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.





Audiobook Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

1 10 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Read by Will Patton

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 35 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Doctor Sleep is an audiobook that will linger with me for a long time, a wonderful and moving story combined with one of the favorite narrator performances of all time. Doctor Sleep is a prime example of just how special the medium can be.

Grade: A+

I think it’s impossible for me to review anything by Stephen King without putting it into context of my history as a reader. Over the past few years he has released books, or had audiobooks released that tie in with significant moments in my reading history. Whether it’s a new Dark Tower novel, or an audiobook version of The Stand, it’s hard for me to write a review of listening to just that book. My experiences with any Stephen King novel is so tied into my past experiences because so much of his work informs and is informed by his other books. There are other worlds than these, and Stephen King’s books bend and weave through these many other books, wrapping a mutliverse up like a beautiful but uneven tapestry. This is why I approached Doctor Sleep with hesitation. I first read The Shining during my initial wave as a Stephen King reader. I was about 14 or 15 and devoured many of his early novels like Carrie, Christine and Cujo. These novels where straight in your face horror tales, some of which could have passed for modern Young Adult novels, which was perfect for me at that point in my life. Then I read The Shining. I’ll be honest, The Shining was never my favorite Stephen King novel. I didn’t have the same relationship that Jen from Jenn’s Bookshelves talked about in her brilliant post about her relationship with that novel. The Shining was a different kind of horror novel than I was used to. It was more subtle, a lingering horror that played around the edges and sneaked into your nightmares from side doors and shadows. It’s a much scarier experience than say, Cujo or Carrie, which hit you in the face with their horror, but it was also an adult style of horror. It scared me for reasons I didn’t understand.

As part of my preparation, I decided to listen to The Shining. I think I understand the brilliance of the novel more now. It still isn’t my favorite Stephen King novel, but I think it’s because the horror the Torrance family undergoes, and the secrets of REDRUM have become an iconic part of our culture that it’s tough to experience it today as King intended it to be experienced. Still, I was surprised by how much I missed within King’s characterizations of Jack Torrance. As someone from a broken home, who hadn’t yet understood what kind of man his father was, back when I first read The Shining, I felt sympathy for Jack Torrance and was almost resentful of Wendy. Now, I realize what a truly despicable man Jack Torrance was. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but any sympathy I had for the character is gone. King’s depiction of a selfish, self delusional man being manipulated by an evil that tapped into his true nature makes much more sense to me as an adult than it ever did a child. I am glad I decided to listen to The Shining. While I still had issues with it, and my feelings on the narration was that it was pretty much lackluster, and may not have done the story justice, it did make me even more excited to start Doctor Sleep.

Danny Torrance never believed he would give into the temptations of alcohol like his father, but years later he finds himself a drunk, full of regrets and about to hit rock bottom, when his old friend Tony, a remnant of his Shining, lead him to a small New England town. There with the help of a curmudgeonly former drunk, he joins AA, and tries to piece his life back together while working in a hospice where he helps the dying to transition to the next stage, Yet, his Shining isn’t fully dead, and on occasion he is reached out to by Abra, a young girl with perhaps the strongest power he has ever felt. When the True Knott, a group of not quite human travelers who feed off the essence of those with such powers, targets Abra, Danny Torrance, called Doctor Sleep by those who know him, must confront his past in order to protect this young powerful girl.

I often find it really hard to put my thoughts about a work like Doctor Sleep into words that effective portrays the experience I had listening to it. Unlike almost any other author, Stephen King has an ability to totally suck you into a world, where you become so enthralled in in, you never want to escape. Yet, this is hit and miss. There are times where I have struggled through a Stephen King novel like a junky trying to relive the experience of that first high, only to be disappointed. There are other times where you feel like if you just stand on your tippy toes, you may be able to lightly touch that feeling with the your fingers. Then there are times you are just transported into that world with no effort of your own. Doctor Sleep was this type of experience. From the first moments, I was pulled into Danny Torrance’s world, and the special magic of the written word that encompassed it.  Stephen King has created a tale that is both familiar and utterly different. While a sequel to The Shining, and dependent on it for back-story, it doesn’t depend on it for style or substance. King creates a whole new mythology for this world, and does it seamlessly like it’s what he intended from the very start. I found the True Knot to be one of his most fascinating concepts, a group of olderish road travelers riding the American roads in Winnebago’s and Recreational Vehicles who are in fact, a unique type of vampiric community. King does what he does so well, taking something that is seemingly innocuous and tapping into its hidden creepiness. He somehow makes you feel like you have always felt there was something just a bit off when you would see people like this, even if you never realized it on a conscience level.

