Audiobook Review: Anita by Keith Roberts

8 04 2013

Anita by Keith Roberts

Read by Nicola Barber

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 9 Hrs

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

A few weeks ago I tried to rewatch Buck Rogers. It didn’t go well. I loved Buck Rogers as a kid, at least I remember loving the concept of Buck Rogers. I really have few memories of the actual show other than Twiki bidi-bidi-bidi-ing around. All I know I loved it as a kid, and watching it as an adult, well, wasn’t so pretty. Somehow, in the 30ish years since I last watched Buck Rogers, the special effects became horrid, the acting wooden and the stories boring. I find this happens to me a lot with visual mediums. I remember things I enjoyed as a child on TV as being so much better that they actually are and am often amazed at how I could ever have liked it. It’s a bit different with books. I have revisited books I loved as a kid on many occasions. I’ve learned that the experiences of these books are different, yet not really worse, as an adult. Often I find these books are simpler than I remember. The vast lands of Oz or Narnia not as big as I remember. Yet I also find a new beauty in them. Rediscovering the Phantom Tollbooth or James and the Giant Peach allows me to see things that I didn’t as a child. Often, there is both a melancholy sense of loss during these rereads coupled with a new appreciation of what the author did. Often times, I enjoy these tales, not more or less, but on a new level. When I listened to Neil Gaiman introduce Anita, ant talk about the magic of these stories I couldn’t help but wish that I had read these tales when I was younger, when maybe I was a little more open to the magic of these tales. 

Anita is a free spirited young witch, under the tutelage of Granny, who lives on a sort of magical copse on the edge of the modern world. She can change her shape, speak with animals and meets all manner of magical creatures, while dealing with boys in their cars, supermarkets and new technology. Anita is told in a series of short stories as we follow her development growing in her powers while maturing as an individual. Now, this is my first experience with these stories, but in many ways I felt like I did when returning to a much beloved tale of my youth. The stories have a surface level simpleness, obvious morality tales that reflected the time in which it was written, but with hidden moments of depth, and tongue in cheek humor that the younger set may miss. Not that Anita is a strictly children’s book. Its stories are full of magic and beauty that would appeal to younger children, but also full of a sort of 60’s era charm that adults will enjoy. Like many tales like this, Anita can be at times brave and bratty, frustrating and flashy, naive and mature all rolled into one. It’s a coming of age story with a protagonist in a never ending morphing of personhood. She makes mistakes, many of which come back to bite her in the butt later. Her naiveté and free spiritness is both refreshing and off-putting in equal measure. She is a wonderful character at time when not driving the reader just a wee bit crazy. Yet, even better is her crotchety, irascible Granny whose flavor filled patios often masks her deep wisdom. Being this is more of an anthology that a novel, some stories are stronger than others. The best stories involve the conflicts between the modern world and the witching world. There are two noticeable examples, both involving Granny dealing with some new modernity to hilarious yet often disastrous results. Other stories take a bit more work to get into but have their own sort of magic. There were times a story would bore me, but most were relatively short, and the next would grab me right away. If I had kids, I think I would love reading these stories to them, even with Anita’s open but subtle sexuality. These are just the kinds of tales I would have loved as a child, and as an adult, I appreciate their humor, magic and various lessons they teach that aren’t always as cut and dry as the typical morality tale.

This is my second experience with Nicola Barber and one that simply was beautiful to listen to. Barber voiced Anita perfectly, giving her a young, precocious and at times, uncomfortably sexy voice. She captured the carefree attitudes of the young perfectly. Yet, where she really excelled was in her voicing of Granny. It was simply splendid. Honestly, Granny’s patois was so deep and flavorful that it was at times hard to figure out but always wonderful to hear. It was like listening to music, even if I didn’t understand the lyrics, I enjoyed listening to every note. Barber captured the fable-like feel of the tale wonderfully, giving the stories a poetic rhythm that matched the whimsical nature of the tales wonderfully. Even the stories I didn’t find as engaging, just listening to Barber read them made it worth my time. Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.  I’m not sure if I would even have given this one a listen if it hadn’t been for the Audie nomination, but I am definitely thankful I did.

