Audiobook Review: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

29 04 2014

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

Read by Tavia Gilbert

Audible Studios

Length: 10 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A

In Afterparty, Daryl Gregory has created one of the more unique near future thrillers I have experienced in a while, a psychotropic chase novel across a recognizable future landscape full of strange characters, new tech and enough twists to keep you not even sure if you should even try to keep on guessing. Yet, if this was all that Afterparty was, I’d write a nice little review, talking about the above mentioned topics and try to keep it sounding all professional and shit.

Except I can’t because Afterparty punched me in the head. Repeatedly. With lingering effects.

Now, it wasn’t the story per se. The story was like a really good road trip to someplace you never been before with little side trips you never quite expected. Except, this road trip was laced with landmines. One second you’d be driving along, pointing to an all glass Tabernacle and Hoagie shop, or stopping to get your picture at the world’s largest ball of Already Been Chewed bubble gum in the Midwest, then bam, something goes boom and your brain matter gets sprayed all over your upholstery.

Afterparty tells the tale of a group of scientists who invented a drug that had the unfortunate side effect of manifesting a deity directly into your brain. After one scientist purposely overdoses the group with the drug, the group each gains their own version of god along with various levels of self destructive behavior. Years later, Lyda Rose, one of the scientist is now sequestered in her latest mental institute and discovers the drug has now hit the streets and she, along with the Angel who lives in her head, must discover which former colleague is responsible.

So, it’s pretty damn cool on it’s own. Yet, Gregory has laced his tales with reflections of the true nature of God, faith, the delusion of free will, humanity’s biological imperatives, along with other sociological, psychological, religious and scientific mindfucks. I’m probably missing a few ogicals and istics along the way. As someone who grew up in a religious family, raised in a fundamentalist Baptist Church I have spent years trying to come to terms with my spiritual inadequacy in the face of those who find real joy in religion. I rarely come across an interpretation of the Bible that I haven’t in some level explored. Gregory somehow made me look at some things in a whole new light. In fact, it’s something I’m still thinking about and if you get a few beers in me, as some friends were loathe to discover, I will spew it all over you. It’s rare that a book affects me on such a personal level, not based on a character I came to love or some scenario I could relate to, but with issues of self, and faith explored in brilliant new ways. The thing I especially liked about Afterparty is that I think each person who reads it will more than likely have a similar mindfuck moment, yet with a different topic. This is the fun part of driving through a cerebral minefield, you never know which one is going to blow your brains out of the back of your head.

Sadly, I don’t listen to enough Tavia Gilbert. This is only the third time I have had the privilege to listen to her narrate a book, and it was definitely my favorite. How often does a narrator get to take on religious schizophrenics, delusional deities and bizarre cowboys? For some this may be daunting, but for Tavia Gilbert it came off as great fun. She deftly guided us through an strangely familiar world, while giving the intricately laced dialogue an organic feel. Gilbert never gave anything away, just allowed you to discover the various psychosis of the characters as well as their foibles and secret intentions in a manner worthy of the text. It’s a performance that is both nuanced and just a little bit goofy, and simply fun to listen to.

Audiobook Review: Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

20 06 2013

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress, Bk. 1)

Read by Tavia Gilbert

Blackstone Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Quick Thoughts: Halfway to the Grave is a fun paranormal action tale, which had enough sexy parts to satisfy romance fans and enough detailed action and mystery to keep non-romance fans like me in the game. Frost definitely has the skills to create characters to cheer for while providing a solid plot to highlight their strengths.

Grade: B

My experience with Paranormal Romance has been pretty well documented. I am not a big romance fan. I get uncomfortable listening to off camera, and light foreplay sexual encounters in audiobooks. I’m pretty sure there are a few narrators I may never be able to look in their eyes without thinking about the strange man on man on woman three-way or the time Jack Reacher had sex to the rhythms of a train. My first time listening to a paranormal romance was First Grave on the Right, which I thought was just another Urban Fantasy, until the main character started banging a ghost, and I was like…. ummmm…. she’s banging a ghost… can someone please tell her to stop? Then, last year we had my Armchair Audies sexy dragon experience with Dragon Bound. Dragon Bound frustrated me… *clears throat* because the sex was so descriptive, each moment meticulously detailed, then when the fun mayhem of violence and destruction comes, it was like "Then the dragon killed him." WHAT? No rendering, no detailed evisceration. You can explain what each pore on the areola does while being licked by the tongue of an arrogant Alpha asshole, but can’t give me just a touch of blood and gore! Add to this the fact that the main love interest was such a misogynistic asshat, I just wanted to bash my skull in. Now, I understand, as someone whose fantasy life dwells more around zombies and robots, that these titles are catering to a group I may not be a part of. I accept that the handsome domineering man may be a viable fantasy for many people, but I just wanted to see him get stabbed, repeatedly. So, I put out a call for a Paranormal Romance that I may actually like, and received a suggestion for The Night Huntress series. My first though…. but it’s a sexy Vampire novel. Vampires are monsters! NOT SEXY! Then I looked at the cover. Hot scantily clad redhead! What am I getting myself into? Wait… hot scantily clad redhead… Hmmmmm…..

