Audiobook Review: Pray by John Prescott

9 11 2012

Pray by John Prescott (The Revelation Chronicles, Bk. 1)

Read by Wayne June

John Prescott

Length: 16 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: Biblical Post Apocalyptic Horror

Quick Thoughts: Pray is a heavy metal look at Revelations, what Left Behind could have been if it had been written by Brian Keene. Prescott grabs the reader from the opening trumpet blast, and rockets them through a gore filled vision of the End Times. It’s a fast paced Apocalyptic Thriller with some engaging characters, and while there are definitely snark worthy, roll your eye moments, it’s a hell of a fun ride.

Grade: B+

Long before I had a Zombie Survival Plan (run, don’t get eaten) I had a Tribulation Plan. As a kid growing up in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, I had the unique opportunity to view the "Thief In the Night" series of Post Rapture Tribulation movies many, many times. In fact, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, in Ambler, there used to be an old theatre called The Christian Cinema that we would often go to, where they played free Christian movies and Tribulation movies were regular films in their staple. Many people who are avid Post Apocalyptic fans will point to a book like The Stand, or perhaps Z is for Zachariah, as what turned them into fans of apocalyptic fiction. I searched out books like The Stand and Z is fort Zachariah because of the Thief in the Night movies. As a child, knowing my sinful childhood heart, I just new I was destined to be Left Behind when the trumpet blasts and the born again are called up to heaven. So, of course, I made a plan. On the day that I get home to discover that my family was now just a rumpled pile of clothes, I planned on grabbing whatever supplies I could, and head to New Life Island, a Christian campground that was a small island in the Delaware River. There I would hide from the minions of the antichrist, try to survive the earthquakes and Wormwood, and avoid getting the mark of the beast on my right hand or forehead. From this point on, I was always fascinated by Christian Eschatology. As a teenager, I read many books about things that were happening that were signs and portends of the coming of the Beast. I heard of chip implants, and scanner codes based on the repeating number 6. I heard of moves getting us closer to a one world government, ripe to be taken over by a charismatic figure. As I became less and less involved in the church, my interest in Biblical Apocalypse waned, but still lingered. I read some of the Left Behind but got frustrated with the authors stringing the series along, and with all the preachiness. What I really wanted was a secular take on the Biblical Apocalypse. Then, one night, I was scanning the new releases on Audible, and I discovered Pray by John Prescott. Oh, what a discovery!

I’ll have to admit, I was expecting this review to be a snark filled look at the many corny aspects of this novel. The problem was, despite some snark worthy moments, and a really strange premise, I enjoyed the hell out of this novel. It’s really hard to write a review, because I’m not sure exactly who the right market is for this novel, beyond my own special mix of dysfunction. Pray is a Biblical Apocalyptic Thriller that covers much of the same stuff that The Left Behind series does, yet, author John Prescott utilizes a sort of Biblical loophole in Revelation where John is told not to share something he envisioned, to give the whole story a new spin. Oh, and what a spin it is. Prescott gives us all the natural disasters, rising evil, government suppression, wars and plagues, that we find in the end times prophesies of the Bible, yet, for fun, throws in some werewolves and vampires. Oh, and these are not you teenage heartthrob vampires and werewolves, these are bad assed killing machines. These are rip your guts out and feast upon your entrails horror monsters in their purest form. It’s a great little twist, yet gives the novel and almost schizophrenic feel. There are moments where people are talking to god, finding salvation, and the next moments werewolves are ripping a person apart, and providing a profanity fueled narration while they do it. As a horror fan, and someone who grew up in the church, I enjoyed the heck out of it, but I feel many Christians will be turned off by the gore and language, while many horror fans will be bothered by many of the Christian moments. I think, with people who grew up in Fundamentalist Churches, there is a sort of language that develops when taking about certain beliefs and reasoning’s, and some of these appear in Pray. While it’s tailored to a secular market, I think some moments wouldn’t translate as well to people with out that sort of background. Beyond that, while many of the characters both good and evil we quite well developed and engaging, I found a few to be very stereotypical and frustratingly clichéd, enough so that it sort of bothered me. Overall, outside of the issues I have talked about, the story was pretty darn good. If you are incapable of getting past the use of horror creatures or the occasional naughty word in a book based on Biblical Prophesy, than perhaps, you should stick to the latest Left Behind spinoff novel. Otherwise, Pray is a heavy metal look at Revelations, what Left Behind could have been if it had been written by Brian Keene. Prescott grabs the reader from the opening trumpet blast, and rockets them through a gore filled vision of the End Times. It’s a fast paced Apocalyptic Thriller with some engaging characters, and while there are definitely snark worthy, roll your eye moments, it’s a hell of a fun ride.

I am always a bit hesitant with independently produced audiobooks. I had heard of Wayne June before, and knew he had worked on novels by writers like Brian Keene. I had listened to a few samples, and thought that he had a deep voice that was perfect for setting the mood of a horror novel, I worried that his voice may not have enough range for a multi-character novel. First, the negatives on the audiobook production. I felt there was a bit of tininess to the production. at some points, the sound didn’t seem as crisp as I am used to in some productions. Also, there are special effect and music used occasionally in the production. Some of the effects work, yet for I felt the music was used inconsistently, and only ended up distracting from the narrative. Now, the positive. I was quite impressed with Junes overall performance. He really put a lot of emotion into his reading, working well to pull the reader into the story. His voice, while somewhat limiting, offered much more range than I initially imagined. He really excelled at capturing the often frantic, kinetic pacing of some of the more horrific moments of the novel, enhancing these rather chilling moments. For a 16 hour production, the time just flew by. I was sucked into the tale completely, and much of this was due to June’s reading. I always say that a listener can tell when a narrator is just totally sold into the book he is reading, and I think June’s performance in Pray is a fine example of this. I have a hard time recommending Pray to a wide audience, but if you are like me, and fascinated by Biblical Prophesy and enjoy a good gory horror novel, you totally should give this one a listen. For me, I will now sit patiently hoping the next book in the series is released as an audiobook.