Yet, the true heart and soul of Doctor Sleep is the journey of Danny Torrance. Danny’s journey feels like his father’s journey in reverse, a man giving into his inner goodness. Doctor Sleep is full of so many touching, self revelatory moments.  Ever since the infamous accident that almost killed King and very well may have ended his career, each novel, on some level, has seemed to be King trying to come to terms with his mortality and eventual journey into the irrelevance of history. Doctor Sleep feels like the natural conclusion to this journey. King seems to have finally found some middle ground with the haunting specter of death, and guides us through that discovery. What he has seemed to discover is that in order to accept death, you must come to terms with life. Doctor Sleep is about this, a man discovering his life, and finding his relevance through community and family. It’s also one heck of a wonderful tale, exciting and well told. I know this isn’t much of a review per se. Doctor Sleep affected me in a way where I can’t say, "Oh, I loved the witting here… what great world building or wonderfully developed characters.”  I’m sure the internet will be full of review analyzing and critiquing the novel for its literary value positively or negatively. For me, it was one of the more meaningful listening experiences I have had in a long time, and reminded me that when King is truly on, you should just give into the experience.

One of the interesting things about audio is that it’s easy to pinpoint how a bad performance affected your feeling of the novel, yet it’s not always as easy with a great performance. How much of my love for Doctor Sleep comes from Stephen King’s ability to tell a wonderful story and affect me on a personal level, and how much came from Will Patton’s amazing performance? In the end, I don’t think the answer is that important. In audio, sometimes the symbiosis between text and performance is so intermingled, it does a disservice to try to separate them out. As audiobook reviewers, we often talk about how a narrator’s performance can elevate the text, but less frequently we mention how the author’s words can elevate a narrator. I think Doctor Sleep may have been about as perfect a symbiosis between prose and performance that I have experienced in a long time. Will Patton’s performance was breathtakingly brilliant. His reading of Doctor Sleep will easily find its way into the pantheon of all time great audiobook performances, in my opinion. With a simple pause, or peculiar emphasis, Patton brings King’s words to full life. King will often use italicize and other tricks in his print texts that doesn’t always translate into audio, but Patton let you hear each word as it was intended in ways that even King may not have realized he intended them. Doctor Sleep is an audiobook that will linger with me for a long time, a wonderful and moving story combined with one of the favorite narrator performances of all time. Doctor Sleep is a prime example of just how special the medium can be.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Joyland by Stephen King

28 08 2013

Joyland by Stephen King

Read by Michael Kelly

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 33 Min

Genre: Stephen King with bits of Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Joyland is a mood soaked coming of age tale of a young man’s last summer of childhood, discovering a strange home amidst the work and workers of a struggling amusement park. Also, there’s a murder mystery.  If you are looking for a Crime Fiction novel written by Stephen King, you may be disappointed, instead you get a Stephen King novel that includes a bit of crime fiction. While it doesn’t all work, what does work works beautifully.