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Audiobook Review: All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

18 03 2013

All Men of Genius by Lev AV Rosen

Read by Emily Gray

Recorded Books

Length: 17 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Steampunk Romantic Comedy

Quick Thoughts: All Men of Genius is a mad capped screwball comedy of manners flipped on its head and infused with mad science, gender politics and of course, robots, or, well… automatons. It was just so much fun, with layers upon depths upon layers yet never becoming even the tiniest bit pretentious. I enjoyed All Men of Genius so much that I don’t think my words have even done it half the justice it deserves.  So, go, listen yourself. You’ll like it.

Grade: A

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

One of the things I love about Armchair Audies is that even though I chose to take on the categories that most match my typical genre reading, there are always selections well outside my typical comfort areas. This year, it is especially true of the Fantasy category which has six titles I had not read or listened too previously and only one author I have read before. One of the most intriguing titles for me, because it was simply something I probably never would have selected on my own was All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen. If this is the first time you have stopped by the old ‘lobe, let me explain. My typical niche in the reading world surrounds dark horror and fantasy, science fiction and violent thrillers with an obsession with post apocalyptic, and dystopian fiction and of course, zombies. Sure, I am perfectly willing to step outside of my comfort zone, but there is typically a hook to it, some catalyst that points me in the direction of a book. I have personally never been a fan of Jane Austen or the modern day romantic comedy which I personally believe owes a lot to Austen. I tend to be outwardly skeptical towards plots that surround romance, although I’ve been known to get caught up in it from time to time like anyone else with a soul. While I have read some Cherie Priest, a little Tim Powers and others that fall into the Steampunk subgenre, it’s usually some other aspect of the tale that hooks me in. So, honestly, a Victorian Steampunky Romantic Comedy was probably never going to walk a natural path into my mountainous "To Be Listened To" pile no matter how many robots may appear. Yet, this is why I take on such projects. Not just because I am an audiobook uber-fan, but because sometimes, pushing my boundaries is a good thing. Plus, well… robots.

Illyria College was the most exclusive scientific college, where the brightest young minds gathered to explore the sciences in creative ways. Well, the brightest young male minds. More than anything, young Violet Adams wanted to attend Illyria to further train her gifted mind in the mechanical sciences, so, of course, as all brilliant young minds do, she hatched a scheme. She would apply to Illyria, and most certainly attend, under the guise of her twin brother Ashton. Yet, while she planned for many a pitfall, she never even considered the greatest of all complications… love. First off, I want to tackle my biggest issue with this novel, and that, of course was me. I don’t think I was properly prepared for the mad hijinks, the pure fun, and the surprising depths of this tale. I also felt like Rosen crammed this tale full of tributes to a genre I am dreadfully unread in, which includes not just Austen, but Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare and that for ever level I of this novel I so very much enjoyed, there were two that I simply missed. All Men of Genius is a mad capped screwball comedy of manners flipped on its head and infused with mad science, gender politics and of course, robots, or, well automata. At times, I felt like I was listening to two separate novels intertwined by some strange experiment, yet, somehow manage to perfectly fall together, against all my expectations. At the core, this was a novel about relationships, and Rosen packs it full of so many colorful untraditional relationships, you couldn’t help but find one or more to really cheer for. What I liked about his style of entanglement, is it was just as much about caste and station as it was about gender roles and sexuality. You had Ashton, who worried about the propriety of romance with one of his servants, and a conniving actress finding more than she expected in her romantic schemes. Rosen told tales of young love and old love, and even some young/old love, with class, race and gender all pushed and smooshed and tangled together, in ways that made it show that sometimes these things don’t matter in love, except when they do. Yet, all this is peripheral to a tale of romance, science, revenge and egomaniacal madness involving a brilliant young women whose deception and genius affects the lives of the master of Illyria and his young ward. It has all the brilliance and frustrations of your typical romantic comedy, including the misconceptions, misapprehensions and miscommunications inherent to the greatest of over the top schemes. Rosen explores many themes you find in many modern day movies and televisions series, yet in a bright new twisted way, that you just can’t help but love. Add to all this one of the craziest, robot filled action sequences as a cap to the all the fun that you couldn’t help but feel all types of giddy thrills experiencing it. I so loved the pure mad fun of the ending that I could even accept the Hollywoodeque style epilogue, because, really, it just felt it had to end that way. I enjoyed All Men of Genius so much that I don’t think my words have even done it half the justice it deserves.  It was just so much fun, with layers upon depths upon layers yet never becoming even the tiniest bit pretentious. And, also… have I mentioned the automata. Because call them robots or automata or whatever your little heart desires, I still call them awesome.