For those interested, I did make live tweet some of the more snarky moments of my listening experience with Pray under the hashtag #praypocalypse

This Review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse Series. For more post, click on the banned below.





Shadows Blog Tour: Guest Post by Ilsa J. Bick

26 10 2012

As the followers of my blog probably realize, I don’t participate in many blog tours. In Fact, this is my first. Last year, Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick was one of my top Zombish audiobooks of the year and I have looked to the release of Shadows with great anticipation. When I got invited to join the tour and found out that Ilsa would be willing to talk audiobooks, I jumped at the chance. So, here we go:

SHADOWS by Ilsa J. Bick

Publisher Summary

The Apocalypse does not end. The Changed will grow in numbers. The Spared may not survive.

Even before the EMPs brought down the world, Alex was on the run from the demons of her past and the monster living in her head. After the world was gone, she believed Rule could be a sanctuary for her and those she’d come to love.

But she was wrong.

Now Alex is in the fight of her life against the adults, who would use her, the survivors, who don’t trust her, and the Changed, who would eat her alive. Welcome to Shadows, the second book in the haunting, apocalyptic Ashes Trilogy: Where no one is safe and humans may be the worst of the monsters.

For a refresher before listening Shadows, check out this refresher for Ashes.

With that, let’s welcome Ilsa J. Bick to The Guilded Earlobe:

 

I am a huge audiobook fan and so have listened to many stories over the years.  There’s something about a very good narrator that can make even an only so-so read a spectacular listen just as the reverse is true: a crummy narrator can kill a book.

What I’ve really enjoyed with my audiobooks has been the degree to which producing them becomes a real collaboration.  The Audible folks have been fabulous, and because I’ve been a member for so long, listened to tons of books, I know which narrators I think serve my story well.  To that end, the Audible folks routinely ask for my preferences, or they come up with their own list on the basis of what I ask for.  In fact, for my very first book with them, DRAW THE DARK, I asked for and got Joshua Swanson right off the bat (and he’s a very sweet guy, too).

My job to listen to try and figure out which voice best captures what I want to convey.  For the ASHES series, Katy was an easy choice.  She’s not only gifted and experienced, she’s such a pro.  Before ASHES and, just recently SHADOWS, she and I talked about what my visions were for how people should sound; how to pronounce certain words; all that. She’s a very gracious, tremendously giving performer, and she really wants to get it right. Katy’s stories of what goes into a performance are real eye openers, and kind of funny, too.  (Like how do you deal with shouting?  You know, when people are screaming in books . . . how do you do that without blowing eardrums or destroying the sound?  It turns out there are tricks.)  

Now, having said all this and enthused over my narrators (and they are all super), I have never listened to my own work other than a little snippet, just as I try to stay away from audiobooks while I’m actively writing something.  There are two reasons.  In terms of my own work, I already know the story; I’ve read it more times than you can imagine; and I only have so much time in the day to discover and listen to new work.  Plus, to be really honest, I don’t actually enjoy listening to my own stuff.  (Maybe that’s why actors don’t like watching their own films, I dunno.)  Just makes me feel . . . funny.  Maybe I need to be a tad vainer, or something.

But far more serious is this tendency I have to assimilate and mimic voices like a parrot-magpie.  I’m completely serious.  My husband HATES going to foreign countries with me because I pick up intonations and accents and cadences very quickly, and then you run the risk of offending someone who thinks you’re making fun.  (No, I’ve just got you in my head; I can’t help it.  Language is like music that way.)  Voices and the tone of a story can easily take up residence in my head, and that can be a problem.  Yes, it helps a lot in terms of characterization; if I can “hear” my character’s voice, then I keep cadence, tone, and all of that straight, and the character’s voice remains distinctive.  In fact, one of the exercises I actually practiced when I was doing STAR TREK was taking a key speech done by, say, Captain Kirk and then recasting the same lines in the voice of the different captains.  I know that sounds funky, but all these actors had different ways of delivering their lines just as the captains had their distinctive personalities.  So the way Kirk might say something, the language and gestures he’d use, is fundamentally different than how Picard would deal with the language, or Janeway.  Getting a character that rooted in your head helps you maintain a consistent and authentic voice for your folks.

So—being a bit of a mimic, and I’ve also done a ton of stage work—I worry that I would hear Katy, for example, and not the Alex I imagine.  I know how I think Alex would say something, but Katy is her own person, with her unique interpretation.  What I wouldn’t want to do is write Katy.  I’m Alex’s mouthpiece, the only one she’s truly got, and Tom’s and Ellie’s, etc.  The work is to keep them straight as authentic individuals, with their unique voices.

I want to thank Ilsa for taking the time to talk about audiobooks. Make sure you check out my reviews of Ashes and Shadows and head over to Brilliance Audio or Audible to grab your copy read by the wonderful Katherine Kellgren.

 

This post is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. You can find more post by clicking on the banner below.





Audiobook Review: Run by Blake Crouch

12 10 2012

Run by Blake Crouch

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Apocalyptic Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Run in very many ways is popcorn fiction, yet very effective popcorn fiction. I actually grew to like these characters and long for their safety. Crouch creates some vivid scenes of utter brutality that messed with my head, and left me disturbed and uncomfortable. Yet, overall I found Run to be a very engaging thriller with an apocalyptic edge.

