My Top 20 Audiobooks of 2013

23 01 2014

2013 was an up and down year for me. While I achieved some wonderful personal goals, I have also experienced some of the toughest trials and tribulations of my life. Some of that has been reflected on this blog and social media, where my presence is not as active as it once was. Typically, when I write this list, I give a statistical breakdown of my listening. While my overall consumption of audiobooks was up this year, my tracking, recording and reviewing of them were down. In 2013 I reviewed I posted 164 reviews of audiobooks, many of them including multiple titles. Roughly, I believe I listened to around 200 books his year, which would exceed my highest previous total.

2013 was a great year for audio. Any of the Top 5 titles in my list could have been contenders in any previous year. There were so many books that simply blew me away. It is always tough for me to choose my favorites. Instead of asking "What were the best books of 2013?" the question I asked, upon reflecting on the year is "What 2013 books affected me the most?" Whether through heart stopping action, stylistic writing or characters that stay with you, these are the books that lingered in my brain long after they finished. Some made me laugh, a few made me cry, and some made me cringe and want to grab on the closest person near me for a comforting hug.

When compiling this list, I also look for titles that truly stand out in the audio format. Scanning over this list, there is only one title I would say that the narration didn’t enhance the experience, yet that book was full of such awesomeness that the less than amazing performance couldn’t keep it off the list. For a bit of a surprise, there are no Zombie titles and only one true apocalyptic title, so those of you who have pigeon holed me as the "zombie apocalypse guy" may be a bit shocked. Don’t worry, my favorite Zombie and Post Apocalyptic Audiobooks of 2013 list will be on its way.

So, thanks for sticking with me through 2013, and be sure to keep injecting stories into your brain through your earholes for the rest of 2014.

 

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

Read by Kevin T. Collins, Eileen Stevens, and Ali Ahn

Hachette Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: Love Minus Eighty is one of the most engrossing science fiction novels I have read in a long time. McIntosh has created a darkly beautiful near future world and populated it with characters you truly wish were real. It is an exploration of our romantic future and an affective romance all in one wonderful novel.

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 35 Min.

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

What I Said: Brilliance is a smart blockbuster movie for your brain, with a complex and engaging main character, a stunningly created world, and so much action you should probably keep your cardiologist on Speed Dial. It’s a a straight thriller with enough science fiction elements that I want to force all my Speculative Fiction friends to read, at gun point if necessary. I absolutely loved this book.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Read by Will Patton

MALE NARRATOR PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR.

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 35 Min

Genre: Horror

What I Said: 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.

 

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

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Science Thriller

What I Said: 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.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Read by Benjamin Percy

Hachette Audio

Length: 21 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Literary Horror

What I Said: Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon tells the tale of the afflicted, the demagogues and the victims that this world of werewolves has created. It combines the detailed political and social alternate history of Harry Turtledove or Robert Conroy with the gut level horror of Stephen King told with a literary flair that escalates the novel beyond its influences.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Read by Fenella Woolgar

Hachette Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Fiction

What I Said: Life After Life is a novel that defies easy categorization. It’s a genre busting look at life in the 20th century through the eyes of a normal women given the extraordinary ability to relive her life. Life After Life is one of the most fascinating novels I have read in a long time, and while at times I felt dragged down by the melancholy of the tale, by the end, I wanted to keep experiencing the many lives of Ursula Todd.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Read by Kate Mulgrew

FEMALE NARRTOR PERERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

Harper Audio

Length: 19 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Horror

What I Said: Joe Hill’s latest novel is lush vivid horror tale full of wonderful characters, and unsettling imagery. Hill manages to take the thing we love best, the innocence and joy of Christmas time, and flip it on its head, making it a representation of all that we fear. NOS4A2 is brilliantly executed, leaving a lingering affect on the reader long after it is over.

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Alternate History Urban Fantasy/Steampunk Superheroes.