Emily Gray, the narrator of All Men of Genius really had her work cut out for her. This novel was full of so many characters, some of them low keyed and restrained while others wildly over the top. Add to this a protagonist who was a maybe not quite proper young British Lady of some standing attempting to speak as a young British man of some standing, although at times slipping and sliding through the ranges of her voice. So, yeah, this wasn’t an easy task, and really, with a narrator who was too over the top, or two low keyed, or who just really didn’t grasp the characters, this production had every chance of being an audiobook trainwreck. Well, it wasn’t. It was a wonderful performance by a talented narrator. I truly believe that the key element to Gray’s narration was her understanding of the characters. She manages to portray each character as I feel the author intended. I believe each character had a battle between outward appearance and their true essence, and Gray captured this important struggle perfectly accentuating the themes of the novel. Also, I was happy to see, that with such a crazy final sequence, Gray kept the train well on the tracks, allowing the action to come alive, but never to get away from the listener. All Men of Genius was wonderful melding of performance and material, and one that can appeal to a wide range of listeners. Yes, even you. So, go, listen yourself. You’ll like it.





Audiobook Review: Heroes Die by Mathew Woodring Stover

12 03 2013

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover (Acts of Caine, Book 1)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Audible Frontiers

Length: 22 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I found Heroes Die to be an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a brilliantly conceived world, but was unable to really connect with the characters until the end of the book. There’s tons of action, magic, gore and intrigue and the final third of the book is full of clever twists that makes up for any flaws early on.

Grade: B

2013 Audie Nominee for Fantasy

One of the terms that I read often in reviews and have used myself is "likable" when it comes to describing characters. One of the major criticisms I can give a book is I didn’t find the main character likeable. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that that probably isn’t the best term for it. Some of my favorite all time characters are far from likable people. In fact, some of them are downright scumbags who I wouldn’t let clean my toilets, let alone kick back on my couch to watch my DVDs. Yet, despite my respect for great people, those wonderful morally upright citizens who selflessly give of them selves and are always quick with a kind word and a helping hand, I rarely like these types as book characters.  One of my favorite all time characters, Thomas Covenant, is an scumbag, whiney rapist who only survived because of the willingness of his friends to sacrifice themselves for him and The Land he doesn‘t truly believe in. Yet, when Covenant isn’t on the page I miss him. He has a presence and the tale never feels complete unless he’s there. This is what I want out of characters, a sense of presence, and an investment in what they are doing. I want to wonder what’s going on with them when they are off screen, wonder how they will react when the story switches to another perspective. Mostly, I want them to be interesting, flawed and human. Well, unless they are robots, or aliens or something, but at least somewhat relatable. So, screw being likable characters. You don’t need to wipe your feet before entering my head, just try not to get too much blood on the floor.

