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.





Audiobook Review: Rewinder by Brett Battles

22 01 2015

Rewinder by Brett Battles

Read by Vikas Adams

Audible Studios

Genre: Time Travel Adventure

Grade: B

Brett Battles seems to enjoy writing Thrillers, no matter the subgenre. In his latest standalone thriller, Rewinder, Battles gives time travel a go with solid results. Rewinder reads like a cross between Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories, and Steven Jay Gould’s Jumper series. It’s not a particularly groundbreaking entry into the fray of time travel adventure, in fact, if anything, Battles quickly infuses the story with the feel of a pair of comfortable jeans. Instead of trying to create some clever new way to spin the genre, he puts his own spin onto time honored tropes. Like Jumper, Rewinder can work equally well as a Young Adult or Adult novel. While Battles main character Denny Younger is, well, younger, he doesn’t instantly fall into the character trapping of many young adult protagonist. Battles offers some interesting sociological insights, yet does it as a plot point, where his goal isn’t social commentary but just telling a damn good story. Battles creates a fast paced, exciting tale, with plenty of twists, that fans of old school time travel adventure novels will find perfect for an afternoon reading.

Narrating is more than just having a pleasant voice, and the ability to do character voices. A good narrator finds the right feel for a novel, and pushes the narrative in the right direction. Vikas Adams gives a strong textured performance, with a crisp reading that gives homage to the pulp nature of the tale. I have always admired Adams ability to handle both adult and children characters smoothly, something that isn’t really easy to do. I like that Adams gave Denny a youthful feel, yet still acknowledged that he was an adult doing an adult job. He captures the right blend of coming of age naivete, with a hardened edge of young man who grew up in the fringes of his society. Rewinder isn’t going to blow your mind, or have you rethink everything you knew about time travel, instead it will give you 8 hours of solid entertainment.





Audiobook Review: Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

31 03 2014

Code Zero (Joe Ledger, Bk. 6) by Jonathan Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: SF/Horror Thriller

Grade: A+

In the latest Joe Ledger thriller by Jonathan Maberry…. well, awesomeness happens, Horrible, tragic and often fatal awesomeness, but still… you get the picture. It’s very hard for me to actually review a Joe Ledger novel and this is why I don’t really try. In the last novel, Extinction Machine Maberry took the X-Files to the next extreme, and in the series debut Patient Zero Maberry reminded us why zombies are goddam fucking scary. Really, if god created an author solely for the purpose of putting my worse fears and fanatical likes to paper, Maberry is a robot uprising away from divine perfection. This is why you have to take my review with a grain of salt… an awesome grain of salt. In the latest, Code Zero Maberry has topped himself by returning to some of his previously traveled paths and amping them up with blue meth. One of the standout aspects of Code Zero is that Maberry gives us an alternate view of past events at the Department of Military Sciences through a new set of eyes. Because of this, we got a chance to revisit, if briefly, some beloved fallen comrades. Maberry also manages to create a new kind of bad guy, maniacal in her own way, yet quite different from what we have seen in the series. As with every other book in the series, Maberry doesn’t cut his hero any breaks. Joe is again called on to literally save the world while the potential of tragic personal sacrifice lingers over his head. As a reader, I don’t know how much more I can take, and I am surprised the Joe’s fragile psyche has held up as long as it has. Again, Maberry’s intense action is cinematic in scope. The scenes come alive in your head. Each scene is huge, but Maberry keeps it contained and intimate guiding us through the chaos like a master director. My only negative is that I still haven’t bought in to Joe’s latest love interest. Maybe it’s a residue from the loss of a past love, or perhaps the incongruousness of the relationship. While the relationship is conflicted, it lacks conflict and part of my brain agrees with Violin when she says he needs a women more in his world. Yet, Maberry does use the relationship effectively, adding levels to the story. My other quibbling complain is that, despite his move to the West Coast, Maberry once again releases potentially apocalyptic danger onto the Philly area, but since it’s Willow Grove, I’ll forgive him. (Suggestion: Croydon could use a nice dose of Captain Trips.) The release of a Joe Ledger novels is my Christmas and Code Zero is a gift that doesn’t disappoint.

It must be a great feeling as an author knowing you have a narrator that doesn’t just get what you’re doing but manages to deliver every line with authenticity and emotional impact. Ray Porter, with a simple pause, or a stumbled line, milks every moment of this book to make you truly feel it. His reading raced my heart, gave me chills down my back and had me hiding in the bathroom so people at work didn’t think I had a pet related tragedy. If there is one series to point to and shout “This is how audiobooks should be done” (which admitted I would absolutely do given the right motivation and perhaps one too many Yuengling lagers,) than it’s Ray Porter’s reading of the Joe Ledger series. Take it from this fanboy, I would totally recommend getting a full physical before listening to Code Zero to make sure your heart can take it.





