Audiobook Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

20 02 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher

Penguin Audio

Length: 10Hrs 59Min

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Grade: A

I often wonder how an author feels when their novel is compared to some cultural phenomenon. Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train is being called the next GONE GIRL. This must be both exciting and frustrating for an author, who wants the book to be commercially successful, yet also must want it to stand on its own. I highly doubt, due to the way the publishing industry works, that Hawkins sat down and said, “I’m going to write the next Gone Girl.” Hell, there have been plenty of twisty novels full of unreliable narrators and despicable characters before Gone Girl and I am sure there will be plenty more . Yet, it’s hard to write a review without at least considering the comparison, and I thought I had two choices, ignore the comparisons completely, or jump on them with full gusto.

So, in my opinion, The Girl on the Train is a better novel than Gone Girl. The twist were more surprising, the set up more unique, and the characters more complex. While Gone Girls relied on it’s tricks to drive the story, Hawkins relies on her strong characterization and unique use of perspective to create a true mystery that never telegraphs its moves. Hawkins plays on our personal misconceptions about gender and class to effectively shape the narrative, creating a unique storytelling style. She often uses what we know or think we know against us. Her characters are unreliable, not because it allows her to surprise us with twists, but because humans are unreliable. Being that we too are unreliable, as readers, we create blocks and misconceptions that she exploits. While the twists aren’t as big as Gone Girl’s twist, I personally felt they were more effective. While the comparisons exist, The Girl on the Train stands on its own both as a thrilling mystery and a intriguing look at some well drawn yet complicated characters.

There are those of us Americans who believe that all British people basically sound the same, so what would be the point in casting three different British narrators to narrate this tale? As with many things, we are so wrong. Clare Corbett, India Fisher and Loise Brealey’s narration enhances this book, giving each character just the right feel that I doubt a singular narrator could achieve. The three narrators helped create three distinct characters, aiding in their development. With the way that the interlocking narratives and tricks of perspective played it, it was vital for each character to have her own distinct voice, otherwise the plot, which often balanced on the razors edge, would have been torn to shreds Yet, instead of this potential mess, The Girl on the Train was one of the most taunt, surprising novels I have read in a while, and easily my favorite audiobook of 2015 thus far.

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Bob’s Audiobook Report: January Week 2

13 01 2014

Week two of 2014 saw me completing 4 Audiobooks, two from the same series, and two of series that have been sitting on my TBL Pile for a while. Since I have a lot of stuff coming up in January, a move at the end of the month, surgery this week, as well as plenty of other stressors, I have been looking for lighter, more straightforward stories that are easy to focus on. This is why I have been choosing mostly action based series with well drawn characters, because during times like this, I have trouble focusing on highly conceptual plots and esoteric storylines. I like monsters and explosions and aliens and my choices all pretty much hit the mark.

Conspiracies by F. Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack, Book 3)

Read by Christopher Price

Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Suspense Thriller

Grade: B+

All The Rage by F. Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack, Book 4)

Read by Christopher Price

Brilliance Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Suspense Thriller

Grade: B+

I completed two of F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack novels, COMSPIRACIES and ALL THE RAGE. In the beginning of long running series, especially those with a supernatural edge, I always enjoy watching the development of the series mythology. I feel both of these book are important to building the Repairman Jack Mythos, while still pretty much self contained stories. Both were a lot of fun, each giving more incite into Jack, while continuing the frustrating interpersonal conflict between Jack’s desire to be a part of his girlfriend Gia and her daughter’s life, while knowing that he also lives on the edge of society and must feed his need for adventure and violence. I am still less than thrilled with Christopher Price’s narration, especially in comparison to the other narrators in the series. I think his voice is too deep for the character, and while his vocal range is admirable, I don’t thing he ever nails the characters. They always feel just a tad off of what they should be, like listening to a celebrity impersonator, just after listening to the real thing.

Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Read by Kirby Heyborne

Blackstone Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic/Alien Invasion

Grade: B+

Midnight City has been languishing on my mountainous TBL pile for a long time, and with the recent release of the second book in the series, I thought I had to give it a go. Midnight City has a War of the Worlds meets Chtorr feel. A classic Alien Invasion vibe with an esoteric spin and a touch of magic. While marketed as a Young Adult novel, it definitely has a more mature vibe that should fit a large range of readers. It did take me a while to get into the book. Mitchell doesn’t ease you into his world, but throws you right into the deep end, and it takes some time to adjust. But when the book gets moving, it gets bad ass moving, with now stop action in a fascinating apocalyptic setting. Kirby Heyborne’s excellent performance shouldn’t be a surprise to any audiobook fan. His reading is crisp and professional, with just the right amount of edge.  