Grade: B+

There comes a point in every Stephen King Novel where I can’t help but think, "Damn, this novel is very Stephen King." I have experienced this with other authors, most recently in Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, but the author who this sort of surreal realization of Stephen Kingness occurs the most with is Stephen King. It’s weird, I’ll be reading a novel, and there will be these seemingly pointless side trips that create a specific mood, that somehow end up coming back into play when you least expect it, and I just think, "Man, that’s so Stephen King."  Earlier this year, I listened to The Onion’s Book of Known Knowledge: The Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Knowledge. This complete guide to all the knowledge in the world allowed me to realize what I have known in the back of my mind for year. In their entry on Literature, they explained that there are three succinct categories of Literature: Fiction, Non-Fiction and Stephen King. Stephen King is his own genre, and there is nobody working within that genre who better represents it than Stephen King. Yet, even with this knowledge, I was a bit disoriented when I heard that Stephen King would be writing novels for the Hard Case Crime series. Hard Case Crime is a series of Crime Fiction. Crime Fiction falls squarely into the "Fiction" Category, and not the "Stephen King" category. Is it possible that Stephen King could step outside the Stephen King Genre, which I believe was named after him, and write something that wasn’t Stephen King or would this be too meta, forcing the earth out of alignment, dolphins to flee the planet, and the portal to the interdimensional ether to open up and swallow us like a shark snacking on plankton? Yet, just like almost every book within Stephen King’s bibliography, there came that moment in Joyland, where I was "Hey, this novel is very Stephen King." Earth is saved!

Devin Jones is a young college English student, intrigued by an advertisement for summer work at a North Carolina Amusement Park. Devastated by a break up, Devin becomes immersed in the culture of the park, and intrigued by the tales of a ghost who haunts one of the attractions. While looking into the murder of the woman who some believes still lingers at Joyland, Devin meets and older woman and her gravely ill son who opens the door to another side of the mystery. Joyland is a mood soaked coming of age tale of a young man’s last summer of childhood, discovering a strange home amidst the work and workers of a struggling amusement park. Also, there’s a murder mystery. That is the problem with Joyland. As a typical Stephen King tale of otherness simmering under the surface of a seemingly idyllic family attraction, Joyland is another masterstroke in King’s career. As a murder mystery, it falls kind of flat. Luckily, it really doesn’t matter. Strip away the investigation into the murder of a young girl, and its relationship to a series of other murders, Joyland is still a wonderful experience. The murder tale is a bit of a distraction that occurs within the pages occasionally. Whenever Devin would spend time looking into the murder, I was like, "Oh, yeah… that’s right, this is SUPPOSED to be a crime fiction tale." It’s not that the murder mystery was bad, it just felt tacked onto a story that didn’t need it to succeed. Sure, it was competently done, and offered a nice little twist, but the true essence of this story was in Devin and his relationships. King deftly develops these relationships, between Devin and his ex-girlfriend, his housemates and coworkers, and a young handicapped boy and his mother. These relationships are moving and intense and like the best coming of age story, transformational. King explores the world of the amusement park wonderfully, creating its own language, and a mood that doesn’t need to be paranormal to be full of magic. There is a definite feel of melancholy to the tale. King taps into the truism that you never truly realize something is the best moments of your life, until you reflect on it years later. Kin uses this familiar sentiments to develop a true kinship between Devin and the reader. It’s the grand master doing what he does best, with his little flourishes that bring so much to his tale. If you are looking for a Crime Fiction novel written by Stephen King, you may be disappointed, instead you get a Stephen King novel that includes a bit of crime fiction. While it doesn’t all work, what does work works beautifully.

I was excited when I discovered Michael Kelly would be narrating this tale. Kelly is one of those character actors that you often see in key supporting roles on TV, who always manages to make the most out of them, often stealing the show from the stars. Yet, I was also a bit hesitant. Sometimes when an actor I recognize narrates an audiobook, I can’t help but picture them in the role of the main character, and Kelly doesn’t look like a 19 year old college student. Luckily, this was never a problem. Kelly gives a wonderful rich performance that taps into the essence of the character. It’s soft, and understated at time, but manages to bring the mood of King’s writing to the surface. He voiced Devin in a hesitatingly unconfident manner, until those times when the character was truly in his moment, allowing a confidence to overwhelm him, Kelly did a good job with the characters, particularly in the carnie lingo and the varying backgrounds of the cast. His southern accents were soft and warm, feeling real instead of a caricature, and the various other accents all were appropriate to the characters. I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more books narrated by Michael Kelly in the future. 





Audiobook Review: The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly

22 01 2013

The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly (Charlie Parker, Bk. 11)

Read by Jay Snyder

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Wrath of Angels was a dark and atmospheric ride deep into the mythology of John Connolly’s brilliant world. Those new to the series would do better to go to the beginning and experience the series in order, but for fans, The Wrath of Angels will thrill and chill you to the core.

