Audiobook Review: Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

31 03 2014

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

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: SF/Horror Thriller

Grade: A+

In the latest Joe Ledger thriller by Jonathan Maberry…. well, awesomeness happens, Horrible, tragic and often fatal awesomeness, but still… you get the picture. It’s very hard for me to actually review a Joe Ledger novel and this is why I don’t really try. In the last novel, Extinction Machine Maberry took the X-Files to the next extreme, and in the series debut Patient Zero Maberry reminded us why zombies are goddam fucking scary. Really, if god created an author solely for the purpose of putting my worse fears and fanatical likes to paper, Maberry is a robot uprising away from divine perfection. This is why you have to take my review with a grain of salt… an awesome grain of salt. In the latest, Code Zero Maberry has topped himself by returning to some of his previously traveled paths and amping them up with blue meth. One of the standout aspects of Code Zero is that Maberry gives us an alternate view of past events at the Department of Military Sciences through a new set of eyes. Because of this, we got a chance to revisit, if briefly, some beloved fallen comrades. Maberry also manages to create a new kind of bad guy, maniacal in her own way, yet quite different from what we have seen in the series. As with every other book in the series, Maberry doesn’t cut his hero any breaks. Joe is again called on to literally save the world while the potential of tragic personal sacrifice lingers over his head. As a reader, I don’t know how much more I can take, and I am surprised the Joe’s fragile psyche has held up as long as it has. Again, Maberry’s intense action is cinematic in scope. The scenes come alive in your head. Each scene is huge, but Maberry keeps it contained and intimate guiding us through the chaos like a master director. My only negative is that I still haven’t bought in to Joe’s latest love interest. Maybe it’s a residue from the loss of a past love, or perhaps the incongruousness of the relationship. While the relationship is conflicted, it lacks conflict and part of my brain agrees with Violin when she says he needs a women more in his world. Yet, Maberry does use the relationship effectively, adding levels to the story. My other quibbling complain is that, despite his move to the West Coast, Maberry once again releases potentially apocalyptic danger onto the Philly area, but since it’s Willow Grove, I’ll forgive him. (Suggestion: Croydon could use a nice dose of Captain Trips.) The release of a Joe Ledger novels is my Christmas and Code Zero is a gift that doesn’t disappoint.

It must be a great feeling as an author knowing you have a narrator that doesn’t just get what you’re doing but manages to deliver every line with authenticity and emotional impact. Ray Porter, with a simple pause, or a stumbled line, milks every moment of this book to make you truly feel it. His reading raced my heart, gave me chills down my back and had me hiding in the bathroom so people at work didn’t think I had a pet related tragedy. If there is one series to point to and shout “This is how audiobooks should be done” (which admitted I would absolutely do given the right motivation and perhaps one too many Yuengling lagers,) than it’s Ray Porter’s reading of the Joe Ledger series. Take it from this fanboy, I would totally recommend getting a full physical before listening to Code Zero to make sure your heart can take it.





Audiobook Review: Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry

3 04 2013

Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger, Bk. 5)

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Science Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Extinction Machine is like a sick blend of The X-Files and 24, amped up on meth, laced with cocaine, marinated in Jolt cola and mainlined directly into my brain through my earholes. I absolutely loved this book. It’s a novel so tailored to my likes that I briefly wondered if my 2-year-old self was correct and the world actually does revolve around me.

Grade: A+

Anyone who is a reader of mystery novels or has any knowledge of Sherlock Holmes has more than likely come across this quote "…when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." And those of us who have spent anytime between the pages of a science fiction or fantasy novel have probably come across the Arthur C. Clark quote "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I think the interplay between these two ideas form the basis that is Jonathan Maberry’s excellent science based thriller series featuring Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences. In fact, Clark’s quote is one of his three rules, and sadly the one most often overlooked is the second rule which says, "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible." This is exactly what Maberry does with the mystery of a magician, he takes what seems impossible, what has become wrapped in myth and mythology, what is often scoffed at and ridiculed, and makes it seem eerily possible. When reading a Joe Ledger novel, the author doesn’t require you to suspend disbelief, he beats the disbelief out of you. It’s easy to take things like Zombies, bioengineering, Vampires and even Alien technology and dismiss them outright as paranormal impossibilities. I know, I often do it myself. While I am fascinated by these topics, and believe my mind is open to possibilities, that side of me is too often beaten down by my inner skeptic. Except when I am reading Maberry. Maberry doesn’t just make me want to believe. He makes me believe. He makes me think that those who don’t believe are the naive, ridiculous ones. He does this by blending just enough fact into his fiction, where you simply must pay attention. This is why Maberry has become my favorite modern author and his Joe Ledger series is currently my favorite ongoing series of any genre.