Semper Mars (Book 1 of The Heritage Trilogy) by Ian Douglas

Read by Ray Chase

Audible Frontiers

Length: 13 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Grade: B+

Military Science Fiction is one of my go to genres when I find myself in a reading slump and just want something fun, fast and furious. MilSF has a way of making fascinating concepts accessible and throwing in lots of pyrotechnics for effect. Yet, not all MilSF hits the spot. My first attempt at a Ian Douglas novel failed miserably. Didn’t like it at all. Yet, the concepts around The Heritage Trilogy seemed fascinating, and I had been looking for more stuff performed by narrator Ray Chase. Semper Mars is jingoistic, HOORAH! near future MilSF at it’s best. Full of lots of Marine history, potential alien tech, World War between the ol’ US of A, and those pesky univeralist United Nations. and clever battles, Semper Mars was just the right listen for my mood. Ray Chase continues to impress. While I think he’s a better 1st person narrator than a 3rd person, his voice is pleasant, and he brings the characters alive. He never hampers the relentless pace of the narrative, and at times can be just as clever with his delivery as a marine with a beer bomb.

Coming Soon: Well, this week I have surgery, so I’m not sure how it will affect my listening. I plan on continuing listening to Repairman Jack, and The heritage Trilogy (currently listening to book 2). I also plan on listening to a book called Noise by Darin Bradley read by Chris Patton. Plan on a bit more print reading this week during my time off.





Audiobook Review: Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

14 02 2013

Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

Read by Hillary Huber

AudioGo

Length: 8 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Literary Suspense

Quick Thoughts: Little Wolves is an atmospheric mood rich exploration into true evil. Maltman’s characters manage to both blend into the mood of the tale while still jumping off the page. It’s a fascinating style of storytelling that will appeal to genre fans as much as it does to those who enjoy literary fiction.

Grade: B+

It’s time again to tackle one of my dead horse issues, genre. I honestly don’t get genres. I understand the basics, like Science Fiction, Mysteries, and Fantasy, even though more often than not, these categories overlap each other. Yet, when you get into subgenres, like horror, I just really don’t know. Take an author like Dean Koontz. Most people say he’s a horror author, while others say writes suspense, or thrillers. All are correct. Yet, where exactly is the line between horror, suspense, thriller, paranormal and dark fantasy, and when do we throw the tag Literary on it. I often personally go by feel. For example, what exactly is horror? Is horror simply books that are scary, or do they need monsters, ghosts and ghouls, and other otherworldly things to push them past suspense into horror. I have read novels that are considered spatterpunk and torture porn, where the purpose seems to be to put the characters through gruesome hell. I don’t find these scary and I don’t really enjoy them. I find them, along with movies like SAW disturbing, where the creators are trying more to gross you out then actually scare you. I don’t mind gore, but I never enjoyed gore for gore sake. All too often it seems like Horror is trying to shock you, not really scare you. Then I read a book like Little Wolves where people seem to try to avoid the label horror. There are no real monsters in Little Wolves, or at least no monsters of an otherworldly sort. Yet, there is a mood. A permeating sense of unease that fills the narrative that I found scarier than all the entrail ripping gore infused examples of horror out there today. If someone held a gun to my head and asked me the genre of Little Wolves, I would go with Literary Suspense but honestly, I’m not exactly sure why.

When a shocking murder suicide rattles a small 1980’s Minnesota town, the young wife of a Lutheran minister must confront her past and her role in the community while the father of the of the killer must come to terms with his sons action. Little Wolves blends historical fiction with folk and Norse mythology to create an atmospheric tale of dark motivations, hidden pasts and the very nature of evil. Maltman tackles a lot of themes in Little Wolves. He interposes modern storytelling with a sort of folk mythology. I thought the tale itself was a timely exploration of true evil and the myths society has built to deal with it. In Little Wolves, there are discussions of old gods, lycanthropic myths and even gothic undertones, yet, all the evil is perpetrated by humans. Here, it seems, Maltman is attempting to show us how myths develop from our inability to cope with our own evil, whether it be a killing spree by a teenage, a wife’s infidelity or even simple social stigmatizing. I personally loved the Clara character and enjoyed the parts told from her perspective the most.. There is an inherent inconsistency to her that I found refreshing. She is not the well put together, on the ball character, but neither is she the unstable unreliable narrator. She is a woman uncomfortable in a role as preacher’s wife where she is defined by her husband. As someone who has family serving in ministry, Clara’s character really came real to me. Her struggles and her untapped wisdom made her journeys into the depths of her past even more rewarding. One aspect that didn’t work for me as well as it probably will for others is the use of Nordic mythology and Beowulf instead, what I really enjoyed was the folk tales of wolves and werewolves and their integration with reality. I felt that these moments truly highlighted Maltman’s ability to pull reality out of myths and legends, underscoring the themes of his novels. He allows his story to play out on multiple levels, and left the reader wondering what exactly was real, and what was just in the perspectives of the characters until the final moments of the novel. Little Wolves is an atmospheric mood rich exploration into true evil. Maltman’s characters manage to both blend into the mood of the tale while still jumping off the page. It’s a fascinating style of storytelling that will appeal to genre fans as much as it does to those who enjoy literary fiction.