Grade: B+

I always have a lot of trouble writing reviews for books in series. I think this is especially true for an author like John Connolly. John Connolly is one of my favorite authors, and for me, a new Charlie Parker novels is an event. Yet, the Charlie Parker series is also one of the hardest series to explain to those who aren’t familiar. To call is a Supernatural Thriller series isn’t quite right nor is calling it a crime fiction series. It is both, and it is neither. Connolly defies genres, shrugging them off and telling the stories he wants to tell. Sometimes it involves fallen angels, Hollowmen, and books made out of human flesh, while other times it’s about serial killers, assassins, sexual abuse and kidnappings. Sometimes it’s about all of the above.  The Charlie Parker series often reminds me of a well done TV series, like Fringe or the X-Files. There are episodes that stand on their own, that can be straight forward TV, and then there are episodes that fit into the mythology of the series. Sometimes, an episode is there fully for the mythology, and sometimes an episode is straight forward, but skirts the edges of the series mythology. There are a few books in this series that I would feel comfortable telling someone to pick up, without knowing the underlining issues of the series. I mean, on the surface, the character of Charlie Parker, a retired cop turned detective who has never really come to terms with brutal slaying of his wife and daughter at the hands of a twisted serial killer called The Traveling Man, is almost boilerplate Thriller Noir. Yet, then it get’s weird. For me, I love the weirdness. I love speculating on Charlie’s true nature. I love the blending of fallen angels, voodoo curses, and a strange serial killer called The Collector with his own moral code. For me, it’s a hot mess of awesomeness, yet, to thrust another person into the mess would leave them treading water in the midst of a hurricane. Except when it doesn’t. So, if you are new to the Charlie Parker series, The Wrath of Angels would throw you into the deep end without a single swimming lesson. If you are a lover of this world, this may be the one you have been waiting for.

There is an area deep in the woods of Northern Maine where no one goes, and on the rare instances someone wonders there, they don’t return. There lives a force ancient and old, and a girl who is not quite a girl. Yet, when a plane holding its own type of evil, as well as information that people and other entities would kill for, crashes in these woods, forces both worldly and otherwise will lead detective Charlie Parker and his friends there, with evil on their trail. One of the beautiful things about a Charlie Parker novel is that it is never about what it is about. Any synopsis written will only give you a small glimpse of one of the stories contained in its pages. Here, the story is about a plane crash, yet, it isn’t. Instead the plane crash is the catalyst to bring a many of the elements of past Charlie Parker novels together, and send them on a perilous journey. In many ways The Wrath of Angels is the novel that John Connelly has been setting up for a while. It’s a darker more atmospheric tale than usual, which is saying a lot for a writer like Connolly who permeates his prose with an ominous sense of dread. As a comprehensive tale, The Wrath of Angels may not be as strong as some of his more straight forward works. Here Connolly plays the edges, creating more of a mood piece, tying up some ends, and creating new threads for his characters. It’s a beautiful piece of series writing that could come off as unfocused and distracting to any reader not already immersed into this tale. Yet, for fans of Charlie Parker, it’s a dark look at what the past has set up and the future holds for our hero. More than any other work in this series, it gives us insights into the anomaly of Charlie Parker. Yet, it’s not all dark and mood and gloom, like usual, there is plenty of humor to lighten the mood. Charlie Parker’s cohorts Louis and Angel, despite their brutality, bring a sort of levity to the novel. Connelly knows right when to add a bit of light in his dark world, adding a particularly funny, yet poignant moment where Charlie, Louis and Angel join Charlie’s young daughter for ice cream. It’s these small moments that are the saving grace of Connelly’s dark world. The Wrath of Angels was a dark and atmospheric ride deep into the mythology of John Connolly’s brilliant world. Those new to the series would do better to go to the beginning and experience the series in order, but for fans, The Wrath of Angels will thrill and chill you to the core.