Cat Crawfield has been raised to believe all Vampires are evil. Her mother, who was raped by a Vampire leading to Cat’s conception, encourages Cat to use her unique skills as a half human half vampire to hunt and kill Vampires. Yet, when she meets the mysterious Vampire Bones after attempting to kill him, she begins to question all she has been taught. As she works together with Bones to hunt a Vampire who has been trafficking women, Cat resistance begins to break away, finding herself falling for the very monster she has been hunting. So, bottom line, I actually really liked Halfway to the Grave. Sure, all the sexy business made me feel, well, awkward. I could probably nitpick little things here and there, and sure, I could bemoan the experienced Vampire Bones teaching the young and inexperienced Cat in the ways of love, but I think that would undermine the fact that Cat was a strong character and that Bones was not a big flaming douchebag. Sure, I wanted to not like the centuries old Vampire, and I though this instant attachment to Cat was a bit on the unrelatable side, but I found myself being won over by the quirky Vampire. Beyond that Frost included enough other stuff, like hard core action scenes, some decent twists and entertaining characters, to allow me to get over my awkwardness quickly. I did have mixed feelings on some of the Vampire mythos Frost has developed. Much of the supernatural aspects of Vampirism has been stripped away. While I like this focus on Vampirism as either an evolutionary process or an ancient Biblical curse, I would have liked to see more on this aspect of the novel, but since it’s a series, I imagine these are issues we will return to. While I understand the whole stripping away of myths, like holy water and religious icons, I think sometimes I enjoy these bits of oddity with Vampires and will find myself missing it. I also really liked Cat as a character. I like how Frost dealt with her internal struggle, not to just accept her Vampire side, but also her struggle to appease her mother. I often battled emotionally with Cat’s mother, because at times, I felt her view point was justifiable, due to her personal history, but at other times I found her reactions reprehensible. I found this to be much more realistic than the often stereotypical black and white portrayals that show up in novels. My only issue with Cat was the sort of Might makes Right mentality that transformed her from the naive but amped killer of Vamps to a potential highly skilled operator and training of a paramilitary kill squad. There is more than just the ability to kick ass needed to lead and train any paramilitary group, and I struggled to see Cat as up to that particular challenge. Not that it was unrealistic, per se, I just felt her training under Bones was a bit glossed over, and I had trouble reconciling early Cat with the Cat she will need to be. Overall, despite some nitpickingness on my part, I found Halfway to the Grave to be a fun, fast paranormal action tale, which had enough sexy parts to satisfy romance fans and enough detailed action and mystery to keep non-romance fans like me in the game. Frost definitely has the skills to create characters to cheer for while providing a solid plot to highlight their strengths.

Tavia Gilbert is a name I hear often when discussing narrators, yet, had only listened to once before, nearly 5 years ago, with John Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale. Here, in Halfway to the Grave, I found her narration to be top notch. Gilbert allowed you to really feel the transformation in Cat’s life. She took you right into the Cat’s internal struggle, managing to find a balance between Cat’s strength and her insecurity. This was one of those audiobook moments where the narration helps you feel the character development in a way you might not experience in print. Gilbert read the action with a crisp pace, pulling the listener into the scenes, allowing them to get immersed in the action. The highlight of the audiobook was the "under the influence" scenes, where Gilbert was able to capture the humor of the slurring intoxicated Cat, while still maintaining the gravity of the situation. My only problem with the Audiobook wasn’t really the narrator’s fault. I had trouble imagining Bones as, well… sexy. I think Gilbert nailed his voice, blending British and Australian accents but, there was an almost cockney edge to it, I couldn’t help but picture some older Victorian Monty Pythonesque guy, and not a young looking sexy Vampire. Probably comes from watching too many British comedies on PBS when I was faking sick as a teenager. I’m not saying that most people wouldn’t find Bones sexy, just I didn’t. Not that I expected to find some Vampire dude sexy, but… well… I didn’t. Yet, I really enjoyed Gilbert’s performance and I think this series has a lot of potential both in telling a strong tale, and in making me feel kind of awkward.