. One was a simply mind blowing exploration of Post Apocalyptic fiction. For me, I thought Station Eleven was brilliant, and worked on so many levels. Mandel’s ability to blend together multiple storylines with a menagerie of complex and wonderful characters creating one of the most vivid and fascinating entries into post apocalyptic fiction I have experienced in some time easily made it perhaps the best book I listened to in 2014. Yet, I didn’t have more fun listening to any book as a did Daniel Price’s The Flight of the Silvers. I went back and forth on my decision, but in the end I decided this isn’t a “Best of”list but a favorites list, and he book I enjoyed the most this year, by a hair was The Flight of the Silvers.

Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Read by Rich Orlow

Recorded Books

I should note that not was it my favorite Audiobook, but perhaps my best review of the year.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Read by Kirsten Potter

Random House Audio

Code Zero (Joe Ledger, Bk. 6) by Jonathon Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

What list would be complete without the latest entry of the Joe Ledger series. What makes Code Zero so amazing is how Maberry brings together so much of the series into one book. While it’s book 6 of the series, it is also the direct sequel to Patient Zero and proves why Maberry is the Zombie king.

My Review

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Read by Peter Kenny

Hachette Audio

I loved Harry August. I mean, this book was right in my wheelhouse, like Replay and Life After Life, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a tale of one person living their life over and over. Yet, despite the apocalyptic tone of the novel, it is full of whismy and dark British humor that makes it a unique experience. 

My Review

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Read by Cassandra Campbell

Harper Audio

Bird Box is simply the scariest book of the year. And while there be monsters, Malerman let’s the monsters in your own head fill out the details. Bird Box also benefits from the wonderful performance of Cassandra Campbell. Chilling and wicked.

 

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Read by Josh Cohen

Random House Audio

Any other year, this would have been a contended for best book of the year. It’s an emotional exploration of one man’s character, while dealing with the death of one world, and the creation of another. I loved how Faber created a unapologetic, authentic Christian character who was, while at times frustrating and naïve, a good man. Josh Cohen’s narration was my favorite performance of the year. If you have only read this book, I encourage you to take some time and be mesmerized by a simply amazing performance which is the perfect example of how a narrator can enhance the experience of a book.

 

California by Edan Lepucki

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

On the surface, California seems like your typical Young Adult Dystopian set up, but Lepucki strips away all the clichés and creates a disturbing yet enthralling look at societal breakdown and counter culture movements. California explores the nature of humanity, yet also manages to tell a darn good story.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Read by Finty Williams

Hachette Audio

So, you don’t like zombies? The Girl with All the Gifts may cure you of that unfortunate ailment. Carey once again shows that the undead are not simply the bloated corpse of a one trick pony, but a medium that offers much potential exploration. While good zombie tales are about delicious brains and entrails, great ones are about what it means to be human.

The Three by Sarah Lotz

Read by Andrew Wincott and Melanie McHugh

Hachette Audio

The Three was a novel that often managed to mesmerize me and frustrate me at the same time. Like Bird Box, The Three worked by using your own brain against you. Lotz asks open ended questions, and allowed the twisted brains of her readers to fill in the blanks. This made The Three fascinating to me, because each reader brings their own nightmares into the tale making the experience unique to them.

The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman

Read by Christopher Buehlman

Blackstone Audio

I almost didn’t listen to The Lesser Dead, because, well, meh vampires… and it was read by the author. Well, fucking A Vampires and perhaps the best Author narration I have ever hear. The main character, Joey Peacock, was one of my favorite characters of the year, and if the book ended with your typical horror story bloodbath ending I still would have loved it. But it didn’t and well… wow. Great surprising novel.

My 2014 Honorable Mentions

 

Defenders by Will McIntosh

The only reason Defenders didn’t make my top 10 Audiobooks, is because it’s not available in audio, which is a travesty. Defenders was easily my favorite print read of the year. McIntosh took pulp fiction to a new level. His economy of word created stunning imagery that defies logic.

Favorite Binge Listen:

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive , Bk. 2) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer & Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

So, for someone who is a bit hesitant to take on Epic Fantasies, binge listening to 100 hours of epic fantasy was a daunting task. But Dammit, The Stormlight Archives are everything I love about fantasy including stuff I didn’t realize I loved about fantasy.

Here are some of my other favorites of the year.





Audiobook Series Review: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

25 04 2014

For my reviews of the first two in this series, click on the images above

Hammered by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk, 3)

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 4)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 41 Min

Genre:Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

Trapped by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 5)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

Hunted by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk, 6)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: A-

People seem to love The Iron Druid series. In fact, they love it so much that upon discovering that someone may be like two… or four books behind in the series, that person’s status as a blogger and perhaps even their masculinity is called into question. As someone who cares greatly about his image as the manliest of all audiobook bloggers, it was my secret shame to be woefully behind in the various adventures of the titular Iron Druid, Atticus and his canine cohort Oberon. Now, I had, some time ago, listened to and enjoyed the first two books of this series. I even reviewed those books pretty positively, so OBVIOUSLY I should have quickly moved on to the rest of the series.

Yet, I didn’t. I got all sorts of distracted by other pretties. Hot new releases, other series, covers with alien crab walkers on it. I said to myself, Hey, you need to get back to that Druidy thing with the funny dog, and I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah… but this book has cyborg robots in love with Unicorns. Maybe after this book about a small boy and his talking chimp who survive global economic chaos through pluck and bad cockney accents.