I have talked a lot about my issues with the narration of the Charlie Parker series. For the American versions of this series, there has been a horrible lack of consistency among the narration. This series has been narrated by Titus Welliver, Jay O’Sanders, Holter Graham, and George Guidall. The Last novel was almost the last straw for me with co-narration by George Guidall and Tony Lord, which was simply horrid and almost ruined the book for me. What frustrates me even more is that this series has been consistently narrated by Jeff Harding in the UK but in order to get these versions you either have to have a friend across the pond who is willing to obtain them for you or resort to illegalities. To be perfectly honest, if I had seen Tony Lord’s name attached to The Wrath of Angels, I would have gone with the print version. Yet, Jay Snyder was cast. I was a bit hesitant about Snyder as a narrator. Snyder is sort of a blockbuster narrator, with a big professional voice suited to big professional productions. Snyder doesn’t bring a lot of nuance to his reading, which is something that I think these novels need. So, to be perfectly honest, my initial barometer for any Charlie Parker narrator is how he handles Angel. Angel is the personality of this novel, and if a narrator doesn’t realize this, than he doesn’t get these characters. At first, I hated Jay Snyder’s Angel. He sounded just like Charlie and Louis. Yet, as the novel progresses, Snyder got better with his interpretation of Angel. This actually bothered me. I just wondered how prepared he was for this novel. It was like, about halfway through he realized that Angel was a larger than life character, and slowly began to reflect that in his reading. Snyder’s reading wasn’t bad. In fact, technically it’s good. Just, it lacked the flavor of a Charlie Parker novel. You didn’t have Charlie Parker or any other the New England Characters with any sort of regional accent. You couldn’t hear Louis southern roots or Angel’s New York. It was a good solid reading that could have been so much more. I’ll be the first to admit, I am very hard to please with this series. I was happy with O’ Sanders, Harding and even Holter Graham. Yet, with each change I became grumpier. I though if you changed the narrator, it should be for the better, not just for expediency. The Wrath of Angels was much better narrated than The Burning Soul, but it still isn’t the perfect Charlie Parker audiobook experience I have been hoping for.





Audiobook Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

25 09 2012

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Translated by Yuji Oniki

Read by Mark Dacascos

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 19 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Dystopian Action Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Battle Royale is so compelling a tale, that despite this disappointing reading, I was engaged through most of the tale. While, at times it can be hard to swallow and plagued with inconsistencies, it is a fascinating experience. You can’t help but empathize with the children’s plight and wonder just how up for it you would be in such a situation. This is a novel that can tell you things about yourself, and some of those are things you just don’t want to know.

Grade: B

Years ago, back in the late 90’s I read a book called Ill Wind by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason. In the book, there was a huge oil spill off the coast of California and a special microbe was released to eat up the spilled petroleum. Except it mutated and became airborne, and started reeking havoc on the world destroying anything that was petroleum based, including rubber and plastics. About 10 years later I found a book called Black Monday by R. Scott Reiss. In Black Monday, a shadowy group releases a plague that attacks oil, rendering the fuel inert and plunging the world into chaos. About 3 years ago I listened to an audiobook called Directive 51 where an organized radical group released a nano-swarm that attacked Petroleum based products, and of course that leads to OMG! The World is ending. All three of these authors are well established writers who have no need to rip anyone off. Sometimes, writers just happen to get inspired by similar things. When The Hunger Games came out and as it began to gain in popularity, I began to hear many calls that it was plagiarized from Battle Royale. Now, first off, two books with similar themes does not make plagiarism even if they share a wealth of similar plot elements. If that was true, then every cop show on TV would be a case of plagiarism. Yet, to even call The Hunger Games idea theft is a huge stretch. We don’t know the motivations and inspirations behind Susanne Collins development of the story. The idea of a dystopian government placing its citizens, whether children or adults, into a lethal battle simulation is nothing new. Hell, Stephen King did it twice with The Long Walk and The Running Man. If anything, I think fans of Battle Royale should be appreciative that the Hunger Games have made more people interested in Battle Royale. Heck, we now have an audiobook version, and there are rumors of a potential TV show.  Battle Royale was a novel I have been interested in since a friend gave me the Manga version, and I’ll admit, my interest was even more piqued after the success of The Hunger Games.