What I Said: Larry Correia brings the arc than began in Hard Magic to a natural and completely satisfying conclusion in Warbound. With a combination of amazing storytelling, wonderful characters and one of the best narrator performances I have experienced, The Grimnoir Chronicles has earned it place as perhaps my favorite all time Speculative Fiction Audiobook series.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Read by Neil Gaiman

Harper Audio

Length: 5 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Fantasy

What I Said: I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

Read by Graham Winton

Recorded Books

Length: 22 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: Robert Jackson Bennett takes on the American Dream, and twists it in so many bizarre ways it becomes a kaleidoscope of what-the-fuckery. An engaging plot full of wonderful characters, that Bennett sends on one of the weirdest, wildest sciency fiction adventures my poor brain has ever had to process. Some narration issues may have held back some of it’s overall potential, but it’s still one heck of a good listen.

The Doll by Taylor Stevens (Vanessa Michael Monroe, Bk. 3)

Read by Hillary Huber

Random House Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Thriller

What I Said: In The Doll, Taylor strips away the trappings of her writing and presents a balls to the wall fast paced action thriller that will leave the reader awash in adrenaline soaked bliss. While her normal touches are still there, her vivid international setting, her complicated character’s unique skill set and her spin on typical action hero motivations, the action in The Doll is crisp and mean which makes it the most satisfying entry in an already excellent series.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Read by RC Bray

Podium Publishing

Length: 10 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: The Martian is probably my biggest surprise awesome audiobook this year. If you like realistic space travel tales, with cursing, 70′s pop culture references, laugh out loud one lines and plenty of fascinating creative science and engineering problem solving, download this sucker now. It’s really good.

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett (The Demon Cycle, Bk. 3)

Read by Pete Bradbury

Recorded Books

Length:  26 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Fantasy

What I Said: The Daylight War is not just a wonderful edition in perhaps my favorite fantasy series, but the proof of the validity of the trust I have put in Brett as a unique storyteller. The Daylight War continues with the characters and themes we loved in the first two novels, yet also manages to take the story in a whole new direction. While the clash of cultures is brilliantly done, and the increased menace of the demonic enemy even scarier, it’s the intricate relationships that Brett has built that is the true beauty of this novel.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Read by Kate Rudd

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: : The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a melancholy near future tale of love, family and robots, told on a canvas of a fascinating post disaster world. She fills her world with fully realized, flawed characters that filled me with joy as they were pissing me off. Clarke has managed to create a wonderful science fiction tale with a romantic tilt that I totally bought into. which isn’t the easiest of feats.

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller, Bk. 5)

Read by Peter Giles

Hachette Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 49 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Why I Chose It: Connelly continues to prove he is a master of both plotting and characterization as he guides his broken creation, criminal defense lawyer Mickey Haller, along a bumpy road to redemption. Connelly redefines the concepts of innocence here, both legally and morally, while creating a compelling procedural tale. Giles continues to give a masterfully subtle performance that captures the nuances of Connelly’s writing.

The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

Read by Will Collyer

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 19 Min

Genre: Historical Western/Thriller

Why I Chose It: I tend not to be a huge fan of historical/western tales, but The Thicket simply blew me away. Lansdale’s writing has a way of sneaking up on you. There are no bells and whistles, just straight forward storytelling, that surprises you with it’s emotional depth, colorful characters and dark humor. Collyer is quickly becoming a go to narrator for me. His performance of 16 year old Jack Parker manages to balance the naiveté and maturity of a young man forced to grown up due to tragedy.

The City of Devi by Manil Suri

Read by Vikas Adam and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Literary Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Read by Michael Beck

Random House Audio

Length: 20 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Why I Chose It: Grisham returns to Clanton and his Jake Brigance character in a tale that rivals the A Time To Kill. Honestly, if you told me that Grisham would appear on my Top 20 list, I would have yelled OBJECTION! but Sycamore Row manages to be a effective legal thriller as well as a socially poignant tale. What makes matters even better is Michael Beck’s narration which is emotionally charged and pitch perfect. His performance enhances this novel, giving it a bump over a few other stellar legal thrillers this year, like Sheehan’s A Lawyer’s Lawyer and Ellis’s The Last Alibi.