Grade: B

One of the reasons I think that apocalyptic fiction, particularly human based apocalypses resonate so well is the fact that humanity is its own worse enemy. Humanity has been brutalizing itself, committing atrocities on its brothers, since that first squabble between Cain and Able over the proper godly sacrifice. Our histories are full of holocausts and genocide that the idea of a mass slaughter of humans by other humans is hauntingly realistic. Yet, there is also a tendency to create some uncontrollable force to explain such atrocities. We create monsters of ourselves in the forms of zombie and vampires, predators that hunt humanity, and while they still look like us, are not really us. We even go so far as to call the essence of a person that keeps them from hurting others, their humanity. Yet, Wars have been waged, peoples have been slaughtered by those who are very much human. In most apocalyptic fiction, the first wave of destruction, usually by an outside force, is only the catalyst that gets the ball rolling. The true death blow to society comes in the form of human survivors who are either doing whatever it takes to guarantee their own survival, or using the situation to give into the basest desires. As a fan of horror fiction, I enjoy ghosts, goblins, ghouls and other monsters of mythology. Yet, rarely do they scare me. Yet, realistic portrayals of the evils that man can do to their neighbors will often keep me up at night.

In Blake Crouch’s Run, a strange atmospheric light display is witnessed by thousands under the skies of Continental America. It’s beautiful, and haunting, and it changes people. The people who witness this phenomenon are so moved by the experience, they believe it may have been sent by God, and that those who didn’t witness it must die… horrifically. College professor Jake Colclough didn’t witness the phenomena, and now he has only one choice to keep him and his family safe by the roving gangs of the affected, he must run. As I have often said, I am no literary critic tasked to keep literature thriving in this culture where everyone with a computer can spout their opinion. In fact, I may very well be part of the problem. From a straight up critical perspective, there is a lot not to like in Blake Crouch’s Run. Crouch writes in a bare bones style that I felt left some characters underdeveloped and his world basically surface level. At points the writing came off a bit clunky, with some real groaners along the way. Yet, from the very start of the book, I was totally into it. The book starts with a bang, and just keeps moving forward, never giving you a chance to breathe. It was sort of funny, the first third of the book was basically, "people are trying to kill us" and "we’re almost out of gas" but in Crouch’s hands it was more like, "OMG! PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO KILL US AND WE"RE ALMOST OUT OF GAS!!!!!!" Despite its repetitiousness, it actually created genuine tension. Crouch also created a realistic family dynamic with his characters that while at times frustrating, could also be heartfelt and touching. The story itself was as much a journey of a father rebuilding his relationships as it was a family trying to survive. Run also did what very few novels are able to pull off anymore, it disturbed the shit out of me. There are scenes of such human depravity, performed by callous affected men, which lingered in my head long after I stopped listening. The idea that on some level these people were not totally responsible for their action did very little to diminish the affects it had on me. Run in very many ways is popcorn fiction, yet very effective popcorn fiction. I actually grew to like these characters and long for their safety. Crouch creates some vivid scenes of utter brutality that messed with my head, and left me disturbed and uncomfortable. Yet, overall I found Run to be a very engaging thriller with an apocalyptic edge.

You know, I almost feel bad that my praise of Phil Gigante as a narrator is always so effusive. Sometimes I wish he would just totally screw the pooch one day, so I can just bash him around a bit, you know, for a change of pace. So, I will try to temper my praise today by saying that Run is not my favorite performance by Phil Gigante. If this was the only audiobook by him I had ever listened to, I would probably say, "You know, this guy is a damn good narrator" and not my typical, "I fall down and worship at the feet of narrating god Phil Gigante." Here, in Run, Phil gives a damn good performance. The key to Run is in the pacing, Gigante keeps the story moving, allowing the listeners to just get absorbed in the story. Since most of the characters are standard American, Gigante uses his stock characters voices, which are all pretty strong. He gives the children the right amount of petulance, but also allowed the traumatic elements of the situation to come through in his reading. I think in the end, it came down to Gigante just allowing the story to take over. There was no need for clever voices or vocal gymnastics, just a fast and furious pace that never lets up.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

This review is part of my weekly, “Welcome to the Apocalypse” Theme.





Audiobook Review: Breakdown by Katherine Amt Hanna

5 10 2012

Breakdown by Katherine Amt Hanna

Read by Ralph Lister

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Breakdown is a novel I highly recommend to fans of post apocalyptic fiction. While it may frustrate you at times, it is a realistic look at the psychological effects that the choices a survivor may need to make will have long term. Full of wonderful characters and a well drawn world, Breakdown is a good change of pace novel for apocalyptic fans looking for something slower and more introspective.

Grade: B

While so many Post Apocalyptic novels have focused on the brutality and adventure of surviving the Apocalypse, few have taken on the traumatic psychological effects that an apocalyptic survivor may suffer from. So often in the apocalyptic novels, the main goal is to find safety, a defensible place where you and your group are able to thrive. Yet, what happens when you find that place, when you finally can spend moments in safety reflecting on just what you did to survive this harsh new reality. When I first started Breakdown by Katherine Amt Hanna, I expected it to be your typical post plague apocalypse, but it wasn’t. I think fans of the subgenre often forget how much of a toll having so much stripped away, having loved ones die, and seeing everything that kept your society secure disappear. Just these aspects can be trying enough for a survivor. I’m sure that for many people, living without the niceties they have grown accustomed to in itself would have harsh psychological consequences. Add to this loss of life, and the actions you may need to take, and such a burden could become unbearable. How would this change you as a person? Would you be more open to others, realizing that the single loner is at a disadvantage in such a world, or would you close yourself off to new people, knowing they may be torn away from you at any moment?