Audiobook Review: Runner by Patrick Lee

3 03 2014

Runner by Patrick Lee (Sam Dryden, Bk. 1)

Read by Raul Esparza

Macmillan Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: Thriller

Grade: A

I am a real sucker for tales that don’t let themselves be defined by easy genre labels and this is one of the biggest reasons I have become such a big fan of Patrick Lee. His first series, The Breach/Travis Chase Trilogy is a favorite of mine, and I waited with grand anticipation for Runner, the first book in his new series staring Sam Dryden. Well, the anticipation was far from the greatest pleasure of this experience. Runner is super sonic thriller with a science fiction edge that is sure to please fans of multiple genres. Sam Dryden is a complicated but likeable character. In fact, he starts of almost as a cliché, the broken hero, yet builds up into something so much more. He finds his redemption in a strange little girl who is being chased my merciless killers for reasons she doesn’t fully understand. If the book starts off a bit rote, that roteness is redeemed with a series of well choreographed reveals that have you reexamining any assumptions made early on. Runner examines complex issues as diverse as childhood development, the true nature of evil, governmental influence and the potential for science to disrupt society, yet these exploration take a back street to the relationship at the heart of this tale. One of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is how much could be simply resolves if characters fully communicate with each other, and Lee manages to laugh at this notion, creating secrets between characters who have no secrets. Lee is no slouch in the action department either. How Lee manages to fully develop these character amidst big screen style elaborate chase sequences amazes me. If you are like me and are becoming a bit hesitant when every new book is part of a series, don’t worry here. Runner can absolutely serve as a standalone, with a fully resolved plot line, yet with enough underlining mythology to increase your desire to have the next Sam Dryden novel in your hands or ears as soon as possible.

Raul Esparza gives a strong performance in his reading of Runner. While his characterizations often lean to the subtle side, they are affective and memorable. He gives an offbeat delivery to the narrative, often emphasizing sentences in places you wouldn’t expect, and altering the tradition cadence with a well times pause. It keeps the listener on their toes, examining each word and where it fits into the narrative. In fast paced action thrillers, it’s easy to become lost in the action, but Esparza never let’s you get comfortable, causing you to hanging on every word, breathlessly waiting for the next twist in the road. Runner is a treat for both fans of thrillers and Science Fiction, or those like me, who like them swirled.





Audiobook Review: Influx by Daniel Suarez

24 02 2014

Influx by Daniel Suarez

Read by Jeff Gurner

Penguin Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 45 Min

Genro: Technothriller

Grade: A-

Influx, the latest by the true king of the near future technothriller, is a nano-infused balls to the wall thriller that will spin your genetically enhanced brain while causing your artificial cyber heart to beat a kilometer a minute keeping the tension building like a fusion powered perpetual motion machine. Basically, take all the future tech you think we should have had by now, mix it together with some well realized characters, add in some complicated social issues, throw in a heavy dash of awesome, and you have Influx. Yeah, I kinda dug this one. The Bureau of Technology Control was founded with the goal to regulate potentially disruptive technology. Yet, when physicist Jon Grady invents functional antigravity, he finds the BTC’s power has been corrupted and it’s power hungry director hording technology for his personal gain instead of the good of humanity. Grady refuses to play along, and is locked up in a top secret prison along with other rebellious genius. Probably not the smartest plan. Suarez’s techno vision and his rock and roll pacing is the perfect blend to drive this compelling story along. While the plot borders on over the top, it’s a gleefully awesome form of excess that should delight anyone who is still waiting for the rocket packs and hovercrafts promised to them as children. Even better, Suarez adds in a fresh dose of social sciences, examining the impact that technology has on society. If I have any complaint, it’s that at times the technology overshadows the characters, but with tech this cool, you can’t really fault the author too much for that. While it may be too soon to declare any book the techno-thriller of the year, Influx has thrown its hat into the ring as an early contender, and it’s gonna take something special to knock it off it’s perch.

I always have mixed feeling when an author has a go to narrator who narrates all their books, particularly their standalones. I understand you may be a huge fan of a specific narrator, but it doesn’t mean they are right for every one of your books. Luckily for us readers, the pairing of Daniel Suarez and Jeff Gurner is a match made in Talky Book Heaven. Gurner has a very professional, almost Movie Trailer voice, with enough range to give his narrations the right amount of edge. His range of voices is solid, giving each character a distinctive feel. Yet, the true beauty of his narration is his pacing. Suarez writes at a kinetic pace, and it would be very easy for a narrator to get overwhelmed by it, but Gurner never does. He propels the book along with just the right amount of energy, yet with enough control to pull back when needed. It’s a performance that will keep you on the edge of you anti-gravity platform, utterly engrossed in every moment.