Heroes Die is the first novel of The Acts of Caine series. This series is a blending of science fiction and fantasy which tells of a future where actors are transported to an alternate plane of existence called Ankhana, where they get into adventures, perform magic and mayhem, all for the pleasure of the audience who experiences it through a virtual reality like set up. Caine is perhaps the biggest star of his time. His kill first then ask questions later mentality make him a must for real time viewers of his adventure. Yet, on earth the only real thing in his life, his marriage with a fellow actor has fallen apart. When his estranged wife disappears during an adventure, the studio calls in Caine, and says that they will send him to Ankhana to rescue her, only if he’s willing to assassinate the very powerful emperor. It took me a long time to get into Heroes Dies. A really long time. I found both worlds, the fantasy setting of Ankhana and the real Earth dystopian caste system to be fascinating, yet, I really didn’t like the main character. OK, actually I hated him. I just couldn’t find myself invested in his struggles or interested in his methods. I found that the main baddie, an egomaniacal Emperor with a dark new power, was much more of an interesting character, and I actually agreed with his disdain for the interference of the Actors. Even the characters within the tale couldn’t seem to find a viable reason to do away with the Emperor. It wasn’t until the story shifted perspectives to his estranged wife in her alternate guise as Pallas Rill, did the story start gaining track for me. After that, Caine began to change becoming less of the charge into battle with your sword raised type character to a more cerebral plotter. Also, Stover began to change to focus more to the evils of the Earth system, and began revealing the true bad guy of the story. This is where Heroes Die really begins to take off. The Final third of this book made up for many of my problems with the first third. I never really bought into Caine, but slowly I began to understand and became more invested in his quest. The interesting thing is, my development as the reader took the same path as Caine, realizing what the book was really about didn’t happen to late, when Caine began to really get a grasp on the true issues of his world. So, despite some trouble connecting, in the end I felt I had a net positive experience with Heroes Die. The ending has some real clever twists that were more about revealing the true nature of people and the world then any sort of "Aha!" moment. Overall, I found Heroes Die to be an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a brilliantly conceived world, but was unable to really connect with the characters until the end of the book. There’s tons of action, magic, gore and intrigue and the final third of the book is full of clever twists that makes up for any flaws early on.

Whenever I start a new audiobook, I like to announce it on Twitter to all the fanfare and pomposity of my small group of followers. When I started to tweet about Heroes Die, I wanted to announce that it was read by Uncle Stefan, because, I can’t but feel, whenever I start one of Stefan Rudnick’s narrations, like I’m sitting down ready for my big burly uncle with his booming voice about to tell me some deep and dark visceral tale of battles and monsters and warrior maidens. Heroes Die is the perfect vehicle for Stefan Rudnicki. He voices Caine with a booming over the top masculinity, yet also manages to tap into Caine’s alter ego’s insecurities. Heroes Die is filled with just the right kind of murder and mayhem that is Rudnicki’s bread and butter. You haven’t truly experienced someone being slowly eviscerated by a magic sword until you have heard it described by Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki simply brought Ankhana alive for me. While struggling through the early parts of this book, Rudnicki was the perfect guide, making these world’s interesting for me, and keeping me in the game for the huge payoff at the end. He managed to make the action scenes feel even more intense, the political maneuverings more cunning and the characters more real. Mostly, he did what he does best, he told the story.





Audiobook Review: Spellbound by Larry Correia

11 12 2012

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

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 16 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk/Superheroes

Quick Thoughts: 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.