Battle Royale takes place in an alternate history in a totalitarian country called The Republic of Greater East Asia. Every few years the government taps a Third year Middle School class for a military simulation where the class must fight each other to the death and only one child can survive. Thrust into the games, a trio of students try to survive while looking for a way out without having to kill each other. Yet, some members of the class are up for the game, willing to ruthlessly murder their classmates to win. Battle Royale is a dark exploration of paranoia told with over the top violence and stark contrasts. I think that there is a method to Koushun Takami’s madness in choosing the age range of children that he does. The range of maturity, both physical and emotional is often striking, making the motivations of each child hard to determine until their actions play out, and Takami shows us flashbacks of their lives. This mix allows the reader to both experience the horror of children being slaughtered, while still achieving some level of entertainment in the experience. This is the interesting rub of Battle Royale, we should be mortified by what is happening, feeling for these children who are put in to such a harsh reality. One moment these kids are discussing who their crushes are, or what they want to be when they grow up, and the next they are slashing throats and slaughtering classmates in hails of gunfire. You are disgusted, yet compelled to find out how the next one dies. The novel is full of stylistic violence, paranoid delusions and bursting hormonal young teenagers, and it’s a combustible mix. I will admit, about two thirds of the way through the novel, I became seriously fatigued with the mayhem. There is never a comfortable moment in the novel, and there comes a point, as the numbers dwindle, that you just want it to be over. The novel is also full of some interesting social and political commentary. It’s interesting to see such a callus and heavy handed government, but one that is also relatively successful. I do have to admit, I never really bought the reasoning behind the games from the governmental stand point, though I did find the exploitation of the games interesting. I am glad I finally got a chance to experience the novel version of Battle Royale, and while it was hard to swallow and full of inconsistencies, it was a fascinating experience. I really wonder sometimes what it says about us when a novel like this becomes popular. You can’t help but empathize with the children’s plight and wonder just how up for it you would be in such a situation. This is a novel that can tell you things about yourself, and some of those are things you just don’t want to know.

I can totally understand the thinking behind the producers in casting Mark Dacascos for the reading of Battle Royale. He is a professional Actor and martial arts expert of partial Japanese ancestry. Sadly, his performance is extremely lacking. Battle Royale would be a hard task for the most talented of audiobook narrators. There are 42 young, Asian characters. Reading Battle Royale allows us Western listeners to differentiate the Asian names by sight, yet aurally it was very hard to keep straight. Two of the main characters are named Shogo and Shunya, and when it comes to the female characters there are Yuka Yuko, Yukie, Yumiko, Yukiko and Yoshimi, and it’s all a struggle to keep straight. Dacascos doesn’t even try. He reads Battle Royale in a flat, unevenly paced manner, as if he was reading the story to his kids at night, with no pre-knowledge of characters or plot. He makes no attempts at characterization, reading them all, male and female in a flat unemotional narrative voice. It got to the point that when he did show excitement or fluctuate his voice, it was so unexpected it came off just weird. Not all of this is Dacascos fault, this particular translation was clunky, with repetitive word choices and little narrative flow. A talented narrator could have smoothed it out and brought more life to this tale, but sadly, Dacascos’ reading only illuminated the problems with the translation. I have to say, Battle Royale is so compelling a tale, that despite this disappointing reading, I was engaged through most of the tale.





Audiobook Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

29 06 2012

Leviathan (Leviathan Series, Bk. 1) by Scott Westerfeld

Read by Alan Cummings

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Steampunk/ Alternate History, Young Adult

Quick Thoughts: Leviathan has some beautiful concepts, and Westerfeld’s knowledge of history definitely shine through , yet I found the immaturity of the main characters distracting me from the overall plot. Yet, there is enough here to interest me in trying the sequel, where I hope the situations brings growth to the characters making them less frustrating, allowing me to place my full focus where it should be in the novel.