Chris Price is a British ex-pat living in New York when the pandemic struck. With all that he holds dear to him torn away, Chris must find a way to travel back to England in search of what family he may have left. Six years later, he is psychologically ravaged, but home. With the brutality of his choices a constant burden, Chris tries to see if he can put it all behind him and perhaps find a life once again. I really have a lot of mixed feelings about Breakdown. I was fully engaged with the story, enjoying what it was. I liked the characters, and found the world that Hanna created to be interesting, if not just a bit pat. Yet, for me, what was left out of this tale affected me more than what made it in. Hanna created a detailed back story to Chris’s journey that included roving gangs, time at a monastery, a brutal see voyage, and dark days in London, yet all these stories were mere mentions as background and not explored with any sort of depth. Breakdown had the feel of a sequel to a novel never written, and sadly a lesser one. There were many interesting aspects of the novel, yet its focus was in repairing a broken man, and not about exactly what broke him. As a lover of good characters this was well done, as a fan of apocalyptic survival tales, this was frustrating. It seemed as if Hanna was balancing a much better tale in front of us, but making us settle down with the simply good one. Now, my frustration shouldn’t keep you away from Breakdown. It is an interesting look at the impact people in horrible situation have to endure. If this was a sequel, I would be unquestionably raving about the follow up. Hanna definitely has valuable insights into the human mind, and, for those of you who like this sort of thing, throws in a bit of realistic romance to boot. Hopefully some day we may see a prequel to Breakdown, outlining Chris’s journey in more detail. She already has it pretty well outlined in Breakdown. Breakdown is a novel I highly recommend to fans of post apocalyptic fiction. While it may frustrate you at times, it is a realistic look at the psychological effects that the choices a survivor may need to make will have long term. Full of wonderful characters and a well drawn world, Breakdown is a good change of pace novel for apocalyptic fans looking for something slower and more introspective.

I was quite interested to give Ralph Lister a listen in this audiobook. I have experienced Lister’s narration a few times before, but mostly in Fantasy tales. He seems to have a penchant for over the top sarcastic hero types but Breakdown would require another skill all together. Luckily, this is a skill that Lister seems to have also mastered. Lister brings Chris Price to life in vivid detail. His subtle voicing of the main character brought forth the pain and frustration with excellent results. You could feel, at times, Chris hovering over the edge with Lister’s nuanced performance. Lister also handles the other characters well, including female and children characters.  Breakdown is a less action oriented tale than I have experienced in the past with Lister, and he brings that to bear in his pacing. Lister allows the characters to develop in a solemn pace, dealing out the insights in bits and chucks. It’s a wonderfully fitting performance that enhances the experience of this novel.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” theme. Click on the image below for more:





Audiobook Review: Flu by Wayne Simmons

28 09 2012

Flu by Wayne Simmons

Read by Michael Kramer

Tantor Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Flu is a strong opening move, yet serves more as a set up to Simmons world, then a complete tale. The true place of Flu within the genre depends highly on how Simmons follows this up. He has placed many pieces in the right positions, now he just needs to execute. Fans of darker moodier Zombie tales who prefer detailed character psychology over lavish zombie mayhem will definitely want to give Flu a shot.

Grade: B

I have considered many things when contemplating the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse. There are so many factors one needs to consider including location, provisions, routes of escape, climate, weapons, personal tastiness, protective gears, and presidential nominees. All these factors can contribute to your zombie survival game plan. Yet one thing I have never considered was history.  As Americans, we have a much shorter span of history to consider. There are conflicts in America, often down racial, sexual or class lines, but it pales in comparison to the multigenerational century spanning historic conflicts that exist in other countries. How one would go about surviving the Apocalypse in Serbia, where religious and ethnic conflicts spanning centuries are quite different than an American like me whose biggest conflict is with the neighbor who never cleans up his dog crap. While I may not go out of my way to protect this neighbor due to his lack of neighborly consideration, our families have not been warring with each other for longer than my known relatives have been alive. Flu by Wayne Simmons is set in Ireland. History is a big deal in Ireland. Sometimes I think American forget how much strife exist in that one small country. There is a history of mistrust, abuse and violent action that many American’s forget about. So, how would an ex-member of the IRA respond to the governmental attempts to isolate and contain a zombie outbreak? How would a soldier who worked at suppressing the IRA respond during an Apocalyptic scenario to a former IRA member he encounters? Its questions and scenarios like this that adds levels to Wayne Simmons Zombie audiobook.

As someone who consumes a lot of Zombie fiction, it’s really hard to find a totally unique zombie outbreak scenario. Flu starts off with a lot of traditional zombie outbreak scenes. A devastating, completely lethal Flu is spreading across Ireland. The Government responds through quarantine, and creating camps to isolate the uninfected. Yet, when the infected dead begin to rise, seeking human flesh to consume, the country is thrown into inescapable chaos. While a group attempts to survive among the chaos, a shadowy military installation is observing the ruins of their country, searching for a solution, no matter what the cost. It’s all pretty standard boilerplate zombie apocalypse. Simmons throws in a few interesting twists. The Flu itself is more of an ever present threat than we see in many zombie novels. Just because someone has survived to this point, doesn’t mean they won’t come down with it. This element adds a bit of paranoid suspense to the overall mood of the novel. There isn’t just the fear of the undead, or the potential to be infected by direct contact. The Flu could actually be airborne, meaning anyone can catch it without even being bit by a zombie. This piles on the psychological distress of the novel, creating a mood that is more psychological thriller than straight horror. Simmons fills the characters with natural distrust, often pitting unlikely pairs together, like older brutish men with younger women, cops with criminals, then throwing in the historic mistrust of authority of the Irish. With these elements, Flu becomes a broody, moody character study, a dark path through humanities inner most prejudices, complicated by the extreme apocalyptic scenario. The Zombie action itself comes in smaller doses, but well conceived and executed. Simmon’s zombies so far are pretty traditional. There are hints of evolution and some interesting spins, like an obsession with fire, yet for the most part they are the shambling Romero style zombies that I find especially scary. Simmons also has some moments of horrific gore, yet it’s not gore for gore sake, but truly serves a purpose. Each scene is displayed to show the psychological affect on the survivors. One interesting theme Simmons uses with his characters is how a horrific event like this can make a good man do horrible things, plus provide redemption to the corrupt. Overall, Flu is a strong opening move, yet serves more as a set up to Simmons world, then a complete tale. The true place of Flu within the genre depends highly on how Simmons follows this up. He has placed many pieces in the right positions, now he just needs to execute.