Grade: A+

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

It’s no secret that I love a good superhero tale, as long as I don’t think about it too much. I have always been one who hasn’t let inconsistencies in fiction bother me too much. I mean, honestly, I love zombie books, and other goofy science fiction type things, if I let plausibility and consistent mythology bother me too much I probably would have to resort to nonfiction. That being said, those rare occasions when my mind is working too hard, Superhero origin stories hurt my brain. Now, I’m mostly a casual superhero fan. I’ve never been a big comic book guys, so all my issues have probably been addressed multiple times by multiple people. Yet, I never understood why more people haven’t had themselves bitten by irradiated, genetically engineered spiders, or exposed to top secret gamma rays. If superheroes are a real part of your world, wouldn’t more idiots be trying to throw themselves in front of meteors? Then, there’s Superman. He is biggest, strongest superhero of them all, who somehow gets his power from a yellow sun. I’m not exactly sure how the rays of a yellow sun would allow you to fly, or shoot beams out of your eyes. I mean, maybe if we could already float or have low powered eyebeams, then sure, yellow sun, amps us up. I’m down. Plus, Superman can fly into space, through the galaxy where not all suns are yellow. What’s up with that? Wouldn’t he lose his power? So, whenever I go into a tale involving superheroes I plan to sort of roll my eyes and go with the origin story’s flow, which hopefully is dealt with then pushed into the background. Yet, Larry Correia, in his Grimnoir series, has done something I really didn’t expect. He has created a fascinating origin for the force behind the rise of magical powers and integrated it into the mythology of the series in a way that I find quite fascinating.

Spellbound is the second entry in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles, the direct sequel to the Audie award winning Hard Magic, an audiobook that would have been in my top 20 last year, except I listened to it after making my list. After the events of Hard Magic the Grimnoir Knights find themselves is a bad position when they are framed for an assassination attempt on FDR. Now, hunted by a mysterious new government agency, the magical group must try to clear their name while preparing to battle an ancient force that could devastate the world as they know it. It’s common practice in action series that with each new edition  the hero or heroes takes on progressively worst badies. After defeating the most powerful and oldest magical human in the last book, I really wondered where Correia could take the story. Well, in Spellbound everything is amped up exponentially. Spellbound is Hard Magic on blue meth, full of inter-dimensional demons, vast conspiracies, and some of the unlikeliest of allies. Spellbound made my brain spin. I have often commented on the cinematic quality of Correia’s action scenes. Yet, in Spellbound the action scenes are still meticulously choreographed and highly visual, but they are so big that I don’t think a film screen could hold it all. Picture the big battle in The Avengers, throw in Gozer, give it a Steampunk edge, then multiply it by ten, and maybe you have an idea how the finale of this novel felt. Yet, it’s not just the action scenes that hold this book together. Correia has developed characters with amazing death and creates a complex mythology and detailed plot, yet reveals it in a way that is highly accessible. It’s easy to place a sort of sort of pulpy, gun porn label on Correia, but in all honesty, this guy can write with the best of them. 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.

In her review, one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Kat Hooper of Fantasy Literature, said that Spellbound is “A Perfect example of how good audio can get.” She is absolutely right. Bronson Pinchot’s performance in Spellbound is easily my favorite performance by a narrator this year. It really is mind boggling how good this book is in audio. Pinchot delivers a master class in pacing of a multiple POV novel. Most good narrators create a pace for each characters inner and external dialogue, yet with each perspective shift, Pinchot tailors his reading to the pace and tone of each character. There is never any question when you are looking at something from Faye’s kinetically paced point of view, or when things slow down to the ponderous pace of the underestimated Heavy Jake Sullivan. Pinchot is one of the few narrators that can actually enhance the author’s character development with his voice. His handling of the international cast was flawless, and tailored each voice to its character’s origin, personality and magical skill. Let’s face it, I listen to lots of audiobooks, and I have listened to more than a few books narrated by Pinchot, but what he does with Spellbound just amazed me. Each character comes alive, each scene jumps from the page to my ears in a masterful way, and it was one of the most engaging and pulse pounding audiobook experiences I have ever had. I have said this before, but I truly believe Correia must have sacrifice some goats or something to the gods of audiobooks to be given two of the best in the business to read his words. In Spellbound he must have gone the extra step and sacrificed an ancient polka dotted virgin goat or something, it was just that good.





Audiobook Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

27 07 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Read by Emily Janice Card

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs and 3 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The Age of Miracles isn’t an easy ride. Karen Thompson Walker’s slow boil apocalypse is a melancholy, almost anti-coming of age tale that is equal parts gripping and frustrating. While it left me ultimately unsatisfied and uneasy, the path to this final destination was lavishly and intricately created.