Grade: C+

Since I transitioned from an Audiobook enthusiast to an Audiobook blogger, I have seen a real change in my listening. One of the things I never realized before blogging is how big of a phenomenon Young Adult books have become. I am amazed at the sheer number of Young Adult bloggers who are out there showing their love for all sorts of Young Adult literature. Before becoming a blogger, I read Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and someone recommended Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Last Survivors Trilogy to me, but beyond that, I didn’t know much about Young Adult titles. Now, I have begun listening to many more of these titles based on the influence of many of these passionate and ummm… persistent voices.  Today I am reviewing the Young Adult Steampunk novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  I have seen this title recommended by many fans of Young Adult literature, including my brother who is a Youth Minister. Since I am on the peripheral of fandom of both Young Adult novels and Steampunk, I thought this would be an interesting title to explore. Also, it is narrated by Alan Cummings who I have heard raves about from many audiobook loving sources. So, here I was able to upset two monkeys with one banana, experience a popular Young Adult novel, and introduce myself to a much love audiobook narrator.

Sadly, in this occasion, I think I may have placed too many expectations on this audiobook, and it ended up falling a bit flat for me. While I enjoyed Westerfeld’s use of history, and his concepts are really quite intriguing, I found that the characters kept me from truly enjoying this book. One of the issues I have with Young Adult novels, particularly series, is that they tend to have a coming-of-age component as an essential aspect of their story. I love coming of age stories, mostly because I can’t stand the obnoxious brats, before they realize that they must change, and enjoy watching them  begin to understand the world in a new way. This transition moves way too slowly for me in series entries. In Leviathan there are essential plot elements particularly about the main characters that are not fully explore, because these issues create tension for the next in the series. Yet, I wanted to see much more growth than I got. I was frustrated and annoyed with the two main characters, Alek, a Austro-Hungarian Prince in hiding and Deryn, a young girl posing as a boy to achieve her goal of becoming a pilot, that it took me away from the plot. Yet, I am also a bit hopeful. I had a similar reaction to Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin, and when I finally moved on to the second book in the series, Dust & Decay, I loved it and where he took the characters. I think Westerfeld has proven himself to be an intricate plotter, and has created a world that definitely interests me, and if he develops his characters along the expected path, I think I will began to really embrace his creation. Leviathan has some beautiful concepts, and Westerfeld’s knowledge of history definitely shine through , yet I found the immaturity of the main characters distracting me from the overall plot. Yet, there is enough here to interest me in trying the sequel, where I hope the situations brings growth to the characters making them less frustrating, allowing me to place my full focus where it should be in the novel.

Alan Cummings definitely has skills as a narrator, but I wasn’t incredibly impressed with this performance. He did a wonderful job with the British characters, particularly the crew of The Leviathan, but I felt the Austro-Hungarian characters were not given the same level of careful attention. I did like how Cummings gave Alek a different cadence to his speech when speaking his non-native English. This is something not often seen in audiobook narration, the different is vocal style when using you native language, versus a non-native language, when both of them are presented in the text as English for us English readers. I also found Cummings to have a weird usage of dramatic tone when reading the action scenes. He would often use what I will call and dramatic Harrumph, at the end of some sentences, but it seemed to be applied at random and for inconsistent reasons. As I was listening, my thoughts would be, “Oh, there is Cummings getting all dramatic” then “Hmmm… wonder why that sentence didn’t merit the dramatic Harrumph.” I think this is one of those situations where I am overly picky, and perhaps my inability to engage with the characters led me to have more time to nit pick the narrator. Overall, I can see why this audiobook and its narrator is well loved, unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right fit for me at the right moment.





Audiobook Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

13 04 2012

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (The Dark Tower, Book 4.5)

Read by Stephen King

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 49 Min

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Wind Through the Keyhole is storytelling at its best.It taps into the wonder and thrill of everything The Dark Tower series did right, while stripping away much of the unnecessary baggage of the final books of the series. As opposed the feelings of emotional fatigue I felt when finally completing this saga, I felt rejuvenated in my love for Mid-World and our Ka-Tet when completing this tale.