Basically, there is too many goddam books for me to listen to them all, and dammit, I listen to a lot of frakkin’ books.

I know, excuses, excuses.

Since 2014, so far, has been the year of the audiobook series binge listen, and since I knew that in the relatively near future, due to a change at work, my listening time may decrease, I decided that if I was ever to catch up on this series, I needed to do it now. Hence, the Iron Druid Binge Listen. I have always been a fan of the binge listen. In fact, it’s my favorite kind of binging, since binge eating leads to health issues, and binge drinking eventually leads to me vomiting next to a merry-go-round in a elementary school playground. Yet, I find that certain types of book series, particularly Urban Fantasy and Horror series are well suited to the binge listen.

OK, confession time. Often times when I start the next book in a series, after the required year long wait, I am totally lost. I don’t know if it’s just the limit of my brains, or the affects of reading 150-200 books a year, but I tend to lose much of the details of a book over time. Even with my most favorite series ever there are characters who I know I should know, and foreshadowing events I should absolutely remember, but instead the details take a long time coming. More than once, I will get like two thirds of the way into a book, and have an “ah ha” moment saying, “Holy shit, that’s who that dude is.” I think this is one of the reasons I’m hesitant about epic fantasy, since by the time book 3 comes out I forgot who 758 of the 760 perspective characters where. This, my friends, is why Cthulhu created the series binge listen.

So, I started the binge listen with Hammered, book 3 of the series. Honestly, throughout most of Hammered, I was kinda “ho… hummm…. this is nice.” I definitively was suffering some of the dissonance of jumping back into the story, and the core part that always stuck out to me in this series was the relationship between Atticus and Oberon, which wasn’t as prevalent in Hammered. It seemed to me that Hammered was that essential book in every Urban Fantasy series where the protagonist goes off to do something incredibly stupid, which they know is stupid, and everyone they trust tells them it’s stupid but they continue to do it for some sort of arbitrary “pride” or “honor” reason and you the reader just knows it’s basically going to unleash the shit storm that they will be dealing with in upcoming books. You know you have to get through the “protagonist acting like a complete nit” book, in order to get to the more awesome “protagonist dealing with the shit storm that acting like a nit unleashed” books. There were two scenes that made Hammered worth it. Atticus’s interaction with Jesus, and the “bonding” sequence where each of the questers told their stories. So while I was less than thrilled with Hammered, I believed there was good things to come.

Thank God I was right!

After the events of Hammered, Atticus has a lot on his plate. Gods want to kill him, Religious whackjobs still don’t trust him, he has an apprentice to train, and Oberon still needs sausages. Tricked benefited a lot from a scenery change, and a whole new mythology to explore. I often cringe when books bring in Native American mythology, because it often comes off as derivative, but Hearne has a way of exploring mythology in creative ways while not diminishing the traditions. Tricked was a fun change of pace, and gave the characters a bit of a breather before the chaos begins, well, if you can consider dealing with evil skinwalkers a breather.

I was both surprised and relieved with the 12 year time jump in Trapped. When Atticus discussed the prophesy of the word burning in 13 years, I was like “Shit, now Hearne is going to write 12 novels each spanned out over a year until we get to the global apocalypse we all are waiting for. WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY WORLD BURING NOW!!!!” Now, maybe he still plans on string out 12 more novels, but at least Ragnarok is looming closer and closer, and this absolutely builds the tension. I really, really enjoyed both Trapped and Hunted. First off, I love that Hearne ended the sexual tension between Atticus and Granuaile with a choice, and not some clumsy fumbling moment where they both finally give into their long repressed passions. I love the interplay between Atticus and the various Gods. Hearne never gives into the Hollywood dulling of the natures of the gods but embraces their utter despicableness. Hunted is a brilliant otherworldly chase novel, that cleverly included some new perspectives, and lots of cool twists and turns that kept me enthralled until the end.

Yet, everyone, let’s be honest. We’d all probably like a Iron Druid novel if the plot was an unadventurous trip to the Laundromat, as long as their were plenty of interactions between Atticus and his hound Oberon. Sure, life and death struggles, battles with the gods, hot druid sex are all fine and good, but without Oberon bartering for sausages and bitches, what’s the point? Oberon makes this more than just another Urban Fantasy series. He imbibes it with soul, acting as Atticus’ insatiable moral compass. I mean, he’s a friggin’ dog and he’s awesome. What else do you want?

Now, I like to keep my personal feelings about a performer out of my evaluations of their performances, so I will not let my jealousy of the fact the ladies swoon at the mere mention of Luke Daniels name influence my thoughts on that rotten bastards narration of The Iron Druid Chronicles. I have listened to Daniel’s narrate a lot of thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary science fiction novels, and I am always impressed with his ability to tell a good story. He handles characters well, making each one distinct and creating dialogue that feels natural. Yet, I often forget just how wide of a range he truly has. Books like The Iron Druid Chronicles and Martin’s shared world anthology Wild Cards show that Daniels can take on any character, no matter what sex, nationality, genetic mutation, planet of origin, or any other goddam weirdo thing a screwed up author throws at him with ease. I honestly at times thought, “Now, Kevin Hearne is just fucking with him, right?” with some of the voices he had to pull off, but pull them off he did. I truly can’t imagine experiencing this series in any other manner besides audio without a significant decrease in awesomeness, and really, people, we want more awesomeness, not less. So get with it. So, if you have yet to listen to this series, maybe you too should partake in an Iron Druid binge listen.