Have I mentioned how much I love Hillary Huber as a narrator? She is one of my favorite female narrators and I often bemoan the fact that she doesn’t take on more titles within the genres I enjoy. Huber has a rich, mature voice, full of earthy tones that I personally find sexier than most of the narrators they get to read the sexy books. Now, don’t worry, Little Wolves is not about the sexy, it’s about mood, and real characters. Huber deftly captures the tone of this novel. The characters are simple, plain spoken people, full of their own prejudices but for the most part, good salt of the earth people.  There is a scene in Little Wolves where Clara must deal with a group of church women, some skeptical of her, looking for any flaw, while other supportive. I was amazed how real this scene came off, as if I was sitting amidst these women, sipping tea and shaking my head in consternation at some of the things being said. Huber is one of the better female narrators at reading male characters, which is a plus here because much of the story comes from a male perspective. I had no problems transitioning between perspective, using Huber’s simple characterizations as a touchstone to ground me in the tale. Huber reads the climatic moments with an almost airy surrealistic feel that adds tension and suspense to the finale. Again, Huber managed to impress me. Now, we just need to get her to read more tales of the end of the world, or need I suggest, zombies. Little Wolves was a wonderful listen, perfect for these cold moody winter days.

Note: Thanks to AudioGo for Providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Zombie by J. R. Angelella

5 06 2012

Zombie by J. R. Angelella

Read by Alston Brown

AudioGo

Length: 10 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Coming of Age/Literary Suspense

Quick Thoughts: 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.

Grade: A

There are places on this earth that strike inherent terror into the hearts of all living sentient beings. These iconic locations of terror would include dark alleys, graveyards, old Victorian houses, and the most dreaded edifice of them all, a place whose concept alone strikes fear into the hearts of many, high school. It seems every time I read a book that centers around teenagers in high school it is full of competing groups cum gangs, torture, and torment in the form of bullying, awkward romance and heartbreak, perpetual embarrassment, and homework. Yet, my life in high school was relatively tame. You would have thought that I should have been a magnet for bullying. I was always a larger boy, and my family snuggled right up to that poverty line. I never had cool clothes, or good looks, yet, besides a couple of fat jokes, and snickering at my less than hip clothes, I made it through high school relatively unharmed. I never really had too many friends, but I was on the peripheral of a few groups that I usually had someone to sit with at lunch, and if I didn’t it really didn’t matter since I had a book. I guess those days, I managed to find a nice comfortable crack to slip into. Yet, there really wasn’t too many of those cracks available. I saw enough to know I was relatively lucky. Kids can sniff out differences like a dog sniffs out shit and I witnessed enough cruelty to know it existed. So, I consider myself blessed for being able to survive high school sane and unscarred, or at the very least, commend my subconscious for its ability to repress the more traumatic moments I may have experiences in that apocalyptic wasteland of my teenage years.

In many ways, Zombie by J. R. Angelella is two books existing between the pages of a single volume. The main story of Zombie is about 14 year old Jeremy Barker, a zombie obsessed, slightly awkward kid from a broken home as he begins his freshman year at an all boys Catholic school. It’s a darkly comic look at the brutality of high school, where kids are tormented by a gang of plaid wearing bullies, and the slightest misstep can have you ridiculed, and tagged with the ultimate of insults, usually some inventive derivative of the slur fag. Jeremy is an engaging character who lives his life by a series of rules to help him survive the zombie apocalypse, which also translate well into surviving the turmoil of fitting in. This coming of age tale doesn’t break all too much new ground, but has some genuinely funny moments, as well as a sweet romance that fits well into the story. The second story is much darker. Each night Jeremy’s father disappears, showing up the next morning disheveled and out of sorts. While investigating his father’s behavior, Jeremy discovers a strange tape of what seems to be a cult about to perform some sort of medical procedure on a man strapped to a gurney. This secondary story is an almost Palahnuikian trip through Jeremy’s increasing strange family, and his father’s erratic behavior. While both of these story aspects on their own are interesting, where the true beauty of the novel comes in is the interplay between these two divergent storylines. As we follow Jeremy through high school he is an extremely reliable narrator. You believe and enjoy his perspective, and the storytelling is pretty straightforward. Yet, when night comes, and when he is dealing with his family, Jeremy becomes less and less reliable, and the prose takes an almost frantic dream like quality to it. While you trust Jeremy is telling you what he truly believes, you don’t know what exactly is affecting his perception, and whether it can be trusted. Jeremy’s instability of perception builds like a crescendo that leads to denouement that will shake the foundations that Angelella establishes throughout the book. I for one was tempted to return to the beginning in order to reexamine the entirety of the novel based on my own altered perceptions. Zombie is truly a feat in storytelling. It reads like a novel Chuck Palahniuk would write after reading too much Robert Cormier while taking swearing lessons from Chuck Wendig. 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.