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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: 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.





Audiobook Review: The Stand by Stephen King

27 02 2012

The Stand by Stephen King

Read by Grover Gardner

Random House Audio

Length: 47 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: 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.

Grade: A

*Note: I broke away from my typical review format, leading to a much longer review than usual. If you are interested specifically in my thoughts of the audiobook production, feel free to skip to the final two paragraphs of this review. For more information on the recording process, check out narrator Grover Gardner’s Post on his audiobook blog.

I will always remember the day, standing on the ground floor of The Grundy Memorial Library, spinning the spirally paperback bookshelf dedicated to horror novels, when I first discovered The Stand. I was 15 years old and only beginning to discover myself as a reader. I had always read, but it was mostly school books and hand me down mysteries. I had recently started working, and had purchased my first horror novel, Dean Koontz’s The Bad Place. That day, I was actually looking for another Koontz novel to read, when I found a battered version of The Stand. It was the original Paperback version, with a ghostly face in a blue horizon, and the cover was barely held on by scotch tape. I tore through this novel, meeting characters for the first time that I would develop a life long relationship with. Now, this wasn’t my first Stephen King novel, a friend has lent me Christine a few months before, nor was it my first time reading Apocalyptic fiction since I had read Z for Zachariah back in my elementary school days, but it did bring about a transformation in me as a reader. I avidly searched down Stephen King’s books, never really reliving that initial wonder until I read It, and the Dark Tower novels. I became obsessed with Post Apocalyptic novels, consuming books like Swan Song and Dark Advent. The Stand became my gateway book. The Stand led to The Dark Tower which pushed me deeper into fantasy. The obsession with Apocalyptic novels opened the door to science fiction, and other subgenres like alternate history, time travel, colonization tales and parallel worlds. I discovered Brian Keene’s The Rising, which ignited a love of Zombie fiction. It was a slippery slope into the world of speculative fiction.

A few years after reading The Stand for the first time, I came upon the new Expanded Uncut edition. I remember standing in the Oxford Valley Mall’s Waldenbooks reading Stephen King’s message to me, the constant reader, warning me that this novel wasn’t a new novel, just an expanded version of the original. I didn’t waste a moment taking it to the front counter. For the first time, I truly met the Campion family and learned of Baby Levon’s love of horsey back rides. I met The Kid, and to this day I still believe I may have been better off never knowing him. I learned of women locked in meat freezers, and other victims of the second plague. It was like a window looking into a world I loved, showing me new things I never knew about. In college, the miniseries was about to air, and I had left my copy at home, so I scored a new copy with pictured of Molly Ringwald and Gary Sinise on the cover and read through it again. All in All, I have read The Stand five times from cover to cover, and countless times at night when I have trouble sleeping I will turn to a favorite part, and just read a few chapters.

On the rare chance you may not know, The Stand is a novel about a Government Manufactured Biological Weapon that escapes a secret military facility. The Plague was an antigen shifting strain of influenza that had a susceptibility rate of 99.4% and was fatal to anyone who contracted it. In the end, this disease, called Captain Trips, Tube Neck, The Rales, or just plain Super Flu, would decimate the United States of 1990, killing off around 248 million of its 250 million population. Stephen King tells this story in three books, but for me, there has always been four parts. The first is the outbreak, and desolation of Captain Trips, with its government cover up and suppression of news. This part is the science fiction aspect of the novel. It meticulously describes the affect this plague has, paralleling the breakdown of the body, with the breakdown of society. In the second part, the novel turns to supernatural fantasy, with a good old fashion Post Apocalyptic road trip. As the survivor’s make there was through a nightmarish landscape of death and lawlessness, they begin sharing dreams leading them to one of two locations, to the home of an 108 year of African American women, or further West, where a dark figure know as The Dark Man, or The Walking Dude is setting up.  The third part of the novel focuses on those drawn to Mother Abigail, as they set up in Boulder, Colorado, and begin the job of starting society up again. For many fans of the novel, this is their least favorite part, and at times you can feel the story slipping away from King, but as a Political Science fan, I always loved this part of the novel, with its committees, and reclamation projects. Finally, the last part, which King titles “The Stand”, is the final confrontation between the forces of good and evil.