Thanks to Penguin Audio for proving me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey

19 02 2014

Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey (Serge Storms, Bk. 17)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Harper Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Florida Thriller

Grade: A-

I always enjoy a well constructed plot. Stories that structure themselves well, with a natural progression, well timed twists and reveals, and conclusions that tie up all the tangents the authors went on in intriguing ways. Except when it comes to Serge novels. For some reason, the more scattershot, unstructured the plot is in one of Tim Dorsey’s Serge A Storms novel, the more I cackle in glee. The latest novel, Tiger Shrimp Tango has Serge at his manic best. Sure, there is a plot. Former Police nemesis, the noir speaking Mahoney is now a Private Eye, and has hired Serge to track down scam artist in an attempt to recover the money they took for their marks. The tracking down part isn’t hard for Serge, it’s the discipline not to kill them in elaborate ways were Serge is lacking. Tiger Shrimp Tango has everything you love in a Serge novel. While not the best plotted novel of the series, it’s full of twists and tons and tons of laughs. When not working on Mahoney’s projects, Serge is attempting to bring together the polarized sides our modern political landscape in some of the most hilarious moments of the series. As someone who considers himself and extreme moderate and politics junkie, the pot shots at both sides of the spectrum had me holing, especially the segment where both parties attempt to explain why Jesus would make a horrible political candidate.  On top of all that, Serge comes up with some of his best kills and most deserving prey. Tiger Shrimp Tango is another great example of how Dorsey takes the already zany over the top Florida Thriller genre and ramps it up to absurdity all to the delight of this particular listener.

Oliver Wyman can make even a mediocre Serge novel into audio gold, and in Tiger Shrimp Tango, he delivers another performance so hilarious you want to avoid drinking dairy products unless you enjoy the feeling of milk gushing from your nostrils. For some reason, I always tend to listen to one of these novels when I am out and about shopping in public places, and the stares I get from my inappropriate laughter makes it all worth it. Wyman gives Serge and Coleman and almost cartoon character feel, yet infused with a humanity you can’t overlook. Yet, one of the highlights of the novel is the assortment of colorful characters, lowlifes, flim flam men and women, innocent dupes, political protesters and other not quite typical character  that Wyman brings to life is such wonderful ways. Tiger Shrimp Tango is one dance you wouldn’t want any other voice to cut in on.





2014 Armchair Audies: Fearless Prediction Post

14 02 2014

So, it’s Armchair Audies time (almost!)

Any day now, the APA will announce the nominees for their 2013 Audie Awards. This has been another great year for Audiobooks, and I feel more and more public scrutiny of the Audies may have interesting affects. Last year, I felt the whole thing was a bit of a fiasco, with one particular company and it’s offshoots almost monopolizing the nominees and an audiobook of the year category made up mostly of celbriturd narrators and productions that were more about hype then the best the industry has to offer. Yet, I’m not totally soured on the whole shebang. I think that we may see some changes to the process in the near future, as the industry changes, so must the awards and I’m quite interested in seeing how these changes take play out.

This year, for Armchair Audies, I will be taking on the Science Fiction and Fantasy categories again. I will probably pick up a third category, after I get a look at the nominees, either Paranormal or Thriller/Suspense.

Today, I will be prediction the nominees in these 4 categories. I am using an intricate formula of my favorites, industry trends, past nominees, hype and WAGs (Wild Ass Guesses) to come up with these nominees. I am also playing a bit with the Genres because, even if a book is decidedly Science Fiction, it very well may be nominated in the Fantasy Category. Also, no once has quite explained exactly what encompasses Paranormal.

So, here are my predictions for The Audies.

SCIENCE FICTION

The Human Division by  John Scalzi

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Lexicon by Max Barry

Read by Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman

Penguin Audio

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

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

Hachette Audio

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Read by Kate Rudd

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

FANTASY

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Read by Neil Gaiman

Harper Audio

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Read by Alana Kerr

Audible for Bloomsbury

Cold Days by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files, Bk. 14)

Read by James Marsters

Penguin Audio

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Read by Kate Mulgrew

Harper Audio

Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

Read by Khristine Hvam

Audible, Inc.

PARANORMAL

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Read by Will Patton

Simon & Schuster Audio

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

The Rift Walker by Clay and Susan Griffith (Vampire Empire, Book 2)

Read by James Marsters

Buzzy Multimedia

World War Z: The Complete Edition: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Read by A Full Cast

Random House Audio

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, Jenna Hellmuth

Hachette Audio

THRILLER/SUSPENCE

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Read by Reg E. Cathey

Hachette Audio

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Read by Jeremy Bobb

Simon & Schuster Audio

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Read by Michael Beck

Random House Audio

The Lawyer’s Lawyer by James Sheehan

Read by Rick Zieff

Hachette Audio