Grade: B-

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

When it comes to the end of the world, sometimes I prefer the whimper. So much of the Post Apocalyptic fiction I read in my younger years where all about the bang. A plague, bomb, alien invasion or killer asteroid comes along and instantly wipes out billions upon billions of our fellow inhabitance of Earth. I think with the invention of nuclear bombs, the idea of instant annihilation seemed more probable. Yet, as more and more we begin to realize that gradual causes are more of a threat to ending us as a species then a sudden jolt, it’s being reflected in our fiction. With ecological, political, social, economic and scientific issues cropping up in our newspapers on a daily basis, there is almost a feeling that we are amidst a slow boil apocalypse, only waiting for the last catalyst to drop. I think handling this idea properly is one of the toughest tasks of the apocalyptic author. When the apocalypse is cut and dry, we can get right to the roving bandits, looting and rise of demagogues. Yet, when the issues are murky, it’s tough to find the line between a normal regression of society and an apocalypse. When do the people really begin to realize that this is the end? When the prices of gas skyrocket? When food and electricity become uncertain commodities? At some point there has to be a point of no return, and it’s important for an author taking on a slow boil apocalypse to define that moment for the characters of their tale.

In Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, the earth’s rotation begins to slow, incrementally extending the day. For 11 year old Julia, the announcement of The Slowing is met with an almost restrained excitement. Yet, as her world begins to transform to the changing planet, Julia begins to see how the new world will affect her directly. As society begins to shift, Julia’s quiet observations serves as our guide, giving us an intimate tour through the evolution of mankind as they deal with their potential demise. Walker has created a fascinating tableau for her often moody tale of the end of the world. There is definite melancholy tone and our preteen protagonist displays her life in a series of lasts. With many coming of age tales, which The Age of Miracles echoes, we see a series of firsts, the first kiss, the first job, the first taste of independence, yet with Julia, despite experiencing firsts, her story focuses on her lasts, the last time seeing a friend, the last time eating a grape. This contrast is striking and heartbreaking, and makes the reader want to really feel for the character. Yet, for me, it was hard at times to really place Julia’s voice. I think part of this was due to the fact it was future Julia telling the tale of 11 year old Julia, and this makes it hard to translate between her initial perspectives, and those filtered through times. This gives Julia an ageless quality that blunts some of the effectiveness of her tale of loneliness, young love, and naive innocence.  Also, Walker has a tendency for foreshadowing that never really pays off. She mentions certain initiatives and alludes to actions being taken, yet they seem to fall to the wayside, never to be explored again. While his makes some sense on a sociological level, in a society where many people just seem to give up, on a plotting level, it often became frustrating for me as a reader. Yet, despite these problems, Walker managed to keep me mesmerized with her lush prose, and melancholy tone. While I didn’t totally connect with Julia, I felt connected to her world and much of my frustration came from wanting to know more. The Age of Miracles isn’t an easy ride. Karen Thompson Walker’s slow boil apocalypse is a melancholy, almost anti-coming of age tale that is equal parts gripping and frustrating. While it left me ultimately unsatisfied and uneasy, the path to this final destination was lavishly and intricately created.

One of the big reasons I choose The Age of Miracles was to experience a solo narration by Emily Janice Card. To be quite honest, Card’s vocal style isn’t especially unique. Her voice and tone are similar to many narrators doing fine work today, Yet, Cards understanding of the material and ability to make smart choices in her narration really sets her apart. Card reads The Age of Miracles with a slow, deliberate tone the echoes the gradual breakdown of Walker’s word. Card manages to make you feel for the characters she voices. You can hear Julia’s loneliness and despair, as well as the brief moments of uplift she experiences throughout the novel. Card’s reading contributes to the melancholy mood, at times giving the prose an almost dream like quality. Her performance was quite affecting. I found my mood echoing that of the characters of the novel, which is good for the novel but wasn’t necessarily good for my overall attitude. It would be hard for me to say that I loved The Age of Miracles, or even that I really enjoyed the experience, but I did find it to be a fascinating, but emotionally draining listen.