There are many reasons I love this novel. First and foremost it’s the characters. These characters have all become like family to me. They are my brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles, my friends and my enemies. Each time I read this novel, I was at a different place in my life, and would find myself being drawn to different characters. I would sympathize with Harold, as I hated him. At times I had crushed on Frannie, and other times I found her annoying. What I loved about these characters was that they were never black and white. The lines that separated those on the side of good and those aligned with evil were often blurred. I also liked the crossed genres. The Stand is not an easily labeled book, and I loved the blending of science fiction and dark fantasy. For many critics of the novel, this was something they hated. It was as if the book couldn’t decide exactly what it wanted to be, but for me, this was the beauty of the novel. You never really knew where it would go. It was supernatural, but grounded in reality. The book, especially the uncut version, is not without its flaws. It can be uneven at times, with characters disappearing, and then showing up again hundreds of pages later. Also, when King edited it for the expanded edition he moved the date of the plague forward 10 years, leading to references that sometimes didn’t quite fit. Yet, none of these flaws took away from the wonder I feel every time read this novel. It is easily my favorite book of all time, and each time I end it, I wonder with sadness if I will ever reenter its world, to once again spend time with Stu, and Tom Cullen. To wonder just what Randall Flagg has in store for me in my dreams.

When I first heard that Random House Audio was doing an audiobook version of The Stand, I was equal parts excited and trepidatious. While I knew this would be another chance to experience my favorite novel in a new way, the book is so engrained into me that I worried any narrator could do it justice. Two things had encouraged me though, first, last year brought the audio edition of a book which I have also loved and read multiple times, Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. I actually found the audiobook version brought about a new understanding of the novel. The other thing was that it was being narrated by Grover Gardener a narrator who I highly respect. To start off plainly, I didn’t love any of Gardner’s character voices for The Stand. In many ways it was like someone doing a good interpretation of your mother. The voice fits, but it’s not quite what you remember. Yet, more importantly, I didn’t hate any of the voices either. I loved that Gardner didn’t try to do more with each character than give them an appropriate accent, and allow subtle changes to help differentiate characters. Any narrator who tried to too much with these characters would probably have lost me. Yet Gardner did just enough to allow me to fall into the story, and by the end, especially with Flagg, he even manages to scare me a few times.

There were a few things that stood out to me with the audiobook version. The first thing, a minor but sort of fun one, that I never really noticed in my readings is that at some point in the novel almost every character wets there pants. Whether they peer, urinated, wee’d or some other euphemism, they all had moments where fear led to a bit of incontinence. There are two major aspects of the novel that I feel Gardner’s narration did a good job emphasizing. The first one was the transformation of the characters. King does a lot of work balancing out the characters story, and presenting original, and changed versions of characters. The best example of these are Lloyd Henry, who goes from incompetent fool, to Flagg’s conflicted right hand man, and Tom Cullen, who is transformed from a half wit to something more, and perhaps the true hero of this story. Gardner seems to realize this, allowing their voices to change, and fill out as the story progresses. The other aspect is that of choice. For every character there is a moment of choice. Whether it is to embrace their dark side and join forces with evil, or to become a leader despite your self doubts, each character has their pivotal moment. A lot of the character development in The Stand takes place within their inner dialogue, and Gardner does an excellent job highlighting this. For fans of this series 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.