Michael Kramer narrates Flu, and initially I had mix feelings about this. Kramer has always been a hit or miss type narrator for me. He’s a professional who has a great sense of story, and has a strong, deep voice. Yet, that deep voice limits him in many ways, particular in characterizations. Being set in Ireland, I would have loved to seen an Irish narrator like Gerard Doyle take on this project. Kramer does a pretty authentic sounding Irish accent, but uses it strictly for his characters. The narrative prose is read all in his default, accent neutral voice. Despite this, I though that Kramer’s voice was a decent fit for the mood of the tale. While I would have preferred an Irish narrator, Kramer gave the story a decidedly creepy feel. He reads Flu with a deliberate style that allows the listener to follow the story. His characters were decent. The delineation between characters wasn’t that great. He basically had a pretty standard Irish accent, and softened it, or hardened it, changing cadence and rhythms to delineate the characters, and it worked pretty well. His male characters were definitely better than his female characters, which is expected with a narrator with such a deep voice. While it may not have been the ideal match, Kramer makes it work. Fans of darker moodier Zombie tales who prefer detailed character psychology over lavish zombie mayhem will definitely want to give Flu a shot.

Note: Thanks to Tantor Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

This Review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” series.





Audiobook Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

21 09 2012

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Pre-Apocalyptic Police Procedural

Quick Thoughts: The Last Policeman is the rare novel that is willing to break away from traditional genres and effectively blends two very different styles for something fresh. Crime fiction fans will enjoy the stripping away of investigative tools and Post Apocalyptic fans will enjoy Winter’s depiction of the methodic breakdown off society. While the slow pacing can give it a plodding feel, the reader is rewarded with a strong finale which opens as many doors as it closes. 

Grade: B

One of my favorite little pearls of wisdom that I like to share to those who bother to listen to me is that you never truly know someone until you have been through the bad times with them. Most people, my optimistic side likes to believe, have no problems being selfless and charitable when things are good, but put the same person in a life or death struggle, and often that selflessness goes right out the window. This is one of my favorite aspects about Post Apocalyptic fiction. Just how far a good person would go to protect themselves and those they love when the world turns to shit. Yet, I think there is an interesting added development in Pre-Apocalypse novels like The Last Policeman and Jack McDevitt’s Moonfall. What if you know that in 6 Months time, you and probably the rest of the world will be wiped off the face of our planet. Will you grab a hold of something, like family, religion or even your job, or would you throw off your everyday entanglements and embrace your final moments, taking the chance to experience things you always wanted but were hampered by responsibility. I think many people would be surprised by their own actions. Normal people would turn into hoarders, and the most responsible among us very may abandon all they built to live for one last fling. Many would embrace despair, and either go into an intense state of denial, or become suicidal. For me, personally, I would want to see how the world ends. I am a big fan of people watching, and I think observing the world in its death throws would be too interesting an opportunity to give up. Maybe that’s a bit sadistic, on my part but I accept that.

Hank Palace always dreamed of becoming a detective in the small city of Concord, NH but a massive asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth was never part of the dream. While much of the world has seemed to give up, Hank still believes in his job. When called into an apparent suicide in a MacDonald’s bathroom, something about the body of the dead insurance man just didn’t seem right. Believing it to be a murder, Hank pursues the case, attempting to find justice in a dying world. The Last Policeman is a moody police procedural set against the backdrop of an impending apocalypse. The plot of the investigation is interesting, but like many of Hank’s colleagues, I had trouble really caring about the victim or just why he was murdered. What I did find fascinating was the obstacles that the culture of apathy set in his way. Many of the typical police resources where either unavailable to Hank, or he had to fight to make others care enough to actually contribute. As a fan of procedural thrillers, this was actually a nice little spin, and while I may not have been sold on the investigation, the process that Hank used made up for it. Yet, the true beauty of the novel comes in its characterizations. Everyone in the novel has some level of either obsession, or extreme apathy. Hank is a bit of a boy scout, wanting to do things right, wanting to his job to mean something. He despises the various obsessions of those he interacts with, particularly those fascinated by the religion or the planet‘s impending doom, yet his level of obsession seems just as dysfunctional. It seemed, as we moved through the plot, he was more interested in discovering the story and finding a motive that makes sense, than in actually finding justice for his victim. It’s cleverly done by Winters and it defied my expectations. The pacing itself is slower than your typical thriller, spending a lot of time on Hank’s internal dialogue. This can get a bit frustrating and repetitive, but it gives us many interesting incites into the mind of a man who knows he’s doomed. The Last Policeman is the rare novel that is willing to break away from traditional genres and effectively blends two very different styles for something fresh. Crime fiction fans will enjoy the stripping away of investigative tools and Post Apocalyptic fans will enjoy Winter’s depiction of the methodic breakdown off society. While the slow pacing can give it a plodding feel, the reader is rewarded with a strong finale which opens as many doors as it closes. 

Peter Berkrot gives a well reasoned, smart reading of The Last Policeman. Berkrot has a natural gift for creating characters you can engage with. Here, Berkrot seems to have given a lot of thought into each character. Winter’s places lot of seeds early into his characters that you don’t see fully grown until later in the story. Berkrot’s characterizations help develop the characters. You can feel the transformation, characters giving into their obsessions. Berkrot will quicken the pace of some characters as they become more and more unhinged and slow down others as they retreat into themselves. It’s a good example of how a well studied narrator can enhance a production. Berkrot does have a sarcastic edge to his voice that works well with some of the peripheral characters, but sometimes gives choir boy Hank a bit too much of an edge. Luckily, that wasn’t too distracting, and Berkrot more than makes up for this in many other areas. Berkrot is rapidly becoming one of those narrators that I trust to read almost anything. His performance in The Last Policeman only strengthens this belief. With two more books in this series scheduled, I for one hope that Peter Berkrot sticks around to bring them to life for us.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” theme. Click on the image below for links to more posts.





Audiobook Review: A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren

14 09 2012

A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren

Read by Gabra Zackman

Audible Frontiers

Length: 15 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Nuclear Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: A Gift Upon the Shore is one of my all time favorite novels, a darkly beautiful vision of a nuclear apocalypse. This novel stands apart from many within the genre by its frightening realism and its strong female characters. Narrator Gabra Zackman captures the poetry of the novel perfectly, making it a wonderful example of how good an audiobook can be.