As reports of flying saucer sightings skyrocket, and mysterious cyber attacks plague some of the top scientific development companies in the US, Joe Ledger and Echo team are sent to investigate a lead, and walk into a horror show perpetrated by two mysterious agents in back with seemingly impossible gear. Then the president is abducted right out of his bedroom and the only evidence left behind are crop circles in the White House lawn… OK, Let me stop right there. Head onto the internet and find a better summary, because I can’t get past that last statement… CROP CIRCLES ON THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN. Mr. Maberry, get out of my frackin’ brain. I’m serious. This man is a sick demon magician who just pulls out my darkest twisted desire of things I want to see in a novel and puts them to paper, MAKING THEM BETTER THAN I CAN EVEN IMAGINE! Sorry about the caps, but come on… CROP CIRCLES on the mother of god WHITE HOUSE LAWN. Now, I know, most of you guys are not me, but really, all Maberry had to do was write that phrase, and he had me sold. Yet, it was even better that that. Extinction Machine is like a sick blend of The X-Files and 24, amped up on meth, laced with cocaine, marinated in Jolt cola and mainlined directly into my brain through my earholes. I absolutely loved this book. ABSOLUTELY. Now, I typically enjoy a Maberry tale, but Extinction Machine felt like it was custom built for my brain. The great thing about Joe Ledger is he’s not an action hero or superhero in a traditional sense. He is human. He’s conflicted. He is riddled with guilt and burdened with his past. And he totally kicks ass. Maberry takes all you think you may know about alien conspiracies, and put together a scenario that would make even the hardest skeptic think. Yet, Extinction Point is not about making you believe. It about great characters, a compelling plot, true human drama, and action so visually cinematic that I felt the need to carry a bag of popcorn around with me while I listened to it. No matter what labels I slap onto my blog, I am not a true book reviewer. I share my experiences with a book, and my experience with Extinction Point was pure joy, Extinction Point played into everything I love about reading, touching on topics that fascinate me. It’s a novel so tailored to my likes that I briefly wondered if my 2-year-old self was correct and the world actually does revolve around me. I know it’s a bit early, but Extinction Machine is easily my favorite listening experience of 2013.

There are certain series where the audiobook narrator becomes as vital to the story as the actual characters themselves. For me, Ray Porter is as vital a part of The Joe Ledger series as Joe, Ghost, Mr. Church, Bunny, Top and the rest. Porter makes this brilliant transformation when reading the words that Jonathan Maberry puts to page, he becomes Joe Ledger. Porter does what few narrators can do authentically, he adds to the character. Porter doesn’t just read the words, he speaks them as the true Joe Ledger would, full of emotion, humanity, doubt and confliction. He sighs, his voice breaks, he stumbles over thoughts and phrases just like you picture the real character doing. At times, I feel that Porter knows Joe Leger almost as well as the author who created him. Porter also is one of the few narrators who can read with a lightning speed, yet still; give every word its due. He races through the intense action scenes like a bullet, yet never loses the reader. It hard for me to express how much I enjoy this series and the work of this narrator. It truly an amazing experience and one that seems to get better every time I am given the opportunity to experience it.





My Top 20 Audiobooks of 2012

27 12 2012

2012 was a great year for audiobooks. As an avid listener of audiobooks, I don’t think I can remember a year quite like this. With the releases of some classics like Stephen King’s The Stand and the complete Chronicles of Amber, to some breathtaking debuts, and a bunch of authors and narrators releasing some of their best works, it will be a year I remember for a long time. At one point early in the year, I was wondering if I had been becoming to easily pleased based on the number of A reviews I was giving, or if the quality was just better this year.

As far as quantity, I have easily broken my record this year. In 2011, I listened to 174 audiobooks. As I am writing this post, for 2012 I have written 192 audiobook reviews, including two posts that reviewed the 10 Chronicle of Amber novels, as well as a few double reviews of audiobook novellas. If I include all my multiple reviews, and those audiobooks I have listened to yet haven’t reviewed yet, my total for 2012 is over 200. Now, some of these were shorter novellas and short story anthologies. Of these 200, about 30% received a grade in the A range, while 60% fell into the B range.

Favorite posts like this are very subjective. I know a lot of people who listen to the kind of audiobooks I enjoy, but few who match my specific likes, so I will never call my picks the best. If you are new to my blog, I listen to a wide range of speculative fiction genres, which leans heavily towards Horror and Dark Fantasy, as well a blend of science fiction. I listen to a lot of Zombie and Post Apocalyptic novels. I also enjoy Crime Fiction and Thrillers, particularly detective stories and legal Thrillers.  For my 2012 list, I limit it to audiobooks which are produced in 2012, even if the book itself was written pre-2012.

I really struggled with my picks this year, moving things around repeatedly and even considered expanding my list to 25 titles. Yet, in the end, I stuck with 20. I went back and forth on my number 1 pick this year. I knew which book resonated with me the most this year. It was the best mix between content and narration, and thinking about it still haunts me. Yet, I considered going with another title because it was an audio reread of a novel written in 1990. It is one of my favorite novels of all time and listening to it now in audio, in a new production with a wonderful performance by the narrator made me love it even more. So, I went with it. I mean, heck it’s my list, right?