 

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse Series.





Audiobook Review: 14 by Peter Clines

3 07 2012

14 by Peter Clines

Read by Ray Porter

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 12 Hrs 42 Min

Genre: Horror

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

Grade: A

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

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

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

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





Audiobook Review: Invincible by Jack Campbell

3 06 2012

Invincible (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, Bk. 2) by Jack Campbell

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers

Length: 11 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

Quick Thoughts: Invincible is a rollicking good listen, full of action, and a touch of humor. By creating some interesting new angles Campbell breathesnew life into a series that really wasn’t even close to death. The Lost Fleet is easily my current favorite continuing science fiction series, and one of the few that seems to just keep getting better.

Grade: A-

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

Invincible is the 8th novel written in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet universe. When I first discovered this series, I went on a listening spree of Jack Campbell and John G. Hemry, Campbell’s true identity, audiobooks. I listened to the four JAG in space novels, and the first six Lost Fleet novels within a span of two months. Yet, after listening to book 7, Dauntless, I wondered how hard it was to keep a series like this fresh. I liked Dauntless, yet, I felt like it was just another Lost Fleet novel, despite it bearing a new sub title called Beyond the Frontier. I struggled with myself. I loved the characters that Campbell created, and the basic formula of the story, which was bits of Galactic and Fleet wide politics mixed in around grand schemed space-based Naval battles. I love these stories, particularly the melding of space and interpersonal politics. I always looked forward to his Black Jack Geary briefings, where he had to employ just as much strategic cunning around the virtual conference table, as he did when planning a military operation. So, how much of the aspects of this series was I willing to give up in order to have something fresh. Luckily, this question never really had to be answered. With Invincible, Jack Campbell manages to keep the tried and true aspects of his Lost Fleet series intact, while creating new angles and potential implications that manages to revitalize this series with a fresh new perspective.

Invincible begins right where Dauntless left off. As Geary moves his fleet deeper into unknown territory, he finds himself trapped in by an unknown enemy. Campbell has left us off at an interesting place, and I was interested to see how he would resolve the situation. I had expected some initial discussion, followed by some trademark, kick ass battle scenes, yet Campbell surprised me. While Invincible is full of some awesome battle scenes, what really made the novel for me was the exegesis of the fleet’s unknown enemies.  Invincible does what the best space bound Military Science fiction, should do, it examines the new life encountered by the characters, and attempts to understand them, not just thinking of interesting ways to kill them, but actually trying to figure them out. Campbell has created some interesting new Alien species for Geary and the Fleet to deal with, and this adds a new freshness of perspective to this series. Another aspect of this novel that surprised me was the humor. There are some genuinely funny moments in Invincible, moments that actually made me laugh out loud. These moments were perfect tension breakers as the Fleet deals with internal problems coming from many directions as well as a sense of unease about what awaits them at home. Invincible is a rollicking good listen, with Campbell breathing some new life in a series that really wasn’t even close to death. The Lost Fleet is easily my current favorite continuing science fiction series, and one of the few that seems to just keep getting better.

Christian Rummel again impresses in his reading of Invincible.  Invincible has tons of characters and this is not an exaggeration. How Rummel manages to keep every character straight, I don’t know. Yet, he does more than keep them straight, but makes them all memorable. Each character has been given an authentic sounding voice that perfectly fits their personalities. His voicing of one minor character, Master Chief Gioninni, is the highlight of the novel for me, and I always look forward to him making an appearance. Rummel handles the complicated military maneuvers of the novel with a crisp, direct reading style that makes following the potentially confusing action easy for the reader.  For those who have yet to experience The Lost Fleet series, I highly recommend the audiobook versions where Campbell’s excellent, fast paced story telling is only enhanced by the narration of Christian Rummel.