Grade: A+

Note: As this is a reread, I will be breaking away from my normal format. I will be much more longwinded, so fair warning.

Some of the first Post Apocalyptic novels I had read featured dark fantasy and supernatural elements. These books, particularly Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song where listed as horror novels. This was an apt labeling because both of these novels scared the crap out of me, yet it wasn’t for supernatural elements. The realities of a Post Apocalyptic scenario are pretty darn scary without adding dark demons and mystical powers. I first read MK Wren’s post nuclear vision A Gift Upon the Shore in the mid nineties. This novel was really a pivotal one for me as a reader, and as a fan of Apocalyptic novels. A Gift Upon the Shore is just as horrific as King or McCammon’s Apocalyptic classics, yet without any mythological Dark Man wreaking havoc on the survivors. It brilliantly captures the reality of a desolate land, of nuclear winter, of surviving without the creature comforts that we have grown used to. It also stands out among Post Apocalyptic fiction for many reasons. So many Post Apocalyptic books are essentially road novels. The mechanism of the Apocalypse comes, and our survivors travel through the nightmare landscape searching for some haven. A Gift Upon the Shore isn’t like that at all, it is a stationary tale. We follow our survivors as they try to adapt to their surrounding on a farm on the Shores of Oregon. Yet, the major reason A Gift Upon the Shore stands out for me is that our two main characters are both women.

There is a scene about midway through this novel that has always angered me. Well, admittedly, there are many scenes in this book that frustrate, anger and sadden me, but this one stands out. Our two survivors, Mary Hope and Rachel Morrow had been living in this changed world for years, overcoming the hardships of isolation and doing it successfully. They have worked their farm, kept their livestock alive and made a decent life together. Then one day Mary discovers a man, deathly ill on the shores near their farm. She rescues him and nurses him to health. The man, Luke, on the road to recovery, is shocked to hear that Mary and Rachel, two women, had survived all this time without anyone else, particularly men. "It’s a miracle," he declares. Now, this is only the first of a series of misogynistic comments he makes. It really angered me. I mean, really angered. The idea that these two women who I have grown to love and respect have only survived because of the intervention of God angered me so very much. The strange thing was, at this point in my life, I was pretty misogynistic. And also pretty religious. Now, honestly, I was relatively open minded, especially in the religious culture I was raised in. Yet, this was mostly in my mind, and rarely applied to my actions. If you would have asked me then if I was misogynistic, I would have declared "Oh, no." But, in some ways I was. In fact, I hesitated on reading A Gift Upon the Shore, because it was written by a woman. Oh, I had my reasons. I declared that I never connected with novels written by women, not that they were in any way inferior.

This is just one area where A Gift Upon the Shore really took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to evaluate myself. Here are two strong women, one agnostic and one an atheist, who show more love and compassion than the religious characters that they deal with throughout the novel. Sure, I know this is just fiction, but something really resonated about these characters to me. I was devastated by the weakness of men, a weakness that I have seen often in my life. I was ashamed by the way that the religious picked and chose passages from the Bible to support their hate, yet declared any passages that decried their behavior as misinterpreted and patently manipulated. This too, I have seen way too often.  A Gift Upon the Shore opened my eyes to the human character in ways that only the greatest fiction can. In doing that, it turned the mirror on myself, forcing me to see my own faults and evaluate my own behavior.

The Book

“I will call it the Chronicle of Rachel”

Mary Hope is an old woman living on the farm on the Coast of Oregon. She lives in an uneasy relationship with a religious community that she allowed to move onto the property, under the condition that she be allowed to teach the children. One woman fears her influence, and finds her teachings to be sacrilegious and believes Mary to be a witch. Fearing her time is growing shorter, Mary takes on an apprentice, a young boy, who she shares the story of her survival of the nuclear war that ravaged the earth. She tells the story of Rachel Morrow, a strong woman who believed her purpose in life was to protect the record of the past, by preserving and protecting books. Yet, as the conflict within the community grows, Mary begins to fear that Rachel’s legacy, and the minds of the future are in serious jeopardy.

A Gift Upon the Shore is an achingly beautiful, emotional ride through a nuclear Apocalypse. Wren creates an almost dark beauty as she describes the blight that is done to the earth. From scorched landscapes to nuclear winter, Wren’s vision is horrific in its reality, yet stunningly beautiful in its detail. Wren writes with a lavish, almost poetic style, yet manages to keep the story quite accessible. There is no conflict between style and substance in the novel, the both blend together in a sort of dance that manages to delight the mind while telling a good story. The novel twists between Mary’s present and her past, slowly building in tension and scope. There is an ominous mood that grows throughout the novel, a feeling that something horrible is coming, some devastating moment that will alter everything. Yet, when that moment does come, it is unexpected, and tragic.

This was my third experience with A Gift Upon the Shore and the first in audio form. I always expect to be disappointed when I reread a novel. I expect that some of the beauty will have washed off, or the excitement lessened in the retelling. Yet, I’m not sure if it’s because of it being an audiobook, or just that I am older, but I left this experience loving the novel even more. There were moments that I was simply devastated by the actions of characters, even though I knew it was coming. There is one moment in this novel that truly just broke my heart… again. It’s such a moment of weakness, an inexcusable moment of inaction, that I raged against it, hoping that this time, it might be different. I think, there can be no greater praise for a novel than this. That it affects you in such a way that the emotional impact grows with each experience.

Writing this review is actually quite hard for me. My initial reaction is that I want to grab everybody by the throat and shake them until the promise me they will read this. I want people to experience this with me. This novel is one of my all time favorite reads. It is a literary Post Apocalyptic novel written before such things were vogue. I would easily put it up against the giants of the genre, from The Road. to even A Canticle for Leibowitz, as the ultimate Literary Post Apocalyptic novel. Maybe you scoff at this, but, you can’t really argue with me on the subject until you read the book. And, that’s all I want. Read this book.