This year I decided to try something a little different. Instead of writing a new blurb for each book, instead there is a link to my original review, plus my "Quick Thought: entry. Also, I invited some authors and narrators to talk about their experience with the audiobook versions of the entries. I want to thank those who contributed on short notice during this hectic holiday season. So, here it is my 20 favorite audiobooks of 2012. Hopefully, you will find something here to love as well.

 

A Gift Upon the Shore by M. K. Wren

Read by Gabra Zackman

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: A Gift Upon the Shore is one of my all time favorite novels, a darkly beautiful vision of a nuclear apocalypse. This novel stands apart from many within the genre by its frightening realism and its strong female characters. Narrator Gabra Zackman captures the poetry of the novel perfectly, making it a wonderful example of how good an audiobook can be.

Gabra Zackman, narrator of A Gift Upon the Shore

“A Gift Upon the Shore was one of my favorite books to record.  Partly because the story seemed so vital and relevant, and partly because it felt personally meaningful. It’s a really beautiful thing to connect emotionally to a book you are recording… it doesn’t happen all the time, and it makes the reading infinitely better when it does.  At the time I was in a fascinating life space… I was about to make a move cross country to new terrain and was both excited and scared by the prospect.  So to read a book about female pioneers re-inventing life in a landscape of the unknown was…. extraordinary.  Comforting.  Validating.  And offered me some courage I badly needed.  In addition to all that, I am a passionate lover of language, and the folkloric nature of the writing was music to my ear.”

Blackout by Mira Grant

Read by Paula Christensen and Michael Goldstrom

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Blackout is full of adventure, betrayal, true love, sacrifice, conspiracies revealed, surprise enemies and allies, fascinating science and of course, zombies. It has everything you want in a series finale, leaving you both utterly fulfilled, and desperately wanting more.

 

The Stand by Stephen King

Read by Grover Gardner

Random House Audio

My Review

What I Said: For fans of this novel who, like me, are skeptical of allowing another person to become the voice in your head, bringing this world you love to life, don’t be. The audiobook version of The Stand achieves its goal of presenting this classic in a way that will be accessible for both long time fans and those new to King’s frightening landscape.

Assassin’s Code by Jonathon Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

MacMillan Audio

My Review

What I said: Assassin’s Code is a fast paced, no holds barred science thriller with perhaps the most engaging series character in fiction today. If you have yet to listen to a Joe Ledger Book, makes sure you have plenty of time on your hands because once you start, you will not want to stop.

Ray Porter, narrator of the Joe Ledger series:

“I am a big fan of Jonathan Maberry. Every time I get to read Joe Ledger it is like visiting a good friend. I was very entertained by both books and I hope people have as good a time with them as I did.”

Spellbound by Larry Correia (Book 2 of the Grimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

Larry Correia, author of Spellbound: “I’ve been blessed with amazing narrators. For Hard Magic and Spellbound, Bronson Pinchot makes the characters come alive. Sometimes it is really hard as a writer to listen to an actors interpretation of somebody you made up, because obviously they are never going to match exactly with what you’ve got in your head. Bronson does such a darn good job in Spellbound that as I’m writing the third book I find that the characters in my head now sound like his version of them.”

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Read by Susan Duerden

Dreamscape Audiobooks

My Review

What I Said: The Rook is one of the most fascinating Fantasies I have experienced in a long time, truly touching that sense of wonder as only the best Fantasies can. In many ways, this is the novel that JK Rowling’s should have wrote next, an adult fantasy that reminds us of those feelings we would get as a child  hiding under our blankets trying to read just one more chapter.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Read by Grover Gardner

Blackstone Audio

My Review

What I Said: Defending Jacob made my courtroom thriller loving heart sing for joy, a well written, deftly plotted legal tale that was full of hidden depths. Fans of crime fiction, even if not particularly legal thriller fans, should not miss this utterly enthralling novel.

Year Zero by Rob Reid

Read by John Hodgman

Random House Audio

My Review

What I Said: If I can compare a book to Ready Player One, Agent to the Stars and The Hitchhikers Guide, then it should be a given that I loved it. I did. Year Zero may be the most pure fun I had listening to a book this year. There was enough inappropriate laugh out loud moments that the weird looks I began receiving from strangers and coworkers became part of the scenery. Year Zero is the kind of accessible, pop culture ridden science fiction that should be embraced by a wide audience.

14 by Peter Clines

Read by Ray Porter

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

My Review

What I Said: Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams  uncomfortable.

Ray Porter, narrator of 14:

“I really enjoyed Peter Clines’ book, I look forward to more from him. I’d love to have a chance to narrate another of his books.”

Cold Days by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files, Bk. 14)

Read by James Marsters

Penguin Audio

My Review

What I Said: Cold Days reinvigorated my love for this series. Butcher takes everything you think you know about The Dresden Files and smashes it, twisting and pulling it like taffy. He expands his world in amazing new directions, answering questions you never knew you where asking, while creating whole new realties to deal with.

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Bk. 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Days of Blood & Starlight left me totally breathless. Taylor creates her worlds with poetry, twisting our perceptions of the genre with each word, creating something both comfortable and unique with a magician’s touch. Fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bones will not only have their anticipations paid for with this novel, but they should be totally blown away.