Audiobook Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

29 11 2011

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Read by Craig Wasson

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 30 Hrs 44 Mins

Genre: Time Travel Thriller

Quick Thoughts: People who think they know King from his labels as a horror novelist and pop icon will say that 11/22/63 is a departure from his other work. They are wrong. 11/22/63 is classic Stephen King full of the subtle horror themes that permeate his best works as well as an amazing cast of fascinating characters, all of whom, for good or ill adds something to the overall story.

Grade: A-

The first Stephen King novel I ever read was Christine, and since then, I have always had a bit of a love/"meh" relationship with his work. Unlike many people my age, my first forays into the horror/suspense genre wasn’t through King, but Dean Koontz. I had read The Bad Place, then Watchers and loved them, and often heard the two authors compared, so I began to read King as well. But unlike Koontz, King’s writing truly transformed me as a reader. I can trace the point where I moved from mildly interested in Post Apocalyptic tales to utterly obsessed when I turned my first page of The Stand. The first novel I remember truly scaring me and actually entering my nightmares was It (they all float down here…). The Dark Tower Series became my gateway to epic fantasy, and even what many consider a clunker, Needful Things, fed my love of Dark Comedy. Yet, not all of Stephen King’s novels were a hit with me, sure, I love Alien Invasion novels, but The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher very well could have set that love back years. In fact, Dreamcatcher was my very first audiobook, and I found it quite a useful cure for Insomnia. (Pun?)  After attempting to listen to Dreamcatcher I wouldn’t try another audiobook for over 10 years. So, when I discovered that Stephen King was putting out a time travel novel, I was cautiously excited. This either could be one of his rambling tales full of unnecessary side trips or it could again show me why King is the most influential author of my generation.

I love time travel novels of all sorts, but especially the kind where people travel into the past and change things, yet despite 11/22/63 being exactly that type of novel, I had concerns. I understand that the JFK assassination is a pivotal point in history, especially for people in King’s Generation, I never looked on it as the all encompassing game changing historical moment that some do.  If I found out there was a portal back to the late 1950’s, my first thought wouldn’t be that I just had to save Kennedy. So sure, I was a bit skeptical, but I needn’t have been. 11/22/63 is definitely a novel with peaks and valleys, yet, luckily for the reader the valleys are nice, and the peaks awesome.  For science fiction time travel fans, I think there could be a level of frustration. The main character, Jake Epping jumps ass first into the machinations of time travel without all the obsessive preparations that sci-fi geeks would have made.  In fact, he relies solely of the research of another for the histories he was about to interact with which is something us geeks who grew up on Star Trek and Asimov novels never would have done. Add to that the fact that King practically proselytizes about how much better things are without that annoying internet, or them there cell phones, that I really should have hated this novel. Yet, King won me over with wonderful characters, touching slice of life moments, and a harrowing battle between Jake and the obdurate past which in a very real way is the antagonist of this story. People who think they know King from his labels as a horror novelist and pop icon will say that 11/22/63 is a departure from his other work. They are wrong. 11/22/63 is classic Stephen King full of the subtle horror themes that permeate his best works as well as an amazing cast of fascinating characters, all of whom, for good or ill adds something to the overall story. 

I think it very important for audiobook narrators to not just read novels but perform them. For 11/22/63 narrator Craig Wasson doesn’t just heed that advice, but tackles it, throwing in a few kicks to the balls for good measure. I was so ready to lambaste the narrator for over performing the novel, with his oddly timed laughs and screaming the ends of his sentences, but at some point Wasson’s narration went from annoying to endearing. I would never site this as an example of excellent technical narration, but Wasson created the Jake Epping character with his voice, and never let up. There were a few moments in the novel, where it seemed like a line was picked up in the recording, and it didn’t match the energy of the reading, and that was a bit distracting, but overall the production was well done. Wasson’s reading reminded me of the loud annoying guy at a party who has had one too many drinks, yet eventually you realize that his drunken tales are actually quite fascinating.  Overall, I had a lot of fun with the novel and having an over the top narrator helped to keep some of the lulls in the story interesting, and really, what more can you want?

 

Note: A Special thanks to the good people at Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.