The Audiobook

About a year ago I wrote a post on my all time favorite Post Nuclear Apocalypse novels, in which A Gift Upon the Shore is number two. In that post, I attempted to cast the narrators for novels with no audiobook version. For this novel, my choice was pretty easy. I had chosen XE Sands, a narrator with a perfect style for this novel. She has a mature but poetic style of narration that just fit, and it didn’t hurt that she is actually from the Pacific Northwest.

Now, when I actually found out that A Gift Upon the Shore was made into an audiobook, I was a bit scared. I just had a really bad experience with an Audible Frontiers production of a classic Post Apocalyptic novel, which was cast with a male narrator despite it being from a female point of view. My first reaction, and you all can check twitter if you don’t believe me, was that if I discovered a male narrator for this novel, I was heading straight to Newark. Yes, I was willing to brave Newark to declare my ire for poor casting decisions. Luckily, I discovered that the novel was being read by new to me narrator Gabra Zackman.

Gabra Zackman was simply wonderful. I can’t tell you, as a lover of this novel, how blown away I was by her performance. Zackman’s vice managed to accentuate the poetry of the prose, wring out each drop of emotion with every well spoken word. She never rushed her reading but allowed the story to come alive in a measured pace. Her tones were rich and mature, vividly displaying the world, highlighting both its beauty and ugliness. Her characters were perfectly done. She captured Mary’s naiveté, Rachel’s strength, Luke’s uncertainness, and Miriam’s spite, yet did it in a natural authentic way. Simply put, I loved every moment of it. A Gift Upon the Shore is an example of how good an audiobook can be when the right narrator is matched with the text. Zackman managed to take a novel I have come to love, and opened it up in new and unexpected ways.

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





Audiobook Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

10 08 2012

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Read by Mark Deakins

Random House Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The Dog Stars is a melancholy look at social isolation brought about by a devastating plague and one man’s eventual search for human connection. Those searching for a fast paced, action filled Apocalyptic tale will probably be disappointed with The Dog Stars. It’s a slow moving character study of a man not quite dealing with his isolation and loss.

Grade: B

So often in Post Apocalyptic Fiction, the first step that the survivors take after their world is decimated is to join up with other survivors. Yet, this isn’t always the case. In worlds where the population is almost complete eradicated, yet the world remains grand in size, there is definitely a place for isolationism and loneliness whether by choice or not. Despite the nature tendency to flock together there have been plenty of novels exploring the solitary man in a Post Apocalyptic world. One of the first examples of this is MP Sheil’s The Purple Cloud, where one man travels the earth after a strange incident kills off the entire planet. Other tales, like Gordon Dickson Wolf and Iron, detail loners who choose to avoid population centers. Yet, the story that often sticks with me is George Stewart’s Earth Abide. Isherwood Williams wakes up from a snake bite in the California hills, to find the world practically emptied of human life by a plague. He spends much of the early part of the novel traveling the country, only accompanied by his small dog, rarely encountering any human life. There is an aching loneliness in this tale. Even when Isherwood eventually meets up with people and begins a family, there is still a social isolation that permeates the page between Ish, and the new generation of humanity growing up in the ashes of the old. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller will definitely draw plenty of comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is really the fate of the Literate Post Apocalyptic tale today, to be examined side by side with The Road. Yet, personally, I feel that The Dog Stars is the spiritual brother of Earth Abides. The Dog Stars is a melancholy look at social isolation brought about by a devastating plague and one man’s eventual search for human connection.

It’s been nine years since a Flu has wiped out over 99% of the population, and Hig has spent the majority of his days eating, sleeping and securing the perimeter of the airport he lives in in his 1956 Cessna he calls "The Beast." His only social interactions are with his dog Jasper and a surly gun toting neighbor Bangley. Yet, when the loss becomes too much, and he can no longer bear the weight of loneliness, Hig sets out to find a voice he heard on his radio three years earlier. The Dog Stars is a moody Post Apocalyptic tale, told with a lavish, poetic style that highlights the need for connection in our darkest moments. Heller spends a lot of time within Hig’s mind, examining each decision, each happening in an almost excruciating existential detail. Even when Hig is fighting off raiders, or flying his recon missions, each moment is punctuated by a constant internal dialogue. At first, it comes off heavy handed, but as you acclimate to Heller’s style, it becomes an almost mesmerizing cataloguing of one man’s soul. Heller’s prose is beautiful, full of dark, almost Biblical poetry. Yet, at times, his writing is almost too beautiful, When Hig eventually meet the connection he was looking for, the dialogue just doesn’t feel authentic. It almost seems as if the two characters aren’t truly communicating but attempting to out angst the other in a seeming “baring of the soul” duel. Yet, in some ways it fits the story. Hig has been so lonely, so isolated, that often he doesn’t even realize he is speaking his thoughts. Hig has forgotten how to communicate. While I would have preferred some real dialogue, these interactions are true to the essence of the tale.  My favorite part of the novel is the surprise relationship that develops between Hig and his neighbor. While they had been together for nine years, only as the book progresses do they actually connect on any real level. It’s brilliantly done, and full of dark humor that lifts the mood of the tale on more that one occasion. Those searching for a fast paced, action filled Apocalyptic tale will probably be disappointed with The Dog Stars. It’s a slow moving character study of a man not quite dealing with his isolation and loss. While it can be heavy handed and stilted at times, The Dogs Stars has moments of stunning beauty that mingles with dream like prose and one man’s battle between sorrow and hope. 