Khristine Hvam, narrator of Days of Blood & Starlight:

“I think we can all agree that the world Laini Taylor has created is incredible. It is an honor to be a part of it.

We finished up recording Days of Blood and Starlight in a beautiful New York City Studio, with some pretty awesome people, a few months ago. Since then the response to the book, and the audio version have been fantastic. What an honor to have been cast for this project. Taylor’s story gives me so much room and opportunity to discover new voices, play with old ones, and develop as a voice artist. It’s kind of what we all wish for in a project.”

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: Throne of the Crescent Moon is the rare fantasy that seems to do everything right in an accessible, highly readable way. This book will thrill fantasy fans, and make them long to discover even more about Saladin Ahmed’s intriguing world. Even better, this is the type of accessible fantasy that I would have no trouble recommending to people whether they are fans of the genre or not.

Phil Gigante, narrator of Throne of the Crescent Moon:

“I really loved Saladin Ahmed’s juxtaposition of classic Arabian tales with a "Western" Fantasy style. He captured the true history and intrigue of his Middle Eastern roots, and told a story worthy of the best modern Fantasy authors. It is beautiful and lyrical, as the best Fantasy should be. I met Saladin at a sci-fi convention where he was touring for the book, and I found him to be a great person, and a writer to watch for a long, long time. He also has possibly the best hair of any writer working today! I’m really looking forward to the sequel, as all the Eastern pronunciations really gave my glottal stops a workout.”

The Reanimation of Edward Schuett by Derek J. Goodman

Read by David Letwin

Audible Frontiers

My Review

What I Said: The Reanimation of Edward Schuett is a novel that blends the unique zombie perspective of a novel like Zombie Ohio, with the recovered society motif of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series, mixing in a liberal dose of the quirkiness of Raining Stony Mayhall, then adds it’s own secret blend of herbs and spices making it the most unique, and perhaps, rewarding zombie experience of the year.

This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It by David Wong

Read by Nick Podehl

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: This Book is Full of Spiders is just pure fun for any fan of horror fiction, full of adventure, plenty of creepy scares, monsters, shadowy government types, weird otherworldly weapons, slapstick irreverent humor and of course, a good dog and an even better woman. Fans of John Dies at the End will love this latest adventure with their buddies David and John, and if you have yet to spend time with this duo, go do it now. You’ll thank me.

Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI, Bk. 1)

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

My Review

What I Said: Death Warmed Over is a haunted Halloween treat that pulls from The Police Squad as much as classic monster tales. Kevin J. Anderson has created a tableau for storytelling that should please a wide plethora of fans across many genres. Death Warmed Over is a tragic yet beautiful romance, an action filled buddy comedy, and a unique legal thriller all rolled into a tasty noir zombie shell and readers will want to take a big bite out of it.

Phil Gigante, narrator of Death Warmed Over

“I was impressed, as Bob mentioned in his review, how Kevin J. Anderson takes what could be every cliche in the "undead" realm, and layers on characters and situations that hit home mentally, spiritually and emotionally. He adds layers of true love, justice and intrigue, as well as screamingly funny dialogue, making the listener actually care deeply about the ghosts, zombies, mummies and other "Unnaturals" that make up the Big Uneasy. I screwed up many studio takes laughing out loud. Anderson even takes on modern slavery in the follow-up with tenderness and aplomb, all the while keeping the humor at a fever pitch.”

The Prophet by Michael Koryta

Read by Robert Petkoff

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: The Prophet is a crime novel with literary flair. It is a tale of redemption and relationships which can uplift your spirit while devastating your soul. Koryta continues to prove that no matter what genre he is tackling, he is one of the best storytellers working today.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Read by John Lee

Blackstone Audio

My Review

What I Said: Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a beautiful, vivid tale of relationships colored with a touch of the fantastic. Joyce never spoon feeds his readers but creates a vibrant mosaic for each person to translate on their own. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is simply wonderful storytelling and one of the most rewarding tales I have experienced this year.

Zombie by J. R. Angelella

Read by Alston Brown

AudioGo

My Review

What I Said: Zombie is truly a feat in storytelling. It reads like a novel Chuck Palahniuk would write after reading too much Robert Cormier. Full of witty dialogue, pop culture references and a unique rivalry between the bittersweet and the bizarre, Zombie is a buzz worthy book that defies classification, but would definitely make a wonderful edition to anyone’s bookshelf.

Control Point by Myke Cole (Shadow Ops, Bk. 1)

Read by Corey Jackson

Recorded Books

My Review

What I Said: Control Point delivered what I thought it would, tons of action, a fascinating world, and an authentic military feel. Yet, it’s what I didn’t expect that put this over the top for me. A hero I’m still not quite sure I can believe in and a blurred line between the good guys and the bad guys that lead to an emotionally devastating climax. Control Point is a novel that will be bouncing around in my head for a long, long time, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Myke Cole, Author of Control Point:

"When I first heard that CONTROL POINT was being made as an audiobook, I asked my agent to get me an audition. How hard could it be to read your own book? I mean, heck, I know how to properly pronounce all the names, and acronyms, and . . . uh . . . other names. CONTROL POINT was packed with incredibly nuanced words, like . . . "helicopter" and "sorcerer" and "pentagon."