This is my first experience with Alston Brown as a narrator. I truly didn’t know what to expect with his performance at first. Initially, I struggled hearing him as a 14 year old. Brown sounding a bit too old, and with Jeremy’s witty internal and external dialogue, I had to remind myself occasionally that this was a boy in the midst of puberty. Yet, as the story progresses, I found myself buying into it more and more. While Brown’s voice didn’t always sound 14ish, the affected nature of his speaking tone did. He managed to sound both pretentious and naive at the same time. Jeremy was a character that often thought he knew more than everyone else, but at the same time was lost within his own changing body. Brown’s delivery portrayed Jeremy’s inner turmoil wonderfully.  I think as the story developed Brown began to understand better what Angelella was doing, and used subtle changes in pace and timbre to capture the conflicting moods of the story. Zombie is a novel that translates well into audio, and with its competing elements that combines a young adult coming of age story with a twisted adult suspense thriller element, I think it’s one that will provoke a whole lot of discussion.

Note: A Special thanks to AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

21 03 2011

I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

Read by Linda Emond

Harper Audio

Genre: Suspense

Quick Thoughts: While a well written and engrossing tale, there were many intriguing aspects of the novel left open ended, which I found frustrating.

Grade: B

OK, I know I am going to get in trouble for this, but, I personally believe there is a specific stylistic difference between male and female authors. I have argued this out with friends numerous times, but, it’s what I believe. I believe women are just as capable as men, and should be given equal opportunity to succeed in whatever field they choose, but, and here’s really where I get in trouble, I just tend to enjoy books written by men more than books written by women. I do not believe this is misogynistic, despite some protests from others, but stylistic. I do not believe men are inherently better writers, in fact, I would argue from a technical and artistic level, females may be better writers then men, yet, when I choose what to read I base it on what appeals to me, more often than not it’s written by male authors. Yet, this year, I made a consciences decision to read or listen to more books by female authors. My plan is at a minimum one book by a female author a month, with a goal of discovering authors I like and expanding that number by a natural process. One of the authors I had been interested, based on reviews and recommendations is Laura Lippman, author of the popular Tess Monaghan series. I decided, though, to start with one of her stand alone titles, called I’d Know You Anywhere.

I am a bit frustrated, because this book left me with such mixed feelings, which goes to the heart of the issue of my male/female crux. There were so many things I loved about this novel. I loved the experience of getting to know the main character Eliza Benedict, not just through her tragic past, and stressful present events, but through her relationships with her quirky family. The mundane surrounds the extraordinary to give us a true development of her protagonist that we don’t often see in popular fiction. I loved the way the story was told, with each present step punctuated by a moment of past tragedy and its influence on the lives of those involved. The characters where so human you found yourself at moments hating them, yet also strangely sympathizing with them. In fact, I have little criticism for what was written, it was what was left untold that bothered me. Lippman set up so many things in this novel so well, that I was left almost unsatisfied by the ending because I wanted to know so much more. I believe she made a stylistic choice to keep these issues open ended, but for me, and I believe for a lot of males like me, I wanted more. I wanted to understand more about her daughters subtle bullying and seemingly sociopath tendencies that strangely mirrored Eliza’s own sister’s behavior. I wanted to know why her son’s nightmares seemed to all contain his sister, and a fear of pinching. It almost seemed she could have written a whole other novel just of the psychological ticks of Eliza’s immediate family. I guess my frustration came from the fact that Lippman really had me sucked into this families existence, with so many complex issues, yet now I am just supposed to forget about them and move onto the next book without a true understanding of how they will turn out. This is not of course the fault of the author, who did a brilliant job, but one of the annoying male qualities to so many of us share.

I personally believe that some narrators read a novel, while others perform the novel. Here I would say that the narrator, Linda Emond simply read the novel, not putting too much of a flourish onto the characters and giving Eliza, the main POV character a steady narrative voice. This is not a criticism of the reader at all. In this novel, the simple reading style was much more appropriate.  There was something almost muted about Eliza and this slow, careful delivering of her story worked extremely well. The reading won’t leave you amazed by the narrator’s ability, but it will allow you to experience Eliza’s story unfiltered by unnecessary garnish. This novel truly impressed me and easily proved Lipmann’s talent, and despite some issues I had with the overall story development, it’s definitely worth a listen.