Mark Deakins reads The Dog Stars with a slow, dreamlike quality that perfectly suits the novel. Deakins does a good job giving Hig’s often meandering thought process an organic feel. Deakins has a strong professional sounding voice, yet also manages to put enough grit into Banger’s dialogue. His female voice, while not perfect, wasn’t distracting. There were moments in the story where I felt, particularly with one character, he could have given a tad more flavor to his voice, but  for the most part, the choices he made worked. Where Deakins really excels is capturing the poetic slant of the prose. Deakins uses well timed pauses and tonal changes to emphasis the stylistic elements of the author. I think The Dog Stars, which lives very much inside Hig’s head, was particularly well suited for audio. Where Heller’s prose may have come off as forced, with the right narrator, it actually smoothed out and achieved the flow the author was hoping for, and luckily for us, Deakins was up to the challenge. 

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse series.

Also, Presenting Lenore is again hosting a celebration of Dystopian Fiction on her blog.





Audiobook Review: The World Ends in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar

3 08 2012

The World Ends in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar

Read by Dennis Holland

Audible, Inc.

Length: 6 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple, straight forward tale of survival that stands out from other classics of the genre by its strong female characters. For me, it is the quintessential example of a Cosy Catastrophe, where the residents of Hickory Hollow, despite some conflict, find a new rewarding way to live in the ashes of the modern world. Sadly, any effectiveness of the novel is obliterated by the unforgivable decision to cast a male narrator for a tale told from a first person female perspective. Shame on you Audible!

Grade: C  (B for the Book, F for Casting the wrong narrator.)

I recently read an article on the Cosy Catastrophe subgenre of Post Apocalyptic fiction. Cosy Catastrophes have always been hard to define for me. The term was created by legendary science fiction author Brian Aldiss as a sort of criticism of the works of John Wyndham. He decried that most of Wyndham’s major works were about people "having a pretty good time… while the rest of the world is dying off." I definitely feel this was an unfair criticism of Wyndham’s work, and quite limiting for a definition of this subgenre. Jane Rogers, novelist and author of the article I read, agreed. She expanded her definition of Cosy Catastrophes to be fiction set in a "recognizably realistic world, familiar and therefore cosy" that then suffers a catastrophe. I also had issues with this definition. First off, where Aldiss’ definition was too limiting, Rogers is way too broad. Under her definition, almost any Post Apocalyptic novel set in modern times would fall under this definition. Yet, and this is my most important point of contention, it defines the genre based on external factors, how the reader views the world, as opposed to internal factors, how the characters of the novel view the world. In Roger’s definition, as the novel ages, and is no longer set in a recognizable world to the reader, it would no longer fit in the subgenre. So, I have thought long and hard about my definition of cosy catastrophes, and I think I came up with one. For me, a Cosy Catastrophe is a Post Apocalyptic novel where the characters feel by the end that they are better off in the world they now inhabit then the world that was destroyed. It doesn’t mean that their path was easy, or that they don’t morn the multitude of deaths and destruction, just that the world left behind, and the simpler unencumbered life is inherently better. Under the definition I posit, the subject of today’s review, The World End in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar, fits nicely.

When the bombs begin to fall, in The United States and Asia, the Hardeman family didn’t even notice. Years earlier, they left the hustle and bustle of big city Houston, to live a simpler life on the outskirts of Hickory Hollow, TX. Yet, their weekly trip into town revealed it to be nearly abandoned. Already used to a life without the luxuries of the modern world, Lucinda Hardeman prepares her family and the few remaining resident of Hickory Hollow for what needs to be done to survive the transition. Yet, the Ungers, a group of hard women who where outcasts before the bombs, begin to cause trouble for the survivors, and the town must join together to protect what is theirs. The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple tale of survival and adjustment in rural Post Apocalyptic America. Hickory Hollow reflects many classic tale, like Malevil, Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon, yet where it stands out is in its strong female lead. Mayhar has a straight forward story telling style, as simple as the people she is writing about. The tale is told from the perspective of Lucinda Hardeman, who has a quiet confidence, and an affecting manner. Unlike the typical male leads of Apocalyptic tale, there is no swagger or demagoguery, just strong will and competence. The Ungers are a disturbing group of antagonists. This group of women who survived pre-Apocalypse by government assistance and prostitution, have almost gone feral, and must prey on the townsfolk to survive. The contrast between Lucinda and the Ungers are striking. Hickory Hollow is full of anti-establishment messages, yet it comes off as a character traits, and not Mayhar pushing some sort of agenda. Yet, Hickory Hollow also suffers a bit from an imbalance of descriptive depth. She describes in loving detail each task that the survivors need to perform to survive, but when it comes to the action, the depth falls off, giving it an almost glossed over feel. The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple, straight forward tale of survival that stands out from other classics of the genre by its strong female characters. For me, it is the quintessential example of a Cosy Catastrophe, where the residents of Hickory Hollow, despite some conflict, find a new rewarding way to live in the ashes of the modern world.

I am really, really upset with Audible for what they did with this audiobook. There really isn’t any excuse for it. For a company who is the leading distributor of audiobooks, and one of the major producers of audiobooks, a mistake in casting this bad should never be made. The book is told from the perspective of a woman, with the many strong female characters, and the main antagonist are also female, yet, the narrator is a male. Not just a male, but a male with a pretty deep baritone voice. I can not tell you how many times in this 6 hour production that I had to remind myself that the narrative voice should be female. The funny thing is, when the book originally started, I thought that perhaps the Hardeman’s were a homosexual couple, until I found out that our perspective character’s name was Lucinda. Now, Dennis Holland isn’t a bad narrator. He did a great job giving the book a Texas feel, but it was a male Texas feel. Having a male narrator was simply asinine. There are so many great female narrators that could have taken on this role, Xe Sands, Cassandra Campbell, Khristine Hvam… Hell, Tai Sammons would have been brilliant here. It angers me to no end how simply wrong and lazy this casting was. It would have been like casting Tom Arnold to star in Pretty Women, or to have Carrot Top star in a Malcolm X biopic, or cast Tom Cruise to play Jack Reacher… oh, wait… So, yes. WRONG. I just wonder if anyone at Audible actually read the novel. Harrumph…

This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series.

Also, Presenting Lenore is again hosting a celebration of Dystopian Fiction on her blog.





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.