To my great shock and dismay, Recorded Books politely declined.

So, I went home and beat my breast, shouted at the heavens, lamented the injustice of it all.

And then I heard Corey Jackson, channeling Oscar Britton with a passion and sensitivity that I would never have been able to muster. When I first saw the US cover of the book, I felt as if Michael Komarck had reached into my head and plucked images there for the final painting. Hearing Jackson was the same way. His voice *is* Oscar Britton’s voice. It always was.

The hard lesson here? Heinlein was wrong. Specialization isn’t for insects. It’s for specialists. And sometimes, it’s best to stand back, swallow your pride, and let them do their jobs. I’m sure glad I did."

What It Was by George Pelecanos

Read by J.D. Jackson

Hachette Audio

My Review

What I Said: Pelecanos fans will rejoice in a new Derek Strange tale and he certainly does his fans justice. What is Was is the hip thrilling story that his fans have come to expect, full of authentic, almost poetic dialogue, and human characters which will leave the listener wanting more.

Some Notes on the List:

Favorite Book published in 2012: Blackout by Mira Grant
Favorite Standalone Book published in 2012: Defending Jacob by William Landay
Favorite Debut of 2012: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
Favorite Fantasy Novel Published in 2012: Spellbound by Larry Correia
Favorite Horror Novel published in 2012: Blackout by Mira Grant
Favorite Science Fiction Novel published in 2012: Year Zero by Rob Reid
Favorite Mystery/Thriller published in 2012: Defending Jacob by William Landay

This is the first time that my top 2 Audiobooks were written by Female Authors.
Five of the top 20 picks were from debut Authors:

Honorable Mentions:

There were a lot of titles that would have made the list in any other year. Legion by Brandon Sanderson was a wonderful audiobook, but as it’s only a two hour novella, I couldn’t justify putting it on the list. I broke out of my typical genres and listen to a few more literary titles, among which A Land More Kind Than Home probably would have been in place #21 if I expanded the list particularly due to the wonderful performances by the narrators. Based solely on the book, Stephen King’s The Wind Through the Keyhole would have been a top 10 pick, but the author’s narration, while decent for what it was, knocked it down a bit on my list. Another recently audiobook reissues of a classic, The Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle was wonderfully produced by AudioGo, and, as part of the so called A List, Anne Hathaway’s reading of the beloved children’s classic The Wizard of Oz is a must listen. Lastly, for shared world anthologies, you can’t get much better than V-Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry and full of some wonderful performances by a star studded cast of narrators.

Now, onto 2013!





Audiobook Review: Goats by Mark Jude Poirier

23 07 2012

Goats By Mark Jude Poirier

Read by Ray Porter

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 47 Min

Genre: Literary Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Poirier’s character study is full of dark humor and over the top characters but manages to humanize them all enough to make the story work. Goats is definitely a step away from my traditional plot driven genre reads, but its highly enjoyable entertaining situations, offbeat characters and strong lead make it worth the trek.

Grade: B+

I know this may come as a big surprise to many people, but marijuana hasn’t really played a significant role in my life. Most of my experience with drug culture hasn’t come from direct experimentation on my part. The strange thing is, despite not being someone who explored mind altering substances, I tended to be drawn to people who did. While I was never really in any of the major "cliques" in high school, the people I tended to hang out with at school where, I guess what you would call stoners. Some of my favorite people in the world own lava lamps, enjoy Phish concerts and tended to spend a lot of time talking about nonconformity. I’m not saying these people would partake, but, well, it would be easy to make assumptions about them based on outward modes of expression. Yet, maybe despite the fact that I love these people, I never really was drawn to the traditional stoner entertainment. In all honesty, I found Phish and even The Grateful Dead to be sort of boring. I’ve read Hunter Thompson and Jack Kerouac, but I don’t find their work to be particularly life changing. I’ll laugh at stoner comedies, like Friday or Dazed and Confused, but it’s more of a laughing at the idiocy of the characters then relating with them. I have to admit, I sort of choose Goats by Mark Jude Poirier on a whim. In fact, I choose it more because I was amused that the main character was called "Goat Man" then because it was about an unlikely relationship between a young boy and an immature middle aged man who bonds over a mutual appreciation of the herb. I guess you can say I was more drawn to the characters then the actual use of marijuana in the story. The more things change…