Grade: A

When I finally turned the last page and closed the book on the saga of The Dark Tower, I told myself I would never enter Mid-World again. Now, this was a big statement for me, because I had read each of the previous six books of the Dark Tower series multiple times, as well as all the other works even tangentially related to King’s Magnus Opus. Yet, when I finished the last book of the series, The Dark Tower, I knew I would not reread that novel. It left me emotionally drained, completing this tale that had followed me for most of my reading life. I had been reading it at work, going on an emotionally rollercoaster from sobbing tears, to anger, to an almost stilted acceptance. I had longed suspected how the series would end, yet that didn’t lesson the impact when my fears/expectations came true. I am not one of those who despise the ending, nor did I really love it. I just accepted it because I feel it was the way it had to be. Yet, I wasn’t going to put myself through the trauma of lost members of the ka-tet and the sadness I felt over Roland Deschain’s fate. At that time I truly believed the grand master when he said he was going to retire, that The Dark Tower would be the final moment of his illustrious career. Even when he started writing new novels, I never expected him to return to any level of the Tower. Heck, I even stayed away from the Graphic Novel series, not wanting to get sucked in again. The tale was told, the circle had been closed. So, I was floored when I learned that there would be a new Dark Tower novel, and that Roland, Susan, Eddie, Jake and even Oy would appear in it. The King had another tale to tell in this world. I was excited and scared, and I knew that I would be ripping off the scabs and entering that world, at least one more time.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is a standalone novel in the Dark Tower World that fits between book 4 Wizard and Glass, and Book 5 Wolves of the Calla, so it is rightly touted as The Dark Tower, Book 4.5. We find our Ka-Tet having recently escaped their conflict with old RF in the Emerald City that was not Oz but before they arrived in Calla Bryn Sturgis. Roland and his companions are following The Beam, when the Billy Bumbler Oy begins acting weirdly. Eventually Roland, with the help of a ferryman, remembers that the Bill Bumblers weird dance was predictive of a strange devastating storm. While holed up in an abandoned town, Roland passes the time by telling the travelers a tale from his past. The Wind Through the Keyhole’s story is structured like a Russian nesting doll, one story, book-ending another, book-ending another. One story tells of Roland as a youth, investigating a series of grisly deaths blamed on a skin changer. While there, he meets a boy who is the only witness to the horrors, and in an effort to take his mind off the tragedy, tells him one of his favorite tales told to him by his mother, called The Wind Through the Keyhole. This story is the highlight of this tale, and reminded me why I love this series. It is told as a classic Fairy Tale, yet it blends the fantasy with science fiction. It is touching, poignant and often horrific and gives us new glimpses of Martin Broadcoat, The Beam and North Central Positronics. It is the sort of blending of The Wastelands and Wizard and Glass that rekindles some of the magic and wonder that the last two books in the series seemed to neglect as they rocketed towards the final showdown. It was nice to return to Mid-World without having to worry about The Quest, the Dark Tower and The Crimson King. You already know the fates of those involved and you can sit back and luxuriate in the storytelling. The Wind Through the Keyhole is storytelling at its best. It taps into the wonder and thrill of everything The Dark Tower series did right, while stripping away much of the unnecessary baggage of the final books of the series. As opposed the feelings of emotional fatigue I felt when finally completing this saga, I felt rejuvenated in my love for Mid-World and our Ka-Tet when completing this tale.

When I heard that Stephen King would be reading this novel, I groaned on the inside. This was going to be a new Dark Tower tale, and I wanted it to be perfect. Was it perfect? No. Stephen is no voice actor, and with the Mid-Worlders penchant for speaking a mix of low and high speech, some of the uses of terms such as "Thee" lost some of the rhythmic beauty they achieve during a reading, and came off a bit clunky. Yet, in the end, the reading worked for me. I think it helped that this was the first of the series I listened to in audio (which was a decision I went back and forth on many times) and the tale was always in King’s voice. His voice is gruff and unpolished, but the passion for his world and love for its characters is evident in the reading. Since the majority of the characters were rough, salty men, he did a decent job with the characterizations and he even pulled off younger characters like Bill Streeter and Tim. So, while a professional narrator may have added something to this tale, in my opinion, King’s reading rarely detracts, and some moments truly resonates with emotional impact. After experiencing this tale, I find myself no longer wanting to cut off Mid-World and the many levels of the Tower for good, but relishing any new chance I may have to reenter the world King has created.

 

Note: A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. The Wind Through the Keyhole will be released on April 24th.