Goats is a touching coming of age story about older than his years 14 year old Ellis, and how the change of him moving away from his irresponsible trust fund mother, and immature pot smoking mentor, to an upper crust boarding school changes the relationships between them all. Poirier uses a common archetypal character, the overly mature responsible, highly intelligent young adult and thrusts him into an untraditional story full of manipulative and immature characters. Ellis, in many ways, is baggage to all of the adult in his life. To his mother Wendy, he is her calming force and a steadying influence, yet, he is also a game piece that she uses to strike at her ex-husband. For Goat Man, a roustabout handy man who lives in Ellis’s mother’s pool room and trains goats for cross dessert treks, he is a surrogate son, yet one he uses to justify the shortcomings in his life. And for Ellis father, called "Fucker Frank" Ellis is evidence of his poor choices and failures, whose guilt causes him to reach out to, yet only as long as he fits into his comfortable world. All of the adults are, if not comfortable, accepting of Ellis to some level, as long as he stays true to their perspectives of him, but as he begins to change and grow, it strains all the relationships in strange new ways. While much of the book centers on drug use, the true story is about a young boy trying to break away from his broken family. Anyone who grew up in a nontraditional home easily recognizes the struggles that Ellis must deal with. I may not get his desire to escape into the haze of a drug induced stupor, but I totally understood his conflicting feelings as he was being used like a pawn by those meant to protect him, then blaming him when he doesn’t conform to their whims. Probably my favorite aspect of the overall tale is the loving manner in which he develops the characters of Lance and Frieda, who are well, Goats. Poirier does a splendid job giving each animal unique personalities that tie into the story very well. The segments where Ellis and Goat man interact directly with these animals are some of the highlights of this tale.  Poirier’s character study is full of dark humor and over the top characters but manages to humanize them all enough to make the story work. Goats is definitely a step away from my traditional plot driven genre reads, but its highly enjoyable entertaining situations, offbeat characters and strong lead make it worth the trek.

What is there to say about Ray Porter? You basically always know what you are going to get, a strong, clear humanizing read by an actor who understands characters. Porter is at best when he is tackling complicated character, and Goats is a playground for his skills.  For each character, Porter finds the root of their persona and brings it to life. For Goat Man, Porter is all gravelly but with and air of whimsy and his shrieking hysterical Wendy is spot on. I was wondering how a man with a strong baritone voice would handle a 14 year old, but he just softens his voice, and takes on the cadence and petulant vocal styling of a pretentious youth, and it works.  It’s always helpful when stepping out of you literary comfort zone in audiobooks to have a narrator you trust and more and more Ray Porter is one I feel I can constantly rely on to guide me through a book of any stripe.

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





Audiobook Review: 14 by Peter Clines

3 07 2012

14 by Peter Clines

Read by Ray Porter

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 12 Hrs 42 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams  uncomfortable.

Grade: A

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

One of the hardest aspects of writing book  reviews is trying to provide enough background information on a book so that a reader, even if they are unfamiliar with the book you are reviewing, can decide if it is something they may be interested in, yet doing it in a way that doesn’t ruin the experience. For many books, a detailed summarily, which provides the basic plot elements and genre categories, is appropriate, and this basic background information will actually assist the reader in getting into the right mindset to enjoy the story. Yet, sometimes a book is best experienced cold. It’s tough, because there are so many books available today, and a reader has to consider their time and money when choosing what to read. So, if you have come to this blog today, looking for a detailed synopsis of Peter Cline’s latest, 14, I’m sorry to say I am going to disappoint you. Any attempt by me to describe this book would only lessen the impact of the novel. 14 is the anti-NBC Public Service announcement, “The More You Know…” because the less you know going in, the better. What I will do is attempt to describe my experience in as general a way as possible, with a sort of wink, and a nod asking simply that you trust me. I know that you people don’t really know me, but please trust me, because this one is pretty darn good.

In 14 Peter Clines has created a frightening vision that blends genres, manipulates tropes and flips conventions on its head. It is old school horror pushed into a pop culture age, it is a mystery without a crime, and an adventure that remains stationary for much of the tale. This tale defies easy categorization. It is a darkly comic horror story that borrows just as much from Office Space and Saturday Morning cartoons as it does from HP Lovecraft, Richard Matheson and Phillip Jose Farmer. Like a good JJ Abrams series Clines combines aspects of mystery, horror, alternate history, science fiction, Steampunk, and dark fantasy, yet unlike these series, the story stays on track and actually delivers a solid ending. Yet, what surprised me was at times, particularly the final third of the novel, it actually sort of freaked me out a bit. Now, I read plenty of horror and rarely, if ever does it actually frighten me. It may appall me, or shake my sensibilities, but rarely do I actually get scared reading it. Yet, Peter Clines manages to tap into some of our deepest archetypical fears, and left me, at times, feeling quite unsettled. On the basic mechanics of the tale, 14 does a lot of things right. Clines created a lot of interesting characters, some which were instantly likeable. The main plot was in many ways a mystery tale, with a group of characters coming together to solve a riddle. As with all good mysteries, part of the solving the riddle is solving the characters, and each main character has a bit of a mystery to them, some secrets that become quite relevant to the plot, and others that serve as sort of a red herring. 14 has many twist, some of these twists you see from a mile away, some that you kick yourself for not figuring out earlier, and some that just totally floor you. The plot is intricately   and expertly built and while a bit out there, Clines grounds the far fetched nature of the tale with a likeable, everyman/woman cast. These are regular people in a decidedly irregular situation and filtering this tale through these character’s perspectives helps the reader buy into the rather bizarre nature of the story. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams uncomfortable.

I have become quite a big fan of Ray Porter’s narration style, and his rich voice. Porter is one of my favorite first person narrators. He understands that speech isn’t always fluid and flawless, but includes affectations, and inconstant pacing. Porter can do more with a pause and a sigh, than many narrators can do with poetry. Yet, this was the first time I have listened to Porter read a novel written in the third person. I wondered if his style would be as good of a fit with this type of tale as it is with his first person narration. Thankfully, I can report that it totally was.  Porter perfectly captures all of Clines strange collection of characters. It was interesting to see Porter, who I know best as the voice of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger, bring to life a character that is basically soft spoken and unsure of himself. Yet, Porter does more than capture the main character Nate well, but allows the soft voice he creates for him to grow stronger as the book moves on, highlighting the transformation of the character. One of Porter’s other strong suits is voicing exotic women, and that serves him well with the lead female character Veek. In fact, each character is given a voice that highlights their personalities and place in this story, which was very helpful with such a large cast of important characters. And I can’t talk about the ending. Really, what Porter does with the final third of the book is just nightmare inducing. It seriously freaked me out, people. Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. 14 is one of those books where even if you already read the print version, experiencing the audio version will bring it own rewards.





Audiobook Review: Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry

18 04 2012

Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger, Book 4)

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: Science Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Assassin’s Code is a fast paced, no holds barred science thriller with perhaps the most engaging series character in fiction today. If you have yet to listen to a Joe Ledger Book, makes sure you have plenty of time on your hands because once you start, you will not want to stop.

Grade: A+

You know, once, someone tried to tell Jack Bauer a "Knock Knock" joke. In seconds, Jack figured out who was there, who they worked for, and just where the goddam bomb was. I’ve always liked jokes like this. Whether they are about Jack Bauer, Mr. T., Chuck Norris, or any random badass character that a generation has latched onto. Being a huge fan of the show 24, my favorite jokes of this sort were always the Jack Bauer ones. We love our over the top bad ass celebrities, and revel in their cold heated determination and willingness to go beyond the law and do whatever it takes to stop the world’s evil doers from wreaking havoc on the innocent citizens. Yet, while many remember the hard core, take no prisoners ultra violent heroics of characters like Jack Bauer, what has always stuck with me is those moments when these characters show emotion. Where after barely containing a toxic gas attack, and having to cut his partners arm off with an axe, Jack finds himself alone, and bursts into tears, showing us that despite his willingness to do what it takes, killing and violence takes its toll on a person, even a badass like Jack Bauer. Jonathan Maberry has created a character in Joe Ledger who has taken badassery to a whole other level. Some of the things that Ledger has had to deal with would make Chuck Norris wet himself, roll up into a ball and cry for his mommy. Yet, one of the things that Jonathan Maberry and narrator Ray Porter both have done so well with this Joe Ledger character is show us the affects of violence on this unstable man. Joe Ledger is truly a hero, yet, with a small crack in his voice, or a slow moment when he is transfixed by a simple photograph of children playing in the street, we see levels to Joe Ledger that we rarely get to witness in out action heroes.

Assassin’s Code is the fourth novel featuring Joe Ledger and Echo Team who work for a secret branch of the government called the Department if Military Science. Echo Team and DMS handle some of the weirdest situations, those that go beyond what you would expect out of a typical Special Forces team. Usually, their missions involve science gone way too wrong. They deal with monsters, and threats most people wouldn’t even believe exist outside of the movies. In Assassin’s Code, their ability to expect the unexpected is pushed to the extreme, when they encounter an evil ripped out of horror books. In a series known for its fast paced action, and outrageous enemies, Maberry manages to push the envelope even further. Assassin’s Code moves like a rocket blast, as Joe Ledger and his team jump from one life threatening situations to the next, with no safe harbor or chance for rest. The stakes are quite high, even for soldiers who have faced Zombies, genetically altered monsters, and highly motivated conspiracies. Now, an unknown player has placed seven nuclear bombs in strategic locations around the world, and it’s up to Joe Ledger and his team to find them. Yet, with all the high stakes action and harrowing situations, it is really the portrayal of Joe Ledger that pushes this beyond your typical action tale. Ledger has quickly become my favorite fictional character. The fractured and unstable nature of his personality gives us a look into the heart of a warrior in a unique and compelling way. Maberry offers no unnecessary moments in this novel. Whether it’s Joe interaction with his dog Ghost, or the interplay between Echo team members, each moment fulfills a purpose and adds richness and texture to the tale being told. Assassin’s Code has a complex, almost over the top plot, yet in the hands of Maberry, it comes off seamlessly. The action is well orchestrated, and easy to follow, and the conspiracies within conspiracies are fully drawn, and come together perfectly at the end, tying up not just all the threads from this novel, but the series as well. From the first book in this series, to the latest, Maberry has manages to up the game, with each edition building on top of the pervious one. Assassin’s Code is a fast paced, no holds barred science thriller with perhaps the most engaging series character in fiction today. If you have yet to listen to a Joe Ledger Book, makes sure you have plenty of time on your hands because once you start, you will not want to stop.

I have said it, Jonathan Maberry has said it, and a bastion of the fans of this series have said it, Ray Porter is the voice of Joe Ledger. Porter is one of my favorite first person narrators, because he breathes such life into his characters. With a simple breath, stutter or change of pace, he portrays so much about Joe Ledger‘s nature.. When Joe Ledger’s voice slightly breaks discussing with his best friend how he cracked a joke before killing a man, you become as emotionally devastated as the character. Porter encompasses each player in this tale, get’s to know them, and delivers them up to us as fully realized individuals. You can just tell how much he get’s into the spirit of the action. His pacing is dead on, adding a sense of urgency, yet managing to deliver it all clearly. Ray Porter’s performance of Assassin’s Code and the Joe Ledger series epitomizes what a wonderful experience listening to an audiobook can be when the right narrator is given just the right material. 





Audiobook Review: Mr g: A Novel about the Creation by Alan Lightman

28 03 2012

Mr g: A Novel About the Creation by Alan Lightman

Read by Ray Porter

Blackstone Audio

Length:4 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Mr g may not be for be for listeners looking for a typical story, the author’s fascinating concepts and the narrator’s talents makes this an excellent change of pace listen for fans of high concept science fiction.  

Grade: B

Is it possible to believe in God and science? If you truly buy into the hyper extreme glorified opinion shows that masquerade as television news, the answer is no. There is a war against good god fearing people and the weapon they are using is science. They are forcing children to discover that they are really descended from monkeys, while criminalizing prayer and baby Jesus in the manger. Of course, this is the response of years of science being held hostage by religion. How often do we forget that the constitution was written to ensure that religion and the state are never put next to each other on the plate of American life? This is the debate I hear often, because it is so obvious that these two things, a belief in a reality beyond our understanding can never sit comfortable next to a logical and scientific world view. Until, of course you get a few beers into you. I attended an institution that is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity, a college that encouraged a liberal and healthy discussion of both religion and science. The rare Christian organization that wasn’t scared of Darwin. One of my favorite discussions topics, with some of my friends as we were drinking or just hanging out is the reconciliation of God and Science. It is truly a topic that fascinates me.  As a science fiction fan, who was raised in a fundamentalist church, I often search out authors like Robert J. Sawyer and Arthur C. Clark who will challenge the beliefs that were ingrained into my brain as a child.. Challenging your beliefs is never easy, and often causes pain, but it’s the good kind of pain that allows you to grow as a human being.

Mr g is less of a story than a thought experiment. It is a metaphysical tale of God’s creation, not just of the universe, but of existence in general. Here, God as a character is generally benevolent and omniscient, but can be frustratingly naive. His main advisors and only other being at the novel’s start are his Uncle Deva and Aunt Penelope. They serve in various, often contradictory roles, like most members of a family. When God invents time, Aunt Penelope complains about the effect, which forever alters the way she perceives existence. Uncle Deva is the encouraging Uncle, who often serves as God’s conscience. These two characters offer a balance to God, and while their advice isn’t always the best, it is always heart felt. When God creates The Universe, and places the laws of physics in place, it also brings about his chief nemesis, Belhor, who uses logic and pseudo psychological arguments to prevent God from interfering in the natural evolution of life, and its potential for good along with evil and suffering. As God explores his universe and the sentient but mortal life that spring up, Alan Lightman’s background as a physicist shines. We discover plethora of variation from physical diversity to the development of consciences. Yet, the true conundrum for God comes when he discovers that those who brought about with the best of intentions often suffer. One of the main causing factors of their suffering is their mortality. Lightman’s blending of religion and science in this creation tale is quite fascinating. In many ways it seemed to me to be a counterpoint to Jose Saramago’s Cain, in which God is the antagonist. While you won’t find much of a plot here, beyond the observations of an all seeing deity over his creation, and the occasional conflicts with Belhor, what Lightman does display in his loving rendition of a strange family, and intricate descriptions of the blossoming of the universe, along with a touching look at the individual’s desire for more gives the listeners just enough to stay willing participants in this journey.

In a book like this, which is almost 90% exposition, with only a little bit of dialogue and character interaction along the way, having a good narrator was essential. Luckily, we had Ray Porter to guide us on this journey. Porter infuses God with personality, making him sound accessible and real. Porter’s narration allows us to view God the character as the well meaning, but naive deity that I believe the author intended. Porter carefully guides us through discussions of complex mathematical and physical concepts with a natural ease. He doesn’t handle these like a professor speaking down to his students, but in a conversational tone, like a good friend was explaining something tailored for your understanding. I also loved his interplay between Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva, crafting the couples loving relationship and their conversational dueling with organic ease. While Mr g may not be for be for listeners looking for a typical story, the author’s fascinating concepts and the narrator’s talents makes this an excellent change of pace listen for fans of high concept science fiction.